Despite embarking on one of their two longest road trips of the season, the Vegas Golden Knights left a day early for Tuesday night’s opening game against the Washington Capitals.
That’s because the team had a Monday morning date with President Joe Biden at the White House to celebrate winning their first Stanley Cup.
Captain Mark Stone and president of hockey operations George McPhee presented Biden with a gold No. 46 jersey and a golden hockey stick during the ceremony in the White House East Room.
The Golden Knights, who lead the NHL with 25 points, then headed out to practice afterward and will open their five-game Eastern trip against a Washington team that is 6-1-1 over its last eight games.
The Capitals also come in after posting back-to-back road regulation wins for the first time since Nov. 11-12, 2021, at Detroit and Columbus. Washington opened the weekend trip with a 4-2 win at New Jersey on Friday and followed that up with a 4-1 victory over the New York Islanders on Saturday, a contest that saw Alex Ovechkin score two goals and Hunter Shepard stop 36 of 37 shots in just his second NHL start.
Ovechkin increased his career total to 826, 68 shy of Wayne Gretzky’s NHL record of 864. He capped the win with his 56th career empty-net goal, tying Gretzky for first place in NHL history in that category.
“Everybody was all in. It was back-to-back. We played against a good team. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” said Ovechkin, who has four goals and seven assists this season.
“Everybody played smart. Everybody played simple. Shepard today was unbelievable. Huge saves. Our defense did a good job blocking shots.”
Shepard was starting in place of Darcy Kuemper, who was “a little bit nicked up” according to Washington coach Spencer Carbery following an overtime loss to Florida on Wednesday. Shepard was sent back to AHL Hershey on Sunday and Kuemper is expected to be back in net on Tuesday.
“It was a character win,” Carbery said. “For us to find a way to win — it wasn’t pretty at times — and we had to defend quite a bit. But we found a way.”
The Capitals blocked 32 shots against the Islanders.
“They just battled,” Shepard said. “You saw guys selling out and blocking shots.”
Vegas started the season with seven straight victories, a record for a defending Stanley Cup champion, and also had a 12-game point streak before suffering back-to-back regulation losses at Anaheim (4-2) and home to Los Angeles (4-1). The Golden Knights ended their brief losing streak with a 5-0 win over San Jose on Friday as Adin Hill stopped 20 shots for his second shutout in nine starts and Alec Martinez scored two goals.
Vegas is 12-2-1 with a league-best 25 points after its first 15 games. As good as that is, it doesn’t match the team’s 13-2-0 start and 26 points to begin last season. The Golden Knights go into Tuesday’s game with Washington holding just a two-point lead over Vancouver in the Pacific Division.
“You never want to chase early in the year, the standings,” Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy said. “It just makes it too hard later. You can play good hockey and not get a bounce, get a few injuries, and then it becomes tough. I’ve always believed that in this league (you need) to get out in front early.”
–Field Level Media