Five key matchups on the Caps' 2023-24 schedule

After the NHL closed the book on last season with its annual award ceremony Monday, the league officially laid out the structure for the next one Tuesday with the release of the 2023-24 regular season schedule.

For the Capitals, the path back to the playoffs is now full of road signs and obstacles, giving incoming head coach Spencer Carbery and his staff just under three months to map out and gameplan for the 82 contests that lie ahead.

It all begins Oct. 13, when Washington opens the season with a home matchup against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The six-month grind will see the Capitals face all 31 other teams before they close it out April 16 against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Here are five of the most notable matchups of the season:

Oct. 13 vs. Pittsburgh Penguins: Ovechkin, Crosby renew longtime rivalry

For the first time since 2016-17, the Capitals will face the rival Penguins in their season opener. It will also mark the first time they’ve hosted Pittsburgh for their home opener in the entire Alex Ovechkin-Sidney Crosby era.

Ovechkin and Crosby have met on the ice in the regular season 65 times since they emerged on the NHL scene in 2005 and, barring injury, will meet for at least four more in 2023-24. Ovechkin has outscored Crosby 33 to 28 in those contests while the latter has the edge in points, 86 to 62.

Including the playoffs, the Capitals are 39-37-14 all-time against Pittsburgh in games with both Ovechkin and Crosby on the ice.

Oct. 24 vs. Toronto Maple Leafs: Carbery faces his former team for first time

Spencer Carbery will get his first game against the Maple Leafs out of the way just 11 days into the season when the Capitals host Toronto on Oct. 24. Carbery was an assistant under Toronto head coach Sheldon Keefe for the last two seasons, overseeing and revamping the Maple Leafs’ power play.

The Leafs now must figure out how to remain potent on special teams without Carbery, who will have installed his system in Washington instead. It will be worth watching how the Capitals defend against the Leafs’ power play, a unit that struggled prior to Carbery’s arrival.

Nov. 14 vs. Vegas Golden Knights: Capitals face the defending champions

The Capitals will take on the defending Stanley Cup champion Vegas Golden Knights on Nov. 14 as they kick off a four-game homestand. Since winning the Cup themselves in 2018, the Capitals are 2-3-1 when facing off against defending champs.

Of course, that Capitals title came at the expense of the Golden Knights, who were attempting to win the Stanley Cup in their first year of existence. They instead had to settle for doing it in Year 6, and now are attempting to become just the third team in the last 25 years to run it back for two in a row.

The Capitals are 7-6-1 against Vegas all-time including that Stanley Cup Final. Of those 14 games, eight have been decided by only one goal.

Dec. 10 vs. Chicago Blackhawks: Capitals could get first look at phenom Bedard

The NHL Draft won’t take place until Wednesday night, but the Blackhawks are widely expected to select Canadian phenom Connor Bedard with the first overall pick after winning the draft lottery in early May. Should Chicago make the slam-dunk selection and fast-track Bedard to the NHL, his first chance to face the Capitals will come Dec. 10 in D.C.

Bedard will look to do better in that matchup than last year’s top pick, Canadiens left wing Juraj Slafkovsky, who went scoreless in two games against the Capitals. The last No. 1 overall pick to score a goal against Washington in the same season he was drafted was Rangers left wing Alexis Lafrenière, who did so in 2020-21.

Jan. 14 vs. New York Rangers: Capitals host Rangers in second leg of home-and-home

The Capitals will play the first of two home-and-home series in mid-January when they go up against the Rangers in back-to-back days Jan. 13-14. Not only will the two games be key with both Metropolitan Division teams eying a playoff run in 2023-24, but the series also part of an important stretch for the Capitals when they play seven of eight games on the road.

With six of those games coming against teams that reached the postseason this past year, that stretch could end up being a defining one for the Capitals. Factor in the back-and-forth series between the two teams in 2022-23 that saw them split the four games between them and the Capitals could be in for some of their most entertaining games of the season in January.