There has been a lot of build-up to Wednesday's opener for the Capitals against the New York Rangers and not just because it is the first game of the 2021-22 season for both teams.
After Rangers star forward Artemi Panarin was injured in a scrum in a game against Washington last season, New York went through a complete team-wide transformation in response. But while the Rangers' offseason has seemingly been building up to this moment, the Capitals are not focused on getting in a fight. All they want from Wednesday's game is the win.
"We just talked about being ready for the game," Washington head coach Peter Laviolette said. "Nobody has an exact crystal ball on how that will play out, but, at the end of the night, we're looking to be the more disciplined team, we're looking to walk away with two points."
Panarin was injured in a scrum when he was thrown to the ice by Tom Wilson. Wilson seemingly became public enemy No. 1 for the Rangers after that and the team replaced its team president, general manager and head coach and also brought in tougher players such as Ryan Reaves, Barclay Goodrow and Jarred Tinordi.
Considering it was the Caps-Rangers game in 2021 that seemed to prompt these changes, that puts these teams, and especially Wilson, on a collision course for Wednesday since the NHL announced its schedule.
But Wilson isn't biting.
"I don't know what the real goal is behind [the changes the Rangers made], but all I can really focus on is our room, our team, our organization," Wilson said. "Having a big, physical first night with the Rangers isn't where we want to be this year. We have a lot of goals. I want to score goals, I want to be a leader, I want to take on more responsibility and get our team to the playoffs and hopefully more."
That's fine, in theory, but when another team comes after you with an ax to grind, it is hard not to respond.
The Caps know discipline will be key to getting the win. If the Rangers come into this game and focus on sending a physical message, Washington is hoping they can be disciplined enough to take advantage.
"There's going to be physicality. I don't know exactly how it'll go, but at the end of the day, we want to be the more disciplined team," Laviolette said. "We'd like to see more power plays. Power plays give you the best opportunity of being successful. There's two points at stake. You never know where that two points lays at the end of the season and so we'll be ready to fight for the two points."
The Caps know a fight is coming and expect New York to try to send a message. For Washington, however, their goal is to win the game, not win a fight.
"If you ask them, this is a big rivalry now so we will expect that," Wilson said. "Everyone wants to get the win at the end of the day. We have our game plan and we're going to try and execute that."