Ovechkin, Caps battle Flames in home opener

(SportsNetwork.com) - Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals will shoot for a win in their home opener on Thursday when they welcome the Calgary Flames to the Verizon Center.

The Capitals are coming off a loss in their season opener in Chicago, as the Blackhawks followed up their Stanley Cup championship banner raising ceremony with Tuesday's 6-4 victory at the United Center.

Washington took a 4-3 lead after Mikhail Grabovski scored his second and third goals of the game early in the third period, but the defending champs tallied three unanswered scores to earn the victory,

Grabovski, who was signed to a one-year deal in the offseason, notched a hat trick and an assist in his Capitals debut. Ovechkin added a goal and an assist in the loss, while Washington goaltender Braden Holtby was tagged for five goals on 34 shots.

"Our turnovers gave them momentum and gave them some life," Capitals head coach Adam Oates said. "They've got a good hockey team. It's hard to play that way."

Washington will play six of its next seven games on home ice. The Caps are set to visit Dallas on Saturday before returning to D.C. for a five-game homestand.

After losing a couple of franchise players in the past calendar year, the Flames, who are beginning their regular season on Thursday, enter the 2013-14 campaign stuck in rebuilding mode. Two particular departures signaled the change, as the club traded away all-time franchise great Jarome Iginla at last year's trade deadline and longtime starting goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff officially announced his retirement after the 2013 campaign.

Bob Hartley is back behind the bench for the Flames, as takes on the unenviable task of molding this unimpressive mix of prospects and veterans into something that resembles a legitimate NHL team.

With Iginla gone the Flames lack a go-to offensive weapon to rely on, meaning winger Mike Cammalleri will be saddled with that role by default. Unfortunately, Cammalleri is dealing with a hand injury at the moment and is out indefinitely.

In the absence of a true offensive weapon, Calgary is hoping left winger Sven Baertschi can take a big leap forward in 2013-14. The 13th overall pick of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft played in 20 games for the Flames in 2013 and although he only recorded three goals and seven assists, nine of his 10 points came over the last seven games of the season.

If Baertschi is able to make significant strides in 2013-14, this massive rebuilding project would suddenly look a little easier to pull off.

When Kiprusoff officially announced his retirement earlier this month it made Karri Ramo the club's de facto No. 1 goaltender and he is expected to get the start over backup Joey MacDonald in Thursday's opener.

Ramo spent the last four seasons with Avangard Omsk of the Kontinental Hockey League, but the 27-year-old does have NHL experience on his resume. The Finnish backstop saw action in 48 games over the course of three seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning, but last suited up in an NHL game in 2009.

Although Ramo became an All-Star while playing in Russia he still has a great deal to prove at the NHL level. He was just 11-21-0 with a lofty 3.35 goals against average during his time with the Lightning.

Teams from opposing conferences did not face each other during the lockout- shortened season of 2013, so this is the first meeting between the Flames and Caps since Washington notched a 3-1 home win on Jan. 3, 2012.

All told, Washington has won two straight and four of its last six meetings against the Flames. Ovechkin has six goals and six assists in six career games versus Calgary.