Oct. 20 vs. Detroit Red Wings at Little Caesars Arena
Time: 7:30 p.m.
TV: NBC Sports Washington+
Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7, 106.7 The Fan
Washington Capitals 3-3-1
Detroit Red Wings 4-3-0
Exactly 43 years and one day after they played their first road game ever in the Motor City, the Caps head to Detroit for the first of their two road games against the Red Wings this season. On Friday night, the Caps will play at Little Caesars Arena – Detroit’s new downtown, multi-purpose arena – for the first time.
When Washington first traveled to Detroit for an Oct. 19, 1974 date with the Red Wings, the Wings played their home games at the fabled Olympia, which first opened for business in 1927. The Caps lost 39 of their 40 road games during that first season of 1974-75, so their 6-4 setback at the hands of the Wings that night – in Washington’s third road game of the young season – was hardly noteworthy, aside from Mickey Redmond’s hat trick, the first by any opponent against the Capitals.
The Wings moved to Joe Louis Arena in 1979, and the Caps made their final visit to that venerable hockey mecca on Feb. 18 of this year, falling 3-2 in a shootout in their first game back after the conclusion of their bye week.
Friday’s game against Detroit finds the Caps seeking some consistency in their game. Since starting the season with consecutive wins, the Caps have dropped four of their last five games (1-3-1). Most recently, Washington lost a 2-0 home ice decision to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday night. That loss saddled the Capitals with their first pair of consecutive home ice losses in regulation in more than two and a half years, since March 11-13, 2015.
The loss to the Leafs constituted an improvement over the Caps’ previous game, an 8-2 spanking at the hands of the Flyers in Philadelphia. As the Caps try to work some new blood into their lineup – and in particular, on their blueline – they’re enduring some growing pains, which were expected.
With very little in the way of roster turnover from one season to the next, Washington was able to get out of the gate quickly in each of the last two seasons, and it didn’t face much adversity as those campaigns wore on. Two weeks into this season, it’s clear that things have changed.
“I think through the adversity and through the tough times, I think you get thicker skin,” says Caps right wing T.J. Oshie. “I think the more you have to go through together, the stronger you get as a team.
“The last couple of years, there were stretches there where we wouldn’t lose two games in a row for a long time. It’s a good feeling and it’s great, but sometimes I think a little adversity is good for you. Adversity is going to happen in the playoffs no matter who you play. It’s just the way the game works. There is not as much difference anymore between the team in first place and the team in eighth place. I think the gap is narrowing. So the more adversity you can deal with and you can learn to handle, I think the better.”
Adversity this season has come in the form of a middling record, injuries to defenseman Matt Niskanen and center Tyler Graovac, and some struggles in developing chemistry while integrating new and younger players into the lineup. It hasn’t been unlike the 2014-15 season, Barry Trotz’s first behind the Washington bench. The Caps started slowly (10-10-4 after two dozen games) that season as they worked some new pieces into their lineup and set about developing the necessary chemistry and consistency.
“A little bit of it is confidence and chemistry with the guys you’re playing with,” says Caps right wing Tom Wilson. “I think I need to hang onto the puck a little more. You go from playing with guys that have different tendencies and go to different spots on the ice. There is a lot of new chemistry being found; guys are playing with guys that they’ve never played with before and the lines have a little bit of a different look than they had last year.
“It’s still early, and guys are still feeling each other out. We’ve got to make sure that we’re practicing hard and we’re working with each other.”
Like the Capitals, the Red Wings come into Friday’s game on the heels of a loss at the hands of the Toronto Maple Leafs. While the Caps fell 2-0 to the Leafs at home on Tuesday, Detroit dropped a 6-3 decision to the Leafs in Toronto on Wednesday night.
Veteran Wings goalie Jimmy Howard was off to a strong start this season, but he had a tough night in Toronto. Howard was nicked for goals on each of the first two shots he faced, and on three of the first four. At that juncture of the contest, the Wings were down 3-1 and Detroit coach Jeff Blashill hooked Howard in favor of Petr Mrazek.
Toronto baptized Mrazek immediately, putting the first shot behind him to make it a 4-1 game. Though the Wings straightened up somewhat from that point, the Leafs had all the offense they’d need before the first frame was over.
Not much has changed with the Wings since last season. They added veteran defenseman Trevor Daley, and they’re still trying to sign holdout RFA forward Andreas Athanasiou.
The Wings boast one of the most homegrown rosters in the league; 15 of the 20 players they dressed for Wednesday’s game against Toronto were Detroit draft choices and several of the others are Michigan natives. Of the 24 players who have suited up for the Wings this season, only three – defensemen Daley and Mike Green and forward Frans Nielsen – weren’t born in Michigan and weren’t Red Wings draft choices.
After winning their season opener over the Minnesota Wild in their first ever game at the brand new Little Caesars Arena, the Wings set out on what turned out to be a successful four-game road trip. Detroit won three of four games on the trip, but has fallen to Tampa Bay (at home) and the Leafs (on the road) since.
The Caps are providing the opposition for just the third game ever at Little Caesars, and Friday’s game starts a two-game homestand for the Red Wings. The will host Vancouver on Sunday.