Nov. 10 vs. Pittsburgh Penguins at Capital One Arena
Time: 7:00 p.m.
TV: NBC Sports Washington
Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7
Pittsburgh Penguins 9-6-2
Washington Capitals 8-7-1
We’re more than a month into the 2017-18 NHL season now, and the Capitals are finally set to kick off their first multi-game homestand of the campaign. The Pittsburgh Penguins come to town on Friday night for the second and final time this season, providing the opposition in the first game of a two-game homestand for the Capitals.
The Caps played 10 of their first 16 games on the road this season, and each of the six home games during that stretch was a solo home game as Washington started the season with six one-game home stops for the first time in franchise history. The Caps split those six home games – losing three in a row at one point – and they held their own on the road during that span. As a result, they’re now set to start a stretch of scheduling in which they’ll be playing at home far more frequently.
Washington plays seven of 10 here in the District to close out November, and it plays 11 of its next 14 games at Capital One Arena over the next 30 days.
Given the rash of injuries they’ve weathered, the amount of new faces in the room, and the disjointedness of their early season schedule, the Caps don’t see themselves as being too poorly off with their 8-7-1 record.
“You’ve got to trust the process,” says Caps coach Barry Trotz. “Everybody looks at the young [defense]. We could have gone out and got a seventh or eighth [defenseman] that’s been on waivers or [from] another tem. We didn’t. We trust the process of the young players, be it a [Christian] Djoos or a [Madison] Bowey or a [Aaron] Ness or a [Chandler] Stephenson or a [Jakub] Vrana. We’ve trusted that process. We knew that we were going to have some growing pains.
“We had a real difficult schedule, we had a lot of injuries and we’re actually in a pretty good spot considering all that was thrown at us, from the summer, through training camp, through free agency and all that, and then the injuries. I think our game has grown. I know we are a way better team today than we were game one.”
Although the Capitals are in seventh place in the Metropolitan Division, but they find themselves right in the thick of a cluster of tightly bunched teams in the Metro standings, a group that includes seven teams separated by just three points. Washington is also only three points south of the top spot that’s currently being shared by New Jersey and Pittsburgh. The Devils have a game in hand on the Caps, who have a game in hand on the Penguins. If you expand the view to include the Atlantic Division, the Tampa Bay Lightning is in its own rarified air, and then there are a dozen teams separated by five points.
“The league is really good,” Trotz opines. “If you look at it, it’s a .500 league other than three or four teams. The teams that have a little more depth – like Tampa, who is in a good window, and St. Louis and probably L.A.; I haven’t seen L.A. a lot – they’re the only ones that have pulled away from anybody. The rest of us are all right there. So it’s the team that can continue to get better as the season goes on that will be probably one of the teams that is right there at the end.
“The next part for us is to keep battling, keep growing, keep adding stuff to our game, keep getting better at it, and we’ll be fine.”
To that end, it looks as though the Caps are on the verge of gradually getting healthier in the days ahead. Injured forwards Brett Connolly and Tyler Graovac took part in Thursday’s practice session at Kettler, and ailing defenseman Matt Niskanen also was on the ice with his teammates for the first time since his Oct. 13 injury. Niskanen did not participate fully, indicating he may be a bit further from returning than the other two.
“Personally,” says Caps winger Alex Chiasson, “when there’s a lot of new faces on the team – like myself – it does take some time to get everybody together on the same page with the system. And we’ve also had injuries here, which changes a lot of those things, too.
“I don’t think it’s been the start of the year that we wanted as a team. But I don’t think it is as bad as some people have said, also. Schedule-wise, now we’re at home, and we’re getting some of those guys back. We’re in the middle here in the standings. You never want to let yourself fall too far away, and I think we’re just right there. You put a couple of wins together, and you’re right back in the mix.”
For the Caps on Friday, the aim is to keep that Metro Division ceiling right where it is, at the 20 points that New Jersey and Pittsburgh each have. Columbus hosts Carolina on Friday, and the Jackets would reach 21 points with a victory over the Hurricanes, but the Caps obviously have no control over that outcome.
Pittsburgh is 25
th in the league and goals scored and 26
th in the circuit in goals against, and the Pens own a negative goal differential (minus-14). The Pens have too much offensive talent to struggle at lighting lamps for much longer, and the poor goal differential (and, to a large degree, the poor showing in goals against) is the result of an issue with the second of back-to-back games.
The Penguins are 0-4-1 in the second of back-to-backs, and they’ve been outscored by an incredible 31-8 margin in those five games. They’ll have another crack at improving upon that record this weekend; Friday’s game is the front end of the Pens’ sixth set of back-to-backs on the young season. The Pens head to Nashville immediately after Friday’s game in Washington. They’ve got a Saturday night date with the Predators, the team they vanquished in the Stanley Cup final last spring.
Although they’re the co-occupants of the top perch in the Metro standings, the Pens own the 12
th best record in the league, from a points percentage viewpoint. To Trotz’s point of the NHL being a “.500 league,” the Pens have won just over half – nine of 17 – of their games on the season.
Friday’s game marks the second meeting between the two Metro rivals this season. The Pens took a 3-2 decision from the Caps here in Washington on Oct. 11. All of Pittsburgh's offense came from its power play (3-for-6) in that game.