Call Of The West – The Caps move into the backside of their season-long five-game homestand on Wednesday night in Washington when they host the Chicago Blackhawks for the only time this season. Chicago is the third Western Conference team to come in on this homestand, and Washington will play seven of its 14 December games against Western foes.
By the time calendar 2017 is in the rear view, the Caps will have played 17 of the total of 30 games they will play against the opposite conference this season.
Oshie Out – Caps right wing T.J. Oshie will miss Wednesday’s game against Chicago. Oshie absorbed an awkward hit from Sharks center Joe Thornton in Monday’s win over San Jose. In Oshie’s absence, Alex Chiasson will slide up and skate the right side of a line with Jakub Vrana and Evgeny Kuznetsov. Chiasson has two goals and three points in his last six games.
Washington will miss Oshie’s contributions on the ice for sure. He is the Caps’ third leading scorer with 23 points (10 goals, 13 assists) and he is a valued and stalwart contributor to both of Washington’s special teams as well. Oshie is also invaluable to the Caps in the locker room, but even if he’s out for an extended period, he will likely make sure that his teammates don’t miss him as much in that regard.
“He brings a lot of energy off the ice, on the ice, too,” says Caps goalie Braden Holtby of Oshie. “He is a vocal guy, and he’s positive.
“The good thing with him is that he has been injured before and he has found a way to stay a part of it. He comes to the games early and makes sure that he is supporting the guys and getting the guys going. Not many guys do that, but he always finds a way to make sure he is having a positive effect on the team.
“It’s tough being without him, and hopefully he is not out for long. He is tough on the ice, but he still brings it off the ice, too.”
Sixty-Five Alive – On the positive side of the injury ledger, Caps winger Andre Burakovsky is nearly ready to return from a broken thumb that has had him on the sidelines since Oct. 21.
Burakovsky has skated with his Capitals teammates for three straight days, though he has not been cleared to return yet.
“It is a possibility,” says Caps coach Barry Trotz, when asked about Burakovsky potentially drawing back in for Friday’s homestand finale against the New York Rangers. “He hasn’t been cleared yet. But the possibility of him returning very shortly is going to happen.”
Tighten Up – Washington has won two in a row and five of its last six games. The Caps have won 11 of 16 since they returned from a three-game road trip to Western Canada at the end of October. But although the results have been favorable for the Caps of late, they’ve had some spells of sloppiness in their own end of the ice, and they’re aiming to get those cleaned up.
“The [scoring] chances – other than that [Saturday] Columbus game—have been pretty decent,” says Trotz. “The shots [on goal against] maybe are not always that, but the chances are about the same every night. We’re with the other team or a little bit above in the chances.
“But for us and where we want to go with our team, there are a lot of areas and execution and some structural stuff where if we can lock those down a little bit better, we’ll be in the offensive zone a lot more. I said to the guys today that execution and structure puts speed into your game. It allows you to play in the offensive zone. It gives you predictability, and you want to be predictable to your teammates.
“Right now, if we want to go north, we’ve got a couple of guys that keep turning south, and everybody’s going north, and then all of a sudden you have these holes in your game. Failed execution, and all of a sudden you’re on the backside of people.
“If we can just lock a couple of areas down and get a little bit sharper in a couple of areas, you’ll see a tremendous difference in our game. We’re skating much better, our forecheck is coming around, and we’re getting some length to our game. Hopefully we can get healthy, so we can get some rhythm in all of the lines.”
Deans Of Discipline – Washington has faced a grand total of only four shorthanded situations in its last four games, and it has killed off each of them without incident. In their last six games, the Caps have gone shorthanded only 10 times, killing nine of them.
For a team that frequently too penalties in bunches earlier in the season, the Caps’ recent tendency toward better discipline has pleased their coach.
“Absolutely,” says Trotz, asked if he’s happy with his team’s discipline of late. “The best penalty kill in the world right there. Oh-for-oh, that’s what you want to see on the other side.
“But they’re skating better, and part of that discipline is we’re skating better. We’re skating better, we’re forechecking better, we’re not getting outside of ourselves – we understand they’re going to call the slashing and the hooking and all that – so we’re checking on our feet a lot better. To me, that’s where the discipline comes in. It’s not necessarily the number of penalties. Some referees sort of look to make sure they get their quota [of penalties] every game. I think we’ve done a better job.”
In The Nets – Philipp Grubauer started and won Washington’s most recent game, a 4-1 win over the San Jose Sharks on Monday night. Holtby gets the net back for Washington tonight against Chicago as he takes aim on his 15
th victory of the season.
Holtby is also coming off a victory in his most recent start. He made 32 saves against Columbus, and he stopped 16 of 17 in the third period of that game while the Caps were under siege in their own end for a good bit of that final 20 minutes.
Holtby has yet to lose consecutive starts this season, and he has limited foes to two or fewer goals in 11 of his 20 starts. Lifetime against the Blackhawks, he is 6-2-0 with a shutout, a 2.23 GAA and a .927 save pct.
Anton Forsberg will be in goal for Chicago on Wednesday. Obtained from Columbus in the blockbuster Brandon Saad deal last summer, Forsberg replaces Scott Darling (dealt to Carolina last summer) as Corey Crawford’s backup in Chicago. Crawford has been on the sidelines for about a week with an undisclosed ailment, so Forsberg is set to make his third straight start, something he is doing for the first time at the NHL level.
Forsberg has been a bit like Grubauer this season; he has played reasonably well but hasn’t gotten much in the way of offensive support. Forsberg is 1-3-3 in nine appearances (seven starts) with a 3.01 GAA and a .914 save pct. He surrendered a total of three goals in his last two starts, but did not get a victory in either game.
Lifetime in the NHL, Forsberg is 2-11-3 with a 3.56 GAA and an .896 save pct. He picked up his first NHL victory at Washington’s expense, coming on in relief of an injured Curtis McElhinney in overtime of a Jan. 2, 2016 game in Columbus. Forsberg made six saves in four minutes of work in the extra session, then nailed down his first victory as the Blue Jackets prevailed in the shootout.
All Lined Up – Here’s how we expect the Caps and the Hawks to look for their Wednesday night match-up at Capital One:
8-Ovechkin, 19-Backstrom, 43-Wilson
13-Vrana, 92-Kuznetsov, 39-Chiasson
10-Connolly, 20-Eller, 72-Boyd
18-Stephenson, 83-Beagle, 25-Smith-Pelly
65-Burakovsky (upper body, week-to-week)
77-Oshie (upper body)
38-Hartman, 19-Toews, 40-Hayden
20-Saad, 15-Anisimov, 88-Kane
17-Bouma, 8-Schmaltz, 12-DeBrincat
10-Sharp, 57-Wingels, 14-Panik
32-Rozsival (upper body)
81-Hossa (skin infection)