Jan. 7 vs. St. Louis Blues at Capital One Arena
Time: 3:00 p.m.
TV: NBC Sports Washington
Radio: FAN 106.7, Capitals Radio 24/7
St. Louis Blues 26-16-2
Washington Capitals 25-13-3
After a four-day break at midseason, the Capitals get back to work on Sunday afternoon against the St. Louis Blues in the first game of a three-game homestand at Capital One Arena. Washington will be seeking its fourth straight win overall and its ninth straight win on home ice in Sunday’s game.
Two weeks ago in Las Vegas, the Caps played the second game of a set of back-to-backs against the Golden Knights, who had been sitting idle for the previous four days. On Sunday against St. Louis, it will be the Capitals who are on the positive side of that scheduling equation. Washington will be the well-rested team facing a St. Louis squad that dropped a 6-3 decision on Saturday afternoon against the Flyers in Philadelphia.
The Golden Knights scored two early goals in that Dec. 23 game against Washington, and they led the Caps by 3-0 after the first period. That also turned out to be the final score of the contest.
“I’d like to be up 3-0, for sure, like [Vegas] did to us, in the first five minutes, it seemed,” says Caps coach Barry Trotz. “I think the surprise factor of playing a team that you didn’t know a lot about, and as a coaching staff we had them pegged really well, and we tried as much as we could to give our information. But sometimes you’ve just got to feel it, and we got to feel it in the first 10 minutes in the wrong way in the sense of all of a sudden we are looking at a big deficit against a team that is pretty good defensively.
“We know we have a break, and we are trying to do different things because we know about our schedule coming forward. We’re trying to add a couple of things so that maybe we will be a little sharper. We did a little scrimmage the last couple of days. [On Saturday], we weren’t as good as we were [Thursday]. The turnovers and the sloppy plays in that little, short scrimmage that we had, those will turn into goals against, against the St. Louis Blues.”
The Caps were last in action this past Tuesday night in Carolina when Alex Ovechkin scored to tie the game in the third and scored in overtime to take a 5-4 victory over the Hurricanes. Washington played that game without defenseman Matt Niskanen, who sat out with an upper body injury, but he is expected to return to the Caps’ line for Sunday’s game.
“It looks good unless we have a setback today, he’s good to go,” says Trotz. “But I don’t anticipate anything, I think he is good to go.”
Niskanen has missed a total of 14 games this season, and Washington is 8-6-0 in those contests. The Capitals are 17-7-3 in the 27 games in which he has suited up and played.
The Caps have won their last two games without winger Andre Burakovsky in the lineup. Burakovsky was scratched for each of those two games, but he is expected to be back in the lineup on Sunday against St. Louis, skating on Washington’s fourth line with Jay Beagle and Alex Chiasson.
“I think he is a young player,” says Trotz of Burakovsky, “And credit the 12 forwards who are in – they are making my decision really, really hard, which is what you want. And so we’ll see where Andre is [on Sunday] and we’ll go from there.
“We’re in the mode where we’re trying to get a couple of players going, but for the most part everybody is pulling their own weight and we’ll adjust as the game goes on. No matter what 12 forwards I put in [on Sunday], I feel confident that they’ll do the job, and I expect them to do the same thing [on Sunday].”
Sunday’s game with the Blues kicks off the second half of the 2017-18 season for the Capitals. After Saturday’s practice, Trotz was asked whether he feels like he has a good feel for this year’s edition of the Capitals or whether they might still be evolving.
“I think about halfway through [the season], you have a feel for what your team is capable of,” Trotz replies. “You have a feel for each player – you have a percentage of trust of where their game is going to be in terms of are they reliable offensively and defensively. Can you trust them in the consistency area, and those types of things.
“I think you’re getting that, and then when you get about halfway through [the season], you know what guys – when you put them together – sort of have a little chemistry, and so you’ll keep going back to that as the year goes on. And what you’ll see in the last probably 40 games is you’re going to find out which lines are going to stay together for the most part, and we’re going to keep them together for maybe a little longer stretch and then go from there. But I think when you get halfway through, you know. The players have taken the slot of where they’re going to be. There are a couple of players who have moved up, and some players have moved down.”
The Blues opened the 2017-18 season with four straight victories, and they won 13 of their first 17 games (13-3-1) and 16 of their first 22 (16-5-1). St. Louis cooled off a bit when it lost five of six games just ahead of the NHL’s annual holiday break last month, but the Blues carried a three-game winning streak with them on this mini East Coast road trip they’ve embarked upon this weekend.
Saturday’s loss to the Flyers halted that streak, as the Blues fell down 4-0 in the second period before cutting the lead in half and ultimately being doubled up at the hands of the Flyers. Although they boast an 11-8-2 road record on the season, the Blues have lost five of their last six road contests (1-5-0), and they’ve been outscored 20-11 in the process.
Jake Allen started and went the distance in goal for the Blues on Saturday in Philly, so the Caps can expect to see Carter Hutton between the pipes for Sunday’s game in Washington.