Take Two – A night after the Carolina Hurricanes ended Washington’s twin winning streaks with a 3-1 win over the Capitals, the Caps will have a crack at exacting revenge in Raleigh. The two teams reconvene in North Carolina’s capital city on Friday night for their third meeting in the span of 11 nights.
Carolina’s win on Thursday stopped the Caps’ season high five-game winning streak, and also put an end to Washington’s 10-game home ice winning streak, the longest run of its kind in the league this season. The Caps’ 10-game run at home matches the fourth longest home winning streak in franchise history.
On Friday in Raleigh, the Caps play their last game before their bye week, so it’s their last chance to add to their point total until next Thursday when they get back in action against the Devils in New Jersey.
“Let's commit to one game here,” says Caps coach Barry Trotz of Friday’s rematch in Raleigh. “We played like we were on our break [Thursday] night. I don’t want to take anything away from Carolina. Carolina had a good game plan, and they executed against us.”
Bye, Bye – After Friday night’s game in Carolina, the Caps embark upon their “bye week,” a midseason oasis that’s been rendered a bit superfluous for the Caps this season, seeing as they’ve had or will have a total of four other breaks of three or more days (including the NHL’s holiday and All-Star breaks) in duration over a span of roughly 40 days. After Friday’s game against Carolina, the Caps play only four games in the next 18 days.
The bye week is a bit different in format from some of the other breaks, too. No practices or team meetings can be scheduled, so the bye week is legitimate time away from the game, as is the holiday break and the All-Star break, for those not chosen to represent.
The bye week is also different from team to team around the league. Some teams have no travel to deal with whatsoever on either side of the bye, and they have a relatively smooth schedule with which to enter and exit the bye week. Chicago comes to mind; the Blackhawks will play home games on Jan. 12 and 14, then they’ll have their bye from Jan. 15-19, then they’ll come out and play home games once again on Jan. 20 and 22. No travel, no back-to-backs, just a bye week in the middle of a homestand.
Other teams like Philadelphia and Carolina bought themselves a few extra hours of bye week time in scheduling matinee games at home ahead of their respective bye weeks, enabling players to get out of town the evening before their actual bye week begins.
It’s good work if you can get it, but the Capitals find themselves at the opposite end of that bye week spectrum.
Nine of the league’s 31 teams, including the Capitals, have a set of back-to-back games immediately preceding the bye week. Nine teams, including the Capitals, have a set of back-to-back games coming right out of their bye weeks.
Playing on the road in the last game before a bye week starts is not the most ideal situation for teams, because many players will want to get away with their significant others during the break, and they’ll first have to fly back home to collect those loved ones. Eleven of the league’s 30 teams, including the Capitals, will play on the road immediately ahead of their bye weeks.
Thirteen teams, including the Capitals, will play on the road coming out of their bye week. Players on these teams will spend the last half-day of their bye week traveling and practicing in preparation for their first games back in action the following day. Teams playing at home will have the practice the day before returning to action, but obviously no travel.
Most of the league’s teams, including the Capitals, have a bye week of five days in duration, or five days without games. There are 11 teams with six-day bye weeks, and Ottawa has a seven-day gap between games.
One of the primary feedback points from last season’s inaugural run of the bye week system was to have teams come out of the bye week and play their first game or two against other teams on equal footing, teams also coming out of their bye weeks. That seems like common sense to most of us, but it didn’t happen last season.
In 2017-18, there are 18 NHL teams that will play another team that’s coming out of the bye week as they do the same. That’s good, but that also means that 13 teams, including the Capitals, come out of the bye week playing teams that have either played a few games already, or haven’t had their bye week yet.
If by now you’re wondering how many NHL teams will be dealing with all six of those bye week adversities – playing back-to-backs going in, playing back-to-backs coming out, playing on the road going in, playing on the road coming out, having the shortest possible bye week, and playing against non-rusty opposition – it’s actually a very short list.
The Washington Capitals.
In The Nets – A night after Braden Holtby stopped 30 of 32 shots he faced, only to come out on the short end of a 3-1 score against the Hurricanes, Philipp Grubauer gets the net against the Canes in Raleigh on Friday. Grubauer has been on a roll of late, going 3-0-2 over his last six appearances (five starts), with a shutout, a 1.04 GAA and a .967 save pct. Grubauer has permitted just two five-on-five goals in his last 344:46 of work.
Grubauer is still seeking his first road victory of the season. In 10 appearances (seven starts) on the road, Grubauer is 0-4-3 with a shutout, a 3.05 GAA and a .903 save pct. Lifetime against the Hurricanes, Grubauer is 3-2-1 with a 2.65 GAA and a .922 save pct.
Veteran Cam Ward had been penciled in as the likely starter for Friday’s game, but after Scott Darling stymied the Caps in making 27 saves on the 28 shots he faced on Thursday, Canes coach Bill Peters sounded less certain of which goalie will get Friday’s assignment. Peters did have some glowing words on Ward before Thursday’s game.
“He has been outstanding,” says Peters of Ward. “He has been just such a good pro and he is such a stabilizing influence on our back end, the way he handles the puck, and also a great partner for [Scott Darling]. He has been there and has helped him out every step of the way, and when his number got called he was ready to go. He’s got real good numbers for the year. We’ve come off it a little bit team defense-wise here recently; we’ve got to tighten that up to help our goaltenders. He’s been very impressive as a person and as a player.”
Ward remains the likely starter on Friday against Washington. He is 11-4-2 with a 2.78 GAA and a .907 save pct. on the season. Lifetime against Washington, Ward is 17-16-6 with four shutouts, a 2.74 GAA and a .911 save pct.
All Lined Up – Here’s how we expect the Caps to look when they take to the ice on Friday night at PNC Arena in Raleigh when they play the second half of a home-and-home set of games against the Carolina Hurricanes:
8-Ovechkin, 19-Backstrom, 25-Smith-Pelly
13-Vrana, 92-Kuznetsov, 43-Wilson
10-Connolly, 20-Eller, 77-Oshie
18-Stephenson, 83-Beagle, 39-Chiasson
20-Aho, 11-Staal, 28-Lindholm
53-Skinner, 49-Rask, 86-Teravainen
23-McGinn, 71-Wallmark, 14-Williams
42-Nordstrom, 16-Kruger, 19-Jooris
5-Hanifin, 57-van Riemsdyk
7-Ryan (upper body)
22-Pesce (upper body)