Jan. 18 vs. New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center
Time: 7:00 p.m.
TV: NBC Sports Washington
Radio: FAN 106.7, Capitals Radio 24/7
Washington Capitals 27-14-3
New Jersey Devils 23-12-8
Washington emerges from its bye week on Thursday night in Newark when it faces the New Jersey Devils in the front end of a set of back-to-back games. The Caps return home on Friday to host the Montreal Canadiens in the back end of that set.
Originally, the Caps were slated to come out of the bye week with an early afternoon flight to Newark and a late-afternoon practice in New Jersey on Wednesday before facing the Devils, who came out of their bye week last weekend and will be playing for the third time since then when they host the Capitals on Thursday. But travel being travel, the Capitals were held up by various issues out of their control, and their scheduled practice session on Wednesday is a casualty of travel woes. The Caps were several hours late in arriving to New Jersey, so practice is dead and Washington will actually start up after the bye week after Thursday’s morning skate.
For just the second time this season, the Caps have strung together consecutive road wins. The Caps, like every other team in the Metropolitan Division this season, have been extremely ordinary on the road in 2017-18. But the Caps have a recent history of heating up on the road in the second half of seasons, and if they’re able to do so again this season, they may be able to lock down a playoff berth.
The Capitals went into the bye on a high note, winning a second straight road game in Carolina in come-from-behind fashion. Washington scored twice in the final 3:08 of the game to hand a heartbreaking defeat to the Hurricanes, skating off with a 4-3 win on Jay Beagle’s goal with 1.3 seconds remaining in the game.
The Caps have won two straight road games as they embark upon the final 37 games of the 2017-18 regular season, with both of those victories coming in Raleigh.
“If we’re going to do anything, it’s going to be the depth of our forwards and our ability to make things happen and have guys play different roles,” said Caps coach Barry Trotz after the Caps won their final game heading into the break. “Tonight, I thought some guys were off tonight, weren’t having great games. But other guys were able to step up and get the job done. That’s the beauty of it; they keep pushing each other. That’s the sign of a team that finds ways to win, and we have.
“We’ve got lots of work to do. Let’s not kid ourselves. Our goaltending, [Philipp Grubauer] has made some good saves and [Braden Holtby] has been really good. We have a lot of work ahead of us. I think after the break there will be a few areas that we need to clean up if we’re going to be able to do anything in the second half here. It’s going to get ramped up and it’s going to be survival of the fittest, really, because there are going to be some really good teams. Whoever can survive the next 35-40 games, you’re going to be in. And if you don’t, you’re out.”
Surviving the next 35-40 games is one thing. But for the eight denizens of the Metropolitan Division, finding a way to win on the road could be the key to securing a playoff berth. As the Caps come out of their bye week, none of the Metro teams has won more than half of its road games this season.
“It’s huge,” says Trotz of the team’s road schedule ahead. “I think most of the home teams have pretty good records for the most part. But if you can be above .500 on the road, and you have a really good home record, you can make it really difficult for teams to gain ground on you. If you can get a big win like tonight – I mean, that was a big two points; that got us even – we just shortened their season. If they’re trying to catch us down the road, we shortened the season. And that’s what you have to do.
“When you go to these Metro games, obviously they’re more intense and they just get ramped up as we go along here. You always want to get points. I look at the week; it’s usually three games. See if we can get four points every three games. And if we can do that – I won’t care how we do it – just get it done.”
Washington has done a bit better than that since the outset of the New Year, winning four of its five January games to date. But starting with Thursday’s game against the Devils, the Caps have five more games scattered over two more lengthy breaks this month, so they need to accumulate as many points as possible over that stretch.
Washington’s game in Newark on Thursday is the fourth in a string of seven straight one-game road trips for the Capitals, who are 2-0-1 in the first three games of that run. Overall, the Caps are 4-1-2 in their last seven road games.
Winning on the road and in the division is important, perhaps more so this season than in previous seasons. Washington went into its bye week with a six-point lead in the Metropolitan Division standings, and the Caps came out of the bye week with a five-point lead in the division standings.
New Jersey had an uneventful exit from its bye week over the weekend, and the Devils have split a pair of games coming out of the bye. The Devils dropped a 5-3 decision to the Flyers at home on Saturday before ending a six-game slide (0-3-3) with a 4-1 victory over the Islanders on Tuesday night in Brooklyn. Before New Jersey’s win in Brooklyn on Tuesday, its six-game skid was the Devils’ longest of the season.