Back At It –
With their five-day “bye week” now behind them, the Capitals leap back into the fray with a set of back-to-back games and three games in four nights before they get another three-day break early next week.
Washington is in Newark on Thursday where it will take on the New Jersey Devils for the third of four meetings between the two Metropolitan Division rivals this season. The Devils have played two games since returning from their own bye week last weekend; New Jersey fell to the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday but downed the New York Islanders in Brooklyn on Tuesday to put a stop to a six-game slide (0-3-3).
Adverse Conditions –
As we outlined here last week, the Caps are the only team in the NHL who meet each of these adverse bye week conditions: they went into the bye week with a road game, came out of the bye week with a road game, had back-to-backs going into the bye week, have back-to-backs coming out of the bye week, and don’t face a fellow bye week team coming out of the break.
We can add one more bit of adversity to that list. Because of airline issues and repeatedly delayed flights, the Caps weren’t able to practice on Wednesday ahead of Thursday’s game with the Devils. The Caps were initially slated to get a practice in at the Prudential Center at 4 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon, immediately upon arriving on what was scheduled to be a 12:45 p.m. flight to Newark.
Alas, the Caps didn’t depart for New Jersey until around 6 p.m. on Wednesday, scotching plans for a practice. Thursday’s morning skate will have to do, because that’s all the Caps will have between last Friday’s win over the Hurricanes in Raleigh and Thursday’s game against the Devils in New Jersey.
With that in mind, Caps coach Barry Trotz turned the second half of Thursday’s morning skate into a scrimmage.
“Even when you take a couple of days off, you’re not out there against another five opponents,” says Trotz. “So we did a little couple of minutes of scrimmage, just to get used to looking through people, executing under a little bit of pressure and that type of thing.
“Usually what happens is you lose a little bit of your hands and your lungs; they shut down a little bit on you, so you need something to get them going a little bit. So we did a little bit of that, and we just changed our whole – for the most part –pretty well our whole game day skate, adding some elements that we probably would have used yesterday.”
Less than a month ago, the Caps dealt with similar circumstances coming out of their holiday break. They skated early in the morning at Kettler before departing for Newark late in the morning, but travel woes also delayed their arrival for a couple of hours that time, putting them in midtown Manhattan a few hours later than scheduled for a game that same night against the New York Rangers.
Although the Caps did not win that game against the Rangers, they acquitted themselves well in falling 1-0 in the shootout.
“I think a break is good with how the schedule is,” says caps center Jay Beagle. “It was good to get out there. We did a couple of different drills and a scrimmage towards the end.
“I think it’s more of your mind. It’s more your mind than anything. Your body, I mean, you’re in shape. Four days isn’t going to make that much of a difference, especially because guys do a little bit of stuff just towards the end of the break anyway, just to make sure they feel good that first day on the ice.
“We’ve just got to take from all of the previous experiences and come at these guys, because this is a big game tonight.”
Earlier this month, the Caps had a couple of practices to get ready for a Jan. 2 game against the Hurricanes. They had a couple of practices to prepare for a Jan. 7 game against the St. Louis Blues. Washington’s January schedule initially contained a dozen practice days and 10 game days, but one of the most important of those practice dates was lost on Wednesday.
“Obviously I’m taking the approach that we’re rested and not rusty,” says Trotz. “[Wednesday] we got all muddled up with travel and all that. We had to accomplish a little bit of guys getting used getting the lungs fired up and all of those type of things.
“It is what it is. We adjust. And we’re rested, not rusty.”
Same As It Ever Was –
Washington will make no changes to its lineup coming off the bye week, and that’s at least partially due to the fact that it was unable to conduct a practice before getting back to work.
Washington winger Andre Burakovsky missed the Caps’ last two games before the break because of illness, so he has been off the blades for more than a week as the Caps get back to business. That being the case, Washington will ease Burakovsky back into its lineup this weekend. The Caps have home games on Friday against Montreal and on Sunday afternoon against the Flyers.
“There was no decision,” says Trotz of Burakovsky. “He got sick and missed a few days right before the break, so he’s been on break for quite a while now. So to give him the best chance to be successful, we’ll get him a good skate today and I expect him to go in [Friday] for someone, and let’s get him rolling in the right direction.
“He was going to be in in the Carolina games [before the break], he got sick and so now he’s been a week plus without being on the ice. So let’s give him the best chance to get back after having a little bit of the flu.”
In The Nets –
Caps goaltender Braden Holtby will be between the pipes for Washington on Thursday for the Capitals’ third meeting with the Devils this season. Holtby is seeking his 25
win of the season; two of his previous triumphs this season have come at the Devils’ expense.
Holtby is coming into tonight’s game on the heels of a loss in his most recent start, a week ago tonight in Washington against the Carolina Hurricanes. Holtby and the Caps came out on the short end of a 3-1 score in that contest, a loss that stopped Washington’s home winning streak at 10 straight games.
Holtby has yet to lose consecutive starts this season, a streak that will be challenged against a good Devils team that’s two games removed from its own bye week and itching to show itself better than it has in its two previous meetings with the Caps this season.
Lifetime against the Devils, Holtby is 14-3-2 with four shutouts, a 1.83 GAA and a .930 save pct. in 19 career appearances.
Keith Kinkaid gets his second straight start for the Devils on Thursday against the Caps. No. 1 New Jersey netminder Cory Schneider missed the Devils’ 4-1 win over the Islanders on Tuesday because of illness; Schneider was unable to even serve as the backup for Kinkaid in that game. Schneider is on the road to recovery, but Kinkaid was good against the Isles, ending the Devils’ six-game losing streak. So the Devils will go with Kinkaid, but Schneider will serve as New Jersey’s backup.
On the season, Kinkaid is 6-3-2 with a 3.10 GAA and a .901 save pct. in a dozen appearances (10 starts). Lifetime against Washington, Kinkaid is 1-3-0 in four appearances with a 4.23 GAA and an .867 save pct.
All Lined Up –
Here’s how we expect the Caps to look when they return to action against the New Jersey Devils on Thursday night at Prudential Center, their second and final visit to Newark during the 2017-18 regular season:
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
9-Hall, 13-Hischier, 63-Bratt
90-Johansson, 19-Zajac, 18-Stafford
44-Woods, 37-Zacha, 21-Palmieri
39-Gibbons, 11-Boyle, 23-Noesen
25-Mueller (fractured clavicle)