Brothers Of The Road –
The Winnipeg Jets are the only team in the league the Caps have yet to face this season, and that changes on Tuesday night when Washington opens up a season long four-game road trip against the Jets in Manitoba.
It’s been nearly two months since the Caps embarked on a “road trip” that had them away from the District for more than just a single night. Washington’s last multi-game journey came just ahead of the NHL’s holiday break in December; the Caps have had seven straight one-game road trips since.
Given that things have gone a bit stale for the Caps at home – where they’ve won just two of their last seven (2-3-2) – and that they’ve managed to pull a point in six of their last seven (4-1-2) away from Capital One Arena, might this be a good time for them to set out on their longest road trek of the season?
“With those numbers, yes,” says Caps coach Barry Trotz. “Sometimes when you’re at home, you don’t actually spend a lot of time together. You come to practice, and then you go home. I think sometimes when you need a little reboot or you need a little bit of tightening as a group, the best thing is a road trip.”
“You definitely catch up on some sleep on the road, selfishly speaking,” says Caps defenseman Brooks Orpik. “I think it’s good. The schedule has been a little bit weird this year – not a lot of flow or consistency to it – and it’s always fun playing in some of these buildings that we’re playing in here, in good hockey markets.”
“To be out here with the guys and just be around the boys for a week here, it’s going to be great,” says Washington winger Andre Burakovsky. “I don’t think we have had any really long road trips so far. It’s going to be fun just to be with the boys and to be around them all of the time, and obviously we’ve got the fathers coming in here [to St. Paul on Wednesday] and all the dads are coming to watch us play, and we’ll spend some time with them, and that’s going to be really fun, too.”
Rookie Caps defenseman Madison Bowey hails from Winnipeg, and he will play an NHL game in his hometown against the Jets for the first time tonight.
“It’s going to be really special, I think,” says Bowey. “Obviously, that’s where I fell in love with the game, it’s where I started playing hockey and I have a great support staff back home. So I’m definitely looking forward to going back and it should be a great game. The Jets are also playing some great hockey, so it should be a great test for us, too.”
Bowey expects to have 15-20 friends and family members cheering him on tonight. Born in April of 1995, Bowey was a bit over a year old when the original NHL Jets pulled up stakes and left town for Phoenix in the summer of 1996, and he was a teenager when the current Jets moved here from Atlanta in 1995.
“That’s something my dad would always talk about,” says Bowey, “and all his buddies, they’d talk about the Jets back in the day and how exhilarating it was and how much energy they brought to the city.
“So when they announced they were bringing a team back, it was really special for the town of Winnipeg. Obviously it’s a big hockey town and the fans love the game there, so they definitely deserve an NHL team and as you can see the fans there get behind the squad pretty good. Their building is pretty fun to play in. It’s pretty special that they have a team there, and I’m definitely fortunate to be playing in the NHL with Winnipeg being one of the locations in the league.”
In addition to all the friends and family members in the stands tonight, another of Bowey’s good friends will be sporting a Jets sweater and sitting on the opposite bench.
“Josh Morrissey, who plays with Winnipeg,” begins Bowey, “he was my defensive partner for every Hockey Canada event that we did together, and we played together in Kelowna, too – we finished off our junior years together. That will be special playing against him. We’re pretty good buddies and he’s having a pretty good year so it will be really good seeing him.”
Hello, Old Friend –
Burakovsky also has a longstanding connection to a member of the Jets, namely skilled Winnipeg winger Nikolaj Ehlers. Ehlers hails from Denmark and is a year and four days younger than Burakovsky, but the two of them became close as kids, mainly because their fathers’ hockey careers were virtually joined at the hip.
“Me and Nikolaj, we grew up together,” says Burakovsky. “My dad and his dad Heinz, they were best friends and they still are. They spend a lot of time together and they played together as well on many different teams.
“So me and Nikolaj, we just grew up together and spent a lot of time together when we were kids, played a lot of hockey together and we just hung out a lot.”
The New York Rangers spent a ninth-round pick (188
overall) to draft Heinz Ehlers in the 1984 NHL Entry Draft. A year later, the Rangers took Robert Burakovsky in the 11
overall). The elder Ehlers and the elder Burakovsky spent six seasons playing together in the Swedish Elite League, four seasons for Leksands IF and two more with AIK.
But wait, there’s more.
“When Heinz became a coach in Denmark, my dad went to play for him,” says the younger Burakovsky. “So we lived there and I came to visit him a lot, too. I see Nikolaj a lot and it’s always fun to see him. I’m probably going to talk to him after the game, and just catch up a little bit.”
High Flying Jets –
Although they haven’t made the playoffs in either of the last two seasons and have never won as much as a playoff game in their history, the Jets are one of the elite teams in the NHL right now, and they look like a very strong Cup contender when springtime rolls around.
Winnipeg boasts the third best special teams index in the NHL, and they also rank high in five-on-five scoring. Despite a rash of injuries, the Jets have been at or near the top of the Central Division standings all season, and they’re a force to be reckoned with in the Western Conference.
What is the key for the Caps to come away with a couple of points from Tuesday’s tilt?
“Definitely the start, especially in this building,” says Orpik. “It’s real similar to Vegas; they like to jump on you early. They’re probably bigger and more physical than Vegas is, but team speed-wise, they’re very similar. So I think just managing the puck properly especially the first five or 10 minutes will be crucial. There will be enough emotion and energy from the crowd for them to feed off of, and you don’t want to give them any extra by turning the puck over and making it easy on them. I think coming out with a good start will be crucial.”
“Especially up front,” says Caps goalie Braden Holtby, “they’ve got some players who are very dynamic, and they’re very right-hand heavy, so it’s a little different than a lot of teams you see. It’s a fun challenge when you can go up against a team that’s playing so well, like they are.”
In The Nets –
Holtby gets the net for Washington on Tuesday night in Winnipeg, seeking his 29
win of the season. Holtby has had some career success against the Jets, and he has typically played well at Bell MTS Place. Lifetime against the Jets, Holtby is 10-3-1 with a couple of shutouts, a 2.25 GAA and a .928 save pct.
Connor Hellebuyck gets the net for the Jets. Hellebuyck also has 28 wins this season (28-8-8); along with Holtby he is one of four netminders who are tied for second in the NHL in victories, five wins back of league leader Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Winnipeg snagged the 24-year-old Hellebuyck in the fifth round of the 2012 NHL Draft, and he has been impressive since coming into the league. Now in his third NHL campaign, Hellebuyck has improved his won total each season. He has five shutouts to go along with a 2.35 GAA and a .923 save pct. this season.
Lifetime against the Capitals, Hellebuyck is 1-1-0 in two starts, with a 1.93 GAA and a .935 save pct.
All Lined Up –
Here’s how we expect the Capitals and the Jets to look when they take the ice on Tuesday night at Bell MTS Place:
8-Ovechkin, 19-Backstrom, 43-Wilson
10-Connolly, 92-Kuznetsov, 77-Oshie
65-Burakovsky 20-Eller, 39-Chiasson
18-Stephenson, 83-Beagle, 25-Smith-Pelly
85-Perreault, 55-Scheifele, 26-Wheeler
29-Laine, 18-Little, 27-Ehlers
81-Connor, 9-Copp, 40-Armia
19-Petan, 15-Hendricks, 52-Roslovic
13-Tanev (upper body)
16-Matthias (upper body)