Time Spent In Los Angeles – Washington’s three-game California tour continues on Thursday in Los Angeles against the Kings. The trip got off to a tough start on Tuesday with a 4-0 loss to the Ducks in Anaheim.
Tuesday’s loss was Washington’s sixth straight (0-5-1) in the Golden State, dating back to late in the 2015-16 season. The Caps have been outscored by a combined total of 26-11 during that stretch, and they’ve scored as many as three goals only once in their last seven games on the Left Coast.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of Tuesday’s loss in Anaheim is that it came on the heels of the Caps’ excellent 60-minute performance in their 5-2 win over Toronto in Saturday night’s Stadium Series game in Annapolis.
“I think it’s important to realize that this is going to be playoff hockey here on this trip and in the next three or four games,” says Caps right wing Tom Wilson. “We can’t forget about the way we played against Toronto, because it’s good to see the potential in how our group can play. We played simple, we chipped the pucks in and we used our size and our speed to overwhelm the other team.
“We’re not going to be able to run and gun out west. We are going to have to play a certain brand of hockey, a playoff brand of hockey, and it’s good to see how good our team can be when we’re all on the same page and we’re all doing the right things. We can’t get away from that. We’re going to need to keep playing that way if we’re going to have any success on this road trip.”
New Blueliners – Just over two weeks ago, the Caps made a pair of minor trades to bring in defensemen Michal Kempny (from Chicago) and Jakuk Jerabek (from Montreal). Tonight is expected to mark the second time that both new blueliners will be in the lineup on the same night.
Both Kempny and Jerabek were in the lineup for the Caps’ 3-2 win over the Ottawa Senators in Washington on Feb. 27. Kempny will appear in his seventh game with Washington tonight, and Jerabek, his second game.
As you’d expect, Kempny is feeling a bit more comfortable in his new surroundings at this point.
“I feel every good, and more comfortable every day,” says the 27-year-old Czech defenseman. “When I came the first day, it was new teammates, new organization and everything was new. But I think the guys around here take me, hopefully, and I feel good here.”
Kempny has averaged 17 minutes per night in his half dozen games with Washington, a couple of minutes over what he played in his 81 games with Chicago last season and this season combined. He has spent the last couple of games getting accustomed to skating alongside a new partner in John Carlson.
“He is a very great player and I am enjoying playing with him,” says Kempny. “We try to talk on the ice and try to give our best.”
For Kempny, the toughest part now is adjusting on the ice. The Caps play a different system than the one he was familiar with in Chicago, and the transition is taking some time and some reps.
“The biggest difference here is the play in the [defensive] zone,” notes Kempny, “because it’s man-to-man. Like in Chicago, we played completely different and sometimes I have trouble with that. But I’m working on it, so we will see. Hopefully, I am better.”
Jerabek is dealing with some of the same issues, and he echoes what Kempny said about
“The guys here play man-on-man in the [defensive] zone,” says Jerabek. “That’s the most important thing.”
Jerabek’s Caps debut was his first game in nearly four weeks; he has waited another nine days and watched two more Washington games waiting to get back in again.
“I know guys from the ice and I know the ice better now,” says Jerabek, “and I hope it’s going to help. But I still have to get my confidence back and that only comes in playing the games.”
The Caps have 15 games remaining, including Thursday’s contest against the Kings. They’re still trying to sort through what they’ve got with the recent additions of Kempny, and in particular, Jerabek.
“We got Jerry for some depth, and he is a puck mover,” says Caps coach Barry Trotz. “A lot of the same things that I think [Christian Djoos] brings for us is that he is someone who can really move the puck who has got good skating ability, can join or be part of the attack, and we’ve got to find out what he really is in our system. That’s the vision and some of the things that we’re looking for. And then as we find more out about him and Kempny and all of that, it gives us a real dialed-in look on what we feel comfortable [with] against certain opponents, or maybe in a series against someone if we get into the playoffs here.”
Reset – Caps goalie Braden Holtby wasn’t slated to start in Los Angeles, but after he was pulled early in the second period of Tuesday’s trip opener in Anaheim, Trotz was noncommittal on the Caps’ plans for the goalie who has won 40 or more games for them in each of the last three seasons.
On Wednesday, Trotz and Holtby got together and talked, and the Caps coach talked on Thursday morning of the team’s plans to “reset” their beleaguered netminder, who has been pulled from four of his last 11 starts and has permitted at least one first-period goal in 13 straight starts.
“Right now, we’ll probably get a little reset for him,” says Trotz. “Just like every elite goaltender, they go through [fallow] stretches. You look around the league and a couple of the big names have always gone through that in their career.
“It’s actually probably good for Holts. It’s another thing that he has to work through. As an elite goaltender, it goes pretty good for you sometimes, and then when it doesn’t, you try to find the answers. And once you go through that, if it happens again later in your career, you can correct it.
“You see it especially with veteran goaltenders – guys like Hank [Lundqvist], Carey [Price] and Tuukka [Rask] and those guys. They reset, and then they’re outstanding.
“So I think just a little reset with him and [Philipp Grubauer] has been going good so we’re going to go with Grubi here and we’ll sort of take it one game at a time. We’ll get the reset and get lots of individual [practice] time with Braden, and then I think he’ll be elite again, as he always is. He hasn’t lost anything, he’s just having a tough stretch here.”
It’s been more than four years since Holtby has been in a slump of this length and this depth. Does the relative rarity of such slumps in his career make it any more difficult for him to emerge from them?
“Probably a little bit,” says Trotz. “When it doesn’t happen, it’s very rare and it probably seems like a bigger problem than it is. All it is is just getting back to the foundations. I look at Braden, and he is still a very athletic goaltender. He still moves tremendously well. He has always been a guy who comes up with those big saves and is tight and moves, and he still has all of that. It’s just that right now he is a little bit off of the foundation, and so I use the word ‘reset’ as the best way to get back to those foundations and break it down from the ground up.
“It comes back fairly quick, but it’s one piece at a time. I had a good talk with him. We talked about goaltending, we talked about situational things within your becoming a goaltender in the National Hockey League to becoming a good starter to becoming an elite starter, to becoming a Vezina Trophy guy. There are certain expectations that you put on yourself and others around you, and when they’re not going that well, it just feels like it’s worse than it really is.
“We just talked a lot about different things, and he was good. He’s going to get back to those foundations. He is a guy who is going to get back and be real good for us. He has played a tremendous amount of games for us over the last three years plus, and a little break might actually be something that plays in our favor down the road.”
In The Nets – Grubauer gets the net for Washington on Thursday against the Kings. He finished up Tuesday’s 4-0 loss to the Ducks, playing 33 minutes in relief of Holtby and stopping all eight shots he faced over that span.
Grubauer has been on a roll for months now, and he has played in four of the Caps’ last five games (starting two of them) and seven of the last 10 (starting four). Beginning with a Nov. 24 victory over the Lightning in Washington, Grubauer is 8-2-2 in his last 17 appearances (12 starts). During that span, he has a shutout, a 1.75 GAA and a .943 save pct.
Lifetime against the Kings, Grubauer has fared well. He is 2-1-0 with a shutout, a 1.34 GAA and a .960 save pct.
Jonathan Quick gets the net for Los Angeles against the Capitals. His 25-24-2 record belies a 2.47 GAA and a .921 save pct. this season. Since the All-Star break, Quick is 5-7-0 with a 2.57 GAA and a .921 save pct.
Lifetime against Washington, Quick is 8-2-0 with a 2.36 GAA and a .916 save pct.
All Lined Up – Here’s how we expect the Capitals and the Kings to look when they take the ice on Thursday night at Staples Center in Los Angeles:
8-Ovechkin, 19-Backstrom, 43-Wilson
13-Vrana, 92-Kuznetsov, 77-Oshie
10-Connolly, 20-Eller, 65-Burakovsky
25-Smith-Pelly, 83-Beagle, 39-Chiasson
19-Iafallo, 11-Kopitar, 23-Brown
70-Pearson, 77-Carter, 73-Toffoli
9-Kempe, 52-Amadio, 22-Lewis
13-Clifford, 44-Thompson, 71-Mitchell
22-Lewis (upper body)