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Rocky Mountain High

Playing games on back-to-back nights is a difficult enough proposition in the NHL without having to come into Denver and adjust to the altitude as well as take on a high flying and fast skating Colorado Avalanche team here.


“Because of the altitude,” says Caps head athletic trainer Greg Smith, “it takes a little bit for your body to accommodate to the air. Some people experience altitude sickness just because of the elevation. It does take a little bit to accommodate. With the back-to-back, it’s going to be interesting because it’s a short turnaround to be able to go in there and perform at our best.”


Washington is the sixth team already this season to come into Denver on the second night of a set of back-to-back games. Each of the first five have lost to the Avs, and none of those teams has scored more than two goals in a game.


It’s a tricky portion of the schedule to be sure, but the Caps did their best to put themselves in position to succeed here, starting before they departed the District on Friday for this quick two-game trip to Phoenix and Denver.


“I think one of the things we did was in Friday’s practice, we cut the practice time down a little bit,” says Smith. “We wanted to give them a light, little practice but also to keep them rested. Also, with less activity there is less chance of losing water. This way we can start rehydrating guys now in anticipation of what’s coming up the pike on Sunday [in Denver].”


Plain and simple, “what’s coming up the pike” is a challenge for even the best trained athletes. Caps coach Adam Oates talked this morning about what it’s like coming into town and playing here in the Mile High City, some 5,000 feet above sea level.


“That’s probably going to be the hardest thing about the game tonight for sure,” says Oates. “We’ve got a bunch of guys who have never played in this building and until you do, no matter how many times you say, ‘Hey, heads up, it’s going to drop a bomb on you.’ Until it happens to you, it’s a ‘wow.’ It really is a wow. There are going to be some moments in the game where guys get affected and hopefully we can survive it.”


Washington had a five-hour flight to Phoenix on Friday, a bit of an ordeal in itself.


“Every time that you spend an hour in flight, you lose a liter of water,” notes Smith. “So if you take that into consideration, there are problems with us not drinking enough water as we’re flying out there and then trying to play a game [in Phoenix on Saturday] and then trying to get enough water in after the game to fly another two hours to Denver.”


The Caps didn’t help themselves by squandering a late two-goal lead in Phoenix on Saturday. Instead of getting out of town with a 3-1 or 3-2 win in regulation, the Caps were forced to endure an overtime and a shootout, costing themselves anywhere from 30-45 minutes of sleep.


“The other challenge is,” begins Smith, “it’s a two-hour flight to Denver, but it’s also a 45-minute drive into town. So it’s a three-hour trip just for that [second] back-to-back game, which is going to create some problems.”


It’s been more than 14 years since the Caps came into Denver on the back end of a back-to-back set of games, and the last time it happened things didn’t go so well for Washington.


Back on March 26, 1999, the Caps came into Colorado a night after losing to the Coyotes in Phoenix. They lost that game to the Avs by a 3-1 count with Olie Kolzig in net, a night after suffering a 4-2 loss in Phoenix with Rick Tabaracci in net.


In all their visits to Denver, the Caps have only come into town on the second of back-to-backs twice, and they’ve lost both times.


Washington has won four games in its history in Denver, and each of those four wins has featured at least three days between the Caps’ last game before getting to the Mile High City.