Following a league-wide COVID-19 pause, the Washington Capitals have another break in their schedule to open 2022 and are planning to make the most of it.
With Tuesday’s tilt with the Montreal Canadiens postponed, Washington doesn’t lace ’em up for another game until a Friday tilt with the Blues in St. Louis. This gives the team five days off until their next game after Sunday’s 4-3 overtime loss to the Devils — and Washington is planning to capitalize on it.
“The time for the guys who are coming back is really good,” head coach Peter Laviolette explained. “Just trying to use it as almost like a mini-training camp. Go over things, try to get better, try to fine-tune, try to condition a little bit and see if we can try to push to get better.”
The Capitals were off on Monday, which turned out to be a snow day for the whole D.C. area. They return to the ice at MedStar Capitals Iceplex for Tuesday and Wednesday. And in that time, Peter Laviolette said that the team will aim to work on things like sprints, conditioning and pacing.
Washington’s break comes at a solid time for the team. Martin Fehervary, Vitek Vanecek and Dennis Cholowski are still on COVID-19 protocol, and Daniel Sprong, Justin Schultz and Nick Jensen just came off protocol for Sunday’s game. Meanwhile, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie were out on Sunday with non-COVID illnesses.
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With another layoff in the schedule, a number of players have a good amount of time to recover and get back up to full speed at practice. And in turn, the Capitals could see a mostly healthy lineup, a sight that has been rare this season. In fact, Washington still has just one game this season in which they had all of their usual top-4 centers in the mix: Wednesday’s game against the Nashville Predators, which marked its first game back from the COVID-19 pause.
“Yeah, it’s been a little bit discombobulated lately,” Nick Jensen said. “It’s been that way all year with guys in and out. But this is a good time that we can regroup and kind of get back to the things that make us successful and kind of hammer those back into our brain so we go into Friday fresh, all our systems fresh in our mind.”
Despite the adversity, the Capitals will head into the break atop the Metro and NHL standings with a 20-6-8 record (48 points), and for Tom Wilson, a lot of that comes from a positive mentality.
“It’s weird, it’s been ready, go, stop, ready, go, stop. Guys that are ready, go and then put back on the shelf,” Tom Wilson explained. “Individually, as a team, that’s kind of been the theme. There’s been some adversity, but we handled it pretty well. It’s tough when it’s going that way, but we found a way to get points and build as a group. We’ve just got to keep going.”
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The Capitals may also spend some time working on one system in particular: the power play. Washington’s man-advantage has struggled greatly and has gone 2-for-28 in its last 10 outings. Granted, Washington has only had its full first power-play unit in the lineup for one game (the Nashville game), but even then, PP1 and PP2 went 0-for-6.
“I still think that we’ve got a lot of work to do,” Laviolette added. “Not [Evgeny Kuznetsov]. Kuzy’s been skating his tail off for five months. [Alex Ovechkin’s] been playing his tail off. John Carlson. But guys are just at different levels of their hands and the feel of the game, their conditioning, the pace, the endurance of a shift, the tempo of a shift, the battle level, the compete. There’s a lot that goes into winning a hockey game and we just have a lot of guys, we’re at different levels right now. And we’ve got to get everybody up to a level where, hopefully, if we can just stay clear of things, hopefully we can get everybody to get to a point where we feel good about the pace and the battling.”