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Caps Clash with Canucks

Washington starts its three-game tour through Western Canada on Thursday night in Vancouver

by Mike Vogel @VogsCaps /

Oct. 26 vs. Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena

10:00 p.m. 

TV: NBC Sports Washington 

Radio: 106.7 The Fan, Capitals Radio 24/7

Washington Capitals 4-4-1

Vancouver Canucks 5-3-1

The Capitals head out on their first extended road trip of the season this week, as they head to Western Canada for three games in four nights against Pacific Division foes. The Caps can generally set their watches by this trip; when the horse show invades Capital One Arena, the Caps head west to Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary, in varying orders.

This time, the Caps fly all the way to the coast and they'll take on the Canucks first, facing Vancouver on Thursday night at Rogers Place. The Caps will then visit the Oilers in Edmonton on Saturday and the Flames in Calgary on Sunday before heading home for the fifth in their season opening series of six straight one-game homestands.
Video: Barry Trotz | October 25
Washington is another man light as it heads west. Winger Andre Burakovsky suffered a broken thumb in the waning minutes of Saturday night's 4-1 loss to the Florida Panthers at Capital One Arena, and he underwent surgery to repair the ailment on Tuesday. Burakovsky is expected to be sidelined for the next 6-8 weeks.

He joins defenseman Matt Niskanen (upper body) and forward Tyler Graovac (upper body) on Washington's injured reserve list. The Caps recalled forward Chandler Stephenson from AHL Hershey on Tuesday, and he accompanied the team on its trip out west.

After being the league's healthiest team over the last two seasons, the Caps have lost three players to injury in the first nine games of the season. Those injuries, combined with some offseason roster attrition, have left Washington with a much different looking roster than they had for the last two seasons, when they finished atop the league's overall standings in both seasons. With the addition of Stephenson, the Caps now have a total of six members of the 2015-16 Hershey Bears team that advanced to the AHL's Calder Cup final.

Stephenson and fellow forwards Jakub Vrana and Nathan Walker were members of that '15-16 Bears team, as were defensemen Madison Bowey, Christian Djoos and Aaron Ness. All six played in Hershey last season, with Stephenson, Vrana and Ness spending some time in Washington as well.
Video: Alex Ovechkin | October 25
Because they were so healthy and so deep, and because they experienced such a small amount of turnover from one year to the next, each of the last two Capitals teams were able to get out of the gates quickly at season's outset. Washington was 7-2-1 after 10 games and 13-5-2 after 20 last season. It was 8-2-0 after 10 and 14-5-1 after 20 games in 2015-16.

"We have new parts that are in play, and they're great players," says Caps center Jay Beagle. "It's a matter of them blending into our system and then finding their game within our system. I've seen great plays from all three of these guys that have come in - Bows, Nesser and Djooser - in the defensive zone, and that familiarity is huge for a center and a [defenseman], and even for the wings. It's about the breakout. If you come out clean or if you come out a certain way, it sets you up for the whole game. It really is very important." 

Because the Caps have so many newly cobbled forward lines and defensive pairings, it's going to take some time for those combinations to mesh, which may make this season seem a bit more like the start of Barry Trotz's first season behind the Washington bench, and Niskanen and Brooks Orpik's first season on the Caps' blueline. That was 2014-15, when the Caps were 4-4-2 at the 10-game mark of the season and 9-8-3 after 20 games. That '15-15 team eventually hit its stride and finished with 107 points.
Video: Braden Holtby | October 25
"These guys coming in have been unreal and you can't expect guys who are coming into the league - especially on the back end - to get it in their first game," says Beagle. "It rarely happens like that. With Nisky and Orpie, it took many games for veteran guys to find their way in the system. I'm not too worried about it. We've got great players back there. I've seen them make great plays and play well, it's just a matter of us all jelling together and making sure our exits are smooth."

The Caps have mucked their way through a disjointed stretch of scheduling with a .500 record, and they'll close out of October portion of the schedule with this trip. Washington won its first two games of the season and earned a point in its first three (2-0-1), but it has won two of its last six (2-4-0). Where the Caps have fared well so far this season is on the road, where they're 3-1-1 through their first five away contests. 

"I think road trips at the beginning of the year are good for any team, but especially our team," says Caps right wing Tom Wilson. "We've got some new faces and some new guys in the room. We haven't had a good start at home, and it may be good for us just to get out on the road and kind of forget about the start of the year. We have to make sure we up our compete level over how we came out on home ice; it was so flat and it's not acceptable. We are going to have to get going here and start playing the hockey we're capable of playing." 
Video: The Week Ahead | October 25
Under first-year head coach Travis Green, the Canucks are off to a promising start. Although Vancouver got off to a sluggish 1-2-1 start to a season that opened with a four-game homestand, the Canucks righted the ship on a long road trip of their own. Vancouver went 4-1-0 on a five-game journey that took them to Ottawa, Boston, Buffalo, Detroit and Minnesota, respectively. 

The lone blemish on the trip was a 6-3 loss to the Bruins. The Canucks outscored their foes by a combined 15-9 on the trip, and they will put a modest three-game winning streak on the line on Thursday against the Capitals. The Canucks have allowed only three goals during the life of that brief winning streak.

Vancouver's most important offseason addition is turning out to be that of unrestricted free agent defenseman Michael Del Zotto. The Canucks signed Del Zotto to two-year deal at an annual salary cap hit of $3 million, and he leads the team (and is 19th among all NHL defensemen) with a nightly average of 24:24 in ice time, a career best figure for him. 

The Canucks are missing defensemen Alexander Edler and Troy Stecher beause of injury, and Edler was the team's leader in nightly blueline ice time (24:18) in 2016-17. Del Zotto's presence has helped the Canucks mitigate those injuries, and he leads all Vancouver defensemen with five points (five assists). 

Washington's visit starts a five-game homestand for the Canucks. 

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