Oct. 28 vs. Edmonton Oilers at Rogers Place
Time: 10:00 p.m.
TV: NBC Sports Washington
Radio: 106.7 The Fan, Capitals Radio 24/7
Washington Capitals 4-5-1
Edmonton Oilers 2-5-1
Washington continues on its swing through Western Canada, stopping off in Edmonton on Saturday night to take on the Oilers in front of a national Hockey Night in Canada audience. The game is the middle match of the Capitals' three-game road trip against Pacific Division foes, and it's the front end of a set of back-to-back weekend games. The Caps finish off the trip and the back-to-back set on Sunday night when they visit the Flames in Calgary.
The Caps limp into Edmonton in the wake of a 6-2 loss to the Canucks in Vancouver on Thursday. Playing without center Nicklas Backstrom for the first time since the regular season finale of the 2015-16 campaign, Washington was down 3-0 before the end of the first and gave up the game's first five goals, in losing for the fourth time in its last five games and the fifth time in its last seven.
Early in the second period, the Capitals also lost forward Brett Connolly to an upper body injury after he absorbed a hit from Canucks defenseman Erik Gudbranson. Connolly is listed as day-to-day, but on Friday Washington placed center Tyler Graovac on long term injured reserve and recalled forward Anthony Peluso from Hershey of the AHL.
After two regular seasons of relatively smooth sailing in terms of injuries, depth, adversity and other various and sundry October-to-April woes, the Caps are getting a firsthand taste of how the other half lives in terms of offseason attrition, injuries and other forms of NHL adversity.
"Even before the injuries," says Caps defenseman Brooks Orpik, "right from the start of camp it was a little bit different, knowing that there were a couple of openings for guys to grab. There is going to be a little bit of a learning curve with new guys, and now with the injuries, you kind of compound that. There are more new guys playing in some different spots and maybe some different roles than they expected. That's a normal season for most teams.
"We got spoiled here the last couple of years with having the least amount of man games lost in the league. We're not the only team that does a lot of things to try to prevent injuries. You need a lot of luck in that aspect. We probably got spoiled there and didn't have to worry about adjusting to guys being out of the lineup for extended periods of time, which was definitely helpful for us in terms of chemistry and momentum."
Three years ago at this time, the Caps were early in the first season of the Barry Trotz administration in Washington, and they were in a similar place, results-wise. The 2014-15 Capitals started out 3-0-2 before losing six of seven (1-5-1) to fall to 4-5-3 on the season. It took that 2014-15 edition of the Capitals a couple of months to find its collective footing, but it finished with 107 points to finish second in the Metropolitan Division.
"It's definitely a different season," says Caps right wing T.J. Oshie. "I think we've got very good personnel in here. The team that we had the last two years - in the salary cap era I feel like it's hard to get on paper what we had.
"There is a different feel. There is a little bit of a learning process going on right now that we just didn't need to have the past two years. It's definitely not a lack of effort and it's not a lack of skill. It's just that some guys and some combinations of guys - referring to the lines - there are just things that we haven't learned as a team yet.
"With the injuries, that's something we're not used to either. So there is a little adversity here that a lot of teams had to go through the last couple of years that we just - for whatever reason - really haven't had to focus on or deal with at any point. So we're getting tested here early. I'm excited to see our resolve and to see how we can grow from it."
The Caps have yielded the game's first goal in each of their last five games, going 1-4 during that span. Washington has owned a lead for a combined total of just 3 minutes and 59 seconds of its last five contests, covering a period of 301 minutes and 56 seconds of hockey played during that span.
Ten games into the 2017-18 season, the Caps are a single point north of the New York Rangers, the current basement occupants of the Metropolitan Division standings.
Saturday's game marks the Capitals' second visit to Rogers Place, the Oilers' new home. Washington opened a four-game road trip at Rogers Place on Oct. 26, 2016, suffering a 4-1 loss in their first ever visit to the Oilers' new home. The Caps rebounded to sweep the three remaining games on that trip last season.
Edmonton won its season opener 3-0 over primary rival Calgary, but the Oilers then lost four straight. They've gone 2-1-1 since, and most recently they toppled the Dallas Stars 5-4 on Thursday night at Rogers Place in the first game of a five-game homestand for Edmonton.
The Oilers have scored just 2.22 goals per game this season, ranking 30th of the 31 teams in the league in that department. Only Montreal (1.70) is lower on that ladder. Last season, the Oilers finished eighth in the league with an average of 2.96 goals per game. Given the offensive talent present on the Edmonton roster, the Caps are hoping to delay the Oilers' inevitable offensive coming out party for at least one more game.
It could also be that the Caps are a game too late in that regard. Edmonton failed to score more than three goals in any of its first eight games of the season, but scored a season-high five in downing Dallas on Thursday.
Workhorse Edmonton goaltender Cam Talbot started 73 games last season to lead the league, and he tied Washington's Braden Holtby for the league lead with 42 victories. Talbot has started eight of nine for Edmonton thus far this season, going 3-4-1 with 2.96 GAA and a .909 save pct.
Star Oilers center Connor McDavid notched a hat trick in the season opener for the Oilers, and he has picked up at least a point in seven of nine games this season. With 10 points (five goals, five assists), McDavid has had a hand in 50 percent of Edmonton's scoring on the season (20 goals).