February 18 vs. Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena
Time: 2:00 p.m.
Radio: 104.7 FM, 1500 AM and Capitals Radio 24/7
Washington Capitals 39-11-6
Detroit Red Wings 22-25-10
With their five-day bye week break now in the rear view, the Capitals return to action on Saturday against the Red Wings in Detroit. The game marks Washington's final visit ever to the Motor City's venerable Joe Louis Arena, which will close its doors at the end of this season. The Wings will move into a new downtown arena for the 2017-18 season.
Video: Orpik on returning from the bye week
In their last game before their bye week kicked in, the Capitals downed the Anaheim Ducks by a 6-4 score at Verizon Center last Saturday. That victory was Washington's 12th straight on home ice, matching the second longest home winning streak in Capitals franchise history. It was also the 11th straight home game in which the Caps scored five or more goals, tying an NHL record that stood for nearly half a century. Back in 1970-71, the Boston Bruins went the Caps one better, scoring six or more goals in 11 straight home games at the old Boston Garden.
During the Caps' bye week, general manager Brian MacLellan swung a minor deal to add some depth to the team's stock on the blueline. On Wednesday, MacLellan obtained veteran defenseman Tom Gilbert from Los Angeles in exchange for future considerations. In short, the Kings will pick up 20 percent of the 34-year-old Gilbert's remaining salary for this season, and Washington will owe Los Angeles a fifth-round pick in the NHL Draft if the Caps advance past the second round of the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs and if Gilbert appears in more than half of all Washington playoff games this spring.
Gilbert has played in 655 regular season NHL games and 17 postseason contests over the course of an 11-season career in the league. He has averaged better than 20 minutes a night in seven of those 11 seasons, but logged a career low average of 15:27 in his 18 games with Los Angeles this season.
Originally drafted by Colorado (fourth round, 129th overall) in 2002, Gilbert has played for Edmonton, Minnesota, Florida, Montreal and Los Angeles. A native of Minnesota, he joins Matt Niskanen, Nate Schmidt, Taylor Chorney and Aaron Ness as the fifth member of the team's organizational blueline depth chart to reside in Minnesota.
Video: Coach Trotz on returning from the bye week
"Tom I know a little bit from when he played in Edmonton, and he obviously played in Montreal," says Caps coach Barry Trotz. "And he played in the top four in both Edmonton and Montreal. He has played in some playoff games, he has played against good competition, he is a veteran guy, he's got some offensive talent.
"It's a really good move for us; it gives us some depth. Probably the best example - and maybe they're a little bit different players - but it's probably very similar to what L.A. did with [ex-Caps defenseman] Jeff Schultz. He was down [in the AHL], but he's played in the league a lot. [The Kings] ended up having some injuries [in the playoffs] and he ended up playing a pretty important role for them when he came up.
"So I think it's a really good move by Mac and the organization. If he ends up playing and we keep advancing, they get a pick. If we don't, there really isn't a lot lost there. But Tom is a really good pick-up."
While playing for Montreal a year ago this month, Gilbert sustained a left knee injury that required surgery. He signed with Los Angeles last summer, but was used sparingly and was assigned to AHL Ontario on Feb. 2 after clearing waivers. Gilbert's five games with Ontario mark his first AHL action since 2006-07, before he made his NHL debut. He will report to AHL Hershey where the Bears have an immediate need for defensive help.
Last Saturday's win over the Ducks was also the Caps' sixth in a row overall. Washington opened February by playing five of six games on the road, and now it will close the month with five of six on the road. Washington's six-game winning streak includes a 6-3 victory over the Red Wings at Verizon Center on Feb. 9.
After the Caps scored the game's first goal in that contest, Detroit rallied for a brief 2-1 lead late in the first period. That short-lived Red Wings advantage is part of just nine minutes and 17 seconds in which the Capitals have trailed during the last 600 minutes of hockey they've played at Verizon Center.
For the Caps, the challenge is to pick up as close to where they left off before the break as possible. Washington went 26-4-3 over a 33-game stretch heading into its bye week.
Video: Justin Williams after the bye week
"We'll see how we come out of the break [on Saturday]," said Caps winger Justin Williams after Friday's practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, the team's first practice session in a week. "There is no pregame skate [on Saturday], so this is it. We've got back-to-back afternoon games, we've got one skate after five days off and we play. So it's a little different, but certainly nothing we can't handle."
Reality is beginning to seep in for the Red Wings, whose incredible streak of 25 straight Stanley Cup playoff appearances will almost certainly come to a halt this spring. When the Caps faced the Wings last week in Washington, Detroit was starting a critical three-game road trip to the District, Columbus and Minnesota.
Coming into the game against the Caps, the Wings had earned at least a point in nine of their previous 11 games (5-2-4), but they'll come into Saturday's game as losers of five straight games (0-4-1) and the basement dwelling team in both the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference. Detroit has been outscored by a combined total of 19-9 during the life of its current five-game slide.
Video: T.J. Oshie returns from bye week
After hosting the Capitals on Saturday, the Wings visit Pittsburgh on Sunday and then they host the New York Islanders on Tuesday in what will be Detroit's final game before its bye week. Even if the Wings were to run the table here and win each of the three games between now and the start of their bye week, it's difficult to envision a situation in which Detroit is a buyer rather than a seller in the days leading up to the NHL's March 1 trade deadline.
Detroit embarks upon a five-game road trip immediately after the conclusion of its bye week, and the Wings will play seven of their first eight games on the road coming out of the bye week. The Wings are 11-12-5 on the road this season.