January 26 vs. New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Radio: 104.7 FM and Capitals Radio 24/7
Washington Capitals 32-10-6
New Jersey Devils 20-20-9
Washington finishes off a grueling stretch of the 2016-17 regular season schedule and plays its final game prior to the NHL's All-Star break on Thursday night in New Jersey against the Devils. The Caps come into town on the heels of a 3-0 loss to the Senators in Ottawa on Tuesday night, a loss that put a halt to Washington's 14-game point streak (12-0-2), a spree that fell just one game shy of matching the all-time franchise record.
Tuesday night's whitewashing at the hands of the Sens also ended a 10-game scoring streak for Caps center Nicklas Backstrom, an eight-game scoring run for Alex Ovechkin and a six-game streak for Andre Burakovsky.
The Caps fell behind in the game's second minute on Chris Kelly's shorthanded goal, and they were down 2-0 before the game was five minutes old. Although the Caps had opportunities to climb back into the contest, they surrendered a power play goal to Zack Smith midway through the middle period, and were never really able to generate spark they needed to get a comeback started.
Much credit should go to the Senators, too. Ottawa protected the net front and slot areas that Washington exploited so well a night earlier in a 6-1 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes at Verizon Center.
"For the most part, [the Senators] clog up the neutral zone with the 1-3-1," says Caps coach Barry Trotz. "That's nothing new. You've just got to manage the puck. I thought we had some really good [offensive] zone time, but we didn't fight hard enough to get to the front of the net. We had lots of puck possession in their end, we've just got to manage it a little better. I didn't think we were as sharp. We didn't have as much for legs."
That's understandable. The Capitals woke up on Sunday morning in Dallas, where they finished a three-game road trip - the last two of which included their fathers - the night before. They flew back to D.C. on Sunday, hosted the Hurricanes during an ever so brief stay at home, then went right back on the road to start another three-game road swing that wraps around the All-Star break. The Caps are in Brooklyn to face the New York Islanders next Tuesday, coming out of the break.
The Capitals will take Wednesday off in New Jersey before facing the Devils on Thursday.
"I think the timing is pretty good for a day off like that," says Caps defenseman Taylor Chorney. "Even though it's on the road, it doesn't really matter. Just having that fathers' trip with all the travel and coming back and playing at home and then flying up here [to Ottawa], it's tough. It will be good to have a day to regroup and get ready for Thursday and then head into the break."
For the Capitals, Thursday's game in New Jersey is their 17th game in a span of 31 nights. The Caps will come out of the break and will play seven games in a dozen nights before taking their bye week from Feb. 12-17.
The addition of the bye week this season has made the All-Star break less of a midseason oasis than it has been in seasons past. Washington has also had natural breaks in the schedule of the same length as the All-Star pause in both late October and in late November.
"Usually, everyone is looking forward to that all-star break," says Capitals winger Daniel Winnik. "You're kind of counting down the days. But this year - and maybe it's because of that bye week - I didn't even realize we were so close to the [All-Star] break. I think that's a positive for us. All-Star break is kind of in the rear view, rather than right in front of us."
Washington and New Jersey hooked up in a set of home-and-home games to close out the 2016 portion of the 2016-17 regular season schedule. The Devils prevailed 2-1 in a shootout at Verizon Center on Dec. 29, and that setback stands as the most recent one the Capitals have suffered on home ice.
On the afternoon of New Year's Eve, the Caps opened up a six-pack attack on the Devils, getting an even-strength goal from all four Washington lines and goals from six different skaters in a 6-2 victory over the Devils. New Jersey went 0-for-9 on the power play in that Dec. 31 game against the Capitals.
Like the Capitals, the Devils are coming into Thursday's game off a loss in which they fell behind early and weren't able to mount a comeback. Hosting the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday, the Devils were dented for three first-period goals in a 3-1 loss to the Kings. New Jersey had won four of its previous five, and the Devils are 6-4-2 in a dozen games since they last faced Washington late last month.
Heading into Wednesday night's slate of NHL activity, the Devils are one of six teams - three each from the Atlantic and Metropolitan Divisions - who are tied at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings with 49 points each. Nine teams are separated by a total of just four points as they vie for the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.