March 25 vs. New Jersey Devils at Capital One Arena
Time: 7 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7, 106.7 FAN
New Jersey Devils 12-14-4
Washington Capitals 20-7-4
Washington's six-game homestand continues on Thursday night when the Caps host the front end of a back-to-back set of games with the New Jersey Devils. These two contests against the Devils are the Caps' third straight set of back-to-backs and they'll finish off the home portion of Washington's schedule against the Devils this season.
This marks the 23rd time in Washington's franchise history that the team has played three consecutive sets of back-to-back games, but it's the first time the Capitals have done so in just over a decade, since Feb. 16-26, 2011.
The Caps come into Thursday's game on the heels of a four-day respite from the rigors of the 2020-21 regular season, a welcome oasis ahead of what will be a frenetic finish to the campaign. Starting with Thursday's game, Washington will finish the season with 25 games in 45 nights.
"It was nice to get away from it for a little bit," says Caps defenseman Justin Schultz. "We're playing every other day, and it's a lot. It's been nice to spend a little bit of time with the family and to enjoy some nice weather, and to rest up and get ready to go again."
The break comes just past the actual midpoint of the regular season, and that timing is similar to the timing of the All-Star break during a normal 82-game season. But not every team had this four-day break; and Washington's initial schedule actually called for five days between games. That break shrunk to four when the Caps had a quartet of early February games that had to be rescheduled because of COVID outbreaks on other teams.
Washington's midseason breather can be a benefit both physically and mentally, and that's something that can vary from player to player.
"I think it's different from guy to guy," says Schultz. "I think for me, it was nice just to get away from the game there for a couple of days and to be able to reset. We have a lot of hockey coming up, so it's good to get some rest, too, and to be ready to go."
"For me it's probably more physical," says Washington blueliner Brenden Dillon. "I think mentally you get into a rhythm of playing games, and especially this year where you're only playing seven different teams, a lot of them are two in a row [against the same opponent]. So you know what the systems are and you know what the game plan is against them.
"It's been nice actually, where you can have kind of a mini playoff series against teams. But I think for me personally - and for a lot of guys, too - to let their body have a couple days away has been good."
Video: Nicklas Backstrom | March 24
After taking Sunday and Monday off, the Caps reconvened for practices on Tuesday and Wednesday in preparation for the final three games of the homestand, the back-to-backs against the Devils and a Sunday noon game against the New York Rangers. Those three games will be played in a span of less than 72 hours.
The Caps are in the midst of an unusual patch of scheduling in which they're facing only three different teams - the three New York metropolitan area clubs - over a stretch of 11 games and 22 days. They opened the homestand with a 3-1 win over the New York Islanders on March 16, then split a pair of back-to-back games against the New York Rangers before their break.
Washington will depart for a five-game trip on Monday, a journey that starts with a game against the Rangers and concludes with two each against the Islanders and Devils. The Caps don't face a team from outside of that Metro New York group until April 8-9 when they host Boston and fly up to Buffalo the next night to play a previously postponed game against the Sabres.
Included in this upcoming stretch are a quartet of contests against the Devils, which will conclude the season's series between the two teams. In addition to these two games here in the District this week, the Caps play two games in New Jersey on their next trip, on April 2-4.
Washington has won all four of its games against the Devils to date this season, but New Jersey has been a handful for the Caps, particularly at home. The Caps had to overcome a 2-0 second-period deficit to win 4-3 here on Feb. 21, getting three power-play goals to make a winner of Craig Anderson in his only start of the season so far. And they frittered away a 4-1 third-period lead in a March 9 contest here, only to win 5-4 on Jakub Vrana's overtime goal.
Right now, the Devils are as hot as they've been all season. They're 4-1-1 in their last six games, and they just stunned the Flyers 4-3 in Philadelphia on Tuesday night, and they're 8-3-2 on the road this season. New Jersey is in D.C. for the middle two matches of a six-game road trip, and they won the first two in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, respectively.
Video: Peter Laviolette | March 24
"I think we knew they were dangerous," says Caps coach Peter Laviolette. "We knew it from the last time we played them. They turned it up in the third period, and I thought we took our foot off the gas a little bit.
"You can see how dangerous they can be. I think our guys understand who they are; they're young, they're fast and they're skilled. They're a real good hockey team.
"We've got to be ready to play. I guess a little bit of my thought process is just trying to make sure that we're up to speed. After four days off, you decompress a little bit. We've got to make sure we're ready to go, because it will be quick."