Oct. 20 vs. Chicago Blackhawks at United Center
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7, 106.7 FAN
Washington Capitals 5-2-2
Chicago Blackhawks 2-2-1
Washington opens a five-game road trip - its longest journey of the season - on Sunday night in Chicago when it takes on the Blackhawks at United Center.
On Friday night in the District, the Caps downed the New York Rangers by a 5-2 count. That win was their second straight to close out a three-game homestand, and it was a game that featured many unsung performances up and down the lineup, as well as continued hot starts from T.J. Oshie (two power-play goals) and John Carlson (three assists).
Michal Kempny played his first game in seven months, and he scored a goal in the first period on the night of his return. Radko Gudas engaged in a fight, defending Kempny after the latter took a high hit early in the game. Jonas Siegenthaler blocked four shots and logged more than 20 minutes, two nights after leaving the previous game with an upper body injury. And Garnet Hathaway suffered a broken nose on another high hit from the Rangers, but returned to draw the penalty that led to a critical third-period power-play goal, got in a fight despite his broken nose, and iced the game late with an empty-netter.
"It was a really good win for us," says Caps coach Todd Reirden, "because there was a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes that has nothing to do with actually the score of the game, but with what type of culture we have here and what we're trying to build."
Momentum doesn't carry from game to game in the regular season, but having such a team win just ahead of the longest trip of the year seems as though it could be a nice springboard.
"That's a huge challenge, going on that length of a trip," says Reirden. "It's not easy, the change in time zones. You see some of the teams out west have really improved their teams over the summer, so it's a challenge always. And in particular, I think the quality of the opponents out there is significantly better.
"So that's a challenge, but hopefully those are some things that will propel us to understanding that some of the things you gain from a road trip are team bonding and team togetherness, and just the sacrifices you make for one another. Hopefully that's a good start to send us off on a difficult road trip."
A late October trip to Western Canada is a staple of the Caps' annual schedule. This year's trip tacks on a visit to Chicago on the front end, and a trip to Toronto on the back end, and it enables the Caps to gradually work their way to Vancouver rather than fly directly there, as they did last season around this time. But you can typically set your watch to this trip; this is the seventh straight season they've gone to Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver - in various orders - dating back to the 2012-13 season, when the lockout killed all interconference play.
"I think ever since I've been here, it's been a trademark road trip," says Caps right wing Tom Wilson. "It seems like it's longer every year; they add one on in the front or back end of it. But it's an exciting time of the year when the season starts, and you can always circle this one on the calendar. It's always fun to get out west with the boys, and just spend some time out on the road together.
"It's a pretty family-heavy team these days, with lots of kids running around, so you get to spend some quality time with the guys at the rink, and at the hotel. It's always fun to get on the road."
Washington has won three of its first four road games on the young season, and it led throughout much of the only road game it lost, in Nashville on Oct. 10. By the time the Caps return home from their current journey in the wee hours of Oct. 30, they will have played nearly half - seven of 16 games - of their entire Western Conference road slate for the season.
Chicago opened the season overseas, losing to the Philadelphia Flyers in Prague on Oct. 4. The Hawks dropped their first two games upon returning to North America, but like the Caps, they carry a two-game winning streak into Sunday's game. Most recently, the Hawks claimed a 3-2 overtime victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday night, winning on Jonathan Toews' goal in the first minute of the extra session.
The Hawks returned from Prague to open up a seven-game homestand, and they won't play their first road game on this continent until Oct. 26, when they take a one-game trip to Carolina.
For the second time in as many games, the Caps might find themselves going up against one of the top three picks in the 2019 NHL Draft. Two nights after they faced the New York Rangers and No. 2 overall pick Kaapo Kakko in Washington, the Caps could see No. 3 overall pick Kirby Dach suit up for Chicago.
Dach sustained a concussion in the Center Ice rookie tourney in Traverse City, Mich., on Sept. 12, an injury that caused him to miss the early days of training camp. The Hawks sent him to AHL Rockford on a conditioning stint, and the 18-year-old Albertan got his pro feet wet there, getting into three games with the IceHogs before the Hawks recalled him on Friday.