Caps Start Six-Game Homestand vs. Flames
Looking to halt a seven-game slide, the Caps are back from break and facing the league's hottest team, the Calgary Flamesby Michael Vogel @VogsCaps / washingtoncaps.com
Feb. 1 vs. Calgary Flames at Capital One Arena
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7, FAN 106.7
Calgary Flames 33-13-5
Washington Capitals 27-17-6
Seeking to put a stop to their longest losing streak in more than five years, the Caps will open a six-game homestand on Friday night against the best team in the Western Conference, the Calgary Flames. The homestand opener is the first game back on the ice for both teams after a week off for their respective All-Star break/bye weeks.
The Capitals will take on the Flames without the services of captain Alex Ovechkin, who will sit out Friday's game as the one-game league suspension he must serve for choosing to miss the NHL All-Star Game last weekend.
"Right now, every point is a very important point," says Ovechkin. "It sucks I'm not going to help my teammates in [Friday's] game, but it is what it is. I'm pretty sure the guys are going to respond well and it's going to be a nice game."
Video: Alex Ovechkin | January 31
Ovechkin has played 214 consecutive regular season games; the last game he missed was the final game of the 2015-16 season. Now in his 14th NHL season, the Caps' captain has missed a grand total of 29 games during that span. Even after missing Friday's game, he'll have played in more than 97 percent of Washington's regular season game since the start of his career.
The Caps are seeking their first victory since Jan. 10, when they earned a 4-2 triumph over the Bruins in Boston, their third straight win. They've lost seven straight (0-5-2) since, with only the overtime losses coming by the margin of a single goal. The Capitals have been outscored by a combined total of 36-18 during the life of their losing streak. They haven't lost as many as eight straight in more than eight years, since they dropped eight in a row (0-6-2) from Dec. 2-18, 2010, in the weeks leading up to their first Winter Classic appearance on New Year's Day of 2011.
After a week away from the rink, the Caps and Flames both conducted Thursday afternoon practices at MedStar Capitals Iceplex.
"You come back to the rink today, and you haven't seen the guys in a while," says Caps right wing Tom Wilson. "It's almost like a first day again. A good chunk of time away from the rink to recharge, and it was fun to get back out there today."
Video: Tom Wilson | January 31
"The first game after a break is always a difficult one for both teams, just not being on the ice for quite a while," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "So it's going to be a little bit more of a sloppy game, I expect. So in this situation, it's about guys figuring out how to play within themselves and simplify our game, and not give them any free offense, which is something we are trying to rectify."
Along with defenseman John Carlson and goaltender Braden Holtby, Reirden represented the Caps and the Metro Division at last weekend's NHL All-Star Game in San Jose. Those festivities were mercifully truncated by a day this season, enabling that trio to get a few days away before they had to get back to the District. For Reirden, that was time to think about getting his team back on the beam after a rare skid.
"It was really good for me from that standpoint," says Reirden, "to look at areas we've struggled in and areas we can get better at, and we started to address some of those today and start moving forward with doing a better job of playing to our team identity and eliminating the chance-for-chance opportunities that we're giving up and just defensive breakdowns."
Video: Todd Reirden | January 31
Washington's current slide extends back to the final day of 2018 when it dropped a 6-3 decision to the Nashville Predators in the District. While Washington has won just three of its last 13 games (3-7-3) dating back to New Year's Eve, the Flames have won 10 of their last 12 (10-2-0) over the same span.
Friday's game pits one of the league's coldest teams against one of its hottest, but both teams will be feeling their way after a lengthy midseason respite.
"I don't expect it to be perfect [Friday] by any means," says Reirden. "I know how games look after breaks, having watched them around the league. But I think it has been a really good time for our players to reset mentally and get some rest physically, and get ready for these final 32 games here."
Prior to their skid, the Caps won 16 of 19 games (16-3-0) and were atop the Metropolitan Division standings, four points ahead of second-place Columbus. A month later, the Capitals find themselves in third place in the Metro, three points behind the front-running New York Islanders and a point ahead of Columbus. The Blue Jackets visit the Jets in Winnipeg on Thursday night, and if Columbus can collect as much as a point in that contest, the Caps will fall to fourth in the Metro before Friday's opening puck drop against the Flames.
"I think everyone in here is aware that the points are important," says Wilson. "It's a tight race, and we've got to use this homestand to get our game going and do the right things. I think there were glimpses of it in the last couple of games there, but we've got to get back in the win column."