Oct. 16 vs. Toronto Maple Leafs at Capital One Arena
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7, 94.7 The Drive
Toronto Maple Leafs 4-2-1
Washington Capitals 3-2-2
The Caps continue their three-game homestand on Wednesday night when they host the Toronto Maple Leafs for the first of two times this season. The Caps will also host the Leafs months from now, in their penultimate home game of the season on March 31, but they'll see the Leafs again later this month in Toronto as well. Washington will finish up its longest road trip of the season in the Big Smoke on Oct. 29.
Video: Caps 365 | October 15
Coming off a 6-3 loss to the Colorado Avalanche in the homestand opener on Monday afternoon, Washington is still seeking its first home ice win of the season (0-1-2). This is the first time in 36 years the Caps haven't managed to win at least one of their first three home games. Washington opened the 1983-84 season with an 0-7-0 mark overall, and 0-3-0 in its first three at home. Despite that dubious start, the '83-84 edition rolled up 101 points and made the playoffs, back in the days of the Original 21.
The '82-83 Caps are the last team to need more than four home games to record their first win; they went 0-4-1 in their first five game at the Capital Centre, and that was back in the pre-overtime era where the "1" represented an actual 60-minute tie game. The '82-83 crew also righted the ship, finishing with 94 points as the first ever Caps team to reach the playoffs.
Against the Avs on Monday, Washington fell down 4-0 before the midpoint of the first period and played a forgettable first before rebounding for a much more assertive performance in the final 40 minutes. It wasn't enough to erase the significant early deficit, but it may have been enough to remind the Caps that they're more successful when they play closer to their identity, which is that of a more physical, forechecking team.
"I think that's probably the common theme here," says Caps right wing Tom Wilson. "In the small sample size that we have, it's just playing - as cliched as it sounds - 60 minutes, and every team says that. But we've had good, we've played good hockey, we've had parts of our game, but it's tough nowadays. No lead is safe, teams are constantly coming, momentum is a huge thing, and we've just got to control the big moments and trying to take control of the game.
"It kind of flip-flopped last game; our starts have been good and we needed to close it out, but then getting down that early is no fun, either. Just putting together a good, solid team game, and [Saturday in] Dallas looked like that a little bit. We've just got to get a little more to that blueprint."
This year's model of the Caps has had a fair amount of turnover and has yet to ice its ideal lineup. The Caps are still playing without Michal Kempny (lower body), who will miss his eighth straight game on Wednesday against the Leafs. With Kempny out of the lineup, the Caps are playing a group of six defensemen that includes four right-handed shots, and that features four players who weren't on Washington's roster at this time last season.
The Caps are also trying to integrate a quartet of bottom six wingers who weren't here at this time last season, either. The team has earned points in five of seven games to date, and in their first six games of the season, the Caps trailed by as many as two goals for a combined total of less than eight minutes.
After his team fell down early in Monday's game, Caps coach Todd Reirden did more than merely pull goaltender Braden Holtby early in the first period. Already having tweaked his second two blueline pairings going into that game, he toyed with various forward line combinations as the contest wore on.
At Tuesday morning's practice session at MedStar Capitals Iceplex, Reirden's four forward lines all looked different than they had at the outset of the Colorado game.
"We wanted to look at a couple of different things today after re-watching the game [Monday] night," says Reirden. "I juggled quite a few things [Monday] night during the game to try to get a spark, and we were able to go to even three lines for a little bit, just to try to get some energy going and find some different combinations that could work. But we're looking to spread things out a little bit here, and to be able to be a difficult matchup team."
In a nutshell, T.J. Oshie and Tom Wilson changed places on the right side in the top six. Jakub Vrana and Carl Hagelin switched spots on the left side of the middle six, and Richard Panik and Garnet Hathaway swapped places on the right side of the bottom six. Additionally, Chandler Stephenson was skating in the middle of the fourth line after Nic Dowd had a two-game run in that slot.
Toronto comes into town on the heels of a 4-2 home ice win over the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday night, and the Leafs will be finishing off their first set of back-to-backs this season on Wednesday in Washington.
Like the Caps, the Leafs have had some ups and downs early in the season. After winning their first two, the Maple Leafs dropped three straight (0-2-1) before winning their next two, including Tuesday's win over the Wild.
Wednesday's trip to Washington is a one-off for the Leafs, who head right back to Toronto after taking on the Capitals. The Leafs open up a two-game homestand on Saturday against Atlantic Division rival Boston.