The Caps conclude a two-game road trip on Thursday night in Denver where they will face the Colorado Avalanche. The Avs have been strong on home ice this season (5-1-1, and 5-1-0 at the Pepsi Center) and visiting teams do have to deal with playing at altitude in the Mile High City.
"We talk about it all the time," says Caps coach Barry Trotz. "Here, the ice is great and all that, it's the recovery. Once you're out of breath, you just don't have the oxygen to get it back into your legs real quickly. So you've got to be smart in how you manage your shifts, especially in the second period.
"If you have a shift like we created [early in the second period on Tuesday] in Nashville, if you're on the wrong end of one of those, you've got a lot of burning lungs and the legs aren't moving. I'm pretty sure there is going to be a goal scored, and you're going to be lining up here at center ice."
Video: Barry Trotz Pregame | November 16
By the time of tonight's opening puck drop, the Caps will have been in town for about 42 hours. They had a full practice session on Wednesday afternoon as well, so they've had a bit of time with which to become acclimated.
"It's really the simple things," says Caps winger Alex Chiasson, "but you've got to keep those shifts short as much as you can throughout the whole game. I think it was my first year, I got stuck in the second period for like two minutes in my own zone. Obviously, you learn from that one. Sometimes, a 20-second shift goes a long way. I think as a team we have to do a better job of that. And here with the altitude and all that, it obviously makes a difference."
Video: Two-Man Advantage | November 16
Lineup Changes - On the heels of a humbling 6-3 loss to the Predators in Nashville on Tuesday, the Caps will make some lineup changes tonight. Defenseman Christian Djoos suffered an upper body injury against the Preds and he won't play against the Avs. Taylor Chorney moves back into the lineup in Djoos' absence.
Up front, Jakub Vrana - who has played in each of Washington's first 19 games this season - will be a healthy scratch tonight as Nathan Walker will get a sweater for the second time this season. Vrana had five points (two goals, three assists) in his first six games this season but has had just two goals over his last 14 games.
"I'm going to pull him out tonight," says Trotz of Vrana. "He's a good young player, and I think he's going to have a real good career. Just like all young players, there is a difference between being involved and just participating. And right now, I feel like the young player is in participation mode rather than involvement mode, so he is going to sit tonight."
Caps forward Chandler Stephenson came back from a stint in the minors last month and he has been in the lineup every night since his recall, largely because he has shown a great deal more fire since his return from Hershey than he showed during the preseason and training camp.
Asked whether Vrana might benefit from taking a page from Stephenson's book, Trotz replied thusly:
"Yeah, absolutely. Chandler didn't have the training camp that he [wanted to have], and he got involved now. He is involved in his career and he is involved in the success of his career. And with the help of the coaching staff and some hard lessons that you have to learn on the way, he is now in a different place. That's part of the growing process we had to go through with Kuznetsov, Burakovsky and Orlov and all that, and they turned out to be pretty good players.
"So we trust the process. Missing a game or getting a little bit of a bump up or getting a scolding once in a while puts everybody in their right place."
Brett Connolly will move into Vrana's vacated spot on the left side of Lars Eller's line as Trotz tries to get Connolly going, too. Walker will skate the left side of the fourth line.
Video: Alex Chiasson Pregame | November 16
Start Me Up - Washington's starts in its last two road games have been subpar, leaving the Caps in an early hole and chasing for the rest of those games. Against an Avs team that has played extremely well on home ice, a good start will be important for the Caps tonight.
"It's important, especially in Nashville as I have a history there and I know a lot about that team, the organization and that building," says Trotz. "The one thing we said was, 'We've got to keep the crowd out of it,' because the players get energy from the fans in Nashville. That lasted about five seconds, and that didn't put us in a position to have success.
"We have to have a better start, and it starts with our top guys."
Washington was outshot by a combined total of 33-7 in the first period of its last two road games, in Buffalo on Nov. 7 and in Nashville a week later.
"Every game it kind of sets the tone for the whole team and the whole 60 minutes," says Chiasson. "It's kind of tough to start the game when in the first five or six minutes you're down a goal, maybe even more so on the road, I guess. Our starts haven't been great at times this year, and we've talked about that here the last couple of days. I'm sure tonight we'll come ready and set the tone right off the bat."
Video: Rinkside Update | Evgeny Kuznetsov
In The Nets - Philipp Grubauer gets the start for the Capitals tonight, making his sixth start of the season and just his second start that is not the back end of a set of back-to-back games. With only one set of back-to-back games on the Caps' immediate horizon, it is important for the Caps to find spots where Grubauer can get a start while not disrupting the rhythm of No. 1 netminder Braden Holtby.
"I think we've got to select some games," Trotz told the media last week when asked about the plan to get Grubauer some starts. "I'll sit down with [goaltending coach] Scott Murray and pick out some games that we feel don't affect Braden's rhythm and also gives Philipp some rhythm, too.
"In the past, Braden has played a lot of games, and come playoff time he has had a lot of hockey, and he works at his game hard every day. His preparation is taxing as well. We're going to try to balance that out a little bit. But the end game is to get a little more even [in terms of] starts, but at the same we are trying t get into the playoffs and we are trying to win hockey games.
"We have a plan. And those plans may go out the window, based on how we do. But if we can continue to keep improving and keep playing our game, I have no problem putting Grubi in a lot of games. He's a good goaltender. Right now, we've let him down. We've not given him enough support. You take away the Philly game, and he has been really dynamite for us, and he has given us a chance to get points every night.
"The unfortunate thing is that he stole the game for us in Calgary [on Oct. 29], and we didn't respond and manage that game well enough to get any points when really he was stealing that game for us. And then last game [in Buffalo] he put us in a position to get points and we sort of messed that up for him."
Grubauer played the last 20 minutes of the Caps' 6-3 loss to the Predators in Nashville on Tuesday, stopping all six shots he faced in his second relief appearance of the season. Grubauer has gone through six straight appearances - four starts and two relief outings - without playing with the lead at any point of those contets.
The last time Grubauer played with a lead was in the third period of his first start of the season, back on Oct. 9 against the Lightning in Tampa. Since then, Grubauer has played 293 minutes and 11 seconds consecutively - the equivalent of nearly five full games - without his team having the lead at any point.
Lifetime against the Avalanche, Grubauer is 2-0-0 with a shutout, a 1.50 GAA and a .943 save pct.
Ex-Caps netminder Semyon Varlamov will oppose Grubauer in goal for Colorado. Varlamov is 6-3-1 on the season with a 3.18 GAA and a .908 save pct. Lifetime against his former Washington team, Varlamov is 2-3-0 with a 2.03 GAA and a .950 save pct. Varlamov has been reached for three or more goals against in each of his last six starts, and he has surrendered four or more goals in four of those six contests.
All Lined Up - Here's how we expect the Caps and the Avalanche to line up on Thursday night when they take the ice at Pepsi Center:
18-Stephenson, 19-Backstrom, 77-Oshie
8-Ovechkin, 92-Kuznetsov, 25-Smith-Pelly
10-Connolly, 20-Eller, 43-Wilson
79-Walker, 83-Beagle, 39-Chiasson
29-Djoos (upper body)
65-Burakovsky (upper body, week-to-week)
92-Landeskog, 29-MacKinnon, 96-Rantanen
10-Andrighetto, 91-Kamenev, 64-Yakupov
83-Nieto, 34-Soderberg, 14-Comeau
22-Wilson, 13-Kerfoot, 37-Compher
17-Jost (lower body)
54-Lindholm (broken jaw)