The Caps finish off their second set of back-to-backs this season on Saturday night when they host the Florida Panthers' lone visit to Capital One Arena this season. Having earned a 4-3 overtime win over the Red Wings in Detroit on Friday night, the Caps are in position to earn their first sweep of a back-to-back set.
This marks the second of three straight weekends in which Washington will be tasked with back-to-back games; the Caps split a set last weekend and will be on the road at Edmonton and Calgary next Saturday and Sunday night, respectively.
The Caps also had a chance for a sweep of last weekend's set, but that vanished quickly with an 8-2 loss to the Flyers.
"We're going to talk about that a little bit today before the game here," says Caps coach Barry Trotz. "We just mentioned it briefly when we did our scout this morning. I'll remind them today.
"I think the first back-to-back [of the season] you just have to experience. You can talk about it all you want; [the players] don't hear you. You have to go through it. And then the second time through - after you fail miserably - they listen a little bit better.
"You have to manage the game better. I thought in Philadelphia we did a good job of managing the game early, and then when we started mismanaging the game, it went south pretty quickly for us."
Video: Barry Trotz Pregame | October 21
Secondary Strikes - Friday's win over the Red Wings in Detroit was Washington's eighth game of the season, and it also marked the first time in those eight games that the Caps got as many as two goals in the same game from players not among the team's top six forwards.
In his first game on the team's third line, Burakovsky scored the Caps' first goal on a broken line shift late in the second period. Jay Beagle notched a shorthanded goal early in the third, and then usual suspects T. J. Oshie (his sixth of the season) and Alex Ovechkin (his 10th) tallied late power-play goals.
"I think that's how we want to be most of the year," says Oshie. "Obviously, you've got [Ovechkin] over there. He's going to get a lot of goals, but we can't rely on just him and a couple of other guys. We need to use our depth, and we've got players on those other two lines who can score goals, who can bring offense. You saw it tonight and it's something that I think we can keep improving on and work into our game more."
Blueliners In The Box - It's been just over a week since the Caps lost defenseman Matt Niskanen to an upper body injury in an Oct. 13 game against the Devils in New Jersey. The injury left the Caps even thinner on the blueline than they had been before Niskanen went down.
In Washington's last two games, the Caps have dressed four veteran defenseman (John Carlson, Taylor Chorney, Dmitry Orlov and Brooks Orpik), and those four vets are also the team's primary penalty-killing defensemen.
But when one of those four is sent to the box, the Caps are forced to fill in with either Madison Bowey or Christian Djoos, both of whom made their NHL debuts earlier this week. It's far from an ideal situation, force-feeding the development of young defensemen by putting them in situations the Capitals would prefer they not have to be in just yet. But there is also no alternative.
Since Niskanen departed the game against the Devils, the Caps have gone 9-for-12 on the penalty kill (75%). But the Caps have also killed off all five penalties that didn't involve any of the aforementioned four veteran defensemen over that span, which means they've managed to go just 4-for-7 with one of the vet blueliners in the box.
Simply put, those four need to do a better job of staying out of the box, just to give Washington its best chance to kill the penalties it does take on a given night.
"The penalty kill is hard minutes," says Trotz. "You're trying to keep pressure on a team, you're down a man and those are hard minutes. So it's taxing, it's taxing on your veteran guys. I know as a coach back there, you extend your two veteran guys - instead of going 45 seconds, now you're extending them to a minute-twenty, and it's just more taxing.
"So yeah, our veteran guys have got to stay out of the box as much as possible. At the same time, I think our kids are coming along. If we have to force feed them, then we have to force feed them. There is nothing we can do. If you're going to play in this league, we shouldn't have to protect you. At some point, you throw them in the pool and see who can swim."
In The Nets - Braden Holtby earned his four win of the season with a strong performance in Friday's win over the Wings in Detroit, and Philipp Grubauer will go tonight against the Panthers at Capital One Arena.
Grubauer was in goal for one of the Caps' worst team defense showings in years last Saturday, yielding eight goals on 37 shots in Washington's 8-2 drubbing at the hands of the Flyers in Philadelphia. He took one for the team that night, and the Caps owe him one.
"Absolutely, Grubauer is in," says Trotz. "And I think they do owe him something. We didn't even throw him a raft, let's put it that way, not a life preserver, anything, nothing. I think from that standpoint, the guys all recognize that. I think Grubi will give his best effort and the guys will give their best effort in front of him."
In his previous start this season, Grubauer singlehandedly earned the Caps a point in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Lightning in Tampa on Oct. 9. Lifetime against the Panthers, Grubauer is 1-2-1 in five appearances with a 2.50 GAA and a .908 save pct.
Veteran Florida goaltender Roberto Luongo left the Panthers' Friday night game against Pittsburgh in the third period, suffering from a hand injury. James Reimer came on in relief and stopped 11 of 12 shots the rest of the way, getting saddled with the loss in a 4-3 Florida setback.
Reimer is expected to start for the Panthers tonight, and Florida has summoned goaltender Harri Sateri from AHL Springfield. The 27-year-old Sateri is expected to serve as Reimer's backup tonight.
Lifetime against Washington, Reimer is 3-4-2 with a shutout, a 2.29 GAA and a .931 save pct.
All Lined Up - Here's how we expect the Caps and the Red Wings to look on Friday night when they take to the ice at Little Caesars Arena for the first of their three meetings this season:
43-Wilson, 19-Backstrom, 77-Oshie
8-Ovechkin, 92-Kuznetsov, 13-Vrana
10-Connolly, 20-Eller, 65-Burakovsky
25-Smith-Pelly, 83-Beagle, 39-Chiasson
2-Niskanen (upper body, week-to-week)
91-Graovac (upper body, week-to-week)
11-Huberdeau, 16-Barkov, 63-Dadonov
88-McGinn, 21-Trocheck, 71-Vrbata
27-Bjugstad, 90-McCann, 74-Tippett
18-Haley, 17-MacKenzie, 7-Sceviour
1-Luongo (hand, day-to-day)