The Capitals find themselves in Western Canada in late October every year, but the results vary from year-to-year, as expected. Having earned a split in their first two games and with Sunday's trip finale against Calgary remaining, the Caps can put an exclamation point on the trip and the month of October if they can find a way to earn two points against the Flames on Sunday night.
"It's good that we come out here at this time, to give ourselves a challenge, get out on the road and find out how to grind out wins," says Caps goalie Braden Holtby, who earned his fifth win of the season on Saturday in Edmonton. "Especially now all three teams are vastly better than they've been in the last five years or so. I think that's a good challenge. It makes it hard; it makes every game hard. You want to play good teams to grow your [own game] and it's a good thing at this time of year."
A victory in Calgary would give the Caps a winning record on the trip, and would leave them a shade above what passes as .500 in the modern NHL. Given the difficulty of Washington's October schedule, finishing even a little bit above water would be a solid achievement.
Video: Two-Man Advantage | October 29
Stack 'Em Up - The Caps started the season with two straight wins, and they earned at least a point in each of their first three games (2-0-1). But wins have been hard to come by for the Capitals since then, and consecutive victories have been non-existent since those Oct. 5-7 triumphs to start the season.
Washington played one of its best games of the season on Saturday in Edmonton, and the Caps are right back at it on Sunday in Calgary against the Flames. Given the way Washington won Saturday's game, might the win over the Oilers finally give the Caps the traction they need to string together some wins?
"I think it is," says Caps center Lars Eller, "because it didn't come easy. Sometimes in the past, goals have been rolling in for us. And [Saturday], he had to work hard for it. It was a good way to win a game for us."
Saturday's win also kept the Caps from losing three straight games in regulation for the first time since Feb. 22-27, 2015.
Video: Barry Trotz Pregame | October 29
Line Changes - With his team having scored just nine goals in its previous five games, Caps coach Barry Trotz made some wholesale changes to his forward lines ahead of Saturday's game with the Oilers, to good results.
Washington got even-strength offensive contributions from two of its lines, and the newly cobbled unit of Devante Smith-Pelly with Evgeny Kuznetsov and Alex Ovechkin accounted for three of the Caps' goals on the night.
"Devo was good," said Trotz after the game. "He was skating. We've had a few discussions about what I think he can be [as a player] and hopefully he continues. It's just a game. He has put a couple games together where he has earned the right to play with Kuzy and Ovi, and they seemed to have a lot of jump."
Smith-Pelly netted his first goal of the season with less than 20 seconds left in the first, a big goal that halved what had been a 2-0 Edmonton lead. Kuznetsov scored twice in the third period, with the first of those goals coming just 30 seconds into the final frame. That one stood up as the game-winner at night's end.
"Obviously that line was great," says Holtby. "Kuzy was the difference maker for our team. Obviously that last goal he scored was huge. He has the skill to do that, and it's dangerous and hard to defend. When he is on, we are a tough team to beat."
At night's end, Smith-Pelly had 18:30 in ice time, second only to T.J. Oshie's 18:50 among all Washington forwards. Smith-Pelly's ice time total on Saturday is his highest in a single NHL game since he logged 18:40 in a March 25, 2016 game against the Capitals, while playing with New Jersey.
In The Nets - Philipp Grubauer gets his fourth start of the season in the Washington nets on Sunday against the Flames. He has started every third game since the start of the season.
In his first three starts, Grubauer received diminishing returns in terms of offensive support. The Caps scored three goals in his first start, two in his second and just one in his third. Tonight's start against Calgary marks the third straight start in which Grubauer has gotten the nod in the second game of a set of back-to-backs.
Lifetime against the Flames, Grubauer is 0-0-1 with a 2.92 GAA and an .897 save pct. in one start.
Mike Smith is expected to start in goal for the Flames. The 35-year-old veteran is in his first season with the Flames after spending the previous six seasons with Arizona. Smith's most recent win came on Oct 24 against the Predators in Nashville, and it was the 200th victory of his NHL career.
Lifetime against the Capitals, Smith is 2-8-1 with a shutout, a 3.65 GAA and an .882 save pct.
All Lined Up - Here's how we expect the Caps and the Flames to look on Sunday night when they take to the ice at Scotiabank Saddledome for the first of their two meetings this season:
13-Vrana, 19-Backstrom, 77-Oshie
8-Ovechkin, 92-Kuznetsov, 25-Smith-Pelly
18-Stephenson, 20-Eller, 43-Wilson
14-Peluso, 83-Beagle, 39-Chiasson
2-Niskanen (upper body, week-to-week)
10-Connolly (upper body)
65-Burakovsky (upper body, week-to-week)
91-Graovac (upper body, week-to-week)
13-Gaudreau, 23-Monahan, 79-Ferland
19-Tkachuk, 11-Backlund, 67-Frolik
10-Versteeg, 77-Jankowski, 93-Bennett
15-Glass, 20-Lazar, 36-Brouwer
5-Giordano, 27-D. Hamilton
68-Jagr, (lower body)