A night after the Caps earned a 7-3 win over the New York Islanders on Thursday night in Brooklyn, the two teams tangle again in Washington in the back end of a home-and-home set of contests.
Friday's game in the District closes out the season's series between the two teams; the Caps have taken two of the three games played between the two Metropolitan Division rivals this season.
"Every game is important here," says Caps center Nicklas Backstrom. "So we need to just refocus here and make sure we reset and go."
After Friday's game, the Caps will have just one set of back-to-back games remaining this season, and both of those games will be part of Washington's final road trip of the season, comprised of visits to Pittsburgh on April 1 and St. Louis on April 2.
Video: Two-Man Advantage | March 16
Tighten Up - Over a 15-game stretch from Jan. 11 through Feb. 17, the Caps surrendered 53 goals for an average of 3.53 goals per game. Largely because they scored 47 goals themselves (3.13 per game) over the same stretch, the Caps were able to earn points in 10 of those 15 games (6-5-4) in which they were fairly free and easy with the goals against.
Since that stretch ended, the Caps have allowed just 31 goals in 12 games for an average of 2.58 goals against per game. Shaving off nearly a goal per game hasn't led to great results yet - just 7-5-0 - because Washington endured a bit of a scoring slump along the way, but the Caps know that if they're going to have postseason success, they can't continue to allow goals at a rate of more than three per game.
"We've been playing better," says caps right wing Tom Wilson. "I think it's a work in progress. The goal that comes to mind is the [Patrik] Laine goal [in the third period vs. Winnipeg on Monday]; I mean, he is wide open. So there are still holes that we need to address and we talked about that [Wednesday] morning.
"I think every guy can be better, and it's kind of a chain reaction. If one guy does one thing and then another guy tries to help, then your guy is open. So we're working on it, and it's a work in progress. We've come a long ways since the beginning of the year. The [defensemen] have been playing great. They're kind of our rock. The new guys have done a good job of stepping in and making plays, allowing us to go on the offense, but taking care of our own end first."
Video: Rinkside Update | Jakub Vrana | March 16
Over those last 12 games, the Caps have permitted the fourth fewest goals in the league, and they've allowed the fewest of all Eastern Conference clubs.
"I think it's having that mentality of helping your teammate out," says Wilson, "and when pucks get stopped, communicating and being there for a guy - not getting too spread out and having layers of support so when something breaks down, you aren't just expecting him to make the play, you're kind of stopping in and making sure that the play is made before you leave to go on offense."
Video: Braden Holtby Pregame | March 16
In The Nets - For the Capitals, Braden Holtby gets the net for the first time in 10 days, since March 6 when he was pulled in the second period of a start against the Ducks in Anaheim. Philipp Grubauer has started each of Washington's four games since, so Holtby will be returning to the net after his longest absence in more than four years.
Trotz opted to have Holtby go through a "reset" in the 10 days since that ill-fated start in Anaheim, and Holtby has been working on mental aspects of his game and working with Caps goalie coach Scott Murray during the Caps' practice sessions.
"It was obviously good to clear the mind and step back," says Holtby, "and it makes it a lot better that we had success while it was going on. So that makes it easier just to focus on regrouping. Working on a few things for a couple of days in practice, you're not really worried about conserving energy - you can really just work through things. It's something I haven't had for quite a few years, so there was a positive in it for sure - mentally and physically - to just regroup a bit."
Prior to Thursday's game against the Islanders, Trotz was asked about how Holtby has handled this rare - for him, anyway - situation.
"Absolutely like a pro," answered Trotz. "He is working at his game, he has had a great attitude. I think he understands and he has seen it from some of the best in the business. I think the opportunities that he has had when he has gone to All-Star Games and obviously the World Cup and that, he has seen it where his counterparts who are maybe great goaltenders have had struggles. I think he just knows it's part of the process and it's his first time going through it. He is dealing with it the right way.
Asked whether or not he needs to reassure Holtby that he is still Washington's "go-to guy" in goal, Trotz noted that the reassurance comes in the form of Friday's starting assignment against the Islanders.
"I'm going to reassure him by putting him back in the net," says Trotz. "That's where the first reassurance comes, it's that yes, he is going to be back in the net. And then he's got to take the ball and run with it and see if he can go with it.
"He also understands where we are as a team - we've got to win hockey games and get into the playoffs. He is all about 'team,' so he understands that whole process."
Lifetime against the Islanders, Holtby is 13-4-3 with a 2.43 GAA and a .921 save pct.
Jaroslav Halak gets the start for New York on Friday. Christopher Gibson started and was pulled after allowing five goals on just a dozen shots against in 30:22 of work on Thursday, and Halak came on in relief, stopping eight of the nine shots he faced the rest of the way.
Since authoring a 50-save shutout against the New York Rangers on Feb. 15 in Brooklyn, Halak is winless, going 0-4-2 and yielding three or more goals in five of those six starts. For the season, Halak is 18-22-6 with a 3.22 GAA and a .908 save pct. in 20 appearances.
Lifetime against the Capitals, Halak is 9-8-0 with a shutout, a 2.66 GAA and a .906 save pct. in 18 appearances.
Video: Barry Trotz Pregame | March 16
All Lined Up - Here's how we expect the Capitals and the Islanders to look when they take the ice on Friday night at Capital One Arena:
8-Ovechkin, 92-Kuznetsov, 43-Wilson
65-Burakovsky, 19-Backstrom, 77-Oshie
13-Vrana, 20-Eller, 39-Chiasson
25-Smith-Pelly, 72-Boyd, 83-Beagle
27-Lee, 91-Tavares, 12-Bailey
16-Ladd, 13-Barzal, 7-Eberle
72-Beauvillier, 29-Nelson, 56-Fritz
52-Johnston, 53-Cizikas, 15-Clutterbuck
1-Greiss (lower body)
10-Quine (lower body)
11-Prince (upper body)
42-Mayfield (lower body)
44-de Haan (upper body)
86-Kulemin (upper body)