The Caps started the season with three straight games against Atlantic Division foes, going 2-0-1 in those contests. Then came three games in four nights against Metropolitan Division foes, and the Caps did not fare as well (1-2-0) in that stretch.
Having lost three of their last four games (1-2-1), they now get set for another trio of games against Atlantic opponents, beginning with Tuesday's home game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. They'll finish off this trio of tilts against Atlantic foes this weekend when they visit Detroit on Friday and then host the Florida Panthers on Saturday.
Video: Two-Man Advantage | October 17
Eight Down - On Saturday in Philadelphia, the Caps absorbed an 8-2 beating at the hands of the Flyers. That game marks the 70th time in the franchise's regular season history that the Caps surrendered eight or more goals in a 60-minute game. Forty-two of those 70 occurrences came in the first eight seasons of Washington's NHL existence, before it made the playoffs for the first time in 1982-83.
Before Saturday's loss, the Caps had gone nearly a dozen years without surrendering as many as eight goals in a 60-minute contest, the longest gap between such games in franchise history. The previous occurrence was on Jan. 25, 2006 in an 8-1 loss to the Penguins in Pittsburgh.
That game was noteworthy for being the one in which Pens defender Ryan Whitney (now of The NHL Network) used his stick to try to give Caps captain Alex Ovechkin an on-ice vasectomy. Ovechkin's roommate Brian Willsie stood up and fought Whitney, who was fined the princely sum of $1,500 for his yambag mayhem.
Video: Rinkside Update | John Carlson | October 17
We Meet Again - In late May of 2016, the AHL Hershey Bears faced off against the Toronto Marlies in the Eastern Conference final series of the Calder Cup Playoffs. The Bears were a very good team in 2015-16, rolling up 98 points to finish atop the league's Atlantic Division, but they were heavy underdogs going into the series. The Marlies laid waste to the league during the regular season, stacking up 114 points, - 13 more than any other team in the league, and the most of any club in any season since the AHL went to a 76-game schedule in 2011-12. Toronto seemed to be a team of destiny.
Hershey had gone to the limit - five games in the first round against Portland and seven games in the second round against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton - while Toronto swept Bridgeport in the first round and needed seven games to get by Albany in the second.
The Bears stunned the Marlies in Game 1 at Giant Center, winning 3-1. A night later, they took Game 2 on Carter Camper's overtime game-winner. Suddenly, the heat and the adversity were on the Marlies as the series shifted to Toronto.
Game 3 was a statement game. The Bears roared to an 8-2 rout over Toronto, taking a commanding 3-0 series lead. Although the Marlies blanked the Bears 5-0 in Game 4, Hershey finished off the series with a 3-2 win in Game 5.
"We were prepared for them," says Caps defenseman Aaron Ness. "Throughout the week coming into the series, we heard about how we were the underdog and I think that gave us a little bit of motivation, to be honest. We came in the first couple of games - just right away, right out of the chute - we came at them. We got a couple of goals early, and we were able to play with the lead most of the first two games.
"Throughout the series, we got great goaltending, we defended well, and we were able to score timely goals.
Five of the players who suited up for the Marlies in that 2016 playoff series also skated for the parent Maple Leafs this past spring when the Caps ousted Toronto in the first round of the playoffs. Washington didn't have any regulars from the Hershey-Toronto series on its roster last season, but it has five such players now: forwards Jakub Vrana and Nathan Walker and defensemen Madison Bowey, Christian Djoos and Ness.
The Maple Leafs still feature five of the players from that 2016 series against the Bears: Forwards Connor Brown, Zach Hyman, Josh Leivo and William Nylander and defenseman Connor Carrick, a former Capital.
"Our team had a really big will to win," remembers Walker. "If you ask any of the guys from that team, they'd say the same thing. Our work ethic was really high, and knowing we were the underdog just made us hungrier to go in there and win the series."
"We just outworked them," says Vrana. "They were a very skilled team. We were a skilled team too, but we won battles and just outworked them. We were stronger than them, and I think that's what put us in the next round."
"The big thing for them is how quick they move the puck and how quick they play," says Bowey. "And the biggest thing for us was matching their speed and being physical with them. Obviously their forwards are pretty quick and shofty, so I think if we can close the time on them, really limit their time and space on the ice and really be physical against them, it definitely helps us out. That was the main key we focused on in that series, and it's the best way to shut down those quick guys, for sure."
Tonight, that rivalry will carry on as a handful of players from each side renew acquaintances on the ice, but this time at the NHL level.
Video: Barry Trotz Pregame | October 17
"Obviously I'm familiar with a few of those faces," says Bowey. "They have a lot of young guys who bring a lot of speed to the game. It will be a quick game, and I like those quick, transition kind of games. It will be nice to get in there and play against some familiar faces for sure."
"I think it's going to be fun tonight, just to see those guys in this league, and play against them," says Vrana. "It will be fun, and hopefully we're going to get the 'W.'"
"They are great players," says Djoos, "and it's going to be fun to play them again, most of the guys."
The Bears went on to face Lake Erie in the Calder Cup final, but the Lake Monsters swept them in four tight games.
"It was a lot of fun," says Ness. "You're playing in the playoffs, and there's nothing like it. That's why you play. It's such an exciting time; you can feel it in the air a little bit. It was fun going up there, and it was fun beating them and upsetting them, too. When you're not supposed to win, those are the best times to win.
"It was a fun series, but I still wish we could have that final [series] back [against Lake Erie]. I still think about that. But it was still a great experience."
In The Nets - Braden Holtby is back in the net for the Caps on Tuesday against the Leafs. On the season, Holtby is 3-1 with a 2.47 GAA and a .923 save pct. Over his regular season career against the Maple Leafs, Holtby is 6-2-1 with a shutout, a 2.17 GAA and a .931 save pct.
Frederik Andersen gets the net for the Leafs tonight; he has played every minute of every game for Toronto thus far this season, posting a 4-1 record with a 3.76 GAA and an .880 save pct. Lifetime against Washington, Andersen is 2-0-1 with a 2.67 GAA and a .909 save pct.
All Lined Up - Here's how we expect the Caps and the Maple Leafs to look on Tuesday night when they take to the ice at Capital One Arena for the first of their three meetings this season (one note: Lars Eller has been bothered by an illness and may or may not be able to play tonight. If he cannot answer the bell, expect Tyler Graovac to suit up in his stead):
65-Burakovsky, 19-Backstrom, 77-Oshie
8-Ovechkin, 92-Kuznetsov, 13-Vrana
10-Connolly, 20-Eller, 43-Wilson
79-Walker, 83-Beagle, 25-Smith-Pelly
2-Niskanen (upper body, week-to-week)
11-Hyman, 34-Matthews, 29-Nylander
12-Marleau, 43-Kadri, 47-Komarov
25-van Riemsdyk, 42-Bozak, 28-Brown
15-Martin, 20-Moore, 16-Marner