The Capitals opened the 2017-18 season with nine games in a span of 17 nights. Four of those games were played at home; but each was a free-standing game - a one-game homestand. Five of those games were played on the road, and the Caps made four trips to play those five games.
Washington navigated its way through that disjointed stretch of scheduling with a 4-4-1 record, and it starts a three-game Western Canada road trip in Vancouver against the Canucks on Thursday night. After having the last four nights off from the rigors of the NHL, the Caps will now play three games out on the road over the next four nights.
"We've worked on parts of our game," says Caps coach Barry Trotz of his team's practices over the last few days. "I think we got a lot more touches with the puck, so we were a little more accurate with our passing and some of the skill elements of our game.
"Sometimes when you start playing games you don't get as many practices and you don't get as many touches. People think you have the puck the whole time during a game - you really don't.
"So just getting a lot of touches, some practice stuff, some reps that we needed in ceratin areas of our game. And hopefully that pays dividends for us."
The Caps have won six of their nine road games (6-3-0) in these three cities - Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary - since Trotz took over as Washington's head coach at the start of the 2014-15 season. The Caps won each of their last two visits to Vancouver, and are now seeking to piece together their first three-game road winning streak against the Canucks in nearly three decades. Washington won four straight road games here from Oct. 28, 1986 to Oct. 25, 1988.
Video: Two-Man Advantage | October 26
Another Man Down? - Caps center Nicklas Backstrom did not participate in Washington's morning skate on Thursday at Rogers Arena. Backstrom missed the skate because of illness, and a game time decision will be made either ahead of or during warm-ups before Thursday's opening puck drop.
"We'll see where he is at, and we'll make a decision at game time," says Trotz. "It's life, it's hockey. You just can't worry about it. We talk about 'next guy up,' so 'next guy up,' get it done. There are different ways to get it done.
"Obviously he is a big part of our team. We rely on him in a lot of situations, but that's an opportunity for someone else to take advantage of that."
Backstrom played in all 82 games for the Capitals last season, marking the seventh time in 10 NHL seasons that he has played in each of Washington's games. If he is unable to go tonight in Vancouver, expect Chandler Stephenson to get a sweater for the first time this season at the NHL level. Stephenson was recalled from AHL Hershey just before the Caps departed the District on their current road trip.
The Caps are already playing without Andre Burakovsky (thumb), Tyler Graovac (upper body) and Matt Niskanen (upper body), and none of those three players is on the current trip.
Video: Barry Trotz Pregame | October 26
Heading Home - Whenever the Caps make this trip out west to face the Western Canadian clubs, a handful of guys in the Washington room get to head closer to home and get a chance to see some friends and family along the way.
Washington winger Brett Connolly hails from British Columbia, and he is one of a few Caps who are getting a tiny taste of home on the road this week.
"My brother [Josh] is in his third year at [University of British Columbia ]," says Connolly. "We practiced there yesterday, and he got to see me play. It's good to come back. I got to see a lot of family and friends and all that, and obviously good for him to sit around and watch our practice at the campus. Hopefully, we can have a good game tonight."
Caps defenseman Madison Bowey is a Winnipeg native who played his junior hockey with the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL. Bowey will also be catching up with family and friends as he makes the first Western Canada road trip of his NHL career.
"Calgary and Vancouver are where I'll probably get a few friends and family," says Bowey. "I know my billet family - who I lived with for four years in Kelowna - is going to be coming up to the Vancouver game. It will be special to see them again and they'll be pretty excited to watch me play again, so it should be a great road trip for sure."
Along with Stephenson, Bowey is one of two Caps who hail from this part of the world who weren't on Washington's opening night roster, but who were recalled from AHL Hershey in time to make the trip.
"It should be fun," says Bowey. "Obviously, I'm lucky enough that we are going out there on that western swing. I'm looking forward to it. It's definitely a big business trip for us. There are a big six points on the table. I just want to keep getting better and hopefully help contribute to a few big wins here this weekend, and it's going to be a great time going back to Canada for sure."
Video: Rinkside Update | Brett Connolly
Changing Of The Guards - The 2017-18 season is the 17th for the Sedin twins - Daniel and Henrik - in Vancouver. Although it is hard to recall such a time now, the Sedins were weaned slowly at the start of their NHL careers. Over their first four seasons in the league, their ice time totals were mostly in the 12-13 minute range.
Both Sedins saw their ice time bump up to over 16 minutes a night for the first time in 2005-06, the season after a lockout wiped out what should have been the 2004-05 campaign. Beginning in 2006-07, both twins began a run of 11 straight seasons in which they would average at least 18 minutes a night, and those averages occasionally crept into the 19- and 20-minute range as well.
But here in the early going of 2017-18, the final season on the current contracts of both the 37-year-old Sedins, the twins seem to have reached the other side of the bell curve. Nine games into the season, Daniel Sedin is averaging 14:14 per night while Henrik is at 14:30. Both twins are seeing their lowest nightly average in ice time since the 2003-04 season.
The Canucks are trying to rebuild on the fly here in Vancouver, and it's not known what the future might hold for the Sedins - here in Vancouver or elsewhere in the NHL - beyond this season. They've both had great careers and they've been fortunate enough to spend the better part of two decades as teammates and linemates. It's been a great story since the day they were drafted in the summer of 1999, and all that remains is to see how it plays out.
Regardless, the Sedins have been a pleasure to watch and a couple of bears to play against, especially below the dots in the offensive zone. This may be the last time the Caps come into Vancouver and have to face them.
Video: Braden Holtby Pregame | October 26
In The Nets - Braden Holtby gets the net for Washington on Thursday in Vancouver. Holtby is 4-2-0 on the season with a 2.31 GAA and a .929 save pct. He is coming off a 4-3 overtime victory over the Red Wings in Detroit in his most recent start, which came last Friday. Holtby is seeking to stack up consecutive wins for the first time since he won his first two starts of the season, at Ottawa and at home against Montreal.
History shows Holtby is at his sharpest when he is playing every other day. Making his first start in six nights is a far cry from that every other day routine.
"You trust in your routines," says Holtby, when asked what adjustments are necessary for him after a longer than usual gap between starts. "You make sure that you do the same things you do before any other game. The main things is getting your mind right at the start, regardless of what the game throws at you at the start. Whether you get some 'feel good' shots or not, you want to trick your mind into feeling like it has been playing the game already.
"The more experience you have with it, the more natural it comes. But it's always a challenge, still."
Lifetime against the Canucks, Holtby is 3-1-0 in four starts with a shutout, a 1.76 GAA and a .935 save pct.
For the Canucks, Anders Nilsson gets the net on Thursday against the Capitals.
Video: Alex Ovechkin Pregame | October 26
All Lined Up - Here's how we expect the Caps and the Canucks to look on Thursday night when they take to the ice at Rogers Arena for the first of their two meetings this season. Bear in mind that Backstrom did not participate in Thursday's morning skate, and his availability for tonight's game in Vancouver will be a game time decision:
43-Wilson, 19-Backstrom, 77-Oshie
8-Ovechkin, 92-Kuznetsov, 39-Chiasson
10-Connolly, 20-Eller, 13-Vrana
79-Walker, 83-Beagle, 25-Smith-Pelly