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#CapsOilers Skate Shavings: Middle Match

Leads have been hard to come by for the Caps of late as Trotz shuffles the deck at Saturday's skate

by Mike Vogel @VogsCaps / WashingtonCaps.com

The Caps' three-game road trip through Western Canada continues on Saturday night in Edmonton when Washington takes on the Oilers. The Caps absorbed a 6-2 setback at the hands of the Canucks in Vancouver on Thursday in the opener of the trip. 

This weekend marks the third straight weekend in which Washington will be tasked with a set of back-to-back games. The Caps split the back-to-backs in each of the previous two weekends, winning the first and dropping the second on both occasions. 
Video: Two-Man Advantage | October 28
Too Much Time Trailing -
 Washington is 1-4 in its last five games, and it has been outscored 23-9 over that span. The Caps have been nicked for a crooked number in goals against in at least one period of each of their last five games. Washington has permitted two or more goals in eight of its last 15 periods of hockey, and the Caps have owned a lead for a grand total of 3 minutes and 59 seconds out of the last 301 minutes and 56 seconds of hockey they've played. 

For the players who have been here for the last season or two, playing without a lead for so long has to seem somewhat foreign.

"For the guys who have been here, it's really foreign because of the fact that we had the lead so many times," says Caps coach Barry Trotz. "It's walking uphill when you don't have the lead. You're always on the climb. The next puck against makes the hill even steeper at times. That's why I say you've got to stay with the game plan and not deviate too much, just stick with it, believe in it and grind through it. 

"Outwork the problem sometimes, but sometimes you don't have enough patience to do that. We've talked about that the last couple of days, about making sure that we're working in the right areas, we're doing the right things, we know our job, we're getting the detail part of our game in order. We've just got to make sure that we're willing to stick with it long enough so that it can have some results. Because when everybody starts going on their own page, then no one is on the same page. 

"That's happened to us in parts of games, and then in other parts of games we've been excellent. We've just got to get a little more consistent through our lineup, get a little more production through our lineup and string some wins together." 

Giving up multiple goals in eight of the last 15 periods has also been a dagger for the Caps. Three of those multi-goal periods have been the first periods of Washington's last five games, including each of the last two.

After leading the league with an average of just 2.16 goals against per game last season, the Caps rank 28th in that department this season. Washington has surrendered an average of 3.70 goals per game in 2017-18. 
Video: Caps Pregame Locker Room | October 28
Shuffling The Deck - Having been limited to two or fewer goals in five of their last seven games, Trotz is seeking to spark some offense from his charges. At Saturday's morning skate ahead of the Edmonton game, Trotz made changes to all four of his forward lines (see lineup below).

Jakub Vrana moves back into the top six, skating the left side of a unit with Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie. Devante Smith-Pelly gets the other noteworthy promotion, moving to the right side of a line with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov.

Ten games into the 2017-18 season, Smith-Pelly is still looking for his first goal, but with a bounce or two along the way, he might have had two or three by now. Consistency has been the knock on Smith-Pelly during his career, but he has been one of Washington's most consistent forwards through the first 10 games of the season. 

In the Caps' two blowout losses on the road at Philadelphia and Vancouver, Smith-Pelly was notable for playing hard and playing well even after the game was out of hand, and that likely helped earn him tonight's promotion.

"I think so," agrees Smith-Pelly, when asked if he thinks he has played consistent hockey here in the early going. "I don't think I've played a bad gat yet, really. For me on a personal level, that's huge because I think that's been the knock on me - being good one night and bad the next night. Especially in that back-to-back situation, playing well the second night, that's something I definitely wanted to show coming here. I can be effective every night and play well every night." 
Video: Barry Trotz Pregame | October 28
In The Nets - Two nights after he was pulled from his start in Vancouver, Caps goalie Braden Holtby gets the net back against the Oilers. Holtby allowed five goals on 23 shots in 35 minutes of work on Thursday, and when he departed the Capitals were down 5-0.

He will seek to bounce back tonight against Edmonton. 

"They obviously have some unique weapons on their team," says Holtby of the Oilers. "Everyone talks about Connor [McDavid] and we all know how good he is, and you obviously have to be aware. But then they've got some really big bodies. Obviously Draisaitl is an elite playmaker, and he can really control a game down low, so it's going to have to be a group effort to control those guys.

"But in the end, really, every team has those dangerous guys. It really comes down to how you play as a team against a certain opponent. That's what we're going to focus on with our game plan and our pre-scout, and make sure we are coming out with a better effort than we've had the last little while."

Holtby is 5-2-1 in eight career appearances against the Oilers, with two shutouts, a 1.86 GAA and a .934 save pct.

Cam Talbot will oppose Holtby from the Edmonton nets. Talbot tied Holtby for the league lead in wins last season with 42. Lifetime against the Capitals, Talbot is 2-3-0 in six appearances, with a 2.22 GAA and a .926 save pct. 

All Lined Up - Here's how we expect the Caps and the Oilers to lineup on Saturday night when they take to the ice at Rogers Place for the first of their two meetings this season:

WASHINGTON

Forwards


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 

Defensemen

29-Djoos, 74-Carlson

9-Orlov, 4-Chorney

44-Orpik, 22-Bowey

Goaltenders

70-Holtby

31-Grubauer 

Scratches

55-Ness

79-Walker 

Injured

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)

EDMONTON

Forwards


19-Maroon, 97-McDavid, 29-Draisaitl

27-Lucic, 93-Nugent-Hopkins, 18-Strome

91-Caggiula, 55-Letestu, 44-Kassian

36-Jokinen, 16-Khaira, 58-Slepyshev 

Defensemen

77-Klefbom, 6-Larsson

4-Russell, 83-Benning

25-Nurse, 62-Gryba

Goaltenders

33-Talbot

1-Brossoit 

Scratches

26-Pakarinen 

56-Yamamoto

81-Auvitu 

Injuries

2-Sekera (knee)

20-Stanton (foot)

51-Ferlin (undisclosed) 

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