In the second half of January, the Caps had just one home game. That Jan. 23 contest against Carolina followed a three-game road run, and it was also the front end of a set of back-to-back games, meaning the Caps were headed straight from their postgame showers to the airport.
An identical scenario is at play here in the back half of February. The Caps host the Edmonton Oilers on Friday night in Washington's lone home game in the second half of this month. It comes on the heels of a three-game road run and is the front end of a set of back-to-back games; the Caps have a short turnaround on Saturday, facing the Predators in Nashville in what is a 5 p.m. start back east.
Video: Taylor Chorney on facing the team that drafted him
The Caps last played at Verizon Center 13 nights ago, taking a 6-4 win over the Anaheim Ducks in Washington's final game before its bye week break. The 13 days between home games is the longest gap of its kind this season.
Washington carries a 12-game home winning streak into tonight's game, a mark that is just one shy of the franchise standard of 13 established back in 2009-10. The Caps have scored five or more goals in 11 straight home games, and if they manage to win while scoring five or more tonight against the Oilers, they'll stand all alone in the NHL's record book. Currently, the Caps are tied with the 1970-71 Boston Bruins. The B's of that vintage also won 11 straight at home while scoring at least five goals in each contest.
A Bit Banged Up - Wednesday's game against Philadelphia was a hard fought, physical affair and it has left the Caps ailing perhaps more than we even know as of yet. Washington recalled defenseman Aaron Ness and forward Riley Barber from AHL Hershey on Thursday afternoon.
Defenseman Matt Niskanen suffered a lower body injury in the second period on Wednesday, and Caps coach Barry Trotz says Niskanen won't play tonight against the Oilers, missing just his second game since joining the Capitals at the start of the 2014-15 season. Niskanen also missed the Dec. 9 game against the Sabres in Buffalo earlier this season.
Neither Niskanen nor fellow defenseman Brooks Orpik participated in Thursday's practice, with Orpik's absence chalked up to a "maintenance day." But with Orpik not on the ice today, one wonders about his potential availability against Edmonton. Trotz says it will be a game time decision.
"He is going to do warm-up; we'll put all of our seven [healthy defensemen] out there," says Trotz.
Trotz also noted that Barber would be on the ice for warm-up. Given that statement and the fact that no Caps were on the ice for extended post-practice bag skating activities, there could also be an ailing forward in the ranks. If that's the case, Barber is in line to make his NHL debut tonight.
"Guys are a little bit nicked up," says Trotz, "so we'll make sure they feel totally healthy and all good. When they say they're good, someone will get scratched. That's how it works."
The Caps have been the league's healthiest team to date, losing just 24 man-games to injury or illness coming into Friday's contest.
"I think we realized it was going to happen sooner or later," says Caps goalie Braden Holtby. "We've been fairly confident with the guys who can step in. There are a lot of quality guys who have been playing in Hershey who are looking for that chance. So we're not worried about it. We take it as a luxury that the guys who might be out can take some extra time to make sure they're healthy. I think that's part of the reason we've been healthy, too. We've counted on other guys at different times to play bigger minutes throughout the games if guys are banged up.
"It will be a good challenge for us, and a good opportunity for other guys to step in and help out while others get healthy."
We'll know more after warm-ups.
Back-to-Back Challenge - Last weekend, the Capitals played a set of back-to-back weekend afternoon games on the road, losing both contests as they came out of their bye week break.
This week's back-to-back challenge involves facing a pair of Western Conference clubs and doing so just 22 hours apart, the shortest span between start times permitted by the collective bargaining agreement between the league and the NHLPA.
The Caps haven't faced Edmonton since last October, and they're facing Nashville for the first time this season, so even though Washington has won eight straight games and is 13-2-0 on the season against Western foes, this weekend presents quite a challenge for the Capitals.
"Anytime you play division foes, everybody has the systems and all that," says Trotz. "Everybody knows them; there's not that many secrets, really. But there are nuances in the way a team has a little bit of an attitude or the way they break out pucks. Some are better in this part of the ice and some are a little bit better here. It's more those things where you sort of get their DNA, and you figure that out when you play them more.
"When you don't play teams as much, you tend to say, 'Here's our pre-scout, this is where we think we can have a little bit of an advantage,' or 'This is where they're really strong, maybe we can take some of the strength away from them.' But until you play them, you don't get a real strong feel so from our standpoint you try to really emphasize our game, and what areas where we've got to be really structured and really strong and mentally aware, and see if we can get it done there.
"And then once you start to play, you start to figure out what their DNA is as a team."
"We will have a little bit more video to watch, but it's a good challenge," says Holtby. "I think Edmonton is one of those teams that epitomizes what the new NHL is going to, and I think that's a good challenge for us, to find a way we need to play against them to be successful. We weren't real thrilled with the way we played the last time we played against them, and we know we can be better. It will be fun to challenge ourselves against that again, against that young speed game.
"And Nashville is a team that we're obviously not too familiar with. Changing from [Shea] Weber to [P.K.] Subban changes the dynamic of that group, so we'll watch the video and see what areas we can have success in."
Video work aside, facing some fresh faces can be invigorating for some.
"I think it's a little refreshing when you to play different teams," says Caps right wing T.J. Oshie. "I think you see different things when you're playing against players that you're not used to playing against.
"Everyone plays a fast game, but when you play different opponents, you have to engage yourself mentally a little more because you haven't seen them. And there is still going to be some element of surprise when you play against unfamiliar players and when some of them are elite players. I'm getting up for it. It should be a couple of good games."
Video: Riley Barber comments on his first NHL call-up
Falling Back On Foundation - The Caps' first three games back after the bye week were a bit choppy, especially early on. But the Capitals improved as each of those games wore on and could have won all three; they actually went 1-1-1.
Early in the season - before the Caps began scoring goals by the bucketful - Washington relied on its strong defensive foundation to win games and earn points in games where goals were difficult to come by. They have reverted to that foundation a bit here since coming out of the bye week. Washington surrendered seven goals in its last two games before the bye, and it has permitted just five goals in the three games on the other side of the break.
The Caps also struggled somewhat in games against speedy teams early in the season, including their 4-1 loss to the Oilers in Edmonton on Oct. 26. Since then, the Caps have improved in their ability to handle the league's swifter skating clubs.
"Some teams cheat more than others," says Caps right wing Justin Williams. "And when you say 'cheat,' you play the percentage, right? They'll try and blow the zone when they think they're getting the puck, or when there's a turnover guys are flying out of the zone and they send it and use their speed to their advantage. They use their assets and try and maximize them.
"I think we've gotten a little better at managing the puck against those teams and eliminating that, and making them come all the way through us, as opposed to getting into footraces."
In The Nets - Holtby earned his 30th win of the season on Wednesday against the Flyers, and he will get the net again on Friday against the Oilers. Lifetime against Edmonton, Holtby is 4-2-1 with a pair of shutouts, a 1.99 GAA and a .929 save pct.
Cam Talbot gets the crease for the Oilers. Talbot leads the NHL with 54 games and 54 starts, one more game and three more starts than the Kings' Peter Budaj. With 31 wins on the season, Talbot is tied for second in the league and has already established a personal career high.
Lifetime against Washington, Talbot is 2-2-0 with a 2.25 GAA and a .927 save pct. in five appearances.
All Lined Up - Here is how we expect the Capitals and the Oilers to look when they hit the ice at Verizon Center on Friday night.
8-Ovechkin, 19-Backstrom, 77-Oshie
90-Johansson, 92-Kuznetsov, 14-Williams
10-Connolly, 20-Eller, 82-Sanford
26-Winnik, 83-Beagle, 43-Wilson
2-Niskanen (lower body)
19-Maroon, 97-McDavid, 29-Draisaitl
27-Lucic, 93-Nugent-Hopkins, 14-Eberle
36-Caggiula, 55-Letestu, 44-Kassian
23-Hendricks, 54-Khaira, 26-Pakarinen
6-Larsson (lower body)
15-Pitlick (torn ACL)