Earlier this season, the Capitals won a franchise record 15 straight home games, a streak that was halted with a 4-2 loss to the Dallas Stars on March 6. Washington returned home from an 0-3-0 California trip earlier this week, and the Caps started a two-game homestand with a satisfying 4-2 victory over the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday night at Verizon Center.
That short homestand ends tonight against the Nashville Predators, and the Caps will be seeking to start stacking wins up after going 10 days in between victories. Washington hasn't suffered more than four regulation losses in any one month this season, but they're already at four for the month of March. The standings in the Metropolitan Division tightened up considerably during the life of Washington's four-game slide, and now the Caps are seeking to restore some of the cushion they had built up.
Video: Rinkside Update: Nicklas Backstrom
If they're not able to do so, Tuesday's win over the Wild may amount to nothing more than a stay of execution. Washington may not have been at its absolute best against Minnesota, but the Caps did enough good things against the Wild that the game can serve as a bit of template going forward.
"Except for that short span [early in the third] where they scored a couple of goals pretty quick," says Caps right wing T.J. Oshie of the Minnesota game, "I felt like that's how we want to play. It wasn't our best game by any means, but as far as everyone being on board, playing north, shooting the puck and having good special teams, I feel like that was a good steppingstone and a good step in the right direction."
Come On, 22 - Having served his two-game NHL suspension for his hit on Kings' defenseman Kevin Gravel, Kevin Shattenkirk returns to the Washington lineup on Thursday against Nashville.
Video: Shattenkirk talks to the media about his suspension
During Shattenkirk's absence, Nate Schmidt did an admirable job of filling in, as expected. The addition of Shattenkirk ahead of the trade deadline gives the Caps the extreme luxury of sliding Schmidt into the No. 7 spot on the team's depth chart, which is what the concept of "deep depth" is all about.
"Our top are what they are; you're going to see them tonight," says Trotz. "That's our top six. Nate is seventh. What I said [after Tuesday's win over Minnesota] is he played very well and makes decisions tougher, and that's his job as a player. He is in that seventh hole and that's perfect."
Schmidt scored the game's first goal on Tuesday, netting his second of the season with just 11.7 seconds remaining in the first period. In a game that featured a combined total of a dozen power plays, Schmidt logged just over 12 minutes of ice time against Minnesota.
With 13 games remaining in the season, Schmidt goes back to biding his time and waiting for an opportunity to get back into the lineup. Trotz has eased back the workload on his top players throughout the regular season, and the Caps are only a month removed from their bye week, so there is no reason to "rest" any of the other players in Washington's top six. From here on out, expect to see Schmidt or Taylor Chorney only if an injury necessitates the change.
Video: Barry Trotz talks #CapsPreds with the media
"He's a pro," says Trotz of Schmidt. "And you saw it in his game. He is going to get an opportunity because people are going to get hurt, and he's going to jump in there and do a good job. You've seen how he works; he keeps everything positive and he's got a good skill set.
"When you make trades, you make yourself deeper. [Caps GM Brian MacLellan] did that to make us deeper and to give us a better chance. Nate has been in that No. 6 hole all year, and we didn't get Shattenkirk to be the seventh. Those are our six, and [Schmidt] is seventh."
A Do Over - Just under three weeks ago, the Caps faced the Predators in Nashville. For Washington, that game was its third in a span of 72 hours in three different cities, and the opening face-off of that contest came just 22 hours after the Caps' home game against Edmonton the night before. In short, the Preds probably didn't see the Caps at their best that night, and Nashville skated off with a 5-2 victory after Washington scored on its first shot of the game.
Tonight, the Caps get a chance to put a better foot forward against the Predators.
"Obviously we knew it was a tough turnaround with the travel and the four o'clock [p.m.] start," says Trotz. "That threw us off a little bit, but I thought we had a good game plan in the first period and we obviously scored the first goal. The [Nashville] power play took that game over and scored them a couple of goals.
"But I thought for the most part, our five-on-five play against them was pretty solid. They're a very strong team on the rush, and they will fly the zone sometimes. With guys like [Viktor] Arvidsson and the line with [Ryan] Johansen and [Filip] Forsberg, they have a tremendous line and they're pretty creative. They're good on the offense, and then they've got some elite defensemen to back that up.
"They have a five-man attack and they put some pressure on you, and I thought we were able to handle that pretty well. But their game in the second [period], they're one of the top scoring teams in the second, and that's transitional from their defense to their forwards. And they've got Pekka Rinne in net, too. We've got our hands full. They're a good hockey team."
Video: Braden Holtby talks before tilt with Predators
In The Nets - Braden Holtby broke a personal three-game losing streak with the Caps' 4-2 win over the Wild on Tuesday night. Holtby has never lost as many as four straight regulation decisions during his NHL career of nearly 300 games. Holtby will be back in the net tonight against Predators as he takes aim on win No. 36 for the season.
Lifetime against the Preds, Holtby is 3-1-0 with a 3.08 GAA and an .897 save pct.
Pekka Rinne gets the start for Nashville on Thursday. He has had his share of ups and downs this season, and although he has a 7-3-2 record in 14 appearances since the start of February, he also sports a 3.07 GAA and an .897 save pct. over that stretch.
In three career starts against the Capitals, he is 2-1-0 with a 2.68 GAA and a .911 save pct.
All Lined Up - The Capitals finish up a quick two-game homestand on Thursday when they entertain the Nashville Predators at Verizon Center. Here's how we expect the two teams to look when they take the ice for the finale in their '16-17 season's series:
8-Ovechkin, 19-Backstrom, 77-Oshie
90-Johansson, 92-Kuznetsov, 14-Williams
10-Connolly, 20-Eller, 13-Vrana
26-Winnik, 83-Beagle, 43-Wilson
9-Forsberg, 92-Johansen, 38-Arvidsson
11-Parenteau, 12-Fisher, 15-Smith
33-Wilson, 19-Jarnkrok, 18-Neal
55-McLeod, 10-Sissons, 51-Watson
2-Bitetto, 7-Y. Weber
20-Salomaki (lower body)