After playing 12 of their first 20 games on the road this season, the Capitals start off a stretch of extending home cooking on Saturday night when they host the Minnesota Wild at Capital One Arena.
Washington will play nine of its next 10 games here in the District, and the Caps will face only one set of back-to-back games over the next three-plus weeks. For the most part, the Capitals will be playing every other day, a situation that has been their sweet spot over the past few seasons.
"Obviously, it's a good part of the schedule for us," says Caps goalie Braden Holtby. "And we need to take advantage of it while we can. Even though we had a tough road trip, we can use this as a positive. Get back at home, get in a rhythm of things, get back to basics, get some good practice days in, find that rhythm and try to keep it for the rest of the year."
Coming home empty-handed from a two-game road trip, the Caps have now lost three straight road games. But they've won four in a row on the Capital One Arena ice surface, so they're hoping that coming home for a spell can get them back on the right track.
"Let's get the joy back, let's get the execution back, let's get our game speed back, let's get going here," urges Caps coach Barry Trotz. "I think we've had too many passengers. Everything starts with our best players, and tonight we're going to need our best players to be the best players, because everybody else will follow."
Video: Two-Man Advantage | November 18
Flawed Firsts - Washington went 3-1-1 in its first five games this season, outscoring opponents by a combined total of 7-2 in the first period of those games. Since then, the Caps' foes have had the better of things in the game's first 20 minutes, outscoring Washington at a 16-8 clip over the last 15 games.
In seven of their last 15 games, the Caps have given up two or more goals in the first period. They've gone 2-5-0 in those seven games.
Washington's opponent put a crooked number on the board in each game of the team's just completed two-game road trip, and the Caps weren't able to come back and take the lead in either of those contests. The end result was a pair of lopsided losses, 6-3 in Nashville on Tuesday and 6-2 in Denver on Thursday.
"I think as a group, we felt it was unacceptable, the way that we started in both games," says Trotz. "We're basically on our heels right from the get go, so we've got to have a better start.
"I want to see us get back to skating, and get on the puck a little bit more - just a little more of everything. Our game is a little bit individualized. If we're forechecking, for instance, we don't have quick enough support. Everybody has to be going right now. I thought we were probably going for six or seven of our last eight games [before the road trip], and then the last couple we've sort of laid an egg."
Video: Rinkside Update | Lars Eller
Stay With The Pack - The Caps come into Saturday's game seeking to avoid a three-game slide. They've been very adept at avoiding losing streaks for the past few seasons, and that mentality may be even more important this season, given the tightness of the standings, in particular in the Metropolitan Division.
Heading into Saturday's slate of NHL activity, a mere seven points separates the top (25 points) and the bottom (18 points) in the Metro standings. There are three teams clustered at the top, but at 21 points, the Capitals are closer to the bottom than the top.
"The identity of this team is that we don't accept failure," says Caps right wing Tom Wilson. "It doesn't really matter what happened before. This little skid that we're on right now, we've got to get out of that. We know that we can play good hockey, we're definitely capable of that. I think we just need a little more determination and a little more urgency. It's unacceptable to come out and have the effort that we did in the two games on the road.
"Those were big games. When everyone is winning around the league, you've got to stay with the pack. That wasn't a fun one, and we're definitely going to try to get this fixed from within the room, and the next game is the biggest game."
Video: Barry Trotz Pregame | November 18
In The Nets - Holtby is back in the nets for Washington tonight, seeking his 11th victory of the season. Holtby was pulled from his last start - this past Tuesday in Nashville - after permitting six goals on 25 shots in 40 minutes of work. That loss to the Predators halted Holtby's personal winning streak at six straight games.
On the season, Holtby is 10-4-0 with a 2.68 GAA and a .918 save pct. He is 5-1-0 in his six November starts, and he is 5-2-0 with a 1.69 GAA and a .947 save pct. in seven starts at Capital One Arena in 2017-18. Lifetime against the Wild, Holtby is 7-2-0 with a shutout, a 2.43 GAA and .917 save pct. in nine starts.
Devan Dubnyk gets the net for the Wild on Saturday. He comes to town with a four-game winning streak, and he pitched shutouts in three of those games. Dubnyk has stopped 129 of the 133 shots (.970 save pct.) he has faced in his last four starts.
Lifetime against the Capitals, Dubnyk is 2-4-1 with a 3.61 GAA and an .879 save pct. in seven appearances.
All Lined Up - Here's how we expect the Caps and the Wild to look on Saturday night when they take the ice at Capital One Arena:
18-Stephenson, 19-Backstrom, 77-Oshie
8-Ovechkin, 92-Kuznetsov, 25-Smith-Pelly
13-Vrana, 20-Eller, 43-Wilson
10-Connolly, 83-Beagle, 39-Chiasson
29-Djoos (upper body)
65-Burakovsky (upper body, week-to-week)
17-Foligno, 12-Staal, 22-Neiderreiter
16-Zucker, 9-Koivu, 64-Granlund
26-Winnik, 14-Eriksson Ek, 19-Kunin
10-Stewart, 7-Cullen, 63-Ennis
3-Coyle (fractured right fibula)
11-Parise (back surgery, day-to-day)