The Capitals' five-day bye week has concluded and they now resume the 2016-17 regular season schedule, picking back up with a set of back-to-back road matinee matches this weekend. The first stop is Detroit, where the Caps make their lone visit this season to take on the Red Wings on Saturday afternoon.
Washington reconvened as a group on Friday morning and held its first practice in a week at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, then flew to the Motor City that afternoon.
"I thought we were okay," says Caps coach Barry Trotz of that first practice back. "You come back even from a day off, you don't have quite the touch and all that. But I think guys did a really good job. Some of the guys took a day or two and they worked out. But it's not the same as skating. I think most of the guys took the bye week just to get refreshed, and they spent time with their family and their children. It's really good going forward here."
Video: Trotz talks before #CapsWings
"Somehow you've got to trick your brain to think that you didn't have any time off," says Caps right wing Justin Williams. "Or if you did have the time, make sure that you're mentally ready to go. Sometimes it can take you a hit or getting hit or you to get down a goal to realize that, 'Okay, this is what I've got to do.' It's important to get your mind and your way of thinking back quickly."
The Caps went into the break with a six-game winning streak, and now they'll attempt to pick up where they left off.
"I think it's just a reset," says Williams. "We had some momentum going in; we were feeling good, scoring a lot of goals and winning a lot of games. And sometimes that gets turned off. You forget how hard you had to work to get that, you forget how hard it is to win, what you had to do. It's a challenge for us."
All 30 NHL teams had a bye week between Jan. 1 and the end of February this season. Of the 14 teams that have returned from their bye week so far, those clubs have gone a combined 3-9-2 in their first game back in action.
"I know the bye week hasn't been kind to teams the first game back," says Trotz. "I think they were 3-10-1, the rest of the league. So that's a real good challenge for us. That's not something to look at, that's something to take that challenge and see if we can move forward."
Washington is one of six teams returning to action from its bye week on Saturday.
Last Call For Caps At The Joe - Set 'em up, Joe. Saturday's matinee match against the Wings in Detroit marks the last game the Capitals will ever play at the Motor City's Joe Louis Arena. The Wings played their first game here against the St. Louis Blues on Dec. 27, 1979, and they've won a quartet of Stanley Cup titles during the Joe Louis era.
Washington played its first game here just over a month later, skating to a 2-2 tie with the Wings on Feb. 6, 1980. The Caps are 16-15-6-3 all-time during the regular season at the Joe, and Washington's lone Stanley Cup final appearance also resulted in a pair of losses here.
Over the years, Caps players have played many games here either with Washington or other NHL clubs, and we asked a few of them for their thoughts on the end of the Joe Louis Arena era in Detroit.
Barry Trotz (Trotz's first NHL playoff series as a coach came against the Wings in 2004)
"Fond memories. Obviously we played a lot of games there when I was [with Nashville]. We've lost a few playoff games in the Joe, and we've won a couple of playoff games in the Joe, too. To me, it was always about the tradition. When I was in Nashville, especially in the early years, you'd look across and [the Wings] were in their heyday. I remember looking across and you've got Scotty Bowman on the bench, and they have nine Hall of Fame guys on their bench all at the same time.
"But the Joe has character. It has a lot of character. They've won a lot of games in that building. As a visitor, it was a tough place to come into. It's sort of iconic. You don't really call it 'Joe Louis Arena;' it's 'The Joe.' But it's probably time for 'The Joe' and for Detroit to have a new building. Joe will have a lot of memories for a lot of guys. We've got one coach [Lane Lambert] who started his career with the Wings, and it will probably be a real good day for him."
Brooks Orpik (played in a pair of Stanley Cup final series against the Wings while with Pittsburgh)
"We actually won it in Game 7 there [in 2009] so it's definitely a special building every time you walk in there. Even our winning aside, when you walk in there and you look at all the Stanley Cup teams that have come through Detroit - they've got it painted on that wall, all the championship teams they have there - and just looking at the list of names is pretty impressive. There is always a really cool feeling going in there, and it will definitely be cool to play our last game there. I didn't really think about it until today, but that will be something cool [on Saturday]."
Video: Orpik on returning from the bye week
"I will miss the Joe, because it's one of the genuine, classic arenas that's left. I won't miss getting shelled by those earlier Detroit teams with [Sergei] Fedorov and [Steve] Yzerman and all those guys buzzing around the ice and making me minus-5. But it's a classic arena. I'm going to remember that for sure."
Video: Justin Williams after the bye week
"Consistently, over my whole career, I think the Joe has been one of the most consistent buildings. We all know all the history and how long it's been around and all the good teams that have played there, but as far as the ice and the boards, it's just a fun rink to play on. The ice is always hard. The boards are bouncy so you can make some plays off of them, the bounce is consistent to where you can kind of read it and you don't really see that anywhere else in the league. It's going to be fun to get in there one last time and hopefully have a good game out there."
Video: T.J. Oshie returns from bye week
"I'm going to miss it just because it's one of the old buildings. I have a thing for the old buildings; those are my favorite to play in. It has great ice and there is always a good atmosphere. My first year in the league [with Dallas], we played a conference final there and the place was rocking. They've had great teams there for a long time, and it's always been a fun place to play."
On the lively boards at The Joe:
"I think we're all familiar with what can happen. We're not as used to it as they are, obviously, but missed shots can turn into opportunities on the other end. It's one of those things where if you've been in the league, you know about it and you know what can happen and you're ready for it. You've just got to be aware of it."
"When you think of the arena, it's cool. But just think of all the players that you've kind of idolized at one point or another that they've had over the years. When you see all the stuff on the walls and in the rafters, you know it's a special place and a lot of history happened there. It's cool to look back on, and it stinks that it won't be there anymore."
Braden Holtby (beat Wings 5-3 on 3/19/12 in his first game at the Joe; suffered some cramping late in the game because of the heat in the building)
"The air conditioning isn't quite how it is in a lot of places. But when you go to that place, it's amazing. I love that they kept it fairly traditional throughout the years. You go in there and you feel the history. You feel like you've been part of the NHL for a lot of years, just being a small part of it. I'm lucky to have played in it; I say it all the time. It's one of those buildings you go into and you feel honored to play in the NHL."
On the lively boards at The Joe:
"Obviously the boards there are lively. They were the first building to do it, and a lot of the other buildings have kind of caught up and done that, so it's not as big of a shock anymore. But it feels smaller for some reason. The game is quick and it's compact. You always know when you're playing at the Joe, because it's fast-paced hockey. I've always liked playing there."
Road Warriors - Saturday's game starts a stretch in which Washington will play five of its next six games on the road. The Caps started February by playing five of six at Verizon Center, and they're 6-0 thus far this month.
Washington has pulled at least a point from eight of its last 10 road contests, going 7-2-1 over that span.
In The Nets - Holtby takes aim on his 30th win of the season on Saturday at the Joe. He is 8-2-0 with a shutout, a 1.87 GAA and a .930 save pct. lifetime against the Red Wings.
For the Wings, we expect to see Petr Mrazek in the nets, but we're not positive of that. Mrazek is 1-3-1 with a shutout, a 2.26 GAA and a .920 save pct. during his career against Washington.
All Lined Up - Without benefit of a morning skate, we're not sure how the Wings will look on Saturday, but here's how we expect the Capitals to look when they take to the ice at the Joe on Saturday afternoon, and a guess at how the Wings may look:
8-Ovechkin, 19-Backstrom, 77-Oshie
90-Johansson, 92-Kuznetsov, 14-Williams
10-Connolly, 20-Eller, 82-Sanford
26-Winnik, 83-Beagle, 43-Wilson
21-Tatar, 40-Zetterberg, 39-Mantha
72-Athanasiou, 51-Nielsen, 62-Vanek
71-Larkin, 43-Helm, 8-Abdelkader
41-Glendening, 15-Sheahan, 29-Ott
35-Howard (sprained MCL)
93-Franzen (concussion-like symptoms)