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SKATE SHAVINGS - News and Notes from Caps' Morning Skate 02/13

Caps start trip against hot Avs in Denver, Ovechkin still two shy of 700, Caps deal with altitude, more

by Mike Vogel @VogsCaps / washingtoncaps.com

On The Road Again - For the first time in nearly two months, the Caps are off on an actual road trip. Since returning from a two-game foray to Tampa Bay and Columbus in mid-December - the Caps' Mentors' Trip for this season - Washington has had a series of eight straight one-game road trips.

This time out, they head west for a three-game road trip in which they'll play every other day. The journey starts on Thursday in Denver where the Caps will take on one of the league's hottest teams in the Colorado Avalanche. Colorado has won five straight and eight of nine while Washington has lost three of its last four. The Caps are 3-4-0 since the midseason break, and they've allowed an average of four goals a game over that span.

"We spent the last few days in a little bit of a reset with our team," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "For whatever reason, we've really done a better job on the road of simplifying our game, making the opposition come that 200 feet. It's really going to be imperative tonight against a team like this.

"With their firepower and their transition game and the way they can break pucks out - [they have an] active defense - that we do a good job of making them come 200 feet, and when we do get a chance [to be] physical, that's the identity of Washington Capitals hockey - it's a physical element that we can forecheck and get in and spend time in the offensive zone, and now we spend less time in our zone against a dangerous team. We've got to get closer to that blueprint tonight if we want to have success against this team."

Video: Reirden Pregame | February 13

Owning the league's best road record at 20-6-1, the Caps are even better when they're away for more than a game at a time. Washington owns a 12-2-1 mark on multi-game trips this season.

"I think sometimes on the road, it's a little easier to keep it simple at the start, going into another team's barn and trying to go at them a little bit," says Caps right wing T.J. Oshie. "We've been on our heels a little bit lately, so I think going on the road might help us with that."

Washington will be playing without center Evgeny Kuznetsov on Thursday. During the second period of Monday's game against the New York Islanders, Kuznetsov left the game and did not return after taking a hard hit into the boards from Isles forward Leo Komarov. Kuznetsov is day-to-day with an upper body injury, but the Caps believe he will be able to play at some point on the trip, so he is accompanying the team on the trip.

In Kuznetsov's absence, Lars Eller will slide up to the middle of Washington's second line between Jakub Vrana and T.J. Oshie, and Travis Boyd will draw into the lineup for the first time since Jan. 27, filling Eller's spot on the third line with Carl Hagelin and Richard Panik.

After the Caps skated at Pepsi Center on Thursday morning, Kuznetsov took the ice for the first time since Monday's game.

"We'll see how today goes, but a positive sign to have him back on the ice," says Reirden. "It's really good for us moving forward, but every day we will kind of evaluate and see where he is at. But glad to have him on the ice and on the trip as a positive for us."

Chasing The Milestone - Stuck on 698 goals for two games now, Caps captain Alex Ovechkin renews his pursuit of becoming just the eighth player in NHL history to reach the 700-goal plateau for his NHL career. Ovechkin went from 684 career goals to 698 in a span of just seven games, recording three hat tricks and five multi-goal games to put himself on the precipice of the achievement, but he came up empty in each of the last two games of a four-game homestand.

The NHL altered the start time of tonight's game, there were far more reporters and media here in Denver than when we last visited here in November of 2018, and that's all because Ovechkin is sitting on 698. If he had scored two goals in his last game, tonight's game would start 30 minutes earlier, and the press box wouldn't be as full.

"To be quite candid about it," says Reirden, "it has carried more media attention than 600. I was fortunate enough to be there for that as well, and I think this one - with him going through and bypassing some of the superstars he has with his most recent goals - I think this has taken on a lot more media attention, and obviously social media as well.

"It's something that he has always done an amazing job of dealing with, but for us it's about trying to get our team game going. And if our team game is where it should be, then he is going to benefit and get plenty of chances offensively. That's our focus tonight, is to get our team game in order, and as a byproduct - as it has been for many years - he has always found ways to score goals. I'm looking forward to watching him play again tonight."

Video: Rinkside Update | Radko Gudas

The Altitude Really Gets To Me - Because of the altitude in The Mile High City, Denver can be a difficult place for the opposition. Caps center Nic Dowd spent the early years of his NHL career in the Western Conference, toiling for Los Angeles and Vancouver, so we asked him about playing at altitude how to best prepare for it and to endure it.

"I think the sleep is important," says Dowd, "But just that immediate altitude change - flying right in and then landing - you feel it right away. In pregame skates, it's obviously good to get in and try and get your body adjusted. The science behind it, I don't know whether or not it's better to get in there and leave right away like we do, or if you let your body adjust and then play a game like three or four days later.  

"But honestly there's not much you can do about it. It's not as big of a factor as everyone assumes, but definitely those first couple of drills in pregame and those first couple of shifts. you're definitely feeling it. You take care of the body and drink a bunch of water and try and get some good sleep. There is really not a whole lot you can do because we spend such little time there."

Getting good sleep, staying hydrated and minimizing sugar intake are important, and once the game is underway, short shifts are also beneficial.

"I definitely think that going into the game with an attitude of trying to stay on the ice for only 25 to 35 seconds to preserve yourself," says Dowd, "and not get stuck out there for those minute-long shifts which are going to crush you without altitude. But it definitely makes a difference, and you definitely feel it as a player, no question."

In The Nets - Washington split its starts in the final two games of its recently completed homestand. Braden Holtby started on Saturday against Philadelphia and Ilya Samsonov got the nod in net on Monday against the Islanders. But both goalies saw action in both games, as the Washington starter wasn't able to finish the game in consecutive contests.

Holtby finished up Monday's game against New York, stopping all 12 shots he faced, including eight from inside 25 feet away. He gets the nod in net for Washington tonight as the Caps look to avoid dropping three straight in regulation for the first time this season.

Lifetime against the Avalanche, Holtby is 5-1-0 with a 2.78 GAA and a .901 save pct. in seven appearances.

Former Caps netminder Philipp Grubauer will start for the Avs against Washington. He has won four straight starts, with a shutout, a 0.75 GAA and a .974 save pct. along the way. Lifetime against the Caps, Grubauer is 1-0-1 with a 3.01 GAA and a .902 save pct. in two appearances.

Video: Two-Man Advantage | February 13

All Lined Up - Here's how we expect the Capitals and the Avs to look on Thursday night in Denver when they meet for the final time this season in the opener of Washington's three-game road trip:

 

WASHINGTON

Forwards

8-Ovechkin, 19-Backstrom, 43-Wilson

13-Vrana, 20-Eller, 77-Oshie

62-Hagelin, 72-Boyd, 14-Panik

28-Leipsic, 26-Dowd, 21-Hathaway

Defensemen

6-Kempny, 74-Carlson

9-Orlov, 3-Jensen

34-Siegenthaler, 33-Gudas

Goaltenders

70-Holtby

30-Samsonov

Injuries

92-Kuznetsov (upper body)

Scratches

None

 

COLORADO

Forwards

95-Burakovsky 29-MacKinnon, 96-Rantanen

92-Landeskog, 37-Compher, 72-Donskoi

83-Nieto, 17-Jost, 13-Nichushkin

11-Calvert, 41-Bellemare, 81-Kamenev

Defensemen

27-Graves, 8-Makar

49-Girard, 6-Johnson

16-Zadorov, 28-Cole

Goaltenders

31-Grubauer

39-Francouz

Injuries

22-Wilson (lower body)

91-Kadri (lower body)

Scratches

44-Barberio

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