When facing a foe that's on short rest, it's typically beneficial to make them skate as much as possible, and to make them feel the body as much as possible. That means getting pucks deep and making them come 200 feet for their offensive forays, and it means finishing checks all over the ice, and being diligent and tenacious on the forecheck, to make them play in their own end. The recipe worked against Toronto; the Caps outhit the Leafs by a lopsided 31-9 count, with those 31 hits representing a team high for a single game this season.
"Obviously we'd like a better start than we had against Toronto," says Caps right wing T. J. Oshie. "But as far as the back 40, we played a very direct game for the most part, a couple of turnovers here and there, but for the most part we made them go 200 feet and skate, especially the [defensemen].
"We know how it feels to play on the second night of back-to-backs, especially early in the season. When you've got to go 200 feet every shift to try to score a goal, it gets to be a pretty long night by the end of it. Hopefully, we can play that way - play direct, play north - tonight, especially at the start of the game."
Video: Todd Reirden Pregame | October 18
New York is not only finishing a set of back-to-backs, it is playing the middle match of three games in four nights, and it is doing so after playing three games in a much more leisurely span of 14 nights to start the season. The Rangers had a week between their second and third game of the season, and then four nights between their third and fourth contests, so they played once in 11 nights before embarking on this set of back-to-backs.
"We don't have the exact start we want, being down 2-0," says Caps coach Todd Reirden of Wednesday's game against the Leafs. But I liked our commitment go play to our identity the rest of the game. We started to string together a few shifts and got some momentum from the game, and then were obviously able to convert when we got some better chances.
"I think when you do play a team that's in a situation like they are - and we've been on the other end of it - you want to make it absolutely as difficult as possible. So skating is really important for us today; we've really got to be aggressive with our skating, and taking away time and space whenever we can tonight."
Back In Flesh - Caps defenseman Michal Kempny will make his 2019-20 season debut tonight after missing all of the preseason and the first eight games of the regular season. Kempny suffered a serious lower body injury nearly seven months ago, and he has been rehabbing for months to recover from subsequent surgical repairs.
"I'm playing tonight, and it's been a long time," says Kempny. "I'm very excited to go. I would like to say big thanks for all the people who helped me and supported me all the way here. I really appreciate it, especially [assistant athletic trainer] Mike Booi and his great moustache, best in the league. Best in the league."
That last bit was payment for a lost bet, but we digress. Kempny will be eased back into the lineup tonight, skating on the third pair alongside Radko Gudas, though Reirden did say we could expect to see Kempny taking occasional shifts with his normal partner, John Carlson.
"There was a lot of hard days," admits Kempny, "especially from the beginning. From the beginning of the rehab, small steps made me happy. I think it's part of rehab. All of the bad is behind me, and I'm just focusing now on today's game."
Video: Michal Kempny | October 18
Here Comes The Hurt - Just as they get Kempny back from an injury that kept him on the sidelines for nearly seven months, the Caps have lost a couple more players to injury. Late in the second period of Wednesday's win over Toronto, defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler and winger Richard Panik collided abruptly in defensive zone coverage. Right away, it was clear that both were ailing, and both left the ice with upper body injuries and did not return.
"It was kind of unlucky," says Siegenthaler. "We both reached for the puck, and if you reach too far, the other side of your body is not ready, or is kind of loose, you know? So I think that's why that little collision caused a lot of pain. It's not good."
After an off day on Thursday, we learned Friday that both players will miss some time, with Panik's injury being the more serious of the two. Washington has placed Panik on long term injured reserve, and he will not accompany the team on its upcoming five-game road trip, the longest of the season. Siegenthaler is day-to-day; he is expected to make the trip.
"It's better," says Siegenthaler. "Today is probably the best day so far. It's not perfect, but it's getting there."
Washington has recalled defenseman Martin Fehervary and forward Travis Boyd from AHL Hershey. Both players started the season on the Caps' roster but were sent to Hershey after the opening weekend. The 20-year-old Fehervary got into the first three games while Boyd was scratched for all three, and both players were returned to Hershey upon Evgeny Kuznetsov's return from serving a three-game NHL suspension.
Siegenthaler's availability for tonight's game will be a game-time decision; if he can't answer the bell, Fehervary is likely to play in his place.
Losing Panik just as Kempny returns is a stark reminder of life in the NHL. Washington lost three players - two to injury and one to suspension - in its final preseason game before the 2018-19 season, and the Caps weren't back at full strength health-wise until after the All-Star break, in the 55th of the season's 82 games.
Video: Two-Man Advantage | October 18
In The Nets - Braden Holtby is back in net for Washington tonight. Holtby allowed nine goals in his previous two starts, and was pulled from his most recent assignment - on Monday against Colorado - after allowing three goals on as many shots in the first period.
"I think he had a couple of really good days of practice," says Reirden, "and that was by design, and for him to have a chance to reset and work with Scott. They did some extra video - they do extra video when their game isn't where they'd like it to be - and that's what we've been going through with him.
"And now he is in a situation to get back in the net, and I'm expecting him to be his competitive self that he always is. He is a battler, he is a competitor, and he wants to get back in there and show that he is back to how he is used to being."
Lifetime against the Rangers, Holtby is 12-9-1 with a shutout, a 2.41 GAA and a .919 save pct. In 23 appearances.
Alexandar Georgiev had the nets for New York against the Devils last night, so it will be veteran Henrik Lundqvist between the pipes for the Rangers tonight against the Caps. Lundqvist earned his 450th career win on opening night, and he trails Curtis Joseph by only four victories for fifth place on the league's all-time wins list.
Lifetime against the Capitals, Lundqvist is 21-12-7 with four shutouts, a 2.77 GAA and a .906 ave pct. In 40 games.
All Lined Up - This is how we expect the Caps to look on Friday night against New York, and how the Rangers looked for Thursday night's loss to the Devils in New Jersey. The Caps and Rangers meet on Friday night in DC for the first of four times this season in the finale of a three-game homestand for Washington:
8-Ovechkin, 19-Backstrom, 77-Oshie
62-Hagelin, 92-Kuznetsov, 43-Wilson
13-Vrana, 20-Eller, 21-Hathaway
28-Leipsic, 26-Dowd, 18-Stephenson
14-Panik (upper body)
10-Panarin, 93-Zibanejad, 89-Buchnevich
20-Kreider, 21-Howden, 24-Kakko
42-Smith, 16-Strome, 17-Fast
14-McKegg, 28-Andersson, 38-Haley