This is the Caps' traditional late October run to Western Canada, with a stop in Chicago tacked on at the start, and a trip to Toronto on the backside of the tour.
"Whenever you see the schedule," says Caps coach Todd Reirden, "you look at certain things and one of them is to see when you head our west to Western Canada, and what's before and what's after it. So it turns into a little bit of a longer trip for us in terms of days on the road. It's just the one set of back-to-backs, but it will be going into some different time zones with some different travel.
"I like it in the beginning of the year, because it gives our team a chance to bond and do some things together. We have a new group this year. With losing some core guys last year and veteran leadership, this gives a chance for all our guys to grow a little closer together, not just on the ice but off the ice."
When Washington made its Western Canada trip last year, it flew directly to Vancouver, doing so two days before the game against the Canucks - the first stop on the trip - in order to acclimate to the time change. The Caps had some team bonding time in Whistler, B.C. on that trip, and by the time they had been on the road for five days, they had played just the one game in Vancouver.
This time around, Washington is gradually working its way to Vancouver, and it will have relatively dormant days after Friday's contest with the Canucks. The Caps will have an off day in Vancouver on Saturday, will use next Sunday as a travel day to Toronto, and will have a practice there on Monday before facing the Leafs in the trip finale on Tuesday.
"It is different for sure," says Reirden. "We feel like heading out that way, playing the game in Chicago - in obviously an earlier start, an hour earlier with that game - and then heading out west gives us a different feel to it, something we haven't done in the past, so I look forward to seeing how we handle it, and it will be a good challenge.
"As I was saying [Friday], the opponents - in terms of Calgary, and Edmonton, and Vancouver - have all really improved their games. Obviously Calgary was really great last year, but those other two teams are really young, up and coming teams who are having a good start to the year. So it will be a good challenge, but how it sets up time-wise will be something we haven't done in the past. This is one where you have to get some feel from the guys and see how they do with the time zone change."
Washington doesn't have as many players who hail from Western Canada as they've had in years past, but it's still a special trip for them, even if there is a little more demand for their time and attention from family, friends and fans in the area.
"It's died down a little bit, which is nice," says Caps goalie Braden Holtby. "The first couple of years were a little hectic and crazy, so it's a little easier to just go out there and focus on hockey. But it's always a nice thing that we get to go out there in October, and not February. Being from there, I know what's it's like then. It's pretty nice out there this time of year, so it's a good time to get the guys together, and do some bonding at the start of the year."
Johnny Strikes Up The Band - With 17 points (three goals, 14 assists) in his first nine games this season, Caps defenseman John Carlson is off to an otherworldly start this season. He has registered multi-point games in six of the nine contests, and if he manages to do so again in Chicago on Sunday, he will become the first defenseman in NHL history with seven multi-point outings in his first 10 games.
With a three-point game against the Hawks on Sunday, Carlson would match Hockey Hall of Famer Paul Coffey (20) for the most points in league history by a defenseman after 10 games.
Even if Carlson fails to record a point at all on Sunday, this is the list of defensemen who have previously amassed 17 or more points through 10 games: Coffey (1988-89), Bobby Orr (18 points in both 1969-70 and 1973-74), Orr (17 points in both 1971-72 and 1974-75), Denis Potvin (17 points in 1975-76) and Doug Wilson (17 points in 1982-83). Wilson, now the GM of the San Jose Sharks, was with the Blackhawks when he pulled it off in '82-83.
With seven power-play points, Carlson is tied for second in the league. But he also has more even strength points (10) than anyone else on the team has points, period. Alex Ovechkin is second among all Capitals with nine points on the season.
Carlson has assisted on goals by eight different teammates in nine games this season, and eight of his 14 assists are of the primary variety.
Tough Town - The Caps have lost their last two trips to the Windy City, which isn't particularly troubling. But they gave up seven goals here in a 7-1 loss on Feb. 17, 2018, and lost an 8-5 barnburner here in Jan. of this year.
"We haven't played very good games there the last little bit, from goaltending on out," says Holtby. "I don't know why; maybe it's just coincidence that way. I thought in preseason we had a good game against them there, where they had basically a full lineup. They are a team that is going to push things, and try to make you feel uncomfortable. They've got a lot of young guys and guys you don't really know. The key to having success with that is simplifying everything, do your job defensively first, and then move on out from there."
In The Nets - Coming off a solid 26-save outing in net on Friday against the Rangers, Holtby gets Sunday's starting assignment against Chicago as well.
"There were some things that I felt more comfortable with, and more natural with," says Holtby of his last start, which followed consecutive subpar starts for him. "I definitely think that I still have a couple of layers that I need to keep working on to get back to just being myself out there. That kind of comes when you're working on some things; you kind of lose a few other bits of your game. You've got to find those again, and take a step back to take a couple steps forward. It was definitely a building block, but there are definitely things I can do better, too."
Lifetime against the Blackhawks, Holtby is 8-3-0 with a shutout, a 2.88 GAA and a .913 save pct.
Corey Crawford is Chicago's expected starter on Sunday. The two-time Cup winner has battled concussion issues in recent seasons, and he has one win in three starts in the early going of 2019-20. Lifetime against the Capitals, Crawford is 3-5-2 with a 3.61 GAA and an .881 save pct.
All Lined Up - This is how we expect the Caps and the Blackhawks to look on Sunday night in Chicago when Washington opens up a five-game road tour in the Windy City, with one caveat. Hawks coach Jeremy Colliton said after his team's Sunday morning optional skate that No. 3 overall pick Kirby Dach will make his NHL debut tonight against the Caps, but Colliton said he would figure out later how and where the 18-year-old fits into the lineup:
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)
12-DeBrincat, 19-Toews, 91-Caggiula
65-Shaw, 17-Strome, 88-Kane
20-Saad, 64-Kampf, 8-Kubalik
15-Smith, 22-Carpenter, 92-Nylander
44-de Haan, 56-Gustafsson