Calgary isn't Denver, but there is some altitude involved here; it's 3,429 feet above sea level. So it's not a mile high, but it's virtually two-thirds of a mile high. One of the first things you notice upon arrival is that you're constantly thirsty and your skin is dry.
"It was a big reason why we wanted to practice [Monday]," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "So we got in and it forced guys to get the time change taken care of. Even though it was a short night of sleep, it was important to get out there and get our inner clocks adjusted, and also get a little used to the altitude."
Special Delivery - The Caps come into Calgary on the heels of a 5-3 win over the Blackhawks in Chicago on Sunday in the opener of their five-game road trip. Special teams were crucial in Tuesday's win; the Caps were 1-for-1 on the power play, and they killed off all five Chicago power plays, scoring a shorthanded goal in the process.
Last season marked the first time since 2011-12 that the Caps had a special teams index (power play percentage plus penalty killing percentage) below 100; they finished at 99.7, with a 12th ranked power play at 20.8 percent, and a 24th ranked penalty killing unit at 78.9 percent.
Thus far this season, both Washington specialty units rank among the league's top 10. The Caps' power play is clicking at a rate of 27 percent (and they're at 46.7 percent on the road), while the penalty killing outfit is tied for seventh with a kill rate of 85.7 percent. That gives Washington a lofty 112.7 special teams index,
While the power play is largely the same in terms of personnel and scheme, they've made some adjustments on the kill. Everything we're looking at right now is a small sample size, but the Caps' penalty killing outfit performed much better in the preseason, and that improvement seems to have carried over to the early weeks of the regular season.
"There is some new personnel, and I think it starts there," says Caps forward Carl Hagelin. "It starts with everyone wanting to have a bounce back year in terms of knowing that our PK wasn't good enough last year, and if you want to be successful, you need your PK to be pretty good. I think in the playoffs, we were playing pretty well and hopefully that just carries over to this year, even though we have a lot of new people. But I think it starts with every single guy that's out there. He's got to love to do the work. He's got to love to be out there, and love being a PKer."
Discipline is important, too. Teams that take a lot of penalties tend to be more chaotic in terms of deployment of their personnel. The Caps were the fifth most penalized team in the league last season, and they've been shorthanded even more frequently this season, on a penalties-per-game basis. You can look at two of the Caps' four road wins - in Dallas and in Chicago - and attribute them directly to special teams. In the Dallas game, the Caps scored twice with the extra man and killed off all six Stars power plays. It marked the first time in nearly nine years that they scored twice or more on the power play while killing six or more penalties without incident.
"We're taking too many penalties right now," says Reirden. "So that's forcing me to use different lines together and different combinations. And then when you're not used to the players you're playing with, at times you can be a half a step slow. Against teams that can execute like the Flames can, then you're a step late and they end up turning it into offense the other way."
In hockey, familiarity breeds chemistry. Killing penalties with the same pairs of forwards and defensemen is useful because so often clears need to be made by committee, and being predictable to your partner is critical in such situations. Sometimes, it takes a village to clear the zone and get a change.
"I think it's nice right now," says Dowd. "We have a little bit of consistency and we're working with the same guys. There are about four to six of us [forwards] that are working right now, and personally I'm killing with Hags quite a bit, so it's good. You get to learn and read off each other."
Reunited - Caps defenseman Michal Kempny plays his third game of the season tonight after returning from offseason surgery to repair a torn hamstring. While he was out Jonas Siegenthaler filled in on the top pairing with John Carlson, during one of the most prosperous stretches of Carlson's excellent career.
Tonight's game marks the first one that Kempny starts on his usual spot on Carlson's left, and Siegenthaler will skate the left side of a pairing with Radko Gudas.
"With Michal's ability to skate," says Reirden. "I think it can help keep up with not just high-skill forwards, but all through their lineup they've got a lot of speed, even from their back end. Skating is important against this team, and that's one of Michal's strongest assets.
"You'll see Jonas with John as well tonight, at points, but at least to start with tonight, we will reunite that pair."
The 22-year-old Siegenthaler is weeks shy of the anniversary of his NHL debut, which he made on Nov. 9 of last year against Columbus. He skated in 26 regular season and four playoff games for Washington last season, eclipsing the 20-minute mark (20:27) only once, and that in the last of those games, the double-overtime Game 7 that ended the Caps' season on April 24.
This season, Siegenthaler is among the Caps most deployed penalty-killing defensemen, trailing only Radko Gudas in shorthanded ice time per game. Siegenthaler has also skated 20 or more minutes in four of the Caps' last six games, an indication that he's got the confidence of the coaching staff.
"Some of the success that John has had goes back to Jonas," says Reirden. "So he has done a really good job in an elevated role early in his career, and he has been exceptional. But it's nice to see No. 6 back there skating, defending, battling, and competing, doing all of the things he does so well. That just makes our group even better, and now we can move pairs around as we want, and have the right slotting in terms of our [defense] corps."
In The Nets - Braden Holtby gets the net for the Caps on Tuesday in Calgary, making his third straight start. He is coming off a 41-save effort in Chicago on Sunday in which he earned his third win of the season. Following a difficult start to the season, Holtby has now stopped 67 of 72 shots (.931) in his last two games, which is much more in line with his overall body of work in the league.
Lifetime against Calgary, Holtby is 5-2-1 with a 3.06 GAA and an .890 save pct. in nine career appearances.
For the Flames, we are expecting to see Cam Talbot in net. Signed to a one-year deal last summer at a cap hit of $2.75 million, Talbot is sharing the crease with incumbent goaltender David Rittich, who inked a two-year deal as a restricted free agent at the same salary as Talbot.
Talbot split last season between Edmonton and Philadelphia, posting an 11-17-3 overall mark two seasons after he led the league with 42 wins for the Oilers in 2016-17. In three appearances (two starts) this season, Talbot is 1-1-0 with a 1.75 GAA and a .931 save pct. Lifetime against the Capitals, he is 3-5-0 with a 2.48 GAA and a .916 save pct. in 10 career appearances.
All Lined Up - This is how we expect the Caps and the Flames to look on Tuesday night in Calgary when they meet up for the first of two times this season:
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)
13-Gaudreau, 23-Monahan, 28-Lindholm
19-Tkachuk, 11-Backlund, 27-Czarnik
88-Mangiapane, 10-Ryan, 16-Rieder
17-Lucic, 77-Jankowski, 67-Frolik
93-Bennett (lower body)