Chicago has dropped five straight (0-3-2) while the Caps are saddled with a four-game skid (0-3-1), just their third losing streak of as many as four games in length in the last five seasons.
"It is different, no doubt about it," says Caps coach Todd Reirden of Sunday's early start time. "It's something we talked about, even a couple of days in advance, just to make sure that sleep schedules change a little bit in terms of the night before. It's a challenge for both teams. It's something that probably happens a little more frequently for them - just with their location - but for us, it's right around our practice time.
"So it's different, and it's a matter of making sure that you try to get yourself ready and get yourself into the game, whether that means give a hit, take a hit, get involved somehow and get the game started."
Video: Todd Reirden Pregame | January 20
After winning 16 of 19 games (16-3-0) leading up to the midpoint of the season, the Caps have now won just three of their last 10 (3-5-2), and they've toppled out of the top perch in the Metropolitan Division standings.
Sunday's game is one of only three remaining for the Capitals before they take a weeklong respite from the rigors of the rink for their All-Star break/bye week. The Caps will play those three games in just four nights, and this is the first of two road trips they'll make in that short span. After returning home to host the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday, the Caps head north to Toronto to take on the Maple Leafs on Wednesday.
In the wake of Friday's 2-0 home ice loss to the New York Islanders, the Caps were constantly asked if they were tired. They constantly replied that they weren't, but that didn't stop the questions.
"We had four days off before Christmas and should be feeling pretty good," says Caps center Nicklas Backstrom. "We have three more games now before the break, so we should get really fired up before the break here and give it our all. I think we've just got to get the compete level a little bit higher here and make sure we're working a little bit harder. More shots, too. That's an area we have to be better at, get the puck at the net when we have the puck in the offensive zone."
After permitting a dozen goals in consecutive losses to St. Louis and at Nashville early in the week, the Caps tightened up some in their own end in Friday's loss to the Islanders. But they weren't able to jumpstart their attack, which has produced just one five-on-five goal in the last four games.
With the standings as tight as they are and points at a premium, the Caps know they can't let this streak fester, and they also know that they need to muster as much momentum as they can before taking the last week in January off.
What will it take for them to get it turned around?
"I think one overall solid game together where we have a real gritty type effort where we grind out a win," says Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen, "score a couple of ugly goals maybe, and build our game back up slowly here because right now it's pretty ugly out there."
Video: Evgeny Kuznetsov | January 19
Forecheck, Please - Some of Washington's recent offensive woes can be tied to the inconsistency of its forecheck. Whether it's puck placement, poor reads or general sluggishness, the Caps haven't been able to establish much in the way of a consistent forecheck of late. Before the Caps departed for the Windy City on Saturday, Reirden offered his thoughts on the problem.
"I think that we've become more predictable to our teammates," says Reirden, "so our structure actually of our forecheck has gotten better. But the speed at which we are forechecking is not causing any turnovers. So with our first man in, we are doing a better job of sending a message to the next two guys that are following behind him as to where the puck is going to go, and now we need to be quicker to that second play.
"So yes, we are more predictable, and now we've got to react quicker to create turnovers and do something that we feel like when we're playing our best, we're able to cause a lot of turnovers off the forecheck. We're a team that skates well and has some size to us that we need to allow ourselves to affect the opposition."
Fight The Power - Chicago ranks 17th in the league in power play prowess with an 18.9 percent success rate on the season. But of late, the Hawks' extra man unit has been as hot as any in the league.
Chicago has 28 power-play goals in 49 games this season, but 16 of those games have come in the last 14 games, and the Blackhawks have scored at least one power-play goal in seven straight games. The Hawks are 14-for-36 (38.9 percent) with the extra man in their last 10 games.
Since the turn of the calendar, the Hawks have scored nine power-play goals in eight games, with just three different players lighting the lamp. Alex DeBrincat has four, Patrick Kane has three and Brandon Saad had two power-play goals this month.
Kane currently carries one of the hottest sticks in the league; he has five goals and 15 points in eight games this month, and he has had a hand in seven of Chicago's nine power-play goals in January.
Video: Two-Man Advantage | January 19
In The Nets - Braden Holtby gets the net today for Washington, two days after making 23 stops in a 2-0 loss to the Islanders on Friday night in D.C. With three games in four nights between now and the start of the Caps' All-Star break/bye week, expect to see Holtby get one more start after today before he heads to San Jose to represent the Capitals and the Metropolitan Division in the 2019 NHL All-Star Game next weekend.
Lifetime against the Blackhawks, Holtby is 8-3-0 with a shutout, a 2.61 GAA and a .922 save pct.
Collin Delia gets the net for the Blackhawks today. He has been playing in some tough luck; despite a .914 save pct. in his last six appearances, he has an 0-2-3 record and a 3.37 GAA over that span. On the season, Delia is 3-2-3 with a 2.75 GAA and a .929 save pct.
All Lined Up - Here's how we expect the Capitals and the Blackhawks to look when they meet on Sunday morning at United Center:
8-Ovechkin, 19-Backstrom, 77-Oshie
13-Vrana, 20-Eller, 43-Wilson
23-Jaskin, 92-Kuznetsov, 10-Connolly
65-Burakovsky, 72-Boyd, 25-Smith-Pelly
29-Djoos (lower body)
20-Saad, 19-Toews, 12-DeBrincat
91-Caggiula, 17-Strome, 88-Kane
40-Hayden, 15-Anisimov, 24-Kahun
14-Kunitz, 16-Kruger, 64-Kampf
42-Forsling (upper body)