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SKATE SHAVINGS - News and Notes from Caps' Morning Skate 12/06

Caps aim to finish road run on high note, Backstrom still out, template for third line play, more

by Mike Vogel @VogsCaps / washingtoncaps.com

South California Purple - The Caps left DC the day after Thanksgiving, forgoing leftovers for a weeklong, four-game road trip. That journey comes to an end tonight in Anaheim when the Caps take on the Ducks in Anaheim in the finale of the trip.

Washington brings a five-game winning streak into tonight's game, and it will be seeking to match its season-high streak of six straight wins from Oct. 25-Nov. 9. The Caps can also win all three California road games for the first time since 1993-94 - the Ducks' first season in the league - and they can also run the table on a road trip of four or more games for just the second time in franchise history; they previously did so in Feb. 1993.

Make A Circuit With Me - Nicklas Backstrom (upper body) still isn't quite ready for prime time, so he will sit out an eighth straight game on Friday night against the Ducks. Lars Eller continues to fit in seamlessly between Jakub Vrana and T. J. Oshie in Backstrom's absence, and Travis Boyd has done good work between Carl Hagelin and Richard Panik on Washington's third line since Hagelin's return from his own upper body injury earlier in the week.

Over the summer, the Caps resigned Hagelin and signed Panik as a free agent, expecting them to man the wings of a line with Eller in the middle. But between Evgeny Kuznetsov's early season suspension and injury absences for both Hagelin and Panik, the Hagelin-Eller-Panik unit has been together for only four full games out of the 30 that Washington has played to date this season.

The Caps have been extremely pleased with their revamped fourth line this season, and earlier in the trip, Caps coach Todd Reirden expounded at length on his hopes for his third line, once Backstrom is back in the lineup and Eller is between the two veteran wingers.

Video: Todd Reirden | December 6

"We were trying to do something different with our bottom six," says Reirden. "And I think we've had some good visuals of how our fourth line needs to look, especially a game like [Saturday in Detroit]. On the second half of that back-to-back, they were out there creating energy, competing all over the ice, and they gave our whole lineup a lift. It was physical, it was hard-working, and there were chances that came from it as well, it was aggressive.

"That's the same type of thing we want to see from this third line. They need to affect the opposition with their speed, they need to create turnovers with their stick detail, and in forcing players to make plays sooner than they want. And they have to have the skill level to convert when they get chances and opportunities, because they're going to get some."

The Hagelin-Boyd-Panik line has helped generate the game-winning goal in each of the last two games, and they've played strong hockey in terms of driving the play and spending time in the offensive zone. There is one more part of their job description that will be coming along in the near future as well.

"They also need to be able to play against the other team's top lines," says Reirden. "And that will alleviate for our top two lines some of their defensive responsibilities, and it will open them up for a little bit more favorable match-ups for us. That will be something that's going to take a little bit, and it's going to be exciting. But that's how I envisioned it, and how I hope to have it play out with that third line, that they can not only play against the other team's best players, but they can also create offense for us as well."

Video: Rinkside Update | Carl Hagelin

Left And Right - Most NHL wingers are accustomed to playing on either side of the ice, and the way the game is played now, they need to be able to play on either side. Both Panik and Brendan Leipsic have played a handful of games on both sides this season, and the switch can sometimes be a little jarring at first, but it can also be beneficial.

"As soon as my game is not where I feel like I should be playing, it's always nice to switch sides, just to give you a different view on the ice," says Panik. "Last year, I played the whole season on the left side. There are parts of games where I like it better than on the right side, but I think the main reason is just the different perspective visually."

"If you ask anybody, they'll play any wings, wherever you can get the most ice time," says Leipsic. "It's a little bit different, especially when you're getting pucks up on the wall and rims are coming up. A lot of times [defensemen] like to shorten the zone, like us. You're not going to have your stick too much in the middle, you're more so putting your butt into the guy and protecting the puck, and making your center man come underneath. So it's a little bit different like that, a little more shoulder checking. It's kind of you blind spot, right?

"But it's a different angle, coming on the rush. You see [Alex Ovechkin] all the time with his stick to the middle of the ice, trying to get a different view like that. I had a couple of rush opportunities on the right side. It's a bit of a changeup, but coming into the defensive zone, you could end up on the left side or you could end up on the right side. For wingers, you're almost always playing both sides so it's not a whole big adjustment."

Some wingers like playing on their "off" side, so their sticks are more toward the middle of the ice when they're shooting. But most lefties - including both Panik and Leipsic - are most comfortable skating portside.

"I feel more comfortable on the left side," says Panik, "I'm receiving the pucks on my forehand, and I think that's maybe one of the reasons I feel more comfortable on that side. Then on the right side, if you're going 1-on-1, it's way better to just put it on the backhand and go around him. So there are parts of the game I like better on the left side than the right side." 

"I do like the left side a little more," admits Leipsic. "I'm a little more comfortable there, I've played there longer, but it doesn't really matter to me."

Video: Two-Man Advantage | December 6

In The Nets - Braden Holtby gets the net on Friday night against the Ducks. With 14 wins (14-2-4) on the season, Holtby is tied for the league lead. He has helped the Caps to a point in 15 of his last 16 starts (13-1-2) - with a 2.45 GAA and a .924 save pct. over that span - and has permitted two or fewer goals against in six of his last nine starts.

Lifetime against the Ducks, Holtby is 4-4-0 with a 3.73 GAA and an .872 save pct. in eight appearances.

John Gibson missed his most recent start because of illness. He practiced with the Ducks on Thursday, but Anaheim will go with 39-year-old veteran Ryan Miller in net tonight against Washington. On the season, Miller is 4-1-2 with a 2.99 GAA and a .906 save pct. in eight outings (seven starts). He will be starting consecutive games for the first time this season.

Lifetime against the Caps, Miller is 19-14-0 with three shutouts, a 2.53 GAA and a .916 save pct.

All Lined Up - Here is a look at how we expect the Capitals and the Ducks to look on Friday night when they finish their season's series at Honda Center in Anaheim:

 

WASHINGTON

Forwards

8-Ovechkin, 92-Kuznetsov, 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

19-Backstrom (upper body)

Scratches

None

 

ANAHEIM

Forwards

29-Shore, 15-Getzlaf, 61-Terry

67-Rakell, 34-Steel, 33-Silfverberg

37-Ritchie, 14-Henrique, 25-Kase

20-Deslauriers, 38-Grant, 24-Rowney

Defensemen

47-Lindholm, 44-Del Zotto

4-Fowler, 6-Gudbranson

2-Guhle, 5-Holzer

Goaltenders

30-Miller

36-Gibson

Injuries

42-Manson (lower body)

Scratches

49-Jones

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