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SKATE SHAVINGS - News and Notes from Caps' Morning Skate 12/20

Caps start set of back-to-backs in Jersey, Carlson still gets amped to come home, first ever battle of top two goalies from 2015 Draft, more

by Mike Vogel @VogsCaps / washingtoncaps.com

Back To Work - The Caps head up I-95 to Newark on Friday night, starting a set of back-to-back games, a stretch of three games in four nights leading up to the NHL's holiday break, and opening up a string of eight straight one-game road trips between now and mid-February when they next leave the Eastern Time Zone.

Five of those one-game trips are visits to fellow Metro Division teams, while the other three are against Atlantic Division foes.

Friday night's visit to Newark is the Caps' first look at the Devils this season. New Jersey has won two straight and is seeking its first three-game winning streak of the season tonight against Washington.

The Caps are coming into Friday's game off a 3-0 loss to the Blue Jackets in Columbus on Monday. A slow start and some inattention to detail doomed the Caps in their first shutout loss of the season. Erosion in the detail of their game tends to occur when practices are few and far between, but the Caps have had a day off and a couple of practices since their loss to the Jackets.

"Every situation is different when you practice and not practice," says Caps defenseman John Carlson, "It's all about the mentality and momentum of the team. It seems every time we don't have our best, we really don't start out well and that was the perfect example of not starting out well.

"Certainly the details on those goals [against] weren't great, and we couldn't find a way to crawl back in. I think we played well the rest of the game, but it's just another reminder that everything matters, and not to take periods of the game off, just like we talk about all the time."

Washington had a pair of lengthy practice sessions on Wednesday and Thursday of this week, and those practices must now sustain the Caps until nearly the end of the month. They won't be able to get another practice in until Dec. 30, and they've got five games between now and then.

Video: Reirden Pregame | December 20

"It was important, these two practices, because we won't practice now for 11 days," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "We wanted to try to get some detail and some structure back in certain areas. We're able to talk about some of those things and practice them. And then we'll watch some more film [Friday] as we prepare for New Jersey and ultimately just try to continue to improve our own game.

"That is beneficial and now it's into a three and four. We won't practice on [Sunday] after the back-to-back. We've done our work now, and now it's up to us to execute that game plan. Obviously some difficult opponents in there with one that has a new coach and then, obviously, teams we've already seen a little bit here recently that are some of the top teams in the league with Tampa and Boston here before Christmas break."

Back Home - Carlson grew up in northern New Jersey, and played his minor hockey in the area. Even though he has been in the league for a decade now, Carlson still gets a little juiced to return to Jersey and play in front of the home folks.

"I think there's always a couple places that you really love to play and enjoy," says Carlson. "It's meaningful to me because I played my youth hockey there, and getting to see some family and friends and all that sort of thing, which is really special and that doesn't really go away."

Asked whether any of the games he has played here really stood out for him in a good way, Carlson responds in the affirmative.

"Yeah, I think for me probably my first one there," says Carlson, "and then I think I was injured for a while and came back and scored in overtime. That was another positive memory. Luckily for me, we've had some pretty good success against them and it's always nicer seeing family and friends after a win than a loss."

The game to which Carlson refers is a March 25, 2016 contest in which he supplied the overtime game-winner in a 1-0 shutout win for Braden Holtby and the Caps here. Carlson had missed the previous 13 games with a lower body injury, and his one-timer beat Devils goalie Scott Wedgewood at 2:17 of overtime, making the first - and still, the only - Caps defenseman ever to supply the game-winner in a 1-0 overtime win.

Video: Rinkside Update | Backstrom

Where The Devil Don't Stay - New Jersey's power play ranks 29th in the league with a 13.2 percent success rate on the season. The Devils got out to a slow start with the extra man - going 0-for-18 in their first six games this season - and they haven't really recovered. The Devils scored a power-play goal in their Wednesday night win here over Anaheim, but they are 1-for-14 with the extra man in their last four games. The Devils have scored multiple power-play goals in the same game just twice in 33 contests this season.

Earlier in the week, the Devils traded winger Taylor Hall to Arizona for a package of picks and prospects. The Hart Trophy winner in 2017-18, Hall was averaging 19:11 per game in ice time, tops among all New Jersey forwards. Hall's average of 3:46 per game in power play ice time led all Devils skaters regardless of position.

Last summer, the Devils had the first overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, and they chose center Jack Hughes. Hughes is averaging 16 minutes a night as a rookie, and he is seeing 3:13 per night in power play time, third on the team. With Hall gone, the 18-year-old Hughes is seeing a bit of an uptick on New Jersey's extra-man unit. On the season, he has been on the ice for just over 49 percent of the Devils' time on the power play. But in the three games since Hall left the lineup, Hughes has been on the ice for about 62 percent of New Jersey's power play time.

While Hughes ranks seventh among New Jersey forwards at 14:26 in ice time since Hall left the lineup, his 4:01 per game on the power play is second only to Nico Hischier (4:08) in that small sample size.

Back in October, the Caps got their first looks at No. 2 pick Kaapo Kakko of the Rangers and No. 3 pick Kirby Dach of Chicago. Tonight, they'll see Hughes for the first time.

"For sure, when you hear a lot about him," says Reirden, asked whether he was excited for his first live look at Hughes, "and obviously we're watching a lot more film on him coming into playing against him here now, and with him taking on an even bigger role, it's important for us to understand some of the things he does well.

"Obviously, he is real slick with the puck and has a lot of skill level with the puck. But the thing that I think he does a really good job of is he really makes himself available when he doesn't have it, and he wants it. I think that's the sign of top players, when they want the puck, they want to make a difference, they want to be the guy. That's always - for me - the sign of guys that really have a huge upside, a huge ceiling."

Video: Two-Man Advantage | December 20

In The Nets - Friday night's dance with the Devils is the front end of a set of back-to-back games for the Capitals, and Washington will run with rookie goaltender Ilya Samsonov on Friday night in New Jersey. In 10 starts and 11 appearances this season, the 22-year-old Samsonov has fashioned an impressive 8-2-1 record to go along with a 2.38 GAA and a .918 save pct.

Samsonov has won eight of his 10 starts (8-1-1), joining Bob Mason, Jim Carey and Semyon Varlamov as the fourth goaltender in franchise history to win eight of 10 starts at the outset of his career. The first goaltender chosen (No. 22 overall) in the 2015 NHL Draft, Samsonov has permitted two or fewer goals against in six of his 10 starts, including each of the last three.

New Jersey netminder Mackenzie Blackwood was the second goaltender taken in the 2015 NHL Draft. Chosen in the middle of the second round at No. 42 overall, Blackwood went 20 picks after Samsonov went to Washington.

Blackwood made his NHL debut ahead of Samsonov; he debuted just over a year ago on Dec. 18 of last year, and tonight marks the one-year anniversary of his first start in the league, a 2-1 loss to the Blue Jackets in Columbus despite a 36-save effort.

Last season, Blackwood was 10-10-0 with a pair of shutouts, a 2.61 GAA and a .918 save pct. This season, he is 10-9-4 with a shutout, a 2.77 GAA and a .910 save pct. In his last five starts, Blackwood is 2-2-1 with a 1.78 GAA and a .942 save pct.

Lifetime against Washington, Blackwood is 0-2-0 with a 3.02 GAA and an .895 save pct. in two appearances.

All Lined Up - Here is a look at how we expect the Capitals and the Devils to look on Friday night when they meet for the first of two times in Newark this season:

 

WASHINGTON

Forwards

8-Ovechkin, 19-Backstrom, 43-Wilson

13-Vrana, 92-Kuznetsov, 77-Oshie

62-Hagelin, 20-Eller, 14-Panik

28-Leipsic, 26-Dowd, 21-Hathaway

Defensemen

6-Kempny, 74-Carlson

9-Orlov, 3-Jensen

34-Siegenthaler, 33-Gudas

Goaltenders

30-Samsonov

70-Holtby

Injuries

None

Scratches

72-Boyd

 

NEW JERSEY

Forwards

63-Bratt, 13-Hischier, 21-Palmieri

20-Coleman, 19-Zajac, 97-Gusev

37-Zacha, 86-Hughes, 17-Simmonds

90-Boqvist, 41-McLeod, 44-Woods

Defensemen

6-Greene, 76-Subban

8-Butcher, 45-Vatanen

25-Mueller, 28-Severson

Goaltenders

29-Blackwood

31-Senn

Injuries

7-Tennyson (upper body)

70-Domingue (lower body)

Scratches

5-Carrick

15-Hayden

16-Rooney

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