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SKATE SHAVINGS - News and Notes from Caps' Morning Skate 12/21

Caps aim for sweep of season's series with Bolts and third straight set of back-to-backs, more

by Mike Vogel @VogsCaps /

Back-To-Back - A year ago tonight, the Caps were at home, hosting the Buffalo Sabres in what turned out to be a 2-1 Washington win. On the next night, they went up to Ottawa and blanked the Sens 4-0 behind the first NHL shutout of Pheonix Copley's career.

With that win in Ottawa on Dec. 22 of last year, the Caps achieved something they hadn't done in more than 27 years, namely to sweep three straight sets of back-to-back games. They hadn't done it in nearly three decades because it's incredibly difficult - and becoming even more so with every passing season - to do so. Back-to-backs test the best of teams, because fatigue and travel are almost always involved, winter travel can be unpredictable, and the opposing team is not always on a level playing field in terms of rest, travel and other factors.

Yet here we are a year later, and the Caps are on the cusp of turning the trick once again.

Beginning with a 4-3 overtime win over the Lightning here on Black Friday (Nov. 29), Washington swept a set of back-to-backs when it went into Detroit the following night and claimed a 5-2 victory. A few nights later in California, the Caps victimized San Jose and Los Angeles on consecutive nights (Dec. 3-4).

Now, with their victory over the Devils on Friday night in New Jersey, the Caps can run the table on three straight sets of back-to-backs yet again with a Saturday night triumph over Tampa Bay. With that in mind, we will flash back to 364 nights ago in Ottawa, and Caps coach Todd Reirden's postgame comments on his team's rare achievement:

"I think it has been a little bit systematic," he said, after the Dec. 22 win in Ottawa in the Caps' final game before the NHL's holiday break. "We do make some systematic adjustments in the second of back-to-back games that we haven't done in the past, so I think that has helped us. The understanding in game one of playing the right way sets you up for success in game two, not that you ever look past the game that's in front of you.

"And then - to me - it all comes back to the leadership. It absolutely comes back to the leadership in the room and on the bench. Tonight was one of our best games in terms of that, and I couldn't be prouder of our guys for rallying behind it.

"It was an easy game to check out and say, 'Oh, let's see how it goes,' and everyone was invested right through our whole lineup tonight in playing the right way, for each other. It was probably one of the games I could be happiest about this year.

"We knew going into the game that no team had done that in [27] years in this organization, being able to have three in a row of back-to-back wins, and that's longer than some of these guys have been around for. Our team seems to rally around different things like that. There isn't going to be a trophy for that or anything. What it does say is [something] about our professionalism, how our guys are maturing and growing and getting better in back-to-back situations, which are trying and are more mental tests than physical tests sometimes. I'm really proud of them."

The Caps finish their sixth set of back-to-backs this season on Saturday against the Lightning; they'll come right out of the NHL's holiday break and play another set next weekend, hosting Columbus on Friday and traveling to Raleigh to face the Hurricanes on Saturday night. Washington is 4-1-1 in the front end and 4-0-1 on the backside of sets of back-to-back games this season.

Smokestack Lightning - Coming off a juggernaut 128-point season and a Presidents' Trophy in 2018-19, the Lightning has been underwhelming in the early going of 2019-20. The Bolts enter tonight's contest in sixth place in the Atlantic Division, and in 11th place in the Eastern Conference. The Bolts are currently five points south of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, with three teams to get past to get there.

We are still a few games shy of the midpoint of the 2019-20 season, so there is plenty of time for shifting in the standings. Things can and will change, and it's difficult to find anyone who believes the Lightning won't be among the top eight teams in the Eastern Conference when the dust settles in early April.

In the first two meetings between the two teams this season, the Caps have had the upper hand, winning both games. One of the main reasons for Washington's success in those games is its forecheck.

"We started out well on the forecheck, and always talked about that as one of our key factors and kind of the pulse of the team," says Caps defenseman John Carlson, when asked about the reasons for his team's success against the Bolts this season. "When we're getting in there and making some noise - whether it happens right away, or it wears teams down throughout the game - I think it has a huge effect on any other team.

"I know as a defenseman it's not easy going back against a real hard forecheck, and that's something we always talk about. And when our forecheck is on, teams seem to not be able to get out of their zone."

In The Nets - Ilya Samsonov started and won last Saturday's game against the Lightning in Tampa Bay, and Braden Holtby will be back in the net for Washington in Saturday's finale of the season's series between the two clubs.

Holtby is tied for second in the league with 16 wins (16-4-4), and he is 15-3-2 in his last 20 starts, helping the Caps earn at least a point in 17 of 20. Lifetime against the Lightning, Holtby is 11-4-3 with a couple of shutouts, a 2.96 GAA and a .902 save pct.

Andrei Vasilevskiy is expected to get the start for the Lightning in Washington, but the Lightning did not conduct a morning skate, so that is not yet confirmed. On the season, he is 14-9-2 with a 2.88 GAA and a .906 save pct. He has won five of his eight December starts (5-2-1), posting a 2.72 GAA and a .904 save pct. along the way.

Lifetime against the Caps, Vasilevskiy is 4-6-1 with a 3.70 GAA and an .897 save pct. He has permitted three or more goals against in nine of his 11 career starts against Washington, including each of the last five.

All Lined Up - Here is a look at how we expect the Capitals and the Lightning to look on Saturday night when they meet for the third and final time this season:




8-Ovechkin, 19-Backstrom, 43-Wilson

13-Vrana, 92-Kuznetsov, 77-Oshie

62-Hagelin, 20-Eller, 14-Panik

28-Leipsic, 26-Dowd, 21-Hathaway


6-Kempny, 74-Carlson

9-Orlov, 3-Jensen

34-Siegenthaler, 33-Gudas











18-Palat, 21-Point, 86-Kucherov

17-Killorn, 71-Cirelli, 91-Stamkos

14-Maroon, 13-Paquette, 37-Gourde

23-Verhaeghe, 9-Johnson, 67-Stephens


77-Hedman, 44-Rutta

27-McDonagh, 81-Cernak

98-Sergachev, 22-Shattenkirk





55-Coburn (lower body)



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