Despite losing the last two games of the first half - the first time they've suffered consecutive regulation losses all season - the Caps turned in the second best first half in franchise history, rolling up 59 points.
"The first half was unbelievable," says Caps defenseman Radko Gudas. "Obviously, we didn't end it as we wanted the last two games. We wanted a better outcome for sure. But I think overall, where we are at and where our special teams are standing right now, it's pretty good I think.
Video: Two-Man Advantage | January 3
"Obviously, there's always room for improvement in every aspect of the game. It's still 41 games to go, and there's little things that we worked on [Thursday] and we will work on in the next few practices I'm sure. In the neutral zone, we still can do better job making smarter plays on the entrance - staying aggressive and skate, keep skating. Those are the things right now that I have right in my mind, but overall I think we held our ground pretty good, and we are following the system as we could. We had some hiccups, but who doesn't?"
Washington posted the best record in the league in the first half, building up standings equity to the point that it could play .500 hockey in the season's second half and still finish with its sixth straight 100-point season. If the Caps do get to the century mark in 2019-20, they become one of only four teams in league history to string together half a dozen consecutive seasons with 100 or more points.
With 41 games to be played between now and the start of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Caps are looking to build on their first half performance, and to build and grow their collective game toward playoff readiness.
"The fact that we had a bunch of new guys come in and we had some new systems and stuff, and the way that we were able to transition that into game play early on in the year was pretty impressive," says Caps right wing Tom Wilson. "I thought the group did a great job at executing for the most part, and coming into the second half of the year, that's what it's all about. We have the foundation that we want, we have the execution rate - for the most part - of what we want, but the hockey is going to get tougher, and teams are going to come harder.
"So we're going to have to be ready to keep building our game, and just be a little cleaner out of the out of the [defensive] zone, and making the little plays that matter at this time of year becomes pretty important - the little details that you maybe get away with early on in the year. We've got our foundation, we are pretty happy with where our game is at, but there's still lots of lots of hockey left. We have got to keep building on it."
Video: Todd Reirden | January 3
Starman - At noon on Friday, the NHL announced that Caps coach Todd Reirden will coach the Metropolitan Division All-Star team, the second time in as many years that Reirden has had the reins behind the Metro bench. He becomes the first Caps coach ever to coach in multiple All-Star Games.
Divisional All-Star coaches are named at the midpoint of the season - through games of Jan. 2 this season - and the coach whose team has the highest points percentage at that juncture of the season earns the honor to run the bench at the midseason affair.
"It's a tremendous honor, I'm really excited about it," says Reirden. "I have a chance to represent our organization, our players, our team. I couldn't be more honored and fortunate for this opportunity to do this again. Lots of credit to our players; they put in all the hard work and sacrifice all of the time, and the effort on and off the ice to give our chance to be atop the league. Our coaching staff does a phenomenal job preparing our players, and our training staff making sure that our guys are healthy.
"It's a team award. I'm just really excited about it."
This year's All-Star weekend and game will be held in St. Louis on Jan. 24-25. Vegas' Gerard Gallant will coach the Pacific Division squad, St. Louis' Craig Berube will run the Central Division's bench, and Bruce Cassidy will man the Atlantic Division bench.
"This is an exciting one for me, to go back to St. Louis, a place I played, a special place for my family and I," says Reirden. "So it will be great. Last year, I had an opportunity to have my son, Travis, come down during the skills competition and be around the players. That's always a unique advantage advantage to doing something like this.
"But I think I'll spend more time talking to players and coaches, and really try to learn some different things that they do to have success, and connect with them that way. The coaching fraternity, all year you battle against each other and this is a chance to connect and talk about some different things, and hopefully I can connect and gain a little bit of knowledge on how to improve as a coach. I'm going to use it as a learning opportunity, but more than anything, I'm just honored to represent the Washington Capitals."
Video: Rinkside Update | Michal Kempny
In The Nets - Washington will go with Ilya Samsonov tonight against Carolina, giving the Russian rookie his first career start against the Hurricanes. Braden Holtby owns a 16-7-1 career record against the Hurricanes, but Reirden mentioned last week that he was leaning toward giving Samsonov this start.
Washington went with Samsonov against Columbus on Dec. 27 after Holtby had the first two starts of the season against the Blue Jackets, and Samsonov came away with a 2-1 overtime win. Samsonov has won each of his last five starts, posting a 1.76 GAA and a .927 save pct. since Nov. 16. He has also won each of the first seven road starts of his NHL career, joining ex-Capital Brent Johnson in holding that unique distinction.
"He has been solid in a lot of areas," says Reirden of Samsonov. "For me, it was a situation where we decided last week that we don't want him sitting too long, and we want to get him into games as much as possible here, especially going into a four-game week next week. So this is a perfect time for him to give a different look to Carolina, similar to what we did against Columbus last week."
For Carolina, we are expecting to see Petr Mrazek in the nets tonight. He is 16-8-2 on the season with a 2.67 GAA and a .903 save pct. In 16 home starts, Mrazek is 12-4-0 with a 2.43 GAA and a .906 save pct.; he has earned every one of Carolina's home victories this season.
Lifetime against the Capitals, Mrazek is 4-5-2 with a shutout, a 2.62 GAA and a .912 save pct. in 11 games.
All Lined Up - Here is a look at how we expect the Capitals and the Hurricanes to lineup on Friday night in Raleigh in the first game of the New Year and the new decade for both clubs:
8-Ovechkin, 19-Backstrom, 43-Wilson
13-Vrana, 92-Kuznetsov, 77-Oshie
62-Hagelin, 20-Eller, 14-Panik
28-Leipsic, 26-Dowd, 21-Hathaway
29-Djoos (upper body)
37-Svechnikov, 11-Staal, 13-Foegele
21-Niederreiter, 20-Aho, 86-Teravainen
18-Dzingel, 56-Haula, 88-Necas
23-McGinn, 71-Wallmark, 48-Martinook