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SKATE SHAVINGS - News and Notes from Caps' Morning Skate 2/12

Caps start longest continuous road trip in more than 15 years on Tuesday in Columbus, the forecheck figures to loom large in the outcome vs. the Jackets, more

by Mike Vogel @VogsCaps / washingtoncaps.com

Six-Pack - The Caps embark upon their longest continuous road trip in more than 15 years on Tuesday when they face the Blue Jackets in Columbus. The game starts a six-game, 12-day journey that starts and ends with a set of back-to-backs and also has a set of back-to-backs in the middle of the trip.

The Caps will play three sets of back-to-backs in a span of 14 days, and then they will have just one more set of back-to-backs over the final 41 days of the season after that.

Tuesday's game finishes off the four-game season's series between the Capitals and the Blue Jackets, and Columbus is the first Metropolitan Division team that Washington will be finished with for the season.

"It's a different one, that's for sure," says Caps coach Todd Reirden of the upcoming road trip, "in terms of the locations where we are going to be. It's a lot of travel. I think it is coming at a good time, now that we finally have our roster back close to what we expected to start the year. I think now we can start to spend some time together growing as a group. That chemistry that we were establish last year was a huge difference maker for us, and something that I definitely want to continue to push."

The Jackets are four points behind the Caps in the Metro standings, but Columbus also holds two games in hand, which is the difference between the two teams coming into Tuesday night's tilt.

"They're a pretty good team," says Caps center Evgeny Kuznetsov of the Jackets. "I feel like last year and this year there is no team who give you easy chances. Now everyone competes and everyone is working hard.

"I'm looking forward for that game. That's the Metro Division rivalry. It's always nice to play the teams on the road for me."

When the Caps and Jackets met last month Washington, the Caps needed a late Kuznetsov goal at six-on-five to force overtime with the two teams tied 1-1. The Jackets won it on an Artemi Panarin power-play goal in overtime, and they promptly used the occasion to mock Kuznetsov's "bird" celebration, something that doesn't rattle him in the least.

"That's fine," says Kunzetsov. "The guys are having fun. I'm not sensitive. Some people are sensitive, but if they decide to do that, that's fine with me. There is nothing personal, right?"

Forecheck, Please - Forechecking figures to play a key part in Tuesday's game between the Caps and Blue Jackets. It's a signature part of Columbus' game, and the Caps have limited the Jackets to a single five-on-five goal - a Cam Atkinson breakaway tally - in the three games between the two teams, largely because their own forecheck has been consistent enough to keep the Jackets from establishing theirs.

"That was huge for us last year, going against them in the game [Game 3 of the playoff series] that we came in here and had success against them," says Reirden. "That was a difference maker for us, so that will be an area of focus, sometimes an area that you struggle a little bit in back-to-back games because it takes a lot of energy.

"But for me, that F1 has got to get in and he has got to hunt and disrupt as best as he can, and he has got to be physical when he gets a chance, because otherwise you look at [Jackets defensemen Zach] Werenski and [Seth] Jones and even [Markus] Nutivaara, these guys are joining every chance they get. They do a good job of adding their defense into their offensive play so it's important that that F1 - even if he doesn't get there to disrupt and force a bad play - he has got to make sure he doesn't get beat up the ice. So that will be a key for us tonight."

In the first two games of the six-game playoff series with Columbus last April, the Jackets scored nine goals, with four of them coming on the power play. Over the final four games of the series, the Caps were able to limit Columbus to nine goals, with eight of them coming at even strength.

In three regular season games in 2018-19, the Caps have yielded only four goals to the Jackets, and just one at five-on-five. That makes 14 even-strength goals the Jackets have managed in their last nine games against Washington.

"I strongly feel in looking back at last year's playoff series against them," says Reirden, "that it was the team that was able to forecheck more effectively and then the flipside, the team that was able to break out better. That was the deciding part of the series. For me, it was a swing point in Game 3 and it continued to push us through to have success the rest of that series.

"That's No. 1 on the keys tonight, so our ability to forecheck and our ability to break out pucks versus their heavy forecheck. And their [defensemen] shorten down and pinch on both sides, so our wall play has got to be really good tonight."

In The Nets - Pheonix Copley earned his 12th win of the season on Monday against the Kings, and Braden Holtby will be back between the pipes for the Capitals on Tuesday in Columbus. Holtby is seeking his 20th victory of the season. In his four starts this month, Holtby is 2-1-1 with a 2.75 GAA and a .917 save pct.

Holtby blanked Columbus at Nationwide Arena on Dec. 8 in a 4-0 win, the first ever road shutout for the Capitals against the Blue Jackets.

For the Jackets, Sergei Bobrovsky is the expected starter on Tuesday against the Caps. Bobrovsky started and won all three games on the Jackets' recent western road trip, permitting eight goals in the process. He is a perfect 3-0-0 in February, with a 2.67 GAA and a .905 save pct., a strong follow-up to a shaky month of January (2-5-0, 4.18, .858).

Lifetime against the Capitals, Bobrovsky is 8-11-4 with a 3.02 GAA and a .901 save pct.

All Lined Up - Here's how we expect the Capitals and the Blue Jackets to look when they meet on Tuesday night at Nationwide Arena for the opener of Washington's six-game road trip:

 

WASHINGTON

Forwards

8-Ovechkin, 92-Kuznetsov, 43-Wilson

13-Vrana, 19-Backstrom, 77-Oshie

65-Burakovsky, 20-Eller, 10-Connolly

18-Stephenson, 26-Dowd, 25-Smith-Pelly

Defensemen

6-Kempny, 74-Carlson

9-Orlov, 2-Niskanen

44-Orpik, 29-Djoos

Goaltenders

70-Holtby

1-Copley

Injuries

None

Scratches

22-Bowey

23-Jaskin

72-Boyd

 

COLUMBUS

Forwards

9-Panarin, 18-Dubois, 13-Atkinson

71-Foligno, 38-Jenner, 77-Anderson

91-Duclair, 10-Wennberg, 28-Bjorkstrand

45-Sedlak, 20-Nash, 37-Hannikainen

Defensemen

27-Murray, 3-Jones

8-Werenski, 58-Savard

4-Harrington, 65-Nutivaara

Goaltenders

72-Bobrovsky

70-Korpisalo

Injuries

17-Dubinsky (hip)

Scratches

14-Kukan

55-Letestu

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