Tuesday's game against L.A. is the outlier of the homestand; the other three games are against Metro Division opponents. Coming off an emotional Sunday afternoon game with Pittsburgh and having had Monday off, do the Caps need to guard against a letdown against the last-place team in the Western Conference tonight?
"I don't think so," says Caps coach Todd Reirden, "because I don't think our team was really pleased about the way the result went against Pittsburgh. So they now realize that there is some work to be done. Some of those areas have been pointed out."
To their credit, the Caps have been diligent at winning the games they are supposed to win thus far this season. Washington has played 11 games against the bottom six teams in the league - of which the Kings are one - and the Caps have won 10 of 11, with a 5-1 home ice loss to New Jersey on Jan. 11 standing as the lone blemish.
And, as the estimable Carter Myers points out, the Capitals have not suffered a regulation loss to a Pacific Division team in nearly a year, since absorbing a 5-2 setback at the hands of the Ducks in Anaheim on Feb. 17 of last year. Washington is 10-0-3 against Pacific foes since then.
Video: Reirden Pregame | February 4
Bring It On Back - Defenseman Martin Fehervary cracked the Caps' opening night roster as a 19-year-old, and he acquitted himself well in three early season games with Washington. Once Evgeny Kuznetsov returned from his three-game NHL suspension, the Caps loaned Fehervary to AHL Hershey, where he has four goals and 14 points in 45 games, along with a plus-12 rating that is tied for the best mark on the team.
Washington recalled Fehervary today and will insert him into the lineup tonight. With just under three weeks between now and the Feb. 24 trade deadline, the Caps want to see how far the second-round pick (46th overall) from the 2018 NHL Draft is progressing.
"Yes, he'll be playing tonight," says Reirden. "He has had a really strong year development-wise. We really loved his training camp, and it's a chance to see him tonight. So he'll be in there, and he'll be playing with [Radko] Gudas."
Few organic opportunities have been available to young Washington blueline hopefuls in Hershey this season. Michal Kempny missed the first eight games of the season while rehabbing from offseason surgery, and he missed two more games with illness immediately after the NHL's holiday break. Fehervary and Tyler Lewington filled in for Kempny during those eight games in October, and Christian Djoos did so in the two late-December games.
Other than that, the Washington defense has been hale and hearty. The other five defensemen have played in all 53 games to date, a remarkable run of durability in this league where only 63 of 288 defensemen (21.9%) have played in all of their team's games thus far.
Jonas Siegenthaler, in his first full season as an NHLer, has drawn the short straw and will sit out tonight's game so the Caps can have a look at Fehervary. But this is not a case where Siegenthaler has played his way out of the lineup. Siegenthaler is averaging 3:09 a night in shorthanded ice time - tops among all Washington defensemen and 13th among all NHL blueliners - for the league's second-best penalty killing outfit.
Since Kempny's return on Oct. 18, the Caps have dressed the same six defensemen in 43 of the 45 games, and Siegenthaler is plus-7 at 5-on-5 over that span.
"Just that this is the right spot to put him in to start with tonight," responds Reirden, when asked why Siegenthaler was selected to sit out. "See where he is at so we can continue to evaluate where our prospects are at as we get closer to trade deadline, and taking inventory of where our players are at. So it's a good time to do it."
With Siegenthaler out, someone will need to pick up the slack with tonight's penalty killing chores.
"Yeah, that's one of the things that we have to consider when you're making these adjustments," says Reirden. "So it will be an opportunity for someone else to step into that ice time. It's all about trying to form the best six [defensemen] that we can have, that can give us the best chance to have success."
Video: Martin Fehervary on his recall
In his early season trial with Washington, Fehervary averaged 14:29 while the Caps went 2-0-1 in those three games. Asked about his own progress this season with the Bears, this is what Fehervary said:
"BIg help. Obviously, it's a way different style of hockey in Europe, and this is my first year in North America, so it helped me a lot and I tried to adjust to that style of hockey. I think it's going well."
Work To Do - The NHL's regular season ends two months from today when the Caps close out the campaign in Florida against the Panthers. Including tonight's game against Los Angeles, the Caps have 29 games remaining with which to get their game up to playoff level.
Washington has played 15 games since the NHL's annual holiday break, and it is 9-6-0 in those games. While the Caps continue to roll offensively even with minimal output from their sputtering power play unit, they've been giving up more goals than you'd like from a team with Stanley Cup aspirations.
During that 15-game stretch, the Caps are the league's 12th best team in terms of points pct. They've scored 3.73 goals per game, which is fourth best in the league during that stretch. But they've yielded three or more goals in 10 of the 15 games, and they've been dented for an average of 3.13 per night in that span, tied for 16th in the league.
So while the Caps still occupy the top spot in the league, the Eastern Conference, and the Metropolitan Division, they also know they're a long way from being playoff ready.
"Obviously there is some stuff we're trying to learn from," says Caps right wing Tom Wilson. "Like I said the other night, we've had some games where we come back, and it covers up some of the mistakes that happen earlier in the game.
"We've got to start better; we've got to play a full game. I think we can continue to play as a five-man unit a little bit better in all areas of the ice - in our own end, in the neutral zone, on the forecheck. That's still coming, and obviously you want to keep building that into the playoffs, because breaking out clean and having a good forecheck are pretty important come crunch time.
Video: Rinkside Update | Tom Wilson
"I think there are a lot of pucks that are getting stopped [in the defensive zone], and we're helping each other out a little bit to break out a little cleaner, and that will transition into our offense. I think the systems that we implemented in the offseason are hitting their stride, and we feel pretty comfortable with them. But with that, there are also going to be little areas that you also need to clean up.
"We're continuing to watch video, and if you know our coaching staff, we're always building, we're always looking at ways to improve."
And yes, the coaching staff is on the same page, also seeking to shore up several areas of the team's game over these final two months of the regular season.
"Despite where we are in the standings, we are not done getting better," declares Reirden. "And we need to get better if we want to be where we want to be at the end of the year."
In The Nets - Braden Holtby gets the net tonight for Washington, making his first start since a 5-4 loss to the Nashville Predators last Wednesday. He is 2-6-0 since Dec. 21, and he has allowed three or more goals in eight of his nine starts over that span. Holtby will be seeking his 20th win of the season tonight against the Kings.
Holtby was slated to start tonight's game anyway, but Ilya Samsonov left Tuesday's morning skate early after being felled by a high shot. As a precautionary measure, the Caps have recalled Vitek Vanecek from AHL Hershey for tonight's game. As of this writing, we aren't sure whether Samsonov or Vanecek will serve as Holtby's backup tonight against the Kings.
"It's purely precautionary," says Reirden of the Samsonov ailment. "We're just going to have him get looked at. But we will recall Vanecek, again as a precaution."
Lifetime against Los Angeles, he is 1-2-1 with a shutout, a 2.51 GAA and a .911 save pct. in four career appearances.
For Los Angeles, we are expecting to see veteran Jonathan Quick in the net tonight. As recently as 2015-16, Quick led the NHL with 68 appearances, won 40 games and was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy. This is his second straight season with a sub-.800 save pct. and a GAA above 3.00, and the 34-year-old netminder still has three seasons remaining on his contract after this one.
Quick has won exactly one-third of his starts this season, going 11-19-3 in 33 assignments. Although he is 0-4-1 in his last five starts and has not won in calendar 2020, Quick has not allowed more than three goals in any of those last five starts. He has scuffled on the road this season, going 3-10-2 with a 3.54 GAA and an .880 save pct. in 15 starts.
Lifetime against the Capitals, Quick is 9-4-0 with a 2.51 GAA and a .910 save pct. in 13 starts.
Video: Two-Man Advantage | February 4
All Lined Up - Here's how we expect the Capitals and the Kings to look on Tuesday night in the District when they get together for the second 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
30-Samsonov or 41-Vanecek
19-Iafallo, 11-Kopitar, 23-Brown
38-Grundstrom, 77-Carter, 73-Toffoli
9-Kempe, 46-Lizotte, 51-Wagner
13-Clifford, 10-Amadio, 22-Lewis