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SKATE SHAVINGS - News and Notes from Caps' Morning Skate 3/22

Caps finish Western portion of sked vs. a Wild team replete with ex-Caps employees, look forward to a friendly calendar over season's final weeks, more

by Mike Vogel @VogsCaps / washingtoncaps.com

How The West Was Won - The Caps conclude the 30-game portion of their schedule against Western Conference opposition on Friday night when the Minnesota Wild makes its lone trip to town this season. The Caps enter the contest with a 15-11-3 mark against the opposite conference this season, so they need a victory over the Wild to win more than half of their games against the west.

Since the All-Star break, the Capitals are 7-1-0 against Western opposition, with their only misstep over that span coming in a 5-2 loss to the Ducks in Anaheim on Feb. 17.

Sixteen Days - With the Caps' last set of back-to-back games now in the rear view mirror, they will play out the final eight games of the 2018-19 schedule over a span of 16 days. Seven of those eight games will be played on exactly one day's rest, which has proven to be optimal for Washington in recent seasons.

"We've been pretty good actually recently," says Caps defenseman Brooks Orpik, "and only having the one [back-to-back] in the last however many weeks has definitely been good for us. Those back-to-backs take a lot out of you."

In 2018-19, the Caps are 24-12-5 on one day's rest and are 19-11-3 in all other game situations. Since the start of the 2014-15 season, Washington is 149-45-21 in all regular season games on exactly one day's rest, for a lusty .742 points percentage. In all other situations, they are 99-67-21 for a .586 points percentage.

"We complain about the schedule a lot," says Caps goalie Braden Holtby, "but it has been kind of nice this year to not have that many back-to-backs in this stretch after the All-Star break. I think has helped us to play, regroup, focus on a few things to get better, then play again. I think it's a pretty good rhythm we've been in. It's good to get that last one out of the way and then move forward."

That single day in between games can be used as a practice day or a rest day, but regardless, this group has played its best hockey when there is a game every other day, which bodes well for them as they try to nail down a playoff berth and a possible Metropolitan Division title.

Video: Rinkside Update | Dmitry Orlov

Nashville North/Washington West - Minnesota's roster includes a quartet of players originally drafted by the Nashville Predators and its front office/coaching staff is heavily laden with former Washington employees.

Given that the Wild hired former Nashville assistant GM Paul Fenton as its general manager last May, that's not exactly surprising. As an assistant GM in Nashville, he was responsible for running the team's draft for a few years, and he was also involved in player development and player evaluation.

Wild defenseman Ryan Suter left Nashville for Minnesota as a free agent a number of years ago, but Fenton has brought the other three ex-Preds - forwards Kevin Fiala and Pontus Aberg and defenseman Anthony Bitetto - to Minnesota in the midst of the 2018-19 season, his first as the team's GM.

As for the ex-Cap angle, it starts with Wild coach Bruce Boudreau and includes assistant coaches Dean Evason and Bob Woods and video coach Jonas Plumb. All four of those fine gentlemen held the same posts here in Washington some years back. Wild goaltending coach Bob Mason spent most of his NHL playing career with the Capitals.

Minnesota also employs Andre Brunette as its director of player personnel and Martin Gendron as an amateur scout; both were Washington draft choices as players and donned the Caps sweater during the 1990s. Former Caps draft pick Ivan Nepriayev - who never played in the NHL - works for the Wild as a European scout and former Caps amateur scout Ernie Vargas now serves in that role with Minnesota.

Video: Todd Reirden | March 22

In The Nets - Holtby takes a third crack at his 28th win of the season tonight when he gets the net against the Wild.

One of the most rugged outings of Holtby's career came against the Wild in Minnesota, a little more than five years ago. During a midseason stretch of schedule that spanned a bit more than a month, the Caps carried three goaltenders, which as we've seen over the years is always a recipe for trouble.

On Jan. 4, 2014, Holtby got the start against the Wild in St. Paul, and Washington limited the Wild to just 11 shots on net in 60 minutes. But Holtby yielded five goals on those 11 shots - Suter had a hat trick in that game - as the Caps fell by a 5-3 count. According to Elias Sports Bureau, it was the first time since the league began tracking shots on net in 1973-74 that a team managed to score as many as five goals with just 11 shots.

Holtby's start that night was his first in two weeks, and it would be 17 days before he would get another, and he admitted after that game that he was suffering from a crisis of confidence.

But over the course of his career against Minnesota, that has been an outlier. In 10 career starts against the Wild, he is 8-2-0 with a shutout, a 2.29 GAA and a .922 save pct. He has limited the Wild to two or fewer goals in seven of those 10 starts.

For the Wild, we are expecting to see Devan Dubnyk in goal against the Caps. Dubnyk has made nine career starts against Washington, one with Edmonton, one with Arizona and the last seven with Minnesota. He won two of his first three career starts against the Capitals, but has dropped six straight (0-5-1) since.

Caps captain Alex Ovechkin has victimized Dubnyk for 12 goals and 22 points in those nine games, with two hat tricks. Only twice in those nine contests - including the previous Caps-Wild game in November of this season - has Dubnyk been able to keep Ovechkin from lighting the lamp.

While Dubnyk's career record of 2-6-1 with a 3.82 GAA and an .872 save pct. is not impressive, he has played extremely well of late, particularly on the road. Since Dec. 29, Dubnyk leads the NHL in road wins, going 12-4-2 with two shutouts, a 2.34 GAA and a .922 save pct. in his last 18 road starts. He blanked the Lightning in Tampa Bay by a 3-0 count during Minnesota's most recent road trip on March 7, stopping all 25 shots he faced.

Video: Two-Man Advantage | March 22

All Lined Up - Here's how we expect the Caps and the Wild to look when they meet on Friday night at Capital One Arena:

 

WASHINGTON

Forwards

8-Ovechkin, 19-Backstrom, 43-Wilson

13-Vrana, 92-Kuznetsov, 77-Oshie

65-Burakovsky, 20-Eller, 10-Connolly

18-Stephenson, 26-Dowd, 72-Boyd

Defensemen

29-Djoos, 74-Carlson

9-Orlov, 2-Niskanen

44-Orpik, 3-Jensen

Goaltenders

70-Holtby

1-Copley

Injuries

6-Kempny (lower body)

62-Hagelin (illness)

Scratches

23-Jaskin

 

MINNESOTA

Forwards

11-Parise, 12-Staal, 22-Fiala

18-Greenway, 19-Kunin, 6-Donato

16-Zucker, 49-Rask, 10-Read

17-Foligno, 21-Fehr, 23-Brown

Defensemen

20-Suter, 46-Spurgeon

25-Brodin, 29-Pateryn

2-Bitetto, 77-Hunt

Goaltenders

40-Dubnyk

32-Stalock

Injuries

9-Koivu (knee)

14-Eriksson Ek (lower body)

24-Dumba (torn pectoral muscle)

Scratches

36-Seeler

42-Robson

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