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Capitals looking to find footing at home

Following uneven start, play 13 of next 18 games in Washington

by Tom Gulitti @tomgulittinhl / Staff Writer

ARLINGTON, Va. -- After an offseason of changes, the Washington Capitals spent much of October trying to find themselves and some consistency in their play.

Playing eight of their first 12 games on the road, and injuries to defenseman Matt Niskanen (upper body) and forwards Andre Burakovsky (thumb), Brett Connolly (upper body) and Tyler Graovac (upper body), didn't make that challenge any easier, and they are far from satisfied with their 5-6-1 start.

They play 13 of their next 18 games at home, the first against the New York Islanders at Capital One Arena on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSWA, MSG+, NHL.TV).

Although they are 1-3-0 at home this season, the Capitals hope playing there more often will help.

"It'll be a good opportunity," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "We haven't had more than one game in a row here at home, so it's kind of a weird schedule to start off. It's tough to generate any kind of momentum or rhythm at home, so hopefully we can take advantage of that."

The Capitals won the Presidents' Trophy each of the past two seasons but knew they would likely go through some growing pains after the offseason departures of forwards Justin Williams (signed with the Carolina Hurricanes), Marcus Johansson (traded to the New Jersey Devils) and Daniel Winnik (signed with the Minnesota Wild), and defensemen Karl Alzner (signed with the Montreal Canadiens), Kevin Shattenkirk (signed with the New York Rangers) and Nate Schmidt (selected by the Vegas Golden Knights in the NHL Expansion Draft).

The Capitals have been working in three inexperienced defensemen: Aaron Ness, 27; and rookies Christian Djoos, 23, and Madison Bowey, 22. It didn't help when Niskanen was injured against the New Jersey Devils on Oct. 13.

Video: FLA@WSH: Djoos tallies pretty goal in the 2nd

The Capitals were hoping Burakovsky would help replace some of the 60 goals they lost from last season with Williams (24 goals), Johansson (24) and Winnik (12) gone. But Burakovsky had one goal and three assists in nine games before he was injured Oct. 21 against the Florida Panthers.

Connolly, who scored an NHL career-high 15 goals last season, had one this season before missing the past two games.

The Capitals have dropped from scoring 3.18 goals per game, which was third in the NHL last season, to 2.92, which ranks 19th. Their average of 29.3 shots per game ranks 30th among the NHL's 31 teams (down from 30.4/13th) and they are allowing 33.8 shots per game, which ranks 25th (up from 27.8/fourth).

The difference is even bigger in their goals-against average, which has inflated from a League-best 2.16 last season to 3.42 and ranks 24th.

Much of this is related to their struggles breaking out of the defensive zone. That has resulted in spending more time in the defensive zone and less time generating shots and scoring chances in the offensive zone.

"We've got lots of new people," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. "Coming out of our zone has been a little bit more difficult and that's just the way it is. We've got some new people [on defense] and we've got some new people at forward and then we're sort of learning."

The Capitals believe they made some progress during their three-game road trip to Western Canada last week. Although they went 1-2-0 -- losing 6-2 to the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday, winning 5-2 against the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday, and losing 2-1 to the Calgary Flames on Sunday -- they thought they competed better in the last two games.

They were in position to earn at least a point in Calgary before a turnover at the attacking blue line by defenseman Dmitry Orlov led to a Flames' odd-man rush and Sean Monahan's winning goal with 10:51 remaining.

Video: WSH@CGY: Monahan tucks home Gaudreau's gorgeous feed

"The last couple of games I think we've started to figure out what kind of team we have to be," goaltender Braden Holtby said. "We're still not there. I think we knew we were going to have some adversity and some things we need to go through. In saying that, when you go through it, it's still frustrating. It's making sure we still have a complete buy-in at all times through that frustration and through that adversity and I think we'll come out a much better team."

Playing with a lead would help. The Capitals have allowed the first goal in nine of their 12 games, including the past seven. 

"Of course, you want to win as many games as you want and you can," said captain Alex Ovechkin, who is third in NHL with 10 goals and is tied for sixth with 15 points. "It's a situation when you just have to take it game by game. Every point is needed. ... It's not going be easy. We understand who we are and how we have to play and how we have to manage our game and we're going be fine."

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