california dreams can turn to nightmares
BY BRIAN MCNALLY | MARCH 5, 2018
KETTLER CAPITALS ICEPLEX – There is no time for a hangover.
The Capitals came out of the weekend with a memorable 5-2 win in an NHL Stadium Series game at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium against the Toronto Maple Leafs. There was pomp and circumstance, Olympians and Midshipmen, a big crowd and one of their best games in a weeks.
But the Capitals (37-21-7, 81 points,) in first place in the Metropolitan Division, can’t enjoy themselves too much. On Monday afternoon they flew to California for three games in five days, a rough stretch against teams desperate to hold onto a Stanley Cup playoff spot or sneak back into one. The road trip to Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Jose has never been one that’s treated them well.
“We’re on the road against a really good team, the start of a long road trip,” John Carlson said of Tuesday’s game against the Ducks. “But there’s a lot of other factors that sober you up after an experience like that.”
Just looking at last year’s visit to California might make any Capitals player or coach blanche. Washington went 0-3-0 and was outscored 13-6 despite having the best record in the league at the time. In 2015-16 the Caps also had the league’s best record and were thrilled with a 1-1-1 road trip to California. It was a rarity in 2014-15 when Washington came home 2-1 against the Ducks, Sharks and Kings.
San Jose (35-22-9, 79 points) is second in the Pacific Division behind the Vegas Golden Knights (42-18-5, 89 points). Anaheim (33-21-12, 78 points) is third. Los Angeles (36-25-5, 77 points) holds the final Western Conference wild-card berth, but is just one point ahead of the Colorado Avalanche (35-24-6, 76 points) and two ahead of the St. Louis Blues (35-26-5, 75 points).
At plus-27, the Kings actually have the fourth-best goal differential in the Western Conference and seventh in the NHL. And yet are one loss from falling into 10th place in the conference or one win from tying the Sharks. There’s a lot to play for.
“You’re going to get a lot of urgency,” Barry Trotz said. “They’re built to play each other, especially Anaheim and L.A. because of the proximity. They mirror each other. They have a lot of bite in their game. The key is getting that first one there [in Anaheim] and hopefully getting some momentum, building on that.”
The Caps were a loose bunch at practice Monday. They stayed on the ice for about 75 minutes. Unlike last week when they found wins against Eastern Conference bottom-feeders Ottawa and Buffalo (twice), wins will be harder to come by here.
“We had a lifetime experience last game,” defenseman Dmitry Orlov said. “We needed the points. We won. We had fun. Everybody enjoyed it. But now – it’s a tough road. We lost all three games there last year. We need a strong start from the first game.”
After the California trip, which concludes with an afternoon game in San Jose on Saturday, they will get back to the District after midnight Sunday and have a day off before playing the Winnipeg Jets (39-17-9, 87 points) at home on Monday. That will be five games in a row against teams in a playoff spot.
Carlson played contrarian when asked if it was good for the Caps to be tested heading into the playoffs. “That can be an over-used cliché,” he said. Carlson was referring more to being “ready” for the playoffs when they start in six weeks. But there’s no question the Caps needs some wins if they’re going to maintain their hold on the Metro. Playing their way into playoff form is a luxury they don’t have this time around.
“We’d like to keep our position in the standings right now with a couple of teams right behind us so it is a good test,” Trotz said. “The last 16, 17 games here, in previous years we had a lot of room to work with. We don’t [now]. So you’re going to see some desperation in our game, which I think will make us better going forward.”
Forward Devante Smith-Pelly took a “maintenance” day at practice Monday with a lower-body injury, but traveled with the team to Los Angeles and is “probable” to play on Tuesday against Anaheim, according to coach Barry Trotz. … The lines at practice on Monday were:
Travis Boyd would make his NHL debut if he’s in the lineup for Smith-Pelly. Trotz used him at center during practice and shifted Beagle to Smith-Pelly’s wing just in case he needs to try that in a game at some point … Jakub Jerabek and Madison Bowey were the fourth defensive pair. Forward Alex Chiasson was the other player rotating in.