A strange road trip got a little stranger this morning in Tampa, where the Caps were not able to have a morning skate because the ice was not ready.
I'm told new ice was put down Sunday night after the circus left town, but Lightning officials were concerned about the soft sheet getting damaged ahead of tonight's game.
"That was their philosophy," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "When I initially thought about it, I thought that's probably good. But wouldn't you rather risk it in the morning and fix it ...and get the ice the way you want it because they would have all afternoon to work on it?"
Although there was no skate, the players did their best to keep their morning routine the same. They arrived at the rink at 10:15, had a pre-skate meeting, changed into their undergarments, got treatment and massages, stretched and warmed up.
The Lightning, meantime, put on their pads at the game rink and bused to their suburban practice facility to skate. In fact, they just returned to St. Pete Times Forum in full gear, carrying their skates and looking like oversized mini-mites.
"It is what it is, and we'll have to make do," Boudreau added, referring to the prospect of playing on poor ice. "I have no idea if [bad ice] is an advantage or a disadvantage. ...These guys have some pretty talented players, as well, so it's the same for both teams."
Some other notes and quotes from the St. Pete Times Forum, where the Caps will be looking to beat the 'Bolts for the 13th consecutive time:
*John Erskine is "questionable" with an upper body injury he suffered in Atlanta, according to Boudreau. If he doesn't play, Tyler Sloan will suit up for the first time in five games.
"He feels a lot better today," Boudreau said about Erskine. "I don't know if [athletic trainer Greg Smith] is going top let him take warmup, but if he feels fine, he'll play."
*You may have noticed that Tomas Fleischmann's faceoff percentage took a steep dive against the Thrashers. The newly converted center lost 13 of his 19 draws (32 percent) in Atlanta, one game after winning 12 of 15 (80 percent) at home against Ottawa.
The reason? It likely has to do with the change in faceoff protocol at home vs. road. On the road, the visitor must put his stick on the ice first. Fleischmann, who has been skating between Brooks Laich and Alexander Semin on the second line, clearly struggled to adapt in his first road game as an NHL center.
"He had a little trouble with it," said assistant coach Dean Evason, who works with the Caps' centers. "He'll be better tonight. It's just an adjustment. It's something he wasn't used because he hadn't taken faceoffs in a while."
*The Caps have scored 17 goals the past three games, but only one has come off the stick of two-time MVP Alex Ovechkin.
"Sometimes he's just not the guy who finishes, but he's also the best decoy out there," Boudreau said. "Every time he's on the ice, he's got two or three guys shadowing him, so that leaves [teammates] open."
*The Caps held a pre-draft meeting here in Tampa this week. Among the scouts was former goalie coach Dave Prior. I haven't received confirmation from the team on his role, but word is that he's been retained as a goalie consultant for this summer's draft. After all, he did recommend the selection of Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth.
*Although goaltender Semyon Varlamov had been slow to recover from groin and knee injuries - he's been sidelined since the team's last visit to Tamap on Dec. 7 - Boudreau said the team does not have plans to ask the 21-year-old not to participate in the Olympics next month.
"Tell him he's not going to Olympics because it's in the best interest of the organization when everyone else is going?" Boudreau said. "No."
*Boudreau wouldn't say who is starting in goal tonight, but all indications are that it's going to be Neuvirth, whose 38-save effort in Atlanta did wonders for his stat line. He's now got a .910 save pecentage and a 2.68 goals against average.
"He might be," is all Boudreau would say.
*While a lot has been made about Tom Poti's play in recent games, Boudreau was effusive in his praise of Jeff Schultz this morning.
"Jeff is playing the best he's played in his career in this stretch," he said. "His plus minus ...sometimes it's a stat that you can look at and say it's a real good stat or it doesn't mean much. But every time you look up, he's on [the ice] for two goals for and none against. I think he's a plus 23, in less than 50 games, which is a real good indicator that when he's on the ice, something good is going to happen."
Schultz's plus-23 rating leads all NHL defensemen. In Atlanta, he was a plus-5.
The big defenseman said he attributes his improvement to a summertime change in attitude.
"I'm not worrying about making mistakes," he said. "It used to be if something bad happened, I would be thinking about it for the rest of the game and would be dwelling on that. Now, I just take it and throw it out the window. I over-thought things. It's just a change of attitude, which is something I thought about over the summer."
*The Caps' 16 point lead on Atlanta and Tampa Bay is their biggest division lead in franchise history.
I'll check in later with a lineup.