This morning's practice was optional, and many of the team's stars such as Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin and Alex Ovechkin did not participate. Coach Bruce Boudreau also did not skate, so today's update will be a little shorter than usual:
*The Caps left immediately afterward for a three-game Southeast Division swing that will make stops in Atlanta, Tampa and Florida. The Caps are (mostly) healthy, are playing well and depart with a 14-point lead. If they manage to sweep the three games, they really can demoralize the teams chasing them. So this is a pretty big trip -- and they're approaching it as such.
"Every chance you get, you want to put room between yourself and the next team, because you don't want to give them any opportunity if you can help it," Boudreau said.
Tom Poti said: "These are four point games. We want to try to bury these teams and finish them off."
That's going to be the focus of my story for tomorrow's paper.
*Semyon Varlamov was spotted wearing a brace on his sprained right knee (MCL) this morning and a weight belt around his waist. So he's working hard with strength and conditioning coach Mark Nemish. But Boudreau still isn't sure when the 21-year-old goalie is going to return, but he's hopeful it won't be much longer.
"I think he's going to start skating this weekend and hopefully the week after that he'll be ready to play," Boudreau said. "That's my hope."
*Because the team was shorthanded this morning, the players spent most of the 45 minute session having some fun while playing three-on-three - cross-ice, like mini mites.
*Brooks Laich came onto the ice 5 minutes before any of his teammates and stayed out 15 minutes longer than anyone else, firing shots into an empty net. Laich's got two goals in his last 22 games and appears to be trying to "work" his way out of the slump.
*Michal Neuvirth debuted a new mask this morning. Don't expect to see too much of a difference - from a distance it appeared to be Hershey Bears themed - but it does incorporate more red on the front.