As the NHL lockout dragged on for months, Jay Beagle longed for a return to hockey. The 27-year-old winger stayed in Northern Virginia with his wife, Ashley, and continued training at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex as his many of his teammates scattered the globe to keep playing.
After that wait, Beagle much prefers the current jam-packed schedule that has the Capitals playing 48 games in 99 days. But he also appreciates the three-day break before Thursday’s home game against New Jersey, a gift from the schedule-makers that allowed players a rare Monday off.
For Beagle, the day included a late wakeup call, brunch and an appearance at Kettler with a handful of teammates sponsored by the team’s women’s fan group. He and the rest of the Capitals back arrived at the team’s Arlington training facility on Tuesday ready to take further advantage of a stretch that equals their longest between games this season.
“You have to feel a little bit better after a day like that,” Beagle said after Tuesday’s practice. “You’re more eager to get to the rink and get to work. It’s good for the mind, and it’s good for the body.”
On Tuesday, Coach Adam Oates gathered the group for a film session to break down the performance in Sunday’s 2-1 loss at the New York Rangers and then held an hour-and-a-half long workout.
The practice included a spirited session of three-on-three action with goalies Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth minding nets set up along the sideboards. It closed with conditioning drills, a usual practice staple that has been understandably scaled back this season to fit the circumstances.
“It was the first real chance to get in a good skate, some conditioning, some drills, some battles,” Oates said. “Just a real practice day where we know we don’t have a game tomorrow, so the guys could mentally kinda get into it.”
Washington will practice again on Wednesday as Oates begins preparing his squad for back-to-back home games against New Jersey, the team he served as an assistant with the past two seasons.
The Devils are tied with Pittsburgh for the most points in the Eastern Conference, and the Capitals, at 5-9-1, have yet to beat a team currently sitting among the conference’s top eight. The team must improve to contend for its sixth straight playoff berth, and the coach said he’s waiting for a breakthrough against a top team that will give his squad a confidence boost.
“We need to find ways to win against those teams,” winger Troy Brouwer said. “We thought last game we had little glimmers of good play, but we got outworked and [the Rangers] just had a lot of good persistence around the puck last game. So we’ve got to find that in our game.”
Once play resumes, the Capitals won’t have another three-day break until late next month, and several players said the grind has helped them appreciate days like Tuesday.
“I think we’ve been good lately, but at the end of the day, we need to keep getting better,” defenseman John Carlson said. “Today, for example, was a perfect day to work on what we want. That can really help right now.”