Capitals bracing for altitude effects against Avalanche

November 10, 2013

Braden Holtby will start Sunday night in Denver against the Avalanche. (Photo by Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post)

Back-to-back games that involve travel between them are challenging under any circumstances. It’s a quick turnaround with a second game less than 24 hours after the previous one concluded.

This weekend, though, the Capitals have an even tougher set of circumstances as they must play their second game in as many nights at altitude here in Denver. Not to mention that the Avalanche sit second in the league with a 13-2-0 record, including 7-2-0 at home.

“It’s the furthest thing from ideal, playing one of the best teams in the league in one of the hardest cities to play in back-to-backs,” Karl Alzner said after Washington’s shootout loss at Phoenix on Saturday night. “Whoever set that one up was probably laughing when they did but we’ve just got to go with it. We need to play a five-on-five game. If we get on the PP, great, but we need to make sure everybody’s involved with short shifts.”

Combating the affects of fatigue brought on by the altitude in the Mile High City will be the most difficult part of Sunday’s matchup with the Avalanche, Coach Adam Oates said.

The Capitals have seven players on the roster who have never played a game in Denver before -– Braden Holtby, Steve Oleksy, Tom Wilson, Michael Latta, Alex Urbom, Nate Schmidt and Jay Beagle — and as Oates knows there’s no way to truly prepare a player for what to expect at altitude. They have to experience it for themselves.

“We’ve got a bunch of guys who have never played in this building and until you do, no matter how many times you say, ‘Hey, heads up, it’s going to drop a bomb on you,’” Oates said, “until it happens to you — it’s a wow, it really is a wow. There’s going to be some moments in the game where guys get affected and hopefully we can survive it.

“It’s a really weird phenomenon where you’re out there, every guy is such a highly trained athlete that in the course of a game you might get caught out there on a shift and you kind of rely on your reserve tank,” Oates explained. “You’re on empty but you’ve got a little bit left in the tank to survive. Out here there’s no reserve tank. You just come to a stop. You just can’t move. It’s like timber.”

Oates said that in an effort to counteract the affects of the altitude on his team he has to make a concerted effort to roll four lines, even if players say they’re ready to go. If things go as planned the fourth line, which as it was constructed in Phoenix features two players who have not played in Denver, will likely see more ice time than it usually does against the Avalanche.

Oates said he’ll also ask Holtby, who will start Sunday night, to freeze the puck more often and to understand that his teammates might not have the energy that they usually do.

“There will be a shift in the game in the second period where it’s a long change and you’re behind your own net and, ‘Oh my god, I’ve got no play’ and you don’t know what to do,” Oates said. “Obviously when you get tired you make mental fatigue decisions, you make mistakes based on that.”

>> Holtby gets the start tonight and will face the high-flying Avalanche for the first time in his career. Michal Neuvirth played in the teams’ previous meeting this season and allowed five goals on 28 shots in a 5-1 loss at Verizon Center on Oct. 12.

>> Oates was still undecided when asked if he might make any other lineup changes for Sunday’s matchup in Colorado, given the schedule and altitude. The scratches from Saturday’s loss, Eric Fehr, Dmitry Orlov and Jay Beagle, all took part in a skate with the coaching staff Sunday morning but don’t read too much into that. Be sure to check back after warmups for the lineup against the Avalanche.

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Katie Carrera | November 10, 2013