With busy schedule before Olympic break, Caps hold optional practice in Columbus

January 29

(AP Photo/Gary Wiepert)

COLUMBUS – The Capitals made a late switch and decided to hold an optional practice here Wednesday after earning their second consecutive win the night before in Buffalo.

“Initially I was going to practice and the other coaches talked me into an optional. We’ve got a lot of hockey in a short span of time,” Coach Adam Oates said. “After a win you want to practice because the guys are feeling pretty good and we’re on the road but I still think I’ve got to agree with them that rest is more important. So we made it an optional for guys, it was their call.”

They had a meeting and the players all went to the arena, but none who played on the top two lines against the Sabres – Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Marcus Johansson, Martin Erat, Brooks Laich, Troy Brouwer and Joel Ward – took part in the skate.

The Capitals do have a busy schedule prior to the Olympic break; beginning with the game in Buffalo they play four games in 5 1/2 days and seven in 12 before the NHL’s hiatus. Given that all but one of these games is against Eastern Conference teams jockeying for favorable positioning in the standings, it’s an opportunity for Washington to perhaps make up some lost ground.

Thursday’s matchup with the Blue Jackets, who is tied with Washington with 56 points but sits one spot ahead by virtue of having more regulation and overtime wins, presents not only an opportunity for the Capitals to atone for their ugly 5-1 loss here on Jan. 17 but win a divisional game for the first time in over a month. Washington’s last win against a Metropolitan foe was Dec. 27 against the Rangers.

A win in Columbus would also give the Capitals their first three-game winning streak since early December.

“Guys realize we have to get wins, we want to have a good feeling going into the Olympic break,” Jason Chimera said. “If you’re in the playoffs looking down during the Olympic break it’s going to be a better break instead of looking up that whole time. You want to know you’re in a good position.”

>> Neither Nicklas Backstrom nor Marcus Johansson, who both took high hits from Sabres defenseman Mike Weber Tuesday night, skated but did play a lively game of soccer in the dressing room at Nationwide Arena, seemingly no worse for wear.

>> Given that the Capitals’ next three games include two against the same opponent – the home and home with Detroit Friday and Sunday – Oates said he hasn’t yet decided how he wants to divvy up the goaltending workload.

“Holts just won two in a row; my first thought would be to split them but Olie [Kolzig] and I are talking about it,” Oates said. “We’ve been back and forth a couple times already as to who plays against [which opponent].”

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