The Washington Capitals embarked on their West Coast trip hoping the 11-day excursion will be an exercise in team building. With ample time between games and lots of time off, the coaching staff wants to see a more close-knit and supportive group by the time they return to Washington at the end of the month. They got off to a tying start tonight, a 2-2 final with the Phoenix Coyotes at America West Arena.
The Capitals play in Los Angeles Tuesday, the third game at the new Staples Center. They will bus to Anaheim for Friday's game, and the Mighty Ducks will be bracing for a better effort after trouncing Washington, 7-1, last week. The trip finishes in San Jose on Halloween. The Sharks lead the league in goals and boast a 7-3 record despite playing six straight road games.
"This road trip is going to be good for us," goalie Olaf Kolzig said. "It's four games in 11 nights, and it's not going to be a lot of travel except just going out there. There's a lot of time between games once we're settled-in; there's a great opportunity for guys to mesh together and become closer as a team."
The Capitals have played just two road games prior to this trip, both one-day journeys. Several players are still getting to know their teammates. Ulf Dahlen, Jeff Halpern, Craig Billington, Joe Sacco, Jamie Huscroft and Alexandre Volchkov are additions from last season and are beginning to get a feel for their new teammates. Getting to spend time with other players on the road could ease the transition. The team will have the opportunity to play golf, go out to dinner and hang out in the next few days.
The schedule hasn't helped that process. There have been long stretches between games at home, and following this trip, the Capitals will play seven of eight games at MCI Center.
A Pair of Debuts
Volchkov made his NHL debut and was a bit nervous early, fanning on a few shots, before settling down. The winger was skating on the top line with Peter Bondra and Andrei Nikolishin after being recalled from Portland on Friday. Volchkov, the fourth overall draft pick in 1996, did little in his first two seasons in the minors, but the organization is optimistic that he's rededicated himself to the sport. . . . Center Mike Eagles made his season debut and performed well in a defensive role, playing exclusively against the Coyotes' top two offensive lines. . . . James Black and Dahlen were healthy scratches. Defenseman Brendan Witt is out with a knee injury but could return this week. . . . The Coyotes' top center, Jeremy Roenick, returned from a five-game suspension. . . . Phoenix winger Rick Tocchet, still remembered in Washington for his epic battles with Dale Hunter from his days in Philadelphia, played in his 999th NHL game.