After three days off for the NHL’s Christmas break, the Capitals returned to the ice Friday morning in Arlington for a more intense morning skate than usual as they try to shake off the rust with three games in the next four nights.
The break is mandated by the collective bargaining agreement, but count Coach Adam Oates among those concerned about how the players will handle game action after the lengthy layoff.
“We practiced more than we did a morning skate today. Am I worried? Yeah, I’m really concerned because I think three days off is crazy,” Oates said. “Then all of a sudden we’ve got to play three in four nights. I’m begging they don’t get hurt.”
The Capitals captured a 4-1 win at Madison Square Garden in their last meeting against the Rangers on Dec. 8 in what was one of their best all-around performances of the season. Washington was able to roll four lines, minimized its turnovers and played a strong transition game anchored by proper support in the defensive zone to prevent the Rangers from establishing their forecheck. They got offensive involvement from the blueline as well in that game, with both Steve Oleksy and Nate Schmidt scoring.
The outing was a template of success for the Capitals.
“The crispness of our game, the tape-to-tape passes, I don’t think we had too many errant passes. We were able to move the puck out of our zone well be able to make good decisions in the neutral zone,” Troy Brouwer said. “I think that’s where our game really excelled in that game was we were making real good decisions with the puck and we weren’t giving them a whole lot of time to gather speed.”
>> Philipp Grubauer will start against the Rangers at Verizon Center, which will be his sixth start in the past nine games. That span stretches back to Washington’s win on Dec. 8 in New York, where Grubauer made 30 saves in just his second-career start.
He’ll face Rangers backup Cam Talbot, who will be making his first career appearance against Washington. This will be Talbot’s third consecutive start marking the first time since Dec. 17-21, 2006 that Henrik Lundqvist has served as a backup for three straight games.
>> As previously mentioned, Brooks Laich won’t be in the Capitals’ lineup against the Rangers. More on that here. With Laich out of the mixt, Aaron Volpatti will return to the fourth line.
>> Projected lineups for both teams
Derick Brassard–Brad Richards–Mats Zuccarello
Chris Kreider–Derek Stepan–Rick Nash
Carl Hagelin–J.T. Miller–Benoit Pouliot
Brian Boyle–Dominic Moore–Derek Dorsett
Ryan McDonagh–Dan Girardi
John Moore–Anton Stralman
Michael Del Zotto–Justin Falk
Cam Talbot is expected to start for the Rangers. Henrik Lundqvist will back up.