The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

With history of slow starts, Capitals now brace for a long break

Braden Holtby. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
Placeholder while article actions load

The Washington Capitals are seemingly bound to a narrative of slow starts, their first periods typically forgettable. So this team known for its initial sluggishness now has nearly a week in between its last exhibition game and opening night.

“It could be a problem for our whole team,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “We’re a week off from playing games.”

When Washington hosts the New Jersey Devils on Saturday night, it will be among the last teams to start its season, with the NHL regular season beginning Wednesday in many cities. To combat the six-day vacation he knew the Capitals would have, Trotz played his veterans five preseason games, while many teams just played them four.

That included goaltender Braden Holtby, who played in five games, but Holtby played a full game only once. A long break from regularly seeing pucks hurled at you “does not bode well for goaltenders,” Trotz said. When Holtby was sporadically playing in the preseason, he had some struggles, such as allowing three goals on 13 shots against at Montreal and three goals on 23 shots at Carolina.

But playing more helped him, as he didn’t allow a goal in the last two periods Friday night against Boston, saving 23 shots. Then on Sunday against the Islanders, Holtby played the entire game, making 22 saves in a 6-2 victory.

“It’ll be good for us to do some things off the ice as a group and create that chemistry that way and take advantage of it,” Holtby said. “I think the natural emotion and excitement of playing in the regular-season opener will get us going enough.”

Slow starts haven’t been as much of an issue for the Capitals in the preseason. Of the 21 goals Washington has scored in the preseason, seven have come in the first period. Rather, the team struggled in the second period of exhibitions, when the games have typically been bogged down by penalties from both teams.

A long wait for the regular-season premiere has some upside, as it gives the team more time to get healthy, a particular benefit for Brooks Orpik (wrist) and Nicklas Backstrom (hip). Come Saturday, the Capitals won’t be making any excuses either way.

“They’d rather play the game than practice,” Trotz said. “Practice is the job part. We’re the last team to start, so we might be a little rusty in that first period, and then if we get through that first period, we’ll be fine.”