John Woods/Associated Press
The Washington Capitals have gotten off to a solid start in the 2016-17 campaign. They have recorded a 3-1-1 record in their first 5 games, and will look to get hot to end the month of October.
For the next week and a half, the Capitals are heading to Western Canada for a 4-game road trip. On this road trip, the Capitals will play in Edmonton, Vancouver, Calgary, and Winnipeg.
Last October, the Capitals defeated the Oilers, Flames, and Canucks on the road, and they lost to Winnipeg in overtime on the road.
The Capitals have had plenty of success against the Western Canada teams in recent seasons, but they will still face many challenges on this upcoming road trip. It is a key road trip for the Capitals, because they have a golden opportunity to get some points against a few clubs that are struggling out of the gate.
So what are some keys to victory for the Capitals on this Western Canada road swing? Who will the Capitals have to contain in order to win? How will the Capitals have to adjust their own game in order to have success?
KEYS TO VICTORY
Contain Connor McDavid
The first overall pick of the 2015 NHL Draft is rolling to start the season. In his first 6 games, he has 4 goals and 9 points. McDavid is an electric young player, and he is a big reason why the Oilers are off to a 5-1 start.
The Oilers Captain is highly skilled and very quick on the ice. The Capitals defensive core will have their hands full with the Oilers top young star. The Capitals will have to find a way to keep the puck away from McDavid, and they will have to make sure to limit the chances he gets on the powerplay.
Contain Johnny Hockey
The Flames young star has gotten off to a slow start, but he is another player with a lot of speed and skill. The Salem, NJ native has put up over 60 points in his last two seasons, and is one of the NHL’s most underrated players. Gaudreau is a former Hobey Baker Award winner, and a former Calder Award finalist.
Like McDavid, Johnny Gaudreau is a dynamic player, that can make the opposition pay off a turnover. The Capitals will have to limit their own turnovers, and not give Gaudreau any wide open chances at the net.
The Capitals have only scored 2 powerplay goals in their first 5 games, and they are looking for a spark in this area.
The Capitals will face teams in Western Canada that are not very good on the penalty kill. Winnipeg is ranked 2nd to last in penalty killing, so the Capitals could take advantage of this in their matchup. Calgary is slightly better than Winnipeg on the penalty kill, but are one of the league leaders in times shorthanded. The Canucks and Oilers are in the middle of the pack with penalty killing.
If there is a good time for the Capitals to get their powerplay running, it is on the Western Canada road swing.
Penalty Kill Reboot
The Capitals penalty kill has not been on point to start the season. The Capitals had the 2nd best penalty killing unit in 2015-16, but are ranked in the bottom 5 to begin 2016-17. The Oilers, Canucks, Jets, and Flames are all teams that are struggling on the powerplay in the early going, so the Capitals may be able to get their penalty killing back on track against these clubs.
Must Bring the Physical Play
The Capitals will need to bring their physical game across Western Canada, especially against the Winnipeg Jets. The Jets are a big physical team, with players like Dustin Byfuglien and Blake Wheeler in their lineup.
The Capitals will also see former Bruins and Kings tough guy Milan Lucic on this trip, as he signed a lengthy contract with the Edmonton Oilers over the summer. Lucic is Connor McDavid’s bodyguard on the ice, as he plays on the same line with him.
By: George Foussekis