News and Notes from Wednesday’s Capitals Practice: Working on Their Game

Despite losing three games in a row, the Capitals found plenty of positives in their last contest on Sunday against the Flyers. “I look at that game (against the Flyers) and I’m not disappointed in it,” Capitals head coach Barry Trotz said on Sunday after the game. With nothing to hang their heads over, the Caps worked on elements of their game that they can improve on during Tuesday and Wednesday’s practices at Kettler Capitals Iceplex before departing for Florida ahead of their tilt with the Panthers Thursday night. 

Compared to the other two games, their loss to the Flyers was still a good effort that came away with a point. The Caps outshot the Flyers 28-23, won the possession battle 63.53%-36.47% and got the better of the Flyers in both scoring chances (60.47%-39.53%) and high danger scoring chances (64.29%-35.71%) per Natural Stat Trick.

With three days off in terms of game action, the Capitals will look to take their positives from Sunday and build off of it in hopes of ending a three game losing streak on Thursday night against the Panthers.

“We gotta play hard, play the right way. We need the points. I think the last two days (of practice) with the break (between games), we’ve taken the approach of ‘let’s keep working at our game’ and I think we have,” Trotz told reporters Wednesday morning.

The Caps worked at every facet of their game on Tuesday and Wednesday, from 3-on-3’s to 5-on-5’s, to passing, to special teams, and everything in between. Thursday’s contest will mark the second time the Caps and Panthers face-off against each other. The Panthers won the first meeting 4-1 back in October at Capital One Arena.

“Hopefully we’ve got them focused for one more game and then another break,” Trotz added. “After that we have to redo this process again.”

During Saturday’s practice, we saw the forward lines get scrambled which separated Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom from the top line. Another thing that was noticed was Jakub Vrana rotating into the fourth line which had many people thinking he’d be scratched from the Sunday contest with the Flyers. Vrana still played in Sunday’s game and instead Alex Chiasson served as the healthy scratch. The lines from practice remained unchanged from both the game on Sunday and practice on Tuesday. Here’s how they looked:

Starter’s net: Braden Holtby
Backup goalie: Philipp Grubuaer
Scratches: Alex Chiasson (F) and Taylor Chorney (D)

Before the forwards took the ice, the defensemen came out and worked with both goalies on communication behind the net. When the rest of the team came out, the team took to the Arlington rink to work on individual-centric drills. First they did some puck control and passing around the cones before firing at the net.

Then the Caps split into groups of three, came down the ice, and one player from the three broke towards the net to practice their puck defections. Here we have T.J. Oshie, who is trying to break a personal slump. Oshie hasn’t scored a goal since Dec. 22 which is once in his last 14 games since returning from injury.’

The Swedes (Nicklas Backstrom and Andre Burakovsky) fought over the puck.

Alex Ovechkin fed Jakub Vrana a sweet backhand pass for the quick one-timer. Ovechkin was working extra hard on his passes today, as he currently sits at 499 career assists.

Drills shifted from puck deflections to 2-on-1’s. Braden Holtby looked exhausted as he laid down for a few seconds after stopping the puck before getting back up. Holtby wouldn’t be the only player “tired” at practice though. More on that later.

The Capitals headed back to their main rink to take part in more team drills. At Tuesday’s practice, they worked more on 3-on-3’s with two of their last three losses coming in overtime. On Wednesday, they did full-rink 5-on-5.

Then it was on to the power play. The Caps scored a power play goal in each of their last two games, coming from the top unit of John Carlson vs. Montreal and Alex Ovechkin vs. Philadelphia. Over on the second unit, Lars Eller broke through.

While the second unit was hard at work, the top power play unit was waiting their turn. Carlson and Evgeny Kuznetsov killed some time by passing the puck to each other.

Recently, the Caps have sometimes ended their practices with a couple of fun contests to increase the competition. These are usually popular when the team has three or four days in between game action. At the beginning of January, the team did a short rink game in the neutral zone at center ice. On Tuesday, the team did a hockey version of the Oklahoma Drill at the face-off area that Ovechkin calls his office. On Wednesday, the Caps split into two teams did a simultaneous shootout contest.

Ovechkin’s team ended up victorious.

As usual, the forwards and the defense split up to their respective sides of the rink. One difference today was Devante Smith-Pelly doing extra work on his puck deflections as he redirected each blueliner’s shot.

Over on the other end, the forwards used a tire to perfect their passing. Who’s firing the pass here? You guessed it… Ovechkin! He wants that 500th assist badly. You can read more into the drill here.

On Thursday, the team will have a morning skate at 11:30 a.m. at BB&T Arena before their game that night against the Panthers. Then the team will be off for the All Star break. Most of the Capitals will head back home or maybe go on a quick weekend getaway. For Trotz, Holtby and Ovechkin, they’ll remain in the state of Florida and head to Tampa for the All Star Game festivities.

“For me personally, it’s awesome. I’d hate to be in Vegas like we were for Christmas time and then travel 3,000 miles to get somewhere. That was more tired getting home than anything. From a wear and tear standpoint that’s good, as long as you use it appropriately. I’m not so sure I will,” Trotz joked.

After the All Star break, the Capitals will embark on a big stretch of games. First they’ll take on the Flyers and then the Penguins, two Metropolitan Division foes. Then they’ll have a Super Bowl Sunday matchup with the Vegas Golden Knights, who are the top team in the west and are just a point behind the Lightning for first place in the entire NHL. Following that? Back-to-back Metro Division clashes with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Tom Wilson talked about the importance of this upcoming home stretch.

“That’s the important hockey. That’s the fun time of the year and you have to make sure that 30-game stint to finish off (the regular season) that we have to be playing our best hockey. It’s gonna be a tight finish for sure. It’s about building our game, being ready, and then you get another crack at the fun time of year and the time of year that you’re always talking about,” said Wilson.

By Michael Marzzacco

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1 Response to News and Notes from Wednesday’s Capitals Practice: Working on Their Game

  1. Pingback: News and Notes from Thursday’s Capitals Morning Skate in Florida: A Fourth Line Mystery | NoVa Caps

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