Now that the NHL trade deadline has passed, the NHL’s stretch run is officially set to begin.
For Barry Trotz and the Capitals, that means just one thing: Keeping the accelerator firmly pressed to the floor, despite owning the best record in the league.
“Working with a lot of purpose and understanding that we’re building our game,” Trotz said Thursday, asked about his post-deadline message to the team.
“And not back off,” he added. “Everybody [else] is getting into playoff mode, let’s make sure we’re in playoff mode. As they say, ‘Let’s not go around games, let’s go through games.’ That’ll harden us for the playoffs.”
A year ago, the Caps cruised into the postseason, going 10-6-4 in their final 20 games.
Just six of those of those games were won in regulation.
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This year’s stretch run begins with a three-game home stand that kicks off with the Devils on Thursday night. The Flyers and Stars are also slated to visit Verizon Center. All three of those teams are currently out of the playoff mix.
How the Caps perform in those games could be an indication of their collective focus.
Tom Wilson, for one, knows what he wants to see from the group.
“The hockey now is kind of taking the form that it’s going to have down the stretch and into the playoffs,” Wilson said. “As we go here, there’s going to be teams that aren’t in [the playoff race] that have younger players that are trying to establish themselves and play hard against us. We’re top of the league right now, so any team that plays us is going to be putting their best foot forth.”
“There’s really going to be no easy games, whether it’s the young guys trying to work hard and establish themselves in the league on a team that’s out, or a team that’s really trying to push for that playoff spot,” Wilson continued, “the hockey really picks up. That’s perfect for us. We’re going to embrace that and hope to keep building our game.”
Asked about finding the balance between pushing hard over the final five weeks and being fresh for the playoffs, Trotz said he doesn’t think anyone on the Caps should be at risk of burning out.
“I don’t think we’ll burn out because I don’t think we’ve had to extend our lineup all year,” he said. “In the past, I could see that for some teams [because] you’re playing your top guys heavy, heavy minutes. We haven’t done that all year. If our guys come to [the media] and say, ‘Well, I’m burnt out.’ Don’t believe them. It’s just an excuse. During the year, guys have come to me and said, ‘You know I can play more. I can play more minutes.’ And I said, ‘No, this is about the long haul.’”
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