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Barry Trotz's post-deadline message to Caps: Don't back off

Barry Trotz's post-deadline message to Caps: Don't back off

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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JJ vs. the fans bold predictions: A big night for Tom Wilson?

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USA TODAY Sports

JJ vs. the fans bold predictions: A big night for Tom Wilson?

In the very first edition of JJ vs. the fans bold predictions, no one got a single prediction right. Well, there’s nowhere to go but up!

The Caps hit the road on Friday to take on the Detroit Red Wings (7:30 p.m., NBC Sports Washington Plus). Let’s check out our predictions.

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Fan predictions:

For those who don't know, a Gordie Howe hat trick is a goal, an assist and a fight all in one game. Tom Wilson gets the promotion to the top line tonight and Wade is expecting big things. I am not so bullish on it. I think adjusting to a new line and a new side, Wilson has moved from right wing to left, will take Wilson some time.

The Caps face former defenseman Mike Green and Garrett thinks he is going to get one past Braden Holtby. This is pretty bold considering Green has yet to record a single point in five games against his former squad.

The Capitals’ defense has had its problems of late and it has certainly dragged down the penalty kill. Remember how hot the penalty kill was to start the season? Now the Caps rank 19th in the league at 78.6-percent. Still, two power play goals is a lot considering Detroit ranks 24th in the NHL with a success rate of only 14.8-percent.

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JJ’s predictions:

The Caps will allow more than two goals

Washington’s defense is not as bad as they looked against Philadelphia, but it isn't as good as they looked against Toronto either. One thing that helped against the Maple Leafs was that the game was at home. Barry Trotz could get the favorable matchups for his rookie defensemen as his team had the second change. That won’t be true on Friday in Detroit. The defense will struggle as a result.

John Carlson will play more than he did against Toronto

See above. Carlson logged a hefty 27:33 on Tuesday and that was with the Caps getting the second change. The Caps will rely even more on him on the road.

Washington will get at least two goals form players not named Ovechkin, Oshie and Backstrom

Alex Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom have 17 of the Caps’ 22 goals this season. Perhaps the big three will have another big night, but eventually the team will need someone else to step up and score. Whether because the team emphasizes it or through just dumb luck, the Caps are going to record a few points from a few of their other players on Friday.

Want to see your tweet among the fan predictions for the next game? Tweet your prediction to @JJReganNBCS every game day! Remember, we don’t just want to know who will win or the score, we want to see specifics. Be bold!

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In just one week, Madison Bowey already looks like a much improved player

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USA TODAY Sports

In just one week, Madison Bowey already looks like a much improved player

Madison Bowey’s second game went a lot better than his first and it’s not just because the Caps allowed only two goals as opposed to eight.

Despite being thrust into a significant role in his first taste of NHL experience, Bowey seemed to settle in a bit in his second contest even as it came against the NHL’s best offense in the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“Just everything in the first game felt like it happened so quick, I think,” Bowey said Thursday after the team’s practice. “It was obviously nice to come back in Washington and play in the home in front of the home crowd, get a practice in on Monday before the game Tuesday with the team. Just all the little factors that went into it definitely helped and I think it definitely felt a lot smoother out there on the ice.”

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Playing at home definitely has its benefits for the coaching staff as they try to protect the rookie defensemen. Home teams get the chance to change after the visiting team allowing the coaches to pick the matchups they want for Bowey.

More favorable matchups certainly helped him, but Bowey also seemed to play with more confidence and a level of calm that was not there against Philadelphia. For Bowey, the difference was having time to settle in and practice with the team.

“Obviously this team is one of the veteran teams in the league so to be able to practice against top players in the league, it goes a long way,” Bowey said.

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Bowey was called up for a Saturday game in Philadelphia after Matt Niskanen suffered a hand injury Friday in New Jersey. That means he quickly had to join the team and jump into the lineup for his first ever NHL game without any practice with the Caps at all.

Bowey now has two practices and two games under his belt and even a team-building day at FBI training. The effect that has had on his game was noticeable on Tuesday. It should be even more clear on Friday as the team travels to face the Detroit Red Wings.

“I feel myself improving every day,” Bowey said. “It forces you to really work hard and be on your top every day you come to the rink so for me, just having those two practices already have been huge. I feel the development's getting a lot better early.”