Through 16 games this season, the Capitals have suffered four regulation losses and each of them has come following a break of two or more days in the schedule. Barry Trotz doesn’t think that’s a coincidence, so he turned Monday’s practice into a game.
In his first practice since Friday night’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Calgary Flames, Trotz had his first and first and fourth forward lines dress in white jerseys and his second and third forward lines dress in red. Then he told them to go at it in a hard-hitting scrimmage.
“They’re not going to kill each other, but we wanted to get the intensity,” Trotz said. “That’s why we made a competition out of it -- with consequences.”
On two separate occasions, Alex Ovechkin of the white team and Marcus Johansson of the red team were checked hard to the ice and were slow to get to their feet. The red team handily won the scrimmage and was awarded post-scrimmage shootout drills. The white team was forced to do sprints.
“I think everybody needed that and liked that,” Johansson said. “We really worked. It was good.”
“That wasn’t quite training camp level, but it was as close as it gets,” Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “We talked on Saturday and guys sensed that was coming. That’s good.”
With back-to-back games against the Red Wings in Detroit on Wednesday (8 p.m., NBCSN) and at home against Dallas on Thursday (7 p.m., CSN), Trotz is trying to manufacture some kind of game rhythm for his players, who will play seven games in 11 nights following their current four-game break.
“Just like anything, when you have a little bit of a vacation or a three-day weekend, that first day back sometimes you don’t feel like you get anything done, right?” Trotz said.
“It probably applies to sports a little bit. You think you’ll be rested and sharp and ready to go, and you’re not. You lose the game touches. When you’re playing every other night you’re in a rhythm, you feel time and space better. When you get days off you can’t really replicate that.”
The Red Wings, on the other hand, were in action Monday night against the Ottawa Senators. In their first year under head coach Jeff Blashill the Wings are trying to untrack an offense that managed two or fewer goals in six straight games heading into their game in Ottawa, including a 1-0 win last Tuesday against the Caps, a game in which Ovechkin launched 15 shots at goaltender Petr Mrazek.
Niskanen said that although the Caps are playing better now than they were a year ago under Trotz, they are not playing their best hockey.
“Systematically, we’re way ahead of where we were last year,” Niskanen said, “but we have a long ways to go to get to the level we can get to.”