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Why sleep is so important in the NHL and how the Caps make sure they get enough of it

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Why sleep is so important in the NHL and how the Caps make sure they get enough of it

Life is busy. Between work, family and the other responsibilities that adulthood brings, sometimes there just are not enough hours in the day to get everything done.

We’ve all been there. When things get busy, if you’re like many Americans, sleep often becomes the casualty.

According to the CDC, more than a third of American adults are not getting at least seven hours of sleep a night on a regular basis. It’s an unfortunate cycle where we feel too tired to get everything done, but then sacrifice sleep to finish everything we need to.

Lack of sleep effects everyone in their jobs, but what about when maintaining physical health is a part of your job?

That’s the challenge the Washington Capitals and all professional hockey players face.

“You've got to get your sleep,” Nicklas Backstrom said. “Otherwise, it's going to be hard perform at the highest level.”

“It's the most important thing,” Travis Boyd said. “I put it as more important than nutrition.”

Sleep is important for a person’s overall health, reflexes and focus, all of which are important for a professional athlete. One of the most important aspects of sleep is how it helps the body recover.

Your body needs to recover after grueling workouts. The NHL season lasts from mid-September through the beginning of April with training camp, the preseason and 82 regular season games. A long playoff run can extend the season into June and add a maximum of 28 games.

Seven months of games and practices is a long, grueling season and the players need to consistently get enough sleep in order to play at their best throughout.

“It's very important recovery wise,” Brooks Orpik said. “I think there's times where you can get away with it like a day after and some guys think it doesn't affect them, it might not be the next day but it definitely catches up to you especially with the kind of schedule that we play.”

“Personally, for me, the difference between getting six hours of sleep and playing a game vs. getting eight vs. taking a nap or not, I can tell right away,” Boyd said. “I think it just goes into playing at 100-percent and if you want to play at 100-percent of what you're capable of playing at, you need to get a good amount of sleep.”

But even with the importance the players place on sleep, sometimes they just cannot get all that they need.

A regular 7 p.m. game will end around 9:30 p.m. That’s not too late if you assume the players simply shower, go home and go to bed.

Coming down from the physical high of a game, however, is easier said than done.

“It's just hard in general to wind down after games as it is for how jacked up and how your senses are,” Boyd said. “You've got every sense going. I'd be surprised if there's a guy in here that was sleeping before one in the morning after a game and then that might be three or four hours after the game, but that's how wired your body is, that's how alert it is. It takes some time to come down.”

When you have practice the next morning, not getting to bed until late will affect your performance the next day. Travel obviously makes things worse.

The amount of traveling required of players, especially when it comes to back-to-back games, makes it extremely difficult for players to get the amount of rest they know they need.

“The travel is probably at least as much of a reason for what wears your body down, sometimes even more than the games I find,” Lars Eller said. “It's really the travel that wears your body out during the course of a season.”

None of the players expect any sympathy when it comes to travel. It is not as if they are waiting in a security line with the general public at the airport and staying in a cheap motel on the side of the road. The players fly on chartered planes and stay in nice hotels.

Traveling in style, however, does not make up for a lack of sleep. When a team plays in a game, goes from the arena to the airport and arrives in a different city in the early morning hours, there is no way for the players to get the seven or more hours of sleep they need to play at the top of their game.

“If you had your perfect routine, you're going home, you're going to bed at 10 and then sometimes you travel on those back-to-backs and you're getting into your hotel at two so you're thrown off a little bit,” Orpik said. “I think being consistent with your wake ups, then all of a sudden you kind of have that internal alarm clock where even if you set your alarm for 9:30, you're getting up at seven. I know that's something I struggle with a lot of times.”

And then of course there is the ultimate enemy of sleep that plagues many of the Capitals’ players: Kids.

“When you go through having young kids, you just adapt to having less sleep so it's kind of weird for me to get an eight-hour sleep now,” Braden Holtby said.

Having kids is simultaneously rewarding and exhausting. A teething baby doesn’t care if you have a game that night and a crying toddler doesn’t care if you are late to practice.

There is no denying that professional athletes do not live normal lives, but no amount of fame or money matters to a young child. When it comes to being a parent, players feel about as helpless as the rest of us.

“It's not even if your kid's getting up in the middle of the night,” Boyd said, “It's you spend the whole day watching your kid and finally you get them to sleep, it's 9 o’clock and that's the first time all day where you can actually sit down and get what you need to get done whether that just be I got to go email these two people and I was going to look this up or buy something online, whatever it is, your only time to do that is later that night. So it becomes a little bit of a challenge to make sure that you're getting enough sleep along with just doing the things that you would like to do in your day-to-day life.”

Perhaps no one knows how much of a challenge kids can be more than defenseman John Carlson.

Carlson has two sons, Lucca and Rudy. Rudy was born during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, right before Game 5 of the second round against the Pittsburgh Penguins, to be specific.

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My boys! Lucca + Rudy

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Newborn babies are a lot of hard work. For the first two months, babies need to eat about every three hours, day and night.

Carlson, however, did not miss a single game and scored in Game 5. In the 14 games after his son’s birth, Carlson scored three goals and ten total points.

What was Carlson’s secret to making sure he was well rested for each game? His wife, of course.

“My wife did it all, pretty much,” he said.

“She wanted me to feel my best and sleep is paramount. So she took the brunt of the pain and misery of those sleepless nights on her own until we obviously finished.”

Carlson is not alone. An understanding wife is something many players rely on when it comes to kids.

“A lot of athletes probably has a good better half to take care of that,” Backstrom said. “Every time it's game day, they're being very helpful for us. They know we have an important job to do.”

No one is able to get the right amount of sleep every single day, however. To combat that and the fatigue of a grueling season, there is also the treasured hockey tradition of the pregame nap.

“You do it more for to try and make up for it at night because you know you're not going to get the right amount after a game or after a travel game,” Holtby said. “Won't get to bed until 2, 2:30, something like that. So you try and make up for it that way.”

There is a danger to all this focus on sleep, however, and that is getting too much.

Is there really such a thing as too much sleep? As ridiculous as this may sound to many, getting too much sleep is something the more experienced players learned and now warn against.

“You've got to manage your rest, but as you get older you don't need as much sleep or anything,” Holtby said. “I find oversleeping actually makes me worse than getting less.”

“I think when I was younger there's probably times when I got too much sleep,” Orpik said. “Trying to explain that to some of the younger guys now, they look at you kind of confused. I think it's all about kind of finding a routine that works for you and same thing with sleep. I think you've got to find kind of that sweet spot where how many hours you get where you get recovered enough, but not too many where you feel sluggish all day.”

Managing sleep is all about figuring out what works for you and your body as every person’s body reacts differently. Some players need only seven hours while others need eight or nine plus a pregame name. When you find that sweet spot, that perfect amount of sleep you need to recover from a long day and rest for the next, making sure you can get that amount each and every night is something athletes emphasize. Their jobs depend on it.

For a lot of people, when life gets busy, sleep is often the casualty. We have all had that feeling at times when we are just too busy to sleep. For a professional hockey player, however, when taking care of yourself physically is part of the job, sleep is vitally important and players cannot afford to lose sleep even when life gets in the way.

“Whenever you have a chance to get sleep, everyone in here is told to sleep no matter if it's a nap or whenever it is,” Boyd said. “If you have a chance to sleep, sleep. It's going to be beneficial at some point down the line.”

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Capitals vs. Blue Jackets: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream, how to watch

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NBC Sports Washington

Capitals vs. Blue Jackets: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream, how to watch

With three straight wins in their California trip, the Capitals are coming back to some much-needed home cooking. Washington will look to win their seventh game in a row.

The Blue Jackets are on a three-game losing skid and will look to get themselves out of the Metro Division basement with a much-needed win.

Can the Caps keep their winning streak going? Tune in to find out.

CAPITALS-BLUE JACKETS: HOW TO WATCH

What: Washington Capitals vs. Columbus Blue Jackets

Where: Capital One Arena, Washington, DC

When: Monday, December 9, 7:00 p.m. ET

TV Channel: Capitals-Blue Jackets game will be broadcast on NBC Sports. (NBC Sports channel finder)

Live Stream: You can watch the Capitals-Blues preseason on NBC Sports live stream page.

Radio: Caps Radio 24/7

CAPITALS-BLUES TV SCHEDULE:

6:00 PM: Caps Faceoff Live

6:30 PM: Caps Pregame Live

7:00 PM: Capitals vs. Blue Jackets (LIVE)

9:30 PM: Caps Postgame Live

10:00 PM: D.C. Sports Live

10:30 PM: Caps Overtime Live

CAPITALS-BLUE JACKETS INJURY REPORT:

Capitals: C Nicklas Backstrom, upper-body injury, day-to-day

Blue Jackets: RW Brandon Dubinsky, wrist, long-term injured reserve

D Markus Nutivaara, upper-body injury, injured reserve

D Zach Werenski, upper-body injury, injured reserve

CAPITALS AT BLUE JACKETS PLAYERS TO WATCH:

Jonas Siegenthaler, D, Capitals (1-4-5)

While all the attention paid to the Caps defense is on John Carlson, Siegenthaler is quietly putting together a stout campaign. As part of the penalty-killing unit and on the third pairing with Radko Gudas, Siegenthaler could have a busy night ahead of him.

Seth Jones, D, Blue Jackets (4-12-16)

The son of former-NBA player Popeye Jones, Seth is making noise around the NHL for his steady play on the defensive end with his playmaking abilities on offense. He'll be quarterbacking the Columbus powerplay.

Pierre-Luc Dubois, F, Blue Jackets (10-8-18)

Chosen third overall in the 2016 entry draft, Dubois currently leads Columbus in points this season. He's been shut down for the last five games, recording only one assist, so he'll be looking to get his scoring touch back.

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A Vrana steal, a Kuznetsov surprise and more shenanigans between the Caps and Ducks

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A Vrana steal, a Kuznetsov surprise and more shenanigans between the Caps and Ducks

For the first time in franchise history, the Capitals have swept all three California teams on the road. The final win came on Friday in a 3-2 narrow defeat of the Anaheim Ducks. The game was full of shenanigans, some of which were cheeky and fun, but others were cruel and tragic.

Check out the game recap here.

Observations from the win

Just let them fight

We all remember what happened the last time these two teams played between Garnet Hathaway and Erik Gudbranson. It was no surprise to see those two lock horns in the second period, but the moment Gudbranson dropped his gloves, the refs were pulling the two apart preventing the fight.

The game devolved from there. In total, there was 66 PIM distributed in this game and I can't help but think most of it could have been avoided had the refs just let Hathaway and Gudbranson fight it out initially.

Why were they so quick to step in? I'm guessing that was the line in the sand drawn by the refs in an attempt by to keep control of the game and both players were told this is what would happen if they tried to fight. Rather than calm the game down, however, that seemed to make things worse.

Hathway and Gudbrandson ended up fighting in the third period anyway so what was the point of stopping them?

That sure sounds like they just needed to get that initial fight out of the way. That would have been better for both teams. Gudbranson's took an extra two minutes on the original fight attempt and the Caps scored on the resulting power play. Washington, meanwhile, sure seemed to get distracted by all the fisticuffs and scrums as the game went along, quickly losing control of a game it led 2-0.

Offside reviews stink and the NHL should get rid of them

Anaheim had a goal disallowed after a coach's challenge showed that Cam Fowler lifted up his back toe just before the puck crossed over the blue line. Once again, the game was slowed down so the refs could review a play and break down the video pixel by pixel to see if a player was just a hair offside. It saved the Caps a goal, but it was another example of the ridiculous standard linesmen now must stick to when judging if a play was offside or not.

The Ducks did not gain an advantage by the fact that Fowler's toe barely came off the ice right before the puck crossed. That's not the spirit in which the rule was intended.

Just please get rid of the offside review.

Context

The Caps swept a four-game road trip for just the second time in franchise history and they did it without Nicklas Backstrom and with Alex Ovechkin scoring in only one of those four games. They could actually be even better than what we saw  Friday.

Turning point

Anaheim tied the game at 2 just 45 seconds into the third period. They had complete control of the game. They were getting prolonged offensive opportunities in the Caps' zone and Washington's offensive structure was non-existent. They were skating the puck in, shooting and that was about the extent of the Caps' offense at that point.

Everything changed with one bad turnover.

Play of the game

Ovechkin is the team's most dangerous weapon on the power play. Getting the puck to him is priority one. Having said that, the Caps have a lot of weapons on the power play and they don't always utilize them. 

Washington's power play system is run on the half-wall. From there the puck is distributed, but rarely do they ever shoot from that position. They should because it would force defenses to account for it, but they don't and so you can understand why this shot from Evgeny Kuznetsov from the half-wall seemed to catch goalie Ryan Miller by complete surprise.

Stat of the game

The win completes a four-game sweep of the road trip. Does it seem like the Caps are really good on the road this season? That's because they are.

Quote of the game


Fan predictions

This is impressive. You nailed it and you got pretty specific too. There were only three misconducts, but still I'm very impressed.

A bit off on the score, but you got to see a Caps win.

Ha.

There was plenty of this. A total of 66 PIM were issued in this game.

Well, it was nuts but it didn't get that nuts.

Just about everything that could happen to Radko Gudas did in this game...but he still didn't score.

I did, but barely. I am going to guess we lost a few people along the way.