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With a tight race at the top, the Caps have plenty of incentive to finish strong

With a tight race at the top, the Caps have plenty of incentive to finish strong

Last season, the Caps owned a laughable 17-point lead in the Metropolitan Division on this date.

A year later, the Caps’ situation couldn’t be more different.

Barry Trotz and Co. still are in first place as the red-hot Flames come to town. But they share the division perch with the Blue Jackets (100 points apiece), while the Penguins and Rangers lurk just behind with 99 and 93 points, respectively.

And, oh yeah, Washington, Columbus and Pittsburgh are also 1-2-3 in the league standings.

Which leads us to the most discussed topic following Tuesday’s morning skate: Might a tighter race benefit a Caps’ team that coasted to the finish line a year ago simply because it could?

Nicklas Backstrom, for one, anticipates that it will.

“It’s very hard to shut the game on and off however you want,” Backstrom said. “So I think it’s a good opportunity [in] these last 11 games to make sure we play good hockey. We want to be a hard-working team and have all four lines going.”

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Backstrom pointed to the last three games—wins over Minnesota and at Tampa as well as an overtime loss to Nashville—as proof that the Caps have indeed turned things around after scuffling for a bit.  

“I feel like it’s on the way up,” Backstrom said. “Maybe 80, 85-percent. But I think we can play a lot better.”

Another pivotal stretch begins Tuesday against Brian Elliott and the Flames. Calgary has won 12 of its last 13 games and Elliott has won his last 11 starts.

The three-game home stand continues Thursday with a crucial game against Columbus and then wraps up Saturday against lowly Arizona.

The Caps own the second most wins on home ice (28) and considering what’s at stake, this would be a really good time for them to hit their stride. 

In addition to wanting to enter the playoffs on a roll, the Caps would be well-served by finishing first and hosting the eighth seed in the first round. The alternative? Well, it's not so pretty. As things stand now, slipping to second could set up a potential opening-round series against the Blue Jackets or the Penguins.

“You’re aware of it, for sure,” Backstrom said. “It’s going to be a battle to the end, to the last game. We want to keep this first spot [and] make sure we’re playing good hockey these last 11 games.”

Trotz also wants the Caps to finish first, of course. But he was quick to point out that he’s just as interested in seeing his team finish on the upswing.

“Every point right now is critical,” Trotz said. “We did a shootout drill [Monday] because we might need an extra point in the shootout. Going down the stretch we’re going to try to get as many points as we can. If we finish where we want to finish, great. If we finish lower, then that’s going to be the route we have to take. There’s nothing wrong with it; that’s the route we have to take, accept it and go through it.”

As for the importance of sprinting to the line, Trotz said: “You’re more confident. You trust your game more. You know it’s going to get ramped up and you’re closer to the mark than when you’re just easing yourself into it. So I think that will help us prepare for the playoffs, if we put the right focus in all those areas. It’s going to be a great race. It’s going to be a great opportunity for us to get trust back in our game in any areas that we don’t trust it, and get some real, strong emphasis in some areas where we can even be better. It's should be fun”

“Drop the puck,” he added, “let’s go.”

MORE CAPITALS: Winnik calls current playoff format 'the stupidest thing ever'

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How to Watch: Maple Leafs at Capitals: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream

How to Watch: Maple Leafs at Capitals: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream

Sitting firmly at third place in their respective divisions, the Capitals and Maple Leafs are both eager to grab another win for themselves in this classic Atlantic vs Metropolitan division matchup. 

Here is everything you need to know about the Wednesday night game, which takes place at 7:00 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Washington.


What: Toronto Maple Leafs at Washington Capitals, Game 8 of the 2019-20 NHL Regular Season

Where: Capital One Arena, Washington, D.C.

When: 7:00 p.m. ET

TV Channel: The Capitals vs Maple Leafs game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington (NBC Sports Washington Channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can live stream Capitals vs Maple Leafs on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page and on the NBC Sports App.

Radio: Caps 24/7 Radio, 106.7 The Fan FM


6:00 PM: Caps Faceoff Live

6:30 PM: Caps Pregame Live

7:00 PM: Capitals vs Maple Leafs

9:30 PM: Caps Postgame Live

10:00 PM: D.C. Sports Live

10:30 PM: Caps Overtime Live


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There’s no setback, but just when Michal Kempny will return remains uncertain

There’s no setback, but just when Michal Kempny will return remains uncertain

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Around the time when the Colorado Avalanche scored its fourth goal to take a 4-0 lead on Monday, the Twitter questions started rolling in. “When is Michal Kempny coming back?”

The Caps’ top-pair left defenseman has yet to play this season after tearing his hamstring in March. His loss was a major factor in the team’s first-round defeat to the Carolina Hurricanes in the playoffs and has led to inconsistent defensive play to start the season.

But the Caps’ defense is going to have to figure out how to defend against the star-studded Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday without Kempny as head coach Todd Reirden declared after practice on Tuesday that Kempny will not play.

“We're getting close,” Reirden said. “That's at least today's report on him without having spoken to our trainer or team doctor anything right now. I just know that he took another step in terms of visually from me that he is getting closer and closer to game action.”

At the start of training camp, the hope was that Kempny would be able to return for the start of the season. He was not. The team elected not to place him on long-term injured reserve which requires a player to miss 10 games. Now seven games into the season, Kempny’s timetable remains uncertain.

When asked if he was hopeful Kempny could return for Friday’s game against the New York Rangers, Reirden did not sound all that confident.

“I am, yeah. I mean, I'm hopeful every time I walk into the training room.”

For the timeline to keep getting pushed back has raised concerns over whether Kempny has suffered a setback in his recovery, but Reirden insists that is not the case.

“There's not nothing to be concerned about,” he said. “If there was a setback I would let you know. There isn't one. He's going on the path he's supposed to be going on and many other people would have this as a longer-term injury than it already has been so he's doing great.”

Kempny was cleared for contact on Oct. 2. and has been a full participant at practice ever since. Getting him back to a point where the doctors and the team can feel comfortable about getting him into the lineup, however, has proven difficult.

Even after losing four of their first seven games to start the season including all three home games, Reirden says the team is committed to remaining patient and cautious with Kempny’s recovery.

“It's making the choice that's the right thing for our organization and for Michal,” he said. “I think that we've been really happy with the development of this player since we got him and saw the strides he made last year and then we were able to realize how big of a loss he would be when we didn't have him. I think that doing anything now to set him up for anything less than success is not worth it. We have to view the risk versus reward and there won't be any risk, it will be that he is 100-percent cleared, ready to go and ready to play.”