The Washington Capitals have just finished a spectacular home stand, winning six out of their six home games. With last night’s win over the Anaheim Ducks, they have climbed to the tippy top of the Metropolitan Division. However, the Caps get to look forward to an interesting road trip out west before Christmas and then a long time rivalry after the unwrapping of Christmas gifts.
First stop is in Dallas, home of Jamie Benn and the Stars. Dallas has always been a threat to the Caps, especially in their barn. There a lot of weapons the Stars have to use: their captain Benn, Tyler Seguin, Alex Radulov, John Klingberg, hot-headed scrapper Antoine Roussel, and tall goaltender Ben Bishop. All of these gentlemen are established and have made a name for themselves in some form of fashion. Caps will see a lot of talent from this team in Dallas and should play their game to the best of their ability. Match their speed, win those battles in the corner, get big bodies in front of Bishop (Alex Chiasson and Tom Wilson), throw the biscuit on net and the Caps may squeeze by with a victory at the American Airlines Center.
Next, Caps will head to the desert where Oliver Ekman-Larsson and the Arizona Coyotes reside. The Yotes may not be one of the most ‘threatening’ teams, but they do have some punch to their lineup. I would expect Philipp Grubauer to start this game. Max Domi, son of famed enforcer Tie Domi, is just like his father. He’s not afraid to get in your face and drop the gloves, at the same time, he can put up points. Clayton Keller is a contender for the Conn Smyth Trophy this year with 25 points (12 goals and 13 assists) in 35 games. The kid can score and Caps need to make sure they contain him the entire game. Derek Stepan is also a scoring force to be reckoned with, who was acquired from the New York Rangers in the offseason. Caps should just continue to play their own game, not buy into theirs and they should be fine.
The day after, they will travel to Sin City to face the Vegas Golden Knights. The Knights have made an incredible impression on the NHL with a record of 20-9-2, placing themselves 2nd in the Pacific Division. This’ll be a very strange reuniting with ex-Caps defenseman Nate “Smiley” Schmidt, who was claimed in the expansion draft. Leading the charge is James Neal, who has been outstanding for their club. He scored the very first goal for the expansion and has established a captain’s mentality for the team. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him with the ‘C’ on his jersey next season. Another threat on their offense is ex-Blue Jacket William Karlsson, who has climbed his way to center the Golden Knight’s top line. He is basically their Nicklas Backstrom, making plays and producing points. Finally, their ‘main attraction’ is ex-Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who has just come back after being on IR. This was a bitter-sweet parting for Pittsurgh’s hockey club because he lead them to back-to-back Stanley Cups and has been there for so many years, but with younger goalie Matt Murray stepping in as replacement, it was the best move for the club’s future. Caps must work their tail off this game. This Vegas team is extremely talented and will surely come out swinging against the Capitals. This’ll be a true test for Washington and I sure hope the boys have some juice left in the tank for this one.
After the Christmas break, the Capitals will faceoff at Madison Square Garden against Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers. This team hasn’t been as elite as they once were, but still hold talent amongst their lines. In the offseason, ex-Caps blueliner Kevin Shattenkirk found a home in New York, earning a spot on their top defense pair with Ranger’s captain Ryan McDonagh. Mika Zibanijad is their top line’s center, who established a fine reputation in Ottawa and was traded to New York a couple of seasons ago. He has continued to sculpt his positive reputation with the Rangers as a playmaker. Chris Kreider has had a Tom Wilson style of play to him and is known as a Caps-killer. He caused the most problems for the Capitals his rookie year in the second round of the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs, where he scored twice to help eliminate the Caps. Since then he has been a hard-hitting force for New York.
This’ll be a tough road trip for Washington, but Alex Ovechkin and the Caps know what’s to be expected. They know what needs to be done in order to beat these teams. Follow @Jurky88 and @InColdPlacesDC on Twitter for fan coverage of all games on the road, go Caps go!
p.s. Brittney will be live tweeting warmup and photos from Las Vegas….and Nate Schmidt!