By Bill Sands
After their 4-3 defeat of the Dallas Stars on Tuesday night, the Washington Capitals are back on the road for a three-game swing against a trio of Eastern Conference foes. The team kicks things off with a date in Detroit on Thursday night, then plays Montreal on Saturday night for a Hockey Night in Canada match-up, and finishes things off on Monday night at Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers.
Detroit: It hasn’t been a good year for the Red Wings, who had their lengthy playoff streak snapped last year and are bound for another season without a shot at the Cup. Captain Henrik Zetterberg and former Cap Mike Green have had solid years, but it hasn’t been enough to lift a team weighed down by an aging blue line and several bad contracts. The future seems bright, with youngsters like Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha leading the way, but it should be a few more years before the Wings are contenders.
Montreal: As rough as it has been for Detroit, it’s been an even tougher year for the Canadiens. Montreal has been plagued by injuries, bad luck, and overall poor play en route to a dismal finish at the bottom of the division. The team still seems rattled by the blockbuster P.K. Subban trade last year, and injuries to Shea Weber and Carey Price have left Montreal exposed on the back end. The Caps will need to apply pressure early and often to get Montreal on their heels.
New York: After several years of being one of the top teams in the East, the Rangers’ championship window appears to be closed. The team has already begun selling off aging veterans including Rick Nash, Michael Grabner, and captain Ryan McDonagh in an effort to get younger and build for the future. Henrik Lundqvist remains an elite goaltender, but he doesn’t have much help from a young defense and retooled offense.
The common theme linking these three teams is their lowly position in the playoff race. These teams have given up on the current season and already set their sights on the future. In theory, this means the Caps should sweep this road trip, but there are no guarantees in the NHL and Washington’s last extended road trip didn’t go too well.
Holtby or Grubauer in Goal for Capitals?
Also in question is the Caps’ goaltending situation. Braden Holtby looked good on Friday night against the Islanders and made no errors Tuesday against the Stars, but it’s still telling that coach Barry Trotz went with Philipp Grubauer on Sunday in the team’s biggest game of the year to date against division rival Philadelphia. It will be interesting to see how Trotz manages his goalies throughout the road trip.
The race for the Metro Division only got tighter with Sunday’s loss to Philadelphia, so the Caps need to get at least two wins out of three to keep pace with the teams around them.