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Afternoon Delight – The Caps start a three-game homestand on Saturday afternoon against the Vancouver Canucks. The game finishes off the season’s series between the two teams; the Caps rallied from a 5-1 deficit on Oct. 25 and came back to defeat the Canucks 6-5 in a Friday night game in Vancouver earlier this season.
This is Washington’s second afternoon game of the season, and the first one went poorly. That was back on Oct. 14, when the Caps hosted Colorado on Canadian Thanksgiving. The Avalanche scored on its first three shots of that game, rolling to a 6-3 victory over the Capitals. It’s one of only four regulation losses the Caps have suffered in 24 games this season.
Today against Vancouver, the Caps will aim for a better start as they try to adjust their body clocks for early afternoon hockey.
“They are routine-based athletes for sure, that rely on that for their preparation,” says Caps coach Todd Reirden, speaking of NHL players in general, “So we give them a couple of things to do, earlier in the day than they normally would.
“Other than that, we try to limit the number of video meetings where you turn the lights off early in the morning. So there really won’t be any of those, and immediately they get into their normal game day routine. We don’t change much in terms of their arrival time and what preparation we do, both in terms of special teams and our 5-on-5 stuff.”
Since the outset of their Stanley Cup championship season in 2017-18, the Caps have had difficulty with regular season afternoon games. Washington is 11-9-2 in afternoon contests over that span, for a points pct. of .545. But in night games over the same time period, the Caps have rolled up a much gaudier 101-44-17 mark, which translates to a .676 points pct.
Birthday Boy – The Caps have two birthday boys today, as Nicklas Backstrom celebrates his 32nd birthday and Garnet Hathaway celebrates his 28th birthday. Neither will play against the Canucks; Backstrom is still day-to-day with an upper body injury while Hathaway will be serving the second game of his three-game NHL suspension.
Growing up in Kennebunkport, Maine, Hathaway became a Caps fan as a kid, largely because his older brother latched onto the Caps as his favorite team at a young age. Twenty-one years ago this week, Hathaway and his family traveled down from Maine to see the Caps play in Boston on a Saturday afternoon as part of the celebration of young Garnet’s seventh birthday.
“We always parked in the Government Center lot, and walked over to the game,” remembers Hathaway, who saw a few Caps-Bruins games at TD Garden as a youth. “We were lower bowl in the corner. It was always special. Those are great memories.”
That November 21, 1998 Caps-Bruins game – also a Saturday matinee – turned into quite the memorable event.
With Boston leading 2-0 midway through the first period, an old-fashioned donnybrook broke out on the ice. All 12 players – including the goaltenders, the Caps’ Olie Kolzig and the Bruins’ Byron Dafoe, who served as the best man at each others’ weddings – squared off and had at each other, and all 12 were subsequently ejected from the game.
Washington lost Kolzig, defensemen Mark Tinordi and Dmitri Mironov and forwards Craig Berube, Dale Hunter and Ken Klee. Boston lost Dafoe, defensemen Don Sweeney and Grant Ledyard, and forwards Ken Belanger, Peter Ferraro and Kan Baumgartner. Rick Tabaracci took over in net for the Caps and Robbie Tallas for Boston.
Benches were sparsely populated the rest of the way, and several players had to step up and absorb a much larger workload than normal. Sergei Gonchar (33:36) and Joe Reekie (32:15) led the Caps in ice time, and Adam Oates (27:54) and Joé Juneau (27:18) led the forwards. Boston blueliner Raymond Bourque (39:20) led all players on both sides, and Boston center Jason Allison, a former Cap who scored the game-winner that afternoon, led B’s forwards with 25:04.
“At that age, you kind of feed off the crowd around you,” says Hathaway, “and when they stand up, you can’t see, unless you’re standing on the chair. I remember standing on the chair and trying to see, trying to look over people. I’m sure my dad was holding my brother and me as high as he could so we could see. I remember seeing Kolzig skating down, and later finding out that they were the best man at each other’s wedding. It doesn’t really set in at that point. But later on down the road thinking about it, it’s a pretty crazy story.”
Asked who his favorite Caps of that era was, Hathaway rattles off a few names.
“My brother was a huge Kolzig fan,” he says, “so it was tough not to lean on my big brother for advice for that. But those were the days of [Peter] Bondra, who was just unbelievable. When I got a Calle Johansson stick, that turned me a little bit. They had Oates, Juneau, and Chris Simon, too.”
Boston won that game 21 years ago, 5-4, on Allison’s overtime goal.
In The Nets – Braden Holtby gets the net for Saturday’s matinee match against Vancouver. Holtby’s streak of seven straight victories was halted on Wednesday when the Caps fell 4-1 to the Rangers in New York. In seven November starts this season, Holtby is 6-1-0 with a 2.25 GAA and a .926 save pct.
Lifetime against the Canucks, he is 5-2-0 with a shutout, with a 2.44 GAA and a .914 save pct.
For the Canucks, we’re expecting to see Jacob Markstrom in net. Markstrom is coming off a season-high 45-save performance in Vancouver’s 6-3 win over the Predators in Nashville on Thursday, his sixth win of the season.
Markstrom is still seeking his first-ever victory over the Capitals. Lifetime against Washington, he is 0-7-1 with a 3.59 GAA and an .887 save pct.
All Lined Up – Here is a look at how we expect the Capitals and the Canucks to look on Saturday afternoon in the District when they get together for the second and final time this season:
8-Ovechkin, 92-Kuznetsov, 43-Wilson
13-Vrana, 20-Eller, 77-Oshie
14-Panik, 18-Stephenson, 72-Boyd
47-Malenstyn, 23-Sgarbossa, 28-Leipsic
19-Backstrom (upper body)
26-Dowd (upper body)
62-Hagelin (upper body)
70-Pearson, 40-Pettersson, 6-Boeser
9-Miller, 53-Horvat, 71-MacEwen
17-Leivo, 88-Gaudette, 18-Virtanen
59-Schaller, 44-Graovac, 21-Eriksson
20-Sutter (lower body)
64-Motte (lower body)
26-Roussel (lower body)
79-Ferland (upper body)
83-Beagle (upper body)