- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Bring on the Road Trip.

Olie Kolzig is quite familiar with long trips near the end of the regular season, as is anyone who has been around the Washington Capitals long enough.

Those trips often coincide with the arrival of the circus at Verizon Center, and the Caps have had a trip like the six-game stretch they embarked on yesterday nearly every year this decade.

Two seasons ago a 3-1-3 road trip in late March was one of few team-oriented highlights in a long season. In both 2001-02 and 2002-03 the Caps had journeys of at least six games in March and finished above .500 each year.

The best one came in February 2001. Washington went undefeated (five wins and a tie) during a six-game stretch away from home, part of a 15-2-2-1 run that helped rescue a season that began with only one win in the first 11 games.

“Before that trip we were all wondering what was going to happen,” Kolzig said. “It was absolutely terrific. It is streaks like that that can carry you into the playoffs.”

These Caps will be looking for a similarly productive couple of weeks. This stretch is really a pair of three-game trips with a three-day break in between, but the Caps will not play at Verizon Center again this month before closing the season with three home games.

The Caps, who play in Nashville tonight, Chicago tomorrow and Atlanta on Friday for the first half of the road swing, sit two points behind Philadelphia for eighth place in the Eastern Conference and five back of Carolina in the Southeast Division.

Teams typically want to break even on treks away from home, but six points in the next six games likely would leave the Caps with too much ground to make up in the final three games of the season.

Still, a couple of the teams Washington is chasing — notably the Flyers and the Boston Bruins — have looked vulnerable recently.

“There’s a reason why you play 82 games. Look at some teams now that are having bad endings,” Kolzig said. “We unfortunately had a bad start and have been playing catch-up ever since. But as bad is it sounds, you’d almost rather be where we are now having momentum and playing great and having the teams ahead of us worry.

“This time of year you don’t want that pressure on you, squeezing your stick going into games. When you are a team that is barely hanging on and the other teams behind keep winning, it is not an enviable position.”

This trip came about because of a pair of scheduling conflicts at Verizon: The arena is playing host to NCAA tournament games this week and the circus next week.

The scheduling difficulties put both the Caps and the Wizards in essentially the same situation. While the Caps have six straight away from home, the Wizards have a stretch of seven of eight on the road with a home game sneaked in Sunday between the two major events.

“That’s the conflict you often have,” general manager George McPhee said. “You would hope the major tenants would get more support than this. You have to look after your teams.”

Today’s game

WASHINGTON CAPITALS AT NASHVILLE PREDATORS

When: 8 p.m.

Where: Sommet Center, Nashville, Tenn.

TV/radio: CSN, FM-107.7, AM-1500

Goalies: Capitals — Cristobal Huet (24-14-6, 2.46). Predators — Dan Ellis (19-9-2, 2.40) or Chris Mason (17-20-6, 2.94)

Injuries: Capitals — Out: D Brian Pothier (concussion), C Michael Nylander (torn rotator cuff), C David Steckel (broken finger). Questionable: RW Chris Clark (strained groin tendon), D John Erskine (undisclosed). Predators — Out: C David Legwand (foot), RW Jed Ortmeyer (knee), LW Martin Gelinas (knee), RW Steve Sullivan (back surgery).

Outlook: Clark will join the team on this trip and said after practice yesterday he hopes to play at some point. He will see how he feels today after the morning skate before making a decision on tonight’s game.

Corey Masisak

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