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Weary Caps happy to be home

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The road-weary Washington Capitals finally have a break from their recent travel odyssey.

Saturday's game in Edmonton marked the end of a brutal stretch for the Caps - 13 of 17 games on the road, including seven of the past eight. While the players travel on chartered planes and stay in posh hotels, having so few days at home can be taxing for a multitude of reasons.

"Man, it feels like we've been home for about three days [this month]," Shaone Morrisonn said. "I don't even think I've unpacked. Every time I got home and just put the stuff back in the bag and went back on the road. It has been tough, but it has also been fun bonding with the guys being on the road."

Added David Steckel: "It was as bad as it's been since I've been here. It was exhausting. It wasn't like we had four nights in the same city at any point - it was two nights then onto the next city and two nights before moving onto the next and so on."

The month of December has been particularly troubling in the travel department for the Caps. There was a geographically challenged trip to Philadelphia, Tampa Bay and Buffalo and a three-game trek west for which the time zone changed after each game.

Toss in the troubles Washington had getting to Toronto for what should have been the simplest road trip because of a mechanical issue with the plane, and this month has been treacherous at times.

"It was weary - I can understand how the players were tired," coach Bruce Boudreau said. "I was tired after the second period of the Edmonton game. I said, 'We gave it what we had in the first period, and we've got nothing left.' It has just been too long a month with too long of travel. ... But they found what good teams do and good character teams do and have the juice to go out and give it one final try and they did it.

"On the plane [Sunday] I was just so tired. It is so refreshing to be here today - and to be here tomorrow. We've been here for one day, but we haven't been here for the two and three days. It is a good break."

The Caps do not play another game away from Verizon Center until Dec. 30 at San Jose. The 10-day stretch without a road tilt is the longest since mid-October.

Washington hasn't played a Saturday home game since Nov. 7 but will break a string of seven straight on the road this weekend against New Jersey. The Caps haven't been home for an entire weekend since the calendar moved past October.

"Especially around the holidays it is tough," captain Chris Clark said. "I got my Christmas lights up on Thanksgiving because that was a day off, but after that I think we only had one day at home where you could really do anything. I still need to get some shopping done."

Despite all of the globetrotting, one place where it hasn't affected the Caps is in the standings. Washington's victory in Edmonton meant the 2009-10 club was the fastest in team history to 50 points, and it kept the Caps within a point of New Jersey and Pittsburgh for the top spot in the NHL standings.

The schedule doesn't get that much easier between now and the middle of January - only five of the next 10 are at home, with trips to the West Coast and Florida. But after that, seven of the next nine contests will be at Verizon Center, and a bonus for all the extra early travel is that Washington finishes the season with seven of its final 10 games at home.

"I think we've done a good job," Brooks Laich said. "With a real tough schedule we could have fallen back into the pack or we could distance ourselves. It is not an easy thing to do, but our team has focused and played through some road weariness and fatigue and still managed to maintain our lead in the division.

"That's just the schedule - I'd rather play more road games now than be on the road a lot in March and April when you're more fatigued. It is tough, and I understand it is tough for guys to be away from their families at this time of the year, but that's the way the schedule is because of the Olympics. I think we're through the worst of it, and we've dealt with it well."