- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Jason Chimera knew the Washington Capitals were due to hit the road when his wife, Sarah, began needling him in recent days over his household duties.

“She says things run a lot smoother when I’m not around, so I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing,” joked Chimera, who has two young children. “But yeah, you know, it’s nice to get on the road. You spend some time with the guys that normally, you wouldn’t spend time with at home, for sure.”

The Capitals will kick off a three-game road trip Wednesday night in Edmonton, Chimera’s hometown. They will then play games Saturday and Sunday against Calgary and Vancouver, the latter a team they have not beaten on the road since 2001, a span of four games, and not in regulation since 1998.

The jaunt comes at a good time for Washington, which, with the exception of a few nights, has spent nearly the entire past month at home. The Capitals reconvened for the start of training camp on Sept. 19, and while they played four of their eight preseason games on the road, those trips were up-and-back for the few regular players selected to travel.

All but one of the five regular-season games have been at home, with the exception a 4-0 victory at Boston on Oct. 11 — the Bruins’ first shutout at home in nearly a year. With a 3-0-2 record and victories in their last two games, the Capitals head northwest as the only team in the Eastern Conference without a regulation loss.

“I think guys enjoy getting on the road,” said coach Barry Trotz, a native of western Manitoba. “I think there’s a bond that happens a little bit. Guys go for dinner a little bit more in bigger groups and I think that gets you into hockey mode. It’s [a] you-against-the-world-type of mentality, and we’re going into some pretty good markets, some hockey crazy markets, in Edmonton and Calgary and Vancouver, and I think that’s good for motivation for us.”

After arriving in Calgary following Wednesday night’s game, Trotz has planned for the team to take part in its first true team-building activity of the season on Thursday: Curling at a suburban ice house, allowing players to interact away from hockey, clear their minds and strengthen bonds for a few hours.

Goaltender Braden Holtby, whose older sister, Taryn, was on the team that represented Saskatchewan at the Canadian curling championships last year, said those kinds of activities can help some players get better acquainted with some of the new acquisitions, including defensemen Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen and youngsters Chris Brown, Michael Latta and Liam O’Brien.

“On the road, it forces you to get to know your teammates — especially the guys who haven’t been here before,” Holtby said. “You get together as a team outside of hockey and learn the different peoples’ personalities that way. It’s good that you see a team-building thing together on the road, and at the same time, games are harder. Games are tougher. You learn a lot more about your team and what you can do there.”

The Capitals have stolen a point in each of their two losses by pushing their opponents first to overtime, and then to a shootout. Games against Western Conference foes present the same opportunity: A chance to fatten up the record with victories outside division or conference play.

Last year, the Capitals fell three points shy of earning a wild-card spot in the playoffs in part because they lost five of their first seven games and won exactly half of their 28 games against Western Conference opponents.

The recipe for winning this week, Chimera believes, is simple. In the victory against the Bruins, the Capitals simplified their play, dumped the puck into the offensive end and chose their spots. Boston handled the puck more frequently and had an eight-shot advantage, but was still shut out.

Washington also has allowed an average of only 25 shots a game this season, which ranks second in the Eastern Conference and fifth in the league.

“When you keep it simple, it seems like you end up on the scoreboard, so you’ve just got to gut out 2-1 games and one-goal games and play some bad hockey,” Chimera said. “Dump it in and go get it and play it.”

When the Capitals return Monday following the game against Vancouver, they’ll play a more balanced schedule that won’t lead to another three-game, week-long road trip for nearly a month.

“I was kind of a little bit tired to be at home,” said left wing Alex Ovechkin. “I want to change something, so it’s going to be good for us. It’s going to be big trip for us. Especially, it’s going to be a big challenge.”

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