- The Washington Times - Monday, February 9, 2015

Barry Trotz had planned to give the Washington Capitals the day off on Monday, but after the woeful performance they had in a loss to the Philadelphia Flyers the day prior, doing so seemed hollow.

Thus, the coach made his players a promise: If they gave an honest effort in drills during the first 50 minutes late that morning, they’d be able to play a competitive, spirited game of shinny for final portion.

There they were, then, pulling the two goals toward the blue line, lining up to play two-on-two — with a twist. There were two pucks, with the first pair to score on either goal taking the victory.

The excitement, the joviality, the overall enjoyment draped on their faces was all one needed to know about how much satisfacton they had.

“It’s always fun when you’re playing a [competitive] game with one another,” right wing Joel Ward said. “It’s just another day when we can come back to the rink and hit the reset button and just try to have fun.”

The Capitals hadn’t gone through a full practice in 10 days, a byproduct of a hectic, and trying, schedule. They played seven games in 11 days entering the all-star break, then began the unofficial second half of the season with another seven games in 11 days, with the meeting with the Flyers capping off their third game in a four-day span.

“We really, essentially, played three games in two and a half days, if you think about it, because we played the 3 o’clock game [on Sunday] and we got home after the Ottawa game at around 3 [a.m. on Friday]. Those things sort of catch up.”

They did Sunday, with the Capitals falling, 3-1, in a disheartened effort against the visiting Flyers. They managed just 14 shots on goal — not only a season-low, but their fewest in nearly four years — and struggled not only on the power play, where they went 1-for-6, but also in merely keeping possession of the puck in the offensive zone.

Trotz spoke Sunday evening about the effects of not being able to have a true practice session between games, then noted Monday morning, after the dust settled, about how the grueling portion of the schedule is mostly in the past.

Washington will leave Tuesday for San Jose, where it will begin a stretch of four road games in a more-manageable seven days. After playing on consecutive nights 11 times in their first 53 games, they’ll do so five times in their final 29 games.

“I think we had one short practice in between one of those games coming out of the break there, after the Columbus game,” Trotz said, referring to that session on Jan. 30. “That’s all we’ve had, so we got a little bit sloppy, a little undetailed. It’s funny, because some games, we look like, ‘Man, we know what we’re talking about,’ and then the next game, ‘What just happened there?’ Some of it’s to do with your competition and some of it’s to do with your own mistakes and your own inability to execute.”

In that regard, the players know where they stand. The third line — left wing Brooks Laich, center Eric Fehr and Ward — took to the ice a bit early Monday, in advance of their teammates, just to get in extra work and just take a few shots on goal.

If that was the bugaboo for the Capitals on Sunday, getting those simple repetitions could be something that would help them shake it.

“We haven’t gotten a lot of shots the last few games and we haven’t been practicing at all, so it felt like a long time since we’ve been putting pucks on nets,” Fehr said. “We just wanted to go out there and work on it a little bit.”

Fatigue is always an issue at this point in the season, yet perhaps not consistently. Left wing Alex Ovechkin, who took part in All-Star Game festivities and was not granted the five-day break afforded to his teammates, was the only one permitted to take Monday off.

That up-and-down play over the past week will be tested on the road trip, where the Capitals will visit two opponents they just faced. They played one of their better games of the season Feb. 3 in a 4-0 victory over the Los Angeles Kings and prolonged what would end up being just a three-game winning streak with a shootout victory over the Anaheim Ducks on Friday.

Washington will first visit the San Jose Sharks on Wednesday before flying south for a beginning a back-to-back against the Kings and the league-leading Ducks on Saturday. That trip will wrap up with a cross-country flight and a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday.

There will be time in between for enjoyment, with the Capitals embarking upon their annual fathers’ trip — a road stretch where the players’ fathers are invited along for camaraderie.

More importantly, there will also be time for practice.

“The schedule is what it is, and it’s really not an excuse, but you’re looking for answers as to why we might not have been as good as we needed to be,” Trotz said. “I just think we’ve got to find ways to win games, if we’re really tired, by being really smart rather than being not smart.”

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