Nearly 15 minutes had passed on Monday morning before the Washington Capitals’ practice actually started to look like one.
With three days lost because of the snowstorm, including two games that were postponed, players were able to skate for the first time since Thursday morning. That meant a lot of sluggish bodies and tired legs took the ice.
“It’s the first work we’ve had in the rink,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “I feel like all of us have been burning a few calories trying to shovel snow and stuff.”
By the time the Capitals reconvene at Verizon Center on Wednesday to face the Philadelphia Flyers, they’ll have gone a whole week without playing a game. Add in the all-star break, which begins as soon as the game ends and lasts through Sunday evening, and Washington will have played in just one game in 13 days.
It’s virtually an Olympic break in a Summer Olympics year.
“Long-term, it could be good,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “An extended break, heal up, a little bit of rest — it’s always a good thing long-term, I think.”
To ease players into Monday’s practice, Barry Trotz and the Capitals’ coaching staff focused less on the finer points of their systems and underscored work that would enhance conditioning. The session ended with drills that were designed to be competitive and rewarding.
“Just make sure we’re moving up and down the rink and getting a little feel back out there and finish with, maybe, a little bit more of some competitive games and a little bit of battling,” defenseman Taylor Chorney said. “I think that if you ask around, for the most part, guys probably felt pretty good, so it should be all right.”
Among Trotz’s concerns is that the Capitals (35-8-3), who have won seven of their last eight games and lead the league with 73 points in the standings despite having played the second-fewest games, will have lost some of the momentum and “game sharpness” they had picked up during their recent run.
But, as Trotz also said, the team will have the chance to get that back once the all-star break ends. The Capitals will have played 47 games over 110 days once the break begins and will finish their regular season with 35 games in 69 days — just shy of one every other day.
That pattern will begin on Feb. 2, when the Capitals host the Atlantic Division-leading Florida Panthers. They will play every other day through Feb. 13.
Then there are the postponements. The NHL has not decided when the games against the Anaheim Ducks, scheduled for Friday, and Pittsburgh Penguins, delayed from Sunday, will be played. There is a litany of issues to consider with regards to rescheduling a game, with the most prevalent being a restriction upon teams playing three games in three days.
There are five days in the Capitals’ and Penguins’ schedules in which both teams are off, but two are taken by Washington Wizards home games and a third will occur on March 10, when the Capitals are on a three-game California swing. Each team is off and in the area on March 1, when there are no events scheduled at Verizon Center.
Rescheduling the game against Anaheim will be significantly more difficult. The Ducks make two more trips to the region, one in mid-February and one in mid-March, but play three games in four days on the first trip and three games in five days on the second. The teams, and the Honda Center, are available on March 13, when the Capitals are already in California, but Trotz was adamant on Monday the Capitals will not give up a home game to play either team.
The league could add the games at the end of the schedule and push back the start of any potential playoff series, but even then, the Wizards host the Charlotte Hornets on April 10, the day after the NHL’s regular season ends. As the primary tenant at Verizon Center, other events, such as concerts, could be rescheduled to accommodate the Capitals; the league could also move other games involving other teams, as it did following the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013.
Those permutations have the Capitals recognizing that the second part of the season will be significantly more difficult. That’s why, despite the malaise, they know to appreciate the lengthy break now.
“There’s so much to think of with revenue and all that stuff, so I don’t really know [how it will work out],” Alzner said. “Unfortunately, we’re going to get hit some time down the road and it’s going to make the schedule tougher. It’s nice now, but in the end, it will be tough.”