- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 18, 2017

As the Capitals head out on a two-game road trip that will take them through St. Louis to play the Blues on Thursday and to Dallas to play the Stars on Saturday, some familiar faces will be alongside the players, cheering them on.

The swing through Texas and Missouri marks the Capitals’ annual fathers trip, with dads or other loved ones joining the team to experience first-hand the NHL life. Family members take part in team dinners, meetings and other activities for a trip that, players say, is a great bonding experience.

“You always want to try to impress dad, it doesn’t matter how old you are,” forward Justin Williams said. “I’m 35 years old and I still want to impress Dad. I’m a veteran, and in some effects, he is as well. He’s been on quite a few of these. He enjoys it every time.”

The Capitals saw a nine-game winning streak end Monday in a high-scoring 8-7 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

One of the themes to emerge from that game was penalties — or the lack thereof.

In the second period, T.J. Oshie took a hit directly to the head that went uncalled. Then in overtime, the Penguins‘ Sidney Crosby appeared to trip Alexander Ovechkin within his own zone on another no-call. The Penguins went on to score the game-winner off Conor Sheary’s stick.

Penalties were one of the few red flags for the Capitals during the team’s recent hot streak. In their 9-1 run since Dec. 31, Washington has taken 44 penalties while drawing only 26.

Reducing penalties and avoiding confrontation with referees has become a point of emphasis for coach Barry Trotz and his Capitals.

“It’s extremely important [to not argue with officials],” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “It’s understandable sometimes because it’s an emotional game. It’s an extremely hard job to be a referee. They’re not always making the calls that you want them to make because they are hard to make. You just have to realize that and let it go. You want to have them on your good side. They’re obviously not going to give you any preferential treatment, but you want them to give you the benefit of the doubt whenever there’s an opportunity for it.”

When the Capitals take the ice in St. Louis, they will be looking to avoid the potential let-down that can follow the end of a long winning streak. The Blues are third in the deep Central Division, while the Stars, a preseason favorite to do damage in the Western Conference, have been struggling to stay relevant in the playoff discussion. Dallas, which finished first in the Central last season, still boasts a strong offensive unit led by forwards Tyler Seguin (44 points in 46 games) and Jamie Benn (38 points in 42 games).

With the Capitals shaking off Monday’s loss, the dads’ trip couldn’t come at a better time.

The idea of pairing up fathers and sons on the road originated with current Nashville Predators general manager David Poile and Trots, then the coach in Nashville. In the midst of a tough inaugural 1998-99 season, Poile saw an article about the Buffalo Sabres inviting a player’s father to travel with the team. Poile asked Trotz if bringing fathers on the road would help with the expansion team’s morale.

The idea became a tradition in Nashville and the concept has since been adopted throughout the league.

“It’s actually pretty cool,” Trotz said. “It was really David’s idea, but when he proposed it, I thought it was a great idea. I didn’t know how it was going to turn out, but we probably looked at each other and said ‘I think that’s something that we’ll do all the time,’ and we did. Teams saw the success and saw the value of it and they started emulating that.”

Trotz said having the fathers with the Capitals in St. Louis and Dallas will pay dividends.

“No one wants to be in the room with their dad when you don’t win,” Trotz said. I’m hoping the dads put a little bit of pressure on every one of their sons.”

Additional Notes

Defenseman John Carlson, who missed Monday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins with a lower body injury did not participate in the Capitals’ morning skate on Wednesday. Trotz said Carlson is doubtful to play on Thursday.

“Hershey plays tonight, so after tonight, we will see where we are,” Trotz said. “We’re planning, if we’re healthy, to just go with the group, but we may recall a defenseman.”

Trotz did say that Carlson was able to participate in some off-ice workouts and treat his injury.

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