- The Washington Times - Friday, March 2, 2018

ARLINGTON, Va. — In outdoor NHL games of years past, predicting and preparing for the weather was always the league’s top challenge and priority. But it usually involved questions of temperature and precipitation. This week, wind has become the storyline.

The Washington Capitals were scheduled to have a team skate 3 p.m. Friday at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, one day before the Annapolis football stadium hosts the final installment of the 2018 NHL Stadium Series.

But heavy wind from a nor’easter gusting up to 60 miles per hour forced the league to cancel several Friday events at the stadium, including the Capitals‘ and Toronto Maple Leafs’ team skates. Washington moved its practice to its usual home at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.

The wind could cause some chaos if it doesn’t die down by Saturday night.

“I’ve thought about it. Maybe we’ll have to flip a coin for the ‘end zone’ like football,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “It’s part of it. You better not be too tired on the backcheck against the wind because you’ll never get back.



“Depending on what happens tomorrow, we’re going to skate in the morning if the league allows us to skate on the outdoor ice, which I’m sure they’ll want us to do,” he added.

Capitals players who haven’t taken part in an outdoor game before regretted the lost opportunity to get a feel for the layout in Annapolis.

“I’m a rookie when it comes to outdoor games,” T.J. Oshie said. “I’ll kinda direct those questions about weather towards the other guys. Some of these guys have played I think three outdoor games. Being an older guy, I’m gonna be looking to some of the younger guys on how to deal with that.”

Oshie said the players’ spatial awareness is likely to be different without fans right behind the glass like usual.

“It would’ve been nice (to practice at Navy), but we’ll just roll with the punches here,” he said. “Hopefully we can get out tomorrow morning. If not we’ll just have to adjust quickly in the first period of the game.”

Devante Smith-Pelly also hasn’t skated in an outdoor game before. He was on the Montreal Canadiens roster two seasons ago when they played the Winter Classic in Boston, but didn’t get on the ice.

“I really look forward to seeing the stadium and checking out the ice and testing it out and stuff like that,” Smith-Pelly said. “Hopefully we get a chance to skate tomorrow morning so we’re not going in blind and not testing out the ice beforehand.”

On the other hand, he said that players without prior outdoor experience still “know what it’s all about.”

“It’s gonna be a spectacle and the first couple shifts are gonna be maybe either sloppy or super, super fast,” Smith-Pelly said. “But once the excitement from the original start goes out, it’s just gonna become another game again.”

Holtby gets the start

Trotz told reporters Friday that Braden Holtby will start in goal for the Stadium Series game.

Perhaps Holtby will turn things around with the change in the calendar. He went 2-5-2 in February, allowing four goals per game, and was pulled early from three games in favor of Philipp Grubauer. Holtby is winless (0-4-2) in his last six starts, the worst such stretch of his career.

The Capitals‘ three-day break this week was especially beneficial for the goaltenders, Trotz said.

“When you’re playing every second day it’s hard to get in that necessary work because a lot of times you’re traveling,” he said. “You’ve had days off because you’re playing every second day and you’ve got some league-mandated days (off) that have to be out there.”

He added that Holtby has spent time consulting with goaltending coach Scott Murray and director of goaltending Mitch Korn during the off-stretch.

“They’re talking about all the things that goaltenders go through,” Trotz said. “Early in the year I think Gruby was playing really well, just couldn’t really get that win, and for Holtby, it’s sort of flipped a little bit lately where we just haven’t gotten a win for Holtz.”

Holtby has prior experience outdoors, winning the 2015 Winter Classic with the Capitals over Chicago. Trotz views that as an advantage they have over Toronto in case neither team gets to test out the rink ahead of the game.

Native Torontoans prep for big stage

Of the eight Canadians on Washington’s roster, two players hail from Toronto or its outlying area: Smith-Pelly and fellow forward Tom Wilson. Most players are bringing some family to this game, but considering the opponent, it is a particularly nice event for the Torontoans.

Smith-Pelly’s family usually only gets to see him play when his team is visiting Toronto, Montreal or Buffalo. For Saturday’s game, his parents, grandparents, younger brother and aunt are in town.

“As a kid from Toronto you dream about playing Hockey Night in Canada and to get to do it outside, against your favorite team growing up, all your friends and family watching, it’s gonna be exciting,” Smith-Pelly said. “I’ve been looking forward to it.”

He added that he hopes the game isn’t postponed till Sunday due to the weather, because his family has to fly home by then.

Wilson similarly said it’s “a dream come true for any kid” to face the team he rooted for on the Stadium Series stage, but he added, “Washington’s my new home. I’ve been here for five years.”

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