• Sam Obermyer

For Washington, The Test Starts Now

Mis à jour : août 12

The games are about to get real for the Washington Capitals.

After a week of playing three round robin games, which were part playoffs, part regular season and part exhibition, the Capitals will get their first real taste of bubble playoff hockey when they face-off with the New York Islanders on Wednesday afternoon.

And just to make things more fun leading the Islanders is the man who delivered Washington it’s first Stanley Cup two summers ago.

“It's not Barry Trotz vs. Todd Reirden or any of those types of things,” said Reirden, the current Capitals head coach. “It's gonna be a team effort.”

Trotz down played any advantage he will have.

“I've spent some time with a lot of their players. There's a lot of new players. So it just gives me a little insight on some of their tendencies. That's all.”

Capitals forward Tom Wilson said facing his old head coach, along with former associate coach Lane Lambert, will make for an interesting series.

“We went through a fun time with those guys. Similar time of year, so might be a little bit of a chess match. But we're confident in our group, our coaching staff. We're on the same page, we buy into the system.”

Washington goaltender Braden Holtby knows to beat Trotz’s Islanders the Capitals will need to be at the top of their game.

“If we out work them or match their work ethic we know we're going to have success and it's going to be a hard series, fun series. It's gonna make for some really good hockey and right now it's up to us to make sure we're mentally committed.”

Holtby was a bright spot for Washington in the round robin games.

“He’s for sure been our best player. That's no question,” said Capitals forward T.J. Oshie “He's tracking the puck very well. I'm not a goalie coach so I can't tell you anything about his mechanics, but it seems like he's seeing the ice and seeing the game really well. He's anticipating right, he's making huge saves at big times for us.”

With backup Ilya Samsonov, who started 22 games this season, out of the playoffs an injury the Capitals will need Holtby to keep making those big saves if they are going to go on another Cup run.

“He's been able to reestablish some of the habits and the details in his game that have given him success in the past,” Reirden said. “He looked probably the sharpest and freshest that I've seen him last game against Boston. Hopefully he’ll continue to build on that. I think he's headed in the right direction, that's for certain.”

While Holtby shined the rest of the round robin wasn’t always as bright for the Capitals who went 1-2 including a lackluster performance in the second game vs. Philadelphia.

“There needs to be improvement,” Reirden said. “There's another gear, there's another level to our game that we haven't gotten to yet, since we've been here.”

Oshie said the round robin games gave them a chance to put themselves in situations and mentally prepare for the high intensity games to come.

“Summer hockey, if you will, the offense is pretty easy when you're playing shinny and no one is really playing for real. You got to work a lot harder to score a goal, got to work harder to get in position to score goals and things happen a lot faster. We definitely need more offense. If not goals then at least chances and momentum from the top six here. There's another gear for us and I think the offense will follow once we get there.”

The Capitals know they need to adjust quickly now that they are playing in a win or go home series.

“These round robin games are pretty high intensity, but it's going to be another level,” said assistant captain Nicklas Backstrom. “It's time for us to get ready. That's just a fact. If we're not ready, that's just gonna make a quick exit.”

Playing a team that has already faced a playoff series could put the Capitals at a disadvantage.

“They have a couple of meaningful games that they played, and so they may be a little bit more comfortable,” Oshie said.

Washington forward Garnet Hathaway wasn’t sure what kind of disadvantage not having played in as meaningful games will be.

“You're gonna be as prepared as you were when you got ready for those round robin games. As a team, we were trying to play our best hockey, and we were trying to get in the mentality that that was a round one, even though you're not facing them in a series,” Hathaway said.

”Those teams that have played a team in the best of five series, they've been grinding. They've been in a tough spot, do or die for that entire time they were playing so it's a mentality that we've been bringing to the room and we've talked about. So you don't have to go into game one and try and have an instant on/off switch and try and change the mentality.”

Islanders forward Jordan Eberle said with this format being new for everyone he wasn’t sure if they would have an advantage after already playing the series vs. Florida.

“Maybe that gives us a little bit of an advantage to play more key games but you watched the round robin games between all the four teams they got more intense as it went on. So I expect that we'll get their best right off the bat.”

Despite the Capitals self-critiques, their opponent in the first game, a 3-2 shootout loss to Tampa Bay, had praise for what he saw.

“I consider them one of the best teams in this league,” said Lightning head coach John Cooper. “That's a recent Stanley Cup champion. I'm shocked that people aren't talking about that team more because they're outstanding. They've got everything size, strength, speed, skill.”

Trotz also expects a tough battle.

“That group has a lot of pedigree, they got a lot of star power. And they've won championships. So they're well equipped in a lot of areas. So the biggest challenge is to play them even and play them hard.”

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