Jo-Jo to Buffalo
Recently the Caps have established a well-worn path between Hershey and Washington, with three different players coming to and fro last week. Make it four. Washington has summoned winger Jonas Johansson from Hershey of the AHL, and he will report to Buffalo in time for tonight’s game against the Sabres. Johansson’s presence is a hedge in case winger Ben Clymer is unable to answer the bell at game time. Clymer skated with his teammates this morning, but is a bit under the weather.
Defenseman Shaone Morrisonn is still suffering from the flu, and he won’t be in the lineup tonight. Washington will be forced to go with a patchwork defense that is lacking in NHL experience (775 NHL games among the six defensemen, or a fraction of the 1,268 games played by Buffalo blueliner Teppo Nuuminen) as it goes up against the league’s most prolific offense.
The Caps flew up to Buffalo early today. It’s relatively rare for an NHL team to head into the road city on the day of a game, but doing so gave the players a full day with their families on Christmas Day. Washington will head home immediately after the game; the Caps have a Wednesday home date with the Canadiens at Verizon Center. The Habs are probably en route to Washington as I type this. They’ll be in the District while the Caps are doing battle in Buffalo.
After Wednesday’s game with the Habs, the Caps will board a northbound train for New Jersey. For the second consecutive Friday, the Caps will clash with the Devils, this time in New Jersey. The Caps will have played three times in between the two meetings with Devils; New Jersey will have played twice and is likely to be a bit fresher.
On Saturday, the Caps will play their fourth game in five nights (all against teams ahead of them in the Eastern Conference standings) when they visit the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. The Rangers must play in Ottawa on Friday, so both the Caps and the Blueshirts will be playing the second of back-to-back tilts that night. The Caps will then return home to face a jet-lagged Phoenix team at Verizon Center on New Year’s Day. The Desert Dogs must play the Sharks on Saturday night in Phoenix, then travel cross-country for the New Year’s Day matinee against Washington.
The upcoming week will be a busy one for Washington, and the injuries and illnesses aren’t making things any easier. Hershey is also in the midst of a particularly rugged stretch of schedule. Beginning tonight in Bridgeport, the Bears start a stretch in which they must play five games in six nights. Three of those will be at home, but the Bears must go from Bridgeport to Hershey to Albany and back to Hershey.
If the Caps can get through this stretch, the slate gets a little easier the rest of the way. The Phoenix game starts a four-game homestand. After the back-to-backs against New Jersey and New York on Dec. 29-30, the Caps will play just one set of back-to-backs over the next 34 days. They’ll also have the benefit of a five-day all-star break in late January.
Seven days from now, the Caps will be just a game away from the midway point of the season. It’s going to be interesting to see how they (and the Bears) hold up during this difficult and crucial stretch.