By Adam Vingan
The Washington Capitals are about to embark on a six-day, three-game road trip. Trips like that are common in all sports. Yet, there is nothing traditional about a road trip that will stop in Nashville, Winnipeg and Toronto between Tuesday and Saturday. In those six days, the Caps will travel over 3,700 miles.
The first stop, against the Predators Tuesday, will see two Caps – Tomas Vokoun and Joel Ward – return to old stomping grounds. Vokoun, however, has played in Nashville since leaving there in 2007. Ward technically has, having played in the second of two preseason games between Washington and Nashville at Bridgestone Arena, but Tuesday will be his first official visit back since signing with the Caps this summer.
“I need a win,” Ward said with a laugh after Monday’s practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. “Need some bragging rights here. It should be fun. I get a chance to see some familiar faces.”
Ward said he’s already heard from some of his former teammates about his return while playing fantasy football.
“They’ve been giving it to me already about that,” he said. “I’m sure they’ll throw a few jabs at me. I’m not sure before the game, but I’m sure during the game for sure.”
Joking aside, Ward knows what his new team is in for against his former team, one that just played its 1,000th game in franchise history this weekend. Nashville defeated Washington twice during the preseason and are currently in the thick of things in the Central Division and Western Conference at 8-5-3. The Predators also boast one of the league’s best goaltenders in Pekka Rinne and what head coach Bruce Boudreau called “the best [defensive] pairing in the National Hockey League” in Ryan Suter and Shea Weber.
“It’s a good team,” Ward said. “It’s always been a pretty solid since I’ve been there. It’s a hard-working team that’s well organized. I think the media kind of knocks them down a little bit because they’re not a high-profile team and they don’t have many TV games. When you play them face-to-face, you know what you’re going to be up against and it’s going to be a tough game for us tomorrow.”
Tuesday’s game will not be the only tough game on this road trip. Though the Jets are struggling with just 13 points this season, the MTS Centre has been an intimidating environment all season long as Winnipeg fans are still enjoying the honeymoon phase of hockey’s return to Manitoba. The Caps will also be featured on “Hockey Night In Canada” Saturday against a Maple Leafs team that, like the Caps, has 21 points this season and currently leads the Northeast Division.
The Caps are just one of three teams in the Eastern Conference (Boston, Montreal) and six teams overall (Detroit, Chicago, Columbus) who have yet to play three straight road games this season and it seems that now is the perfect time for them to take their longest road trip of the season so far. After two losses at home against the Dallas Stars and New Jersey Devils last week, the Caps can leave Washington behind for a few days and focus with fewer distractions.
“We’re not running from anything,” Mike Knuble said. “We’ve been out West for a while, for a week. It’s a pretty comfortable pace. It’s not like you’re playing three in four. You play and you get a day off and travel’s not overly taxing. You stay in a groove of ‘play, rest, play, rest, play, rest.’ I think we work well that way.”