With less than three weeks remaining in the regular season it’s unusual to see an NHL coach put his players through an exhausting post-practice skate this time of year.
Yet there the Caps players were on Thursday, hunched over after doing more than a dozen stops and starts from blue line to blue line.
Punishment for blowing a two-goal, third-period lead against the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday? Hardly.
“We’ve played a lot of games but we’ve also had a lot of off days,” Oates said. “Flying home [from California on Sunday] was an off day. Yesterday [Wednesday] was another.
“I thought today was an opportunity to get a good sweat. It can re-energize the legs. When you play a lot of game you lose a little conditioning because you don’t get that practice time.”
This marks the Caps’ final three-day break of the season. They close out the regular season with nine games in 16 days, beginning with Saturday’s 12:30 matinee against the visiting Boston Bruins.
Do the Caps need to go 6-3-0 in their final nine games to earn a playoff spot? Will they need seven wins?
“What about 10-0?” Nicklas Backstrom offered, apparently unaware the Caps have nine games remaining. “That would be way better. That would be on the safe side. We’re taking one game at a time. We know it’s going to be a battle.”
By the time they play again on Saturday all three of the teams with which they are tied will have played. Tonight Oates said he will be keeping a close eye on Detroit’s home game against the Montreal Canadiens. If the Red Wings lose in regulation, they’ll be dead even with the Caps with 80 points and nine games remaining.
On Friday night, the Blue Jackets [80 points] face the Penguins in Columbus, while the Maple Leafs [80 points] face the Flyers in Toronto.
“Anybody can beat anybody on a given night,” Oates said. We just need to worry about ourselves and win games.
“Teams play tonight, teams play tomorrow. It changes every day. We’ve got to focus on our game Saturday, that’s it. We’ve all been around long enough to know that someone’s going to win a game they shouldn’t and vie versa.”