After two games away from the Verizon Center, the reeling WashingtonMystics return home for a Friday night contestagainst the New York Liberty.Here is what you to know about the Eastern Conference tiltand what the Mystics are up against as they try to snap a three-game losing streak.The matchup: The Mystics (1-4) host the Liberty (2-5), winners of two straight, but losers of fiveconsecutive games in Washington. New York opened with a franchise-record five-game losing streak and had some WNBA observers labeling them the league's worst team before finding a winning formula. However, both of those victories came at home. Beyond simply being winless on the road, the Liberty lost all three games by an average of 21.3 points. New York's issues have been on the defensive end as opponents score 83 points per game, 10 more than the Washington is allowing. If there is such a thing as a must win game this early in the season, this might be it for the Mystics. After the Liberty, they face the 4-1 Indiana Fever before heading out west for a brutalthree-game road swing.Last time out: On the positive side, Washington matched a franchise record for points in a single quarter, scoring 36 in the fourth against with Connecticut. But...the Mystics allowed the Sun to pile up 35 points over those final 10 minutes in a 94-86 loss. The Mystics cut down on their turnovers and used the extra possessions to feed All-Star forward Crystal Langhorne, who finished with a season-high 25 points. Once again, the Sun did the visitors one better as center Tina Charles dropped in 30 points.Jasmine Thomas:Mystics coach has been searching for an answer at point guard throughout the season - well, really, since Lindsay Harding pushed for a trade after the 2010 campaign. Perhaps a new plan of attack can be centered around the hot shooting Thomas, It's at least worth consideration afterlast year's first round pick-in 16 minutes - tallied 17 points, two assists and three steals. Over the last two games, Thomas is shooting a stellar 75 percent (8 of 12) from the field.Washington's fourth leading scorer (7.4) on the season despite playing less than 14 minutes per game, the former Oakton High School star is knocking down a team-high 54.5 percent (6 of 11) from beyond the arc. Lacey needs a distributor more than a scorer at the point and Thomas has that in her game; she finished with over 400 assists at Duke. Right now, any consistent production will do. Milestone: Langhorne grabbed five rebounds against the Sun, including number 1,000 of her five-year career. Capping Pondexter: It may not be as simple as saying "stop Cappie Pondexter, stop the Liberty" - but it's a good start. After failing to score 20 points during any of New York's losses, the assertive guard topped that mark in the two victories, averaging 25.5 points. Pondexter, who finished sixth in scoring (17.4) last season, will see plenty of her former Rutgers teammate Matee Ajavon on the defensive end.
Barry Trotz likes to play his cards close to the vest. With roster battles and lineup holes surrounding the team, there are plenty of questions for the Caps that need answering this preseason. If you look at how Saturday's 4-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes ended, however, he may have given us at least one answer.
At the start of the game, Jay Beagle centered a line with Devante Smith-Pelly and Wayne Simpson on his wings. By the end of the game, Nathan Walker was playing on the left with Beagle at center and Smith-Pelly on the right.
"Walker was giving us some energy, he was giving us some speed and I just made that flip," Trotz told reporters after the game. "I just thought Walks was starting to make things happen. His speed was noticeable, his will on the puck if you will was really good. I thought that'd be a good fit. I just moved him over there and I thought he had an effect on the game."
Could that have been a preview of the team's fourth line?
Walker turned in another tremendous performance showing great energy, speed and grit. Despite being 5-foot-8, he still remains a feisty player who could be found at the center of every scrum. He exchanged hits and jabs with the 6-foot-3 Klas Dahlbeck multiple times throughout the game and even drew a penalty on the Carolina defenseman as he drove the net after managing to slip away from a hit along the boards.
"He's one of those hard guys to play against because ... they're on you all the time," Trotz said. "When you can affect the opposition and take them out of their game because the way you play, then you're pretty effective."
That brings us back to the lines. The Caps have not one, but two openings on the fourth line to play alongside Beagle. The fact that Trotz put Walker and Smith-Pelly on that line, two players fighting for a spot in the lineup, could be a preview of what the fourth line may ultimately look like to start the season.
That would be just fine with Beagle.
"It's fun to play with a guy who brings that much energy," Beagle said of Walker. "He's always had that energy and he's always been a little guy who grinds it out and isn't afraid to get in there and get in the corners and wins a lot of battles. He's awesome to play with. He's a lot of fun."
At this point, given how he has played in his two preseason games, it is hard to see how Walker does not make the roster. His energy and style are a perfect fit for what the Caps need on their fourth line. He would be an excellent compliment to Beagle and that has not escaped Trotz's notice.
"I think they might enjoy playing together, but they're effective together," Trotz said. "They get on the puck, they work you over and they tire you out. I'll tell you that."
With other players such as Alex Chiasson, Riley Barber and Anthony Peluso still vying to make the team, it is still too early to tell if this is definitively what the fourth line will look like, but the trio certainly made their case.
MORE CAPITALS: TOM WILSON SUSPENDED 2 PRESEASON GAMES
The Caps dropped another preseason game on home ice as they fell to the Carolina Hurricanes 4-1. Here is who stood out for Washington.
Alex Chiasson: Chiasson, who is playing this preseason on a PTO, was in good shape before this game, but he may sealed the deal on getting a contract with his first period goal. While it did come on the power play and he is not likely to see much time with the extra man this season, the fact that he was playing on a line with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov in the first place should tell you something. With another solid performance on Saturday, it looks like Chiasson will be in Washington for the long haul.
Nathan Walker: This kid is not afraid of anything. Not only will he fight for the puck in all the dirty areas, he is not afraid to mix things up with anyone. In the second period, he caught got in a scrum exchanging jabs with defenseman Klas Dahlbeck. Dahlbeck is 6-foot-3. Walker is 5-foot-8. Later in the period, Dahlbeck rid him into the boards, but Walker would not give up on the play and eventually broke free, drawing a penalty from Dahlbeck as he fought for room in front of the net. He looked like everything a team would want in a fourth line, energy player and I cannot see at this point how he does not make the Caps roster.
Jakub Vrana: Good speed, good eyes and he added an assist on Chiasson's goal. Vrana has clearly established himself as the best player not already on the Caps' roster. Whatever questions there may be surrounding Vrana, there should be none about his talent on the ice. He's got it.
Riley Barber: Like Chiasson and Walker, Barber was also competing for a spot on the roster, only no one seemingly told him that because he was invisible. Actually, scratch that, he did get called for a slash early in the first period. Let's not overstate it, it was not as if Barber was horrible, but when his teammates were making their case to make the team, Barber was nowhere to be found. With another round of cuts looming, it would not be surprising to see him headed to Hershey very soon.