The schedule makers did the Capitals no favors in their return from the bye week. They returned with a road game at 2 p.m. on Saturday in Detroit, then had to play the New York Rangers on Sunday at 12:30 p.m., less than 24 hours after the game against the Red Wings started.
That would have been tough at any point in the season. Having that back-to-back coming out of the bye week was a raw deal.
The record across the NHL for teams returning from the bye is 3-12-4. Many may argue this is too small a sample size to draw any conclusions from and that's probably true. Claiming every time a team loses out of the bye that it's because they have been off for a week is an easy excuse. Every team has to play the schedule it's given. Nashville had a similar challenge to Washington, playing a back-to-back out of the weekend against Minnesota and Columbus with both games on the road. The Predators, however, managed a win in the second game.
But still, the NHL needs to be smarter with how it schedules after the bye. No team should have to play a back-to-back in their first two games back, period. If that record continues to get worse, then the leauge will have to adjust to ensure teams coming out of the bye play each other. Otherwise they are giving a competitive advantage to the opponent and to any team that ends up with multiple games against teams in their first game back.
You can't blame the schedule for Washington walking away from this weekend with only one point. That's on them. But, you also can't argue that the schedule put them at a disadvantage for Sunday's game when they played a Rangers team that had been off since Thursday in New York less than 24 hours after the puck dropped in Detroit.
The Capitals reassigned forward Jakub Vrana to Hershey on Sunday following their game against the New York Rangers. Vrana and Zach Sanford were both recalled when the Caps returned from the bye week.
With Andre Burakovsky out of the lineup with a hand injury, the team needed to recall two players: One to insert into the lineup, the other to serve as the 13th forward in case of an unforeseen injury. With two of the team's top forwards recalled, it looked as if Vrana and Sanford would get a chance to compete for Burakovsky's spot on the third line while the he recovered. If that was the case, Sanford appears to have won that competition...for now.
Vrana, a first-round draft pick from the 2014 draft, is seen as having the higher ceiling than Sanford. Sanford, however, scored the game-winning goal in Washington's final game before the bye week against the Anaheim Ducks. That, as well as his strong play in Hershey, earned him the first crack at the lineup.
“He went down after scoring his first goal, traveled all morning, played an afternoon game in [Bridgeport] and was the [Bears’] best player,” Trotz said at practice Friday. “So he should get the first crack at that position.”
Sanford took full advantage as he scored again on Saturday. With Vrana's reassignment, it now appears Burakovsky's spot on the third line is Sanford's to lose.
But Vrana's reassignment could be a temporary one.
The Caps have a day off on Monday, then return to practice on Tuesday and play in Philadelphia on Wednesday. The team has not been shy about moving players back and forth between Hershey in between road games. They may choose to recall Vrana or another forward prior to Wednesday's game.
For now, however, Sanford appears to have earned himself at least a temporary spot in the lineup.
MORE CAPITALS: Prediction recap: Caps can't solve Henrik Lundqvist