The Washington Capitals look to begin another rebuilding project with a three-game road trip out West, beginning Thursday against the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center. The Caps have dropped three in a row after earning a pair of points in losses to the Oilers and Oilers again. Here are five storylines to watch while the team goes on its longest road trip in nearly two months:
1. Can Andre Burakovsky and Tom Wilson score?
Burakovsky is in his first full season with the Capitals after recovering from concussion and upper-body injuries. Wilson, who was traded by the Capitals in the offseason to the Montreal Canadiens, has resumed his career after being suspended by the NHL for 46 games for an illegal hit on Nashville Predators defenseman Roman Josi. The one-time power-play-dominant pair could get some chances with Jan Rutta (neck) and T.J. Oshie (back) sidelined by injuries, but Burakovsky has just one goal in 18 games and Wilson has just one goal in 11 games.
2. What can Evgeny Kuznetsov do to help the power play?
Washington’s special teams have been awful of late, and it’s an issue the Caps must resolve to end their skid. In its last eight games, Washington has scored just three power-play goals and is 6-for-70 in its last 25 games, which is far from a promising sign for a team in desperate need of offense. The Caps’ power play could use a boost from one of its veterans. During the last two seasons, the Capitals have ranked 14th and 12th in the NHL when it comes to scoring on the power play, but Kuznetsov has been their top scorer in these circumstances, which means his playmaking ability could be the catalyst to turn things around.
3. Can the team regain its defensive composure?
The Capitals are struggling with turnovers and puck protection. They’ve coughed up 18 giveaways in the past three games. They’ve also allowed five power-play goals in the past seven games. Getting a win over the Blackhawks and Flames will help with the bruised psyche.
4. Can Lars Eller be counted on to provide a spark?
Eller, who has been minus-5 over his last five games, is the latest player who has been assigned to the AHL affiliate Hershey Bears (4-1-2-1, 13 points) to get some experience. The Caps could benefit from Eller’s goal-scoring and penalty-killing abilities, and another opportunity with the B’s might bring him out of his slump.
5. Who is the No. 1 goaltender?
If Braden Holtby looks like he’s lost his touch, Philipp Grubauer will also become available. The German goalie has played in all 12 games for the Capitals this season and could benefit from a change of scenery after a rough stretch.