Caps hope the all-star break helps them get healthy with­out los­ing mo­men­tum.

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY IS­ABELLE KHURSHUDYAN is­abelle.khurshudyan@wash­post.com

Braden Holtby’s eyes quickly scanned the locker room as he con­sid­ered his team­mates and the three-day break they were about to get.

“We’ve had a lot of guys play­ing through a lot of stuff,” Holtby said Thurs­day. “. . . The rest will be good to heal those guys up and make sure we have a full ros­ter.”

The Wash­ing­ton Cap­i­tals had rolled through De­cem­ber and January, with their 20-4-4 record in those two months mov­ing them atop the league stand­ings with 72 points. When a team has mo­men­tum like that, it of­ten doesn’t want to stop play­ing. But the Cap­i­tals were ea­ger for the all-star break, hope­ful it would help them get much-needed rest af­ter a packed schedule to start the sea­son. Wash­ing­ton will get an­other break in two weeks, when the team has a five-day bye week, some­thing new in the NHL this sea­son.

Lengthy breaks can de­rail a team that’s been play­ing well, some­thing the Cap­i­tals ex­pe­ri­enced a year ago when a snow­storm caused game can­cel­la­tions just be­fore the all-star break. But Wash­ing­ton isn’t wor­ried about his­tory re­peat­ing it­self, in­stead fo­cus­ing on what the rest can do for the Cap­i­tals go­ing for­ward.

“Our goal is to be ready for play­offs,” Holtby said. “And rest al­ways helps when it comes to heal­ing bod­ies this time of year.”

The Cap­i­tals have been by far the league’s health­i­est team this sea­son, los­ing just 18 man-games to in­jury. The St. Louis Blues, the sec­ond-health­i­est, have lost 69 man-games. Coach Barry Trotz has at­trib­uted his team’s health to bal­anc­ing min­utes in an at­tempt to tax his top play­ers less. But even in do­ing that, he sensed the fa­tigue ahead of the all-star break as Wash­ing­ton crawled to the fin­ish line af­ter a stretch of 14 games in 26 days in January.

“Our schedule was catch­ing up to us,” Trotz said. “You could tell in our play. You could tell we had some tired legs out there. So, the break couldn’t come at a bet­ter time for us, re­ally.”

De­fense­man John Carlson missed the six games be­fore the break with an undis­closed “lower-body” in­jury, and Trotz said he’s work­ing out in Florida this week­end and is ex­pected to be back in the lineup Tues­day against the New York Islanders, the first game af­ter the break. Cen­ter Jay Bea­gle missed a game be­cause of an ill­ness that has been go­ing around the locker room.

“We’ve got a lot of guys who are a lit­tle bit sick and some guys who are banged up this time of year,” de­fense­man Brooks Or­pik said. “Any rest you can get is good for you. You’ve got to use it wisely and know that we have a tough schedule com­ing back, so it’s not three days of full va­ca­tion, but it’s three days of rest and hope­fully we use it that way.”

But the Cap­i­tals didn’t han­dle long breaks very well last sea­son, and this year, they have a 24-2-2 record with just one day’s rest. A January snow­storm last year caused two games to be post­poned and that, cou­pled with the all-star break, meant Wash­ing­ton played just two games in two weeks. The team con­tin­ued to win down the stretch, but it wasn’t the dom­i­nant force it had been ear­lier in the sea­son, and Wash­ing­ton again lost in the sec­ond round of the play­offs.

The break didn’t help, but the Cap­i­tals also let off the gas a lit­tle be­cause of their large lead. “You fi­nally pick your head up once the break is over and you re­al­ize where you’re at,” de­fense­man Nate Sch­midt said. That’s not pos­si­ble this sea­son with how com­pet­i­tive the Eastern Con­fer­ence is. Even af­ter a strong January, the Cap­i­tals are still just four points ahead of the Colum­bus Blue Jack­ets, who have one game in hand.

While sev­eral play­ers said this break and the bye week com­ing up feel dif­fer­ent from last sea­son, there were still lessons learned. Sch­midt said it’s im­por­tant to rest but also be mind­ful about keep­ing the body mov­ing, so he likes to do some swim­ming. But the en­tire team could use time away from the ice.

“We haven’t had any time off, you know? We’ve played ev­ery other day, it seems like,” de­fense­man Karl Alzner said. “We’ve just been able to roll it over, and that’s been nice, but I think we need some time off. Guys just even­tu­ally start to break down, you know? If any­thing, I think it’ll be good for us.”

TONI L. SANDYS/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

“We’ve had a lot of guys play­ing through a lot of stuff,” Cap­i­tals all-star goalie Braden Holtby said.

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