By Melissa Zielinski - Follow her on Twitter at @CapitalsIntern
In the midst of a typical game night there are certain tip-offs during the team’s traditional morning skate that will give you a leg-up on what to expect heading into the night’s contest. Position-wise you can look for key player moves that will decipher who’s going to be playing where:
Who’ll be the starting goaltender…
While both goalies will take the ice during a team’s normal morning skate, one usually will not stay on the ice as long as the other. Traditionally, the first netminder to make his way off the ice will be the starter between the pipes that night. The starter comes off the ice first because he’ll want more time to rest come game time while the latter will stay on the ice for a longer period, working on honing his skills with teammates and the coaching staff. Another indicator it that the starter almost always leads his team on the ice as the team takes warm-ups for that night’s game.
Who are the healthy scratches…
Besides rookies (who often get some extra time on the ice), game scratches will be the last ones to head off the ice. You can find these players working on shooting drills as well as offensive and defensive situations (wherever their particular skill falls) with assistant coaches as the last of the players on that night’s roster filter off.
What to expect during the morning skate…
Line combos/neutral zone/penalty kill/ power play -
The offensive line pairings that will be skating together in the morning will be much like what goes onto the ice during that night’s game. They’re often similar to what the team has been working on during the practices leading up to game day as well (unless there’s been a serious problem with offensive production). For example, on a typical game day morning skate for the Capitals, you are likely to see the following line pairings: Ovechkin-Backstrom-Semin, Brouwer-Johansson-Halpern, Chimera-Laich-Ward and Eakin-Perreault-Knuble (first through fourth lines, respectively).
You can also see the team working on everything from the neutral zone to the penalty kill and power play – anything that the team knows is an area of strength for their opponent or that they themselves are struggling with.
Typically, as Caps senior writer Mike Vogel pointed out, a coach goes into the season with an “ideal” plan of how they’d like to lead each and every practice for the entire season. There are obvious times when a team needs to break away from these plans – for example when they are having trouble with the power play or they’re working on the penalty kill. Knowing this, the coach leaves periods of time in their season-long practice schedule for such adjustments.
From a hockey insider’s perspective, these are some of the most common areas to look for so there’s no curveballs at the time of puck drop.