Feb. 3 vs. Pittsburgh Penguins at Verizon Center
Time: 12:30 pm
Radio: 106.7 The Fan and Caps Radio Network
Pittsburgh Penguins (5-3-0)
Washington Capitals (2-5-1)
Washington continues its three-game homestand with its traditional Super Bowl Sunday matinee match against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Verizon Center. The Caps started the homestand on a strong note, defeating the Philadelphia Flyers 3-2 on Friday night.
After suffering a pair of crushing defeats and coughing up third-period leads in consecutive road games at Ottawa and Toronto earlier in the week, the Caps returned home and fell behind the Flyers 1-0 near the midpoint of the game. Beginning with a Nicklas Backstrom goal late in the second period, the Capitals then scored three goals in a span of just 9:02 to take a 3-1 lead, their first lead of two goals in the last three games. Washington was able to protect the cushion, even when Philly scored midway through the third to halve its deficit.
From the time the Flyers’ Brayden Schenn scored at 10:30 of the third period to make it a 3-2 game, the Caps permitted just one shot on goal the rest of the way. Washington also blocked five Philly shot bids over that span.
“The last two games, we played solid for 40 minutes,” notes Caps center Jay Beagle. “We just couldn’t close out, we couldn’t finish. It wasn’t even like a matter of running out of gas, it was just a couple of simple breakdowns or a couple of little mental errors and they would capitalize on it.
“[Against Philadelphia] we made sure to stay sharp and we kept saying, ‘We’ve got to play 60 minutes.’ It felt good. It was a good game and it felt good to win again.”
Although the Flyers outshot the Capitals 31-26 on the night, a total of 14 of Philadelphia’s shots came off the sticks of defensemen. Braden Holtby sealed up those shots, preventing the Flyers from getting rebound opportunities and earning his first win of the season.
“That’s the first thing that I always notice if I’m seeing the puck well is how good my rebound control is,” said Holtby after the game against the Flyers, “where I can spot things, not just putting them into the corner.
“Part of that is me being able to see the puck, obviously, through screens and our defensemen clearing it out. And another big part is me having a spot to put the puck. Some games when you’re scrambling in your own end, it’s harder to find. Tonight the guys were always in position for what I saw.”
The Caps were playing for the second time in as many nights and the third time in four nights. Their penalty-killing outfit had to face eight Maple Leafs power plays in Thursday’s game. But against the well-rested Flyers, the Caps found a reserve of energy and they neutered the Philly attack down the stretch.
“How things went on the road trip,” says Caps right wing Troy Brouwer, “We knew were unacceptable. We couldn’t come in [Friday night] and use the back-to-back, the travel as an excuse. We had to come out, we had to play real hard, real tough – just battle through all that exhaustion.
“We came out, we had a good start, we felt good and we killed a few penalties off early and were able to get right into it.”
Having started the lockout-shortened season with one win (1-5-1) in its first seven games, the Caps will need to start stacking wins in order to climb back into the chase for playoff spots in the Eastern Conference standings.
Going into Saturday’s slate of NHL activity, the Capitals occupy the 13th slot in the Eastern Conference standings. With the quarter-pole of the season coming around next weekend, the Caps don’t have the luxury of winning one, losing one, winning one and losing one. They’ve got to get a winning streak started so they can dig out of their early season standings hole and get back to the .500 mark.
“We really needed that win,” notes Caps left wing Wojtek Wolski of Friday’s triumph over the Flyers. “I think we’ve been playing well, we’ve been working hard. We’ve got to just keep it going. We can’t stop at one.”
Holtby will get his first career start against the Penguins in Sunday’s game. For Washington fans, Pittsburgh represents perhaps the Capitals’ fiercest rival. For Holtby, Sunday’s game will be no different than facing any other opponent.
“It’s just another game,” he says. “I don’t really put too much emphasis on rivalries and whatnot. Once you start thinking about those things is when you get wrapped up in the game and you forget we have to prepare for. Right now, it’s early on in the season. We’re battling to get back to where we want to get to and tomorrow we have to focus on the game, not the opponent.”
Five of the 14 games the Caps played in last spring’s Stanley Cup Playoffs were afternoon affairs. Holtby was 3-2 with a 2.41 GAA and a .911 save pct. in those games. Including the regular season, Holtby is 6-2 with a 2.13 GAA and a .921 save pct. in eight career afternoon starts.
The Penguins come to town on the heels of their first home ice win of the season, a thorough 5-1 thrashing of the New Jersey Devils on Saturday afternoon. Pittsburgh is 4-1 on the road this season. The Penguins have more road victories than any other team in the East and only Chicago has as many among all NHL clubs.
The Penguins won their first two games of the season, scoring a pair of power-play goals in each game. Since then, Pittsburgh is 3-3, and it is 2-for-23 (8.7%) on the power play in those six games. The Pens won one of those games in a shootout, last Sunday against Ottawa.
Washington’s penalty-killing outfit has picked up its game a bit after a slow start this season. After posting a dismal 11-for-18 (61%) kill rate in its first three games of the season, the Caps have successfully snuffed 20 of their last 23 (87%) shorthanded missions.
Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are tied for the team’s scoring lead with 10 points each. James Neal leads the Penguins with five goals.
The Pens have been nicked for just one goal against in their last two games. Tomas Vokoun blanked the Rangers 3-0 in New York on Thursday and Marc-Andre Fleury gave up a single goal against the Devils on Saturday.
Ex-Cap Vokoun will get the call in goal for the Pens on Sunday in the District. Vokoun is 2-1 with a 1.81 GAA and a .940 save pct. in four outings (three starts) this season. The shutout against the Rangers was the 49th of Vokoun’s NHL career; he pitched four of those for the Capitals in 2011-12.
During his career against Washington, Vokoun is 10-12-1 with a 2.48 GAA and a .925 save pct. He has two career shutouts against the Capitals, one of which came in his most recent start against them on April 9, 2011.
Lifetime in day games (not including playoffs), Vokoun is 11-12-5 with a 2.72 GAA and a .915 save pct. in 30 games (29 starts).
|Back to top ↑|