Feb 7 vs. Pittsburgh Penguins at Consol Energy Center
Time: 7:00 pm
TV: Comcast Sports Network
Radio: 106.7 The Fan and Caps Radio Network
Washington Capitals (2-7-1)
Pittsburgh Penguins (7-3-0)
After going 1-2 on a three-game homestand, the Capitals return to the road with a Thursday night visit to Pittsburgh to take on the Penguins. It’s the first of two visits to the Steel City for the Caps this season.
Washington won the first of those three games on its homestand, a 3-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Friday night. But a 6-3 loss to Pittsburgh on Sunday and a 3-2 setback to Toronto on Tuesday sends the Caps on the road with a two-game losing run.
Currently occupying the basement of the Eastern Conference standings, the Capitals are in need of a winning streak that will propel them up the rungs of the standings ladder. Washington is nearing the quarter pole of this lockout-abbreviated NHL season, and it is the only team in the Eastern Conference that is still without a road win.
The Caps will play four of their next five on the road, and you can’t start a winning streak without winning the first game. Washington has yet to author consecutive wins this season, and it has earned a point in consecutive games just once.
Despite those seemingly dire straits, the Capitals – and coach Adam Oates – are actually happy with the way they’ve played for most of the last seven games.
“I think we’re way better than we were the first couple of games,” Oates declares. “Way better. Not that I’m a stat guy, but sometimes you need them to show the players what’s going on. I mean, [Toronto] had three chances after two periods [Tuesday] night, including power plays. You can’t play much better. You can’t. We attempted 60 shots on net to their 28. So you’re doing so many good things.
“Since that New Jersey game [on Jan. 25], we haven’t had – to me – a flat game. We haven’t. We’ve had [flat] moments in a game, but we haven’t had a flat game. Before that, it seemed very flat.”
Washington is 24th in the league in goals scored and it is 27th in goals against. It has risen to 14th in the NHL in power-play prowess, and it stands 23rd in penalty killing. The Caps believe they’re playing the way Oates wants them to play, and that once the bounces start going their way, they’ll start ascending the standings.
“To be honest, it’s just a little bit of luck,” says Caps defenseman Mike Green. “We’ve played well. As far as 5-on-5, the last five games we’ve outchanced, outshot [our opponents], we just haven’t gotten the breaks that we wanted. It’s just a matter of maybe getting that extra confidence to put the pucks in the net and hopefully the bounces start going our way.”
Defenseman Tom Poti echoes Green’s thoughts.
“Honestly, I think once we get one win or maybe two in a row or something like that, the ball will start rolling and the guys will stop clenching their sticks too tight,” says Poti. “The biggest thing for us is confidence. Once we can get our confidence on a high and start rolling -- if you look at the games, the other teams have gotten every single bounce. I don’t think we’ve gotten a lucky goal off a shin pad or a leg or anything like that in a long time.
“We’ve just got to keep sticking to the game plan and try not to deviate from that. We’ve been doing a good with it and we’ve been outchancing other teams. We’ve just got to keep bearing down and it will come.”
Michal Neuvirth gets the start in goal for Washington on Thursday, his second straight starting assignment. Lifetime against the Penguins, Neuvirth is 2-0-2with a 1.46 GAA and a .948 save pct.
Each of Neuvirth’s career wins against Pittsburgh are of the whitewash variety. He blanked the Pens 3-0 at Verizon Center on Feb. 6, 2011 and then shut them out in Pittsburgh by a 1-0 count 15 days later. That second shutout came in Washington’s first game ever at the Consol Energy Center.
Heading into Wednesday’s slate of NHL activity, the Penguins are in the top perch in the Eastern Conference standings, nine points ahead of Washington. The Caps are “only” four points off the pace for the final playoff berth in the East, but that’s somewhat deceiving this season when teams are playing games exclusively within their own conference.
Pittsburgh returns home with a four-game winning streak, but the Pens have done most of their damage on the road this season. That includes a 6-3 triumph over the Capitals on Super Bowl Sunday at Verizon Center.
Since suffering a humbling 4-1 home ice loss to the New York Islanders on Jan. 29, the Pens have won four straight, taking each contest by a multiple-goal margin. The Pens have outscored their opposition by a combined 18-6 in those games, and they’ve scored those 18 goals on just 111 shots on net for a gaudy 16.2% shooting pct. Pittsburgh is 4-for-15 (26.7%) on the power play and it is 16-for-17 (94.1%) on the penalty kill during its current winning streak.
After dropping each of its first two home games of the season, the Pens throttled the Devils here in Pittsburgh on Saturday. Six of Pittsburgh’s seven victories have come on the road, but the Pens have played only three of their first 10 at home this season.
Ex-Caps netminder Tomas Vokoun got the start against Washington in Sunday’s 6-3 Pittsburgh win over the Capitals. He made 21 saves for the win in that game.
Marc-Andre Fleury started and won the Pens’ most recent game, a 4-2 win over the Isles in New York on Tuesday. Fleury and Vokoun have alternated starts for much of the season, but Fleury has gotten all of the starts at home so far and is expected to start against the Capitals on Thursday.
Lifetime against the Capitals, Fleury is 11-7-2 with a shutout, a 2.71 GAA and a .909 save pct.
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