March 26 vs. New York Islanders at Verizon Center
Time: 7:00 p.m.
TV: Comcast SportsNet
Radio: 106.7 The Fan and Caps Radio Network
New York Islanders (14-15-3)
Washington Capitals (15-16-1)
Washington makes a quick stop in the District on Tuesday night to play one of just two home games in a span of 22 days. The New York Islanders supply the opposition, making the first of their two Verizon Center visits this season.
The Caps are coming home off a triumphant road trip – their longest of the season – in which they won each of the last three games to put themselves into serious contention for a playoff berth for the first time this season. Washington won two games in Winnipeg on Thursday and Friday nights, then closed out the trip with a win over the Rangers in New York on Sunday.
The lone blemish of the trip was the first game, a game in which Washington played well despite suffering a 2-1 loss.
“I think we played pretty good against Pittsburgh,” says Caps center NIcklas Backstrom. “We lost that game, but we played better than the result and then we kept going. We played good games against Winnipeg and then we kept going here tonight. You’ve just got to do the same thing on Tuesday [against the Islanders]. You’ve got to regroup and get back to work.”
The three-game road winning streak is Washington’s first in more than a year; the Caps won three straight road games (on three separate trips) from Feb. 25-March 13, 2012. The last time the Capitals won as many as three straight contests on the same road trip was five years ago, a four-game road run from March 21-29, 2008. That streak was part of Washington’s late-season charge to a Southeast Division crown in which the Caps won 11 of their last 12 games of the season.
As they take on the Islanders at Verizon Center on Tuesday, the Caps will be seeking their first four-game winning streak since a four-game spree from March 8-13, 2012.
The Capitals and the Islanders met on Long Island just 17 days ago, and the Caps went into that contest with a chance to even their season’s record at 11-11-1. Washington didn’t play all that well that day in front of rookie goaltender Philipp Grubauer in his first NHL start, but Nicklas Backstrom’s third-period goal drew the Caps even at 2-2, giving them a chance to come away with at least a point.
Washington shot itself in the foot soon after; the Isles scored two power-play goals after both Mike Ribeiro and later Jeff Schultz took double-minor penalties. New York coasted to a 5-2 win, the first of three straight losses for the Capitals.
Since that three-game skid, the Caps have won five of their last seven to pull within just two points of the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference standings and within five of the top perch in the Southeast Division.
Improving health has been instrumental in Washington’s recent resurgence. Forwards Marcus Johansson and Brooks Laich and defensemen Mike Green, Jack Hillen and Dmitry Orlov have all returned to the Capitals lineup since the Caps and Islanders last met on March 9.
“Having Brooksie back has been huge,” said Caps coach Adam Oates after the team’s win in Winnipeg on March 22, the second of its current three-game run. “He really fits into what I think our system is in terms of going north and being relentless and skating and putting pressure on their team and bringing the guys forward, and having a top six skill set to go with that is great for us. And Greenie is a top defenseman in this league who is playing 27 minutes a game. We need him and he is back and obviously that really matters to us.”
Caps goalie Braden Holtby has been stellar during the month of March, too. He has made 10 starts this month and has yet to allow more than three goals in any of them. Holtby is 7-3 with two shutouts, a 1.88 GAA and a .940 save pct. this month.
Lifetime in March, he is 15-4-1 with five shutouts, a 1.64 GAA and a .945 save pct.
Beginning with Tuesday’s game against the Islanders, the Caps have 16 regular season games remaining in the 2012-13 slate. The next eight of those are against teams like themselves, teams on the outside of the playoff picture looking in.
“It was a good trip,” says Holtby of the Caps’ recent road trip. “We accomplished what we wanted. If you would have asked us if we won three out of four before we did it, I think we all would have said that would have been great. It’s good. Now we’ve put ourselves in a position where we can keep battling for that playoff spot.”
Seeking their first playoff berth in six seasons, the Isles are knotted for 10th place in the Eastern Coonference standings with the Capitals. Although the Isles 6-11-2 record this season at their lame duck Long Island home is among the worst home marks in the NHL, New York is a dangerous 8-4-1 on the road this season.
Islanders goalie Evgeni Nabokov has a long history of dominance over the Capitals. He is 11-1-2 with two shutouts, a 2.19 GAA and a .925 save pct. in 14 career starts against Washington. He is 6-1-1 with a 2.22 GAA and a .927 save pct. in eight career starts at the big barn on F St.
Nabokov comes into Tuesday’s game on the heels of a 3-0 Sunday night shutout win at home against the Florida Panthers. That victory halted a three-game losing skid for New York.
The Capitals and Islanders have each scored a total of 91 goals this season, tied for seventh in the league going into Monday night’s slate of NHL activity. The Islanders’ top forward trio of Matt Moulson, John Tavares and Brad Boyes has accounted for 38 of those goals (41.8%) for the Isles.
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