Feb. 4 vs. New York Islanders at Verizon Center
Time: 7:30 p.m.
TV: Comcast SportsNet
Radio: Capitals Radio Network
New York Islanders (21-28-8)
Washington Capitals (25-22-9)
The Capitals continue their four-game homestand on Tuesday night when they host the New York Islanders for the second and final time this season. The Caps will be seeking to halt a six-game losing streak (0-5-1) against Metropolitan Division opponents, a spiral during which they’ve been outscored by a combined 24-11.
Washington started the homestand on a good note when it managed to earn a 6-5 overtime win over the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday afternoon in the homestand opener. Although they twice allowed two-goal leads to evaporate against the Red Wings, the Caps managed to get two much needed points when Alex Ovechkin scored his 39th goal of the season on a Washington power play in overtime.
After scuffling their way to a 4-7-4 mark in January and falling from second to seventh place in the Metropolitan Division standings in the process, the Caps know they’ve got to make the most of this homestand and the final four games before the Olympic break.
“Thank goodness January is over with,” says Caps right wing Joel Ward. “We’ve got to win some games here, especially at home. We definitely want to take advantage of home ice; we’ve been away for a little bit. We’ve got to provide some energy and not worry about the net game or the game after that. We want to stay focused and not get too far ahead of ourselves and hunker down to our details, provide some energy and take care of home ice.”
Ward has had one of Washington’s hottest sticks recently; he has netted four goals in the last three games. With 17 goals on the season, Ward is second on the team and he has matched his single-season career best, established during his first full season in the league in 2008-09.
In the last three games, Ward has scored a shorthanded goal, a 6-on-5 goal, a power play goal (5-on-4) and an even-strength marker.
Ward’s linemate Jason Chimera is also wielding a warm twig of late. Chimera has three goals and six points in his last six games. On Friday night in Detroit, Chimera scored his first power-play goal in nearly two years. On Sunday against the Red Wings, he had a goal and two assists, and collected one of his helpers on the power play.
This marks the first time in Chimera’s 766-game NHL career that he has recorded power-play points in consecutive contests.
The Caps won on Sunday despite playing without both defenseman Mike Green (concussion) and forward Brooks Laich (lower body), the first time this season that both players have been out of the lineup at the same time. Center Mikhail Grabovski (lower body) is also on the sidelines; he has been out since Jan. 24 and is not likely to return to action for any of Washington’s three remaining games between now and the Olympic break.
Caps coach Adam Oates moved Eric Fehr to the center position for Sunday’s game, and Fehr aided the Caps’ cause by winning 10 of 12 face-offs in the game while playing between Jason Chimera and Joel Ward. But Fehr also suffered a lower body injury during Sunday’s game, and he did not participate in Monday’s practice. Oates didn’t seem to think Fehr’s injury would be serious enough to keep him out of Tuesday’s game against the Isles, but the morning skate will likely shed more light.
Left wing Aaron Volpatti suffered an upper body injury in Sunday’s game and also missed Monday’s practice.
On the good news front, Laich did practice on Monday and hopes to return to the lineup against New York.
“He practiced, so we’re going by his gauge,” says Oates of Laich. “If he feels good in the morning and can practice, then chances are he will play.”
With the center ice position depleted, Oates moved fourth-line pivot Jay Beagle up to the middle of a line with Marcus Johansson and Troy Brouwer, two players who have been entrenched among the team’s top six forwards all season. Beagle had a good game against the Wings; he won 14 of 19 draws, skated a single-game season-high 16:19 and made a crucial defensive play on Detroit star Henrik Zetterberg in the third period of a 5-5 game.
“It felt good,” says Beagle. “It’s something that you work for the whole season, the opportunity to play the bigger role and the bigger minutes. It’s a lot of fun, especially when you win. A game like that is a lot of fun. I was sitting on the bench and just enjoying it, playing that big of a role and being able to contribute to the team.
“Fehrsie and I talked a lot about the draws. He hadn’t taken too many draws leading up to that game, so we kind of talked it over. I always go over a little bit of video just to see what their tendencies are on draws. He did really well in the face-off circle and I did okay myself.
“It makes a huge difference when you’re not chasing the puck. We have control and it usually ends up with a dump or we enter their zone. That’s the shift right there; and then you try to get some shots on net and some momentum. It’s way better to be going after them than chasing [the puck].”
The Islanders have been a more effective team on the road this season (13-16-0) than they’ve been on home ice (8-12-8). No team in the league has fewer home wins than the Islanders.
New York comes into Tuesday’s game with a five-game losing streak. The Isles lost the first four of those games at home, going winless in a four-game homestand (0-3-1), although one of those “home” games was played against the Rangers at Yankee Stadium.
During the life of their five-game skid, the Islanders have been outscored 21-12 and they’ve gone 1-for-25 (4%) on the power play.
After starting the season with a reasonably respectable 6-5-3 mark in their first 14 games, the Islanders sputtered their way through the next eight weeks. New York won just five of 25 games (5-16-4) during that stretch. The Isles rebounded by winning 10 of their next 13 before falling into their current five-game rut.
Washington has won each of the two previous meetings between the two clubs this season. The Caps took a 6-2 win over the Isles at Verizon Center on Nov. 5 and authored a late comeback triumph against them in New York in a 3-2 overtime decision on Nov. 30. Ovechkin supplied the game-winner in that game as well; he has victimized the Islanders for one-third (five of 15) of his career overtime game-winning goals.
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