Jan. 29 vs. Ottawa Senators at ScotiaBank Place
Time: 7:30 pm
TV: Comcast Sports Network
Radio: 106.7 The Fan and Caps Radio Network
Pre-Game: Two-Man Advantage at 3 p.m. and John Walton’s one-one-one audio with Adam Oates at 3 p.m., both on washingtoncaps.com
Washington Capitals (1-3-1)
Ottawa Senators (3-1-1)
Washington embarks on its first multiple-game road trip and its first trip north of the border when it travels to Ottawa and then Toronto this week. First up, a visit to Scotiabank Place for a visit with the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night.
After dropping four straight games (0-3-1) to start the abbreviated 2012-13 season, the Capitals finally earned their first win on Sunday afternoon with a 3-2 shaving of the Buffalo Sabres at Verizon Center. The victory was also the first of head coach Adam Oates NHL coaching career.
The Caps played well in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Devils in New Jersey on Friday night, and they carried that over into Sunday’s win over the Sabres.
“We thought we played a real good game in New Jersey and it carried over into [Sunday] night,” says Caps right wing Troy Brouwer. “We finally got two points on the board, but you don’t ever want to be known as the team that was the last team out of 30 to get a win, though.”
Although it surrendered the game’s first goal for the fourth time in five games, the Caps drew even in the first, then took a lead early in the second on a John Erskine goal. Washington held the lead for the remainder of game after having led for just 2:32 of the first 244:39 of hockey it had played this season.
“We won a game which of course we needed,” says Oates. “We played okay. It wasn’t a ‘wow’ game; I thought we played better in New Jersey as a team.”
It was a building block. The Caps scuffled their way through the first four games and needed the win and the two points as they prepared to hit the road this week.
“We need momentum,” says Oates. “We need everything we can get. There are a lot of positives, don’t get me wrong. [It’s] a big win for everybody. Big goal by the power play, we held the lead, we looked good in our own end for the majority of the game. We only gave them 10 [scoring] chances, which is a good thing. We almost [doubled up on] them in chances; [there were] a lot of positives there. I just want to make sure the guys stay with it.”
Washington got a strong game out of captain Alex Ovechkin against the Sabres. He scored his first goal of the season, a power-play strike that turned out to be the game-winner.
“It was our best full effort this year,” says defenseman Karl Alzner. “I think we really started working on staying with it in that New Jersey game. When they scored we stuck with our plan and kept going for it.
“You could really see that [Sunday] last night when [the Sabres] scored their first goal. The forecheck is really what has helped us a lot. It’s really good; we turn over a lot of pucks now and we usually have a little less [defensive] zone time. That was really important for us. That’s the way we have to play every single night. If we can start getting that scoring touch back then it will be really good.”
Now the Capitals seek to sustain that success on the road against a hot Ottawa team with one of the league’s hottest netminders.
Speaking of netminders, expect Michal Neuvirth to get the nod for the fourth straight game on Tuesday against the Senators. Neuvirth has been solid in his three starts, going 1-1-1.
“He looks very sharp at the start of the game,” says Oates of Neuvirth. “A team gets a pulse from its goalie. You’re on the bench, you’re watching and the saves look solid and they don’t look like, ‘Uh-oh.’ That’s a good feeling for your team.”
Neuvirth has had good success against the Senators in his NHL career, posting a 4-0 record in five appearances (four starts) against Ottawa with a 1.55 GAA and a .945 save pct. He started and won in Ottawa on Dec. 19, 2010 when the Capitals ended an eight-game losing streak (0-6-2) less than two weeks before the 2011 Winter Classic in Pittsburgh.
That 2010 start remains the only one Neuvirth has made in Ottawa. He has played in two games there, posting a 1.37 GAA and a .950 save pct. in a very small sample size (87 minutes) of work.
Since losing the Stanley Cup final series to Anaheim in 2007, Ottawa has alternated between making and missing the playoffs over the last five seasons. Under new head coach Paul MacLean, the Sens finished eighth in the Eastern Conference last season. They pushed the top-seeded New York Rangers to the brink in a seven-game series before bowing out in the first round.
Over the off-season, the Sens made small adjustments, dealing Nick Foligno to Columbus for defenseman Marc Methot and signing depth defenseman Mike Lundin. Those moves were made to help ease the loss of veteran rearguard Filip Kuba, who signed with Florida as a free agent.
The Sens are off to a 3-1-1 start, but they’ve dropped their last two (0-1-1) after winning three straight to start the season. The Senators absorbed a 6-4 loss at the hands of the Lightning in Tampa Bay on Friday and then lost a 2-1 shootout decision to the Penguins on Sunday in Ottawa.
Washington’s visit is the middle match of a three-game homestand; Ottawa hosts Northeast Division rival Montreal at Scotiabank Place on Wednesday.
Craig Anderson has started four of Ottawa’s five games this season, with Ben Bishop getting the net in the loss against the Lightning. Anderson has allowed just three goals in his four starts this season. He has an 0.97 GAA and a .975 save pct., having stopped 116 of the 119 shots he has seen on the young season.
It wasn’t until Sunday’s loss to Pittsburgh that Anderson surrendered the first – and thus far only – even-strength goal he has allowed this season.
Whether the Sens will start Anderson in both of their upcoming back-to-back games against Washington and Montreal or if they’ll split them up remains to be seen. With no travel involved, it’s very possible that Anderson would get both starts.
Kyle Turris leads the Senators with four goals. Ten different players have tallied for Ottawa in the team’s first five games. Among all Eastern Conference teams, only Tampa Bay (12) has had more different goal scorers.