March 9 vs. New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum
Time: 1:00 p.m.
TV: Comcast Sports Network
Radio: 106.7 The Fan and Caps Radio Network
Washington Capitals (10-11-1)
New York Islanders (10-11-3)
The Capitals take to the road on Saturday, facing the New York Islanders in their lone visit to Long Island this season. The Caps will be looking to extend their winning streak to a season-high four games as the face the Isles, the last team they’ll face for the first time in the abbreviated 2012-13 regular season.
Since suffering a 4-1 loss to the Flyers in Philly on Feb. 27, the Caps have reeled off three straight wins while outscoring their opponents by a combined total of 14-4. Washington has won eight of its last 11 games and can reach what passes for break-even in the modern NHL with a victory over the Islanders.
Washington is coming off a 7-1 trouncing of the Florida Panthers on Verizon Center ice on Thursday night. The Caps got goals from seven different players in that game, and 11 different players picked up at least a point.
“It just shows how deep we can be if we stick together and play and everyone plays,” said Caps center Mike Ribeiro after the game. “I think the success we’ve been having is because every night that we win there are 20 guys who show up and do their job properly. That helps goaltending, the PK and the power play. Everything is kind of jelling together. Obviously we still need to keep pushing, keep learning and keep getting better.”
The Caps got all the offense they’d need in Thursday’s game against the Cats when they scored twice on their first two shots of the game to take a 2-0 lead at the 3:10 mark of the first frame. In the process, they chased rookie Florida goaltender Jacob Markstrom to the bench.
Caps coach Adam Oates knows such games are outliers in today’s NHL, and he’ll caution his players to treat it as such.
“Almost like if it happened against us where [our mindset would be] we’ve got to throw that tape away,” said Oates after Thursday’s win. “The league’s not that easy. We’ve got to remove that, get back to focus, we’ve got two games on the weekend, let’s get back to work. We had one of those nights, and Florida had one of those bad nights and it’s over.”
The weekend Oates refers to is a busy one. The Caps visit the Islanders on Saturday, then return home to host the New York Rangers on Sunday afternoon. In between those two tilts, they’ll lose an hour to daylight savings time.
Saturday’s game is the start of the most grueling portion of Washington’s schedule this season. Starting with Saturday’s matinee match against the Isles, the Capitals will play 17 games in a span of just 30 days. Eleven of those contests will be on the road, where Washington is just 3-6-1 on the season. The Caps have five sets of games on back-to-back nights during that 30-day span.
“This is where we’re going to have to make up our ground,” says Caps defenseman Karl Alzner. “We’re probably going to be up toward the top of the league in games played, so we’ve got to make sure we take advantage of the ones we have in hand on a few teams. It’s easy to get into a good groove here and put together a little winning streak but it’s also easy to go the other way. But we’re hoping for the positive results that we’ve been getting lately.
“This is where I think we’ll really feel the tougher schedule and the compacted season. I just hope that everybody takes care of themselves, stays healthy and we keep playing the way we have, playing smart and playing hard as well. It’s going to be a fun month.”
The key to this upcoming stretch for the Capitals will be winning away from Verizon Center. Washington has won four straight in its own barn, but the team’s total of three road victories (in 10 away games) is tied for the fewest among all Eastern Conference teams.
Each of the Capitals’ three road wins to date has come against a Southeast Division opponent. The Caps are 0-5-1 on the road against the rest of the league this season.
Washington goalie Michal Neuvirth did not accompany his teammates to Long Island. Rookie netminder Philipp Grubauer is on the trip, and it’s possible that he’ll get his first NHL start in one of Washington’s two games this weekend. It’s also possible that Braden Holtby, who has started each of Washington’s last 11 games, would get both weekend starting assignments.
Caps forward Marcus Johansson joined his teammates on the trip, traveling for the first time in a month. Johansson has been sidelined for the last month with an upper body injury. When Oates asked him at Friday morning’s practice if he would be able to play this weekend if one of Washington’s forwards were suddenly unable to answer the bell, Johansson answered in the affirmative.
Saturday’s game finishes off a seven-game homestand for the Islanders, the team’s longest this season. New York will play seven of its next 11 on the road after Washington’s visit this weekend.
The Isles have taken at least a point in each of their last four games, going 2-0-2. During their current homestand, the Islanders are 2-2-2. They are just 4-8-1 on home ice this season.
Most recently, the Islanders suffered a tough Thursday night loss to the rival Rangers. The Isles nursed a one-goal lead into the late stages of the third period before the Rangers’ Rick Nash beat Islanders’ netminder Evgeni Nabokov to tie the game with 5:23 left.
The Rangers’ Marian Gaborik scored a power-play goal to win it for the Blueshirts in the first minute of overtime. Nabokov made 35 saves in a losing effort, falling to 10-7-3 on the season.
Ex-Cap Roman Hamrlik made his debut for the Rangers in Thursday’s game, skating 15:48 against another of his six former NHL employers.
New York is a bit of a top-heavy team offensively. Its top forward unit of John Tavares with Matt Moulson and Brad Boyes has accounted for 30 of the team’s 69 goals (43.5%) this season. Contrast that to the Caps, where the top trio of Ribeiro between Ovechkin and Matt Hendricks has amassed 22 of 66 (33.3%) of Washington’s goals in 2012-13.
The Isles have gone through two of their last four games without getting a single power-play opportunity. New York is 12th in the league with 91 power-play chances this season, 15 more than the Capitals have received. The Isles have been shorthanded 84 times to Washington’s 86.
The Islanders’ 23.1% power-play success rate ranks sixth in the league, but their extra-man tallies have come mostly in bunches. New York has had a power play goal in just seven of its last 24 games, but it has scored multiple power-play goals in six of those seven contests.