March 22 vs. Winnipeg Jets at MTS Centre
Time: 7:00 p.m.
TV: Comcast SportsNet
Radio: 106.7 The Fan and Caps Radio Network
Washington Capitals (13-6-1)
Winnipeg Jets (16-13-2)
The Caps start the second half of their season long four-game road trip and play the second of back-to-back games against the Jets in Winnipeg on Friday night. On Thursday night at MTS Centre, the Caps authored an authoritative 4-0 shutout win over the Jets.
Goaltender Braden Holtby made 20 saves to record his second MTS Centre shutout over the Jets in a span of 19 days and Caps captain Alex Ovechkin paced the attack with a goal and three points.
With a second regulation victory over the Jets on Friday, the Caps would be able to pull within five points of the front-running Jets in the Southeast Division standings. Washington currently holds a game in hand on Winnipeg as well.
For Thursday’s game to have true meaning for the Capitals, they need to come right back into MTS Centre on Friday night and grab two more points.
“It’s nice to get the points tonight,” said Caps right wing Troy Brouwer after Thursday’s win. “But we can’t give them two points back [Friday]. We’re already focusing on [Friday], making sure that we take what we did at the end of this game and try to roll it over and keep the momentum into the beginning of [Friday’s] game.”
Washington has been lifted by the recent return to the lineup of three key players from last season’s team. Forward Brooks Laich and defenseman Dmitry Orlov both played their first games of the season for the Capitals on Tuesday in Pittsburgh after missing the first 28 contests because of injury. Defenseman Mike Green returned after a 10-game absence because of a lower body injury on Thursday, and he logged 22:44 in ice time in his first game back in the lineup.
“Big with three guys coming back,” says Ovechkin. “Greenie and Orly and Brooksie coming back. You can see when these guys are back out there we have more confidence. We have two lines that can create chances, we have two guys who can create pressure on them. Especially with Greenie; I think he is a top [defenseman] in the league. He can move the puck, he can skate, he can bodycheck. He is a big key for our team.”
Although the Caps are still missing defensemen John Erskine, Tomas Kundratek and Tom Poti because of injury, the lineup they put on the ice on Thursday night in Winnipeg is the closest thus far this season to what they envisioned their team would look like when they constructed it last summer.
“I think our last two games have been our most complete games of the season so far,” said Brouwer. “With the power play working, the penalty kill good in both games, our goaltender was good tonight. Holts was great back there. The d-men were moving the puck up, we were not really giving them a chance to cycle the puck in our zone and we were moving everything forward. Guys did an all-around good job.”
Holtby has now blanked the Jets twice in as many starts in Winnipeg this season, becoming the first Caps goalie to record two road shutouts against the same team in the same season since Olie Kolzig victimized Montreal in that fashion in 1999-00.
Whether Holtby gets the nod again in Friday’s game remains to be seen, but he has allowed just five goals in his three starts this week and has now stretched his personal shutout streak over the Jets to 140 minutes and 46 seconds.
Regardless of who starts in goal for the Capitals on Friday, they know they need two points again.
“That’s the point of the season where we are at,” said Holtby after Thursday’s win. “We have to do it every night. This game is over now; it’s in the past. We move on. We can’t live on how we played [Thursday], we have to prepare and play at least as good as we did today, [Friday].”
As you’d expect, the Jets are a bit on the sour side after suffering consecutive whitewash setbacks to the Capitals on their own ice sheet.
“You can’t go and do the same things,” said Jets coach Claude Noel after the game. “You just got beat twice. Of course you’ve got to change something. You’ve got to look at a lot of things. I don’t know what it’s going to be, but [Friday] will be a new day.
“We get to play the same opponent, so that’s a good thing. What do you want to do? Beat up on your players and cut their heads off and their hands off and say ‘you guys are bad?’ You think they enjoyed playing like this. Have you ever been on a team where they played like this?
“It is very frustrating. It’s not something you do by design as a player, and you certainly don’t do it by design as coaches. But we’re all responsible – all the players, and all the coaches and everybody. We’re all looking, trying to figure out a solution. It’s easy to sit there and look and say ‘oh gee, they didn’t play very well,’ it’s because of this and that.
“Sometimes there are no clear-cut answers. That’s the beautiful thing about this job. It’s about finding solutions. That’s the beauty.”
Even with Thursday’s loss, the Jets are still 6-2-1 in their last nine games and they still hold a two-point lead over the Carolina Hurricanes for the top spot in the Southeast Division.
Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec has played both ends of back-to-back games on four occasions this season, going 2-2 in the second half of those contests. He has a 3.80 GAA and an .888 save pct. in those four contests and was pulled from one of the games.
Pavelec has started eight straight games and 18 of the last 19 for the Jets. He is second in the NHL with 28 games played and is third with 27 starts this season.