Edmonton Oilers (21-22-4)
Washington Capitals (19-21-5)
The Edmonton Oilers visit Verizon Center for the first time in just over four years on Thursday. Edmonton’s last trip to the District was Jan. 11, 2004 when Caps goaltender Olie Kolzig blanked the Oilers 1-0.
Hours after learning they’d lost center Michael Nylander for the season because of a torn rotator cuff that would require surgery, the Capitals took the ice on Tuesday night and defeated the Eastern Conference-leading Ottawa Senators for the fourth straight time this season, 4-2. The win drew the Caps to within five points of front-running Carolina and Atlanta in the Southeast Division standings.
Winger Matt Pettinger is a veteran of more than 300 NHL games, but he has never suited up for a Stanley Cup playoff game. He hopes that changes this spring, but in the meantime, he and his teammates are appreciative of being involved in a meaningful playoff chase.
“It’s exciting,” Pettinger admits, “but at the same time we have to win those games. We know [the Hurricanes] are going to be hungry. They’ve had a bit of a slide here so we expect a huge push from them down the stretch. If you look at it, Atlanta is right there. Tampa Bay is only four or five [points] behind us, and Florida is right there. As much as you look at catching Carolina, those other teams are right there, too. There is still a lot of hockey left.”
The win over Ottawa extended Washington’s run without consecutive regulation setbacks to 24 straight games, the team’s longest since it went 26 games (16-6-4) without suffering consecutive regulation losses from Nov. 12, 2000 to Jan. 6, 2001.
In the midst of that run, a 20-year-old first-year pro was summoned from the Caps’ Portland farm club of the AHL. He joined a group of mostly veteran players and Matt Pettinger made his NHL debut against the Islanders on Nov. 24, 2000 in a 1-0 Washington win over New York.
“It’s different, obviously,” says Pettinger, recalling that previous streak more than seven years ago. “I was young and just happy to be in the league. Now I’ve been here so long with Olie and a few of the guys. I’ve been here through the hard times of the last few years, and the struggles and the non-playoffs and the rebuilding.
“Now we’re starting to see the fruits of our labor. We go into games now expecting to win. We make a point of not losing two games in a row anymore; it’s just not acceptable where in years past, that point was never brought up. That was just where we were as an organization and where we were as a team.
“Now guys have developed, guys have won at the minor league level, we have a coach with a winning history and he doesn’t accept mediocrity. It feeds off to everyone and we all have that attitude.”
Pettinger scored 20 goals in 2005-06 and netted 16 last season. He slumped in the first half of 2007-08, but hopes to rebound down the stretch and help the Caps replace some of the offense lost when Nylander went under the knife.
“That’s what I expect from myself,” Pettinger declares. “I know it’s been a slow first half, personally. The results haven’t been where I want them or where they need to be. But it’s the second half now, and the main goal is playoffs, playoffs, playoffs. You’ve got to put aside personal goals and whether you’re playing seven minutes a night or 27 minutes a night, everyone contributes to this team and we need everyone going. With Nyls out, it’s a huge offensive void. But that just means other guys have to step up.”
Brent Johnson backstopped Washington in its win over Ottawa, running his career record to 4-1 over the Sens in the process. Johnson has played well despite playing sporadically this season, and Caps coach Bruce Boudreau has stated that he plans on curtailing the usually heavy workload of No. 1 netminder Olie Kolzig, who is less than three months from his 38th birthday. But after Wednesday’s practice, Boudreau still hadn’t settled on a starting goaltender for Thursday’s game with the Oilers.
“I think we’ve got two good goaltenders,” says Boudreau. “Olie is the guy who is going to play the brunt of it; he’s our No. 1 guy. When Brent can come in and do a great job and give some relief to Olie, fabulous. That’s the way we’ll run.”
Washington is 2-1 in its current five-game homestand, the team’s longest of the season. The Caps are 6-2-2 in their last 10 games. Among all Eastern Conference teams, only Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and New Jersey have accumulated more points than the 14 the Capitals have picked up in their last 10 games.
Prior to Wednesday night’s slate of NHL activity, the Capitals ranked 22nd in the league with a 16.7% power play success rate. Washington is 18th in the NHL in penalty killing with a kill rate of 81.2%.
Despite having one of the league’s youngest teams, the Caps have been disciplined of late. Washington has permitted the opposition as many as six power plays just once in its last 13 games. The Caps have allowed just seven opposition power play chances in the previous three games of the current homestand.
After going 4-1 in their own five-game homestand, the Oilers now embark upon a five-game road trip in which they will face each of the five members of the Southeast Division in a span of eight nights. The Oilers won each of the first four games of their recent homestand, but dropped the finale to Los Angeles by a 3-1 score on Tuesday night. The Oilers outscored the opposition 14-5 during the life of their four-game winning streak.
With 46 points, Edmonton is tied for 13th in the Western Conference standings, seven points behind eighth place Colorado for the final playoff berth. Edmonton has collected more than half (11 of 21) of its wins via the shootout, going 11-2 in shootout contests. The Oilers are just one shy of the league record for most shootout wins in a season, established by the 2005-06 Dallas Stars.
Like the Caps, the Oilers have one of the youngest teams in the league. While the Caps might have reason to stew a bit about defenseman Mike Green being left off the Eastern Conference all-star squad, the Oilers should be irate about the omission of rookie defenseman Tom Gilbert from the YoungStars roster. Gilbert leads all NHL rookie defensemen with seven goals, and his 22:04 average ice time figure is tops among all freshman blueliners in the Western Conference.
Edmonton has never won at Verizon Center. Its last win against the Caps in the District came on Jan. 26, 1997 in a Super Bowl Sunday matinee tilt at USAir Arena.
The Oilers’ power play has clicked on just 14.1% of its chances this season and ranks 28th in the circuit in that category. Edmonton features the eighth best penalty killing outfit in the league. The Oilers have snuffed out 84.3% of the opposition’s manpower advantage opportunities.
Notes: Each of the last two meetings (and three of the last six) between the Caps and the Oilers has resulted in a shutout. The Oilers blanked the Caps 4-0 last October in Edmonton and the Caps edged the Oil 1-0 when Edmonton made its last trip to the District some four years ago.
Fun Fact: The Oilers are one of just five NHL teams against which Alex Ovechkin has yet to score a goal. The Oilers and San Jose are the only teams against which Ovechkin has failed to register a point.
Short Shifts: Nicklas Backstrom has six goals and 17 points in his last 18 games … Matt Bradley has one assist in nine career games against the Oilers … Donald Brashear has five goals, 10 points and 120 PIM in 33 career games against the Oilers … Chris Clark has two goals and four points in 21 career games against the Oilers. He has five goals and nine points in his last 11 games … John Erskine skated 17:37 in Tuesday’s win over Ottawa, his best single-game total since he logged 20:56 in an Oct. 29 game against Toronto … Boyd Gordon has two goals and five points in his last six games … Tomas Fleischmann has three assists in his last three games … Mike Green has five goals and 11 points and is plus-5 in his last seven games … Brent Johnson is 2-3-1 with a 2.72 goals against average and an .894 save pct. lifetime against Edmonton. Since the beginning of November, Johnson is 3-2-1 with a 2.31 goals against average and a .915 save pct. in eight appearances (six starts) … Olie Kolzig is 5-4 with two shutouts, a 2.59 goals against average and an .898 save pct. lifetime against the Oilers. He is 3-1 with a 3.17 goals against average and an .889 save pct. in his last five starts … Viktor Kozlov has three goals and eight points in 23 career games against the Oilers. He has a goal and seven points in his last 10 games … Brooks Laich has a goal and four points and is plus-3 in his last six games … Quintin Laing has played plus or even hockey in each of his last 12 games. He is plus-6 during that period … Shaone Morrisonn is plus-13 in his last 24 games … Alex Ovechkin has gone as many as two games without a goal just once this season. He has 11 goals and 17 points in his last 12 games … Tom Poti has four assists in three career games against Edmonton … Jeff Schultzis plus-5 in his last nine games … Alexander Semin has seven goals and 11 points in his last 11 games … Mathieu Garon is 2-1-1 with a shutout, a 2.48 goals against average and a .907 save pct. lifetime against Washington. He is 5-2 with a 2.10 goals against average, a shutout and a .933 save pct. in his last seven starts … Tom Gilbert has a goal and three points and is plus-6 in his last seven games. He is averaging 22:04 a night, second among all rookie defensemen in average ice time per contest … Ales Hemsky has two assists in three career games against the Capitals. He has a five-game scoring streak in the works (two goals, six assists) … Shawn Horcoff has a five-game scoring streak going (three goals, six assists) … Ethan Moreau has four goals and six points in 11 career games against the Caps … Robert Nilsson has a goal and four points in three career games against Washington. He collected his first NHL point with an assist against the Caps on Oct. 13, 2005 … Dustin Penner has a goal in his only career game against the Capitals. He has three goals and six points in his last seven games … Fernando Pisani has four goals in three career games against Washington. He recorded his only NHL hat trick against Washington on Mar. 22, 2003 … Joni Pitkanen has three assists in seven career games against the Capitals … Marty Reasoner has a goal and five points in seven career games against the Caps … Dwayne Roloson is 4-2 with two shutouts, a 1.34 goals against average and a .933 save pct. lifetime vs. Washington … Geoff Sanderson has 11 goals and 18 points in 38 career games against the Caps … Sheldon Souray has five goals and 14 points in 26 career games vs. the Capitals … Steve Staios has three goals and four points in 17 career games against Washington … Jarret Stoll has one assist in his only career game against the Caps. He has two goals and six points in his last seven games … Dick Tarnstrom has one goal and six points in nine lifetime games against Washington.
Injuries Edmonton Oilers
Defenseman Matt Greene has a fractured left fibula and is out indefinitely.
Left wing Raffi Torres has a torn right ACL and is out idefinitely.
Left wing Geoff Sanderson has the flu and is day-to-day.
Defenseman Brian Pothier has an upper body injury and is day-to-day.
Center Michael Nylander underwent shoulder surgery and is out indefinitely.
Right wing Chris Clark has a groin injury and is day-to-day.
Possible Line Combos and Defensive Pairings Edmonton Forwards
27-Penner, 10-Horcoff, 83-Hemsky
16-Stoll, 19-Reasoner, 89-Gagner
18-Moreau, 13-Cogliano, 34-Pisani
12-Nilsson, 51-Brodziak, 46-Stortini