November 11 vs. New York Islanders at Verizon Center
Time: 7:00 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 820AM, 1500AM and XM Pre-Game: Capitals Report/Pre-Cap at 2 p.m. and Two-Man Advantage at 5:45 on washingtoncaps.com
New York Islanders (6-6-5)
Washington Capitals (10-3-4)
Wednesday night marks the third meeting between the Capitals and the Islanders in the season’s first 18 games. The two old Patrick Division foes go head-to-head again at Verizon Center, facing off for the third time in 19 days.
Washington has just three regulation losses in its first 17 games, the fewest of any team in the NHL. The Caps’ 24 points is tied for the most in the Eastern Conference and two points shy of Colorado and San Jose for the top spot in the league. Both the Avalanche and the Sharks have played one more game than Washington.
The Caps have picked up at least a point in 11 of their last 12 games (8-1-3), but they’ve also let a few points slip away in the third period of games this season.
Washington has won two of three and two straight since superstar left wing Alex Ovechkin was sidelined with an upper body strain 10 days ago. The Caps played poorly in the third period of their lone loss without Ovechkin, taking a string of offensive zone penalties and surrendering two power-play goals in the third period of last Wednesday's 3-2 loss at New Jersey.
With a home-and-home Southeast Division set against the Florida Panthers looming, Caps coach Bruce Boudreau skated his charges hard on Thursday in Florida. That strategy paid off as the Caps cruised to consecutive wins over the Cats, 4-1 on Friday in Florida and 7-4 at Verizon Center on Saturday.
“It goes to show,” says Boudreau. “I worked them pretty hard on Thursday. When you want to work, fatigue never is a factor. It’s only used as an excuse. We worked hard in the third period and in the whole game I thought [on Friday], and we had maybe our toughest skate of the year on Thursday. It’s all about the will, I believe.”
“Bruce sent a message before the Florida game on Thursday,” says Caps left wing Quintin Laing. “We had a good, hard 40-minute skate. It was just about getting back to working hard. And that’s what it came down to in the third period in that first game in Florida. That five-minute major, we just got back to doing whatever it takes and just working hard and getting the job done. I think guys felt like that was a big turning point with that week.”
Washington came up with statement third period efforts in both games. Holding a 3-1 lead with eight minutes to go, the Caps killed off a five-minute major to defenseman Shaone Morrisonn in Friday night’s game. Not only did Florida not score, it never had a sniff. The Caps did not allow a shot on goal during the major penalty.
“It was a lot of fun,” exclaims Laing. “Guys were out there for 20-25 seconds, 30 seconds tops and we were changing. Everybody was involved in that kill.
“That led into the next game, too, where he had over 30 hits again and guys were believing and just getting back to work. To come back in the third, it was exciting to see [Mathieu Perreault] score his first goal. And then we just kept hitting them and wearing them down and that led to a few goals I think when their [defense] were expecting hits and maybe we didn’t hit them. But we got the puck back from them and it led to five goals.”
The five goals Laing refers to came in the third period of Saturday’s game in the District. The Caps trailed 3-2 going into the final 20 minutes, and had not mustered much in the way of offense against Florida’s Scott Clemmensen and a Panthers defense that has allowed the most shots on goal per game of any team in the NHL.
At the start of the third, Boudreau flipped the right wings on the top two lines, putting Mike Knuble with Tomas Fleischmann and Nicklas Backstrom. Washington’s comeback got rolling when Mathieu Perreault and Laing scored 40 seconds apart to give the Caps the lead. But Knuble scored his second of the game and Fleischmann had a pair in the third to give the Caps some rare breathing room. Eleven of the Caps’ 17 games this season have been decided by a single goal.
“During the course of a game you can tell if the chemistry is right in that particular game or if it’s not,” says Boudreau. “I didn’t think the Fleischmann-Backstrom-[Alexander] Semin line was doing very well. I was going to change it halfway through the second. But I said ‘I’ll let them get through the [second].’ And then maybe it was something Florida wouldn’t pick up, that we changed lines.
“We just switched Mike Knuble and Alex. Mike was going and Sasha was struggling a bit, so it worked out good.”
The win was Washington’s 10th of the season, and it put the Caps a point ahead of last year’s pace when the team set a franchise record with 108 points.
“I think it all started on Thursday,” says Laing, “with that skate and it snowballed with guys just getting back to basics and working hard, taking it upon themselves to step up and get that weekend [series].”
Ovechkin is feeling better and is likely within a week or so of returning to the lineup. Defenseman Mike Green, who missed Saturday's game with an upper body ailment, is set to return on Wednesday. Blueliner Jeff Schultz (lower body) and center Boyd Gordon (back) are still out.
Although the Islanders occupy the basement of the Atlantic Division, they are playing what passes for .500 hockey in the modern (where you can lose and still pick up a point) NHL. The Isles have collected at least a point in 11 of their 17 games and they are just seven points behind front-running Pittsburgh in the league’s tightest division.
New York took a 2-0 lead early in the third period of an Oct. 24 game between the Caps and Islanders, the first meeting between the two teams this season. But Washington stormed back to tie the game and then won it in overtime on Brooks Laich’s goal.
Six days later, the Isles returned the favor in Washington. The Caps took a lead but were unable to hold it, and New York’s Mark Streit sent the visitors home with two points when he scored in overtime.
Coming off a 6-3 Saturday night win over Atlanta on home ice, the Isles are opening a stretch of seven straight games on the road – their longest tour of the season – in Washington on Wednesday.
The Islanders have won four of their last six and have allowed three or fewer goals in each of their last nine games. Although they’ve been idle since Saturday, the Fishermen are a bit nicked up. Veteran winger Trent Hunter (torn pectoral muscle) is nearly ready to return and could suit up against the Caps. But New York will be without defenseman Radek Martinek (torn ACL) and is also likely to be without forwards Doug Weight (upper body) and Kyle Okposo (swine flu).
Martinek is lost for the season. As the Isles’ second-leading ice time getter (22:47 a night), he’ll be hard to replace.
New York has operated with a split in goal, using veteran free-agent pick-ups Dwayne Roloson and Martin Biron almost equally thus far. The two netminders have very similar peripheral stats, but Roloson’s record (5-1-3) is far superior to that of Biron (1-5-2), mainly because Roloson has had far better offensive support from his teammates.
Roloson has started both of the Isles’ games against Washington this season.
New York is just 2-for-18 (11.1%) with the extra man in its last half dozen games.