November 13 vs. Minnesota Wild at Verizon Center
Time: 7:00 pm TV:Comcast SportsNet Plus 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
Minnesota Wild (7-10-1)
Washington Capitals (11-3-4)
The Capitals close out a three-game homestand with a Friday night Verizon Center visit from the Minnesota Wild. Friday’s game against the Wild is the first of back-to-back games for the Caps this weekend; Washington will depart immediately after the game for New Jersey where it faces the Devils on Saturday.
The Caps will be seeking their fourth straight victory on Friday. Wednesday’s 5-4 shootout win over the Islanders lifted Washington into the top spot in the Eastern Conference standings with 26 points. According to Elias Sports Bureau, this is the latest Washington has occupied that lofty perch since April 7, 2000 when the Caps were one of three Eastern Conference clubs to share catbird’s seat.
Injured left wing Alex Ovechkin practiced with his teammates on Thursday but is still unlikely to play this weekend (the Caps play at New Jersey on Saturday). Washington has scored 17 goals in Ovechkin’s four-game absence, getting lamp-lighters from 10 different players and scoring four power play goals in 10 extra-man chances.
Ovechkin missed four games in his first four seasons in the league, and Washington went 1-3 in that quartet of contests, with the lone win coming in a shootout. The Caps were outscored 15-7 in those four games and they were 3-for-18 on the power play.
This season’s Capitals are a deeper and more diverse offensive group. Secondary scoring was somewhat hard to come by early in the campaign, but not any more. The Caps have six players with five or more goals and seven players with at least 14 points.
“I think we’ve got a lot of weapons,” says Caps forward Brooks Laich. “Up front, you probably are looking at upwards of six or seven 20-goal scorers. You’ve got Mike Green on the back who scored 30 last year.
Washington has had seven different players score more than one goal in a game this season, and those seven have combined for 16 multiple-goal games in the Caps’ 18 contests this season.
“Just our style of play I think is very offensive-minded,” says Laich. “We’d like to play better defensively, but it’s nice to know that we can score. The power play at the start of the season wasn’t so great, but lately if you can get one or two power play goals a game, now you’re looking at scoring four and five goals a game. The power play is a big part of it but also the talent in the room I think contributes to a lot of goals.”
The Caps have scored two or more goals in each of their 18 games this season. The last time Washington owned a longer streak of consecutive games with two or more goals was when it closed out the 1993-94 season by scoring at least a pair of goals in each of its last 24 games.
The Capitals lead the NHL with an average of 3.78 goals per game, nearly a quarter of a goal more than their nearest pursuer (Philadelphia has 3.57).
“We’ve got good scoring all through the lineup,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “We still know that there are guys who can contribute more even with the allotted ice time that they get. We’re hoping that the guys who are going well don’t stop and we’re hoping that the guys who can get better do get better.
“When you believe you can score, you usually score.”
Now in the eighth season of its NHL existence, the Wild is playing through its first season without longtime coach Jacques Lemaire, longtime general manager Doug Risebrough and longtime (and oft-injured) sniper Marian Gaborik. All three departed the Twin City area after the conclusion of the 2008-09 campaign.
The team’s new regime – fronted by coach Todd Richards and GM Chuck Fletcher – got off to a difficult 1-6 start this season. The Wild has steadied itself since, going 6-4-1 in its last 11 games.
Most recently, the Wild squandered a 3-1 third-period lead on Thursday night in Tampa Bay, absorbing a 4-3 shootout setback.
Minnesota signed right wing Martin Havlat as the ostensible replacement for Gaborik. Havlat is off to a very sluggish start in his first season with the Wild. Havlat has two goals and eight points and is a minus-13. Only Minnesota teammate Brent Burns (minus-14) has a worse plus/minus mark among all NHL skaters.
The Wild is making its first trip to Verizon Center since Feb. 26, 2008 when the Caps handed it a 4-1 defeat. The Caps are 3-5-1 all time against the Wild, but Washington is 3-1 against Minnesota in games played at the Phone Booth.
Minnesota is in the midst of a four-game road trip. After dropping eight straight road contests to start the season, Minnesota has won its last two on the road, taking victories in Pittsburgh and Toronto.
The Wild is 4-0-1 against Eastern Conference foes and just 3-10 against its fellow Western Conference denizens.