December 18 vs. Vancouver Canucks at GM Place
Time: 10:00 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 820AM, 1500AM and XM Pre-Game: Pre-Cap Podcast at 4 p.m. on www.washingtoncaps.com
Washington Capitals (21-7-6)
Vancouver Canucks (19-15-0)
Three nights after a 6-1 pounding of the Colorado Avalanche in Denver, the Capitals continue their trip through the Northwest with a visit to Vancouver, their first in more than three years. The Caps are 2-0 against Northwest Division foes this season and they are 4-1-1 against Western Conference opponents.
Washington’s six-goal offensive outburst in the Mile High City marked the sixth time this season (in 34 games) it had scored half a dozen or more goals in a game. The Caps had as many as six goals in a contest five times during the entire 2008-09 campaign.
In the last four games in which the Caps have mustered six or more tallies, superstar left wing Alex Ovechkin has not scored any goals.
With 25 points (11-5-3) on the road this season, the Caps are tied for the league lead. Washington also leads the league with 65 goals on the road this season, an average of 3.41 tallies per road tilt. The Caps lead the league with an overall average of 3.56 goals per game, a figure that is .38 goals per game more than the San Jose Sharks, the second-place team in that category.
The Capitals are 8-2 in their last 10 games and they are 6-2-2 in their last 10 road contests. Washington is off to a 5-2 start in the month of December.
With a power play success rate of 24.3%, the Capitals lead the NHL. But having had just 14 power play chances in its last five games and two days off between the Colorado game and Friday’s contest against the Canucks, the Caps spent some of Thursday’s practice working on their special teams play.
Recently, Washington went nine days between structured practice sessions and its overall game became somewhat untamed at the end of that stretch. This week, the Caps had the luxury of three practices in four days heading into back-to-back games in Vancouver and Edmonton this weekend.
“[Thursday] we’ll work on all special teams because I think they’ve gotten away from us a little bit,” said Caps coach Bruce Boudreau after Wednesday’s practice at GM Place in Vancouver. “We’ll have a good practice with them and hopefully it will transcend into a good special teams weekend.”
Washington’s first-period exploits have been well chronicled; the team holds a whopping 43-17 margin over its opponents in the first period this season. Vancouver is second in the league with 39 first-period strikes.
The Caps’ propensity for third-period struggles has also been well documented. Washington has allowed 37 third-period goals this season, the eighth-highest total in the league. Vancouver has scored 43 third-period goals this season, second only to Atlanta’s 45.
The Canucks are the only team in the NHL that has yet to suffer a loss in overtime or in the shootout. Vancouver has needed extra time to settle just two of its 34 games this season and has not gone to overtime since Oct. 29 against Los Angeles. The Canucks are 2-0 in games that go more than 60 minutes this season, and both of those victories came in the shootout.
Vancouver is in the midst of an eight-game homestand that spans 17 days. Because of the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, the Canucks will play 14 consecutive road games later this season. They’ll play eight road games in 16 days leading into the NHL’s Olympic break and they will play six straight contests away from home in just nine days immediately after the break.
The Canucks are 3-1 on the current homestand to date. They suffered a 3-2 loss to Anaheim on Wednesday, a setback that ended a three-game winning streak.
Vancouver is 13-5 on home ice this season. The Canucks have surrendered just 37 goals in 18 home games (2.01 per game) as compared to 51 goals against in 16 road games (3.19 per game). Vancouver has amassed just 12 points on the road this season, the fewest of any club in the Western Conference.
With an average of 3.06 goals per game this season, Vancouver ranks fifth in the NHL. The Canucks lead the league with 62 goals on home ice. They average 3.44 goals per game at GM Place this season.
The Canucks hold a 1.29 goals-for/goals against ratio at even strength this season, the third-best mark in the league. Washington leads at 1.45 and Pittsburgh is second at 1.31.
With just 14 points separating the 15 Western Conference clubs going into Thursday night’s action, the battle for playoff positioning figures to be a dogged one the rest of the way. Given Vancouver’s difficulties on the road thus far this season and the daunting road schedule that lies ahead for the Canucks, the Caps can expect to run into a buzzsaw here on Friday night.