January 2 vs. Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center
Time: 4:00 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 820AM, 1500AM and XM
Washington Capitals (24-10-6)
Los Angeles Kings (23-15-3)
The Capitals ring in calendar 2010 with a Saturday matinee match against the Kings in Los Angeles. The game concludes a two-game Western trip that began inauspiciously with a 5-2 loss to the Sharks in San Jose on Wednesday.
For just the second time in the first 40 games of the 2009-10 campaign, Washington has dropped two straight games in regulation. During Bruce Boudreau’s 183-game tenure behind the Washington bench, the Capitals have never lost more than three in a row in regulation. Washington has lost as many as three straight on three occasions with all of those occurring last season.
“We’re definitely not happy with how it’s going right now,” says Caps center Brooks Laich. “First, to lose to a team below you is something you should never do and something we pride ourselves on and [also] a division opponent in Carolina, to lose that game.
“And then to come out flat in a big game like [Wednesday’s] against what we feel is maybe the best team in the Western Conference. We came out and we didn’t play very well. So needless to say, the guys aren’t happy right now. That’s why we practiced hard today for an hour and we’re looking forward to Saturday’s game.”
Saturday’s game also concludes the first half of the 2009-10 season for the Capitals. With 54 points going into the game with the Kings, Washington is already ahead of the pace set by last season’s franchise record-setting 108-point team.
The Caps have allowed more than three goals in regulation time in consecutive games for the first time since the first week of the season. Washington had been on a roll defensively prior to those last two games, allowing just over 2.2 goals per game in its previous 18 contests.
“We had too many breakdowns,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “We started giving up 30 shots again and it can’t happen. If we want to be consistently good, we’ve got to be consistently keeping our goals [against] down. It wasn’t the penalty killing; I think they got one [power play] goal in the last couple of games.
“It’s not back to the drawing board to start over, but it sure is time to tweak a few things.”
For most of the first half of the season, Washington has been the league’s top teams in the first period. The Caps outscored opponents by a combined 49-19 in the first frame of their first 38 games this season. But Washington has been outscored 5-0 and outshot 23-7 in the last two games.
The Caps were able to rebound from a 2-0 deficit to defeat the Oilers in Edmonton on Dec. 19, but they’ve been unable to climb out of early holes in the last two games.
“We know we have offense that we can score,” says Laich, “so that’s why we don’t panic when we get down. But at the same point, that’s not a recipe for success, giving up a couple of goals in the first period. Generally if you look throughout the league, teams that lead the game in the first period, their records are pretty good. Most teams might have lost a couple of games when leading after one, but most teams are able to carry that through.
“We’ve had some success coming from behind. It’s nice to know that we can do that if we have to, but when you play a very good hockey team like we played [Wednesday] night in San Jose, it’s not going to happen very often.
Washington’s power play was 14-for-53 (26.4%) in the month of December, but half of those 14 extra-man tallies came in the first two games of the month. The Caps are a more pedestrian 7-for-35 (20%) in their last 11 games.
On the penalty killing side, Washington showed a great deal of discipline in December. The Caps’ shorthanded outfit faced as many as five opposition power plays only twice in 13 games during the month, and never faced more than five. The Capitals were 36-for-42 (85.7%) while shorthanded in December. They allowed more than one power play goal in just one of the month’s 13 games.
With an 8-5 December, the Caps have put together a 15th straight month with a winning record, extending a franchise-record streak.
For the Kings, Saturday’s game is their third in four days. Los Angeles reached its own halfway mark with a 5-2 win over the Minnesota Wild on Thursday. That victory put a halt to a four-game Los Angeles losing streak, the team’s longest of the season.
Before breaking out for five goals against the Wild in Thursday’s game, the Kings had managed just 15 tallies in their previous eight games. One of the Kings’ five goals against Minnesota came on the power play. Los Angeles is now 3-for-25 (12%) with the extra man over its last nine games.
The Kings have been excellent while shorthanded over that same nine-game span, killing of 29 of 33 (87.9%) opposition power play tries during that stretch.