February 4 vs. New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden
Time: 7:00 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 820AM, 1500AM and XM Pre-Game: Pre-Cap Podcast at 2:00 p.m. on www.washingtoncaps.com
Washington Capitals (38-12-6)
New York Rangers (25-25-7)
Washington winds up a two-game road trip on Thursday in New York, seeking its 12th straight win when it faces the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. The Capitals pushed their streak to a franchise record 11 games with Tuesday night’s 4-1 victory over the Bruins in Boston.
“It is fun to be part of franchise history,” says caps goaltender Jose Thoedore, who stole the game for Washington with 41 saves against the Bruins. “We knew it was going to be a tough game because Boston, I am still saying it, they are one of the best teams even though their record doesn’t show it. They are a great team. They are well coached. And it was tough but getting that 11th win and beating the old record was great.”
The Capitals‘ current streak matches the longest in the league since the lockout. The San Jose Sharks had an 11-game streak just over two years ago. The last NHL winning streak of more than 11 games in length was a 13-game run by the New Jersey Devils in 2000-01.
During the life of Washington’s 11-game winning streak, the team has outscored its opponents by a combined 51-22, including a 23-5 margin in the third period.
Washington’s third-period dominance is evidence of the Capitals ongoing maturation. They let some leads and some points slip away in the third period of games earlier this season.
“Two years ago this same club fought really hard just to make the playoffs,” observes Theodore. “Last year we took it to another level. This year it is just more maturity; we know what to expect. That is why we are not panicking if we are done a goal and we find a way to win. That is how you have to win in the playoffs.”
Theodore has won eight straight games, a personal career best. He has compiled a 1.93 GAA and a .944 save pct. during that stretch. His run is the third longest ever by a Washington goaltender. Cristobal Huet won nine straight games late in the 2007-08 season, and Pat Riggin set the franchise standard with a 10-game streak in 1983-84. Riggin was in goal for each of Washington’s 10 wins in its previous longest streak from Jan. 27-Feb. 18, 1984.
Washington netminders have combined to post a 1.99 GAA and a .941 save pct. during the life of the streak. The Caps have scored at least one power play goal in nine of the 11 games, and they are 12-for-33 (32.4%) with the extra man during the streak. On the penalty kill, the Capitals are 43-for-50 (86%) in the last 11 games.
“I think it’s pretty mind-boggling,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau of the streak. “These things set in during the summertime or when you have a hard time winning two in a row. You can’t imagine winning 11 in a row. It’s a pretty big number; it’s difficult to do.
“I’ve been in the pro game for 35 years now and I’ve only been involved in it once. So it comes around every 35 years. It’s a good milestone for those guys. You could see when we finally got the lead we started playing better.”
Since scoring a total of 14 goals in two straight victories over Montreal and Tampa Bay, respectively, in mid-January, the Blueshirts have dropped six of their last seven and have managed to score a total of nine goals in the seven games.
Like the previous string of Washington opponents dating back to last week – Florida, Tampa Bay, Boston and now New York – the Rangers are one of eight teams separated by just five points in a cluster of clubs vying for the final three Eastern Conference playoff berths.
Since opening the season with seven wins in their first eight games, the Rangers have posted an anemic 18-24-7 mark. In need of a shake-up the Blueshirts swung a deal earlier in the week when they shipped wingers Ales Kotalik and Chris Higgins to the Calgary Flames in exchange for center Olli Jokinen and winger Brandon Prust.
Jokinen is the key player for the Rangers, although the deal was designed primarily to rid the team of Kotalik’s onerous contract. Jokinen was the third player chosen in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft. It took a few seasons for Jokinen’s career to get on track, but he was the eighth leading scorer among all NHL centers in the first three seasons after the lockout.
In the two seasons since, however, the big Finn has fallen on hard times. He slipped to 57 points last season (he had 89 and 91 in 2005-06 and 2006-07, respectively), and has just 35 points (11 goals and 24 assists) in 57 games this season. Prior to 2009-10, Jokinen had averaged 34 goals per season over the previous six seasons.
In need of a serious injection of offense, the Rangers are taking a flyer on Jokinen, whose contract expires at season’s end. At 2.49 goals per game, the Rangers rank 28th in the league in offense. New York’s power play has gone 3-for-48 (6.3%) in its last 14 games and is without a goal (0-for-25) in its last seven games.
Jokinen centered for Vinny Prospal and Marian Gaborik in his first game with the Rangers, a 2-1 loss to the Kings in Los Angeles on Tuesday.
The Rangers have hung on the periphery of the playoff chase largely on the strength of Henrik Lundqvist’s excellent goaltending and the team’s strong penalty killing outfit (fourth in the NHL at 85.6%).
With a 2.39 GAA and a .920 save pct, Lundqvist is having a season that is squarely in line with his career numbers. The Rangers haven’t given him much in the way of offensive support.
Notes: Washington is plus-55 (145-90) in five-on-five play in its 56 games this season … Ex-Capitals winger Donald Brashear has been a healthy scratch in nine of New York’s last 10 games.