December 11 vs. Colorado Avalanche at Verizon Center
Time: 7:00 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 820AM, 1500AM and XM Pre-Game: Pre-Cap Podcast at 2 p.m. on washingtoncaps.com
Colorado Avalanche (14-10-4)
Washington Capitals (18-9-3)
Eleven days after swinging a two-player trade, the Washington Capitals and Colorado Avalanche will meet at Verizon Center on Saturday night. The game concludes Washington’s four-game homestand.
After an 0-2-1 start to their season-long four-game homestand, the Capitals will be seeking to salvage a victory before heading to New York for a Sunday date with the Rangers.
The Caps come into Saturday’s game on the heels of a 3-0 whitewashing at the hands of the Florida Panthers on Thursday. That loss was Washington’s fourth in a row, matching the longest losing run the Caps have endured in the 255-game tenure of Bruce Boudreau as the team’s bench boss.
At 4-5-2 in their last 11 games, and having scored one or zero goals in each of those five regulation losses, the Caps are in the midst of their worst slump of the Boudreau era. The shutout setback to the Panthers followed Monday’s 5-4 shootout loss to the Maple Leafs, a game the Caps appeared to have well in hand when they took a 4-1 lead into the third period against a team that hadn’t won a road game in nearly two months.
Whatever Washington did in scoring those four goals against Toronto, it stopped doing on Thursday when Tomas Vokoun stopped 36 shots – 18 of them in the first period – to blank the Capitals.
“The game we scored four goals against Toronto, we just went to the net, drew penalties, went to the net,” declares Boudreau. “Matty Perreault gets a deflection goal and that’s what happens. We haven’t been getting those because everybody wants to be the scorer and nobody wants to be the guy that creates the goal.”
Greasy goals, rebound goals, dirty goals, front-of-the-net goals, they’ve all been few and far between. The Caps have scored 25 goals in their last 11 games, tallying four or more on four occasions and one or none on five.
“Getting the follow-up chances is all about driving to the net instead of shooting the puck and watching where it’s going,” says Boudreau. “The best and the greatest scorers in the world have gone through these things. Then they find a way to get out of it and then when they do get out of it, good things happen.”
To make matters worse, five players did not take the ice for Friday’s practice because of flu symptoms. A few others managed to muddle their way through practice despite feeling less than their peak.
“We had six guys [out] this morning,” says Boudreau. “I’m not using it as an excuse and I don’t know if they were sick [Thursday] night or they just got it overnight. And that’s including our strength and conditioning coach [Mark Nemish], our dressing room attendant at Verizon and [team services director] Ian [Anderson]. They were all sick.
“It’s something that usually goes through the room when you’re having a bad time, too. So it’s something that we will fight through, and hopefully [Saturday] they will be ready to play. Hopefully it’s a 24-hour virus.”
With blueliners Mike Green and John Carlson among the sick who didn’t practice or finish practice on Friday, with defenseman Tyler Sloan already on injured reserve and ineligible to return until Sunday in New York at the earliest, and with rearguard Tom Poti also feeling flu symptoms, the Caps took the precautionary measure of recalling defenseman Brian Fahey from AHL Hershey on Friday afternoon.
Fahey, who has played in five NHL contests with the Caps this season, could be in the lineup against one of his former organizations on Saturday. He played in the Avs’ system last season and was with the parent club for three weeks in Nov.-Dec. without appearing in an NHL game.
With virtually every player on the roster falling short of personal offensive expectations so far, and with a flu bug coursing through the locker room, the Caps will face the Avs, the team to which they traded forward Tomas Fleischmann for defenseman Scott Hannan on Nov. 30.
Although the Caps have failed to score a power play goal in five of their last 11 games during their current run of mediocrity, the Washington power play is 9-for-43 (20.9%) during that span. While that figure is a shade south of Washington’s 22% rate on the season, it would rank ninth in the league at the moment.
Caps penalty killers have allowed a goal in each of the four games during the team’s current losing streak. During the last 11 games, the Capitals’ penalty killing corps has operated with a kill rate of 85.4%, a figure that’s better than Washington’s season-to-date rate of 84.2% and one that would place it seventh in the league.
If the special teams have been that strong in the last 11 games, even-strength play must be Washington’s undoing during that stretch. That’s precisely the case. The Caps have been outscored by a combined 27-16 at even strength in their last 11 contests, exactly a goal per game.
“This hasn’t happened to our team in the last four years,” says Boudreau of his teams current struggles. “But we’ve got good leadership. And they will be the determining factor, the room will be the determining factor of the will to get out of it, the will to continue winning and stay up in the upper echelon [of the standings]. I’m sure it will be a big factor, leadership.”
Colorado concludes a five-game road trip in the District on Saturday, a tour that has taken them through all five Southeast Division barns. The Avs are 1-1-2 on their current trip.
Most recently, they took a 4-2 win over the Thrashers in Atlanta on Friday night. Fleischmann scored his first goal in an Avs sweater – a power play goal – in the win over the Thrashers. He has a goal and four points in four games since the deal that sent Hannan to Washington.
In their last eight games, the Avs are a pedestrian 2-3-3.
The Avalanche is averaging 3.43 goals per game this season, the top figure in the NHL. Colorado allows an average of 3.14 goals per game, 27th in the NHL.
Colorado is 7-6-3 on the road in 2010-11, but the Avalanche is just 1-4-2 in its last seven road contests.
Washington’s recent struggles at even-strength don’t bode well against the Avalanche. Colorado has outscored the opposition by a combined 68-53 in five-on-five play thus far this season.
The Avalanche has tallied at least one power play goal in 10 of its last 13 games (11-for-43, 25.6%) and Colorado has held the opposition’s extra-man unit at bay in eight of the team’s last 11 contests (38-for-42, 90.5%).
Saturday’s game marks the return of Avs head coach Joe Sacco to the District for the first time as an NHL head coach. Sacco skated on the wing for three seasons as a Capital from 1999-2002. He totaled 14 goals and 44 points in 213 games with Washington.
Thanks to Carter Myers for the primary assist on some of the stats contained within.