December 15 vs. Anaheim Ducks at Verizon Center
Time: 7:00 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 820AM, 1500AM and XM Pre-Game: Capitals Report/Pre-Cap pregame podcast at 2 p.m. on washingtoncaps.com
Anaheim Ducks (16-13-4)
Washington Capitals (18-11-3)
Washington looks to put a halt to its six-game losing streak – the team’s longest in more than three years – on Wednesday when the Anaheim Ducks visit Verizon Center. The game is the first of two meetings between the Capitals and the Ducks this season. The Caps travel to Anaheim in mid-February.
The Capitals’ skid extended to six in ugly fashion on Sunday in New York when Washington absorbed a 7-0 whitewashing at the hands of the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. The shutout loss was the Capitals’ fourth in their last 13 games, the most shutouts the team has suffered in the tightest span since it was blanked four times in 10 games almost exactly a dozen years ago.
Sunday’s shutout loss was Washington’s worst in nearly a quarter century, since a 7-0 shutout at the hands of the Red Wings and rookie goalie Mark “Trees” Laforest in Detroit on Jan. 28, 1986.
The Capitals are now 4-7-2 in their last 13 games, the worst stretch of hockey they’ve played in the nearly 37 months since Bruce Boudreau took over behind the team’s bench. They’ve been outscored 33-16 at even strength in their last 13 games and by 15-5 during the life of the losing streak.
Washington had the best 5-on-5 goal differential in the NHL last season, but it has now been outscored 61-57 in 5-on-5 play this season. The Caps own an anemic 3.5% shooting pct. and opponents are firing at a 13.75% clip over the same span.
Sunday’s game was Washington’s third in four nights, and it played the last two of those three games with several players who were battling flu-like symptoms. Monday was a day of rest and relaxation, a day to forget the burden of the club’s longest losing streak since March 2007 and to recharge from the rigors of the season.
The timing of the day off was perfect. To a man, the Capitals thought the day away from the game was beneficial.
“I think so,” says Caps left wing Jason Chimera. “I think losing streaks take on too much and winning streaks take on too much. Sometimes you win some you shouldn’t win and you lose some you shouldn’t lose during losing streaks. You’ve just got to relax and play hockey. Ultimately, it’s a game and it’s a fun game.
“You go home to your kids and losing streaks are not so important. They certainly are important when you get back to the rink. But when you get home to your kids and relax and just take your kids to school and stuff, I think it gives you a mental break to see the smile on his face. He doesn’t care if you lose or win. To him, I’m a 50-goal scorer so it’s good.”
Even in having a day away from the game, the specter of the streak still looms and ultimately creeps into the minds of the players.
“[Get away] and not see people for a little bit,” says Knuble of Monday. “It’s okay. Maybe do some other things, get away from the game a little bit. The bottom line is, whatever you’re doing you’ll still be thinking about it. You can’t totally cut yourself off at this point. It’s still going to be in the back of your mind.”
Perhaps the streak’s overbearing presence – there were more media folks in attendance for Tuesday’s practice than any other since the season started – will help put an end to it.
“You can’t let it go on any further,” states Knuble. ”You’ve got to quit feeling sorry for yourself, feeling sorry for your team. The Anaheim Ducks sure aren’t going to feel sorry for you. Every game you have to treat as a new opportunity to start again. You’ve got to park whatever’s happening behind you and move forward. It’s hard to do sometimes because things do weigh on you after a while. It’s part of being a professional. You get very involved in the present time of the game and that’s where your mind has to be when the puck does drop.”
On Tuesday, most of the Caps were back on the ice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. Center Boyd Gordon was missing; he’ll be sidelined for a week with a lower body injury. Forwards Alexander Semin and Marcus Johansson were out because of illness, the latest pair to feel the effects of whatever sickness is coursing its way through the room.
Washington will seek a cure for what ails it on the ice against Anaheim.
“I hate losing,” sighs Boudreau. “I looked it up and I don’t think I’ve been on a team that’s lost more than three [regulation] games in a row since the year 2001. It’s something that weighs on me because I take it personally.
“I think I have a big part to do with this team. I obviously don’t like what’s going on, but I do believe in everybody in the room that we’re going to get out of it. It’s not like we’ve got 15 points. We’re fourth overall in the NHL still, and first in our division even though the lead was a little larger [before the streak started]. And Pittsburgh is five [points] ahead of us and they’re 14-0-1 in their last 15.”
With a 1-5-1 record in December, the Caps need to string together a series of wins to avoid their first losing month since Nov. 2007, when Boudreau took the reins.
Anaheim has played the most games in the league at 33. The Ducks waddled out to a slow start this season, going 4-7-1 in the month of October. Early season injuries on the blueline put the defense corps in a state of flux; Anaheim allowed 35 or more shots on goal in nine of its 12 games in the season’s first month and it allowed four or more goals in a half a dozen of those games.
The Ducks opened November with six straight wins, then followed with a six-game winless streak (0-4-2). Anaheim hits the District on Wednesday to open a five-game road trip and seven straight on the road, and it does so with a 6-2-1 mark in its last nine games. Anaheim’s next home game is on New Year’s Eve, when it hosts Philadelphia.
During that difficult first month of the 2010-11 season, there were calls for the head of bench boss Randy Carlyle, the former Caps’ assistant who led the Ducks to the Stanley Cup championship in 2007. But Carlyle has been able to right his ship. He has the Ducks two points from the top spot in the Pacific Division, and just five points shy of the top spot in the conference.
Anaheim practiced at Kettler on Tuesday, and as the Ducks hit the ice it was announced that the team had extended Carlyle’s contract by a season.
"Randy has done a terrific job for us over the last six seasons," Ducks executive vice president and general manager Bob Murray said in a statement. "His record speaks for itself and we are pleased to have him leading our club going forward."
As has been the case for the last few seasons, the Ducks are led by their youthful trio of top forwards: Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan. Perry is tied for seventh in the league in scoring with 35 points (16 goals, 19 assists) and Getzlaf is tied for 12th (10 goals, 12 assists).
In the team’s most recent game – a 6-2 win over the Wild at Honda Center on Sunday – Perry had his first career hat trick, Getzlaf scored twice and Ryan scored once as the trio accounted for all six Ducks goals.
“They’re as good a threesome as any three in the league,” says Boudreau. “There’s no doubt in my mind. They make that team very good. Two of them were picked for Canada’s [2010 Olympic] team that won the gold medal, and there’s a lot of good players from Canada. One was picked by the American squad and there are a lot of great players in America.
“They’re going to be tough to contain, and hopefully we can do it. It’s quite a challenge for us. Hopefully, we’ll succeed.”
The Ducks are 20th in the league in goals per game, 22nd in goals against per game and 20th in penalty killing. Anaheim is ninth in the league in power play efficiency. The Ducks finished in the top five in power play proficiency in each of the previous two seasons.
Anahein is 5-7-3 on the road this season. The Ducks are tied with St. Louis (5-7-3) and Calgary (5-9-3) for the fewest road victories among all Western Conference clubs.
Thanks to Carter Myers for the primary assist on some of the above facts and figures.