January 14 vs. Vancouver Canucks at Verizon Center
Time: 7:00 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 820AM, 1500AM and XM Pre-Game: Pre-Cap Pre-Game Podcast on washingtoncaps.com at 2 p.m.
Vancouver Canucks (28-8-6)
Washington Capitals (24-13-7)
Washington starts a two-game homestand with a rare visit from the Vancouver Canucks, currently the class of the NHL. The Canucks hit town on the heels of a 1-0 loss to the Rangers in New York on Thursday night. That setback was the Canucks’ first in regulation since Dec. 5, a span of 18 games (14-1-3).
The Capitals are 6-1-3 in their last 10 games, but they’re also fresh from a fruitless two-game trip to Florida. The Caps dropped a 4-3 overtime decision to the Panthers on Tuesday and absorbed a 3-0 whitewashing at the hands of the Lightning on Wednesday.
Washington has now been blanked five times in its last 25 games after having been shutout four times in its previous 190 regular season games.
Slow starts have dogged the Capitals in the team’s last four games. Washington has been outshot 52-26 and outscored 5-0 over its last four contests.
“In the Florida game, we were doing great until we [had to kill] a 5-on-3, that sort of sets you back,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “I think penalties, in the end, is what loses your momentum. You can go back and look, we’ve taken a penalty early every game recently. Staying out of the box is an important thing.”
The Caps have taken a penalty in the first five minutes twice in their last four games. They’ve also been the recipient of a power play opportunity of their own twice in the last four games, but the team’s extra-man unit is really struggling right now.
Washington’s power play is 2-for-25 (8%) over the last seven games and 5-for-60 (8.3%) in its last 15 contests.
After leading the NHL in power play prowess last season, the Caps have dipped to 17th in the league in that department in 2010-11. They’ve scored a dozen fewer goals with the extra man than they’d scored at the same point last season.
The Caps’ power play woes have exacerbated the team’s overall scoring struggles. Washington has scored three or fewer goals in eight straight games for the first time in nearly three years and just the second time in Boudreau’s bench tenure.
From Feb. 8-24, 2008, the Caps scored three or fewer goals in eight straight going just 2-3-3 in the process. The Capitals are 4-1-3 in their last eight games during their current lean offensive stretch.
The last time Washington endured a longer stretch in which it scored three or fewer goals in a game was a nine-game run (2-6-1) in the last nine games of the 2006-07 season.
Washington will be without at least three of its key players in Friday’s game. Right wing Alexander Semin left Saturday’s game with Florida late in the second period and did not accompany the club on its recent trip to the Sunshine State.
“I don’t foresee him playing in the next little bit,” says Boudreau of his team’s leading goal scorer.
Boudreau also says that defenseman Tom Poti, who left Wednesday’s game early in the second period, will be out for “at least a week.”
Right wing Matt Bradley is still sidelined with a broken finger suffered in a Dec. 21 game against New Jersey.
Coming into Friday night’s NHL action, the Capitals are one of half a dozen clubs bunched together within four points of the top spot in the Eastern Conference standings. Washington is also just four points from eighth place in the Eastern Conference.
In their next three games, the Caps will face the current top clubs in both the Western (Vancouver) and Eastern (Philadelphia) Conferences.
“We’re facing a juggernaut,” says Boudreau of Friday’s game against the Canucks. “There’s no ifs, ands [or buts] about it. They’ve got strength right through their lineup and they’re going to be a very difficult team to beat. But it’s a tremendous challenge for us. It’s a great test, and we’re looking forward to it.
“We have to be at the top of our game or we’re going to get our butts handed to us. We seem to be able to get up for those kinds of teams. I think we’ll be able to do the same thing again.”
Getting off to a strong start certainly has to be high on Washington’s to-do list for Friday’s game.
“To get a good start and score that first goal,” says Caps defenseman Mike Green. “We’ve been playing well defensively holding off [our opponents] to one or two goals a game. We need to come out and have better starts and get that goal and then hold onto that lead. When we’ve done that we’ve been very successful. We just need to continue with that. It starts Friday. We’ve got to get on another run here.”
Canucks backup netminder Cory Schneider stopped 34 of the 35 shots he faced in a hard luck loss to the Rangers on Thursday, so the Caps are almost certain to face longtime Southeast Division nemesis Roberto Luongo on Friday.
Luongo is 16-10-3 with two shutouts, a 2.26 GAA and a .929 save pct. lifetime against the Capitals.
Even after Thursday’s loss to the Rangers, the Canucks are on pace for a 118-point season. That’s just off the Caps’ total of 121 from 2009-10. Are there similarities between last year’s Capitals and this season’s Canucks?
“I think so,” says Caps forward Brooks Laich. “I think they’d be comparable. One, it starts with puck possession. Puck possession is the name of the game and their team is great at holding it and possessing it and controlling the flow of the game and it puts the other teams on their heels.
“The other thing is they work. All successful teams, they just work. They work, their top guys work right through the guys who only play five or six minutes. They work and they’re disciplined and they’re a very good hockey team.”