January 18 vs. Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center
Time: 7:00 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 820AM, 1500AM and XM Pre-Game: Pre-Cap pre-game Podcast at 2 p.m.
Washington Capitals (25-14-7)
Philadelphia Flyers (29-11-5)
Washington sets out on a three-game road trip – its longest road foray in two and a half months – this week. The Capitals will visit three Eastern Conference cities for the first time this season, starting with Tuesday’s stop in Philadelphia to take on the Flyers.
The Caps will take to the road on the heels of a 3-1 victory over the Senators at Verizon Center on Sunday afternoon. After spotting the Sens an early 1-0 lead, the Caps roared back with three goals in a span of 6:16 in the third period to halt a three-game winless streak (0-2-1) and move back into a virtual tie for first place in the Southeast Division with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Sunday’s game marked the second straight Caps-Sens contest in which Washington spotted Ottawa an early lead before coming back to win on three unanswered goals in less than seven minutes. In a Dec. 19 match-up in Ottawa, the Sens got an early 2-0 jump on the Caps before Washington eked out a 3-2 win on three goals in just 6:21 early in the second period.
It marked the first time since Dec. 21 that Washington had scored as many as three goals in a period. The Caps have achieved that feat 11 times in 2010-11, but only three times in their last 22 games. The Caps are hoping Sunday’s third-period outburst might help spark a bit of an offensive eruption.
“[Caps coach] Bruce [Boudreau] mentioned that this morning,” says Caps forward Brooks Laich, whose third-period goal against the Sens helped ignite the Caps. “He said the offense is coming around a little bit. I think we’re due to break out sometime. It doesn’t mean it’s going to be [Tuesday], but sometime soon I think we’ll break out and then hopefully it creates a snowball and we get the offense rolling.
“Our team last year scored in the first period and we scored in bunches. When we’d get one, we’d get two or we’d get three. And now we’ve got 40 minutes to score more goals and now you’re looking at scoring five goals in a game. This year we haven’t been scoring in the first 40 minutes and that’s why we’re only getting two or three a night.”
Having played 26 of their first 46 games on home ice, the Caps now tread into a particularly road-heavy patch of their 2010-11 slate. Washington will play four of its next five games on the road leading up to the NHL’s All-Star break at month’s end. Looking at the longer picture, the Caps will play 10 of their next 15 games away from the District.
Much has been written about the Caps’ offensive struggles over the last several weeks. They’ve gone 10 straight games without scoring more than three goals and they’ve gone 22 straight without getting multiple power-play tallies in the same game, their longest such stretch in nine years.
Last season, the Capitals won a franchise-record 24 road games, going 24-10-7 and winning 20 or more road contests for the third consecutive season. Moreover, they had no difficulty scoring goals away from Verizon Center.
The 2009-10 Caps tallied 157 goals in 41 road games and 156 goals in 41 home dates. Over the final 18 road games of 2009-10, the Caps rolled up 83 goals and posted a stellar 12-2-4 record.
Washington has scored 83 goals in its 26 Verizon Center contests this season for an average of 3.19 goals per game. The Caps have tallied just 46 times in 20 road games in 2010-11 for an average of 2.3 per game.
“I think it starts in the first period is where it all begins,” says Laich. “I think if you can get a goal in the first period and then maybe you get a second one. Rather than going two periods without a goal and then being behind in the game. I think if we can get one early, that will help our offense.”
Washington is just 9-9-2 on the road this season, but it has allowed just 2.85 goals per game on the road this season as opposed to 2.95 tallies per tilt on the road in 2009-10. Clearly, more goals are needed to improve the Caps’ pedestrian road record thus far this season.
“We just need to bear down a little more around the net, find rebounds and get some ugly goals,” says Caps right wing Mike Knuble. “I think you’re going to score ugly goals first, before you get the pretty ones. You work hard, you get the few ugly goals and then the puck will seem to fly around the ice a little bit easier and get on somebody’s tape.
“Right now, guys are getting it and probably trying to make a perfect play all the time instead of really just throwing it at the net and going and finding it in the pile and finding a rebound.
“I wish I had the reason why everything was happening, but the best way to get out of it is just to keep putting pucks at the net and keep getting to the net and try to drive them in from the crease.”
When the Capitals and Flyers last tangled at Verizon Center on Nov. 20, it was the 21st game of the season for both clubs, and Washington went into the game with a three-point advantage over its former Patrick Division rival in the Eastern Conference standings.
While Washington has had its ups and downs since that 5-4 Flyers shootout win at the Phone Booth, the steady and consistent Flyers have not gone more than two games without picking up a standings point since the middle of October when they dropped three straight in regulation.
Tuesday’s trip to Philly is Washington’s first visit to the City of Brotherly Love in more than 13 months. When the Caps last played the Flyers in Philly on Dec. 5, 2009, Peter Laviolette was making his debut behind the Flyers’ bench. Daniel Carcillo was making mayhem with Matt Bradley. And the Capitals were putting an 8-2 hurting on the home team.
“I played there one time and I was injured one time last year,” says former Flyer Knuble. “Fun games, great building to play in. It’s a great place to play.”
Philly has played one fewer game than the Capitals, and it has turned that three-point deficit in the standings into a six-point advantage.
“They’re playing really good,” says Boudreau of the Flyers. “They just played nine out of 10 on the road and won seven of them. They’re a complete team. They’re really good. We’ll have to be at our absolute best to be successful.”
With 63 points, Philadelphia sits atop the Eastern Conference standings. The Caps and Flyers are two of the six teams currently clustered within eight points of the top spot in the east.
“Their regular season last year wasn’t very indicative of what kind of team they were. I think the playoffs were more of an indication of what they were as a group. They changed coaches and they’ve really come around.
“They’re a great team. They’ve been a great team this season, very consistent, winning a lot of games. They’ve got some individual players that are having great seasons. There’s no playoff hangover or anything, they’ve really carried it over into the regular season.”
Washington scored a total of 13 goals in its two visits to Philadelphia last season, but Boudreau warns not to expect that sort of offensive pyrotechnics this time around.
“It will require everybody playing at their best from the goalie on out and doing the right things,” declares the Caps coach. “If we do the right things and we play the right way, then we can win the game. But this isn’t the Caps of last year where you want to get into a run and gun [game] with anybody right now. We’re not scoring enough goals.”
Notes: The Caps’ current road trip is their longest this season to date. Washington played three road games (in Carolina, Minnesota and Calgary) in four nights in late October but will play three games in five nights on this trip … The last time Washington went more than 10 games without scoring as many as four goals in a game was the first 13 games of the 2005-06 season: Oct. 5-Nov. 4, 2005 … The Flyers have been dealing with power play struggles of their own. Philly is just 2-for-23 (8.7%) with the extra man in its last eight games.