Caps Close Homestand vs. Kings
Friday, 02.11.2011 / 1:53 PM
Mike Vogel - WashingtonCaps.com Senior WriterFebruary 12 vs. Los Angeles Kings at Verizon Center
820AM, 1500AM and XM
Los Angeles Kings (29-22-3)
Washington Capitals (29-16-10)
Washington concludes a three-game homestand with a rare Saturday matinee match against the Los Angeles Kings. The game is the second of five straight for the Capitals against Western Conference foes. The Caps are winless in each of their last five games (0-4-1) against Western opponents.
“You can’t devalue the games because it’s a Western Conference opponent,” says Caps winger Mike Knuble
. “It’s a team you don’t see a lot, but they’re very important points. Come the last game of the year, those are the points where you look back and they’re the ones that got away. They cost you either a spot in the standings or first place in your division. That’ll be frustrating.
“I don’t know if we understand that all the way. It’s easy to say it’s eight or ten weeks out, but they’re the ones you look back on that got away.
After opening the homestand on a high note with a 3-0 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Super Bowl Sunday, the Caps were on the wrong end of a 2-0 shutout loss on Tuesday against the Sharks. That whitewash was the eighth suffered by the Caps this season, with all eight coming in a span of just 37 games.
The loss to San Jose was Washington’s 16th in regulation time this season, and it came in the team’s 55th game. That’s one more regulation loss than the Capitals absorbed during the entire 2009-10 season.
The eight shutouts are the fifth most ever absorbed by the Capitals in the 36 seasons of their NHL existence. Washington was shutout a dozen times in its maiden season of 1974-75, 11 times in 1998-99 and nine times each in both 1975-76 and 1996-97. The Capitals did not advance to the Stanley Cup playoffs in any of those seasons.
Washington once went more than two entire seasons and more than four years – a total of 244 games – without being shutout once. That’s the third longest streak in NHL history. The Caps went from Oct. 1989 to Nov. 1993 without being blanked once.
Following games in which they were shutout this season, the Capitals are 2-2-3 with 17 goals scored in the seven games.
Prior to their eight shutouts this season, the Caps had been shutout a total of eight times in the 244 games of the Bruce Boudreau era. In the games immediately following those first eight shutout losses under Boudreau, the Capitals were 5-2-1 with 31 goals scored in the eight contests.
Shutout losses have accounted for nearly half (seven of 16) of the Capitals’ regulation setbacks this season. Another of the team’s shutout defeats was incurred in overtime, against Tampa Bay on Jan. 4.
Although the Caps have picked up at least a point in 18 of their last 23 games, they’ve won fewer than half of those contests (11-5-7).
“As a player, you’ve got to look [at it as] half full,” says Knuble. “It’s not our job to be negative about it. We’re playing well and gaining points, but at the same time there’s room for improvement. We will look at it as points in 18 of 23. Other people will look at it as ones that got away or whatever.
“We know internally that we’ve got to scrape up those points, and there were points that were left on the table that we’ve got to have.”
Washington continues to play well defensively. The Caps have surrendered a mere 41 goals over those last 23 games, and they’ve allowed just 10 goals in their last eight games while using three different netminders during that stretch.
Although they’ve allowed two or fewer goals in eight straight games for the first time in more than 14 years, the Caps have won only half of those games (4-2-2). From Jan. 9-31, 1998, the Capitals allowed two or fewer goals in nine straight contests, the last time they had a longer streak. Washington went 6-1-2 in those nine games.
The Caps went 12-1-1 in their first 14 home games this season but are just 5-5-6 in their last 16 at Verizon Center. Washington has allowed only 30 goals in its last 16 home games, but that defensive stinginess has resulted in a win less than a third of the time.
Defenseman Mike Green
is expected to be back in the lineup for the Capitals on Saturday. Green missed Tuesday’s game against San Jose because of a laceration near his right ear, an injury suffered when he was hit with a Brooks Orpik point shot in Sunday’s against Pittsburgh.
“I feel a lot better than I have,” says Green. “I’m back to normal, 100 percent.”
The Kings hit town in the midst of an epic 10-game road trip that started on Feb. 1 in Minnesota and concludes on Feb. 23 against Pacific Division rival Anaheim.
Washington is the fifth stop on the Kings’ tour. Los Angeles has picked up at least a point in each of the first four games of the trip, going 2-0-2 to date. Most recently, the Kings suffered a 2-1 overtime setback at the hands of the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Thursday night.
Los Angeles is one of a dozen teams bunched within 10 points of one another and ranked third through 14th in the tightly packed and highly competitive Western Conference standings. The Kings are tied for ninth in the conference with the Minnesota Wild, two points in back of the eighth-place Calgary Flames.
As soon as the Caps/Kings game concludes, Washington heads to the airport for its own five-game, 10-day trip.
“It’s huge,” says Green. “It’s never easy to go on the road and win games and steal points. This is the time of the season when we have to elevate our game and make sure we’re on top of it. Even though it’s more difficult on the road, we have to get it done. We have to find a way. This stretch here of our next eight games is very important to us.”
Thanks to Carter Myers for the primary assist on some statistical data.