February 14 vs. Phoenix Coyotes at Jobing.com Arena
Time: 8:00 pm TV: VERSUS Radio: 820AM, 1500AM and XM Pre-Game: Pre-Cap Podcast at 3:30 p.m. on washingtoncaps.com
Washington Capitals (29-17-10)
Phoenix Coyotes (29-19-9)
Washington makes the first stop in its five-game, 10-day road trip on Monday night when it faces the Phoenix Coyotes at Jobing.com Arena. The game is the third of five straight contests against Western Conference opponents for the Capitals, and the trip is Washington’s longest of the season. The Caps will play six consecutive games on the road next month, but will return home for the weekend in between separate three-game segments on the road.
As the Caps embark upon this important trip, they sit in the fifth spot in the Eastern Conference, nine points behind first-place Philadelphia. The Flyers also have two games in hand. The Caps trail Tampa Bay by five points for the lead in the Southeast Division.
Washington’s road record is 12-10-3 this season. The Caps are seeking to amass 20 road wins for a fourth straight season, something the franchise has never previously achieved.
In the wake of Saturday’s 4-1 loss to the Kings on Verizon Center ice, the Caps called a closed-door, players only meeting. It was the second meeting of its kind the team has called in less than a month. This time, Washington hopes the effects of that session last longer. If one word characterizes the Capitals over the last two and a half months, that word is “inconsistent.”
“Some nights we’ve shown we’re a very good hockey team,” says Caps forward Brooks Laich, “when we work together, play together, have that sense of urgency, that desperation and that means we’re solid defensively and that means we’re attacking. You can see our legs moving and us being physical and winning battles. You can just feel that in the building.
“And then other nights, it feels like we don’t have that jump. That just falls on individuals; that’s on us as players to be ready and excited for every game and to play hard every game. You’re not always going to have success, but at least put in the effort and work hard every game. More often than not, you’ll have success.”
Since starting the season with a flourish and an 18-6-2 mark in its first 26 games, the Caps have been consistently inconsistent and less than ordinary at 11-11-10.
“It is frustrating, there’s no doubt,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “But you have to battle through the frustration just to get consistent. If we do, we’ll be good. If we don’t, it will be this roller-coaster game that we’ve been playing the last two months.”
Washington can’t be much more consistent in its own end of the ice. Despite allowing four unanswered goals – three of them in the third period – against Los Angeles, the Caps have surrendered only 45 goals in their last 24 games. The team has surrendered an average of just 2.41 goals per game this season, the sixth-best mark in the circuit. The Capitals are averaging 2.66 goals per game, down more than a goal a game from last season and down from first in 2009-10 to 19th this season.
“Obviously we haven’t been as offensive as we’ve been in the past,” says Caps defenseman Mike Green. “It could be due to us playing a lot better defensively. It’s an area of our game that we need to complete here. I think if we can do a better job of forechecking, create turnovers and get pucks back, we have guys who are skilled enough to put it in the net. It’s just a matter of us collectively as lines and as a team doing it.”
Washington’s power play was also tops in the league last season, but it has all but disappeared over the past few months. The Caps have gone 32 straight games without getting multiple power play strikes in a contest, the longest run of that sort that the team has experienced in more than a decade.
“I think it’s more individual than it is collectively as a team. It’s consistency in scoring. The power play, which has been pretty bad, quite frankly, still has moments of doing really good and then you have moments of doing really bad.
“I think the consistency is for scoring goals. We can get five against Tampa and then you come back and get three [against Pittsburgh] and then you get zero and one. That’s the frustrating point to me as a coach, anyway.”
Washington’s power play pct. has slipped to just 16.7% on the season, 20th in the NHL. The Caps are 11-for-105 (10.5%) with the extra man in their last 32 games. That success rate is south of the 30th ranked power play team in the league this season. That would be the Edmonton Oilers, who’ve clicked at 11.4% with the extra man in 2010-11.
In their last 19 games, the Caps have scored just five power play goals (5-for-56, 8.9%).
Phoenix comes into Monday’s game with a four-game winning streak. The Coyotes downed the Blackhawks 3-2 in a shootout on Saturday in their most recent win.
Including the Coyotes, Washington’s five most recent opponents have had a combined record of 23-0-3 since their previous regulation loss, coming into their game against the Capitals.
Phoenix features eight players who have cracked the double-digit mark in goals scored this season, and the Coyotes’ attack also boasts breakout blueliner Keith Yandle, who leads the team with 37 assists. Yandle has already established single-season career bests in helpers and points (46) this season. He leads all NHL defensemen in scoring and is – along with Atlanta’s Dustin Byfuglien and Nashville’s Shea Weber – one of three blueliners to lead his team in scoring thus far this season.
Washington defeated the Coyotes at Verizon Center last January in the most recent meeting between the two teams. The Capitals were in the midst of their franchise-record 14-game winning streak at that time.
“I was just looking at all my notes from last year,” says Boudreau of the Coyotes. “One of the things that we thought was they worked as hard as anybody did in the league last year and they were as fast as anybody maybe except for Nashville. And that was in our building. We beat them 4-2, but it could have been a different fate. I thought our goalie was really good that night.
“Now we’re playing with them being on a little bit of a roll. The shoe is on the other foot. We’re not playing as consistently as we’d like to. If we play like we did against Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay, then we’ve got a good chance. If we don’t, then it’s going to be a struggle.”
Notes: Washington started the season with a 3-1 mark in its first four games against Western Conference foes, outscoring the opposition 15-7 in the process. Since then, it is 0-5-1 vs. Western clubs. The Caps have been outscored 17-7 in their last six games against Western teams ... Phoenix goalie Ilya Bryzgalov is 4-0 with a 0.98 GAA in his last four starts.