February 16 vs. Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center
Time: 10:00 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 820AM, 1500AM and XM Pre-Game: Capitals Report/Pre-Cap Podcast at 4 p.m. on washingtoncaps.com
Washington Capitals (29-18-10)
Anaheim Ducks (32-21-4)
Washington’s five-game continental tour continues on Wednesday in Anaheim when the Capitals take on the Ducks for the second time this season. The two teams met two months ago at Verizon Center with Anaheim prevailing 2-1 on a Ryan Getzlaf overtime goal.
The Caps’ trip got off to a tough start on Monday in Phoenix when Washington came out on the short end of a 3-2 score. The loss was the Capitals’ third straight regulation setback in a row, matching a season high. The last time the Caps lost three in a row without getting so much as a standings point was Dec. 9-12 when the team was in the throes of an eight-game winless streak. Washington broke that streak with the aforementioned overtime loss to the Ducks.
Although the Caps fell to Phoenix, they feel like they played well enough to win.
“I don’t think it has anything to do with lighting a fire,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “I looked at the game [Monday] night and the only stat I didn’t like was the one that they had three goals to our two. We outplayed them.
“You hold a team in this league to five scoring chances – and giving scoring chances is fairly liberal these days – in a game, and you hold them to two [power play chances] and 18 shots in the three periods in their building, and you’ve done a really good job. [You’ve] controlled the play. We just didn’t score.”
Not scoring is becoming an all too familiar theme with the Capitals of late. They’ve managed just three goals in losing their last three games. Beginning with that 2-1 loss to Anaheim in December, Washington has allowed a total of just 48 goals in its last 25 games for a total of 1.92 per game. Vancouver has allowed the fewest goals in the league this season with an average of 2.30 goals against per contest.
Unfortunately for the Capitals, their defensive stinginess has not translated into standings success because the team has scored just 53 goals of its own over the same span. That’s 2.12 tallies per tilt, just a shade better than what the league’s most inept offensive team has managed over the season to date. That would be the New Jersey Devils, who are averaging 2.11 goals per game this season.
In their last 25 games, the Capitals are 11-7-7.
Washington is 15-4-6 in games in which it scores the game’s first goal, but half of those four regulation losses in that situation have come in the last two games.
“It’s unfortunate but like I told the guys,” begins Boudreau, “you either take a deep breath and say, ‘Ah, we’re never going to score,’ or you think you’re getting close to knocking the door down and now it’s time to push it through. That’s what I hope we’re doing. Again, we’re going against a team that’s on a pretty good roll. But we have to have the same kind of effort we had [Monday] night. Whatever happens, I’ll take because we played that good.
“I still thought that out of 20 guys, we still had maybe four or five guys not going as well as they should. But the 14 guys that were playing were really good. But we’ve got a team that needs all 20 guys playing or you’re not going to have the success you want.”
Another contributing factor to Washington’s ongoing offensive woes is the lengthy hibernation of the team’s power play. The Capitals have now gone 33 straight games without scoring more than one power play goal in a game, and they’ve totaled just 11 extra-man tallies during that stretch (11-for-110, 10%).
The numbers are even worse in the short term, as the Caps have managed a mere three power-play goals in their last 15 games (3-for-43, 7%) and five in their last 20 contests (5-for-63, 8%).
Washington was 0-for-5 with the extra man in Monday’s loss at Phoenix, but the Caps did have some strong chances, good looks and excellent puck movement on the power play against the Coyotes. They also had 14 shots on goal with the extra man.
“It’s the best we’ve worked the power play in a long time,” says Boudreau. “We had 13 shots in the first four tries. Moving the puck around, getting quality chances. Our entries were good, our retrievals on loose pucks were really good. They’re stepping stones, and again the same thing applies. You either get frustrated or you get mad. We’re hoping that they’re getting made. We’re tired of being in limbo.”
Like most of Washington’s recent foes, the Ducks are coming in hot on Wednesday. Anaheim has won four straight games – all on the road – and is 14-4 in its last 18 games, going without consecutive losses during that span. Most recently, goaltender Jonas Hiller blanked the Edmonton Oilers 4-0 on just 12 shots – the fewest number of shots faced in a shutout in Ducks team history – on Sunday night.
Including the Ducks, the combined record of Washington’s six most recent opponents since their most recent regulation loss is 31-0-3.
In the ultra-competitive Pacific Division and the tightly bunched Western Conference playoff race, there is little room for error. Despite their sustained run of strong play, the Ducks were third in the Pacific and fifth in the West going into Tuesday night’s slate of NHL activity.
Only four points separate the five Pacific Division teams, and Anaheim is much closer to ninth place (three points) than it is to first place (13 points) in the conference.
For the Ducks, the game against the Capitals is a one-game stop at home but it also starts a stretch in which Anaheim plays 10 of its next 13 games on home ice. The Ducks are 17-8-1 at Honda Center this season.
Quick starts have been a key to the Ducks’ recent stretch. They’ve either scored first or held the lead after the game’s first period in nine of their last 10 games.
Notes: Washington has not defeated a Western Conference club since a 4-1 win over the Blues in St. Louis on Dec. 1. The Caps are 0-6-1 vs. Western foes since, and they've been outscored 20-9 in the process.