March 9 vs. Edmonton Oilers at Verizon Center
Time: 7:00 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 820AM, 1500AM and XM Pre-Game: Capitals Report/Pre-Cap podcast on washingtoncaps.com at 2 p.m.
Edmonton Oilers (23-36-8)
Washington Capitals (37-20-10)
Fresh from a triumphant, two-game trip through Florida, the Washington Capitals return home to start a three-game homestand. The Edmonton Oilers hit town on Wednesday night to provide the opposition for the first game of the homestand.
Washington swept a set of games on back-to-back nights in Florida against the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning on Sunday and Monday, respectively, winning in overtime over the Panthers and needing the shootout to finish the Lightning. The victories moved the Capitals back into the top spot in the Eastern Conference standings.
Heading into Tuesday night’s slate of NHL activity, the Capitals were just two points behind the Philadelphia Flyers for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. Philadelphia hosts Edmonton on Tuesday.
The Capitals’ 2-1 shootout win over the Lightning on Monday was their fifth win in a row and their eighth in their last 10 games. Each of the Caps’ last eight wins has come by a single goal. Two of those victories came in overtime and one in a shootout.
With a win on Wednesday over Edmonton, the Caps can match their longest winning streak of the season. The Capitals won six consecutive contests from Oct. 30-Nov. 11.
After the Caps won their fifth in a row on Monday – sweeping a second set of games on back-to-back nights in a two-week span in the process – Caps coach Bruce Boudreau was asked about his team’s momentum.
“I like it tonight,” he said. “Momentum is sometimes one game at a time in this league. You’re playing a team that arguably could be [ahead] 4-0 when you’re playing them and they’re playing loose as a goose.”
Boudreau also mentioned the Caps’ recent difficulty in games immediately following emotional victories.
“We’ve not had a tremendous amount of success after we’ve played an emotional game,” cautions Boudreau. “So it’s going to be something that we have to talk about and regroup again [Tuesday] in order to come back and play.”
In February alone, the Caps followed a 3-0 shutout win over the Penguins on Feb. 8 with a 2-0 loss to San Jose two days later. Washington rebounded from a two-goal deficit on the road to take a 7-6 decision from Anaheim on Feb. 16 only to fall to the Sharks in San Jose the next night, 3-2.
A 1-0 victory over the Penguins a Pittsburgh – a triumph that concluded the team’s season-long five-game road trip on a winning note – was followed by an embarrassing 6-0 home ice loss to the New York Rangers four nights later.
Following the Capitals’ optional practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex on Tuesday, Boudreau discussed the issue of the Caps’ following up big wins with flat performances.
“I just try to remind them what’s happened in the past and make them conscious that we don’t want that 24 hours before we play the next game,” says Boudreau, “so that maybe they’ll focus on ‘I can’t take this easy today, I’ve got to get down to business.’”
The Caps earned Monday’s win over the Lightning despite losing goaltender Michal Neuvirth after the first period and center Nicklas Backstrom late in the second frame. Rookie netminder Braden Holtby stepped in between the pipes for Washington and stopped all 21 shots he faced before stopping all three Lightning bids in the shootout as well.
Neuvirth was hit in the head by a Nate Thompson shot in the game’s first minute. He finished the period, but Holtby took the crease for the Caps at the start of the second.
“Michal’s fine,” said Boudreau immediately after the game. “On the shot, some part of the metal on his mask went into his eye and he couldn’t get it out. But he got it out and he was fine after that. So he’s going to be okay.”
Backstrom skated 11:41 on the night, but left the bench and the game for good late in the second period. He won all seven of the draws he took on the night, but left because of a “finger” problem that has bothered him for two weeks.
“He’s okay,” said Boudreau of Backstrom after the Lightning game. “He wanted to come back. He just fell on his hand the wrong way. If you’ve ever had a sore finger or something and get it hit the wrong way, it gets pretty tender.”
Neither Neuvirth nor Backstrom took the ice for Tuesday’s optional skate. More will be known on their respective statuses after Wednesday’s morning skate.
“No updates today,” said Boudreau on Tuesday. “Today was an optional and they chose not to take it. They get treatments and then we’ll see how it is [Wednesday].”
For a good portion of the 2010-11 season, the Edmonton Oilers sat alone in the basement of the NHL standings. While the Oliers are still firmly entrenched in the bottom spot of the Western Conference standings, they went into Tuesday night’s game with the Flyers one point ahead of the Ottawa Senators, the Eastern Conference’s cellar-dweller.
By virtue of an Ottawa win and a 4-1 Edmonton loss in Philly, the Oilers are back in 30th place in the NHL standings. The loss to the Flyers halted a three-game Edmonton winning streak.
Edmonton lost the Stanley Cup final to Carolina in 2006, and is now headed for a fifth straight season of failing to qualify for the postseason. The Oilers finished with just 62 points last season, the fewest they’d managed since 1992-93.
With the first overall choice in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, Edmonton landed center Taylor Hall. Hall was in the midst of a strong rookie campaign before suffering a high ankle sprain in his first NHL fight on March 3 against the Blue Jackets’ Derek Dorsett. The injury will sideline Hall for the remainder or the 2010-11 season. Hall also had a goal and an assist in the game, recording his first ever Gordie Howe hat trick.
Prior to his injury, Hall had 22 goals and 42 points in 65 games for Edmonton this season.
The Oilers are in the midst of a five-game road trip with Washington as the middle stop. Edmonton is 7-4 in its last 11 games.
Netminder Devan Dubnyk started for the Oilers in Philly, stopping 23 of 26 shots in a losing effort. He has yet to play both ends of back-to-back games this season, and likely won’t this time, either. Veteran Russian goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin is slated to get Wednesday’s start in the District.
Since the turn of the calendar, Khabibulin is 2-12 with a 3.27 GAA and an .884 save pct.