March 31 vs. Columbus Blue Jackets at Verizon Center
Time: 7:00 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 820AM, 1500AM and XM Pre-Game: Pre-Cap Podcast at 2 p.m. on washingtoncaps.com
Columbus Blue Jackets (33-31-11)
Washington Capitals (44-22-11)
Washington closes out a busy month of March on Thursday when it plays the middle match of a three-game homestand against the Columbus Blue Jackets. The game with the Jackets also finishes up Washington’s 18-game slate against Western Conference foes for the 2010-11 season. The Caps come in with a 7-9-1 mark against opponents from the opposite conference.
The Caps are 11-2-1 thus far in the month of March.
The Capitals opened the homestand with a 3-2 shootout loss at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night at Verizon Center. Washington took a 2-1 lead into the third period of that game, but Canes rookie Jeff Skinner scored early in the third and Carolina went on to win in the skills competition.
“I thought we played well in the first period,” says Caps center Jason Arnott, who returned to the lineup on Tuesday after a six-game absence on Tuesday. “We were all over them and just couldn’t score goals. We played a solid game throughout the game but we still made little mistakes that need correcting and will push us forward in the long run.”
“Certain games you are going to make mistakes and do wrong things here and there. That’s what video is for and talking in the dressing room and correcting little things. You’ve got to go through games like that. Every team you play now is always a battle, no matter if they’re last place or first place. Every team is so equally balanced that it’s tough to come out every night on top; it’s a battle right to the end.
“You’re going to make mistakes. It’s just a matter of correcting them and playing better down the stretch here in the last five [games].”
One area in which Washington will be seeking improvement over its last five regular season contests is its power play. The Caps boasted the league’s best power play in 2009-10, and they ranked among the top two or three teams in the league in that department for the better part of the opening third of the 2010-11 season as well. But the Capitals’ extra-man unit has been in a prolonged fallow period for the last 40-plus games or so.
Adding Arnott and defenseman Dennis Wideman at the trade deadline gave the Caps’ power play outfit a short term boost, but then Arnott went down with an injury. The Caps went 3-for-18 (16.7%) with the man-advantage during his absence. Arnott returned on Tuesday, but Wideman was hurt in the same game and it is still unclear how long he will be out of the lineup.
Twenty-eight of Washington’s 41 power play goals (68.3%) this season have come from right-handed blades.
“Sometimes it’s tough to have all right-handed shots,” admits Arnott.” I think the emphasis is just to shoot pucks, shoot pucks. We didn’t get enough shots on the [power play Tuesday] night. It’s tough when you only get one or two [power play chances] a game to get into a rhythm and get into a roll of things, but we’ve got to get more pucks to the net and crash the net. That seems to be the way goals are going in nowadays. The pretty plays are few and far between; you get maybe one every so often. But usually it’s a shot from the point, screen, rebound and bang it in.
“If we capitalize on that and shoot more, we’re going to be more successful.”
Green was a catalyst for the Caps’ power play last season, picking 35 of his 76 points on the extra-man unit. He has 10 of his total of 24 points on the power play this season.
With Green on the sidelines, Wideman has proven to be a shrewd acquisition. He has picked up three of his seven points on the power play since joining the Caps in a Feb. 28 trade with Florida.
“He moves the puck well out of his zone, he’s calm under fire, he’s done a lot of great things for us," Boudreau says of Wideman. “Power play is one of the places [we’ll miss him] because [what] coincided with him coming here was Mike Green going down. It was an easy slide into that situation. If he can’t play tomorrow, we’ll find somebody else.”
For the first quarter of the season, Columbus looked like a team to be reckoned with in the Western Conference. (For that matter, so did the Colorado Avalanche.) The Jackets were 14-6 on Thanksgiving Day, and appeared to be cruising under the tutelage of first-year head coach Scott Arniel.
Alas, the Jackets won just nine of their next 30 games (9-16-5) to take a hard and deep tumble in the rugged Western Conference standings. An 8-1-1 surge in February conveniently prevented them from being sellers at the trade deadline, as Jackets GM Scott Howson dealt for Scottie Upshall and ex-Caps defenseman Sami Lepisto in an effort to boost his team into the top eight in the west.
Columbus has gone ice cold since the deadline, posting a 3-8-5 mark in its last 16 games. Only one of those three victories achieved in the last 32 days has come in regulation. That was a 3-2 road win over the Hurricanes in Carolina on March 12.
The Jackets haven’t netted a power play goal since March 9, a span of 10 games. They are 0-for-33 with the extra man during that stretch. In the month of March, Columbus is just 2-for-52 (3.8%) on the power play in 15 games.
The Jackets have also struggled at the other end of the special teams spectrum, going 44-for-56 (78.6%) on the penalty kill in their last 14 games.
Columbus netminder Steve Mason has had a good deal of success during his career against the Capitals. In four career starts against Washington, he is 3-1 with two shutouts, a 1.32 GAA and a .962 save pct.