October 27 vs. Edmonton Oilers at Rexall Place
Time: 9:30 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 1500AM, XM and Caps Radio Network Pre-Game: Morning Skate Report at 3:00 p.m., Pre-Cap Podcast at 4 p.m., Two-Man Advantage pre-game video at 4 p.m., John Walton’s one-on-one with Bruce Boudreau at 7 p.m., all on washingtoncaps.com
Washington Capitals (7-0)
Edmonton Oilers (4-2-2)
Since reporting to training camp in mid-September, the Caps have had the luxury of spending all but two nights – one-game jaunts to Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, respectively – in their own beds. That changes this week when Washington embarks upon its first multi-game trip of the campaign, a two-game tour through western Canada.
Washington takes a perfect 7-0 record with it out west as it plays the middle two matches of a four-game stretch against Western Conference opponents. That four-game set got started with Saturday night’s convincing 7-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings.
First up are the upstart Edmonton Oilers. The Caps take on the Oilers at Rexall Place in Edmonton on Thursday.
Traditionally, Edmonton has been a house of horror for the Capitals. Washington recently endured a winless streak of more than a decade here in which it was outscored by a combined 35-11. But the Caps may have turned that tide on their last visit here in Dec. 2009.
Trailing 2-0 at the end of the second period, the Caps roared out of the tunnel and took the game over in the third. Alex Ovechkin scored just 32 seconds into the final frame, and it sparked a run of four unanswered goals that ultimately led to a 4-2 Washington win.
This time, the Caps come to town as one of just 10 teams in NHL history to have won the first seven games of the season. Only one of the previous nine went on to win the Stanley Cup that season. Ironically, it is the 1983-84 Oilers that hold that distinction. The Oilers of 1984-85 also roared out of the gate at season’s start, establishing the NHL record for longest unbeaten streak (15 games, 12-0-3) at the start of a campaign on their way to a second straight Cup crown.
Every team the Caps face wants to be the one to hand them their first setback of the season.
“It’s a good challenge because every night you’re getting the other team’s best effort,” says Caps center Brooks Laich. “Everybody’s looking at you and they want to knock you off. If you get to seven [straight wins], and if you can push through that and you get to eight or nine or double-digits, you’re starting to enter territory that not many teams ever get to in a season. And that’s how you start to gain separation.
“That, and it’s a pride thing. It’s a pride thing to say – wherever it is, at home or on the road, back-to-back or whatever – ‘You bring your best and we’ll still beat you back.’ The guys take a lot of pride in that. We’re off to a good start, but we’ve got a target on our back now, so we’ve got to keep going.”
Caps goaltender Tomas Vokoun was named the league’s third star for the week that ended on Sunday; he posted a 3-0 mark and a 1.00 GAA in his three starts last week. Vokoun is expected to get his seventh consecutive call between the pipes for the Capitals on Thursday in Edmonton.
Lifetime against the Oilers, Vokoun is 6-10-5 with a 2.89 GAA and an .897 save pct. During his career, Vokoun is 3-7-1 with a 3.06 GAA and an .885 save pct. in 11 starts inside the Edmonton barn. His last win here was a 26-save shutout over the Oilers on March 24, 2007 when Vokoun was a member of the Nashville Predators.
For the Oilers, Thursday’s game is the seventh of nine on home ice to start the season. Edmonton entertained division rival Vancouver on Tuesday, taking a 3-2 win over the Canucks. Even though the Oilers have been home for most of the month, a good deal of the local buzz surrounds Thursday’s game with Washington. The Caps only get to Edmonton every other season, and they’ve been a big draw in Western Canada since the start of the Ovechkin era in 2005-06.
“I’m from Edmonton,” says Caps winger Jason Chimera. “They’re already excited. They play [Tuesday] against Vancouver but they’re looking forward to that [Thursday] game [against the Caps]. The hype you get from it is more than if you were a .500 team coming in there and playing than if you were 7-0. It’s fun. It’s where we want to be. We want to be on top, we want to stay there so we’re going to look forward to these challenges.”
It was only four years ago that Washington basically was Edmonton, a young team with a slew of first-round picks and homegrown talent trying to climb its way up the NHL ladder and back into the Stanley Cup playoff picture.
Since coming within a game of their sixth Stanley Cup title in 2006, the Oilers have missed the Stanley Cup playoffs in each of the last five seasons. Edmonton has averaged 74 points during those five seasons, and it is coming off consecutive 62-point campaigns.
The Oilers’ 4-2-2 start this season is offering some hope, as is the performance of the team’s “Kid Line,” populated with freshman Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and sophomores Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle. All three are first-round NHL Entry Draft selections, with Nugent-Hopkins and Hall being the first players chosen overall in the 2011 and 2010 drafts, respectively. The trio has accounted for eight of Edmonton’s 15 goals this season.
Among the biggest surprises of the season to date is the stinginess of the Edmonton defense. The Oilers’ goaltending tandem of Nikolai Khabibulin and Devan Dubnyk has combined for a 1.45 GAA in the season’s first eight games, giving Edmonton the best mark of any team in the league.
Notes: Caps defenseman Mike Green has not practiced this week after reportedly suffering a lower body injury in Saturday’s win over the Wings, a game in which Green registered two goals and four points. He’ll take the morning skate on Thursday and a decision on his availability for Thursday’s game will be made at that time. Sean Collins was recalled from AHL Hershey to give the Caps a seventh defenseman for the trip; he'll play if Green can't … Edmonton blueliner Ryan Whitney injured his knee in Tuesday’s win over the Canucks. He is unlikely to play on Thursday against Washington and Theo Peckham is slated to spell him in the Oilers’ lineup.