November 1 vs. Anaheim Ducks at Verizon Center
Time: 7:00 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 1500AM, XM and Caps Radio Network Pre-Game: Morning Skate Report at 1:00 p.m., Pre-Cap podcast at 2 p.m., John Walton’s one-on-one audio with Bruce Boudreau at 5 p.m. and Two-Man Advantage pre-game video at 5 p.m., all on washingtoncaps.com
Anaheim Ducks (5-5-1)
Washington Capitals (7-2)
On the heels of an unsuccessful (0-2) two-game road trip to Western Canada, the Caps return to the friendly confines of Verizon Center for a Tuesday night date with the Anaheim Ducks. The Caps are still perfect on home ice in the 2011-12 season, having won each of their first five Phone Booth games of the campaign.
Even with those two consecutive losses, the Caps forged the best October winning percentage (.778) in franchise history for the month of October. Despite their swift start, they’re beginning to feel the hot breath of the rest of the Southeast Division occupants on the back of their collective neck.
While the Caps were losing their last two, the Southeast standings were tightening. With a shootout loss to Winnipeg on Monday night, the Florida Panthers moved to within a single point of Washington for the top perch in the division. The Capitals have played the fewest games (nine) of any Southeast club while the Panthers played their 11th contest on Monday.
Washington played well enough to win in Thursday’s 2-1 loss at Edmonton, but was ultimately undone by a lack of discipline – nine minor penalties in the span of a period and a half – and the brilliant goaltender of Oilers’ veteran Nikolai Khabibulin.
Even after a dismal first period performance put them in a 3-1 hole in Vancouver on Saturday, the Caps rebounded to draw even at 4-4 heading into the final period. But five bad minutes in the middle of the third allowed the Canucks to pull away and record a 7-4 win.
“It’s early in the season,” said Caps winger Troy Brouwer after the loss in Vancouver on Saturday night. “You try to get sound defensively and technically as quickly as you can at the beginning of the season. We were able to pull out a couple games. We played some really solid games against Detroit and a few other ones, but there are things we’ve been working on. [Defensive] zone has been one and then the other thing we have to work on big time has been our discipline, within the systems and also just penalty discipline as well. The last two games, it’s what has hurt us the most.”
Heading into the Edmonton game, the Caps were the league’s least penalized team. Having faced 13 power play chances in the last two games, that is no longer the case.
The Caps have killed just nine of those 13 opposition power plays, and have slipped to just 77.1% on the season. Washington ranked second in penalty killing prowess at season’s end in 2010-11, but it stands 23rd in the league this season, heading into Monday night’s NHL action.
“We just have to stay out of the box and we wont have any issue on the PK,” says Caps defenseman Roman Hamrlik. “We can take lessons from the last two games in Edmonton and Vancouver. We’re just not doing the little things that we’re supposed to do. The coaches and the staff are doing a good job to prepare us before the game on what we’re supposed to do. We’re just doing too much running out there.
“We just have to stay out of the box, do the things they told us to do and be more mentally prepared.”
Washington’s season-opening five-game winning streak on home ice is the longest in franchise history. The Caps have outscored opponents by a combined 21-10 on home ice this season, and have allowed just seven even-strength goals in those five games.
Tomas Vokoun started in goal for the Caps on Saturday, but yielded to Michal Neuvirth at the start of the second period. Vokoun gave up three goals on 17 shots while Neuvirth – seeing his first action in three weeks – yielded four goals on 26 shots.
Prior to the Vancouver game, Vokoun had six straight starts in which he surrendered two or fewer goals, his longest such streak since he had a seven-game run in Jan. 2010. Before the Canucks’ seven-goal outburst, the Caps had surrendered a total of eight goals in their previous six games.
In his last seven games – including Saturday’s game in Vancouver – Vokoun is 5-1 with a 1.73 GAA and a .947 save pct. He has surrendered a mere 10 even-strength goals in his eight starts this season.
The Capitals have had at least one power play goal in six of their last seven games, and their 25.7% extra-man success rate ranks third in the league this season.
The Ducks missed the playoffs for the first time in five seasons in 2009-10, but finished second in the Pacific Division and returned to the Stanley Cup playoffs in 2010-11. The Ducks won 47 games last season, missing the franchise single-season mark by just one. But Anaheim was bounced in the first round in a tough series with the Nashville Predators.
Anaheim will be playing in the fifth game of their current seven-game road trip, a journey that began on Oct. 25 in Chicago and doesn’t conclude until the Ducks’ Nov. 5 visit to Detroit. The Ducks are 1-2-1 on the trip to date.
In dropping three of the first four games of the trip, the Ducks have drifted to the basement of the ultra-competitive Pacific Division.
Anaheim opened the season in Europe, losing its opener to the Buffalo Sabres. Then the Ducks reeled off four straight wins, but they’re just 1-4-1 since.
Most recently, the Ducks dropped a 3-1 decision to the Blue Jackets in Columbus on Sunday night. That game featured four fights, and the Ducks lead the league with a total of 10 fighting majors on the season.