November 21 vs. Phoenix Coyotes at Verizon Center
Time: 7:00 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 1500AM, XM and Caps Radio Network Pre-Game: Morning Skate Report at 1 p.m., Pre-Cap Podcast at 2 p.m., John Walton’s one-on-one audio with Bruce Boudreau at 5 p.m., Two-Man Advantage at 5 p.m., all on washingtoncaps.com
Phoenix Coyotes (10-5-3)
Washington Capitals (10-7-1)
Back home after a fruitless three-game road trip, the Capitals hope that some home cooking can help cure whatever it is that ails them as Thanksgiving week gets underway. Washington has lost four straight (0-3-1), six of its last seven (1-5-1) and seven of its last 11 (3-7-1).
After starting the season on a 7-0 roll, the Caps are now looking up at the upstart Florida Panthers in the Southeast Division standings.
A formidable challenge awaits the Caps in their first game back from almost a week on the road. The Phoenix Coyotes come to town on Monday night as Washington opens a three-game homestand.
Things got progressively worse for the Capitals on their just-completed three-game road trip. A 3-1 loss in Nashville preceded a 41- loss in Winnipeg which preceded Saturday’s 7-1 slapping at the hands of the Maple Leafs in Torono.
This is the first time in nearly eight years that the Caps have gone three straight regular season games without scoring more than one goal. They’re happy they don’t have to sit around too long to wait to redeem themselves.
“It’s better than having a week off or something and practice to think about it,” said Caps defenseman Dennis Wideman ater the loss in Toronto. “We’ve got a day here and we’ve got to get back at it on Monday. You can’t dwell on it too long. Obviously we’ve got a lot of work to do. It’s not going to happen overnight.
“We’ve struggled the last probably 12 games I guess now, that we haven’t been playing well. Even when we were winning those seven games, there were a lot of games there where we got outplayed and our goalies stood on their heads and got us those wins. So it’s been going on for a while and if we don’t correct it soon, we’re going to find ourselves looking up [in the standings].”
Florida is now two points ahead of Washington, though the Panthers have played one more game than the Capitals. Third-place Tampa Bay is just a point behind the Capitals and Winnipeg is just two points behind Washington. The Jets have played two fewer games than the Caps and the Lightning has played one fewer.
During last season’s eight-game losing streak (0-6-2), the Caps played better than they have during their last seven games of this season. The Caps hit bottom in a 7-0 loss to the Rangers in New York last Dec. 12, the sixth of those eight consecutive losses. Washington hopes that Saturday’s debacle in Toronto serves as it’s low point this time around.
“I think every bad streak you’ve got to hit rock bottom at some point.,” says Caps right wing Mike Knuble. “If this isn’t rock bottom, I don’t know what is going to be worse to come. The good thing is you play again at home. Get right back on the horse on Monday. That might be a good thing for us right now. Keep playing some more games, try and get out of it.”
The Caps played well enough to win for the game’s first 55 minutes in Nashville last Tuesday, and they’ve authored authoritative performances this season in convincing wins over Florida (Oct. 18), Detroit (Oct. 22) and Carolina (Nov. 4). Having those recent examples should enable Washington to right the ship sooner this time around.
“We know we haven’t played our best hockey,” says Caps center Brooks Laich. “One thing we’ve got to do is cut down on the goals against. We have to stop getting scored on.
“It might sound weird, but you start scoring goals from defensive hockey. When you pay the price, when you do things right defensively for some whatever reason, whether it’s the hockey gods or whatever it is, you end up getting rewarded offensively. That’s where our game has to be built up from. Start with hard work in the [defensive] zone, attention to detail and everything will build up from there.”
Washington’s special teams stock has been plummeting of late. The Caps’ power play is without a goal in each of its last five games (0-for-17) and has dropped to 16th in the league on the season with a 17.3% success rate.
The Caps have been dented for multiple power play goals in each of their last two games (5-for-10, 50%) and they’ve dipped to 25th in the league with a 78.3% kill rate on the season.
Heading into Sunday night’s slate of NHL activity, the Phoenix Coyotes are in a three-way tie – with San Jose and Los Angeles – for first place in the ultra-competitive Pacific Division standings. Only two points separates the top four teams in the Pacific.
For Phoenix, Monday night’s game represents the final stop of a five-game road trip that began with a 3-0 win over the sharks in San Jose on Nov. 12. The Coyotes are 3-1 on the trip to date and they are a torrid 8-2-2 in their last 11 games overall.
Goaltender Mike Smith made a single-game career best 43 saves in Phoenix’s most recent game, a 4-2 win over the Sabres in Buffalo on Saturday night.
In his first season with Phoenix after spending the last three-plus seasons with Tampa Bay, Smith has assumed the lion’s share of the netminding chores for Phoenix this season. He is 9-3-3 with a 2.16 GAA and a .936 save pct.
Smith has started seven times in his career against Washington, and he is still seeking his first win. He is 0-6 with a 5.03 GAA and an .843 save pct. lifetime against the Capitals.
Phoenix went 3-for-7 on the power play in a 6-3 opening night loss at San Jose, and it has not scored multiple power play goals in any of its 17 games since. The Coyotes are 1-for-24 (4.2%) with the extra man on the road since opening night, and they’re 5-for-52 (9.6%) overall since opening night. On the season, the Coyotes are connecting at a 13.6% rate with the extra man, 24th in the league.
The Coyotes rank fifth in the NHL with a penalty kill success rate of 88.1% on the season. Phoenix has allowed one power play goal in its last 10 games (23-for-24, 95.8%), and the disciplined Coyotes have faced the third fewest shorthanded situations in the league this season. Phoenix has faced two or fewer power play chances in six of its last 10 games.
Notes: The Caps are 2-4 against Western Conference opponents, but both of those victories have come on home ice. Phoenix is 4-1-1 against Eastern Conference foes.