January 3 vs. Calgary Flames at Verizon Center
Time: 7:00 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 1500AM, 820AM, XM and Caps Radio Network Pre-Game: Pre-Cap Podcast at 2 p.m., Two-Man Advantage at 5 p.m., John Walton’s one-on-one audio with Dale Hunter at 5 p.m., all on washingtoncaps.com.
Calgary Flames (18-17-5)
Washington Capitals (20-15-2)
Owning a three-game winning streak – their first winning run of more than two games in more than two months – the Caps will aim to push it to four on Tuesday when the Calgary Flames visit Verizon Center for the lone meeting between the two teams this season.
Washington had a busy week after the holiday, playing four games in six nights beginning with a Boxing Day visit to Buffalo on Monday. A slow start (four goals allowed in the first) doomed the Caps against the Sabres, but Washington rebounded to win three games in four nights to finish up the week and calendar 2011.
The Caps finished 2011 with a flourish, scoring four third-period goals to take a 4-2 decision from the Blue Jackets in Columbus, an offensive outburst that erased 40 minutes of sleepy hockey that preceded it.
Washington has allowed one goal in the third period of its last eight games, and it has scored a dozen goals of its own during that same stretch.
“Everybody’s happy,” says Caps center Nicklas Backstrom. “It makes it a lot easier to win hockey games. We had two bad periods against Columbus, but we came back. But we’ve got to keep playing like we did in the third and in the two games before.”
Caps captain Alex Ovechkin was named the NHL’s No. 2 star for the week ending Jan. 1. Ovechkin had five goals and three assists in Washington’s four games last week.
After tallying just eight goals in his first 26 games of the season, Ovechkin now has eight goals in his last 11 games. He is currently riding a six-game scoring streak (six goals, three assists). The scoring streak is Ovechkin’s longest since he had a seven-game run (four goals, seven assists) from Feb. 26 through March 11 of last year.
“I have more opportunities,” says Ovechkin. “Right now, I’ve started going to the net more than I usually do. If I have an opportunity to shoot, I just have to shoot the puck. Because I think if I’m not going to shoot the puck, I’m not going to score. It’s not going to be good results for me and for the team as well. I just changed a little bit my game and you can see it.”
Washington scored four times in less than seven minutes to take control of the game, with Ovechkin scoring the first and four goals. The Caps scored one 5-on-5 goal, two 4-on-4 goals and a power play goal to help goaltender Tomas Vokoun to his 15th win of the season.
Even with a dismal Dec. 13 start against the Philadelphia Flyers included, Vokoun had a strong month of December. In eight appearances (seven starts), he was 5-2 with a 2.15 GAA and a .930 save pct. Vokoun has been in net for each of the three wins in Washington’s current streak, and he has stopped 107 of the last 112 shots he has faced for a .955 save pct.
The Capitals have allowed just 2.33 goals per game under Hunter, and they’ve allowed an average of less than two even-strength goals per game in the 15 contests they’ve played since Hunter took over. The Caps have not allowed a power play goal on home ice under Hunter; they’re a perfect 22-for-22 on the penalty kill in their last eight home games.
Caps defenseman Mike Green practiced with the team again on Monday and is getting closer to a return to live action. He has played in just eight games this season, and has skated in only one of the Capitals’ last 30 games. Green worked with the power play unit during Monday’s practice.
The Flames hit town to play the sixth of seven straight games on the road. Calgary played in Vancouver immediately before the NHL’s Christmas break, matching a season high with its third straight win. The Flames pushed the streak to four when they downed the Blue Jackets in a shootout in Columbus on Dec. 27.
Since then, the Flames have suffered setbacks on Long Island, at Ottawa and at Nashville, gaining a point only in an overtime loss to the Senators.
Calgary captain Jarome Iginla scored the 499th goal of his NHL career on Sunday in Nashville, leaving him one goal shy of joining the elite 500-goal club in the league. He will become the 42nd player in league history to reach that plateau.
Also in Sunday’s game against the Predators, veteran Flames center Olli Jokinen skated in the 1,000th game of his NHL career. Another veteran Flames pivot – ex-Capital Brendan Morrison – scored the 200th goal of his NHL career in Music City on Sunday.
For Calgary, Tuesday’s game closes out the first half of the 2011-12 season. The Flames have 41 points and are currently residing in 12th place in the Western Conference standings.
The Flames haven’t done much to draw penalties of late; they’ve had three or fewer power play chances in each of their last seven games (3-for-16, 18.8%). They’ve faced just 17 shorthanded situations of their own in that same seven-game span, successfully snuffing 16 (.941).