January 9 vs. Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center
Time: 10:30 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.
Washington Capitals (21-16-2)
Los Angeles Kings (20-15-7)
Two nights after their four-game winning streak came to an end at the hands of the Sharks in San Jose, the Capitals are back in action in Los Angeles. The Caps take on the Kings on Monday, concluding their two-game West Coast road trip.
Saturday night’s loss to the Sharks came by a 5-2 score, but the game was closer than the final result would indicate. The Caps were even with the Sharks early in the third, but Washington surrendered what would prove to be the game-winning goal just 16 seconds after the Caps’ Joel Ward tied it at 2-2 in the first minute of the final frame.
The Capitals are now 7-11-1 in their 19 road games this season, and they are 3-4-1 in eight road games since Dale Hunter took over behind the Washington bench on Nov. 28.
“It’s been tough for us,” says Caps forward Matt Hendricks. “We just haven’t been that successful on the road. I think we’re a good road hockey team; we have no reason not to be. We have a lot of the same makeup as this team has had throughout the last couple of years. We’re not putting up as many goals right now, and therefore we’re not getting as many wins.
“I like what our goaltenders are doing, I think we’re keeping pucks out of our net and playing better defensive hockey.”
Washington has been unable to play with a lead in many of its road games this season. The Capitals have had a lead after the first 20 minutes just twice this season in 19 road games, and they have not done so since Nov. 5 against the Islanders. The Caps are 1-1 in those two games; they owned a 2-0 lead over New York in that Nov. 5 game but eventually dropped a 5-3 decision.
“Anytime you can get a lead early and get a little cushion,” says Caps defenseman Dennis Wideman, “you can play the right way and play your game. But if you get down by a couple, you’ve got to start pushing the envelope a little bit as the game goes on, and that opens up chances for the other team, usually.”
After scoring six first-period goals in their first six road games of the season, Washington has tallied just three first-period goals in its last 13 road games and just one in its last nine games.
Currently, the Capitals have gone more than a month without scoring a first-period goal on the road. Their last road marker in the game’s first 20 minutes came on Dec. 5 at Florida in a 5-4 loss to the Panthers.
In Hunter’s eight road games, the Capitals have owned a lead for just 30:39 of the 485 minutes of road hockey they’ve played.
“You see everybody’s stats, the way they are if you score first,” says Hunter. “It’s huge. Every team is like that. Score first, you’ve got a pretty good chance of winning.”
Washington is 9-7-1 under Hunter, and the team that has scored the game’s first goal has won 15 of the 17 games since he took the reins.
The Kings’ season began with high hopes of a deep playoff run; Los Angeles has made two straight playoff appearances after suffering through six straight seasons on the outside looking in. The Kings’ last playoff series win came in 2001 when they bounced Detroit in a six-game, first-round series.
Los Angeles got out of the gates quickly in 2011-12, going 5-1-1 in its first seven games. But a five-game losing streak (0-3-2) followed in late October, and another five-game drought (0-5) in December cost coach Terry Murray his job; he was fired on Dec. 12 after the fourth of those five setbacks in succession.
The Kings were 13-12-4 at that point. Assistant coach John Stevens piloted the club to a 2-2 mark in four games as the interim head coach, and Los Angeles hired Darryl Sutter to take over behind the bench on Dec. 20.
Since Sutter took over, the Kings are 5-1-3. They earned points in each of their first eight games (5-0-3) under Sutter, the fifth longest streak of games with a point in the franchise’s history. That streak came to an end on Saturday night when the Kings were on the short end of a 1-0 home ice loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Los Angeles is last in the league in goals scored per game at 2.02, but the Kings’ goaltending and defense help make up for their anemic attack; they’ve surrendered just 2.12 goals per game this season. That’s the fourth best mark in the league.
Not surprisingly, the Los Angeles power play ranks 28th in the circuit with a 13.2% success rate, but the Kings also boast one of the best penalty killing outfits in the league. Los Angeles’ 88.9% kill rate is second-best in the NHL this season, and the Kings’ penalty killing corps has been extra special as of late.
The Kings have had multiple power play goals in the same game three times this season, and have not done so since Nov. 7. Los Angeles is 1-2 in those three games. The Kings went 0-for-8 on the power play in Saturday’s loss to the Blue Jackets, matching the most power play chances they’ve had in a single game this season.
In its last 21 games, Los Angeles is 5-for-77 (6.5%) with the extra man.
The Kings have not allowed a power play goal against since Dec. 17 against Detroit, killing off 34 straight opposition power plays since then. The Los Angeles franchise record for consecutive penalties killed is 46, set in 2001-02.
As you’d expect, the Kings have been involved in a lot of tight games this season. Twenty-six of the Kings’ 42 games to date have been decided by a single goal; that’s three more one-goal games than any other team in the NHL has played.
Los Angeles is 12-7-7 in one-goal games this season. The Capitals are 9-5-2 in one-goal games; Washington’s .563 winning pct. in one-goal contests is eighth best in the NHL.
When they score three or more goals this season, the Kings are a perfect 10-0. Los Angeles has not lost in regulation when leading after two periods since April 2, 2009 at Phoenix. During that span, the Kings are 70-0-5 when owning a lead after 40 minutes of play.
Thus far this season, the Kings have owned a lead after the game’s first 20 minutes just five times in 42 games played. That’s three fewer than any other team in the league. Los Angeles is a perfect 5-0 in those rare occasions in which it owns a lead after the game’s first frame.
“We definitely can’t get behind these guys,” says Wideman of the Kings. “Maybe they have been struggling a little bit scoring goals, but they’ve got a lot of offensive talent over there. I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before they break out and get going.
“Right now, they’re winning by playing good defense. They’ve got a great goalie and a couple really good [defensemen] over there. It’s going to be a game that we have to get in and try to grind them out, and see if we can get some ugly ones lying around the net.”