January 17 vs. New York Islanders 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.
New York Islanders (16-21-6)
Washington Capitals (24-17-2)
Washington closes out what has been a very successful four-game homestand on Tuesday night when it hosts the New York Islanders for the first time this season. The Caps have taken each of the first three games of the homestand, winning each contest by a single goal.
Most recently, the Caps stole a 2-1 decision from the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday afternoon at Verizon Center. Goaltender Tomas Vokoun – making his ninth straight start – won his third straight decision. In the process, he made 43 saves and faced at least 13 shots in each period.
The Caps have won seven straight at home and are 17-5-1 at Verizon Center this season.
“Anytime you can get points at home, you want to do it,” says Caps center Jeff Halpern. “You want to make it a tough building to play in. [Sunday], we probably didn’t deserve to win and were able to get two points anyway. Anytime you can take wins, you want them [but] we’d like to play a little bit better, especially at home.”
In his last 10 appearances (nine starts) Vokoun is now 7-2 with a 1.80 GAA and a .944 save pct. In 17 Verizon Center starts this season, Vokoun is 14-3 with a 2.03 GAA and a .928 save pct.
Carolina fired 82 shots toward the net to just 38 for Washington in Sunday’s game; the Canes had more shots on net (44) than the Capitals had total shots attempted.
“They’re working hard and they’re trying to play it tighter and not give as much,” says Caps coach Dale Hunter when queried about the team’s recent disparity in shots on goal and scoring chances. “There’s always room for improvement as every coach will say about their team. You’re never satisfied. But the work ethic is there; that’s what I worry about the most.”
Washington has managed 30 or fewer shots on goal in each of its last 14 games, its longest streak of that kind since it went 24 straight contests with 30 or fewer shots on net from Feb. 17-April 4, 2004. The Caps are 9-4-1 during the life of their current streak; they were just 5-14-4-1 during their previous streak nearly eight years ago.
The Caps have been quite solid defensively of late, especially on home ice. During the life of their current seven-game winning streak at Verizon Center, the Capitals have outscored their opposition by a combined 21-8. They haven’t trailed at all in any of those games, scoring the game’s first goal in each.
Washington was 12-9-1 in the 22 games in which Bruce Boudreau was the team’s head coach at the start of the season. They are 12-8-1 in 21 games under Hunter. The team allowed an average of 3.27 goals per game under Boudreau, and they’ve shaved that to 2.38 under Hunter.
If they had maintained that 2.38 mark all season, the Caps would rank seventh in the league in goals against. As it is, they’re 18th with an average of 2.84 goals against per game.
Sunday’s win lifted Washington into a tie for the top spot in the Southeast Division, vaulting the Caps from ninth to third in the Eastern Conference standings in one fell swoop. Florida gained a point with a shootout loss to the Bruins on Monday, dropping the Caps back to seventh going into Tuesday’s game with the Islanders.
“You take it with a little bit of a grain of salt that the numbers put you in third place in the conference and first in our division,” says Caps winger Mike Knuble. “But we’re not naïve to the fact that we feel like we’ve had to play really well to get there. We’ve won games, but I think there’s always more that you can offer as a team and I think all of our players feel that, and that’s a good thing to have.
“Guys aren’t satisfied and guys aren’t content. Once you get there, it’s just as easy to fall out and we still have room to grow and we can play better. I think there is no hiding that and we all know that and it’s something we can all work on.”
The Islanders are the fourth straight team on this homestand to come into Verizon Center having played a game at home the day or night before. New York dropped a 3-1 decision to Nashville on Monday on Long Island. For the ninth time this season, the Isles surrendered a goal on the game’s first shot against the Predators. Isles goalie Kevin Poulin was also nicked for a goal on the second shot he faced, and that was all the offense Nashville needed.
New York netminder Evgeni Nabokov became the 26th goalie in NHL history to reach the 300-win plateau on Saturday when he defeated the Buffalo Sabres by a 4-2 count.
The Isles used six different goalies last season and have employed five different netminders thus far in 2011-12. Nabokov leads the bunch with seven wins this season.
Having won five of their last nine games (5-4), the Isles are in the midst of one of their best stretches of the season. They have yet to win more than three consecutive games this season; they’ve won three in a row twice.
New York’s power play ranks ninth in the NHL this season with a success rate of 18.8%. John Tavares is the Islanders’ leading scorer; he has collected 13 (five goals, eight assists) of his 43 points on the power play. Defenseman Mark Streit leads the Islanders in power play scoring. He has amassed 15 (one goal, 14 assists) of his 23 points with the extra man.
Matt Moulson (21), Tavares (16), Frans Neilsen (13) and Michael Grabner (11) have accounted for 61 percent of New York’s total offense on the season to date.