February 9 vs. Winnipeg Jets 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.
Winnipeg Jets (25-24-6)
Washington Capitals (28-21-4)
Two nights after a convincing and important 4-0 win over the Florida Panthers at Verizon Center, the Caps close out a three-game homestand against another Southeast Division foe, the Winnipeg Jets.
The Capitals know they’ve got to keep their collective foot to the gas pedal against the Jets, a team that is trying to chase them down in the divisional and playoff races and one that has given them fits at times in recent seasons.
“Another playoff-mentality game with another division rival,” notes Caps defenseman Jeff Schultz of Thursday’s game. “It’s coming down to the nitty-gritty of winning these divisional games and creating some of that separation that we need to now.”
The Caps got the Panthers in their clutches quickly in Tuesday’s win. Washington got all the offense it would need on the game’s first shift when center Mathieu Perreault tucked a puck past Panthers netminder Scott Clemmensen just 13 seconds after the game’s opening face-off.
Washington added another early tally with an Alex Ovechkin power-play goal and also established a strong physical tempo early in the contest. The Caps maintained that physicality throughout the night, and goaltender Tomas Vokoun blanked his former employers for the second straight game this season. Vokoun was excellent, making 42 stops on the night.
“We’ve got another divisional foe coming in [Thursday],” says Caps’ forward Matt Hendricks. “We need to be prepared and have a start like we did last time. I know it’s not easy to get goals on the first shift, but I thought we had a lot of momentum early just by establishing a forecheck, doing the right things and keeping them on their heels.
“We got pucks behind their [defense]. We put it behind their net. He hit them and we at least tried to make it miserable for them to get pucks out of their zone. When you can establish that zone time like we did and they puck control like it we did, it really puts them n their heels and we were able to get a lead because of it.”
Washington has been treading water since it opened the season with a seven-game winning streak. The Capitals are a very pedestrian 21-21-4 since then. Having regained the top spot in the Southeast from the Panthers, the Caps feel like they can achieve some separation between themselves and their pursuers if they can put together a winning streak.
“We’ve been talking about putting together a string here, a string of wins,” says Hendricks. “We’ve got a lot of good competition. This is the time of year when everyone is trying to play their best hockey. Points are very big and very valuable.”
Thursday’s two points are very valuable to both the Caps and the Jets. Washington has been brilliant at Verizon Center this season (19-7-1) but far less so on the road (9-14-3).
After Thursday’s meeting with Winnipeg, the Capitals must play five of their next six games on the road. Taking advantage of their dwindling number of home games is of utmost importance to the Capitals, especially when those games are against teams that are hot on their heels for postseason positioning.
After six straight games on the road (2-4), the Jets returned home for one game on Tuesday, a 2-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. Winnipeg starts a two-game trip with Thursday’s visit to Washington; the Jets will also visit Pittsburgh on Saturday.
Winnipeg is currently 10th in the NHL’s Eastern Conference standings. Heading into Wednesday night’s slate of NHL activity, the Jets are five points behind the eighth-place Ottawa Senators, but only four points behind Washington for the top spot in the Southeast Division. The Jets have played two more games than the Capitals and one fewer than the Senators.
Winnipeg is 9-16-4 on the road this season. The Jets are 4-8 in their last dozen road games, and they’ve earned just one of those four victories in regulation time, a 2-0 Steve Mason shutout over the Senators on Jan. 16. Winnipeg has been outscored by a combined 33-15 in its last dozen road contests.
Like the Caps, the Jets have been struggling on the power play of late. Dating back to their last power play goal in a 4-3 shootout loss to the Panthers in Winnipeg on Jan. 21, the Jets are now 0-for-18 on the power play in their last seven-plus games.
Winnipeg is 0-for-23 on the power play in its last nine road games. The Jets’ last power play goal on the road came in a 2-1 overtime win against the Sabres in Buffalo on Jan. 7. The Jets have tallied nine power play goals in 29 road games this season; they’ve got an extra-man success rate of just 11.2% away from home.
The Jets have had much more success on the penalty kill of late. Winnipeg has killed 29 of its last 33 shorthanded situations (87.9%) over its last 13 games, dating back to Jan. 12.
Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec is 5-9-1 with two shutouts, a 2.79 GAA and a .916 save pct lifetime against the Capitals. He is 1-1-1 in three starts against Washington this season, having stopped 91 of the 97 shots the Caps have put on him in 2011-12.
During his career at Verizon Center, Pavelec is 1-5-1 in seven games (six starts) with a 3.34 GAA and a .906 save pct.
In four starts since the All-Star break, Pavelec is 3-1 with a 1.46 GAA and a .940 save pct. Pavelec has faced 1,315 shots this season, the fourth-highest total in the NHL.
Notes: In each of Winnipeg’s last seven games, the combined goal total for both teams has been exactly three. The Jets are 3-4 during that span.