February 22 vs. Ottawa Senators at Scotiabank Place
Time: 7:00 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet + Radio: 1500AM, 820AM, XM and Caps Radio Network Pre-Game: Pre-Cap at 2 p.m., Two-Man Advantage at 5:00 p.m., John Walton’s one-on-one audio with Dale Hunter at 5:00 p.m., all on washingtoncaps.com.
Washington Capitals (29-25-5)
Ottawa Senators (31-22-8)
Washington finishes up a crucial four-game road trip with a Wednesday night visit to Ottawa to close out the season’s series with the Senators. The Caps have taken all three previous meetings with the Sens this season.
Both teams were last in action on Monday, each playing in one of the two games on the NHL slate. Ottawa forged a 6-0 victory over the Islanders in New York while the Caps were on the wrong end of a 5-0 whitewashing at the hands of the Hurricanes in Carolina.
In a game that could have lifted them back into the top spot in the Southeast Division, the Caps came out flat and remained flat for the entirety of the 60 minutes in front of a national television audience.
“You have to learn from it,” says Caps coach Dale Hunter of Monday’s loss in Carolina. “We [looked at] the video [Tuesday], and we made mistakes. You correct your mistakes and learn from them. Now we’ve got another game. You can’t pout about losing and then sacrifice another game. We have to come out ready to work.”
One of several ongoing issues for the Capitals is the team’s offensive struggles. The Caps have scored just three goals in their three games on this road trip to date. While Washington has averaged exactly three goals per game at home this season, the Caps have averaged just 2.37 goals per game on the road. That’s one of the reasons for the team’s miserable 10-17-3 record away from Verizon Center.
“That’s something that if you peel back the layers a little bit you can see,” says Caps right win Mike Knuble, of the team’s offensive struggles. “Especially on this trip. We’ve manufactured two goals, one goal, and zero goals. We’ve got to come up with more than that. You’re going to give up probably two a game anyway most nights; you can count on that. You’ve got to get two or three to be competitive and to be able to gain ground in the standings. And if you don’t, you’re going to have a hard time gaining ground. That’s where we are right now.”
With just three goals in the three games to date on the trip, the Caps are fortunate to be 1-2 thus far. They earned a 2-1 win over the Panthers in the trip opener last Friday, then fell by the same score in Tampa Bay on Saturday. In their last two games, Washington has managed just a single goal – from center Brooks Laich in Tampa Bay on Saturday – while playing two teams beneath it in the Eastern Conference standings.
Offensively, the Caps have been stagnant. Defensively, the Caps have been benevolent. On special teams, the Caps have been uneven at best.
As a result, they are taking on water at the worst possible time of the season. The Capitals put together a modest three-game winning streak in the middle of January, winning the first three games of a four-game homestand. But since then, Washington has been unable to win consecutive contests and it has fashioned a dismal 5-8-3 record.
In their last 16 games, the Capitals have scored a total of just 34 goals (2.13 per game) while surrendering 43 (2.69).
In Monday’s loss to the Hurricanes, Caps goaltender Tomas Vokoun was pulled in favor of Michal Neuvirth after allowing two goals on seven shots in just over five minutes of work.
Even with that rough outing, Vokoun has been solid since the All-Star break. He has a 1.95 GAA and a .934 in eight starts since then, but has only three wins to show for it. In two of those wins, he pitched a shutout. In the other, he allowed just one goal.
“I’m here to help the team win,” says Vokoun. “I’m not looking at my own stats. You want to win. I want to make the playoffs. I don’t care if my stats are great or not so great. I would rather exchange that for wins. Nobody feels good about what happened [Monday] night. Hopefully we can change that [Wednesday].”
As Japer’s Rink pointed out on Tuesday, this is the longest the Caps have gone without consecutive wins in more than four years.
As bad as that all sounds, a win on Wednesday over the Senators puts the Capitals in a tie for the top spot in the Southeast Division and a tie for the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference standings.
Wednesday’s game opens up a three-game homestand for the Senators. Ottawa has allowed 2.97 goals per game this season, ranking 26th in the league in that department. Among teams currently in the NHL’s playoff picture, only Toronto (3.00) has allowed more goals per game.
Ottawa makes up for its rather porous defense with the eighth-ranked offense in the circuit. The high-powered Sens average 2.95 goals per game. Ottawa’s power play unit has clicked at a rate of 18.45 this season, 11th best in the NHL.
The Sens went reeling into and out of the NHL’s All-Star break last month, losing seven games in a row (0-6-1) from Jan. 21 to Feb. 7. Since then, Ottawa has righted its ship. The Senators are 4-0-1 in their last five games, and they’ve punished opponents by a combined score of 23-9 in the process.
Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson scored twice in Monday’s win over the Islanders, his first two-goal game on the season. Those tallies were the 29th and 30th of the young defenseman’s NHL career.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, Karlsson needed 89 games to score the first 10 goals of his NHL career, 72 more games to get his next 10 tallies and then just 34 games in which to record his last 10 markers.