February 28 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 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.
New York Islanders (26-28-8)
Washington Capitals (31-26-5)
After a grueling stretch in which they played six games in nine nights with five of the six coming on the road, the Capitals are back in town for their longest homestand of the season. Washington starts a stretch of five straight games on Verizon Center ice on Tuesday when the New York Islanders pay their second visit of the season to the District.
Washington went 3-3 during that aforementioned stretch of six games in nine nights, and the Caps needed wins in back-to-back games against Montreal and at Toronto this past weekend just to draw even in that stretch.
Now, the Caps have consecutive wins for the first time in nearly six weeks. Ironically, the Islanders also provided the opposition the last time the Caps took a winning streak into their next game.
The Caps and Isles have met twice this season, and New York is the only Eastern Conference club the Capitals have yet to defeat this season. The Islanders came from behind to win a 5-3 decision over the Caps on Long Island on Nov. 5 and New York blanked the Caps by a 3-0 count here in Washington on Jan. 17. That home ice loss to the Isles last month ended the Caps’ modest three-game winning streak.
With a lengthy spell of home cooking on the horizon, the Caps know that now is the time for them to assert themselves into the Eastern Conference playoff picture and to take a run for the top spot in the Southeast.
Washington has had four straight seasons with 20 or more road wins, but the Caps would need to run the table and win all nine of their remaining road contests this season in order to match that feat. They know odds of that happening are long, so they know their 11 remaining home games are of utmost importance.
“We’re just trying to win hockey games,” says Caps center Brooks Laich. “I was looking today and our record is tied for second best in the Eastern Conference at home. [We’re] 20-8-2, and we’re tied with Pittsburgh and the New York Rangers are 20-7-2.
“So we play as well as anybody at home and we’ve just got to make sure that continues, that we get those home points. Winnipeg is doing it; they’re winning at home. Everybody seems to be winning at home, you’ve got to get those points at home.”
Monday’s trade deadline came and went without the Capitals making any moves at all, a relatively rare occurrence. This season marks just the third time since general manager George McPhee took over the reins in 1997 that Washington has played a pat hand on deadline day.
“I think we have a pretty solid group,” said Caps forward Joel Ward after Monday’s practice and prior to the passing of the traded deadline. “It’s just a matter of us putting it together. I think we’ve showed at times that we’ve dominated when we play a full 60 minutes. I think it’s just a matter of us as a group coming together collectively. I don’t know if making moves is a big option.”
“We’ve got the same team we had at the start of the season,” says Caps defenseman Dennis Wideman. “We had expectations to do really good this year and make a push. We’ve had some ups and downs this year and haven’t had the regular season success that we want, but I think if we keep playing the way we’ve played the last couple of games and get a little bit better yet heading into the playoffs, we’ll be a tough team to beat.”
Caps goalie Michal Neuvirth started and won both games over the weekend, that after coming on in relief of Tomas Vokoun in each of the two games before that. That started those who love to stir the pot in search of a goaltending controversy, but Vokoun wasn’t interested in playing along.
“You’re a player and we’re in a fight for the playoffs,” said Vokoun after Monday’s practice. “You need all the players on the team. I played for a long time there, for 25 games I played most of them. I didn’t play good the last game, and Michal went in and played good and played a couple good games.
“It’s just a normal thing. At this time of the year, it’s not about personal feelings or anything like that. We still have a lot of games. I’m sure the team is going to need me again. It’s just a normal thing.”
Neuvirth has been solid since the turn of the calendar. He is 3-2-1 in nine appearances (six starts) with a shutout, a 2.21 GAA and a .929 save pct.
Over the same span, Vokoun has also played well. He is 8-8-2 with three shutouts, a 2.44 GAA and a .921 save pct.
The Islanders are 27th in the league in goals for and 24th in the circuit in goals against. That doesn’t sound like a recipe for success, and it hasn’t been on the Island this season. The Isles are mired in the basement of the NHL’s Atlantic Division, and are destined to finish there again for a fifth straight season in 2011-12.
New York was able to move out a pair of veteran contracts prior to Monday’s 3 p.m. NHL trade deadline. The Isles shipped center Brian Rolston and defenseman Mike Mottau to Boston for a pair of minor leaguers.
Islanders haven’t won consecutive games in more than a month. New York started a streak of three straight wins with its 3-0 whitewash of Washington in the District on Jan. 17. Since then, the Isles are 7-7-2, with four of those wins coming in overtime or the shootout.
New York has dropped each of its last three road games, and has been outscored by a combined total of 13-4 in the process.
Washington probably wishes the Islanders had moved veteran goaltender Evgeni Nabokov before the trade deadline. Nabokov blanked the Caps here last month and is 10-1 with two shutouts, a 1.99 GAA and a .933 save pct. in 11 career starts against Washington. Nabokov is 6-1 with a shutout, a 2.12 GAA and a .930 save pct. in seven career starts against the Caps at Verizon Center.