March 16 vs. Winnipeg Jets at MTS Centre
Time: 8:30 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 5:00 p.m., John Walton’s one-on-one audio with Dale Hunter at 5:00 p.m. on washingtoncaps.com.
Washington Capitals (36-28-6)
Winnipeg Jets (33-29-8)
Washington’s longest road swing of the 2011-12 campaign continues on Friday night when the Capitals make the final of their three visits to Winnipeg to take on the Jets. The Caps bring along a four-game winning streak and a three-game road winning streak to Manitoba.
The Caps started their current five-game road stretch with a 5-4 come-from-behind shootout victory over the New York Islanders on Long Island on Tuesday. With that win, the Capitals now have picked up at least a point in each of their last five games (4-0-1), their longest streak since they opened the campaign with seven consecutive triumphs in October.
Tuesday’s win over the Islanders also lifts the Caps to eight games over what passes for .500 in the modern NHL (36-28-6). That represents Washington’s high-water mark of the season.
Washington trailed the Islanders by a 4-1 count in the final minute of the second period before rallying to force overtime. The Caps won the game on Matt Hendricks shootout strike.
“It’s such an emotional thing,” says Caps defenseman Mike Green. “We were down and then we come back to win the game. We’ve got to stay even keeled and make sure that we’re not getting too high or too low. I think that’s going to be also the key on this road trip, an even keel. Because if things aren’t going to go well – we’re playing in other people’s buildings – then it’s tough. It’s not easy. The more positive and even keeled we stay the better off we’ll be.”
Green will rejoin the Washington lineup on Friday in Winnipeg after serving his NHL-assessed three-game suspension for a hit on Tampa Bay rookie Brett Connolly in a March 8 game at Verizon Center.
“I‘ve been bag skating here and working out, making sure that I’ve been doing the things on the ice,” says Green. “And obviously when I’m home resting and making sure that I’m prepared to be the best that I can be on the ice.
“I’m just excited to get back. I was fortunate enough that it was three quick games – three in four nights – so Friday will come quick and I’ll be ready.”
Green had played in 10 straight games – his longest run of consecutive regular season contests in more than a year – before sitting out the last three because of the suspension. Green has returned to the Caps’ lineup nine different times after various injury-related absences since the start of the 2010-11 season, but this return isn’t like those.
“It’s definitely different,” says Green. “I think that anytime you’re injured you’re cautious and you play a different game mentally. Nothing’s changed here; I just had a bit of a break here away from games. But I’ve still been practicing and keeping my tempo up.”
Green had six points in his first seven games of the season, although four of those came in a single contest, the Caps’ 7-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings on Oct. 22. Green is currently without a point in each of his last 13 games, including each of the dozen games he has played since Dale Hunter took over behind the Washington bench on Nov. 28.
“I think it’s a lot easier and simpler game to play under Dale, which is a good thing,” says Green. ”I think in the past I was expected to get up in the play and score or make plays and then be back. It was a lot of work. I still feel like I could do that, but my role has changed a little bit here and that’s fine with me. I do what is asked of me.”
Although Green hails from Calgary, he is excited to be playing an NHL game in Manitoba for the first time in his NHL career. He was sidelined because of injury for each of the Capitals’ first two visits here this season.
“Actually I was thinking about it [recently],” says Green. “Finally. Before the season started I wanted to play there, and obviously didn’t get a chance this year. I was fortunate enough to look at the schedule about three weeks ago and see that we still had a game there. So I’m excited. And I was fortunate enough that I didn’t get a four-game suspension so I can make the trip.”
Winnipeg trails Washington by four points for the eighth spot in the NHL’s Easter Conference standings. The Caps’ visit is the second game of a three-game homestand for the Jets. Winnipeg started off on a strong note, drubbing the Dallas Stars by a 5-2 count on Wednesday at the MTS Centre.
The Jets and Caps have played twice in each other’s barns thus far this season, splitting the games in each building. But the Caps have only scored two goals in their previous two visits to Winnipeg this season. They dropped a 4-1 decision to the Jets on Nov. 17 and rode a Michal Neuvirth shutout and a late Alex Ovechkin goal to a 1-0 win over Winnipeg on Dec. 15.
Washington won an overtime game over the Jets on Nov. 23 and dropped a shootout decision to Winnipeg on Feb. 9 in the two games played between the two teams at Verizon Center this season.
Winnipeg is 22-10-4 on home ice this season, including 6-1-2 in its last nine games at MTS Centre. Once the Jets’ current homestand is over, they’ll play seven of their final 10 games of the season on the road where they’ve fashioned a less impressive 11-19-4 record.
The Jets have 11 power play goals in their last 21 chances (52.4%) on home ice. Winnipeg has scored at least one power play goal in six of its last eight home games and has multiple power-play tallies in four of those games. The Jets’ power play is twice as good at home as it is on the road. Winnipeg is clicking at 25% with the extra man at home, the top home ice rate in the circuit. But on the road, the Jets’ power-play pct. is just 12%, and that’s next-to-last in the NHL.
Winnipeg also boasts a pair of the league’s hottest skaters right now. Blake Wheeler – who come from Boston in a Feb. 18, 2011 deal that has worked out splendidly for the Jets – is in the midst of a career year. The 25-year-old Minnesota native has nearly as many assists this season (41) as he had points last season (44). Wheeler is the Jets’ leading scorer with 58 points; he has seven goals and 20 points in his last dozen games.
Forward Evander Kane has picked up a point in 11 of his last 12 games and he has nine goals and 17 points during that hot spell. Now in his third season in the league, Kane has improved his goal and point totals each season. His 28 goals is tops on the Jets and tied for 21st in the league this season.
The Jets are 16th in the NHL with an average of 2.6 goals scored per game. But Winnipeg has tallied 37 goals in its last nine home games, and has outscored its last three home foes by a combined 15-3.
“This is a big game for us,” says Green of Friday’s battle with the Jets. “We say this every night, but it’s real and it’s true. We separate ourselves even that much more and that sets the tone for the whole road trip for us. We’ve got a lot of games on the road here, and it’s important that we get our wins. I think that will determine how well we’re going to do on this trip.”