March 19 vs. Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena
Time: 7:30 pm
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 (36-30-6)
Detroit Red Wings (44-24-4)
Washington’s season-long five-game road swing started off well enough last Tuesday. Although the Caps spotted the New York Islanders a 4-1 lead, Washington roared back to win by a 5-4 count in the shootout. Since then, the road has been unkind to the Capitals. A 3-2 Friday night loss in Winnipeg was followed by a 5-2 spanking in Chicago on Sunday afternoon.
Washington’s loss to the Blackhawks was its 20th in regulation on the road this season, the most among all Eastern Conference clubs and tied for third most in the NHL. The Caps’ total of regulation road losses this season is their highest since they went 11-23-7 away from Verizon Center in 2006-07.
Now the Caps head to Detroit where they’ll play the second of a set of back-to-back contests against the Red Wings, who are one of the league’s best home ice clubs. The Wings won an NHL record 23 straight games on home ice earlier this season, and they are 28-4-4 in the 36 games they’ve played at Joe Louis Arena in 2011-12.
The Caps hung with Winnipeg and might have pulled a point from that game with the benefit of a favorable officiating call here or there. But Washington never gave itself a chance against the Blackhawks, coming out flat and getting flatter.
“We struggled,” says Caps defenseman Karl Alzner of his team’s performance on Sunday in Chicago. “We didn’t have an answer for their momentum, their speed or their quickness. We need to come out every single game playing desperate. We didn’t even have enough desperation in the third [period] there; we’re usually a team that just goes, goes, goes. I think maybe we were a little bit too relaxed after we had a few wins there and saw ourselves in a nice spot in the playoffs. We’ve got to get back to desperate hockey and everything’s got to be on net.”
With days on the calendar dwindling and the number of games remaining now down to just 10, the Caps can’t afford to go three straight games without picking up at least a point.
“Especially last game against Winnipeg,” says Caps right wing Troy Brouwer. “We feel that it might be a big turning point in our season. And then to come into [Chicago] and not be able to get one or two points, we’re really digging ourselves a hole and really putting ourselves in a tough spot, especially going into Detroit [on Monday]. And I know we’re playing Winnipeg again next week.
“It’s a long, tough road trip that we’re on right now. But we’ve got to find ways to get points and we’ve got to find ways to put ourselves back in a good spot for the playoffs.”
Washington has been outscored by a combined total of 5-1 in the first period of the first three games of the team’s current road trip. The Caps simply have to give themselves a better chance at the start of games and stop digging deep holes early that require so much energy to dig out of.
“You can’t dwell on it,” says Brouwer. “It’s tough not to because it’s such a quick turnaround. You have to take as many positives out of this as you can. You learn from your mistakes and we’re playing a very skilled team again [Monday] night. And we can’t be flat off the beginning.
“[The Red Wings] are a very good team at home again, and with a lot of skill. We can’t sit back. We can’t let them dictate the pace of the play. We’ve got to come out, finish our checks, make their skilled players work and get around that net more. We didn’t do any of that [Sunday].”
One of the few high points of Sunday’s loss was Caps captain Alex Ovechkin’s 30th goal of the season. Ovechkin becomes just the ninth player in NHL history to score 30 or more goals in each of his first seven seasons in the league. The list is an impressive one: Bryan Trottier, Mike Bossy, Mike Gartner, Wayne Gretzky, Glenn Anderson, Jari Kurri, Dale Hawerchuk and Luc Robitaille. All eight men are enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Detroit is tied for second in the Central Division and fourth in the Eastern Conference standings with the Nashville Predators. The Wings are back home after losing all four games (0-3-1) on a just-completed four-game road trip that concluded with a 3-2 overtime loss to the Sharks in San Jose on Saturday night.
The Red Wings are 1-5-1 in their last seven games and are 3-7-3 in their last 13. Monday’s game against Washington is a solo shot at home for the Wings; they head to Broadway where they’ll face the Rangers on Wednesday.
The Wings are fifth in the NHL with an average of 2.97 goals per game and they’re fourth in the circuit with 2.39 goals against per game. Detroit’s special teams play has been less than ordinary this season. The Wings are just 22nd in the NHL in power play prowess (15.6%) and they’re 18th in the league with a penalty-killing success (81.7%).
Detroit’s power play unit hasn’t scored since Feb. 28 and is now 0-for-30 in its last eight-plus games.
The Red Wings have been plagued by injuries of late, but superstar center Pavel Datsyuk returned to the lineup on Saturday in San Jose, scoring a goal and skating more than 19 minutes in the process. Datsyuk had been sidelined for 11 games with a knee injury.
Detroit is still playing without future Hall of Fame defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom. Lidstrom has missed each of the team’s last nine games with an ankle injury.
The two teams met earlier this season in Washington, with the Capitals prevailing 7-1 in that Oct. 22 contest. That victory was the seventh of seven straight to start the 2011-12 season for the Capitals. Washington is 0-2-1 in its last three visits to Joe Louis Arena, with each loss coming by a single goal.