March 23 vs. Winnipeg Jets at Verizon Center
Time: 7:00 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 1500AM, 820AM, XM and Caps Radio Network Pre-Game: 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.
Winnipeg Jets (34-31-8)
Washington Capitals (37-30-7)
The Capitals head home to start a crucial three-game homestand on Friday night at Verizon Center when they host the Winnipeg Jets. The game is the second in as many nights for the Capitals, and it is Washington’s final set of games on back-to-back nights this season.
Friday’s game against Washington is the Capitals’ first on home ice since a 2-0 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on March 11. The Capitals are home from a five-game road wings – their longest of the season – with a credible 2-2-1 record to show for their efforts.
“We are fairly happy with the way we’ve played,” says Caps defenseman Karl Alzner. “In Winnipeg, we didn’t play our best game, but we kept it close. Chicago, we can write that one off. We’re playing pretty decent hockey. We’re pretty happy right now, but [losses] still sting.”
The Caps played on Thursday night in Philadelphia against the Flyers. Despite getting the game’s first goal from captain Alex Ovechkin just 26 seconds into the contest, Washington was forced to settle for a single point in a 2-1 shootout loss to the Flyers. The Caps failed to cash in on numerous second-period scoring chances that might have enabled them to snatch a second point from that contest.
“We’re going to look back on it and be a little upset,” admits Alzner. “We had a lot of chances to score. We should have had three [goals] in that [second] period. Hopefully it sticks with you for a little bit, at least carrying over to the next game so that when you get that chance you score because you can’t let those slip away against a team like this.”
Ovechkin didn’t want to dwell much on Thursday’s loss in Philly, preferring to look ahead to Friday night’s game against the Jets. Along with the Buffalo Sabres – who visit Verizon Center on Tuesday – Winnipeg is one of two teams currently on the Caps’ heels who will hit the District on the upcoming homestand.
“Yeah, but there’s nothing you can do right now,” he says of getting the single point against the Flyers. “We lost the point and [Friday] is certainly a big game for us. Probably the biggest game of the year.”
Ovechkin did his part, scoring half a dozen goals in the five games on the trip. With 33 goals on the season, he has one more than he had in 2010-11 and is now eighth in the NHL.
As important as his goals have been, Thursday’s game was also key for the Caps in another regard. With rookie goaltender Braden Holtby in net, they limited the Flyers to just one goal in the 65 minutes of hockey that were played. That’s the only game of the last five on the road that Washington was able to hold a team to two goals or fewer. They’ll need to tighten up a bit defensively heading into the final eight games of the season.
“We feel like we’re playing better against teams’ top guys and shutting them down a little more for the most part,” says Alzner. “There are still some games of course where they are going to break out. It’s a team thing. We’re playing a lot more sound in our own zone, not letting the [defense] get as many shots through and the goalies are playing good. It’s kind of an all-around effort, but it’s nice to see.”
Tenth-place Winnipeg trails eighth-place Washington by five points for the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference, and the Jets also now have a game in hand on the Capitals. Buffalo is a single point behind Washington. The Capitals are three points behind Ottawa for seventh place.
“These are kind of dangerous games, too,” notes Alzner, ”because they’re against teams that need the points, that are really battling really hard for them. It’s just going to be a dogfight. We’re excited for it. We’ve been going into every game with that mentality right now because we have to. It’s nice to get home and get in a comfortable situation, but you’ve got to win. You’ve got to win the games.”
The Jets arrived in Washington in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, before the Caps even departed for their Thursday tilt against the Flyers in Philadelphia. Both the Capitals and the Jets practiced at Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington on Wednesday, and Winnipeg had another session at Kettler on Thursday.
A week ago in Winnipeg, these two teams hooked up with the Jets besting the Caps 3-2. The last time the Jets visited the District on Feb. 9, Washington coughed up a 2-0 lead in the final minutes of regulation on its way to a heartbreaking 3-2 shootout loss to Winnipeg.
That Feb. 9 loss and the setback in Winnipeg last Friday are responsible for the Jets still having a prayer in the Eastern Conference playoff picture; the Caps can make them virtually vanish with a Friday night win at Verizon Center.
Winnipeg is 11-16-9 on the road this season, and the Jets are tied with Carolina and Tampa Bay for the fewest road wins among the 15 Eastern Conference clubs this season. Among all NHL clubs, only Columbus (10) has won fewer games on the road. The Jets must play six of their remaining nine games on the road.
Friday’s game in Washington is the second stop on a three-game trip for the Jets. The journey got off to a rugged start on Tuesday in Pittsburgh when the Jets found themselves on the business end of an 8-4 pounding from the Penguins. Pittsburgh scored four second-period goals to run away with the game and hand the Jets their fourth loss in their last six games.