March 25 vs. Minnesota Wild at Verizon Center
Time: 5:00 pm TV: NBCSN Radio: 1500AM, 820AM, XM and Caps Radio Network Pre-Game: Two-Man Advantage at 3:00 p.m., John Walton’s one-on-one audio with Dale Hunter at 3:00 p.m. on washingtoncaps.com.
Minnesota Wild (31-33-10)
Washington Capitals (37-30-8)
Washington’s three-game homestand continues with a Sunday afternoon match against the Minnesota Wild at Verizon Center, the final game the Capitals will play against a Western Conference foe this season.
The Caps opened the homestand in inauspicious fashion on Friday night against the Winnipeg Jets, coughing up a three-goal lead for the first time this season and losing a game in which they held the lead after 40 minutes for the first time this season (22-0-1). After carving out a 3-0 lead early in the second, the Caps took their collective feet off the gas and were forced to settle for a 4-3 overtime loss.
“It’s one of the most important things I always try and say, ‘Have a short memory, forget,’” says Caps defenseman Karl Alzner. “I think at the same time we’ve got to remember how much it stung [Friday] night losing the way we did and to bring a little bit of emotion into that game [Sunday], especially in the first period. So, have a short memory, but don’t completely forget about it.”
“Everybody’s disappointed we didn’t get the two points and we just got one,” says Caps coach Dale Hunter. “But it’s gone now. They’ll come out and play hard [Sunday].”
The Caps can’t afford to dwell on anything in their past, good or bad. Washington enters Sunday’s game in ninth place in the Eastern Conference standings, two points behind the surging Buffalo Sabres for the eighth and final playoff berth. Sunday is Washington’s game in hand on Buffalo; the Caps must win to keep the pace.
On Tuesday night at Verizon Center, the homestand concludes with a head-to-head showdown between the Caps and the Sabres.
In the not too recent past, Washington was one of the league’s most dominant teams on home ice, and a club that conducted itself with considerable swagger in its own building. But since starting the season with a torrid 8-1-1 run on home ice, the Caps are a more pedestrian 15-9-3 in their last 27 games at Verizon Center.
In a smaller but more recent sample size, the Capitals have won only six of their last 14 games on home ice (6-5-3), even though nine of those 14 contests were played against teams below Washington in the standings at the time. The Caps have been outscored by a combined total of 36-33 in their last 14 games at Verizon Center.
The Capitals have allowed three or more goals in eight of their last 12 games. They’ve scored three or more themselves in only six of those dozen games, and they are 5-4-3 in those dozen games.
Caps captain Alex Ovechkin has been on fire of late. He has tallied eight goals in the last six games, accounting for nearly half (eight of 18 goals) of the club’s offensive output during that stretch. With 35 goals on the season, Ovechkin is now tied for fifth in the league in that department.
Ovechkin is tied for the league lead with 21 road goals and his 13 power play goals are tied for third most in the circuit.
Washington center Nicklas Backstrom resumed skating with his teammates after an absence of two and a half months because of a concussion sustained in a Jan. 3 game against Calgary. Backstrom and the Caps hope he can return to game action at some point before the close of the regular season.
Right wing Joel Ward missed Friday’s game because of a lower body injury. He is still listed as day-to-day, but no longer requires crutches to move about.
With first-year head coach Mike Yeo behind the bench, the Wild set out in search of its first playoff berth since 2007-08. Minnesota roared out to a strong 20-7-3 start in its first 30 games. But the club fell on hard times thereafter, and the 43 points gained in those first 30 contests represents nearly 60 percent of the team’s point total for the entire season.
Minnesota went 2-11-4 before it again won consecutive games after its torrid start. The Wild is 11-26-7 since its season-high seventh straight win in Phoenix on Dec. 10.
For the Wild, Sunday’s game is the second of back-to-back games and the second game on a quick two-game road trip to the east. Minnesota dropped a 3-1 decision to the Buffalo Sabres in Buffalo on Saturday. The Wild brought a modest two-game winning streak with it to Western New York, and a victory over the Sabres would have extended that streak to three, the team’s longest run since the aforementioned seven-game streak.
Wild forward Dany Heatley ended a lengthy scoring dry spell when he scored the team’s first goal on Thursday against the Calgary Flames. Heatley had gone eight games without recording a point, the longest scoring drought of his 10-year NHL career. His previous longest dry spell was five games without a point when he was with Ottawa in Dec. of 2008.
Heatley has 21 goals and 47 points this season; both figures represent the lowest full-season totals of his NHL career. He does pace the Wild in both of those categories.
Minnesota is last in the NHL with an average of just 2.06 goals per game. The gap of .17 goals per game between 30th-place Minnesota and 29th-place Columbus in that category is the largest between any two of the 30 NHL teams in that department.
On the other side of the coin, the Wild allows an average of 2.64 goals per game to rank 15th in the NHL in that area. One department in which the Wild has excelled this season is face-offs. Minnesota’s 51.8% face-off success rate ranks fifth in the league.
The Wild has been battered by injuries of late. Defenseman Jared Spurgeon sustained a concussion in Thursday’s win over the Flames, center Matt Cullen broke a finger in Saturday’s game at Buffalo and goaltender Niklas Backstrom did not make the trip with the team because of a lower body injury.
Minnesota recalled rookie netminder Matt Hackett from AHL Houston for the trip. Josh Harding played in Saturday’s loss to the Sabres, so it’s possible that that Caps could get their first look at Hackett in Sunday’s game. He is 3-5 in 11 appearances (six starts) with the Wild this season and he has a 2.30 GAA and a .927 save pct.
For the Wild, Sunday’s visit to the District is their first in more than two years. Minnesota’s last trip to D.C. came on Nov. 13, 2009 and it resulted in a 3-1 Washington win.