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April 4 vs. New York Islanders at Verizon Center
Time: 7:00 p.m.
TV: Comcast SportsNet
Radio: 106.7 The Fan and Caps Radio Network
New York Islanders (18-16-3)
Washington Capitals (17-17-2)
Having navigated their way through a rugged stretch of schedule in which they played nine of their last 11 games in the road, the Washington Capitals return to a place they’ve seen very little of over the past few weeks, Verizon Center. Washington hosts the pesky New York Islanders on Thursday in District.
The game is expected to feature the Capitals debut of newly acquired winger Martin Erat, obtained from Nashville just prior to Wednesday afternoon’s NHL trade deadline.
Thursday night’s game against the Islanders is just the third in a span of 23 days, but the Caps haven’t gone hungry for a lack of home cooking. Washington has gone 7-3-1 in its last 11 games, a span that was bookended by a pair of road wins over the Carolina Hurricanes.
The Caps dropped each of their previous two meetings with the Islanders this season, a 5-2 defeat at Nassau Coliseum on March 9 and a 3-2 setback in their most recent Verizon Center game on March 26. Washington missed out on a chance to reach the .500 mark for the first time since opening night in each of those losses to the Isles.
By virtue of Tuesday’s 5-3 triumph over the Hurricanes in Raleigh, the Caps reached the three-quarter mark of the season and also achieved the .500 plateau on the same night.
Washington’s 9-9-2 road record is impressive; its 8-8 home ice mark is less so. With eight of their last dozen regular season games on home ice, the Capitals will have ample chance to improve upon that mark.
Foremost on the Caps’ collective minds is first place in the Southeast Division standings. If Washington can finally topple the Islanders and if Winnipeg falls in regulation in its Thursday night game at Montreal, the Caps would move into a tie for the top spot in the Southeast. The Caps have two games in hand on the Jets.
With the final quarter of the season looming ahead, Caps general manager George McPhee sacrificed a piece of his team’s future to help his club now. McPhee moved forward Filip Forsberg – the team’s first choice (11th overall) in the 2012 NHL Draft – to the Predators for Erat and minor league center Michael Latta.
Erat, 31, has totaled at least 49 points in each of the last eight seasons. He has two years left after this season on a seven-year deal that carries an annual salary cap hit of $4.5 million.
“It’s about trying to be a good team now and in the future,” says McPhee of the deal. “The players have been playing really well. We weren’t going to be sellers. We thought it would help them out if we could add another player, and we did. We didn’t have to do anything today but this was something that was raised [Tuesday] and the more we talked about it the more we thought we’d like to do it.”
The price was a bit higher than that paid for some other players who moved in the days leading up to the deadline, but that’s mainly because with two years remaining on his pact, Erat is not a rental player.
“With respect to giving up young players, you’ve got to be careful doing that,” admits McPhee. “But we’ve drafted well enough that we can do it. I wanted to help this team now. There’s another draft coming up, and hopefully we’ll draft some more good players.”
Hours before the deadline, Caps right wing Troy Brouwer told reporters he didn’t believe McPhee would pursue rental players.
“You see a lot of good players being moved right now,” says Brouwer. “A lot of them are rental players almost, is what the analysts have been saying. I don’t think George is looking for that. He’s looking for a guy that can come in, be a good piece of this team for years to come and not just bring him in for a few games and playoff run. He’s trying to make our team better, not just for right now but for the future.”
Given the team’s recent surge, Brouwer and his teammates are excited about their prospects over the final quarter of the campaign and into what they hope will be a successful playoff run.
“I have complete confidence in the guys in this room,” says Brouwer. “We sputtered at the start of the season finding our legs, finding our game, finding our identity. Over the last little while, I feel we’ve gotten a lot better. We’ve come closer as a team and we’ve been playing really good hockey as of late and we’ve put ourselves in a good position to make the playoffs.”
Brouwer went on to define the Capitals’ identity.
“It’s a team that’s going to work hard,” he says. “It’s a team that’s going to keep pucks moving forward, making sure that every night we’re giving ourselves a chance to win, trying to keep pucks out of our net by coming back as a team and moving forward and trying to create offense as a team.”
New York enters Thursday night’s game in a three-way tie for seventh place in the NHL’s Eastern Conference standings. The Islanders are tied with fellow Atlantic Division denizens New Jersey and the New York Rangers.
The Islanders have won five of their last six games, outscoring their opponents by a combined 17-10 in the process.
Islanders goaltender and longtime Caps nemesis Evgeni Nabokov has played 16 of New York’s last 18 games, but he had Tuesday night off as the Isles doused Winnipeg 5-2 in the back end of two games in as many nights. Back-up Kevin Poulin made 23 stops to earn his first win of the season against the Jets.
Nabokov is 12-1-2 with two shutouts, a 2.17 GAA and a .924 save pct. in his 15 career starts against the Capitals.
The last time Washington went through a season without a single win against the Islanders was in 1981-82. The Caps were 0-7-1 against New York that season, the third of the Islanders’ four consecutive Stanley Cup champion campaigns.
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