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Feb. 2 vs. Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena
Time: 12:30 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio Network
Washington Capitals (24-22-9)
Detroit Red Wings (24-19-11)
Washington opens up a four-game homestand on Sunday when it hosts the Detroit Red Wings in its annual Super Bowl matinee match. The Caps and Wings will also be finishing up their 2013-14 season series against one another and playing the back end of a home-and-home set of games. The home-and-home set between Washington and Detroit is the first played between the two teams since March 11-14, 1979.
Detroit downed the Capitals 4-3 in a shootout on Friday night at Joe Louis Arena in Motown. Caps goalie Michal Neuvirth was brilliant in goal, stopping all 22 shots he faced in the first period – including 11 while Detroit was on the power play – and making 42 saves on the 45 shots he faced on the night.
Washington took a 1-0 lead on a power play goal from Jason Chimera late in the first period, but the Caps trailed 2-1 heading into the third. The Capitals needed a goal from Joel Ward on a deflection of an Alex Ovechkin point shot to draw even at 3-3 with seven seconds remaining in regulation. The Caps fell in the shootout, but Ward’s goal enabled the Caps to scrape a point out of the contest.
Even though it goes into the books as a loss, the Friday game against Detroit represented a strong bounce-back game for Washington. A night earlier in Columbus, the Caps turned in one of their poorest performances of the season in a 5-2 loss.
“All in all,” said Caps coach Adam Oates after Friday’s game against the Wings, “quite honestly I’m pretty happy. Neuvy gave us a great chance; he was strong early. He let us get into the game and we got one on the [power play]. That carried some weight for us for sure in the game. And we got one late, with seven seconds left.”
It’s imperative for Washington to have a strong homestand. After the Wings on Sunday, the Caps host the New York Islanders on Tuesday, the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday and the New Jersey Devils on Saturday. Those are the final four games before the Olympic break, and the Capitals will be down to just 23 games remaining when they resume action on Feb. 27 against the Panthers in Florida.
The Capitals struggled through one of their worst January performances ever, going 4-7-4. Even worse, the Caps were 0-5-1 against Metropolitan Division foes last month, and they were outscored 24-11 in the process. Washington just finished up a grueling stretch of schedule in which it played eight of its last nine games on the road in a span of 17 days. The Caps were 2-6-1 during that span.
Washington started the month in second place in the Metro, but while they were scuffling the rest of the division was heating up. The Caps are now in seventh place in the division and 13th in the 16-team Eastern Conference standings. Although they’re only two points shy of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, the Caps have to hop over four teams to slide into that spot.
The Caps come into Sunday’s game with just two wins in their last 11 games (2-6-3) and five in their last 20 (5-9-6).
Caps defenseman Mike Green left the Columbus game in the first period with concussion symptoms and he did not play on Friday against Detroit. Green practiced with his teammates on Saturday and Washington is hopeful that its leading scorer from the blueline will be able to return to the lineup on Sunday.
“I think so,” says Oates, of a possible Green return, “we’re just going through the precautions that you have to do. He said he feels a lot better than he did, and we’ll see how he feels tomorrow.”
Washington center Brooks Laich left Friday’s game early in the third period with a lower body injury, and his availability for Sunday is also in question.
“In the third period, he felt a little tightness so we shut him down,” says Oates of Laich. “But he still killed a penalty for us. He didn’t skate on [Saturday]; it was kind of a maintenance day and we’ll have to see how he feels when he wakes up [on Sunday].”
Neuvirth’s start on Friday against the Wings was his first in a week; Braden Holtby had started each of the Capitals’ three previous games. It’s possible that Oates would go back to Neuvirth again for Sunday’s game against the Wings, and if he does, it would mark Neuvirth’s first pair of consecutive starts since last April 7-9 when he won consecutive starts against Tampa Bay and Montreal, respectively.
In four appearances in January, Neuvirth went 1-2-1 with a 2.73 GAA and a .925 save pct.
Detroit’s win over Washington on Friday lifted the Wings into the Eastern Conference’s top eight. The Wings return home to host Vancouver on Monday, and then they’ll travel to Florida to face the Panthers and the Lightning on the road in their final two games before the Olympic break.
The Wings have been blanked in each of their last three road games, the first time they’ve suffered three straight road losses via the shutout route since 1928. Coming into Sunday’s game against the Capitals in Washington, the Red Wings are without a goal in their last 182 minutes and 34 seconds worth of road hockey.
Making his first start in 11 days, Jimmy Howard was the winning goalie for the Wings in Friday’s win over Washington. In four career starts against the Capitals, Howard is 2-1-1 with a 2.89 GAA and an .892 save pct.
Notes: Tom Rowe scored his 30th goal of the season for Washington in that March 11, 1979 game against the Red Wings in Detroit. The goal was noteworthy because it made Rowe the first-ever U.S. born player in NHL history to record a 30-goal season. The contest ended in a 3-3 tie, giving the Capitals the first six-game unbeaten streak of their history to that point.