Home Woes – Earlier this season, the Washington Capitals made winning on home ice a routine item. They’d get an early lead, add to it, and put a chokehold on the opposition. The Capitals started this season with an 18-1-1 mark in their first 20 home games. The Caps outscored opponents by a combined total of 26-9 in the first period of heir first 20 home games this season. Only twice in those first 20 home games of 2008-09 did Washington trail going into the third period.
In their last 16 home contests, the Capitals are 7-8-1. The Caps have been outscored 18-15 in the first period of their last 16 home games. Washington has trailed going into the final frame seven times in those last 16 games, including three of the four games on the just completed four-game homestand. The Caps went 0-3-1 on the homestand, salvaging a point with an impressive comeback from a 3-1 third period deficit today against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the league’s hottest team.
The Capitals are now 3-5-1 in their last nine games overall with all six losses coming on Verizon Center ice.
After Sunday’s shootout loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins at Verizon Center, the Caps are now saddled with a four-game home losing streak (0-3-1) for the first time since they dropped five straight (all in regulation) from Oct. 26-Nov. 21, 2007.
Washington just concluded a stretch in which it played nine of the last 10 games on home ice. The Caps posted a disappointing 4-5-1 mark during that 10-game stretch.
Beginning on Tuesday in Nashville, the Caps will take to the road for seven of their next eight games. Washington is 4-0-1 in its last five away games and is 8-2-2 in its last dozen on the road.
Abort – Washington outshot all four opponents in its just finished four-game homestand, but managed to score just eight goals on 145 shots on goal (5.5% shooting pct.). The Capitals outshot their four homestand foes by a combined 145-114 in the four games.
The Capitals also missed out on many prime scoring chances on the homestand, and they were also guilty of trying to force too many shots that weren’t there. In the last four games, Washington had a whopping total of 91 attempted shots on goal blocked before they got to the net, and it missed the mark altogether with another 50 bids. That means the Caps failed on nearly as many shot attempts (141) as they had shots on goal (145) in the four games.
Washington opponents had just 43 shots blocked and missed altogether with 39 shot tries during the same span.
4 on 3 is Key – Washington and Pittsburgh each came into today’s game with one 4-on-3 goal scored this season. Both teams had lengthy 4-on-3 opportunities this afternoon, but only Pittsburgh cashed in.
“We have a four on three for almost two minutes,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau, “we get nothing, they have a four on three and they score a goal. It’s the difference.”
No Brooms – The Capitals entered today’s game with a chance to sweep the season’s series with the Penguins for the first time in Washington’s franchise history. The Caps went 6-0-1 against the Pens in 1984-85, but they’ve still never swept Pittsburgh in a season series.
Offense On Display – Nineteen NHL players who have played in 45 or more games this season are scoring at a rate of better than a point per game. Six of those players were in uniform for Sunday’s Pittsburgh Washington tilt at Verizon Center, and five of the six added to their point totals during the game.
Only Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin – the league’s leading scorer – failed to find his way onto the scoresheet. Sidney Crosby had a goal and an assist for the Penguins, Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin each had a goal for Washington, Nicklas Backstrom had an assist and Mike Green had a pair of helpers on the day.
Six Pack – With his first period goal against the Penguins on Sunday, Semin extended his goal scoring streak to six consecutive games, the longest run of his career.
Semin’s streak is the longest current streak of its kind in the NHL, and it is tied for the second longest streak in the league this season. Caps defenseman Mike Green has the longest streak; he scored in eight straight games (Jan. 27-Feb. 14).
Semin joins Atlanta’s Ilya Kovalchuk, New Jersey’s Zach Parise, Boston’s Phil Kessel and St. Louis’ Keith Tkachuk on the list of players who have scored in six straight games this season.
70 Zone – Backstrom’s assist was his 70th point of the season, surpassing the total of 69 he notched as an NHL rookie in 2007-08. Today Backstrom became just the fourth Capitals player ever to record a 70-point season at the age of 21 or younger.
Ovechkin had two such seasons to start his NHL career (2005-06 and 2006-07) and he was preceded on the list by Mike Gartner (1980-81) and Bobby Carpenter (1984-85).
Takeaway Artist – Backstrom came into Sunday’s game with 67 takeaways on the season, third most in the NHL this season. He picked the pocket of Pittsburgh defenseman Kris Letang in the first period, and then laid the puck out in front for Semin to come in and finish. Backstrom added another takeaway to his season’s total later in the game, giving him 69 for the season.
300 Club – Brooks Laich played in his 300th career game on Sunday against Pittsburgh. He marked the occasion with a goal and an assist. With 16 goals and 22 assists on the season, Laich has now established a single-season career best in points, exceeding his total of 37 last season.
Another Career Best -- Green's assists give him 58 points for the season, two more than his previous single-season best of 56 in 2007-08.
The Difference A Year Makes – Last March 9, the Penguins came into Verizon Center and beat the Caps 4-2 in a nationally televised Sunday matinee. That loss was a painful one for the Caps; they were tied with Pittsburgh into the final minute until Washington center Nicklas Backstrom inadvertently pushed the puck into his own net to give the Pens the lead.
Even worse, that loss put the Caps seven points behind front-running Carolina in the Southeast Division standings, giving Washington little hope of earning its first playoff berth in five years. For Pittsburgh, the win pushed them into a tie with the Montreal Canadiens for the top spot in the Eastern Conference standings.
This time around, it’s the Caps who have a firm hold on a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference while the Penguins are still trying to gain a solid foothold in that area. The Pens are now tied for fifth in the Eastern Conference standings after Sunday's win, their sixth in succession.
Pittsburgh led the Caps 85-72 after that game last March at Verizon Center; Washington holds an 86-76 lead over the Pens at this stage of this season.
The Difference Two Weeks Makes – Since last visiting Verizon two Sundays ago, Pittsburgh added wingers Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin in separate trades. Both players made their presence felt on Sunday.
Kunitz had an assist and led all players on both teams with seven hits. Guerin continued to be a Caps killer with a goal and three points, and his screen in front of the net enable the Pens to cash in on their 4-on-3 opportunity. Guerin now has 24 goals and 37 points in 48 lifetime tilts against Washington.
Happy Birthday – To Caps captain Chris Clark, who celebrates his 33rd birthday today. And to ex-Caps defenseman and Hockey Hall of Famer Larry Murphy, born on this date in 1961.
Down on the Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears split a weekend road set, taking a 6-1 triumph on Saturday in Toronto before falling 6-3 to the red hot Lake Erie Monsters on Sunday.
The ECHL South Carolina Stingrays also earned a split in weekend action. They dropped a 2-1 decision to Trenton on Friday before eking out a 1-0 shootout win over Charlotte on Saturday.
Wrist shot -
1 - 0 PIT
Backhand shot -
1 - 1 Tie