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Caps Take on High-Flying Ducks

March 6, 2016
March 7 vs. Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center

Time: 10:00 p.m.

TV: CSN

Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7

 

Washington Capitals 48-13-4

Anaheim Ducks 37-19-8

 

Washington’s longest road trip of the season continues on Monday night when the Caps take on the Ducks in Anaheim in the second stop on their eight-day journey. The game pits two of the league’s top teams and two of its hottest over the last few months.

 

The Caps started the trip on the good foot, taking a 2-1 overtime win from the Bruins in Boston on Saturday night, thanks to Matt Niskanen’s game-winner in the extra session, some terrific penalty killing and a brilliant netminding performance from Philipp Grubauer. That win came in Washington’s fourth game in a span of five nights, and the Caps went 3-1 in those four contests. It was just the third time in the last 32 years in which Washington has had to play four games in five nights.

 

“It’s a special team,” says Caps forward Jay Beagle. “It’s a fun group to be a part of. We love the challenge, obviously coaches are always getting us prepared for individual teams and we always feel like we are ready any given night to go out there and win the hockey game. We have a lot of confidence in this group.”

 

With Saturday’s win over the Bruins, the Capitals reached the 100-point mark for the season, doing so with 17 games remaining in the regular season. According to Elias Sports Bureau, the Caps are the first NHL team to reach the century mark since the 2001-02 Detroit Red Wings forged a 46-11-8 record over their first 65 games.

 

In following Friday’s 3-2 loss to the Rangers with the victory over Boston, the Capitals are now 12-0-1 in games immediately following their 13 regulation losses this season. Washington is the only team in the league that has yet to suffer consecutive regulation setbacks this season.

 

“The was our best all-around game of the last four,” says Caps defenseman Karl Alzner, whose fourth goal of the season evened Saturday’s game at 1-1 in the latter half of the second period. “It’s one of those things where it’s a harder game to play when you’re playing with the pace and physical and getting in on the forecheck and backcheck but you tend not to get as tired, you’re into it and you are just kind of feeling the flow and I think that’s how we felt. 

 

“We continued to roll and our fourth line, I guess you can call them the fourth line, was absolutely on fire and they were giving us a lot of energy.  We weathered a few storms, but we were just confident that they were going to continue to go and put pucks towards the net and one of them was going to squeak in.”

 

Together for three games now, Washington’s fourth line of Daniel Winnik, Mike Richards and Jay Beagle continues to overwhelm the opposition in the offensive zone. That trio accounted for one of Washington’s two goals in Friday’s 3-2 loss to the New York Rangers, and they generated even more excellent scoring opportunities on Saturday against the Bruins.

 

“I don’t know what to call that line, they come hard,” says Caps coach Barry Trotz. “I think they’ve taken on the personalities of their centerman [Richards] and it’s a credit to Beags [that he] is that sort of missing element. Daniel has fit in and played really well on that line, he’s making plays and doing a really good job on the penalty kill.

 

“I really like that line. You can throw them out there against anybody; they’re hard to play against.”

 

That trio – and the rest of the Caps, for that matter – will have its hands full on Monday against the Ducks, the league’s hottest team at the moment.

 

After reaching the Western Conference final last spring, the Ducks trudged slowly out of the gates this season. Anaheim endured a 1-7-2 October before reeling off four straight wins to start off November. But after that four-game streak at the start of November, the Ducks’ longest winning spree over the next two and a half months was a modest three-game run at the end for December.

 

But since two days before their Jan. 22 date with the Caps at Verizon Center was postponed because of a snowstorm, the Ducks have been a house of fire.

 

Anaheim is 18-1-1 in its last 20 games and it carries an 11-game winning streak into Monday’s game with the Capitals. The Ducks’ current winning streak is the longest in franchise history and a game shy of the longest in the league this season. Florida and Chicago each reeled off winning streaks of a dozen games earlier in 2015-16.

 

Since just before Christmas, the Ducks have earned at least a point in 28 of their last 32 games (25-4-3). That streak is quite close in quality and duration to Washington’s own run 28-4-3 from mid-November to mid-February of this season.

 

The Ducks earned a 3-2 road victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday afternoon, sliding into sole possession of the top spot in the NHL’s Pacific Division in the process. As recently as mid-January, the Ducks were 16 points behind the Kings for the division lead. Anaheim has won 11 straight games against divisional foes, and they are a torrid 12-1-3 in their last 16 road contests, this after starting the season with a 4-10-1 record in its first 15 road games.

 

Saturday’s win over the Kings was the 400 th in the coaching career of former Capitals bench boss Bruce Boudreau. Boudreau reached that plateau in 663 games, the fastest of any coach in league history.

 

Scotty Bowman held the previous mark, earning his first 400 wins in 690 games. Of course, Bowman didn’t have the benefit of winning games in overtime for much of his career and didn’t coach at all in the NHL during the shootout era. Even with those handicaps, Bowman had eight seasons of 50 or more wins, including two seasons with more than 60.

 

Boudreau has coached four 50-win seasons, two with Washington and two with Anaheim. Trotz is two wins shy of his second 50-win season and first with the Capitals.

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