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Caps Close Out Season's Series with Oilers on Sunday

November 11, 2017
Nov. 12 vs. Edmonton Oilers at Capital One Arena  

Time: 7:00 p.m. 

TV: NBC Sports Washington

Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7

 

Edmonton Oilers 6-9-1

Washington Capitals 9-7-1

 

Sunday night brings the Edmonton Oilers to the District for their lone visit of the 2017-18 season. Sunday’s clash with Edmonton also finishes off the season’s series between the two clubs; the Caps earned a 5-2 win over the Oilers in Alberta just over a fortnight ago. Among their 30 NHL foes, the Oilers are the first club against which the Caps will have completed their 2017-18 season’s series. 

The game concludes a two-game homestand for the Caps, who downed the Pittsburgh Penguins by a 4-1 count on Friday night in the District. The Capitals netted two power-play goals and were a perfect 4-for-4 on the penalty kill in that Friday night win over their Metropolitan Division rivals, and Braden Holtby made 27 saves to become the second fastest goaltender in NHL history to reach the 200-win milestone. Holtby earned his 200 th win in his 319 th NHL game; only Hockey Hall of Famer Ken Dryden (311 games) reached 200 before Holtby.

Friday’s win was also Holtby’s ninth of the season and his fifth in succession. After winning 40 or more games in each of the last three seasons – becoming one of only three goaltenders in NHL history to achieve that feat – he is nearly a quarter of the way to a fourth straight 40-win season, which no NHL netminder has ever achieved.

“This year, he is still playing at a high level,” says Caps coach Barry Trotz of Holtby. “There is a reason you get to 200 wins as quick as he has. He is slowly evolving as the game keeps evolving; that’s what makes elite players in this league elite. He keeps evolving.” 

The win over the Pens lifted the Caps to within a single point of the top spot in the Metropolitan Division, a situation that will change based on the action around the league on Saturday night. But Washington’s overall 60-minute team effort in the win over the Pens was encouraging.

“It was a good game to get up for, with the rivalry and what has happened the past two years,” says Caps forward Chandler Stephenson, who supplied a key insurance goal with 6:18 remaining against Pittsburgh. “It’s one of those games where everybody is rolling, and everybody is up for it. It was a fun one tonight.” 

Friday’s victory was Washington’s third straight on home ice, and it started off a stretch in which the Capitals will play 11 of 14 games on home ice starting with Friday’s game against the Pens and carrying into mid-December. Overall, the Capitals have won five of their last seven games, and even in the two losses during that stretch, the Caps had a chance to pick up at least a point. Both of those games were 1-1 contests in the third period before they slipped away without Washington collecting a point. 

Washington’s roster is also slowly getting back toward peak health. The Caps returned forward Liam O’Brien to AHL Hershey on Saturday morning, indicating that either Brett Connolly (upper body) or Tyler Graovac (upper body) is ready to return to live action. Both players have been practicing with the Caps for the last few days. Defenseman Matt Niskanen (upper body) has also been on the ice with his teammates this week, but Niskanen has been sporting a non-contact sweater.

Earlier in the week, Trotz was clear about the competition that is already in the wind because of the imminent return of the aforementioned trio of players.

“We had five lines and eight [defensemen on the ice for practice],” said Trotz. “Not everybody is cleared to play and all that. But what that should signal is a lot of bells to a lot of guys in that [dressing] room. There is a lot of competition for the 23 spots now. And when everybody gets healthy, we’re going to have to make some decisions. So if you’re in the lineup, you’ve got to make sure that you’re bringing your ‘A’ stuff to stay in the lineup, because the competition is back, and that’s good for any hockey team.” 

The Caps’ brass will have some decisions to make when Connolly, Graovac and Niskanen are all ready to return, and they’ll have another one to make in a month or so when Andre Burakovsky (upper body) gets ready to return to the lineup. 

Edmonton comes into Washington on the tail end of a four-game road trip against Eastern seaboard opponents from the Metropolitan Division. The Oilers played the first three games of the trip against the three New York City-area teams, going 2-1-0 on the journey to date. After taking overtime victories over the Islanders and the Devils, respectively, the Oilers dropped a 4-2 decision to the Rangers on Saturday afternoon at Madison Square Garden.

According to Elias Sports Bureau, the Oilers’ wins against the Isles and the Devils mark just the second time in Edmonton’s NHL history (dating back to 1979-80) that the club has managed consecutive overtime victories on the same road trip. The only previous occurrence was March 7-9, 2008 when the Oilers earned extra time wins at Columbus and Chicago, respectively, with Andrew Cogliano supplying the game-winning tally in each of those games.

Since suffering that 5-2 setback at the hands of the Capitals in Edmonton late last month, the Oilers have gone 3-3-0. All three of the wins have come against Metro Division foes, two against New Jersey and one against the Islanders. 

Edmonton is playing its first set of back-to-back games of the season this weekend. Goaltender Cam Talbot, who started and lost Saturday’s game against the Rangers, has been the Oilers’ workhorse in the nets, starting 15 of Edmonton’s 16 games on the season to date. Whether Talbot or backup Laurent Brossoit gets the nod on Sunday in Washington remains to be seen. Brossoit’s only start of the season to date came on Oct. 17 against the Carolina Hurricanes. He has made three appearances on the season, but hasn’t seen any action since that start against the Canes last month. 

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