Closing The Books –
The Caps close out their season’s series with the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday night when the Oil makes its lone visit to the District this season. The Oilers are the first of Washington’s 30 NHL opponents that they’ll be finished with for 2017-18. The Caps earned a 5-2 over the Oilers in Edmonton on Oct. 28.
The Caps are 6-2-1 in their last nine meetings with the Oilers, and they’ve won four of the last five played here in Washington.
Keep It Rolling –
The aforementioned win over the Oilers last month started the Caps on their current successful run. Heading into that Oct. 28 game against the Oilers, the Caps were sitting at 4-5-1 and they’d experienced a rather uneven start with some injuries, some new faces and a disjointed schedule.
A 6-1 win over Montreal and a 5-2 over the Devils in New Jersey were the highlights of Washington’s early season, but there was also an 8-2 loss in Philadelphia and a 6-2 setback in Vancouver. The Caps surrendered four or more goals in five of those first 10 games, and found themselves near the bottom of the league in that department.
Beginning with that Oct. 28 game against the Oilers, the tide has turned for the Caps. They’ve won five of seven games, and they were 1-1 in the third period of the two losses during that stretch, so they’ve had an opportunity to at least collect points in every game during that run.
“Well, I think just getting a balance in our game,” says Caps coach Barry Trotz, when asked what spurred his team in its current strong run. “We weren’t making good puck decisions, that’s where it started. We were spending way too much time in our own end. I think it started with better decisions and then also for us, doing a better job in our own end – getting the play stopped and getting people in position. There is a lot more trust there. But it all started for me with better puck decisions.”
Over the Capitals’ last seven games, they’ve permitted just 15 goals. They’ve allowed two or fewer goals in five of the seven games, and they’ve permitted just 11 goals at five-on-five.
“I think just sticking to what works and trying to find an identity,” says Caps winger Devante Smith-Pelly. “In that Edmonton game, the last two periods we played were – at that point – our best. And we realized that if we played that way, we were going to do very well. I think we just continued that the last couple of weeks after that.”
Back In The Saddle –
After missing the last seven games with an upper body injury, Caps winger Brett Connolly returns to the Washington lineup tonight. Connolly scored Washington’s first goal of the season early in the first period of the season opener in Ottawa on Oct. 5, but hasn’t found the back of the net since.
Sidelined since Oct. 26, Connolly draws back into the lineup on the left side of the Capitals’ fourth line with Jay Beagle and Alex Chiasson.
“Anytime you’re out, obviously you don’t lose your spot when you come back from an injury, per se,” says Trotz, “but right now we’re trying to get some balance and we think he will be a good fit [on the fourth line]. We’ll adjust as we go along. He has missed a little bit of time, so it’s more about getting him acclimated and back playing.”
Connolly netted 15 goals last season, Chiasson notched a dozen and Beagle scored a career high 13 goals in 2016-17, so the Caps have a fourth line that may be able to create some offense.
In The Nets –
Two nights after authoring the 200
win of his NHL career, Caps goalie Braden Holtby looks to get started on the next hundred. He will be seeking his sixth straight win – and his 10
victory of the season – on Sunday against the Oilers.
For the season to date, Holtby is 9-3-0 with a 2.48 GAA and a .924 save pct. Per hockeyreference.com, he has had 10 quality starts (starts with a save pct. greater than the average save pct. for the season, or at least .885 on nights in which he sees fewer than 20 shots) in his 12 outings this season for an .833 quality start percentage. Over the full seasons of Holtby’s NHL career, he posted his best quality start pct. (.636) in 2015-16 when he won the Vezina Trophy.
Lifetime against the Oilers, Holtby owns a 6-2-1 record with two shutouts in nine starts, and he has a 1.88 GAA and a .936 save pct.
Edmonton is finishing up a four-game road trip on Sunday night in Washington, and the Oilers are also finishing up their first set of back-to-back games this season; they dropped a 4-2 decision to the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Sunday afternoon.
Cam Talbot has made a dozen straight starts for the Oilers, and he has started 15 of Edmonton’s first 16 games this season, and 102 of the team’s last 112 games overall. But on Sunday, backup goaltender Laurent Broissoit gets a rare start for the Oilers, his second of the season and his first since Oct. 17 against Carolina.
The 24-year-old Brossoit was Calgary’s sixth-round choice (164
overall) in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. In his three appearances this season, he is 0-1-0 with a 3.55 GAA and an .854 save pct. Lifetime, he owns a 4-7-1 record in 17 NHL appearances (11 starts) and has a 2.83 GAA and a .904 save pct.
Brossoit came to Edmonton in a rare deal between the Flames and Oilers four years ago this month, a trade that involved defenseman Ladislav Smid.
All Lined Up –
Here’s how we expect the Caps and the Oilers to look on Sunday night when they take to the ice at Capital One Arena for the second of their two meetings this season:
18-Stephenson, 19-Backstrom, 77-Oshie
8-Ovechkin, 92-Kuznetsov, 25-Smith-Pelly
13-Vrana, 20-Eller, 43-Wilson
10-Connolly, 83-Beagle, 39-Chiasson
2-Niskanen (upper body, day-to-day)
65-Burakovsky (upper body, week-to-week)
91-Graovac (upper body, day-to-day)
19-Maroon, 97-McDavid, 29-Draisaitl
27-Lucic, 93-Nugent-Hopkins, 98-Puljujarvi
16-Khaira, 18-Strome, 26-Pakarinen
24-Malone, 55-Letestu, 44-Kassian