Nov. 22 vs. Ottawa Senators at Capital One Arena
Time: 7:00 p.m.
TV: NBC Sports Washington
Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7
Ottawa Senators 8-5-6
Washington Capitals 11-10-1
If this is Thanksgiving week – and it is – then the Capitals are in the midst of a rugged patch of scheduling in which they’ll play four games in six nights, and, beginning on Wednesday night with the Ottawa Senators’ first visit to Capital One Arena this season, three games in four nights.
Wednesday’s game against the Sens is the Caps’ traditional Thanksgiving Eve home game, and you can virtually set your watch with the way the rest of the week shakes out. As always, the Caps are at home the night before Thanksgiving. And as always, they host a late afternoon game on Black Friday, with the Tampa Bay Lightning providing the opposition for that contest this season. And, as has been the case now for four straight seasons, the Capitals will then travel to Toronto to face the Maple Leafs at the back side of the scheduling gauntlet.
The Caps have had success against Atlantic foes over the past few seasons, but the 2017-18 Capitals are a bit diminished when compared to previous editions, and they’ll be taking on the top three teams – from the perspective of points percentage – in the Atlantic this week, and doing so in a span of just four nights.
Washington’s four-game homestand got off to a solid start with Saturday night’s convincing 3-1 victory over the Minnesota Wild. But the Caps undid the good from that win over the Wild with Monday night’s 4-1 loss to the Calgary Flames.
The loss to the Flames snapped the Capitals’ five-game home winning streak, and it is Washington’s first loss at home in the month of November (5-1-0).
Washington has managed to score only 11 even-strength goals in its last eight games, going 4-4-0 over that span. The Caps have been chasing some of those games, and even when they’ve been in the lead, their margin for error has been virtually non-existent. Washington has owned a lead of more than one goal for a combined total of just 8 minutes and 55 seconds of the last 485 minutes of hockey it has played in those previous eight games.
The Caps have been at protecting leads – even slim, one-goal leads – when they get them. But breathing room is a precious commodity, and it has not been plentiful for the Capitals thus far this season.
“I haven’t noticed any stress of playing in tight games,” says Caps right wing T.J. Oshie. “I think one thing that’s hurting our momentum is our penalties. A lot of times, when we’re feeling good, we’ll get a tough penalty, typically a stick penalty – whether it’s a slash or a hook or a trip. And then all of a sudden, we get out of our rotation. And now we have guys who have to sit, guys who have to go kill and block shots. And we’ve been letting some in on the penalty kill and it deflates you a little bit.
“Mentally, I think we’ve got to be a little bit stronger than that. A lesson we can take from it is that we’ve got to play smarter defensively, we’ve got to keep our sticks down and play a little more honest hockey to keep that momentum on our side.”
Penalties certainly hurt the Caps in Monday’s loss to the Flames. Calgary scored two power-play goals in the game, and it scored another goal just one second after the expiration of a Washington penalty. The Capitals have allowed multiple power-play goals in six of their 22 games this season, going 1-5 in those contests.
Taking too many penalties has also been an issue, as Oshie indicates. In 17 of 22 games this season, the Caps have faced four or more opposition power play opportunities. Contrast that with 11 games in which Washington has enjoyed four or more power play chances.
Caps coach Barry Trotz has been patient with his line combinations, especially with his two top six trios, which have been together for eight games now. Washington has not received much in the way of five-on-five production of late, and much of the production it has received over that span has come from the lower reaches of its lineup.
“I think it’s not necessarily [the top six],” says Caps right wing T.J. Oshie. “I think it’s the whole team. We’ve got to do a better job of getting more pucks deep, more [offensive] zone time, and more sustained [offensive] zone time. [We need to] start shooting more pucks and getting to the net.”
The Caps will be taking on the Sens for the second time this season. Washington opened the 2017-18 season in Ottawa back on Oct. 5, leaving town with a 5-4 shootout victory at night’s end. Alex Ovechkin had a hat trick, scoring three times in the third period of that game to help the Capitals overcome a 3-1 deficit early in the final frame.
Ottawa has earned only eight victories in its first 19 games this season; only Florida (seven) and Buffalo (five) have fewer wins among all Eastern Conference clubs. But the Sens lead the entire NHL with six overtime/shootout losses, so they’ve earned at least a point in 14 of their 19 games. The Senators’ .579 points pct. is tied with Carolina for 12
th in the league, while Washington’s .523 figure ranks 25
th in the circuit.
For the Sens, Wednesday’s game is the middle match of a three-game road trip. The journey began for Ottawa on Monday with a 3-0 loss to the Rangers in New York, the Sens’ third straight setback (0-2-1). The Senators have scored a total of three goals in those last three games.
Ottawa swept a set of two games against the Colorado Avalanche earlier this month, and both games were played in Sweden. The Sens had four days off immediately upon returning, and they’ve not won since crossing the Atlantic to come home. Ottawa’s three-game losing streak has been achieved in a span of just four nights.