Feb. 15 vs. Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center
Time: 8:00 p.m.
TV: NBC Sports Washington
Radio: FAN 106.7, Capitals Radio 24/7
Washington Capitals 32-17-7
Minnesota Wild 31-19-6
Washington’s four-game road journey continues on Thursday night in St. Paul when the Caps face the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center. The Caps had a chance to start the trip on a two-point note in Winnipeg on Tuesday, but they were unable to successfully nurse a 3-1 lead to the finish line and instead wound up on the short side of a 4-3 overtime decision.
The Caps yielded the game’s first goal to the Jets’ Mark Scheifele in the 15
th minute of the first period, but they gradually built up a two-goal cushion with a goal in each period. Washington got that trio of tallies from three different lines, with all three goals scored at five-on-five.
But the Jets gradually brought the life back into what had been a quiet building, winning the game on three unanswered goals in a span of 11 minutes and 5 seconds and a timely slashing penalty.
Dustin Byfuglien’s two-handed chop shot to Jay Beagle’s midsection – a free shot really, since the Jets defenseman was already headed to the box after a previous slash on Beagle a second or so earlier – hindered the latter’s intended pass to T.J. Oshie in the penultimate minute of regulation. With the Jets’ net empty, Beagle’s feed went just an inch or so beyond Oshie’s outreached stick blade. Byfuglien went to the box for slashing, and all the Caps needed to do to claim two points was to while away 77 seconds with the manpower advantage.
But they weren’t able to do it.
Two face-off losses in the offensive zone and some sloppy play from the Caps with the puck in their own end enabled the Jets to get goalie Connor Hellebuyck to the bench and Scheifele to tie the game with 14.4 seconds remaining in regulation. Scheifele made a pretty feed to set up Jets defenseman Tyler Myers for the game-winner at 2:35 of the extra session.
“This building – I’d put it up there with the Vegases and the Nashvilles – they’re hard buildings to come in and to play, and this crowd was quiet,” said Caps coach Barry Trotz after Tuesday’s loss. “We kept them quiet. I could hear myself yelling on the bench and stuff like that. They got the second goal, and it got loud, and they fed on that. That’s why they have a good home record.”
Washington has now won only three of seven games (3-2-2) since coming back from the All-Star break and into a more favorable stretch of scheduling, in terms of time between games. Pittsburgh has heated up during the Caps’ lukewarm phase, and the Penguins are now three points behind Washington for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division standings, though the Caps do have a couple of games in hand.
The Caps have claimed at least a point in seven of their last eight road games (4-1-3), but they’ve got to find a way to move past Tuesday’s wrenching defeat and the potential loss of Beagle, who appeared to be in a great deal of pain and discomfort after Byfuglien’s two-handed stick assault, which resulted in a league-maximum $5,000 fine.
Caps defenseman Madison Bowey also incurred a maximum fine of $1,890.68 in his case, for a second period hit on Winnipeg center Matt Hendricks, a former Capital.
The Caps have had difficulty with consistency over the full 60 minutes of late, and they were better in that regard on Tuesday against a very good Jets team. Washington’s breakouts were mostly smooth and efficient, and the Caps didn’t spend a lot of extra and unnecessary time in their zone until the waning minutes of the contest.
“We’re all looking at the end [of the game], but there was a good process,” said Trotz after Tuesday’s loss in Winnipeg. “We haven’t played 54 minutes of good hockey for a while. So we’ll try to take the positive out of it."
Minnesota is embroiled in a heated battle for one of the last couple of playoff berths in the Western Conference. Heading into Thursday’s game with Washington, the Wild occupies the second wild card spot in the Western Conference standings, and it owns a three-point lead over Los Angeles and Anaheim for that spot.
While the Wild has not had a sustained hot spell this season – it has had a pair of four-game winning streaks – it has not gone more than a single game without collecting a point since dropping its last two games before the December holiday break.
Minnesota has been successful at gaining a steady diet of standings points, and it has not been too far off the eighth spot in the Western Conference standings at any point in the last couple of months. The Wild is 13-4-3 in its last 20 games, since the end of the NHL’s holiday break.
Washington is the fourth team into town on the Wild’s current five-game homestand, during which the team has forged a 2-0-1 record to date. Most recently, the Wild earned a 3-2 win over the New York Rangers here on Tuesday night. Minnesota netminder Devan Dubnyk made 32 saves to earn his 23
rd win of the season in that game. Since the All-Star break, Dubnyk is 4-0-1 with a 2.22 GAA and a .936 save pct. in six appearances (five starts).
In the prior meeting between Washington and Minnesota this season on Nov. 18 in the District, the Caps earned a 3-1 win, beating backup goaltender Alex Stalock, who faced 43 Caps shots that night. It’s the second highest total of shots on goal the Caps have managed in a game this season; they fired 46 in a 4-2 victory over the Panthers in Florida on Jan. 25.