Oct. 24 vs. Edmonton Oilers at Rexall Place
Time: 9:30 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio Network
Washington Capitals (4-5)
Edmonton Oilers (3-6-1)
Washington’s season-long five-game road excursion continues with a Thursday night visit to the Oilers in Edmonton. Edmonton is the first team Washington has seen twice this season; the Caps earned a 4-2 win over the Oilers on Oct. 14 at Verizon Center.
The Caps opened their tour of the western half of Canada with a 5-4 shootout win over the Jets in Winnipeg on Tuesday, taking two points in a game in which they probably should have been crushed.
Washington was guilty of repeated breakdowns in its own end and it yielded numerous odd-man rushes opportunities to the Jets, who had 47 shots on goal and teed up a total of 82 shots during the game.
Caps goaltender Braden Holtby faced a single-game career high in shots on goal, and he repeatedly bailed out his mates with stellar stops to keep the Caps close in a game they had no business winning.
“We’ll take the two points,” said Caps right wing Troy Brouwer after the game, “but we don’t really want to take anything else out of it. We gave up way too many breakaways, way too many 2-on-1s and I don’t know what the final number of the turnovers was, but it probably wasn’t pretty. Good on the guys for being resilient and finding a way to win tonight but there’s not a whole lot that I feel that we should take out of this game other than continuing to battle.”
With Holtby facing more than 30 shots for the fifth consecutive game, the Caps have some areas of their game that are in need of shoring up.
“I think a lot of what we were doing we probably could have negated quite a few of them by getting pucks deep,” says Brouwer, “making sure we were doing hard plays, not trying to make pretty plays or to dangle through the middle. We’ve been harping on turnovers all season long and tonight it almost bit us.”
The Capitals have allowed an average of 3.22 goals per game, 25th in the NHL. They’re surrendering an average of 34.3 shots on goal per game, and that ranks 26th in the circuit.
“At times I guess it gets a little frustrating,” admits Holtby. “You want to win and you just hope that we can develop some sort of consistency with our game in order to win a lot of games. [Tuesday’s game in Winnipeg] was a frustrating game, but we got the win and that’s all that we can ask for.”
On the plus side of the ledger, the Caps earned their first road win of the season and have now won consecutive contests for the first time in 2013-14. The Capitals scored a single-game season high three even-strength goals in Winnipeg, including two from captain Alex Ovechkin. Ovechkin leads the NHL with nine goals in as many games, and he scored multiple even-strength goals for the first time in a game since April 7.
Ovechkin has now tallied 31 goals over his last 30 regular season games, dating back to last season. According to Elias Sports Bureau, that’s the most goals he has scored in any previous 30-game span during his nine-year NHL career. Ovechkin’s previously netted 29 goals in a 30-game stretch.
Tuesday’s game marked a single-game career high for Holtby in shots faced (47) and also marked the fifth straight start in which he has faced at least 30 shots in a game. Holtby is 3-3 with a 2.33 GAA and a .933 save pct. over his last six appearances.
The Capitals got John Erskine back in their lineup after a four-game absence, but Washington’s coaching staff opted to bench defenseman Mike Green for the last half of the third period and overtime. Green, Washington’s No. 1 blueliner in terms of average minutes played per night, had an off night on the ice in Winnipeg, but he had company. Green skated 18-plus minutes against the Jets, about seven minutes less than a normal night for him.
“I just think it was one night,” says Caps coach Adam Oates of Green’s game on Tuesday. “I expect him to be himself [Thursday].”
Giving up 82 shot attempts and 47 shots on net mean that Washington didn’t have the puck nearly as much as it would have liked in Tuesday’s game.
“Obviously there are a lot of things based on [Tuesday] night,” says Holtby. “There were too many odd-man rushes [Tuesday] night, but before that it was in defensive zone where we were struggling a bit.
“The offense, we know we’re going to score goals. That’s not our problem, ever. It’s more the defensive side of things where teams develop a high level of consistency and if we don’t shape that up, it’s going to be up and down. If we focus on that – and we’re not too far off – things will really start turning in our favor.”
Edmonton is stopping home at Rexall Place just long enough to do some laundry and entertain the Capitals. The Oilers concluded a grueling six-game road trip in Montreal on Tuesday night with a 4-2 victory over the host Habs. The Oilers spotted the Canadiens a two-goal lead before roaring back to score four unanswered tallies.
After starting the season 1-6-1, the Oilers have a two-game winning spree of their own as they took the last two games of their trip in Ottawa and Montreal.
Edmonton is currently missing a trio of notable forwards because of injury. Top liner Taylor Hall is out for a month with a sprained left knee. Top six pivot Sam Gagner is sidelined with a broken jaw sustained during exhibition action. And veteran power winger Ryan Smyth has a strained groin that will keep him out of action for a week.
The Oilers host the Capitals on Thursday and then head right back out onto the road. Edmonton plays a weekend set of back-to-backs in Phoenix and Los Angeles on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.
Edmonton is 1-2 at Rexall Place thus far this season, earning its lone win on Oct. 7 over New Jersey. The Oilers dug themselves out of a three-goal, third-period hole to take a 5-4 shootout decision from the Devils in that game.
Oilers goaltender Devan Dubnyk struggled early in the season, surrendering 19 goals in his first four starts and getting pulled from one of those games. Dubnyk now has three straight strong starts to his credit, going 2-1 with a 2.35 GAA and a .935 save pct. during that brief run.
When the Caps defeated the Oilers at Verizon Center early last week, they faced backup Edmonton goaltender Jason LaBarbera.
NOTES: Oilers head coach Dallas Eakins is a former Capitals draft choice. Washington tabbed Eakins in the 10th round (208th overall) of the 1985 NHL Entry Draft. Eakins spent one season (1988-89) in the Caps’ system before signing with the Winnipeg Jets as a free agent. A defenseman, Eakins forged a journeyman’s pro career in which he managed to get into 120 NHL games over parts of 10 seasons for eight different NHL organizations. Eakins never scored a goal in the NHL, and only two players (Steven Halko and Matt Smaby) have played more games in the league without lighting the lamp at least once.