Oct. 26 vs. Calgary Flames at Saddledome
Time: 10:00 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio Network
Washington Capitals (5-5)
Calgary Flames (4-4-2)
The Caps head into the back end of their four-game tour of the western side of Canada when they take on the Calgary Flames in a Hockey Night in Canada contest on Saturday night.
Saturday’s game marks Washington’s first visit to Calgary in almost exactly three years. The Caps won that Saturday night HNIC game by a 7-2 count.
The Caps opened their current trip – which concludes with a visit to Philadelphia next Friday – with a 5-4 shootout win in Winnipeg on Tuesday, a game in which they were extremely fortunate to come away with two points. Two nights later, the Caps earned a 4-1 win over the Oilers in Edmonton.
“We played better defensively against a very skilled offensive team,” says Caps goalie Braden Holtby of the win over the Oilers. “We got some breaks. There were some scrambles in the second that could have easily went in. Our guys battled hard. There is still obviously room for improvement, but it’s a much better effort and a steppingstone.”
It could actually be a steppingstone to something rather historic, at least in terms of Washington’s recent franchise history.
Thursday’s win in Edmonton gave Washington its first set of consecutive wins in multiple cities outside the Eastern time zone on the same trip since Jan. 13-16, 2006.
Those two wins nearly eight years ago came in Anaheim and Phoenix, respectively. Caps captain Alex Ovechkin recorded the first hat trick of his NHL career in the game against the Ducks and scored “The Goal” in the game against the Coyotes.
If the Caps can pull two points out of Calgary on Saturday, they’ll have their first set of three straight wins outside their time zone on the same road trip since Feb. 7-10, 2001. On that grueling six-game tour of the west, the Caps roared out to a swift start with three wins in four nights to start the journey, taking victories at Colorado, Anaheim and Los Angeles.
A 4-4 tie in Calgary followed on Feb. 13, then the Caps closed out a 5-0-1 trip with victories at Vancouver (Feb. 14) and Montreal (Feb. 17). They haven’t won in Vancouver since that Valentine’s Day victory more than 12 years ago.
After a lackluster 2-3 record on a season-long five-game homestand, Washington’s consecutive road wins have lifted the Caps back to .500 and to third place in the NHL’s Metropolitan Division.
“We got a little lackadaisical at home and just not hunkering down,” says Caps right wing Joel Ward of the team’s homestand. “What we’re supposed to do is go north-south. I think when you get the opportunities to do that, you’ve got to take advantage of it.
“Chipping it in, that’s our strength, especially our line. We take pride in getting pucks in deep and getting a cycle on and wear and tear. Especially on the road, you can’t be too fancy. You’ve just got to get after it and it’s hard work. And obviously [fewest] mistakes win.”
Washington has scored eight goals in the first two games of the trip, with seven of them coming at even strength. Ward and linemates Jason Chimera and Mikhail Grabovski have accounted for three of those seven goals while the team’s top trio of Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson have accounted for the other four.
“I think it’s very important,” says Backstrom of Washington’s improved five-on-five play. “We have been struggling a lot five-on-five. It’s getting slowly better, I think. We’ve won three in a row now, but we can still improve in all three zones. It looks better now than it did at the beginning. Hopefully we can build off this and make sure we keep moving in the right direction.”
With 10 goals in the first 10 games of the season, Ovechkin is the first player in Washington’s history to record a double-digit goal total in the first 10 games of a season. He has three goals in the two games on this road trip, with two of those coming right off an offensive zone face-off win.
“It’s really hard for the goalie to read Ovi’s shot because it’s so fast and quick,” says Backstrom of that set play off the draw. “I don’t know how he gets it through all the time, but that’s who he is.”
Ovechkin has 32 goals in his last 31 games dating back to last season, and he has 40 goals in 51 games since permanently switching to the right wing position last February.
Holtby is also in the midst of an excellent stretch of hockey for him, and he figures to be in the crease for the Caps again in Calgary. Despite facing 30 or more shots in each of his last six starts, Holtby is 4-3 in his last seven starts with a 2.14 GAA and a .937 save pct.
Last season, Holtby endured a stretch of nine straight starts (from March 31 through April 20) in which he saw 30 or more shots on goal. He went 7-1-1 during that run, posting a 2.40 GAA and a .931 save pct. in the process.
Washington boasts the league’s top power play unit, which is no surprise. The Caps’ penalty-killing corps has climbed to second in the league with a stretch of 16 straight kills dating back to Oct. 12. The Caps have gone five straight games without being dented for a power play goal, their longest streak of that nature since late in the 2011-12 season.
The Caps and Flames met earlier this season, going head-to-head at Verizon Center three weeks ago in Washington’s Oct. 3 home opener. Calgary surprised its hosts by roaring out to a 3-0 first-period lead and chasing Holtby from the net, but the Caps rebounded behind relief netminder Michal Neuvirth to earn a 5-4 shootout decision.
“They played great,” says Caps coach Adam Oates of the first meeting between the two teams this season, “and I think they have played very well as a hockey team, way more than people have expected.
“We’re going to talk about that game and how good they are, and how good they move the puck and how good they skate. We can’t take them lightly. They’re a very good hockey team and we have to treat them as such.”
As was the case with Edmonton in Thursday’s game and as will be the case with Vancouver in Monday’s game, the Flames are coming back from a long road trip and Washington is their first opponent at home after the conclusion of the trip.
Calgary played five games in nine nights on the trip, winning just the middle game to come limping home with a 1-4 mark for the journey. The Flames surrendered 20 goals in the five-game trip, including five power-play goals and nine goals in the last two games, both losses.
The Flames have had only three home games to date, going 2-0-1 on the Saddledome sheet this season.