Oct. 28 vs. Vancouver Canucks at GM Place
Time: 10:00 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio Network
Washington Capitals (5-6)
Vancouver Canucks (8-4-1)
The Caps conclude the western portion of their season-long five-game road journey on Monday. Washington’s modest three-game winning streak came to an end on Saturday night with a 5-2 loss at the hands of the Flames in Calgary. Now the Capitals will try to start up another streak in a building that has been decidedly unfriendly to them for more than a decade.
Washington has had difficulty with poor starts thus far this season. Eleven games into the campaign, the Caps have yet to put together an authoritative first period in any of those games. They’ve held their own in the first a few times, they’ve survived the first period a few times and they’ve been downright horrid in the first 20 minutes on a couple of occasions.
Saturday’s loss to the Flames was an example of the latter situation.
“It’s nothing to do with systems,” says Caps goaltender Braden Holtby. “It’s nothing to do with the coaching staff. It’s what we do as professional athletes and professional hockey players. You are prepared and you prepare yourself. I don’t think we’re doing a good enough job in here. That doesn’t go for everyone; you can’t single people out in that. But as a group, we need to figure out what we’re doing and prepare better.”
Washington fell behind 1-0 on the game’s first shift in Saturday’s game at Calgary, and it was in a 3-1 hole before the end of the first period. A strong second period wasn’t enough to overcome that early deficit, and the Caps surrendered two more goals in the latter half of the third en route to that 5-2 defeat.
“I think just mentally, each person is responsible for himself and getting ready for the game,” says Chimera. “It’s not like it’s a team thing; you’ve got to get yourself ready. As individuals, it’s not acceptable to start that way. Every team is so good now and you can’t wade into games. You can’t see what the game is going to be like. You’ve got to dictate the pace and we’ve got to do that.”
The Caps didn’t play particularly well in Tuesday’s 5-4 shootout win at Winnipeg but were a good deal better in Thursday’s 4-1 victory over the Oilers in Edmonton. But the Caps needed Holtby to be strong in the win at Edmonton until they could get their legs beneath them. If Washington hopes to earn its first win in Vancouver in more than a dozen years (Feb, 14, 2001), it will almost certainly need to put together its first really strong start of the season.
The Caps need to find a way to come out and play the way they played in the middle period against Calgary – Washington had 18 shot attempts to four for the Flames over the first 15 minutes of that stanza – right from the opening puck drop.
“I think preparation is big and knowing what to expect,” says Caps defenseman john Carlson. “We want to come out and get all over their D and start working them from the first face-off. [Calgary] did a very good job of that early on in the game, not trying to make fancy plays through the neutral zones and at the lines. Get it deep and go to work, and that’s what they did on us. It took us a little while to get our feet under us, and once we did I thought we were all over them.”
Heading into Sunday’s NHL activity, the Caps boast the league’s third-best power play and second-best penalty-killing outfit. But the Caps haven’t been very special at even-strength. The Capitals are 24th in the circuit with a .73 goals for/against ratio in five-on-five play. They’ve scored 2.73 goals per game to rank 18th in the league. Washington has surrendered 3.18 goals per game, 26th in the NHL.
Vancouver replaced outgoing head coach Alain Vigneault with ex-Rangers coach Jon Tortorella, a guy who is very familiar with the Capitals. Tortorella’s Rangers ran into the Capitals four times in the Stanley Cup playoffs over the last five springs.
With Tortorella at the helm and with Vacnouver’s longstanding goaltending controversy now in the past with the trade that sent Cory Schneider to New Jersey last summer, the Canucks are off to a strong start in the competitive Northwest Division. Heading into Sunday’s slate of NHL activity, Vancouver owns sole possession of second place in the Northwest, just two points behind the red-hot and front-running San Jose Sharks.
The Canucks have just returned from a seven-game road junket that started on Oct. 15 in Philadelphia and finished up in St. Louis on Oct. 25. Vancouver played seven games in 11 nights on the road, including two sets of back-to-back games. The trip was extremely successful for the Canucks, as they earned five wins in the seven games.
Vancouver pulled points in six of the seven games, going 5-1-1. The Canucks won each of the last three games of the trip, taking two wins in overtime and one in a shootout. The Canucks have had a couple of days between games now since concluding their long journey with a 3-2 overtime triumph over the Blues in St. Louis on Friday night.
Washington’s Monday night visit to Vancouver starts a three-game homestand for the Canucks. Detroit and Toronto will follow the Capitals into town and then the Canucks will set out on a four-game trip, this one out west.
Vancouver is now 6-2-1 on the road this season and it is 2-2 in just four home games to date.