Nov. 10 vs. Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center
Time: 8:00 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio Network
Washington Capitals (9-7-1)
Colorado Avalanche (13-2)
Washington finishes up a long but quick road trip out west on Sunday night when it faces the Colorado Avalanche in Denver. The game is the second of a set of back-to-back games for the Caps; Washington squandered a late 3-1 lead in the trip opener on Saturday night in Phoenix, settling for a single point in what turned out to be a 4-3 shootout loss to the Coyotes.
The Avs handed the Capitals a 5-1 loss On Oct. 12 at Verizon Center, a setback that dropped Washington’s record to 1-4 on the season. Since then, the Caps’ on-ice fortunes have taken a turn for the better. The Capitals have gone 8-3-1 in a dozen games since.
Currently in a busy and rugged stretch of scheduling in which they play five games in eight nights, the Caps were within less than four minutes of getting out of Phoenix with a five-game winning streak and three straight wins to start the aforementioned run of five games in eight nights. Then they surrendered a pair of late goals to the Coyotes in a span of just 100 seconds.
“We always want wins and this one definitely slipped away from us,” says Caps defenseman John Carlson, who scored his third goal in his last four games on Saturday. “It’s unacceptable and we need to get back to winning again.”
The tying power play goal came from Coyotes captain Shane Doan with just 1:46 left in regulation on after Caps defenseman Nate Schmidt was jailed for delay of game (puck over glass).
Washington took five minor penalties in a span of just 5:07 in the second period, resulting in four Phoenix power plays. The Caps killed all of those to protect what was a slim 2-1 lead at the time, but they weren’t able to get a clutch kill late when it was needed.
At the start of the overtime session against Phoenix, the Caps had another chance to grab two points when Zbynek Michalek was sent off for delay of game (smothering puck) at the final horn of regulation. But the Caps – who scored two of their three goals in the game on the power play – were unable to cash in on that opportunity, just as they had been unable to administer the death blow during a 5-on-3 manpower advantage early in the third period of the game.
As good as Washington’s special teams have been this season and as good as they were for the first 40 minutes of Saturday’s game, the Caps’ special teams were bested by Phoenix’s over the final 25 minutes of the game, and that was the difference.
“We didn’t help ourselves out in the second period,” laments Caps right wing Troy Brouwer. “The guys did a great job of killing the penalties, but we kept [Nicklas Backstrom] and [Alex Ovechkin] off the ice for far too long in that second period where we were trying to keep pucks out of our own net.
“At the end of the game, we just started running around a little bit. [Phoenix is] a desperate team; we knew they were going to be; every team is when they’re down a goal. And the penalty at the end, a little bit of tough luck but that’s what our killers are here for, to kill off those important penalties. We did it the other night against Minnesota but couldn’t [Saturday].”
Michal Neuvirth started and absorbed the loss for Washington in Saturday’s game. Braden Holtby will get the call on Sunday against Colorado. Holtby is 7-1 with a 2.04 GAA and a .943 save pct. in his last nine starts.
Washington will have a fresh netminder, but the rest of the troops will be playing at altitude on short rest, and playing their fourth game in six days.
“You just have to take it day by day,” says Caps left wing Martin Erat. “Just treat yourself as best as you can. Some nights, you’re not going to be 100 percent. You’ve just got to make sure you play simple hockey, get through a couple shifts to get you in it and you’re going to be fine.”
The Caps are 4-6-1 in Denver since the Quebec Nordiques moved there in 1995-96, and now they’ll see how they fare in the mile high air on short rest.
“Usually we just take a couple of quick shifts at the start just to get used to it,” says Caps right wing Joel Ward of playing in Denver. “I think if you get caught out there and get trapped in your own zone and hemmed in, that can wear and tear you pretty good for the long haul.
“We usually try to implement a couple of quick shifts for everyone, get four lines going. And once guys get the heart rate up a bit and get adjusted to it, you have better results. If you’re out there, you don’t realize it catching up to you at the start. But when you’re out there for a while and if you get pinned in your zone, you can really feel it kicking in.”
Caps left wing Jason Chimera believes getting in and out of Denver without spending much time there might actually help the Caps as opposed to going into town early and having a day or more to adjust to the altitude.
“I kind of like it better than going in there and practicing the day of arrival,” says Chimera. “You can just get after it and you won’t have to think about it. The trouble comes when you get in there a day early and you practice, and you’re thinking, ‘Holy smokes, this air is pretty thin up here.’ Then you’re really thinking about it and all day you’re thinking about the game and mentally it kind of drains you. But when you go in there without practicing and you just play the game, you don’t have time to think about it. So I think this is a good thing.”
“If you have a day off, it’s worse,” says Ward. “You almost need a couple of days to really adjust to it. I think if you get in there for a day and a half or two days, the feeling still there. I think if go in the day of game and you play it quick, you don’t catch it as bad. I think Detroit has gone in there to play them on day of game because of that.”
As Caps radio host Ben Raby pointed out to us, five teams – Nashville, Carolina, Winnipeg, Montreal and Calgary – previously this season have already come into Colorado after playing elsewhere on the road the night before. All five have lost to the Avs on Pepsi Center ice, and none of the five have scored more than two goals. Two of those teams came in from Minnesota the night before, two came from St. Louis and one came from Dallas.
Colorado is 7-2 at home this season, but just 2-2 when it does not face a team that played on the road the night before.
Under first-year head coach Patrick Roy, the Avs have had a pair of six-game winning streaks already this season. Colorado toppled Calgary 4-2 in its most recent game on Friday night in Denver.