Nov. 29 vs. Montreal Canadiens at Verizon Center
Time: 5:00 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio Network
Montreal Canadiens (14-9-2)
Washington Capitals (12-11-2)
Last Friday night, the Caps hosted the Montreal Canadiens on the heels of an ugly home ice loss. This Friday night, Washington will again entertain the Canadiens in the aftermath of a difficult defeat at Verizon Center.
The Caps dropped a 3-2 decision to the Habs last Friday in the District, a setback that followed the team’s 4-0 drubbing at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins on Nov. 20. That loss to the Pens started Washington on its current four-game losing streak (0-3-1), a run that reached four in a disappointing 6-4 loss to Ottawa on Wednesday night.
It’s Washington’s longest losing run since an identical 0-3-1 skid to start the 2012-13 season.
After taking a 3-1 lead over a reeling Senators team – losers of five of seven by a combined 26-15 score coming in – Washington put together what is arguably its poorest period of hockey of the season in the middle 20 minutes of the game, squandering its lead and any momentum it earned in the first.
Washington was outshot 19-3 and the Sens dominated the Caps 32-6 in shot attempts in the middle period, including stretches of 26-2 and 16-0.
In a span that started early in the second period, the Caps gave the Sens five unanswered power plays and three unanswered goals on their way to a third straight regulation loss on home ice, and now it’s Washington that’s seeking answers a third of the way into the season.
“Quite honestly,” said Caps coach Adam Oates after the game, “I don’t even think we were that good in the first. We fought the puck a lot, we weren’t clean getting out of our own end. We got some goals, [one on the power play] and two forechecking goals, so we got something. But still. In the second period [it was] penalties. Way too many penalties.”
A few weeks ago, the Caps’ penalty killing unit was tops in the league. Washington had gone 28 straight games without surrendering multiple power play goals in a game, a streak that dated back to last season.
Ottawa lit up the Capitals for three power play goals, the first time in 62 games Washington has surrendered more than two in a game. More alarming, the Caps have allowed at least one power play goal in six straight games for the first time since Dec. 2-15, 2010. That dubious shorthanded span nearly three years ago came during the first seven games of Washington’s infamous eight-game losing streak that came under the harsh glare of HBO’s “24/7” lights, leading up to the 2011 Winter Classic against Pittsburgh.
In its last six games, Washington’s penalty killing outfit is operating at just 64% efficiency (16-for-25) and it has tumbled all the way to 14th in the league on the season, with an overall kill rate of 82.8%.
Some of Washington’s shorthanded woes are issues of taxation; while the Caps faced 37 shorthanded missions in their first 11 games of the season, they’ve gone down a man 62 times in 14 games since. The difference is an extra kill per game.
Winning just three of nine shorthanded face-offs in the loss to the Senators did the Caps no favors, either.
The Caps also took another bench minor – their fifth of the young season – in Wednesday’s loss to Ottawa. Only Edmonton (six) has more bench minor penalties in the NHL in 2013-14.
The Caps’ Wednesday performance against Ottawa was all the more disheartening because it followed a great team effort in a 2-1 shootout loss to the Maple Leafs in Toronto last Saturday. The Caps have 50 shots on net and 101 shot attempts against the Leafs, dominating possession and territory throughout the game.
“We played a solid game in Toronto,” assessed Oates. “We played lousy tonight, lousy.
“We talked about Toronto, we talked about it; we showed it. And we showed why we were successful and why we got 50 shots and what kind of team we have to be. We’re not going to win games playing this way. We’re not; we just proved it.”
In last Friday’s game against the Canadiens, the Caps spotted the visitors a 3-0 first period lead. Washington got two goals from captain Alex Ovechkin, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the ditch the Caps dug for themselves early in that game.
Although the Caps are still in second place in the NHL’s Metropolitan Division, they now share that spot with the New York Rangers and they’re as close to last place (seven points) as they are to the front-running Pittsburgh Penguins. Immediately after Friday's game with the Habs, the Caps will depart for Long Island and a Saturday night date with the Islanders.
Heading into Thursday night’s light slate of NHL activity, Montreal is tied for fourth place in the league’s Atlantic Division standings. The Habs are just four points behind the Boston Bruins, current occupants of the spot in the division.
The Canadiens hit town this time with a four-game winning streak, and the Habs are 6-1-1 in their last eight games. Montreal has outscored its foes by a combined total of 15-7 during the life of its current winning streak, and has limited its opponent to two or fewer goals in each of its last eight games.
A disciplined team, the Canadiens have faced three or fewer shorthanded situations in 14 of their 25 games this season and have had three or fewer penalty killing missions in six straight games.
Backup goaltender Peter Budaj earned his first career win over Washington last Friday, and the Caps could see him again this time around. Carey Price has started each of the Habs’ last two games, but like Washington, Montreal is back in action on Saturday night when it returns home to host the Maple Leafs.
Budaj has made five starts this season with each of them coming on the road. He is 4-1 with a shutout, a 1.58 GAA and a .942 save pct. thus far in 2013-14.