Dec. 23 vs. Anaheim Ducks at Verizon Center
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio Network
Anaheim Ducks (26-7-5)
Washington Capitals (19-13-4)
Washington hosts the Anaheim Ducks in the middle match of a three-game homestand, and the final game for both clubs prior to the NHL’s three-day break for the Christmas holiday.
The Caps opened up that homestand with a frustrating 5-4 overtime loss to the New Jersey Devils on Saturday night. Washington owned a 4-2 lead midway through the third period of that game against the Devils, only to surrender three unanswered goals on its way to defeat.
Washington started the weekend with a 4-2 over the Hurricanes in Carolina on Friday night. The Caps won that game on the strength of three power-play goals in the third period and a 39-save performance from goaltender Philipp Grubauer. The Capitals’ win over the Canes came in spite of Carolina having a pronounced 86-42 advantage in shots attempts in the game.
In Saturday’s game against New Jersey, Washington was again far on the short end of the shot attempts ledger. The Devils fired 72 times to just 37 for the Caps.
Being on the short end of a combined disparity of 158-79 in the two weekend games is an indicator of Washington’s recent difficulty in possessing the puck, but some of the underlying numbers are even more alarming. Carolina’s top six forwards accounted for 27 of the team’s 41 shots on goal and 57 of the Hurricanes’ 86 attempts on Friday. New Jersey’s top trio amassed 14 of its 37 shots on goal and 20 of the team’s 71 shot attempts.
The Devils’ top line also totaled two goals and seven points on the night and at least one of the three members of that unit had a hand in all five New Jersey goals.
“We talked about how many chances [the Devils] had in the game,” says Caps coach Adam Oates. “We talked about areas that we still shoot ourselves in the foot sometimes and stuff we did good sometimes. There was no dominating pattern to the chances. I thought the night before against Carolina we hgave them more chances than we did [the Devils on Saturday] night. We gave [the Devils] two power-play goals and I was saying all along you can’t let that happen.”
Anaheim features the league’s third most prolific offense with an average of 3.21 goals per game, and Ducks forwards Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry are both among the league’s top 10 in scoring. The Caps will have to find a way to contain those two and the rest of the Ducks’ diverse attack.
“That was one of the reasons I brought the guys in today,” says Oates, of changing Sunday from an originally scheduled off day to an optional practice. “Just to remind them. It’s Christmastime, they’re going to get a lot of time off, I’m sure everybody’s got friends and family in town, it’s a weekend, a football day. Let’s just think about hockey for one more day because we’re playing the hottest team in the league, a really good team. Just keep it on your minds before we go break for Christmas.”
Washington hopes to have forward Brooks Laich back in the lineup on Monday after an absence of nearly a month and 11 games because of a lower body injury. After participating in an optional Sunday morning practice, Laich believes he is fit enough to return to the lineup on Monday against Anaheim.
“I feel like I am, I really do,” says Laich. “I’ve skated three days in a row with no problem and conditioning is never a concern. I’ve had a couple of practices at full speed and now it’s on the general manager and the coaches and I’m sure our team doctors are going to be in the meeting, too. But I’m just awaiting the word. It’s their decision. I feel like I’m ready to go, that’s all I can say for myself and then I await their decision.”
Washington assigned forward Casey Wellman to Hershey of the AHL on Sunday.
Anaheim hits town as the league’s hottest team, with an eight-game winning streak in tow. Five of the wins during that streak came on the road, and Anaheim is 13-7-3 on the road this season.
The Ducks will be playing their 24th road game of the season on Monday in Washington, the most in the NHL. That guarantees plenty of home cooking down the stretch for the Ducks, a situation that bodes well for them. Anaheim has yet to lose in regulation on home ice; it is 13-0-2 in its 15 games at Honda Center this season.
After starting the season with a 15-3-1 run, the Ducks dropped five straight games (0-3-2) in mid-November. Anaheim has come out of that skid quite nicely, thank you. The Ducks are now 10-1-2 in their last 13 games.
Ex-Caps bench boss Bruce Boudreau is the Ducks’ head coach, and he is 83-52-19 since taking over the reins of the team on Nov. 30, 2011, mere hours after he was relieved of his post here in Washington. Boudreau helped lead the Capitals to their best season ever in 2009-10, a Presidents’ Trophy season in which Washington amassed 121 points, 13 more than it has had in any other season.
Boudreau directed the Caps to three of the seven 100-point seasons in franchise history, and three of the team’s top four seasons in its history were compiled with him at the helm. Monday’s game marks his first return to Washington with another NHL club since leaving the Caps.
“I owe a lot to that man,” says Laich. “I remember being sent down to Hershey his first year in Hershey, and he called me into the office and said, ‘You need to produce and you need to do it every night.’ And that was my role on that team, and he said ‘That’s going to help you get to the NHL.’
“I ended up playing six games with him and did very well and got called up. I was able to stick up here for a couple of years and then when he came up here, he really put a lot of faith and trust in me. He put me in situations to succeed, had me on the ice in the first minute of the game and the last minute of the game and all situations. He was a man that developed my career and got me from being a bubble guy to being a solidified NHL player and I’m very thankful for all that he has done for me.”
Ovechkin, Laich, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green, Alexander Semin and others were here before Boudreau, but the Caps didn’t get rolling and the Verizon Center didn’t become sold out on a regular basis until Boudreau took the reins.
“And what he did for hockey in Washington was tremendous,” adds Laich. “He put it front and center. Exciting, offense, developed the players into the stars they are today. I think the town really, really owes him a lot.”
Anaheim’s last visit to Verizon Center was on Nov. 1, 2011 and it resulted in a 5-4 Washington victory in overtime. Boudreau was behind the Caps bench for that game. Backstrom was the Capitals’ hero that night; he scored the game-tying goal with 42 seconds remaining in regulation and then netted the game-winner in overtime.
Washington outshot the Ducks by a whopping 40-15 count that night and out-attempted Anaheim by a 68-39 margin.
With two goals and two assists in the game, venerable Ducks winger Teemu Selanne was involved in all of his team’s scoring. Selanne is expected to retire at the end of the 2013-14 season, so Monday’s visit to Verizon Center will be the last game he plays in the District in his career.
Selanne was the 10th choice overall in the first round of the 1988 NHL Entry Draft, going to the Winnipeg Jets. The 43-year-old Selanne helped the Ducks to a Stanley Cup title in 2006-07, his first season in Anaheim. Now in his 21st season in the NHL, Selanne has 679 goals and 1,441 points in 1,416 career regular season games. He led the league in goals three times, including his rookie season of 1992-93 when he scored 76 goals to establish a single-season rookie standard that still stands.
Selanne has 21 goals and 39 points in 24 career games against the Capitals.
Monday’s game also marks the return of center Mathieu Perreault, who was traded to the Ducks just prior to the start of the 2013-14 season. Perreault was Washington’s sixth-round (177th overall) choice in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, and he provided the Caps with more mileage than they’d received from a late-round pick in more than a decade, carving out a semi-regular role here for the last four seasons.
Seeing the most ice time per night (14:10) that he’s seen in his career, Perreault has totaled seven goals and 19 points in 32 games with the Ducks this season. He finished last season with six goals and 17 points in 39 games with the Capitals.