Dec. 30 vs. Ottawa Senators at Canadian Tire Centre
Time: 7:30 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio Network
Washington Capitals (20-14-5)
Ottawa Senators (16-18-7)
Washington finishes off a quick two-game road trip against Atlantic Division foes and closes out the calendar 2013 portion of its 2013-14 slate when it makes its lone visit of the season to Ottawa to face the Senators on Monday.
The Capitals started their final journey of 2013 on Sunday in Buffalo where they ended up on the short end of a 2-1 shootout decision against the Sabres. Buffalo netminder Ryan Miller stopped 49 of the 50 shots he faced during the actual hockey game and then prevented none of Washington’s six attempts in the skills competition to get behind him.
For the first time in nearly two years, the Caps went through a game without spending any time on the penalty kill. They limited Buffalo to just 17 shots on net. Washington notched exactly 15 shots on goal in each of the game’s three periods and added five more in overtime and six in the shootout, but Troy Brouwer’s shot at 5:34 of the third was the only one that got behind Miller.
“I thought we did a good job of doing what was working and what was successful,’ said Brouwer of the Caps’ efforts against Buffalo. “They didn’t get a shot until I think the four-minute mark of the first period. We came in after the first period knowing that we probably should have been up a goal and maybe two, but Miller was playing well. We feel we deserved to win tonight but you encounter some games that just don’t go your way.
“It’s tough when you have to go through these games. You’re upset and you’re mad because you didn’t win the game but at the same point you have to be happy with the way you played. We came in here and we can’t hang our heads, we can’t be disappointed in our game. If we play like we do tonight we’re going to win a majority of our games. Tonight the bounces didn’t go our way; pucks didn’t go in. We’ve got to leave here being happy with the way we played but not happy with the outcome of the game.”
Caps coach Adam Oates was also happy with his team’s performance in the losing effort.
“I can’t really complain on the night,” said Oates after the game. “We had 15 shots in every period. We did a lot of good things. Yeah, there are always mistakes but we played a pretty solid game. Obviously you want to win, but I’m not disappointed in the game.”
Starting for the seventh time in Washington’s last 10 games, rookie goaltender Philipp Grubauer stopped 16 of the 17 shots he faced in Sunday’s game. Grubauer is now 5-1-2 with a 2.02 GAA and a .937 save pct. on the season. His workload was light enough that Grubauer is probably capable of starting again against Ottawa on Monday, but the Caps are currently carrying three goaltenders and the other two (Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth) could certainly use some work, too.
Washington is now 8-3-3 in its last 14 games, and the Capitals have pulled at least a point from seven of their last eight road games (4-1-3).
“It’s always good that we get a point,” says Caps center NIcklas Backstrom, “but I think we should have had two points [in Buffalo]. We had a lot of shots and I think we dictated the game pretty good. But their goalie was playing really well, plus we didn’t have maybe enough traffic in front of the net, either. I think that’s why we didn’t score.
“We had the energy. We played well. We kept the puck deep and we had a lot of shots. The only thing we could have done a little bit better maybe was traffic in front of the net to disturb [Miller] a little bit more. It’s something we’ve got to do next game. And obviously lots of credit to Ryan, too. He played well tonight.”
Like the Caps and most other NHL teams, Ottawa followed up its three-day holiday break by playing three games in four nights, the third of which is Monday’s game against the Capitals. Ottawa came out of the break with a home-and-home set against the Boston Bruins, the leader in the NHL’s Atlantic Division.
After dropping the front end of the home-and-home in a 5-0 shutout loss to the Bruins in Boston on Friday, the Sens earned a 4-3 win over the B’s in Ottawa on Saturday.
Despite being beset with injuries to key players last season, the Senators earned the No. 7 playoff berth in the Eastern Conference last season, ousting the Montreal Canadiens in the first round before falling to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the conference semifinal round.
With many of those key players back and healthy this season, expectations were high for the Sens heading into the 2013-14 season. But Ottawa has endured a sluggish first half and is mired in sixth place in the Atlantic Division.
The Sens haven’t been able to muster any level of consistency thus far this season. Coming off Saturday’s win over the Bruins, Ottawa is now seeking its first pair of consecutive triumphs since it won a season-high three straight games from Nov. 5-9.
Last season, the Sens allowed just 2.08 goals per game, second in the NHL and tops among all Eastern Conference clubs. Ottawa has permitted an average of 3.15 goals per game in 2013-14, 27th in the league.
Goaltender Craig Anderson was one of those key Ottawa players who missed much of last season because of injuries. In 24 starts for the Sens in 2012-13, Anderson was 12-9-2 with three shutouts, a brilliant 1.69 GAA and a .941 save pct. This season, Anderson is 11-9-4 with two shutouts in 26 starts. His GAA has ballooned to 3.26 and his save pct. has plummeted to .901.
The Caps and Sens are meeting for the second of three times this season. Ottawa visited Washington on Nov. 27, coming away with a 6-4 win over the Capitals. Washington took a 3-1 lead into the second period of that game but was unable to maintain it. The Sens netted three power play goals to erase that two-goal deficit and send the Caps to a fourth straight setback (0-3-1), Washington’s longest losing skid of the season to date.