Jan. 31 vs. Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena
Time: 7:30 p.m.
TV: Comcast Sports Network
Radio: Capitals Radio Network
Washington Capitals (24-22-8)
Detroit Red Wings (23-19-11)
Washington finishes up a five-game road journey and a stretch in which it plays eight of nine games on the road on Friday night when it faces the Red Wings in Detroit. The game is the second in as many nights for the Capitals, who took a 5-2 trouncing at the hands of the Blue Jackets in Columbus on Thursday.
Thursday’s loss stopped the Caps’ mini winning run at two games. Washington has won only two of its last 10 (2-6-2), the worst record of any team in the league during that span. The Caps have won only five of their last 19 games (5-9-5).
“We put ourselves in this position,” says Caps defenseman John Carlson, “so we’ve got to find ways to get out of it and get out of it in a hurry. The games are rolling by here.”
The Caps squandered chances to take an early lead and instead dug themselves a 2-0 in the first 20 minutes and were down 4-0 before Joel Ward scored a shorthanded goal late in the second period. Washington pulled to within 4-2 on Eric Fehr’s goal early in the third, but surrendered another goal just 64 seconds later to restore the Jackets’ three-goal advantage.
With three power play chances in the game’s final 15 minutes that included a brief two-man advantage, the Caps were in a position to respond. But their moribund power play went 0-for-7 on the night and is now 6-for-48 (12.5%) in January.
Speaking of January, the Capitals are as cold as the weather this month. Washington is now 4-7-3 (11 points) for the month. Excluding lockout-shortened campaigns, the last time the Caps finished January with fewer than five wins and fewer than 12 points was 1991-92 when they were 4-4-3 in a light, 11-game January slate.
The loss dropped the Capitals to seventh place in the Metropolitan Division and 13th place in the Eastern Conference standings. Despite its extended tailspin, Washington is still only two points in arrears of the eighth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference with 28 games to go. The Caps have four teams to hop over in order to climb into that spot, however.
“We’ve got to be more consistent,” said Caps right wing Troy Brouwer after the loss in Columbus. “It starts with our effort tonight. Little details in the defensive zone, making sure we’re picking up our assignments and making sure we’re getting pucks out when we need to. In the offensive zone, protecting pucks, not turning them over, getting them behind [the opposition’s defense], getting bodies in front.
“There is a whole list of things that we can do better and we need to do better. And once we figure that out and once we start doing those things and amongst that continue to work hard like we have in the previous few games, then our game is really going to come together and then we’re going to start climbing the standings and getting some wins.”
When it was suggested that the Caps’ list is getting longer as the season gets shorter, Brouwer did not disagree.
“It’s a list that is a lot of our game,” he said. “It’s a lot of our game that we need to clean up. Coming into every night with our meetings we’re addressing the same things and we need to learn, we need to progress as a team and we need to get better. And then we’ll start putting wins together, putting streaks together, feeling good about our game and climbing the standings. Until we can do those little things and make sure that we’re not making the same mistakes night in and night out, we’re going to be fighting for a playoff spot and fighting for position for the rest of the season.”
Friday’s game is also the start of a set of home-and-home contests between the Capitals and the Red Wings. Detroit travels to Washington on Sunday to supply the opposition for the Caps’ annual Super Bowl matinee match, a game that also kicks off a four-game homestand for the Capitals. The Friday and Sunday games mark the first set of back-to-backs for Washington against the Wings since March 11-14, 1979, back in the days of The Original 17 when the two teams shared occupancy of the Norris Division.
Detroit’s roster has been plagued with injuries throughout the season, and the Wings figure to be without a handful of key performers when the Caps roll into the Motor City on Friday.
Center Stephen Weiss, signed as a free agent last summer, is on long-term injured reserve after undergoing sports hernia surgery. Center Pavel Datsyuk is on injured reserve with a lower body ailment, forward Cory Emmerton is out with a finger injury and forward Johan Franzen is suffering from a concussion. Veteran forward Henrik Zetterberg has an upper body injury; he is nearing a return and could see action against Washington this weekend.
Goaltender Jimmy Howard is set to return after being sidelined briefly with a lower body injury. Howard missed time earlier in the season with a knee ailment; he is expected to get the start against Washington on Friday. Howard has won only nine of his 29 starts this season (9-12-8), but he is 3-3-1 with a 2.22 GAA and a .943 save pct. in seven January starts.
Detroit was 15-8-7 at the 30-game mark of the campaign, but the injuries have taken a toll over the last two months. The Wings have won just eight of their last 23 (8-11-4) games and they’re currently running sixth in the NHL’s Atlantic Division, one point ahead of the Capitals.
Most recently, the Wings suffered a 5-0 whitewashing at the hands of the Flyers in Philadelphia on Tuesday. The Wings’ last home game was last Sunday when they hosted to Florida Panthers. That one didn’t go well for Detroit, either. The Wings twice owned a two-goal advantage over the Cats, but they ended up on the wrong end of a 5-4 shootout decision.