Feb. 6 vs. Winnipeg Jets at Verizon Center
Time: 7:00 p.m.
TV: Comcast SportsNet
Radio: Capitals Radio Network
Winnipeg Jets (28-25-5)
Washington Capitals (25-23-9)
Starting in 1999-00, the Washington Capitals and the Winnipeg Jets (née Atlanta Thrashers) were co-occupants of the NHL’s Southeast Division. As such, they visited each other’s buildings three or four times a season for most of the last 13 seasons, and always at least twice a season. That pattern continued even after the Jets moved north from Atlanta after the 2010-11 season.
With the start of this 2013-14 season, the Jets were finally and rightfully gerrymandered to the NHL’s Western Conference and the Central Division. As such, they now visit Washington just once a season. That visit takes place on Thursday when the high-flying Jets land in the District to take on the Capitals at Verizon Center.
The Caps and Jets hooked up in Winnipeg early in the season, with Washington earning a 5-4 shootout win in that Oct. 22 contest, thanks to a 43-save performance from goaltender Braden Holtby. The Capitals and the Jets are separated by only two points in the standings, but they’re trending in the opposite direction.
Washington is coming off a frustrating and disappointing 1-0 loss to the New York Islanders on Tuesday night at Verizon Center. The Islanders, the only team currently beneath the Caps in the Metropolitan Division standings, came into the game with a five-game losing streak and Washington was seeking to build some momentum after an exciting 6-5 win over Detroit on Sunday afternoon in the opener of the team’s current four-game homestand.
Although the Caps got a great goaltending performance from Michal Neuvirth in Tuesday’s setback to the Islanders, Washington’s passing was sloppy and it frequently turned the puck over, preventing it from sustaining consistent offensive zone pressure and presence. The Caps managed only six shots on net in the third period of the game, and only one of those – a 58-foot shot from captain Alex Ovechkin while Washington was on the power play – came in the second half of the game’s final stanza.
The loss left the Caps with an 0-6-1 mark in their last seven games against fellow Metropolitan Division denizens, and just six wins in their last 22 games (6-10-6). Thursday’s game against the Jets and Saturday’s home game against New Jersey are the only games remaining for Washington prior to the NHL’s Olympic break.
Home ice hasn’t been kind to the Capitals this season. Washington has won only three of its last 10 home games (3-3-4) and it has been shutout twice in its last three games at Verizon Center. The Caps have absorbed four home ice whitewashings thus far this season; the last time they were blanked as many as five times in a season in their own building was in 1975-76, their second season in the league.
“They’re huge,” says Caps forward Eric Fehr of the team’s current four-game homestand. “We need to win our games at home. We just went on a long road trip and didn’t win very many, so we have to take advantage of this.”
The Capitals have won at least 25 games at Verizon Center in each of the last four full NHL seasons, but they would need to win 10 of their remaining 12 home games to reach that mark this season.
Despite the Caps’ ongoing malaise and their lowly position in the Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference standings, Washington is only three points shy of the final playoff berth in the conference.
Washington took Wednesday off and won’t reconvene until Thursday’s morning skate, but it seems unlikely that the Caps will get injured center Mikhail Grabovski (lower body) or ailing defenseman Mike Green (concussion) back before the Olympic break.
On Wednesday afternoon, Washington reassigned defenseman Tyson Strachan to AHL Hershey. Strachan had been recalled on an emergency basis, and he skated in each of the Capitals’ previous three games. It’s likely that the Caps will recall a defenseman from Hershey for Thursday night’s game with the Jets.
Neuvirth has started three straight games and seems likely to get the nod again on Thursday against Winnipeg. The last time he started as many as four straight games was a five-start run from Jan. 24-31, 2013. Neuvirth has won one of his last five starts (1-3-1), but has allowed two or fewer goals in two of the three regulation losses during that stretch.
During his career against the Jets, Neuvirth is 6-2-1 in 10 appearances (nine starts), with a shutout, a 2.74 GAA and a .918 save pct.
Winnipeg has won nine of its last 11 games to reinsert itself in the Western Conference playoff picture. The Jets are just two points off the playoff pace heading into Wednesday night’s slate of NHL activity.
That Jets hot streak coincides with the installment of Paul Maurice as the team’s head coach. He replaced outgoing bench boss Claude Noel on Jan. 12, and the Jets have been soaring since. Winnipeg has oustcored the opposition by a combined 35-22 in those 11 games.
Thursday’s game is the third game in a four-game road journey for the Jets, who are 5-1 on the road under Maurice. Most recently, they earned a 2-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes – Maurice’s former employer – in Raleigh on Tuesday night. Chris Thorburn supplied the game-winning goal in that victory over the Canes, his second goal of the season and his first game-winning tally since March 8, 2009 when the team was still based in Atlanta.
Each of Winnipeg’s last four games has been decided by a single goal, and the Jets have played 33 one-goal games this season, going 16-12-5. Only New Jersey (36) has had more one-goal affairs in 2013-14.
The Jets boast nine players with 10 or more goals this season, the most in the NHL. Despite all that firepower, Winnipeg has averaged 2.72 goals per game this season, 15th in the league. The Jets have been nicked for an average of 2.81 goals against per game, tied for 19th in the circuit.
Winnipeg netminder Ondrej Pavelec made 28 saves in Tuesday’s triumph over the Hurricanes. He has allowed two or fewer goals in six of his last nine starts. Lifetime against the Capitals, Pavelec is 9-13-2 with two shutouts, a 2.92 GAA and a .907 save pct.
With a 45.8 percent winning pct. in the face-off circle this season, the Jets rank last in the league in that department.