March 18 vs. Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center
Time: 10:00 p.m.
TV: Comcast SportsNet
Radio: Capitals Radio Network
Washington Capitals (32-27-10)
Anaheim Ducks (45-16-7)
Faced with a most difficult schedule during the month of March, the Washington Capitals are about to head into the most difficult and potentially treacherous part of that slate as they embark upon a three-game road trip to the west coast. First up for the Capitals is a Tuesday night date with the Ducks at Honda Center in Anaheim.
From there, the Caps face the Kings in Los Angeles on Thursday and the Sharks in San Jose on Saturday. When they return home to Verizon Center, the Capitals must face Los Angeles and then Boston. The players will take them one game at a time as the cliché goes, but the next five games are all going to be difficult ones, and they could go a long way toward determining Washington’s postseason fate.
Washington at least has the comfort and the confidence of a modest two-game winning streak as it starts to navigate its way through some of the best the Western Conference has to offer. The Capitals edged Vancouver by a 4-3 count on Friday and doubled up Toronto by 4-2 on Sunday afternoon.
“We know what we need to do,” say Caps defenseman John Carlson. “We’ve got a big ways to go here. This is a start, but it doesn’t mean anything if we don’t put a lot more together here.”
Washington scored first in both games and the Caps never trailed in either, despite some anxious moments along the way. The Canucks gave Washington a scare on Friday, outshooting the Caps 17-3 in the third period and coming back from a two-goal deficit to draw even in the final frame. But Mike Green’s goal midway through the third salted the game away.
Against Toronto, the Caps jumped out to a 3-0 lead before the midway mark of the first. The Leafs pulled to within a goal heading into the final 20 minutes, but Washington played a defensively solid game and frustrated Toronto en route to a second straight win.
“They’re massive,” says defenseman Karl Alzner, of the two victories the Caps recorded over the weekend. “They are games that we knew we needed to win before going out on this road trip. We won them in pretty good fashion; we’re pretty happy with the effort. We put ourselves in a good position. A lot of teams have games in hand on us, so we need to do our best to get it back to even.”
The Capitals have moved up to ninth place in the NHL’s Eastern Conference standings, just two points shy of the final playoff berth in the conference. For all their trials and travails this season, the Caps are three points south of second place in their division. But they also have only 13 games remaining on the season, many of them against elite opponents. Many of the teams they are chasing in the standings have games in hand on the Capitals, and Washington doesn’t fare favorably at all in any tiebreaker scenarios.
If the Caps hope to gain a seventh straight berth in the Stanley Cup playoffs, the mission is simple, but difficult. They’ve got to win probably 10 of those last 13 games. That leaves very little margin for error on the upcoming trip through California.
“Realistically, if you would have asked me a couple of months ago, I probably would have said get one win,” says Alzner when asked what can be reasonably expected from the Caps on this journey. “But realistically, for us now it’s at least two. I think we can maybe afford to lose one but we obviously don’t want to. We’re going to go out there and try to upset a couple of teams. They’re in good position, so maybe they might take us a little lightly. And hopefully they do and we can capitalize on that.”
“Huge, it’s that simple,” says Caps left wing Jason Chimera. “It’s a big road trip we’ve got coming up. [We’ll be facing] three good teams, all tough buildings to play in. We should embrace that challenge and take it.”
The Caps and Ducks met at Verizon Center on Dec. 23. Washington came out on the short end of a 3-2 decision in that game, one of several in which it has lost a two-goal lead this season. The Caps were up 2-0 over Anaheim midway through the first period of that game, but the Ducks scored late in the first, late in the second and with 5:36 left in the third to snatch the victory from Washington.
Goaltender Jaroslav Halak has started each of the Capitals’ last five games, and he has won three of them. Playing for St. Louis the last few seasons, he has faced the Ducks, Kings and Sharks several times in recent campaigns. After winning his 27th game of the season on Sunday to match his single-season career best, he figures to start against for Washington on Tuesday against the Ducks
Halak is 4-5 in 10 career appearances against Anaheim. He has a 2.93 GAA and an .876 save pct. in those games. In five career starts at Honda Center, Halak is 1-4 with a 2.79 GAA and an .883 save pct.
The Ducks are tied with San Jose for the lead in the NHL’s Pacific Division, and they’re only two points behind St. Louis in the chase for the Presidents’ Trophy. Anaheim is 24-6-4 on home ice this season.
Since mid-January, the Ducks have been a bit more mortal. Anaheim roared out to a swift start for the second straight season, and it was 36-8-5 after a 9-1 thrashing of the Vancouver Canucks on Jan. 15. Since that game, the Ducks have won just nine of their last 19 (9-8-2).
After enduring a four-game winless streak (0-2-2) shortly after the NHL resumed operation in the wake of the Olympic break, the Ducks have won each of their last two games. They finished off a three-game road trip with wins at Colorado and Los Angeles, respectively.
Anaheim has lost three in a row on home ice (0-1-2) and has won only two of its last eight games (2-4-2) at Honda Center.