March 20 vs. Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center
Time: 10:30 p.m.
TV: Comcast SportsNet
Radio: Capitals Radio Network
Washington Capitals (33-27-10)
Los Angeles Kings (45-16-7)
Washington’s three-game west coast road trip takes it to Los Angeles to take on the Kings at Staples Center in the middle match of the journey on Thursday. The Kings are the last team the Caps haven’t faced this season; Washington will entertain the Kings at Verizon Center on Tuesday in the Capitals’ first home game after returning from the trip.
The Caps kicked off the trip in a strong note, downing the Ducks in Anaheim on Tuesday night. The win was Washington’s third in a row, and the Caps haven’t trailed at any point in any of those three games. The Capitals have had two four-game winning streaks earlier in the season, and that’s the longest winning run the team has managed this season.
Washington took a one-goal lead into the third period of Tuesday’s game. Anaheim tied the game at 2-2 early in the final frame, but the Caps grabbed it back less than two minutes later. There was an anxious moment late in the game when the Ducks won an offensive zone draw and nearly pulled even again, but the Caps survived that scare.
“I really felt good until the last draw,” says Caps coach Adam Oates. “We kind of broke down on the last draw, and they had a legitimate chance there. Other than that, I thought the third period was pretty solid and I thought our game was [solid]. I thought from start to finish, our guys didn’t really skip a beat. [The Ducks] had their moments, of course, but I felt like we were involved all night long.”
Tuesday’s win over the Ducks lifted the Caps into ninth place in the Eastern Conference standings. Washington is tied with Columbus for the eighth and final playoff spot, but the Blue Jackets have two games in hand on the Caps and hold the tiebreaker in the standings as well.
Goaltender Jaroslav Halak made 43 saves – the most he has made in a regulation, regular season win in more than four years – to help the Caps overcome Anaheim. In doing so, Halak established a single-season career high with his 28th victory of the season.
Caps captain Alex Ovechkin netted the game-winning goal on Tuesday against the Ducks, a one-timer from his office in the left circle on the power play. Ovechkin leads the NHL with 46 goals and 20 power-play goals. He is now just two goals shy of the single-season franchise record for power play goals in a season, a mark he shares with Peter Bondra.
Ovechkin logged only 15:30 of ice time in Tuesday’s game, his lowest ice time total for a regular season game since he skated 15:05 in a Dec. 20, 2011 game against the Nashville Predators at Verizon Center. He was on the ice during part of the game’s final minute, a departure from Sunday’s win over Toronto when Ovechkin was not deployed at all in the game’s final two minutes.
Tuesday’s game broke a run of nine straight games in which Ovechkin had finished the contest as a minus player. In each of the first nine games of March, Ovechkin finished the night with a minus next to his name. He was a combined minus-14 in those nine games, and he is minus-31 on the season.
Ovechkin spent Tuesday night skating on a relatively new line combination with Marcus Johansson and Jay Beagle. The game was not a great one for Washington in terms of puck possession, but Ovechkin’s line spent a decent amount of time in the attack zone in five-on-five play.
“I thought he was more involved five-on-five, which was good to see,” says Oates of Ovechkin’s game on Tuesday. “Beags had a couple of good chances, and [Ovi] did. The [defense] got a lot of point shots. All in all, I thought it was a pretty solid game.”
Halak is 4-2 with a 2.35 GAA and a .931 save pct. in his six games as a member of the Capitals. He has started each of the Caps’ last six games, and could continue on that run if continues to play well. Washington won’t play another set of back-to-back games until March 29-30.
Lifetime against Los Angeles, Halak is 6-6 with two shutouts, a 2.38 GAA and a .914 save pct. in a dozen appearances. In seven career starts at Staples Center, Halak is 4-3 with a shutout, a 2.65 GAA and an .898 save pct.
Wednesday was an off day for Washington, but the Caps did make a roster move. The team loaned center Casey Wellman to the AHL Hershey Bears and recalled forward Chris Brown from Hershey. Brown will join the Caps at Thursday’s morning skate prior to the game against the Kings.
The Kings are the league’s best puck possession team, using the Corsi metric. Washington must play nine of its final dozen games this season against teams which are currently among the league’s top 10 in Corsi, including two games against Los Angeles. Half of the Capitals’ remaining games will be played against top five Corsi clubs.
Having allowed an average of just 2.09 goals per game this season, Los Angeles is the league’s stingiest defensive club. The Kings average only 2.35 goals per game of their own, ranking 27th in the league in that department.
The Kings are in third place in the NHL’s Pacific Division, five points ahead of fourth-place Phoenix. Los Angeles recently reeled off an eight-game winning streak, outscoring the opposition by a combined total of 25-12 in the process. But the Kings have dropped three in a row since, dropping each of the first three games of their five-game homestand at Staples.
Los Angeles lost by a single goal in each game to Toronto, Anaheim and Phoenix, respectively. The Kings close out the homestand on Saturday when the Florida Panthers come to town.