March 25 vs. Los Angeles Kings at Verizon Center
Time: 7:00 p.m.
TV: Comcast SportsNet
Radio: Capitals Radio Network
Washington Capitals (34-27-11)
Los Angeles Kings (41-25-6)
With a successful (2-0-1) journey to California in the rear view mirror, the Caps return to the District for a two-game homestand. The Los Angeles Kings visit Washington for the first time in more than three years on Tuesday night; they’ll face the Caps just five days after the Kings conquered the Capitals 2-1 in a shootout in Los Angeles.
By virtue of Saturday night’s 3-2 shootout victory over the Sharks in San Jose, the Capitals have now pulled at least a point in five straight games (4-0-1) for the first time since a 4-0-1 run from Dec. 7-15. It matches the team’s best streak of the season; the Caps also went 4-0-1 in a five-game stretch from Nov. 1-9.
The win over the Sharks ended a drought of more than two decades without a Washington victory in San Jose (0-11-1).
While the Capitals roared through California and became just the second NHL team this season to earn as many as five points on a trip that included games against all three teams from the Golden State, they weren’t getting much help on the out of town scoreboard. Most of the teams the Caps are chasing for playoff position kept winning over the last week. But Washington’s winning week on the road enabled it to remain viable in the chase for a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. A mediocre week might have doomed the Caps in that regard.
“For us, it extended our season,” says Caps right wing Troy Brouwer. “If we went into California and didn’t do as well as we did, it could have been out [of the playoffs] by three points or even four points at this point. It made it so that we’re confident going into the last 10 games of the season here, knowing that we played some real good hockey teams and came out with points. We needed to do that on this trip, and a couple of times it took us into the shootout. But playing teams from the other conference, it doesn’t matter if it’s regulation or not. We just need the points.”
Washington was the 16th team this season to go out to California and play all three of the NHL teams from that state in succession. The Caps joined the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks as the only two of those teams to come home with five points from their journey.
Perhaps most impressively for a team that has had difficulty keeping the puck out of its own net at times this season, the Caps surrendered only five goals during their three games in California. Only Chicago (four goals against) got through the Golden State gauntlet with less damage done. Having the success they’ve had in the last five games has steadied the Capitals, and it has restored some of their once sagging confidence.
“There is a little bit more intensity now,” says Caps defenseman Karl Alzner. “Even when we are up some goals, we’re trying to still play like we’re down. If they score a goal, we’re mad on the bench but not dejected. It’s a way better attitude. The guys all feel confident; we know we can come back in every game. We have a little bit of a swagger, which is I think what our team has been known for over the last bunch of years. We’re in a good place right now mentally.”
Washington has held its own outside of its conference this season, posting a respectable 12-8-3 mark against Western Conference foes.
“These are some really tough games, that’s for sure,” says Caps forward Eric Fehr. “It’s not easy; the guys come at you pretty physically and have a lot of speed. It’s a different style. We got off to a slow start [last Thursday] in Los Angeles but we adapted and made some changes and I thought we were a lot better in the second half of the game.”
Washington struggled early in that game in Los Angeles, but goaltender Jaroslav Halak kept the Caps within a goal of the Kings for the first half of the contest. The Caps managed to get on track offensively midway through the game, and they started to apply some pressure on the Kings. That pressure paid off when Joel Ward scored the tying goal in the third, enabling the Caps to claim a point in what turned out to be a 2-1 shootout loss.
“We were able to finally get in on the forecheck; we were able to create some opportunities that way,” says Brouwer of the Caps’ game against the Kings last week. “They did a real good job at the beginning of the game getting back, holding us up as forwards so we couldn’t create pressure on their [defensemen]. They did a good job of breaking out through the middle of the ice rather than along the walls, which is a lot of the time very tough to defend because as soon as you bite to the middle, then they go to the outside. When you play teams with confidence to be able to move the puck through the middle like that, it just makes it a little more difficult to read and create pressure and force the puck where you want it to go.”
Halak’s streak of seven starts in succession came to a halt on Saturday night in San Jose when he was sidelined with a lower body injury. Braden Holtby stepped in ably and backstopped the Caps to their first victory in San Jose since Oct. 30, 1993. He made 34 saves to earn his 20th victory of the season.
Halak practiced with his teammates on Monday and seemed to be none the worse for wear.
“I think he’s fine and he should be ready to play [Tuesday], if we need him,” says Caps coach Adam Oates. “We’re still talking about it, actually. We’ve got to make sure he’s okay after the [Tuesday morning] skate.”
Los Angeles started a three-game road trip against Eastern Conference foes on Monday night in Philadelphia. The Kings started the trip off with a 3-2 victory over the Flyers.
After playing the Caps in D.C. on Tuesday, the Kings take on the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Thursday. From that point on, all the Kings’ remaining contests this season will be played on the western side of the Mississippi River.
The Kings have won 11 of their last 14 games and they’ve allowed two or fewer goals in 11 of those 14 contests. Los Angeles is the league’s stingiest team; it has permitted an average of just 2.04 goals per game this season.
It’s been more than seven years since the Caps have been able to solve the Kings in any location. Washington’s last victory over Los Angeles came on Feb. 8, 2007 when the Caps prevailed 4-3 over the Kings in overtime. Dainius Zubrus supplied the game-winning goal in that game. Glen Hanlon was still the Washington bench boss in those days.
Washington has lost six straight (0-5-1) against Los Angeles, and the Caps have scored two or fewer goals in five of those six setbacks.