February 9 vs. Detroit Red Wings at Verizon Center
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Radio: 104.7 FM, 1500 AM and Capitals Radio 24/7
Detroit Red Wings 22-21-10
Washington Capitals 37-11-6
Washington’s four-game homestand continues on Thursday as the Detroit Red Wings make their second and final visit to Verizon Center this season. The Caps edged the Wings 1-0 on Nov. 18 in the team’s second shutout of the campaign and the first of 2016-17 for Caps goalie Braden Holtby.
Holtby comes into Thursday’s game on the heels of his seventh shutout of the season and the 30
th of his NHL career, a 5-0 whitewashing of the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night. That shutout was Washington’s 10
th of the 2016-17 season, a single-season franchise record. The 1995-96 and 2014-15 editions of the Capitals each notched nine shutouts on the season.
Tuesday’s win over Carolina marked the 19
th time in 54 games this season that the Capitals were able to take a shutout into the third period. The Caps’ penalty kill was spotless in three shorthanded missions, holding the Hurricanes without as much as a shot on goal. The Caps scored two power-play goals of their own, sandwiched around a trio of five-on-five goals.
Despite the one-sided score, the Caps weren’t perfect, and they’re eternally aiming to get better.
“We’ve been a lot more consistent,” says Caps coach Barry Trotz. “[Tuesday] night’s game was probably one of the few games where we weren’t quite as consistent as I would like us to be. But I think last year we had a lot more ‘cheat’ in our game. That’s probably the best way to say it. We would still win the game, but we would have a little cheat in our game.
“[Tuesday] night’s game, instead of being 5-0 would be 5-3 [last season]. We’d be thinking that if we’d cheat in certain areas, we’d get more offense. We’re finding out that if we play and don’t cheat, we’re going to have even more offense than if we were cheating.”
Holtby’s 23-save shutout win over the Canes was the Caps’ second in as many games; Philipp Grubauer blanked Los Angeles on 38 shots on Sunday afternoon.
“We gave up fewer shots tonight,” said Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen after the Carolina game, “so that was a step in the right direction. It’s fun scoring goals and being a part of the attack. As a [defensive] unit, we’ve pushed to be involved a little bit more, but it sure is nice putting up those goose eggs, too.
“Grubi really earned the one against L.A. We played pretty decent [defense] that night, just way too much of it. The volume of pucks that they threw at him, he really had to earn that one. And then Holts was really sharp [Tuesday]. The defensive side of the puck has been pretty good.”
Washington has now won 10 straight games on home ice, outscoring the opposition by a combined 50-12 (and by 42-5 at even strength) in that span. Five of those 10 wins have been shutouts, and the Caps have twice spun shutouts in successive games in the last month. The Capitals have permitted 2.04 goals per game this season, easily the best figure in the league.
The Caps have scored at least five goals in nine straight home games, a franchise record. Washington is the first NHL team to score as many as five goals in nine straight home games since the 1989-90 Calgary Flames, who had a nine-game run from March 3-April 1, 1990. Caps general manager Brian MacLellan was a member of that ’89-90 Flames team; he scored 20 goals for Calgary that season.
The Capitals’ successes haven’t been limited to home ice, either. Since Dec. 5, they’ve gone 24-4-3 and they carry a four-game winning streak into Thursday’s game with the Wings. Six of the Caps’ seven losses over the last two months have come by a single goal, and two came in the shootout.
A hallmark of their success has come in the depth and diversity of their attack. Ten Washington forwards have attained the 10-goal level, and the Capitals have gotten a goal from at least three different lines in 15 of their last 22 contests.
Lately, the trio of Lars Eller between Brett Connolly and Andre Burakovsky has been the hottest. That unit has scored in each of Washington’s games during the life of its four-game winning streak, totaling six goals and 11 points.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” says Connolly. “Our whole team has been playing so well, and everybody’s feeling it right now. It’s two good guys that I have a relationship with and have become close friends with this year. It’s fun to find success with guys. You grow closer together and hopefully we can continue this. I think we will; we’re getting chances every night and we’re finding some chemistry.”
As Detroit hits town, the Red Wings’ remarkable streak of 25 straight playoff appearances is in jeopardy. The Wings have pulled that streak out of the fire a couple of times in recent seasons, but will be hard-pressed to do so again in 2016-17.
Currently, the Wings are only five points south of Philadelphia for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. But enmeshed in a three-way tie with Buffalo and Tampa Bay for the bottom spot in the conference, the Wings have a lot of teams to climb over and only two months in which to do it.
Although the Wings have won only two of their last eight games (2-4-2), they’ve also pulled at least a point in nine of their last 11 (5-2-4). Most recently, the Wings suffered a 3-2 overtime loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets in the Motor City on Tuesday night.
Detroit’s visit to Verizon starts a three-game road trip that will bring the Wings to Columbus and Minnesota, respectively, for a set of back-to-back games this weekend. The Wings will play eight more games between now and the league’s March 1 trade deadline. Detroit has its bye week in the last week of this month and by the time the deadline rolls around, the Wings will be down to 21 games remaining.