February 11 vs. Anaheim Ducks at Verizon Center
Time: 7:30 p.m.
Radio: 104.7 FM, 1500 AM and Capitals Radio 24/7
Anaheim Ducks 29-17-10
Washington Capitals 38-11-6
The Capitals conclude a four-game homestand and play their final game before enjoying the fruits of a five-day “bye week” when they host the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday night at Verizon Center. Winners of five straight games overall, the Caps have also won 11 straight home games, the third longest steak of its kind in franchise history.
After blanking Los Angeles and Carolina, respectively, in the first two games of the current homestand, the Caps’ shutout spell was broken in Thursday night’s game against the Detroit Red Wings. But the Caps still prevailed and did so comfortably – by a 6-3 score – despite trailing briefly in the first period of the game. Washington has trailed at any point in just two of its last nine home games, and for a grand total of just nine minutes and 17 seconds of the 540 minutes of hockey played over that stretch.
The Caps have not trailed after the first period of a home game in more than a month; the last time they did so was when they erased a 4-2 third-period deficit in a 6-5 overtime win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Jan. 3.
Thursday’s win over the Wings was not without cost. Caps winger Andre Burakovsky suffered a hand injury while blocking a Brendan Smith shot late in the first period of the game, and he will be sidelined for the next four to six weeks.
“Obviously it’s a hand injury,” says Caps coach Barry Trotz. “He’s going to be out until probably mid-March. No surgery [will be necessary]. I would say mid- to the later part of March, and he’ll have plenty of games to get back.”
After getting off to a slow start offensively this season, Burakovsky had been in the midst of a strong stretch before Thursday’s injury. Finding a home on the right side of a potent line with Brett Connolly and Lars Eller, Burakovsky totaled 14 points (six goals, eight assists) in his last 14 games before the injury.
“It’s part of the game,” shrugs Trotz. “It’s part of the process; you can’t control that. People get hurt in this game, and we’ve been very fortunate not to have a lot of injuries. It will be a good test. It will be an opportunity for Zach [Sanford on Saturday], and it will give us a little adversity to go through.
“For Andre, obviously he had started ramping it up. When he comes back he is going to be fresh, he is going to be excited and I know he will get back to playing the way he can.”
The trio of Connolly, Eller and Burakovsky has combined to score an impressive total of 23 goals in their last 21 games.
“He’s obviously a big piece of this team,” says Eller of his fallen linemate, “especially as well as he’s played the last month or two. So he’s going to be missed. But I think Sanford – or whomever is going to fill in that spot – is capable of contributing. So in the big scheme of things, I think we’ll be all right."
Washington has been getting consistently diverse production all up and down its lineup over the last month and a half. At least three of the Capitals' four forward lines has chipped in with a goal in 16 of the team's last 23 games.
A 22-year-old rookie and first-year pro, Sanford made the team out of training camp and skated in 19 of the team’s first 21 games before being reassigned to AHL Hershey. Sanford has been recalled from Hershey a few times since, but has played in just one NHL game since the start of December.
Although he has played in only 24 of Hershey’s 47 games to date this season, Sanford’s total of nine goals with the Bears is tied for seventh most on the team. He has also chipped in with five assists.
Although both he and Burakovsky are left-handed shots, Sanford will be filling in on the right side of that line, while the right-shooting (and red hot) Connolly stays on the left side.
“I’ve actually been playing the right side in Hershey,” says Sanford, a center by trade. “So it actually worked out nicely.
“It’s a little harder in the [defensive] zone, but coming into the offensive zone, you have so many more options. Your stick is toward the middle [of the ice] and it’s just a lot easier to make plays."
On Saturday against the Ducks, the Caps have an opportunity to match the second longest home winning streak in their 43-year history, a 12-game winning streak that stretched from Nov. 21, 2015 to Jan. 17, 2016.
Way back on Oct. 13-15, the Ducks dropped their first two games of the season, losing both games in regulation at Dallas and at Pittsburgh, respectively. But two-thirds of the way into the season, Anaheim has not gone consecutive games without recording a point since those two opening contests.
Under former Caps’ assistant coach Randy Carlyle, who is in the first season of his second head coaching stint with the Ducks, Anaheim rolls into town in second place in the NHL’s Pacific Division, a mere two points behind the first-place San Jose Sharks. The Ducks are no longer the offensive powerhouse they were during some of the Bruce Boudreau years – Anaheim led the NHL in goals scored as recently as 2013-14 – but they are holding fairly firm at the other end of the ice. The Ducks rank sixth in the NHL with an average of 2.48 goals against per game, and they’re seventh on the circuit’s penalty killing ledger at 84 percent.
Anaheim’s thirty-something trio of Ryan Kesler, Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf still leads the team in scoring, but young Swedes Rickard Rakell (22 goals) and Jakob Silfverberg (16) are now among the Ducks’ top three lamplighters. The Ducks boast seven players who’ve reached the double-digit goal level, so there is some diversity to their attack. Two more players are knocking on the door with eight goals each.
John Gibson split the netminding duties with Frederik Andersen last season, and the duo outdueled the Caps for the Jennings Trophy on the final day of the season in the District. Gibson was 21-13-4 with a 2.07 GAA and a .920 save pct. in 40 appearances (38 starts) with the Ducks last season. In 43 appearances (41 starts) in 2016-17, he has extremely similar numbers; he’s 21-13-8 with a 2.29 GAA and a .920 save pct.
Saturday night’s stop in the District will be Anaheim’s fifth on a six-game road trip, matching the Ducks’ longest journey of the season. After dropping the first three games of the trip – but collecting a point via a shootout loss to the Lightning in Tampa in the middle match of the three – the Ducks delivered their first win of the trip on Thursday night in Buffalo over the Sabres.
Anaheim has poured exactly 44 shots on the nets of the Rangers and Sabres, respectively, in its last two games. The Ducks exceeded the 40-shot plateau just once in their first 53 games.