ONE LOOK BACK BEFORE TONIGHT’S CONTEST
The Washington Capitals may know the way to San Jose, but they certainly don’t know how to win there. Washington dropped their 12th straight game at the Shark Tank in losing 5-2 to the Sharks on Saturday night. The game was much closer than the final score would give Washington credit for, as the Caps played San Jose tough during a scoreless first period, and was tied at two goals apiece 44 second into the final stanza before surrendering the go ahead and game winning goal just 16 seconds later.
In order to end losing streaks like the one the Washington Capitals have endured in San Jose, catching a break or finding a little luck can help. Unfortunately, Washington got neither on Saturday, and dropped their 12th straight game in Northern California to the Sharks, 5-2. All of the bounces, and calls during a very physical affair seemed to go the home teams way.
HOW LONG HAS IT REALLY BEEN?
The Caps last win in San Jose was back on October 30, 1993. For those of you that like the numbers that come with such streaks, here are a few to marvel over.
It's been 18-years two months and nine days, or 6,646days since Caps goalie Rick Tabaracci (right) made 25 saves out-dueling Washington’s former goaltending coach Arturs Irbe at the Shark Tank. Craig Berube, Peter Bondra, Mike Ridley, and NBC Hockey analyst, Keith Jones each scored for Washington, as the Capitals defeated the Sharks 4-2.
950 weeks ago Bill Clinton was in his second year as President, the average price of gas was one dollar. Alex Ovechkin was 8, Nicklas Backstrom was 6, and Dmitri Orlov was 2-years old. By the way Caps fans, and I’m one of you, Washington has yet to win a Stanley Cup, but did play for one in 1998.
Caps head coach Dale Hunter didn't play in the contest as he was serving the then longest suspension in NHL history, 21 games for checking the Islanders Pierre Turgeon and separating his shoulder after he scored a goal in game 6 of the 1993 playoffs to eliminate Washington.
SPEAKING OF DROUGHTS:
Joel Ward scored his fifth goal of the season, and first since November 5, when he scored the tying goal Washington 5-3 loss to the Islanders in Union Dale New York. Ward is on pace to score one more goal (11) than he did last season. With the Nashville Predators, Ward scored 10 goals in 80 games, but caught fire during the playoffs for the Preds.
Considered one of the prized catches during this past off season’s free agency, Ward notched seven goals in 12 playoff games in the Music City. His playoff performance increased his worth immensely, and forced Caps GM George McPhee too admittedly over pay for the third line forward. Hitting the jackpot is an understatement for the fifth year native of Toronto Ontario.
Ward’s contract pays him $3 million per season, which according to Capgeek.com makes him the fifth highest paid forward on the team ahead of players like Trot Brouwer, and Jason Chimera, whom have more goals, and points than him. If Ward scores his projected 11 goals this season, and I know the Caps are paying him to do more than that, but it would calculate to about $292,000 per marker.
THE HOTTEST CAP IS?
Dennis Wideman scored a power-play goal and added an assist last night and now has five points in his last three games (three goals, two assists). Wideman has scored a goal in each of the last three games and is just two goals shy of his total from last season (10). His eight goals and 29 points are tied for fourth among defensemen in the league.
While Wideman is hot, Alexander Semin remains pretty warm in his own right. Semin extended his point streak to four games with his assist on Saturday in San Jose. Semin now has collected 10 points (five goals, five assists) in his last eight games and has three multi-point games during that stretch.
Alex Ovechkin, who scored at least two points in each game of the Caps' four-game winning streak, was held pointless in San Jose. However, it is likely that the Great 8 could get back on track tonight as he has recorded six points (two goals, four assists) in six career games against the Kings, including Washington’s only goal last season against L.A. Ovechkin has 37 points (18 goals, 19 assists) in 33 career games against Pacific-Division opponents.
SPEAKING OF ROYALTY:
The Washington Capitals and Los Angeles Kings will meet for the only time this season tonight. Last season, the Kings came into the Verizon Center and handed Washington a sound 4-1 beating. Ovechkin scored just 1:06 into the contest to stake the Caps to a quick lead, but then the Kings scored four unanswered goals on Caps starter Semyon Varlamov to earn the win.
LA was in the middle of a 10-game road trip that saw them win six of those games away from the STAPLES Center during that span.
NEW BENCH BOSSES.
Both the Capitals and Kings are two of six teams to fire their head coach this season. On November 28, the Caps replaced Bruce Boudreau with Dale Hunter, and after two separate five game winless streaks, the Kings chased former Caps bench boss Terry Murray, on December-12.
Assistant coach John Stevens was named interim head coach, going 2-2 and then Los Angeles hired Darryl Sutter to take over behind the bench on Dec. 20.Since Sutter took over, the Kings are 5-1-3, and have earned points in each of their first eight games (5-0-3) under Sutter, the fifth longest streak of games with a point in the franchise’s history. That streak came to an end on Saturday night when the Kings were shutout at home 1-0 to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Kings out-shot Columbus 31-18, but the Jackets scored the lone goal en route to a 1-0 victory Saturday, before a sellout crowd of 18,118 at STAPLES Center. Grant Clitsome broke the scoreless tie 11:25 into the second period. Both teams were perfect on the penalty kill as they combined to kill 14 power plays.
Since taking over behind Washington’s bench, Hunter has taken his time and shown patience employing a system that saw him become the fastest head coach in OHL history to win 300, and then 400 career games as head coach of the London Knights.
The Capitals are 9-7-1 with Hunter at the helm, and since December, are 4-2-0 in games following a loss. Washington owns a 3-3-0 record in its last six games in the city of angels. However, LA does currently own a four game winning streak since November 20, 2008 over the Caps, and have won the last two meetings at STAPLES Center.
LA’s last loss to Washington came on February-8, 2007 in overtime, and their last regulation loss to the Caps came December-14, 2005 in LA as Jamie Heward scored twice and Olaf Kolzig made 24 saves to preserve the 3-2 win.
Washington trails 34-52-13-0, entering the 100th meeting (15-29-6-0 on the road). The Capitals enter tonight’s contest 6-3-1 in their last 10 games and trail Florida by four points for the Southeast-Division lead. The Kings are 6-1-3 in their last 10 games and currently sit tied for second in the Pacific Division.
The Capitals are once again on the outside looking in at the Eastern Conference playoff race. Currently Washington is 10th, two points behind the very banged up Pittsburgh Penguins. The Kings are in a similar situation as they are ninth in the west, but trail the sixth spot (Nashville) by just one point.
The Kings are a tale of two teams when it comes to playing with and without the puck.
LA is ranked fifth in the league in goals allowed (89), giving up an average of only 2.12 per game, but are ranked last in the league in scoring with only 85 goals (2.02 average per game). The Kings have allowed 43 goals in the last 22 games (1.96/game) and have allowed just four goals in the last six games (0.67/game). LA has allowed two goals or less in 25 of 42 games, and despite their offensive woes are16-4-5 in those games.
Tonight’s game will match the Capitals rising power play versus the Kings No.2 ranked penalty killing unit.
Washington’s sixth-ranked power play (19.7 percent), which has scored five goals in their last four games, and 12 times in its last 13 contests, will attempts to beat the King’s penalty kill, which has killed 34 consecutive penalties. Dating back to November 19 versus Detroit, the Kings have killed 81 of their last 84 penalties which is a 96.4 percent success rate.
Dating back to December-17 at Detroit, the Kings have killed 34 straight penalties and are closing in on the club record of 46 straight set in 2001-02. Much of LA’s success on defense and on the PK can be attributed to their goaltender Jonathan Quick.
Quick ranks in the top six of the League in wins (18), saves (942), save percentage (.934), goals-against average (1.93) and leads the League in shutouts (6). Since Sutter took over, Quick is 5-1-2 with two shutouts, a 1.10 GAA and a .958 save percentage.
As successful as the Kings are on the PK, is as bad as they are on the power play. LA ranks 28th in the league with a 13.2% success rate.
The Kings are led by Anze Kopitar who is in his sixth season with LA. The 24-year-old native of Jesenice, Yugoslavia has 36 points (11G, 25A), which is 12 more than right winger Justin Williams. The Kings are 82-33-12 all-time when he scores, and 5-3-2 this season when he lights the lamp.
Former Flyers Captain Mike Richards leads the team in goals with 13 this season. Drew Doughty (22 yrs. old), and Jack Johnson (25 yrs. old) lead a young tough Kings defense. Both average more than 23 minutes of ice time per contest as Doughty averages almost 25 minutes, but both are a combined minus 10, and can get caught making overly aggressive plays down deep.
GUESS WHO IS INJURED AGAIN?
According to the Washington Post, neither Nicklas Backstrom nor Mike Green skated Sunday as the Capitals held one more practice in San Jose before departing for Los Angeles in the afternoon. Coach Dale Hunter didn’t offer any further update on Backstrom or Green, and it is very unlikely that neither will play vs. the Kings tonight.
Backstrom, who was scratched against the Sharks because of the head injury he suffered when elbowed by Rene Bourque, hasn’t skated in the past two days in what has been a sharp contrast to the mood of both the center and Hunter after practice Friday morning in San Jose. At that time, game but since those positive statements the 24-year-old Swede has not been on the ice.
Mike Green left Saturday’s game in the second period with tightness in his groin and was seen walking with a very noticeable limp on Saturday according to Katie Carrera. It was only the second game since Green returned from missing 23 games for a strained right groin muscle.
George McPhee may need to start coming to the very real possibility that trading Mike Green may be his only option. Whatever the reason for Green’s inability to stay healthy, the point is that McPhee needs to get what he can for him. That may not be before this year’s trade deadline as no team would be willing to take him as is, but the Caps can be patient and let him heal and then him showcase his skills later in the season.
The Capitals have lost 127 total man games this year to injury, and Green represents 19percent of them. With the emergence of the very young Dmitri Orlov, Green has become expendable. If McPhee can work his magic, like he did with the Semyon Varlamov deal last July-1, then he needs to complete a deal that has Green playing somewhere else.
The Capitals return home to play the ailing and falling Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday. Currently, Pittsburgh has lost four in a row, and is 4-6-0 in their last 10 games. Already without the great Sidney Crosby, the Pens have recently learned they will be without forwards Jordan Staal and James Neal, as both will miss extended time. To make matters worse, forward Craig Adams also re-aggravated an injury, leaving the Pens almost without a fourth line.
Staal suffered a knee injury in a knee-on-knee collision with New York Rangers forward Mike Rupp and will miss 4-6 weeks. Luckily, the injury doesn't require surgery and Staal will return well before the postseason with some rest and therapy. Neal, who leads the team in goals with 21, suffered a broken foot and will be out for multiple weeks according to Penguins Head Coach Dan Bylsma.