While all of the attention will be focused on some guy named Crosby tonight, the struggling Washington capitals return home to the big phone booth (Verizon Center) to take on a Phoenix Coyotes team that has won seven of their past ten games.
The Capitals, who have lost four in a row and six of their past seven, are in desperate need of home cooking after completing a three game road trip in which they didn't earn a point.
Washington couldn't find their rhythm in the Music City, losing 3-1 to the Nashville Predators. Last season versus the Atlanta Thrashers, the Capitals were 1-4-1, and fared no better two nights later to the new Thrashers, the Winnipeg Jets.
Jets goaltender, Ondrej Pavalec recorded four shutouts last season, half of them coming against the Caps. Pavalec picked up where he left off last season, and although he didn't shutout Washington, he stopped 31-of-32 shots, as his team downed the visitors from D.C, 4-1.
To compete the progression of losing by larger margins during the three game road trip, Washington was embarrassed in front of a Hockey Night in Canada television audience by losing 7-1 to the Toronto maple Leafs.
The loss to the Leafs was particularly disturbing for Caps fans as Washington was thoroughly out played in every phase of the game. Six of the seven goals came in either the first or last three minutes of the period. In fact, Toronto scored three goals in the final minute of the first, second, and third periods.
According to Mike Vogel of the Capitals web site, Washington has not been held to one goal or fewer in three straight games for nearly eight years. The last time a Washington team was limited to one or zero goals in each of three straight contests was Dec. 27-31, 2003 when the Caps were outscored by a combined total of 13-3 in three straight setbacks.
The last time a Capitals team returned from road trip of three or more games without a single point was four seasons ago. Back then the Caps visited Ottawa, Florida and Pittsburgh from Jan. 30-Feb. 3, 2007, and lost all three in regulation by a combined score of 11-5.
While it's true the Capitals are not scoring any goals, or at least nearly enough, they are taking plenty of shots at opposing net minders. The Capitals fired 40 or more shots on goal twice during their three game road trip and outshot their opponent in all three games. Alex Ovechkin fired 17 shots during the trip (5.67 per game) and led the Caps in shots on goal in two of the three games.
Offensively, the Capitals are spreading the wealth, as 20 of the 23 skaters that have suited up for Washington have recorded a point. 17 of those 23 players have scored a goal while 13 players have recorded at least six points so far this season. 11 players have recorded at least three goals
The puck will eventually start finding its way back into the net for Washington, but that may not matter if they can't keep it out at the other end. The Capitals are struggling mightily on defense. Washington seems to be performing more like the group from two seasons ago than the one that a franchise record by recording the lowest GAA last season.
Washington’s eight defenseman have combined for 10 goals and 39 points in the team’s 18 games this season. A blue liner has contributed at least one point in 16 of Washington’s 18 games this year. While that’s great, we all know how this type of hockey worked out two seasons ago.
Washington is allowing 3.06 goals against per game, and is 25th in the NHL killing penalties. The Caps have surrendered 15 goals in 69 shorthanded situations. They are no better at home (19), than they are on the road (24).
Thanks to a great start, Thomas Vokoun still has respectable numbers between the pipes, but over his last seven games, Vokoun has 2.85 goals against with an 859 save percentage. He was pulled Saturday in Toronto after allowing four goals on just 18 shots.
He’s not getting much help in front, as Washington has allowed almost five goals per game, and have been outscored 33-13 in losing six of their last seven games.
Head coach Bruce Boudeeau has seen enough with his lackluster bunch, and according to published reports Alexander Semin will be a healthy scratch tonight against the Phoenix Coyotes, according to the Capitals. The absence will mark the first time since Semin’s rookie season of 2003-04 that he has been a healthy scratch.
Boudreau called up Jay Beagle from Hershey a few weeks back and gave him his first NHL start, and tonight he will do the same with the young Russian defenseman, Dmitry Orlov. The highly-touted prospect will be paired with Karl Alzner to begin his NHL career.
Washington leads the all-time series with Phoenix 28-25-12-1, and is 19-8-5-1 at home. This is the only meeting between these two clubs this season. Last year the Coyotes earned a 3-2 win on Feb. 14 in Phoenix.
Former Capital Boyd Gordon, who played 363 games for Washington from 2003-2011 and registered 85 points (27 goals, 58 assists) signed with Phoenix this past off season. He was originally drafted by Washington in the first round (17th overall) of the 2002 NHL Entry Draft.
With a victory tonight. Bruce Boudreau would earn career victory No. 200 of his NHL head coaching career, which began almost four years ago tonight. Boudreau was named Caps interim head coach on November-22, 2007, earned his first win the next night, and his 100th win on November 17, 2009 in New York at MSG.
According to Capitals media notes, Don Cherry holds the record for fewest amount of games required to win 200 games (341 games) however, all of Cherry’s victories came in regulation time before overtime and the shootout were introduced. Boudreau has won 31 games in overtime and 19 games in the shootout in his career. Boudreau is poised to become just the second NHL head coach to both debut and reach 200 career wins since the shootout was introduced in 2005. Randy Carlyle, whose first season was 2005-06, earned his 200th win in his 374th career game (courtesy of Elias Sports Bureau).
It appears the Caps stand a good chance of earning Boudreau his 200th tonight. Washington is the only team in the league to have scored 30 goals at home while having played less than 10 home games so far in 2011-12 (eight games).
Their 6-1-1 record at home is one of the top records on home ice in the NHL and the Capitals power play ranks sixth in the league at home (21.9%).