WASHINGTON – The Tampa Bay Lightning's regular-season finale has taken on significant importance.
To secure home-ice advantage for their Eastern Conference First Round series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Montreal Canadiens, the Lightning must defeat the Washington Capitals on Sunday at Verizon Center.
Tampa Bay, which is making its second Stanley Cup Playoff appearance in seven years, has not had home-ice advantage in a series since winning the Stanley Cup in 2004.
"We'd love to have home ice," Lightning defenseman Eric Brewer told reporters. "Clearly it's something that you never want to use, but you'd love to have. The other thing is you just want to play well going into the playoffs."
Forward Jeremy Morin, recalled from the American Hockey League when Kane was placed on long-term injured reserve March 21 after suffering an apparent knee injury two days earlier, has scored three goals in as many games.
Forward Ben Smith has also been contributing offensively with three goals in his past four games, all of which the Blackhawks have won.
In doing so, Morin and Smith have thrust themselves into the lineup conversation when the Blackhawks open the Stanley Cup Playoffs next week.
"Well obviously the goal is play in [the] playoffs," Morin said. "I can't control that. All I can do is if I'm in the lineup, just make the most of it. I'm trying to finish off the season the right way and just keep contributing."
ARLINGTON, Va. -- The Dallas Stars and Washington Capitals, opponents Tuesday at Verizon Center, are lingering on the cusp of their respective conference's Stanley Cup Playoff race.
Entering play Tuesday, each team is one point out of the second wild-card spot.
Dallas, playing the first of four straight road games against Eastern Conference opponents, trails the Phoenix Coyotes with eight games remaining. Washington is one of four Eastern teams within four points of the Columbus Blue Jackets, who currently hold the final playoff spot.
There will be a heightened sense of urgency Tuesday when the Stars and Capitals look to solidify themselves as postseason participants in the final two weeks of the season.
"It feels like every game is do or die," Capitals forward Marcus Johansson said. "This game means a lot for both teams. No one's going to take it easy out there. It's going to be full throttle from the start of the game to the very end."
WASHINGTON -- The Boston Bruins' record since returning from the 2014 Sochi Olympics is nearly spotless.
In winning 13 of 16, the Bruins have propelled themselves to the top of the Eastern Conference standings with the Stanley Cup Playoffs fast approaching.
Boston has suffered one regulation loss in the past month: a 4-2 loss to the Washington Capitals, who have little choice but to replicate their March 1 performance Saturday as they attempt to qualify for the postseason.
"They're going on all cylinders, they're a good hockey team. Very good hockey team," Capitals coach Adam Oates said. "We know they're a good hockey team and if you're not ready to play them they can embarrass you. I'm hoping we have the effort we had in there [March 1] and we can play solid and not give them much."
The 28-year-old remains comfortably atop the NHL goal-scoring leaderboard with 46, but it has been a while since he padded that total 5-on-5.
Since returning from the 2014 Sochi Olympics Ovechkin has scored one even-strength goal: The game-winner in Washington's 5-4 victory against the Florida Panthers on Feb. 27.
Ovechkin has gone the past 12 games without a goal at even strength. If he does not score one against the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday, he will match his career-long drought of 13 set during his rookie season of 2005-06, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
ARLINGTON, Va. -- The Washington Capitals are winless in five of their past six games (1-4-1) and struggling in several key areas at a time when they can't afford to do so.
One area of particular concern is the faceoff circle, where the Capitals have won 133 of 333 draws (39.9 percent) during their recent skid, well below their 48.9 percent season average.
Beginning Friday against the Vancouver Canucks, seven of Washington's next nine games are against teams ranked among the top 10 in faceoff percentage in the NHL, including five against the top five.
"I've been struggling the last couple games in the faceoff circle," said center Nicklas Backstrom, who has won about 47 of his faceoffs over his past six games. "You want to be better at it because it helps get puck possession right away."
The 21-year-old, Washington's first-round pick (No. 26) in the 2010 NHL Draft, will start on the fourth line with center Jay Beagle and right wing Tom Wilson.
Though the idea of slotting Kuznetsov in alongside center Nicklas Backstrom and right wing Alex Ovechkin certainly is tantalizing, coach Adam Oates said he wants to manage Kuznetsov's minutes as he acclimates himself to the NHL.
"I think it makes sense to start him on that line no matter what quite honestly, in fairness to the other guys," Oates said. "Obviously everybody's excited to see him, but for the team he's got to earn his stripes.
"I think starting him there and let him ease into the team and the system and not put him in a situation where he might make a mistake right off the hop and get off on the wrong foot, I think it makes sense to do it that way."
In their 6-4 loss to the Flyers on Wednesday, the Capitals registered a season-low eight shots through two periods, a total they matched the following evening in a 3-0 loss to the Bruins before finishing with a season-low 16.
The Capitals, who have been held to five or fewer shots in five of their past seven periods of regulation, pinpointed neutral-zone play as the source of their recent offensive frustration.
Against the Bruins in particular, the Capitals' poorly placed dump-ins allowed Boston goaltender Tuukka Rask to quickly reverse the flow before they could establish any sort of forecheck.
In preparation for the Phoenix Coyotes on Saturday, Washington placed added emphasis on execution between the blue lines.
"It was the first thing in our meeting today," coach Adam Oates said. "Our neutral zone has to be better in terms of getting through their wave so we can put the puck in the right spot where we can actually forecheck, and if we don't, what's our fallout plan."
The Capitals, winners of four straight, trail the Flyers by one point and could overtake them for third place in the division with a regulation victory. Washington has not held that position since Jan. 16.
Though the two-game set holds significant importance for both teams' postseason aspirations, the Capitals are focusing on what lies in front of them Sunday.
"Obviously it's an important game, but if we win, great, and then we've got to play them again [Wednesday]," coach Adam Oates said. "Right now, we're still, I think, in the process of playing every game as it is. Today, we play Philly. Let's worry about Philly today."
Over the past three seasons, the 25-year-old has received opportunities to stake his claim to the starting position, only for an unforeseen incident to derail him.
The latest such incident came Thursday when Neuvirth was scheduled to make his fourth straight start against the Winnipeg Jets, his longest streak since starting five straight between Jan. 24-31, 2013. But he fell ill before the game and in his place Braden Holtby made 34 saves in Washington's 4-2 victory.
As a result, Holtby will start on Saturday against the New Jersey Devils. And with that, Neuvirth, who has started 53 games since the start of the 2011-12 season after starting 45 in 2010-11, seems to be back to square one.
"That's hockey," Neuvirth said. "People get hurt, people get sick and I really wanted to play, but I didn't feel good and I felt like I couldn't give my team 100 percent effort."
Brouillette, who will make his NHL debut (the fourth Capitals defenseman to do so this season), and Wey, who made his on Dec. 7, will form Washington's third pairing with a combined one game of experience in the League.
"[The recall] was definitely special," said Brouillette, who has nine goals and 14 points in 29 games with Hershey this season. "Offensively has been good this year for me. Hopefully I can bring that, but more importantly, just more steady defense. You know what you get out of me every night, and hopefully same thing [Thursday]."
ARLINGTON, Va. -- Within the confines of the Metropolitan Division space is at a premium.
Just four points separate second place from seventh place and the Washington Capitals, currently in sixth place, have not done themselves any favors recently.
The Capitals are winless in six straight intra-divisional games (0-5-1), their longest such streak since November 2007 when they failed to earn a win in seven straight games (0-6-1) against Southeast Division opponents.
Washington's next opportunity to earn its first Metropolitan Division victory since Dec. 27 comes Tuesday against the New York Islanders (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN2) who, despite entering the game in last place in the division and on a five-game winless streak, are by no means out of the Stanley Cup Playoff race in the Eastern Conference.
Green, who has a history of head injuries, awkwardly absorbed a check from Columbus Blue Jacketsforward Boone Jenner during the first period of Washington's 5-2 loss Thursday. As the two raced for a puck in the Washington zone, Jenner beat Green to the inside, putting the defenseman in a precarious position as he was driven into the boards.
Ovechkin "got a little banged up" in Washington's 4-1 loss to the New York Rangers on Sunday, coach Adam Oates said. He did not participate in pregame warmups after being deemed a "game-time decision" Tuesday morning.
ARLINGTON, Va. -- The Washington Capitals, currently mired in their longest winless streak of the season, might have to find a way to snap out of it without Alex Ovechkin.
The NHL's leading goal scorer will be a game-time decision with a lower-body injury against the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday.
According to coach Adam Oates, Ovechkin "got a little banged up" during the Capitals' 4-1 loss to the New York Rangers on Sunday, their fifth straight game without a win (0-3-2). They have four wins in their past 16 games (4-7-5).
If Ovechkin does not play, it will be his third game missed due to injury this season; Washington won both games he sat out of with a right shoulder injury in early November.
ARLINGTON, Va. -- The Washington Capitals are about to embark on what could be a season-defining stretch.
To close the January portion of its schedule the Capitals will play 10 games in 18 days, a daunting run that includes eight of nine on the road following their game against the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday at Verizon Center.
"It just goes to show you that it's never over," coach Adam Oates said. "You win two in a row, you get a point against [the Buffalo Sabres in a 2-1 shootout loss Sunday] and before you know it you look and it's like, 'Oh wow, we have a tough schedule.'"
During their two-and-a-half-week grind the Capitals will face three back-to-back sets, the first of which begins Tuesday and continues against the Eastern Conference-leading Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday at Consol Energy Center.
ARLINGTON, Va. – As the Washington Capitals began to establish themselves as Stanley Cup contenders several seasons ago, they did so with a penchant for late-game dramatics.
Since the 2008-09 season, no team has more wins when trailing in the third period than the Capitals' 49, according to Elias Sports Bureau. That trend has continued this season. Washington leads the NHL with nine such victories, the most recent coming Friday against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Down 2-1 after Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel scored less than a minute into the third period, the Capitals rallied with goals from forwards Nicklas Backstrom and Joel Ward to win 3-2, their second straight victory.
"Aside from a handful of games, we feel like we can win every single game," defenseman Karl Alzner said. "Doesn't matter if we're playing great or just okay, we always have that feeling where [Alex Ovechkin] can break out and score three goals or [Backstrom] can set up 10 guys. We have that feeling that we can win every game."
Their win Thursday, clinched by left wing Eric Fehr's deflection goal with 51.5 seconds remaining in regulation, was the Capitals' first of the new year, snapped a four-game winless streak (0-2-2) and allowed them to reclaim third place in the Metropolitan Division from the idle New York Rangers.
Capitals coach Adam Oates will address the media prior to the game, but his lineup likely will remain the same from Thursday. The reconfigured line of Fehr, center Mikhail Grabovski and right wing Alex Ovechkin meshed exceptionally well, accounting for Washington's two even-strength goals, both scored by Fehr, and generating several dominant shifts.
Though the Capitals had their most shots on goal over a two-game span since firing 91 total on March 8-10, 2010 (according to Elias Sports Bureau), they could only muster two goals in a 2-1 shootout loss to the Sabres and a 3-1 loss to the Senators.
Losses notwithstanding, coach Adam Oates said he was pleased with his team's output and even more so with the quality of shots taken, saying Wednesday "we had the most Grade As we've had."
Yet Oates and his players are keenly aware that an exorbitant amount of shots means little if they are not going in. Players said they need to make more of an effort to attack the net with vigor, making life for opposing goaltenders difficult and scoring dirty goals as a result.
"There's been a bit of a change," Laich said following Washington's morning skate. "To be honest, I don't know what I'm at liberty to say and I'm kind of in a holding pattern right now. The indication that I've got is that I won't be playing [Friday]. Other than that, I honestly don't know what else to tell you."
The 30-year-old, who missed all but nine games last season with the aforementioned injury that ultimately required abdominal surgery, skated 13:23 in the Capitals' 3-2 loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Monday, his first action since Nov. 27.
He made it through the game OK but woke up Tuesday with considerable discomfort. The pain has partially subsided but not enough to risk putting Laich back in the lineup.
WASHINGTON -- During parts of four seasons with the Washington Capitals, center Mathieu Perreaultserved as a spark plug capable of stepping into the lineup and providing instant energy.
Yet Perreault, minus a 64-game, 16-goal season in 2011-12, never could carve a consistent spot in the Capitals' lineup, resuming his position as the first option off the bench in case of injury or when the roster needed a shakeup.
As Washington's training camp wound down this season, Perreault seemingly was on the outside looking in once again as coach Adam Oates elected to experiment at the third-line center position that Perreault presumably would have assumed.
"I felt like even when I had those chances I was able to play well, but when guys were coming back from injuries it also seemed like [the Capitals] would put me aside again and I'd have to wait for someone to get hurt to have a chance," Perreault, traded to the Anaheim Ducks in late September, said following the Ducks' morning skate Monday. "And then I would actually do good, and then when guys would be back I would get put on the sideline again."
ARLINGTON, Va. –Washington Capitals defenseman Dmitry Orlov had become all too familiar with the trip from Washington to Hershey, Pa., constantly shuttling between the NHL and American Hockey League during the early portion of the 2013-14 season.
Between Oct. 30 and Nov. 26, Washington recalled and subsequently reassigned the 22-year-old Russian four times without ever having him dress for a game. It was a peculiar situation to be sure, especially considering that the Capitals' defensive corps had been besieged by injuries and that Orlov appeared in 60 games in 2011-12. (An unearthed clause in his contract that stipulated that Orlov could leave for the KHL if he did not accumulate 30 days of NHL service by Jan. 1, 2014, further complicated matters.)
Orlov finally made his season debut on Nov. 30, and through his first six games, he has been silently solid in 17:03 of ice time per game. In Washington's 3-2 shootout loss against the Florida Pantherson Friday, Orlov played his best game to date, flashing glimpses of his potential by using his smooth skating ability and deft puck-handling skills to create several quality scoring chances.
Missing the likes of Steven Stamkos, Ryan Malone and Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay, which has lost 101 man games due to injury, has fallen from first place in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference to fourth in the division and fifth in the conference since losing Stamkos to a broken right tibia on Nov. 11.
Having been ravaged by injuries, the Lightning have been forced to use a patchwork lineup that features eight players with less than 50 games of NHL experience.
Despite it all, the Capitals, very familiar with the Lightning as former Southeast Division co-tenants, will not take them lightly.
It was a sensible prediction considering Brouwer's success in 2012-13. In 47 games, the 28-year-old finished second on the Capitals with 19 goals, which put him on pace for a career-high 33 over a full season. With his new role as the finisher on the second line, Brouwer enjoyed the new responsibilities bestowed upon him by the Washington coaching staff.
That is why Brouwer is taking his slow start this season so seriously. He has five goals and nine points, with one goal at even strength. It's a far cry from the numbers he expected from himself at this juncture.
"Coming off a season like last year where I was one of the guys who was looked at to put points on the board, be an impact every game, those expectations were a little bit higher than they have been in previous years," Brouwer told NHL.com. "Maybe that's the reason why I feel that I'm struggling, because I feel I should be doing more. I should be scoring more goals and putting up more points."
Through 24 games, the 28-year-old is in search of his first goal, the longest season-opening drought of his nine-year career.
Green has come up empty on all 62 shots on goal, the most taken by any player in the League without scoring this season. It's certainly not the norm for the player who has led all defensemen in goals in three of the past five seasons and whose 91 goals since 2007-08 rank second among NHL defensemen.
Coach Adam Oates could tell Green was perhaps forcing things in an attempt to get off the schneid, which was negatively affecting him in other areas.
"I think when a guy gets in a so-called slump, and for him, it was just because he hasn't got a goal," Oates said. "To me, first thing I said was, 'That's not a slump.' Goals will come. For me, it's his touches and his decisions. If you're pressing to get a goal, you're going to skate in opportunities you're not supposed to skate at and not wait for it at the right time. I felt like just his reads were a little off."
ARLINGTON, Va. -- Washington Capitals coach Adam Oates, typically calm and collected in demeanor, was visibly agitated after his team's 6-4 loss to the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday. It was a game in which the Capitals unraveled, blowing a 3-1 first-period lead by being undisciplined and taking their foot off the proverbial gas.
"If the guys don't know that we let one get away," Oates said on Wednesday, "shame on them."
The Capitals, who are in the midst of a season-long four-game losing streak, did not meet on Thursday, which allowed Oates' message to marinate as they sat down for Thanksgiving dinner.
"He gave us the day to think about it," right wing Troy Brouwer said. "He didn't say anything to us after the game. I think the guys already knew what to feel and what to think, to be honest."
ARLINGTON, Va. --Washington Capitals right wing Alex Ovechkin is in the midst of a career renaissance that began late last season. He has scored 43 goals in his past 45 games, including an NHL-leading 20 so far this season (the first time in his nine-year career he has been the first player to reach that total) and three in his past three games.
The problem, however, is that those three goals are the only goals the Capitals have scored over that span.
Entering Washington's game against the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday, Ovechkin has accounted for 29.8 percent of his team's goals (20 of 67). As a point of reference, the NHL single-season record is 29.5 percent set by Pavel Bure in 2000-01 as a member of the Florida Panthers.
The rest of the Capitals forwards are fully aware they must help their captain.
"I think our line has had numerous chances," left wing Jason Chimera said in regards to the third line, comprised of himself, Brooks Laich and Joel Ward. "We've just got to put them in. Me myself, I've had a lot of chances in the past five games and put nothing in. You've got to make them go in."
ARLINGTON, Va. -- Upon returning to Kettler Capitals Iceplex on Thursday following their 4-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins the evening before, the Washington Capitals spent the bulk of their time in video sessions analyzing what arguably was their worst overall performance of the season.
What went wrong Wednesday reads like a laundry list of recurring issues: Sloppy passing and poor decision-making that prevented the Capitals from cleanly breaking out of the defensive zone and generating any sort of offensive rhythm, missed assignments, uninspiring responses to goals-against.
Another problem area exposed Wednesday was the sheer number of shots Washington is allowing.
ARLINGTON, Va. -- It may come as a surprise to discover that 12 players in the NHL have scored more points than Washington Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom's 439 since he entered the League in 2007-08, or that his 24 three-assist games are the most over that span.
That is perfectly fine with Backstrom. In fact, he prefers it that way.
"I'm going to be honest with you, I'm not going to look for attention," Backstrom told NHL.com. "That's not who I am. … I don't need it. I'm happy with the way it is."
"Not ready, not 100 percent ready," coach Adam Oates said. "He could go, but you know what, [the Penguins are a] really good team and [we] don't want to put him in a position where he's behind the eight-ball a little bit."
After a failed power play to open the period, Oates altered his top two lines, reuniting Marcus Johansson, who had recently been centering the team’s second line, with Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin after nearly six games apart.
Oates’ intuition came to fruition immediately. On the reassembled first line’s first shift together, Johansson gathered a puck left for him by Backstrom near the end boards and fed Ovechkin in front for his 15th goal of the season, one that ignited Washington’s rally from two down to ultimately defeat Detroit 4-3 in a shootout.
It was the kind of fluid play that comes naturally with undeniable chemistry, which the Capitals’ top trio has firmly established by playing the bulk of their time with each other since late last season.
ARLINGTON, Va. -- Despite slogging through the first period of their game against the Colorado Avalanche Sunday, the Washington Capitals seemed poised to stem and perhaps even turn the tide in their favor.
With 4:12 remaining in the second period, Joel Ward took advantage of a fortuitous carom off the end boards to beat Semyon Varlamov to tie the game at 1-1.
Yet it took all of 28 seconds for Washington's half-game of work to come undone. Nick Holden scored the game-winning goal -- his first career NHL goal -- on the ensuing shift as Colorado ultimately secured a 4-1 victory.
"It was a bang-boom-boom play," Ward said of Holden's goal, adding that Holden was his defensive assignment. "For them to come around and score right away, it was definitely a tough one."
ARLINGTON, Va. -- Seeing the Washington Capitals' power play atop the NHL leaderboard should come as no surprise, considering they routinely have hovered near the No. 1 spot for the better part of the past several seasons.
What may come as a shock is that the Capitals' penalty kill, traditionally a liability, has recently joined their formidable power play among the League's elite.
Having finished in the bottom-third of the NHL nine times in the past 11 seasons, Washington's penalty-killing unit enters its game Thursday against the Minnesota Wild in unfamiliar territory -- leading the League at 91.5 percent.
Since the third period of the Capitals' 5-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Oct. 12, they successfully have thwarted 40 of their opponents' 41 power-play opportunities, including a stretch of 35 consecutive kills, their longest streak in more than a decade.
"It's something that everybody wants to do -- to be successful on both sides," right wing Alex Ovechkin said. "Power play and penalty kill can win the game and that's very important for you."
"I feel fresh and I feel, before I get hurt, really good," Ovechkin said. "Of course you don't want to miss two games but it happens and I'm back and I'm pretty happy."
Ovechkin, who will skate on Washington's top line with center Nicklas Backstrom and left wing Martin Erat, has not played since a 3-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Oct. 28. In the first period of that game Canucks defenseman Alexander Edler tripped Ovechkin as he broke toward the goal, which sent him crashing into Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo. Ovechkin seemed to favor his shoulder as he skated away from the collision.
Between March 17 and Oct. 28, Ovechkin and Johansson flanked Nicklas Backstrom on Washington's top line, combining for 59 points at even-strength. Yet when Ovechkin returns to the lineup Tuesday against the New York Islanders after missing two games with an upper-body injury, he will see Martin Erat on his opposite wing.
"We'll see [Tuesday]," Ovechkin said when asked about the differences between Erat and Johansson. "He's a skilled guy, experienced guy and I'm sure he’s going to help our line to create more opportunities to score goals. He's a great player."
"You know, I feel pretty good today too," Chimera responded.
The pair combined for four goals and three assists, including Ward's first career hat trick, in Washington's 7-0 victory.
Along with center Mikhail Grabovski, who had three assists of his own Friday, the Capitals' third line has been their most productive trio over the last two weeks. Since joining forces Oct. 19 against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Chimera, Grabovski and Ward have combined for 10 goals and 22 points at even-strength.
"We've just been rolling," Ward said. "Chim has been flying and has been getting some big goals for us. Grabo makes good plays, got a great shot and he's got a good stick."
ARLINGTON, Va. -- When Martin Erat left the Nashville Predators for the Washington Capitals at last season's trade deadline, he ranked second in franchise history in most points, goals, assists and games played, accolades he accumulated as a top-six fixture.
Erat, however, never was afforded a proper opportunity to establish himself among the Capitals' top forwards upon his arrival as untimely injuries -- a left knee injury sustained in his second game against the Florida Panthers and a dislocated left elbow that ended his season in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the New York Rangers -- bookended his initial stint in Washington.
The Capitals acquired the 32-year-old to bolster their top-six forward depth, trading away highly touted prospect Filip Forsberg to do so. Yet when this season began, a healthy Erat found himself on the fourth line, playing single-digit minutes per night.
Erat's ice time reached its nadir Wednesday during the Capitals' 2-0 loss to the New York Rangers when he registered a season-low 6:20, the third-lowest ice time of his 739-game NHL career when he didn't leave the game early due to injury.
After only scoring eight even-strength goals through seven games and losing three of four during a season-long five-game homestand, coach Adam Oates, who had been patient despite his team's offensive struggles, rearranged his forward lines and defensive pairings.
"I know we talk a lot about chemistry and that's important," Oates said following practice Friday. "I just felt that a couple guys weren't playing good enough for the minutes they're getting, and they need to know that."
ARLINGTON, Va. -- Adam Oates did not want to be yelled at.
Throughout his Hall-of-Fame playing career, the Washington Capitals coach preferred to be taught, not berated after poor performances, a philosophy that has carried over to his coaching career.
"If I showed up for work and we lose, I don't want to be yelled at. I want to be coached," Oates said Sunday. "Tell me the truth. If you think I played a bad game, that's fine, but tell me the truth. Don't make something up because then I lose faith in you.
"I don't want to be that guy. I do not want to tell them a lie. I'll tell them when I think they make mistakes, but I'm not going to lie to them, no way, because I think guys see through that too. Maybe they come in expecting to be yelled at because we lost; it's just not my style."
Considering Washington's uninspiring 1-4-0 start, Oates would not have been criticized -- perhaps he would have been lauded -- for chastising his players, but that simply is not who he is.
ARLINGTON, Va. -- The Washington Capitals are not off to the start they expected or would have liked as they enter their game Monday against the Edmonton Oilers with a 1-4-0 record.
There are several reasons for the Capitals' struggles, a lack of even-strength offensive production from the top six and unsteady goaltending chief among them, but another area where they are in dire need of improvement is their starts.
Washington has allowed eight first-period goals through five games, second only to Edmonton's nine. In fact, the Capitals have allowed their opponents to score within their first four shots in all but one game this season, a 3-2 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Oct. 10.
Juxtapose that with just three first-period goals all season, third-fewest in the NHL, and the Capitals' woes from the opening faceoff are magnified.
Selected 11 picks apart by Washington in the 2006 NHL Draft, the two were heralded as the future of the Capitals' crease. They made their respective League debuts nearly two months apart during the 2008-09 season, both allowing one goal in victories. Varlamov wowed with acrobatic saves, explosiveness that Neuvirth balanced with a more conservative approach.
In the summer of 2011, following a season where Neuvirth earned 27 victories while Varlamov spent most of his time languishing on injured reserve, the Capitals traded Varlamov to the Colorado Avalanche for a first-round draft pick and a conditional second-round pick.
Varlamov and Neuvirth stood at opposite sides of the ice countless times during practice, but for the first time the two will do so in a meaningful game as they will start against one another when the Capitals host the Avalanche Saturday at Verizon Center.
ARLINGTON, Va. -- It is a conversation routinely revisited across all levels of the Washington Capitals organization, from general manager George McPhee and coach Adam Oates to, in a more casual context, right wing Tom Wilson and his father: How does a team balance the developmental needs of its prospects with organizational expectations?
In Wilson and defenseman Connor Carrick, 19-year-old rookies who are just beginning their NHL careers, Washington is set up for a promising future. But whether that future is near or still a ways away is a decision the Capitals still are wrangling with.
ARLINGTON, Va. --Washington Capitals coach Adam Oates would not have been criticized -- perhaps even lauded -- if he shuffled his forward lines after his team's slow offensive start at even strength.
Through three games, Washington's offense has been buoyed by its NHL-leading power play, which has accounted for six of its nine goals this season. That leaves just three goals scored at 5-on-5, tied for the third-fewest in the NHL.
Yet after three consecutive days of practice, the Capitals' forward lines, minus one change to the fourth line ahead of their game Thursday against the Carolina Hurricanes, remain intact.
"I'm a very patient guy when it comes to that," Oates said earlier this week. "You've got to give a guy a fair amount of time to let everything happen."
Oates said he felt no need to change things, "Because it [Tuesday] was a winnable game. One game is not a fair evaluation, so give the guys another chance."
After he made those comments, he was forced to make one change. To make room on the roster for defenseman Alexander Urbom, who was claimed off waivers from the New Jersey Devils on Thursday, fourth-line center Michael Latta was sent to Hershey of the American Hockey League. That likely means Jay Beagle will make his season debut, skating on the fourth line between Martin Erat and Tom Wilson.
The League's most proficient unit last season scored three goals on six opportunities (though they failed to convert on a nearly 90-second two-man advantage in the waning moments of regulation), immediately establishing themselves once again as a force to be reckoned with.
Two of Washington's power-play goals came in nearly identical fashion in the third period as Mikhail Grabovski deflected two Mike Green shots from the point past Corey Crawford to complete his first NHL hat trick.
Interestingly enough, while Grabovski's second and third goals gave the Capitals a 4-3 lead, according to right wing Troy Brouwer, the 29-year-old was out of position on one of his two power-play goals.
We want to make sure that whoever makes our team really makes our team by earning it and not putting them in situations where they get preference because of their status as a first-round pick or whatever it might be. That's not going to happen. Everybody has to earn their way on our team.
— Columbus Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen on the team's prospects at development camp