Nov. 30 vs. Los Angeles Kings at Capital One Arena
Time: 7:00 p.m.
TV: NBC Sports Washington
Radio: 106.7 The Fan, Capitals Radio 24/7
Washington Capitals 14-10-1
Los Angeles Kings 14-8-3
After a four-day break, the Capitals are back in action on Thursday night at Capital One Arena when they host the Los Angeles Kings here in the District. The Kings' visit is the first game of a season-long five-game homestand for Washington.
Video: Rinkside Update | Matt Niskanen | November 29
Thursday's game also closes the book on November for the Capitals, who are 9-4-0 this month, including 7-1-0 at home. Washington will be aiming to match a club record for wins (10) in the month of November, achieved twice, most recently in 2010-11 when the Caps were 10-2-2 in the season's second month.
Washington has won three straight games, matching its longest winning run of the season. Since returning from a dismal two-game road trip to Nashville and Colorado in mid-November, the Caps have won four of five games and have permitted a grand total of 10 goals, a mere six of them at even-strength. The Capitals yielded a dozen goals during those two road games against the Predators and the Avalanche.
"I think guys are settling into more concrete roles and are knowing what's expected of them," says Caps defenseman Brooks Orpik. "I think that makes it easier for guys to come in and do their jobs.
"Special teams have been a little bit better, and that's something that we addressed after that trip. Defensively, I think we were getting too much separation between the forwards and the defensemen, coming out of the zone. Even when we were defending [well], that's something that we looked at on video a lot, and we tried to address that. It's still a work in progress, but we've definitely made some big improvements, especially against a few quality teams in the last few games."
Video: Brooks Orpik | November 29
Over a longer span, in which the Caps have won nine of 13, they've sharpened up other elements of their game, putting them in the position they're in now. The Caps are in the middle of a crowded pack in the Metropolitan Division standings, and they're within striking distance of the top spot.
"I think we're playing more to the style of game that is going to get us wins," says Caps goaltender Braden Holtby. "We're starting to get our own identity and the fact that we're not relying on skill all of the time. We're trying to create a balance that way.
"I think we're breaking the puck out better, and we're more on the same page that way. Guys are working hard to get back for our defense, and that's creating more [breakout] options for them. It's still a work in progress. There are still times in the games where we're at a little bit of a disconnect, but we're pushing to fight through that and get better at it."
The Caps will be aiming for their first four-game winning streak of the season on Thursday against the Kings. Washington's five-game homestand won't be any picnic, either. All five games will be played against teams with positive goal differentials, starting with Los Angeles, which is at plus-14.
Following the Kings, the Caps will host Columbus (plus-10), San Jose (plus-10), Chicago (plus-13) and the New York Rangers (plus-5) before heading out on the road again. As the homestand gets underway, the Capitals themselves are sitting at minus-3.
Video: The Week Ahead | November 29
Since starting the season on a 9-1-1 roll in their first 11 games, the Kings have just now strung together consecutive wins for the first time in over a month. They've won just five of their last 14 games (5-7-2) since their swift start.
The Kings won their final home game before the current road trip, taking a 2-1 overtime decision over their crosstown rivals, the Anaheim Ducks, on Saturday night. Los Angeles then earned a 4-1 win over the Red Wings in Detroit on Tuesday.
Los Angeles opened up a four-game road trip with that contest in Detroit. After taking on the Caps on Thursday, the Kings move on to St. Louis and finally Chicago on the back half of their current trip.
The Kings are the league's second-stingiest team in terms of goals against per game (2.28), and they boast the league's top penalty killing outfit, too, with a kill rate of 89.3% on the season. Los Angeles is a perfect 3-0-0 this season against Metro Division opponents.
After winning Stanley Cup championships in 2012 and 2014 with Dean Lombardi as the team's general manager and Darryl Sutter as its head coach, the Kings turned the page over the summer. Lombardi and Sutter have moved on, and Rob Blake is now the L.A. general manager and former Kings assistant (and ex-Flyers head coach) John Stevens is now behind the bench.
Video: Barry Trotz | November 29
"Obviously they had a change in the organization," says Trotz of the Kings, "and John Stevens wanted to create a little more offense as a team. They've always gone to the net very hard, they've always been a good rush team and they're a good grinding and cycling team.
"I think they've got their [defensemen] a lot more active. There is a lot more liberty for the [Drew] Doughtys and the [Jake] Muzzins and the guys like [Derek] Forbort, who are jumping up. They're still putting a lot of pucks to the net and they're still getting to that interior, but I think that where they used to just throw the puck to the paint and try to will their way in, they're actually trying to spread you out a little bit. They're still getting people to the net, and they're using the back of the net and they're getting their [defense] a little more active. I think they're using more of the ice, but that's just an observation."