March 25 vs. Arizona Coyotes at Verizon Center
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Radio: 104.7 FM and Capitals Radio 24/7
Arizona Coyotes 27-38-9
Washington Capitals 48-17-8
The Caps play their final home game in the month of March on Saturday night when they host the Arizona Coyotes at Verizon Center. The Capitals enter the game with a modest three-game winning streak, and with at least a point in five straight games (4-0-1).
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Washington is down to nine games remaining in its 82-game regular season slate, and the Coyotes are the last team the Capitals will be facing for the first time in 2016-17. The Caps and the Coyotes will hook up twice in those last nine games; Washington will visit Glendale in less than a week, taking on the Coyotes there in the middle match of a five-game road trip on March 31.
The Caps and Coyotes last clashed late last season when Washington absorbed a 3-0 whitewashing to the Desert Dogs in Arizona on April 2 of last year. Neither team had anything to play for in that game; the Caps had clinched the Metropolitan Division, the Eastern Conference and the Presidents' Trophy by that point of the campaign, and they were playing the virtual equivalent of preseason contests as they prepared for the postseason. Meanwhile, the Coyotes were playing out the string, and they're doing so again this season. Arizona reached the Western Conference final in 2011-12, and this season will mark their fifth consecutive playoff miss since then.
For Washington, the difference this time around is that the Capitals are in a fierce and competitive race for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division. Going into Thursday's game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Caps were in first place in the Metro, but they also faced the specter of dropping to third in the division with a regulation loss. The Caps not only avoided that scenario, but they actually gained ground on both Pittsburgh and Columbus with a 2-1 shootout win over the Jackets.
"I thought we controlled the play for the majority of the game," says Caps left wing Daniel Winnik of the win over Columbus. "We had a lot of shifts of long, sustained pressure, and our shot volume helped that a lot. I thought it made them chase it; shots bring unpredictability of coverage and I think that's the way you wear a team down that played the night before."
The Caps owned a heavily skewed 92-51 advantage in shot attempts and 74-35 at even strength, according to hockeystats.ca. It was only the splendid netminding of Jackets' goalie Sergei Bobrovsky that kept the Caps from winning by a larger margin, and winning in regulation.
With a season-long five-game road trip looming on their immediate horizon, the Caps are seeking to head out on the road on a strong note. To do that, they'll need to get past the Coyotes.
If the Capitals play they way they did on Thursday against the Blue Jackets, it's hard to imagine them not getting two points. The Caps held onto the puck for much of the game, and they owned a lopsided 92-51 advantage in shot attempts at night's end. They out-attempted the Jackets by 74-35 at even strength, according to hockeystats.ca. Only a stellar performance from Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky kept them to one goal on 45 shots on net in the contest.
Video: Coach Trotz talks after Friday's practice
"We've got to collect points," says Caps coach Barry Trotz. "We've got nine games left, and we hold our own fate in our hands, really, so we'll just take it individually, each game.
"Arizona should not come in here and think they can win a hockey game. We've got to make sure that we're on top of our game, and we've got to perform at a high level. If we can get a victory [on Saturday], then we move on to the next team. But we've got to make sure that we've got a game-to-game focus.
"I don't think that at this point in the year and where we are [in the standings], there are no trap games. It's not like the middle of November where you just had a big win or whatever. We need points to finish where we want to finish. That's not a trap game. To me, we need a victory against a team that's playing pretty well. They're fast, they're young, and they're out of the playoffs and they're playing free. There are no ramifications, so there's no pressure on them. Good for them.
"The pressure on us is just to play hard, and there's no pressure. We play our game, and there's no pressure. Just play our game."
In Saturday's game against the Coyotes, the Caps are facing a team with no playoff hopes whatsoever for the first time in nine games. After an uncharacteristic four-game losing streak, Capitals have earned points in five straight and they seem to be getting their game back toward its ceiling.
"We hit that losing streak, but I actually think we were playing a little bit worse just before it," says Caps defenseman John Carlson. "And I think it just refocused everyone and kind of re-energized the room with a little bit of controversy. You get thrown around a little bit, and it was time to respond. I think you can tell in practices and it's translating into games, how hard we're working and preparing ourselves."
Arizona comes to town on the fourth stop of a five-game trip. They've visited Nashville, Tampa Bay and Florida on the trip to date, handing the Lightning a difficult 5-3 setback on Tuesday. After departing the District, the Coyotes will make a stop in St. Louis before returning home for a homestand against the Blues and the Capitals, respectively, the last two teams they face on their current road trip.
The Coyotes have played without captain Shane Doan (lower body injury) in each of their last four games. The 40-year-old Doan scored his 400th career NHL goal earlier this season, and he also appeared in his 1,500th career contest in 2016-17. If he does suit up for Saturday' game against the Capitals, it could be the last time he plays here in the District.