February 24 vs. Edmonton Oilers at Verizon Center
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Radio: 104.7 FM and Capitals Radio 24/7
Edmonton Oilers 33-20-8
Washington Capitals 40-12-7
After forging a 1-1-1 record during a three-game road run in the immediate aftermath of their bye week, the Capitals make a quick stop at home to host the resurgent Edmonton Oilers on Friday night in the District. Immediately afterwards, the Caps go right back on the road; Friday's game against the Oilers is the front end of a back-to-back set. The Caps start a two-game road trip late Saturday afternoon in Nashville.
The Caps come into Friday's game on the heels of a 4-1 victory over the Flyers in Philadelphia on Wednesday night. Washington led by two goals at both intermissions of that game, and the Caps took control of the contest late in the middle period. Owning a 2-1 lead at that point, Washington snuffed out a Philadelphia power play that might have tied the game for the Flyers. Less than a minute after completing that critical kill, the Caps restored their two-goal lead on Evgeny Kuznetsov's second goal of the game.
Getting that goal with just 121 seconds remaining in the second lifted the Caps, who killed another Flyers power play early in the third and then shut down the Flyers the rest of the way to earn their first win in three games.
"Our [penalty kill] has been doing a really good job," says Caps' right wing T.J. Oshie. "I think sometimes when games are a little bit in question, the momentum shifts. You don't always want to take a penalty, but sometimes your penalty kill can give you a little bit of life and give you a little bit of that momentum back. I think that's what they did. The big guys were blocking some heavy shots out there so hats off to them in that situation."
The win over the Flyers ended a brief two-game winless drought for the Capitals, who are 27-5-4 over their last 36 games dating back to early December. After failing to lead at any point in their first two games out of the bye week, the Caps went up 2-0 in the first period of Wednesday's game, marking the 22nd time in 59 games this season they've scored more than once in the first period of a contest. Washington has only allowed two or more goals in the first frame on four occasions in 2016-17.
Although the win over the Flyers is the Caps' best overall performance in the three games they've played after the bye week, they know they've got a ways to go to return to the level at which they were playing prior to the break.
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"I feel good," says Caps center Jay Beagle. "[Wednesday] was the first game where I didn't feel like I was chasing the puck. And I can only speak for myself, but those first two games coming back, the game felt faster than it did the week before, before the break. That's never fun when you're kind of chasing the game.
"It's been a weird experience with the bye week. Afternoon games were tough, back-to-back. Everything was tough, but that builds character and builds a better team. A little adversity is a good thing, I think."
Wednesday's win may have come at a cost. Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen sustained a lower body injury early in the second period and took just one more shift the rest of the night thereafter. Blueliner Brooks Orpik also may have gotten dinged up against the Flyers; he was not on the ice when the Caps practiced on Thursday afternoon at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.
"You could see him on the ice as early as [Friday], really," says Caps coach Barry Trotz of Niskanen. "He's day-to-day. And Brooks took a maintenance day; we'll see where he's at [Friday]."
Video: Coach Trotz after Thursday's practice
Trotz also noted that the Caps may recall a defenseman for precautionary reasons, and that turned out to be the case. Washington recalled blueliner Aaron Ness and winger Riley Barber from AHL Hershey on Thursday afternoon. Ness might play if both Niskanen and Orpik are unable to answer the bell on Friday while Barber is coming up to serve as the team's 13th (spare) forward as it prepares to head out to Nashville and New York after Friday's game.
Washington has won eight straight games against Western Conference foes, and the Caps are 13-2-0 overall outside their conference this season. Edmonton is responsible for laying one of those two losses on the Caps; Washington dropped a 4-1 decision to the Oilers in Edmonton on Oct. 26.
Back in 2005-06, the Oilers advanced all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final before bowing to the Carolina Hurricanes. The Oilers have missed the playoffs in each of the 10 seasons since then, finishing higher than 11th in the Western Conference just once during that stretch. But behind sophomore sensation Connor McDavid, Edmonton is back on the beam this season. The Oilers are poised for a long overdue return to the postseason and they're just three points shy of San Jose for the top spot in the Pacific Division.
With 68 points (20 goals, 48 assists), McDavid leads the NHL in scoring this season. McDavid has 50 even-strength points, trailing only Winnipeg's Mark Scheifele (51) for the league lead in that department. Caps center Nicklas Backstrom is tied for eighth in the league with 40 even-strength points.
The Oilers rolled out to a strong 7-1-0 start and have stayed fairly consistent the rest of the way. After finishing 27th in the circuit with an average of 2.95 goals against per game last season, Edmonton has shaved nearly half a goal per contest off that figure. The Oilers have permitted an average of 2.54 goals against per game in 2016-17, the seventh best rate in the league heading into Thursday night's slate of NHL activity.
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For Edmonton, Friday's game starts the back half of a six-game road trip. The Oilers are 2-1-0 on the trip to date, and come to town on the heels of a 4-3 win over the Panthers in Florida on Wednesday. Edmonton will follow the Caps to Nashville and the Oilers conclude their journey against the Blues in St. Louis on Tuesday.