February 7 vs. Carolina Hurricanes at Verizon Center
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Radio: 104.7 FM, 1500 AM and Capitals Radio 24/7
Carolina Hurricanes 24-20-7
Washington Capitals 36-11-6
With their bye week just ahead on the horizon, the next several days set up well for the Capitals. After two sets of back-to-back games in less than a week, the Caps took Monday off. On Tuesday, they'll continue their four-game homestand against the Carolina Hurricanes in the finale of the season's series between the two Metropolitan Division rivals.
The Caps' homestand then continues with games every other day, against Detroit on Thursday and Anaheim on Saturday. At that point, the Caps will be looking at a five-day break with 26 games remaining in the season. Until then, the Capitals play those three home games in their sweet spot; they're 24-2-2 this season when playing on exactly a single day's rest.
Washington's four-game homestand started with a flourish on Sunday in a 5-0 shutout win over the Los Angeles Kings. Philipp Grubauer made 38 saves to earn his third shutout of the season and five different teammates found the back of the net in his support. Three different lines were heard from, and all five goals were scored at even strength.
Video: Grubauer, Oshie power Caps past Kings in 5-0 win
The Capitals now own a nine-game home winning streak during which they've outscored the opposition by a combined total of 45-12 with four shutouts. For the first time in franchise history, Washington has scored at least five goals in eight straight home games. According to Elias Sports Bureau, the Caps are the first NHL team to achieve that feat since the Pittsburgh Penguins did so from Feb. 29-March 31, 1992.
Early in the season, the Caps were living off team defense. They scored four or more goals just six times in their first 24 games of 2016-17, posting a respectable 14-7-3 in the process. Since then, they've scored four or more goals in 19 of 29 games, and they've rolled to a 22-4-3 mark over that span.
Overall, the Caps have won three straight games, and they've netted the game's first goal in the fourth minute of the first frame in all three.
"I think we've been really good at [being] ready to go out of the gates," says Caps coach Barry Trotz, "and trying to play fast and getting everybody involved. We understand that when we get everybody involved early, we're a better team. I think that's probably the number one thing for us, that everybody's involved early. There's not a lot of line matching; there is more situational stuff but early in the game let's get over the boards, and let's get into the game and let's go after them."
The Caps have been doing a good bit more than getting involved. They've scored the game's first goal in 38 of 53 games this season - matching their total from last season - and they've scored first in 15 of their last 17. Washington leads the league in first-period goals (56) and in fewest first-period goals against (23). The Caps' plus-33 goal differential in the game's first 20 minutes accounts for more than half of their overall plus-64 figure on the season.
"It's tough to chase the game," says Trotz. "We haven't chased too many games in the last little while. I think it was the game in Ottawa where we got scored on twice in the first three minutes. That was a lot harder game, mentally. Last year, we weren't great in the first and we would dig in and in the second and third we were pretty good."
Washington also boasts a league best plus-58 goal differential at five-on-five. During the life of their nine-game home winning streak, they've outscored the opposition by a combined total of 39-6 at even strength.
When the Hurricanes last drifted through the District just over two weeks ago, the Caps caught them on the downswing, in the midst of a five-game losing spell. A four-game winning streak preceded the five-game skid, and a three-game winning streak has followed.
Carolina scored first in that Jan. 23 visit to Verizon, but the Caps scored the next six en route to a 6-1 victory.
"We let that game get away from us a little bit," recalls Canes coach Bill Peters. "We've got to be harder on pucks, we've got to spend some time in the offensive zone and we've got to make sure that we communicate and read off each other better. There was a lot of duplication defensively in that game."
Carolina is thriving at home but the Canes are generally diminished on the road, having won just seven of their first 27 (7-14-6) away from Raleigh this season. Had just two of those 14 regulation road setbacks gone the Hurricanes' way instead, they would be even with the Flyers for the final Eastern Conference playoff berth.
Fortunately for the Canes, by the time they return to Raleigh after their current three-game road trip, they'll be sitting on the right side of a plus-5 differential in terms of home/road games remaining the rest of the way.
The Canes started their journey on the good foot, taking a 5-4 overtime victory from the Islanders in Brooklyn on Saturday. Veteran defenseman Ron Hainsey scored the winner in overtime, his second goal of the game and his first multi-goal game in more than eight years. That win over the Islanders ended a four-game road losing streak during which the Canes managed a total of just five goals, just three of them at even strength.
Since winning just three of their first 13 games (3-6-4) at the season's outset, the Canes are a more respectable 21-14-3. Because of a concussion to backup goalie Eddie Lack, veteran goaltender Cam Ward has had to carry an inordinate share of the netminding chores for the Canes this season. Only two goalies in the league have started more games than Ward's total of 44, and he has started 26 of Carolina's last 27 games.
Lack has been reactivated, and Peters says he'll be getting a start at some point this week. Lack hasn't played since Nov. 10 and hasn't started since Nov. 6. The Canes play on Saturday in Dallas and then will have their bye week concurrently with that of the Capitals.