Oct. 22 vs. Calgary Flames at Scotiabank Saddledome
Time: 9:00 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7, 94.7 The Drive
Washington Capitals 6-2-2
Calgary Flames 5-4-1
The Caps continue their way west on Tuesday night when they take on the Flames in Calgary in the second game of their season-long five-game road trip. Washington got the trip off to a good start on Sunday in Chicago, downing the Blackhawks 5-3 for its third straight win.
Washington never trailed on Sunday, but it struggled to find its footing for much of the game. The Hawks showed a strong and consistent forecheck, and they made it difficult for the Caps to exit their own zone, and it was tough sledding to get through neutral ice as well.
Special teams were critical, and the Caps came through on both sides of that coin. They didn't have the puck very much, so they only had one power play opportunity, but they made it count, getting a T.J. Oshie goal eight seconds into the advantage. Washington spent 10 minutes of the game shorthanded, killing off all of that time while also getting a critical Nic Dowd shorthanded goal early in a four-minute kill. Dowd's goal was the first shorty of his NHL career, and it came when the game was tied midway through the second period, and momentum was up for grabs.
"It's not going to be perfect every night," says Dowd. "We're going to have to rely on different guys, and tonight we relied on [Braden Holtby] and our special teams."
Holtby turned in a strong performance as Dowd notes, turning aside 41 of 44 Chicago shots, and picking up his third win of the season. The Caps' netminder was dialed in all night, and he needed to be, as the 44 shots against marked a season high for Washington. The Caps entered the game having allowed the fewest shots per game in the NHL, but yielded more than 40 for the first time in 2019-20, and more than 30 for just the third time in 10 games.
Holtby had plenty of help in front of him, too, as the Caps combined to block 31 shots, the third highest single-game total they've managed since the NHL began tracking such data in 1997-98.
"Our commitment to blocking shots this year has been great," says Caps center Lars Eller. "I think that's an underrated factor going into the playoffs, paying the price and not letting pucks get through. Once those pucks get through the first layer, then anything can happen. It's like a pinball machine, and we've been on the wrong side of that so many times. Blocking shots and not letting pucks get through that first layer is huge for us, and our commitment has been a big positive for us."
For just the fourth time in franchise history, the Caps have won four of their first five road games. They also achieved that feat in 1991-92, 1997-98 and 2015-16.
Video: Todd Reirden | October 21
"We've been pretty good on the road," says Oshie, "and that's a pretty good thing to see early, obviously. It's going to start getting really important towards the end of the year. You want to have good feelings of being able to go into other team's barns and find ways to get wins. We did a good job at the end of the homestand there, and a pretty good start here. We're a good road team so far."
The Flames have been strong on home ice in the early going, picking up points in each of their first four games (3-0-1) at the venerable Saddledome. Calgary has yielded only six goals against in those four home games.
Like the Caps, the Flames were in action on the road on Sunday night, earning a 2-1 road win over the Ducks in Anaheim on the second night of a back-to-back journey to Southern California. A night earlier in Los Angeles, the Flames fell 4-1 to the Kings.
Mikael Backlund's third-period goal provided the margin of victory for the Flames in Anaheim, breaking a 1-1 tie near the midpoint of the final frame. Backlund's goal on a 2-on-1 rush made a winner of Cam Talbot in the Calgary nets, as he earned his first victory in a Flames sweater with a 29-save performance.
The Flames are one of only a few teams in the league that has played more road games (six) than the Caps (five) to this point in the season. But while Washington has enjoyed some early success on the road, Calgary lost four of its first five away from the Saddledome, before downing the Ducks.
Tuesday marks the Flames' third game in four nights and their fourth in six. Tuesday's tilt against the Caps is the start of a three-game homestand for Calgary; Florida and Winnipeg will follow Washington into town, but Saturday's "home" game against the Jets is actually an outdoor game in Regina, Sask. The Flames-Jets game is part of the NHL's Heritage Classic Series, and the contest will be played at Mosaic Stadium at Taylor Field in Regina.