Feb. 15 vs. Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena
Time: 10:00 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7, 106.7 FAN
Washington Capitals 37-15-5
Arizona Coyotes 28-24-8
Two nights after starting off their three-game road trip with an uplifting 3-2 comeback win in Colorado, the Caps play the middle match of the trip on Saturday night in Arizona against the Coyotes. Washington is seeking to string together consecutive victories for the first time since late last month when it book-ended the midseason break with road wins on each side of the respite.
Washington carries a four-game road winning streak into Saturday's game against the Coyotes, and its 21-6-1 road record is tops in the league this season. Thursday night's win in Colorado stopped the Caps' brief two-game slide; they lost each of the last two games of a four-game homestand in lopsided fashion before getting back on the beam against a red-hot Avalanche team in Denver.
Video: Capitals rally to defeat Avalanche
For most of the first half of that game against the Avs, the Caps seemed stuck in neutral. They fell down 2-0 in the first period and were limited to just two shots on net - one of them from the neutral zone - over the final 13-plus minutes of the first period. They scuffled in early minutes of the second as well, needing a trio of stellar stops from Braden Holtby to keep the game within reach.
Washington's power play has struggled as of late, but it had a good night in the Mile High City on Thursday. While the Caps were operating with an extra man, Nicklas Backstrom converted a Jakub Vrana feed at the back door midway through the middle period, cutting the deficit in half.
But in the back half of the frame, the Caps found themselves in some serious penalty killing peril, facing a 5-on-3 Colorado power play with both of their top two shorthanded centers - Nic Dowd and Lars Eller - sitting in the box.
Tom Wilson won a critical defensive-zone draw to gnaw away some clock, and Holtby made a couple of big stops on Nathan MacKinnon to get the Caps to the third period down only by a goal.
A couple minutes past the midway mark of the middle period, Wilson tipped home a John Carlson point shot to square the score at 2-2, and T. J. Oshie won it for Washington on a similar play with just 2:04 left, deflecting Nick Jensen's right point shot past ex-Caps goalie Philipp Grubauer to start Washington's road trip on a high note.
"They're really tough to play against," says Wilson of the Avalanche. "They're fast, they track you from behind, and if you turn it over, they're going back the other way a lot of times. We wanted to simplify a little bit after the first [period], and just make sure we were getting pucks into the offensive zone. And we kind of take over our game in the offensive zone, because we don't want the pucks in their best players' hands, so we did that for the most part. It feels good to beat a team that's playing pretty good hockey."
Washington has not lost three straight games in regulation at any point this season, but it trailed 2-1 heading into the third. With Alex Ovechkin (10:53), John Carlson (10:22) and Backstrom (10:01) all playing more than half of the third period and at least 23:56 on the night, the Caps were able to come back and get the two points, again making sure they don't go more than two games without collecting points.
Friday was an off day for the Capitals, giving that trio some time to recuperate from its heavy duty Thursrday night before Washington faces the Coyotes.
Arizona was the first team in the league to reach the 60-game mark for the season; the Yotes got to that plateau in a 3-2 loss to the Sens in Ottawa on Thursday night. That setback ended Arizona's four-game road journey with a 1-3-0 mark, and sent them home in the second wild card spot in the Western Conference standings, one point clear of the Winnipeg Jets, and with Nashville, Minnesota and Chicago lurking just behind as well.
The Coyotes are aiming for their first playoff berth since 2012, when they were still known as the Phoenix Coyotes and they lost the Western Conference final series to eventual Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles. Defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson is the only Arizona player still remaining on the roster from that '11-12 season, the only division winner in franchise history. The Coyotes won the Pacific Division title that season, their only division crown since they entered the NHL as the original edition of the Winnipeg Jets back in 1979-80, after the demise of the World Hockey Association.
Saturday's visit from the Capitals starts a quick two-game homestand for the Coyotes, who will host the New York Islanders in a Monday matinee match. The Yotes won four straight games around the turn of the calendar - from Dec. 31-Jan. 7 - outscoring the opposition by a combined total of 18-7 in the process. But they've sputtered since, winning just three of their last 15 games (3-8-4).