Dec. 4 vs. Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center
Time: 10:00 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7, 106.7 FAN
Washington Capitals 20-4-5
Los Angeles Kings 11-15-2
Washington's weeklong road trip continues on Wednesday when it takes on the Kings in Los Angeles. The game concludes a set of back-to-back games for the Capitals, who started the California portion of the trip with a solid 5-2 win over the Sharks in San Jose on Tuesday.
Tuesday's victory over the Sharks is Washington's fourth in a row and its 20th of the season, and the Caps now have points in five straight (4-0-1). The Caps have now authored three separate winning streaks of at least four games in length this season.
Braden Holtby stopped 23 shots to earn his 14th victory of the season, tied for the league lead with Winnipeg's Connor Hellebuyck. Holtby got all the offensive support he needed late in the first when John Carlson racked up three points on two shifts in a span of 181 seconds, setting up the first two and scoring what would prove to be the game-winner on a rocket of a blast from the right circle.
Three different Washington forward lines generated those three first period goals, and Garnet Hathaway and Jakub Vrana each enjoyed a two-goal night on Tuesday. Carl Hagelin returned to the lineup after an 11-game absence, and he gave Washington's bottom six a nice boost.
"It's so nice to have Hagelin back in there," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "The experience he has as a player, understanding the importance of game management, he is a winner for a reason. Just the little things he does, the intangibles that don't necessarily always show up on the scoresheet, but just how he understands the importance of the moment, the importance of the shift, and how to play the right way."
Washington hopes to get Nicklas Backstrom back in action on Wednesday against the Kings, but without a morning skate in Los Angeles, it may be a game time decision. Backstrom has been sidelined since Nov. 18, but was a full contact participant in Washington's Monday practice session in San Jose, and he also skated with his teammates at Tuesday's skate prior to the win over the Sharks.
"We'll see how he does [Wednesday] morning again," says Reirden. "He's getting closer and closer. I just don't like to say anything for sure until we see how the night goes for him, and how he is feeling [Wednesday] morning. Like I said, I'm not putting that player into the lineup until he is 100 percent. He is way too important for us. But when he is ready, he'll be in there, and we'll be happy to have him back."
Back-to-backs are tough in the NHL under any circumstances, but the Caps are as well-positioned as a team can hope to be on the second night of a back-to-back set. Tuesday's game was a relatively quick affair, and the Caps didn't take a single penalty, giving their shorthanded outfit a well-deserved night off. Washington has been among the most penalized teams in the league for most of the season.
Washington led by two goals after the first period and by four goals after the second, so Reirden was able to manage his lineup well and didn't tax any of his horses with undue amounts of ice time.
"If you're looking at a back-to-back scenario, you like it to work out like that, that's for certain," says Reirden. "We're able to convert on some chances, a couple of goals from Vrana again, and we really saw our depth tonight. Tonight was our depth, and we didn't have to overtax anybody. Now, we're going in with some fresh legs I'd say, for the most part, on a back-to-back."
Los Angeles occupies the basement of the Pacific Division, but some of their early season struggles seem road-related. The Kings are 9-5-1 at Staples Center, but are just 2-10-1 elsewhere this season.
The Kings went 7-5-2 in November, with all seven victories coming on home ice (7-1-1). Los Angeles will play 11 of its 15 December games on the road, where it is lugging a nine-game losing streak (0-8-1). The Kings' last road win came at Winnipeg on Oct. 22.
Special teams have also been problematic for the Kings through the first third of the season. Los Angeles has converted on just 11.6 of its extra man chances this season, ranking 29th in the league in that regard. The Kings' penalty killing outfit has been successful on 74.7 percent of its assignments this season, tied for 28th in the NHL.
Most recently, the Kings dropped a 4-2 decision to the Ducks in Anaheim on Monday.