Nov. 6 vs. Arizona Coyotes at Capital One Arena
Time: 7:00 p.m.
TV: NBC Sports Washington
Radio: 106.7 The Fan, Capitals Radio 24/7
Arizona Coyotes 2-12-1
Washington Capitals 7-6-1
The Capitals return home on Monday night to host the Arizona Coyotes at Capital One Arena in the front end of Washington's fourth set of back-to-back games this season. Immediately after Monday's game with the Coyotes, the Caps leave for Buffalo for a Tuesday night date with the Sabres. Monday's game against Arizona also finally ends Washington's season-opening streak of six straight one-game stops at home.
For the first time since Oct. 9, the Caps find themselves going into a game with a modest two-game winning streak. Washington downed the Islanders by a 4-3 count on Thursday and followed that up with a 3-2 road victory over the Bruins in Boston on Saturday night.
In both games, the Caps scored the game's first goal and never trailed at any point. More importantly, both wins were achieved against Eastern Conference rivals who figure to be in the playoff hunt. Those four-point games against divisional and conference foes mean more to the Caps now that they've come back toward the middle of the pack after two straight seasons with the best regular season record in the NHL.
"From where we sit right now," says Caps defenseman John Carlson, "every game matters. But certainly these divisional and conference opponents, they're huge. Especially with the way the playoffs work nowadays, and how the seeding goes, those are four-point games within your conference that you don't want to be looking back and saying, 'Oh, I wish we just came out a little faster or a little better or had a better finish,' or something like that. With where we're at right now, those games really matter and every point that we can get is big, especially against those opponents."
Tom Wilson scored twice and Braden Holtby made 31 saves to secure his seventh victory of the season. Alex Ovechkin added a single goal, and - although it was nicked for a goal late in the game - the Caps' penalty killing unit executed three important and clutch kills in the third period of Saturday's win over the Bruins to preserve the late lead.
With the Caps up by a 3-1 score, Washington defenseman Brooks Orpik was boxed for a double minor for hi-sticking Boston's David Pastrnak in the first minute of the third period. But not only did the Caps kill off that double minor with aplomb, they generated as many scoring chances of their own during those four minutes. Most notably, Wilson was denied a hat trick when Boston goalie Tuukka Rask rejected his shorthanded breakaway bid.
"I think had they scored there, earlier in the period, it would have given them a lot of life," says caps center Lars Eller. "Killing that four minutes off, that helped us a lot. It was a good night for the [penalty kill]."
Boston also burned its timeout with 85 seconds remaining in that advantage, leaving it without one later in the third period when Rask was pulled for an extra attacker.
"I thought the big kill right off the bat on Orpik, that really shortened the game on [the Bruins," says Caps coach Barry Trotz. "When you get the crowd booing and all that, that was a really good job. And then at the end, we got heavy commitment from all the guys, so, job well done by everybody. Another road game, another road victory, so we've just got to sort of just building at home if we can."
And that's the next task. Gaining traction at home has been tricky given the disjointed schedule in the season's first month, but the Caps play eight of their next 12 games on home ice from now to the end of November, and they'll play 12 of their next 16 games in the District between now and mid-December.
"It's just about collecting points," says Trotz. We're not looking at anything other than the game in front of us, and the team that's in front of us that we're playing that night, and the teams that we're trying to catch. That's all our focus has been on.
"I think it has been really good, and our team is starting to understand that there are ways that we have to play and if we do, we're going to be successful."
Arizona has had a rugged start to the season, to say the least. The Coyotes have won two of their last four games, but those are their only two victories on the season and neither was achieved in regulation.
The Coyotes have had a difficult early season schedule; they are making their second trip to the Eastern Time Zone for a three-game road trip that opens up here in the District on Monday. Fifteen games into the season, the Coyotes rank 28th in the league in goals per game and 30th in the circuit in goals against.
And in a real oddity, the Coyotes have scored the game's first goal in 11 of their 15 games this season, more than any other team in the league. But the Coyotes are just 2-8-1 in the games in which they've scored first. For the sake of contrast, the Caps have scored the game's first goal in five of their 14 games, and they've forged a 4-0-1 record in those contests.
Of the 38 goals the Coyotes have managed to score on the season to date, rookie forward Clayton Keller has accounted for 10 of them. Keller leads all NHL rookies in goals - no other freshman has more than six - and with 16 points on the season, he also leads the rookie scoring chase. Keller has had a hand in 42.1% of Arizona's offense this season.
Arizona has had four different starting goaltenders this season. The Coyotes acquired veteran goalie Antti Raanta from the New York Rangers over the summer, a deal that also delivered center Derek Stepan to Arizona. All four netminders have struggled, but Raanta has been the best of the bunch. He earned his first victory of the season and first as a Coyote with a 36-save outing on Saturday in Glendale, helping Arizona to its first home win of the season. The Coyotes prevailed in a shootout over Carolina in that one, 2-1.
Arizona is also starting a set of back-to-back games on Monday. The Coyotes travel to Pittsburgh to face the Penguins on Tuesday, and the three-game road trip ends in St. Louis on Thursday. Then, believe it or not, the Coyotes head back to Arizona for a one-game homestand of their own. Following that game is a four-game road trip in which the Coyotes will make a third trip to the Eastern Time Zone, with Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto as the last three stops on the journey.