March 12 vs. Winnipeg Jets at Capital One Arena
Time: 7:00 p.m.
TV: NBC Sports Washington
Radio: 106.7 FM and Capitals Radio 24/7
Winnipeg Jets 41-18-9
Washington Capitals 38-23-7
Back from their three-game journey through California, the Caps make another in a series of quick stops home to host the Winnipeg Jets on Monday. The game is the fourth in a series of six straight one-game "homestands" for the Capitals at Capital One Arena, and it will conclude the 20-17-18 season's series between Washington and Winnipeg.
While there are certainly no easy games in the modern NHL, Monday's game against the Jets puts a coda on a difficult five-game stretch for the Capitals against playoff caliber opponents. Although they head into Monday's game all even at 2-2 during that span, the Caps are coming in off a strong 2-0 shutout win over the Sharks in San Jose on Saturday afternoon.
Philipp Grubauer stopped all 24 shots he faced in recording his second shutout of the season and earning his first shutout victory on the road in the NHL. Nicklas Backstrom's 17th goal of the season proved to be the game-winner and Lars Eller added an empty-netter late. The win was the Caps' first in regulation in San Jose since Oct. 30, 1993.
Starting consecutive games for the first time since Nov. 12-15, 2016, Grubauer earned his ninth win of the season and continued his hot hand dating back to late November. Over his last 19 games (14 starts), Grubauer is 9-3-2 with a pair of shutouts, a 2.08 GAA, and a .945 save pct. He has permitted two or fewer goals in 11 of his last 14 starts.
After surrendering 38 goals over a 10-game span from Jan. 25-Feb. 17 that ended with an ugly 7-1 loss in Chicago, the Caps have cut that amount by nearly nearly a third, to just 26 goals over the subsequent 10-game stretch. They've also limited the opposition to 30 or fewer shots against over five straight games for the first time this season.
"I think since the Chicago game, it's been a little bit of a change in our [defensive] zone," says Grubauer. "It wasn't the best game in Chicago, but we learned from our mistakes. I think we played the right way in our [defensive] zone. In Anaheim, a couple of bouncy goals could have gone either way. L.A. was pretty good. Today was really good, too. So we're doing the right things. Moving forward, we've got to keep doing the same thing and keep playing that way."
Excluding empty-netters, the Caps surrendered only five goals in the three games they played in California.
"I think we put a lot more emphasis on that as a group," says Caps coach Barry Trotz of his team's recent improvements in their own end. "Getting some practice time takes the stink out of the air. Sometimes when you don't practice, you pick up a lot of odor in your game. We had a few practices and we've been hammering on that. Hopefully, we've cleared the air there."
Getting two points from the Sharks on Saturday was critical for the Caps, who have yet to go as many as three games without claiming a point this season. The victory enabled Washington to return home still in first place in the Metropolitan Division, and it raises the Caps' record to 6-0-0 this season in games following consecutive regulation losses.
"It's hard to be satisfied with your game when you're not scoring and winning," says Backstrom. "That's something we all are as hockey players - we want to win. We weren't happy with our situation, but it's nice that we turned it around tonight and got two points. That was huge."
Backstrom scored the game-winner in his first game on a newly built trio with Brett Connolly and Andre Burakovsky. Connolly made the perfect feed to set up the goal, finding Backstrom just as he hopped over the boards.
"It was good," says Backstrom of his new linemates. "We had some [offensive] zone time. But I feel like the biggest thing for us as a team, we played together, we played for each other and we played a tight hockey game; we played good defensiyely. I think actually that is the good thing we're taking from this game. Obviously we had some really good [scoring] chances, too, but we played like a team. That's the biggest thing for us right now."
Winnipeg comes to Washington on the back half of a six-game road trip. The Jets won the first three games of the journey before suffering a 2-1 setback at the hands of the Flyers in Philadelphia on Saturday afternoon. Winnipeg concludes its trip on Tuesday in Nashville, one of two games it has remaining against the Predators. The Jets are currently six points behind the Preds in the NHL's Central Division standings.
Firmly on target for their first playoff appearance in the last three seasons and just the third in the franchise's 18-season history, the Jets have maintained their position in the standings despite a spate of injuries that has cost them more than 200 man-games thus far this season.
The Jets boast a positive goal differential of at least plus-13 in each of the three periods this season. They've outscored the opposition by 76-55 in the first, 73-60 in the second and 74-55 in the third period of their games this season. Winnipeg ranks fourth in the league in goals scored (3.31) and fifth in goals against per game (2.60) this season.
Monday's contest also pits the league's two top goal scorers in Washington's Alex Ovechkin and Winnipeg's Patrik Laine. Both players have 40 goals this season, but Laine is in the midst of a torrid surge as he hits town. Laine has scored a goal in five straight games and in 10 of his last 11, and he had a pair of assists in the only game in which he did not score during that stretch. He has totaled 15 goals and 21 points over that 11-game spree.