Nov. 18 vs. Minnesota Wild at Capital One Arena
Time: 7:30 p.m.
TV: NBC Sports Washington
Radio: 106.7 The Fan, Capitals Radio 24/7
Minnesota Wild 9-7-2
Washington Capitals 10-9-1
After coming home empty-handed from a rugged two-game road trip out west, the Capitals head home to start a four-game homestand against the Minnesota Wild on Saturday night in Washington. Saturday's game is also the beginning of a stretch in which the Capitals will play nine of their next 10 games at Capital One Arena, spending 23 of 24 nights in their own beds in the process.
With Saturday's game, the Caps will also be one-quarter of the way through the 2017-18 NHL regular season.
When it embarked on a two-game road trip to Nashville and Colorado earlier this week, Washington had won five of its previous six games. But it got off to poor starts in each of those road games, right from the first shift of both contests. The Caps never led at any point of either game, and they spent virtually all of the 120 minutes chasing those games.
Nineteen seconds into the Nashville game, the Caps went shorthanded, the first of four minor penalties whistled against Washington in the first period of that game. By the time the Caps recorded their first shot on net of the game at 17:09 of the first period, the Preds had 16 shots of their own, and a 2-0 lead. The Caps rallied to tie the game briefly in the second, but lost 6-3.
Seventeen seconds into the Colorado game, the Caps were down a goal when Gabriel Landeskog scored the first of his three goals on the night. The Caps gave up a goal in the last minute of all three periods of Thursday's game against the Avs, though Washington was able to wipe one of those goals away with a successful coach's challenge. Ultimately, that didn't matter in a 6-2 setback.
"The black and white is that we didn't execute plays that were drawn up pretty simple on the opening face-offs," says Caps right wing Tom Wilson. "So both games, someone was where they shouldn't be or whatever. It breaks down, and it gives [the opposition] some momentum and some life and some speed. They happen to score a goal, and you're chasing the game from there."
In their first five games this season, the Caps went 3-1-1 while outscoring opponents by a combined 7-2 count in the first 20 minutes of those games. But since then, first periods have proven to be much more problematic. Over their last 15 games, the Caps are 7-8-0, and they've been outscored by a combined 16-8 in the first period. In seven of their last 15 games, the Capitals have surrendered two or more goals in the game's first 20 minutes.
"Obviously with our starts, I think we just need to be more detailed early," says Washington winger Brett Connolly. "We're kind of shooting ourselves in the foot. It's tough coming back in this league; everybody is good. We know that. So when we're going behind early in games, it's tough to be chasing."
"I just don't like last two games," says Caps coach Barry Trotz. "For whatever reason we have had poor starts. We haven't been ready out of the gates. I don't think we've worked as hard with our battles. That's how I judge if we're going - if there is a puck, who is going to get it?"
It's been more than a dozen years since the Caps last lost two straight games in regulation while also surrendering six or more goals in both games.
"Our group prides itself in the last couple of years at responding after a bad effort, and not compounding a bad effort," says Trotz. "We've been very good at that this year even, and the last couple of years. That's the first time it's happened."
Thursday's loss to the Avs was the Caps' third straight setback on the road, where Washington has dipped to 5-6-1 on the season. The Caps have won three straight at home, but they know they'll have to play much better than recent performances to take advantage of their upcoming home prevalent schedule.
"We need everybody being engaged every night," says Connolly. "We can't have passengers. We need to play as a team and right now we're not doing that, especially on this road trip.
"I think it's a good time for guys to look in the mirror and [ask themselves], 'Am I doing as much as I can to help this team win?' I think it starts there. And then next game, hopefully guys realize that this is not the right way to play a hockey game. Hopefully we can figure that out sooner rather than later."
"All we can do is, when we get back home," says Trotz, "is lick our wounds and see if can take on the Wild and bring a much better effort."
The Wild is coming into town hot. Minnesota got off to a bit of a slow start, in part because of a patch of sporadic scheduling that had them playing fewer games than most clubs early in the season. While the Caps were playing six games in 10 nights at the season's outset, Minnesota played its first four games over a much more leisurely 16 days, and it won only one of its first five games (1-2-2).
But the Wild has heated up of late, and it is bringing a four-game winning streak with it to Washington for this one-game road journey. The first three of those four straight victories were all achieved via the shutout route.
In its most recent game, the Wild erased a three-goal deficit to overcome Nashville on Thursday night in St. Paul, halting the Preds' winning streak at five. Minnesota fell down 3-0 to Nashville, but rallied with four goals in a span of just 5:49 in the final seven minutes of the third period. Jason Zucker scored the go-ahead and game-winning goal with 2:55 left in regulation.
Wild netminder Devan Dubnyk authored all three of those consecutive whitewashes, marking the second time in his NHL career that he has spun three straight shutouts; he also reeled off three in a row in October of 2016.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, only two other goaltenders have had multiple three-shutout runs in the NHL's expansion era, which dates back to the beginning of the 1967-68 season. Brian Elliott, now of the Philadelphia Flyers, had three straight shutouts on three separate occasions during his days backstopping the St. Louis Blues. Elliott achieved the feat in March of 2012, April of 2013 and March of 2016.
Florida netminder Roberto Luongo put down three straight clean sheets twice during his days with the Vancouver Canucks, doing so in November of both 2007 and 2008.