January 1 vs. Ottawa Senators at Verizon Center
Time: 7:30 p.m.
Radio: WFED 1500 and Capitals Radio 24/7
Ottawa Senators 20-12-4
Washington Capitals 21-9-5
On Sunday night at Verizon Center, the Capitals will ring in the New Year of 2017 when they host the Ottawa Senators while finishing a set of back-to-back weekend games. The Caps closed out 2016 on Saturday afternoon in New Jersey with a convincing 6-2 victory over the Devils.
Sunday's game against the Sens also starts a three-game homestand for Washington, and it ends a rugged two-week stretch in which the Caps alternated single home games with single road games.
"For the most part, we play pretty well at home," says Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen, who notched his 200th career helper on Saturday afternoon in New Jersey. "It will be good to try to get on a little bit of a roll here.
"We've got to start by trying to win two in a row and hopefully things snowball from there. But I think our game is coming. We've still got a ways to go, but we're getting better and better at certain aspects, so hopefully we'll keep that going."
"Certain aspects" has to start with the Washington penalty killing outfit. The Caps have successfully killed off 25 straight shorthanded situations, and they were 9-for-9 on the kill in Saturday's game against the Devils. It's the first time in nearly a decade the Caps were able to author as many as nine successful kills in the same game; the last time they did so was on Jan. 26, 2007 in a game against the Hurricanes at Carolina, a game also notable because ex-Caps center Eric Fehr scored his first NHL goal that same night.
The Caps have gone six straight games without surrendering a power-play goal for the first time since a six-game run from Nov. 11-22, 2014 when they went 14-for-14. For the season, the Caps have climbed to third on the league's penalty killing ledger with a kill rate of 86.9%. It almost seems as though the Caps' killers are carrying their momentum from one game to the next.
"I think it can happen," says Niskanen. "You get in a rhythm with your trigger points and when you want to pressure and sharing clears and things like that - reading off each other - and I think you can have good stretches that carry over for a period of time, for sure."
In addition to the epic penalty kill performance, the Caps got a solid effort from Philipp Grubauer in goal. Starting for the first time in 15 nights, Grubauer raised his record to 6-1-1 on the season. He has permitted two or fewer goals in six of his eight starts this season.
Going into Saturday's date with the Devils, the Caps had gone 18 straight games without an offensive eruption of more than four goals. Despite spending so much of Saturday's game killing penalties, the Capitals found time to score six goals, all of them coming at even strength. All four lines were involved in the scoring, defensemen contributed five assists, and 13 of Washington's 18 skaters recorded at least a point while no player had more than two points.
"I think it's huge for the boys to get on the scoresheet," says Caps winger Andre Burakovsky. "We haven't really been able to score as many goals as we want to, and we've played in pretty tight games. We've won 1-0 or something like that in every game. So it's nice to get a game where we all could score a little bit, and now we've just got to take it from there."
Before Saturday's outburst, five of Washington's previous six games had been decided by a single goal.
For Ottawa, Sunday's game in Washington is actually the start of a set of home-and-home games with the Capitals. The Sens carried a four-game winning streak into their four-day holiday break at the end of last month, and they came out of the break with consecutive losses - to the Rangers in New York and on home ice to Detroit in a shootout on Thursday. After facing the Caps on Sunday, the Senators will enjoy their five-day "bye week" before starting a four-game homestand against the Capitals in Ottawa on Saturday.
Coming into Sunday's game, the Senators are tied for second place with Boston in the NHL's Atlantic Division, and Ottawa holds three games in hand on the Bruins. With first-year Sens coach Guy Boucher at the helm, Ottawa has been remarkably consistent from the outset of the season. The Sens have yet to go more than two straight games without earning a standings point.
Sunday's game between Washington and Ottawa is the first of three meetings between the league's two nation's capital teams this season. The Caps and Sens will play their entire season's series in a span of 24 days, as the Capitals visit Ottawa on Jan. 7 and 24.