March 31 vs. Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena
Time: 10:00 p.m.
Radio: 104.7 FM and Capitals Radio 24/7
Washington Capitals 51-17-8
Arizona Coyotes 27-41-9
The Capitals' five-game road trip continues on Friday night in Glendale, Ariz. when they take on the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena in the middle match of the journey. Friday's game also concludes the Western Conference portion of Washington's schedule for the season and is the Caps' last game in the month of March.
Washington started its trip in fine fashion, taking a 5-4 overtime win from the Wild in Minnesota on Tuesday and downing the Avs in Denver by a 5-3 count a night later. That set of back-to-back wins is the Caps' fourth sweep of a set in 14 tries this season, and they've still got two more back-to-backs left to play over their final half dozen games of the season.
Although the Capitals came away with wins in each of the first two games of the trip and although they never trailed at any point in either contest, they did see multiple-goal leads shrink away in both contests.
"It seemed like the last two nights, once they tied the game up, we really started to bear down," says Caps defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. "We're a great team when we're really focused and we're making the right plays. I think the thing we have to focus on now is why we're letting up those 4-1 leads. And it's really just getting a little too casual.
"We just have to make sure that we stick with it. The reason we get those leads is because we're making the right plays; we're not doing anything individualistic. We just have to make sure that we're maintaining our game plan, and those leads will probably blow up even more [in our favor]."
The Caps will carry a six-game winning streak into their Friday game against the Coyotes, the fourth time this season Washington has managed a winning run of six or more straight wins. According to Elias Sports Bureau, this is the first time in franchise history the Caps have had as many six-game sprees in the same season.
Despite a 7-0-1 record in their last eight games, the Caps haven't been able to put much distance between themselves and the second-place Columbus Blue Jackets as the two teams battle it out for the Metropolitan Division title. Wednesday's win over Colorado puts the Caps five points ahead of the Jackets, but Columbus holds a game in hand. The Blue Jackets are 10-3-1 in the month of March while the Caps have gone 9-4-1 over the same span.
With 10 days remaining in the 2016-17 regular season, the Caps own the league's best record and they're in the drivers' seat for a second straight Presidents' Trophy. But as Caps coach Barry Trotz said before Wednesday's game in Denver, the Presidents' Trophy is not really on the Capitals' collective radar. Winning the rugged Metropolitan Division is, however.
"Not really," says Trotz when asked about the Presidents' Trophy. "That's not even in our mindset. Our mindset is to win the Metro. The teams that are in the Metro - Pittsburgh and Columbus - are good teams and we just want home ice advantage.
"Honestly, we haven't talked about [the Presidents' Trophy] once all year. It will just be a by product of trying to win our division and trying to give ourselves home ice advantage against some really good teams."
Between now and Sunday when they face the Jackets in Columbus, the Caps have only their game against Arizona on Friday. Meanwhile, the Blue Jackets set out on a two-game, back-to-back road trip on Thursday. They'll play at Carolina and at Chicago before the Capitals come into town this weekend.
A week ago or so, Trotz mentioned that all of Washington's remaining games were of the "must win" variety. He didn't mean it in an elimination sense, but until the Jackets falter or the Caps clinch the Metro, it should be full speed ahead for Washington. That means winning on Friday against Arizona.
And although the Coyotes are out of the playoff picture and are playing for pride, the Caps know from facing them last weekend that facing Arizona poses some challenges for them, challenges they can't take lightly. When the Caps came through the Phoenix area around this time last season, they were listless and suffered a 3-0 whitewashing to Mike Smith and the Desert Dogs.
"Our guys are mature enough about it," says Trotz. "We talk about it. We don't want to take anybody lightly. That's disrespectful; this league is way too good. It's just knowing how important these points are.
"A few days from now, we're going to Columbus and we're going to go nose-to-nose with Columbus. And I'd like to be in a position where we have a three-point cushion in Columbus, and [if] we go into Columbus and win that hockey game, then we'll put ourselves in a real good spot to secure the division.
"Now, we've got to take care of business before we even get there. That's why I say, 'Just win the day and stay focused on the task at hand.'"
Washington can ensure that it gets to Columbus with a cushion of at least three points with a win on Friday in Arizona.
The Caps saw Arizona at home last weekend, earning a 4-1 win over the Coyotes on the strength of a trio of third-period goals.
Arizona has dropped four straight games and seven of its last eight (1-6-1), and the Coyotes have been held to one or zero goals in six of those eight games. The Coyotes will miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the fifth consecutive season after advancing to the Western Conference final in 2012.
There is a new addition to the Arizona lineup since the Caps last faced the Coyotes. Coyotes signed Clayton Keller, their first-round choice (seventh overall) to an entry-level contract earlier this week. A center, Keller just finished his freshman season at Boston university. He made his NHL debut on Wednesday night against St. Louis.