March 11 vs. Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center
Time: 10:30 p.m.
Radio: 104.7 FM and Capitals Radio 24/7
Washington Capitals 44-15-7
Los Angeles Kings 32-28-6
Washington's three-game California road trip continues on Saturday night in the southern portion of the state, as the Caps take on the Kings in Los Angeles. The Caps opened their trip on Thursday night in San Jose with a 4-2 loss to the Sharks.
Thursday's contest against the Sharks was Washington's 10th since it returned from its bye week last month. Despite winning five of six at one point during that stretch, the Caps own a mundane 5-4-1 record since getting back to work.
Slow starts were rarely a problem in the first half of the campaign, but they've been a bit of an issue in those last 10 games. Too frequently, the Caps start slowly and then pour it on over the final 40, only to find out it's not enough to get the two points at this time of the season.
"I think this time of the season, everything just tightens up," says veteran Caps winger Daniel Winnik. "Everyone is playing for three-point games and the five-on-five scoring is a lot harder to come by. There aren't as many breaks. Right now, it's just not going in for us."
Video: Niskanen talks with Vogel after Friday's practice
Washington actually had a strong start against the Sharks, with Winnik netting the game's first goal on his line's second shift of the night. The Caps had other glorious chances to add to that lead in the first, too. T. J. Oshie, Jay Beagle and Evgeny Kuznetsov all could have had first-period lamplighters as well. Washington might have outplayed the Sharks by a bit at five-on-five, but it was special teams that ultimately did the Caps in.
"I've been in the Shark Tank, and they've been a quick start team," says Caps coach Barry Trotz. "They usually have you hemmed in your end, but I thought we managed that pretty well. The five-on-five game was fine, but they hit on the power play today."
San Jose was officially 2-for-4 on the power play, as Washington was nicked for as many as two power play goals in the same game for just the eight time in its last 151 regular season games.
"They got a few power play goals and they got a few kills, and we didn't," says Washington winger Brett Connolly, who netted the other Caps goal in the game. "That's the story of the game, I think. We didn't really give them too much at five-on-five. Just special teams; they score a couple of power play goals and we didn't, and that's the game."
Having suffered the rare indignity of two straight regulation losses for just the third time in the last two seasons and the first time since Nov. 26-Dec. 1, the Caps now prepare to face a desperate Los Angeles team that is just on the outside of the playoff picture. Washington is also seeking to avoid dropping three in a row in regulation for the first time in more than two years, since a three-game slide from Feb. 22-27, 2015.
Video: Trotz talks after Friday's practice in Los Angeles
"We haven't lost two in a row for a while, in the last two years," says Trotz. "So it does seem a little awkward. But this group is great; they're great at responding. Now we'll have to go into L.A. and see if we can respond."
"Obviously it's going to be big," says Caps goalie Braden Holtby, who was nicked for three or more goals while suffereing consecutive losses for the first time since Nov. 26-Dec. 1. "That's two [losses] in a row for us and that's not the way we want to go.
"With the [penalty kill], we want to get scored on [with] goals that are strange or aren't by the book or are from luck or whatever, not goals that are on plays that we know they run. So that's the part that us as players have to do a better job executing."
Finding a way to get two points from the Kings in Los Angeles is no easy task, either. It's been more than a decade since the Caps tasted victory at Staples Center. The Capitals are 0-4-2 in their last six visits here, since Brian Sutherby supplied the game-winning goal in a 3-2 Washington win in Los Angeles on Dec. 14, 2005.
"We'll have a practice [on Friday] and go over a few things," says Connolly. "We don't want to lose three in a row, so the L.A. game is a big game. [Thursday] was a big game, and we were ready for it, we just didn't get the win. Now we need to go into L.A. and beat a good hockey team."
Washington's visit to the City of Angels is the middle match of a seven-game homestand for the Kings. Los Angeles has taken two of three on the homestand to date, with both victories requiring more than 60 minutes of work. The Kings downed the Maple Leafs in a shootout and lost a one-goal decision to Vancouver before taking down the Nashville Predators in a 3-2 overtime decision on Thursday night.
Newly acquired veteran and future Hockey Hall of Famer Jarome Iginla netted his first two goals as a member of the Kings in Thursday's win, scoring both on the power play and netting the game-winner in overtime. The victory moved Los Angeles to within a point of St. Louis for the final Western Conference wild card playoff berth, but the Blues do own a game in hand on the Kings.
Los Angeles hosts the Blues on Monday night at Staples Center in the last meeting between the two teams this season.
The Kings are hoping Iginla can help boost a dormant offense that currently ranks 24th in the league in goals per game. Los Angeles has few issues at the other end of the ice where it ranks fifth in goals against, and recently got goaltender Jonathan Quick back in action after a lengthy absence because of a groin injury suffered on opening night way back in October.
Quick has won three of four starts (3-0-1) and has helped the Kings earn at least a point in every game he has started since returning, posting a 2.42 GAA and a .918 save pct. in the process.