March 6 vs. Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center
Time: 10:00 p.m.
TV: NBC Sports Washington
Radio: FAN 106.7, Capitals Radio 24/7
Washington Capitals 37-21-7
Anaheim Ducks 33-21-12
Two days after an uplifting 5-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2018 Stadium Series game in Annapolis on Saturday, the Capitals head all the way to the other side of the continent for their annual California road trip. The three-game tour begins on Tuesday night in Anaheim where the Caps face the Ducks.
Video: Barry Trotz | March 5
"I felt pretty good [Sunday] and I think the players did, too," says Caps coach Barry Trotz of his team's impressive showing under the stars. "It was a big stage, it had a different feel, even though it [was] a regular season game. So when you have a win and you play well like that I think you do get a lot of energy. I thought guys had smiles on their faces and they worked hard, and hopefully we can take some of that energy out west."
In recent seasons, the California trip has been a mixed bag for the Capitals. They dropped all three games in The Golden State last season, part of one of only two four-game regulation losing streaks they've endured over the four seasons in which Trotz has been behind the bench.
The Caps' best California journey this decade was in 2013-14, ironically the only season in the last 10 in which Washington did not make the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Caps went 2-0-1 in California that season - winning in San Jose for the first time in more than two decades - and putting themselves in position to make the playoffs with a good finish. But Washington went 4-3-3 the rest of the way after returning from the West Coast, missing a postseason berth by three points.
Washington's best California trip during the Trotz era came in his first season as bench boss when the Caps went 2-1-0. The last two games of that trip were part of the Mentors' Trip, and the Caps split those two games. The Capitals are 6-8-2 when playing out on the West Coast during this decade.
"You look at the teams that we're going to be playing," says Trotz, "and they're all sort of vying to be in the top three teams in their division or in the wild card spot, so you're going to get a lot of urgency. They're sort of built to play each other, especially Anaheim and L.A. because of the proximity. They're near each other and they've got some bite in their game when you play out west there."
Anaheim beat the Capitals by a 5-2 count here on March 12 of last season, ending a string of six straight Washington victories over the Ducks at Honda Center. Each of Anaheim's last two wins over Washington at Honda Center came via the shutout route, albeit nearly a decade and a half apart. The front half of those bookend blankings was a 3-0 loss at the hands of Ducks goalie J-S Giguere here on Dec. 11, 2002.
Video: Caps 365 | March 5
The Caps are hoping to use Saturday's Stadium Series victory - one of their best all-around performances of the season - as a springboard to success in this week's trip out west.
"I think it's the way we want to go into the road trip for sure," said Caps goalie Braden Holtby in the aftermath of Saturday's win over Toronto. "The California trip is always hard. You're always playing three good teams. You're going out, and obviously in California the weather, it's nice and it's one of those things that you have to do in order to have success is make sure you're pushing a little extra to focus on the games, focus on hockey.
"Obviously, road trips are great to build your team and build your camaraderie, but when it comes to the games you need to focus because those teams won't let you off the hook."
Heading into Monday's slate of NHL activity, the three California teams are running second, third and fourth in the League's Pacific Division, and they're separated by a total of just two points.
San Jose is second, 10 points behind Vegas with 79 points. Anaheim (78 points) and Los Angeles (77) are just behind the Sharks, and all three teams have 16 games remaining. As they embark upon this West Coast run, the Capitals have 81 points with 17 games remaining on their 2017-18 regular season slate.
Despite owning an extremely ordinary 10-8-4 record over their last 22 games, the Capitals still own the league's seventh-best record from a points percentage (.623) standpoint.
The Ducks have been decimated by injuries for much of this season, though they are quite close to peak health at the moment. Anaheim is currently without only Patrick Eaves, who has been sidelined with Guillain Barré syndrome for most of the season. Eaves has skated in only two games with the Ducks in 2017-18, both of them way back in October.
Anaheim has used 39 different players this season, and the Ducks have done an excellent job of battling their way through various injuries and maladies and staying within striking distance in the Western Conference playoff chase. The Ducks have been particularly hard hit up front; they've deployed 25 different forwards this season.
Coming into Tuesday night's game against the Capitals, the Ducks are 8-2-2 in their last dozen games. Anaheim's offensive attack has been dialed in of late, too. The Ducks have scored 15 goals in their last three games while going 2-0-1 during that stretch.
Since the conclusion of the League's All-Star break, the Ducks' best players have been carrying the lion's share of the offensive load. Rickard Rakell (9-9-18) leads the Ducks in scoring over those 16 games since the break. Corey Perry (6-8-14) and Ryan Getzlaf (3-11-14) have both produced at nearly a point per game pace since then, and Cam Fowler (2-9-11), Adam Henrique (6-4-10) and Ondrej Kase (5-4-9) have been productive as well.
Ducks goalie John Gibson has been probably the league's hottest goaltender since the midseason break, going 7-1-1 with a 1.73 GAA and a .947 save pct. over his last nine starts.
Anaheim is 2-0-1 on its current four-game homestand that concludes on Tuesday against the Caps. After losing the homestand opener in a shootout 6-5 to Edmonton, Ducks beat the Blue Jackets by a 4-2 count on Friday night and followed up with a 6-3 victory over Chicago on Sunday afternoon. The Ducks haven't lost in regulation on home ice since suffering a 6-2 setback to the Sharks on Jan. 21. Anaheim has earned at least a point in each of its last eight games (6-0-2) at Honda Center, and the Ducks are 18-9-5 at home this season.