March 22 vs. Detroit Red Wings at Little Caesars Arena
Time: 7:30 p.m.
TV: NBC Sports Network
Radio: 106.7 FM and Capitals Radio 24/7
Washington Capitals 42-24-7
Detroit Red Wings 27-35-11
With fewer than 10 games now remaining on their regular season schedule, the Capitals take to the road for a three-game trip against Original Six opponents. The first stop is Detroit, where the Caps will take on the Red Wings on Thursday night at Little Caesars Arena.
Video: Capitals Report | March 21
Winners of five of their last six games, the Caps depart for the Motor City on Wednesday with a four-point lead over second place Pittsburgh in the Metropolitan Division standings. Two nights after their four-game winning streak screeched to a halt in a 6-3 loss to the Flyers in Philadelphia, the Caps got back on the winning track with a 4-3 victory over the Dallas Stars in Washington on Tuesday.
"Obviously you always want to bounce back from games that don't go your way that you feel you could have had a better effort in, or whatever," says caps goalie Braden Holtby. "It's always good to have a challenge after that, too. A team like Dallas challenges you in different areas, because players like [Alexander] Radulov and [Jamie] Benn, those guys are the elite of the elite. They're hard guys to play against, and I think it was good for us to get right back in and play against those guys and get our confidence back."
Holtby stopped 24 shots to earn his second consecutive victory, his 31st of the season and just the second of his NHL career against the Stars. John Carlson scored the game-winner with 4:59 left, and Alex Ovechkin had the 100th three-point game of his NHL career with a goal and two assists. But one of the guys who had a big positive impact on the game for the Capitals did not record a point on Tuesday against Dallas.
Playing in his 382nd career game less than 10 days shy of his 24th birthday, Caps right wing Tom Wilson logged a single-game career high of 21:06 in ice time on Tuesday. He also led the Caps with nine hits in the game, and he tied for the team lead in shots on goal (six) and blocked shots (three).
Video: Barry Trotz | March 21
"He was all over the ice," says Caps coach Barry Trotz of Wilson. "He had physical impact, he had impact on top players like [John] Klingberg and Benn and people like that, he was good defensively, he made big plays, he had chances shorthanded - he was just a factor.
"You talk about [being] hard to play against, different guys have different ways that they can have effect on opponents. Obviously Tom can do that with the physical play, but he doesn't get enough credit for how he skates and moves around and does things, not only with the physical play. But once you establish that physical element, all of a sudden it's opening up things for his teammates, and he is getting opportunities. I just thought he was real good [Tuesday] night."
Now the Caps take to the road for three straight, seeking to protect that aforementioned lead in the standings. The Caps own an ordinary 16-15-5 road record this season with five away games yet to be played, and they have yet to string together more than two straight road wins this season.
Each of the three teams the Caps will face on this trip is well out of playoff contention, with nothing to play for but pride. That doesn't mean that the Caps can take any of them lightly, or that they can hope to win merely by showing up at the arena on time.
"At this time of year, it doesn't really matter where teams are in the standings," warns Trotz. "Obviously if you're playing someone who is right there with you [in the standings], it seems to have a little bit more of that playoff feel. But everybody is playing well.
"Detroit beat Philadelphia [on Tuesday]. What you find when you have teams coming in is they know the season is over in a couple of weeks and they're playing loose, they're playing for next year. They're trying to knock off some teams and to make your life a little bit more miserable to get some pleasure out of it. There is a danger, but at the same time, you've got to respect your opponent and go after them. I think you don't look at any opponent right now any differently if you can."
Detroit did beat Philadelphia on Tuesday, prevailing in a shootout to halt a 10-game skid (0-9-1). The Red Wings have not won in regulation in nearly a month, since a 3-1 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes in Detroit on Feb. 24. Over the course of their 10-game losing streak, the Red Wings were outscored by a combined total of 41-19. Detroit has won just six of its last 23 games (6-14-3).
Thursday's game is the third and final meeting between the Caps and the Wings this season. Washington took a 4-3 overtime decision from the Wings in Detroit on Oct. 20 in the Caps' first ever visit to Little Caesar's Arena. Last month in Washington, the Red Wings came away with a 5-4 overtime victory in a wild game. Detroit owned a 4-1 lead after 40 minutes of play in that game, but the Caps scored three times in the third period to force overtime.
The Red Wings' remarkable string of 25 straight playoff appearances came to an end last season, and now Detroit is on the verge of missing out on the postseason in successive campaigns for the first time since it endured a five-season drought from 1978-79 through 1982-83.