Nov. 11 vs. Arizona Coyotes at Capital One Arena
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7, 106.7 FAN
Arizona Coyotes 9-6-2
Washington Capitals 13-2-3
The Caps conclude a quick two-game homestand when they host the Arizona Coyotes on Monday night. Washington brings a six-game winning streak into the contest; the Caps had a pair of seven-game streaks last season.
Washington started the homestand with a 5-2 win over the Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday night. The Caps jumped out to an early two-goal lead on tallies from Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson, respectively, both of whom scored before the first television timeout of the first frame. Vegas twice pulled to within a goal, but Washington never trailed. The victory over Vegas was the Caps' fifth straight at Capital One Arena, matching their longest home winning streak of last season.
Special teams have been a consistently strong area for the Caps all season, and special teams came to the fore for the Caps in the third against Vegas. After giving up a power-play goal late in the second period, Washington killed a pair of penalties early in the third to preserve what was a one-goal lead at the time. Soon after the Caps completed those kills, Nicklas Backstrom scored on a Washington power play, restoring the two-goal lead and taking some starch out of the Vegas comeback bid.
"They were definitely two key areas for us this summer that we looked at," says Caps coach Todd Reirden of Washington's special teams. "You're able to focus on some of the details in both areas that I think have improved. On particularly the penalty kill, the detail that has gone into it is at a much higher level than it was at last year, so they've been able to have success.
"The power play continues to have the same players, but if you look at the last dozen or so games, the entry level is much higher. That's the importance of making sure you have a good recovery plan, and making sure that you're attacking with speed and you're able to come up with a higher percentage of zone entries which is something that we had struggled with at the end of last year, and this year in the beginning of the year as well."
Special teams have been a critical component in many Washington wins this season, and a big factor in the team's sparkling 8-1-1 road record. The Caps have a sturdy 110.1 special teams index (power play success rate plus penalty kill success rate), and they rank among the top 10 in both special teams as the quarter mark of the season draws near. Washington's play at even strength is trending upward but is still a work in progress, but its special teams has been a driving force in the best start in franchise history.
"Those areas, that's important," says Reirden. "Those are challenges we talked about in the summer that we felt we could make improvements in. That's the same with our 5-on-5. Like I said, that's an ever-changing puzzle that you're trying to solve, in making sure that you can get all pieces up and running, and obviously we're still less than 20 games into the season. So there's lots of things to continue to work at, but I'd say thus far I've been happy with especially how the results have turned out for us."
The Caps played without winger Carl Hagelin in Saturday's win; he is day-to-day with an upper body injury. Sunday was an off day for Washington, so there's no word on his availability for Monday's game, but the Caps do expect to have winger Richard Panik back in the lineup for the Arizona game. Panik has been sidelined since suffering an upper body injury in an Oct. 16 game against Toronto, and he missed the last 10 games.
To help make room for Panik beneath the salary cap ceiling, the Caps placed defenseman Tyler Lewington on waivers on Sunday. As the team's seventh defenseman, Lewington had been idle since Michal Kempny returned to the lineup in mid-October. He played in five straight games from Oct. 8-16 before sitting out each of the last 10.
Six of the Caps' next nine games are at home, and the three road contests are all close by, in Philadelphia, Boston and New York. Should the need arise for a blueliner on short notice, the Caps would be able to get someone up from AHL Hershey and in the lineup. They can likely get away without having a seventh defenseman in town and on the roster until Nov. 29, the day after Thanksgiving. The Caps host the Lightning that afternoon, and they'll depart immediately afterwards for a weeklong, four-game road trip to Detroit and California.
If Lewington clears, he'll be reassigned to AHL Hershey. The Bears play six games between now and the Caps' late November departure on the aforementioned trip, so ideally he would be able to shake off some rust.
Arizona comes to town lugging a three-game losing streak (0-2-1). Most recently, the Coyotes fell 4-3 to Minnesota on Saturday night in Glendale. Arizona lost both games of a two-game homestand - losing another one-goal decision to Columbus on Thursday - and will be opening a three-game road trip on Monday in Washington.
After facing the Caps in DC, the Yotes head back west to St. Louis, where they'll face the Blues in the back half of a set of back-to-backs on Tuesday. The trip concludes on Thursday in Minnesota when the Coyotes play their third road game in four nights.