March 28 vs. Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center
Time: 8:00 p.m.
Radio: 104.7 FM and Capitals Radio 24/7
Washington Capitals 49-17-8
Minnesota Wild 44-24-7
As the month of March nears its end, Washington sets out on its longest road trip of the 2016-17 season, and its longest continuous trip in more than six years. The Capitals' first stop is in St. Paul where they will take on the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday night.
Video: Rinkside Update: Evgeny Kuznetsov
Having finished off a sweep of a three-game homestand with Saturday's 4-1 victory over the Arizona Coyotes, the Caps will carry a four-game winning streak with them as they hit the road for five games in four different time zones over a span of eight nights. Saturday's win over the Coyotes was the Capitals' 31st on home ice this season, erasing a franchise standard that was established more than three decades ago, and matched once since.
Heading out onto the road with a four-game winning streak and a six-game points streak (5-0-1), is a good spot to be in, and the Caps will endeavor to take some of the good they achieved at home and apply it out on the road.
"I think we can take away some good play," says Caps right wing T.J. Oshie, "some stuff that we did, some stuff that we want to continue keeping in our game. It's always tougher on the road, going into other teams' barns, especially starting off with a back-to-back. But we're looking to improve obviously, from our last road trip."
With two weeks remaining in the regular season, the Caps hold a three-point lead over both Columbus and Pittsburgh for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division. Washington plays six of its final eight games on the road, starting with this five-game trip. The Caps are just 5-7-1 in their last 13 road games, and they're 18-14-3 away from Verizon Center this season. Washington hasn't won consecutive road games since mid-January, when it did so in St. Louis and Dallas, respectively, on its annual Mentors' Trip.
Video: Oshie, Holtby, Johansson talk before a five-game trip
"I think a lot of it was just how we were playing overall," says Oshie. "For whatever reason, we just haven't been that good on the road. It usually starts with the start, and then keeping your momentum. Obviously you're missing the crowd and you're missing your own bed, so you've got to find a way to keep momentum on your side and to keep going. Sometimes, the road wins are a little bit greasier than the home wins for whatever reason. So we've got to find a way to get some wins away from home."
When Washington and Minnesota met for the first time this season, they did so in the District just two weeks ago. The Caps ended a four-game slide that night with a 4-2 win over the Wild, and Washington has rolled to a 5-0-1 record in its last six games beginning with that game against Minnesota.
That game against the Wild two weeks ago was the Capitals' first upon returning home from an 0-3-0 California trip, the first time since 1999 Washington came home from a Golden State visit where it faced all three California teams without pulling any points. In doing so, the Capitals frittered away the lead they had built up in the Metropolitan Division standings. By the time they got back to the District, they were in a dead heat with Pittsburgh at 95 points, and Columbus was just a single point back.
Video: Trotz talks as the team heads out on the road
"We went out there [to California] and we didn't execute the way that we were and we weren't as sharp as we were," says Caps coach Barry Trotz. "I think the lesson is that this is a big road trip for us. We've worked all year to put ourselves in a position where this Metro Division and just getting the seeding in the Metro Division has taken a lot of effort, and a lot of good things have happened for us and for the teams that are chasing us.
"This is, to me, these last number of games here, this trip is crucial for us. You can put a stamp on the year. This is your moment. We're going on the road, make it happen. There is no reason why you can't. We're healthy, we've just got to play really well. It's plain and simple."
After the Caps laid that loss on the Wild in Washington, it marked just the third time all season that Minnesota had dropped consecutive contests in regulation. But the Wild has started spiraling in the wrong direction of late, winning just once since it last saw the Capitals two weeks ago.
Minnesota still harbored Presidents' Trophy possibilities at that time, but the Wild has now virtually locked itself into a second place position in the Central Division. The Wild has won only one of its last nine games (1-7-1), and it is just 3-10-1 in the month of March.
The Wild was a point up on Chicago for the top spot in the Central Division two weeks ago, but Minnesota has slipped to a distant second since, seven points behind the Blackhawks with seven games remaining. Most recently, the Wild dropped a 3-2 overtime decision to the Red Wings in Detroit on Sunday afternoon in its final visit ever to the Motor City's Joe Louis Arena.
In the loss to the Wings, the Wild played better than it had in many of its recent games, limited Detroit to just 19 shots on net. The Caps launched 40 shots at the Minnesota net in that March 14 game, but the Wild has not permitted more than 30 shots on goal in any of the seven games it has played since. The Wild has been outscored by a combined 43-31 this month, and five of its 11 losses in March have come by a single goal.
The Wild entered the NHL in 2000-01, and this marks Washington's 10th trip to Minnesota over that time frame. The Capitals have won only two of their previous nine visits to St. Paul, but those two victories came on their last two trips into town. The Caps' last visit to Minnesota came on Feb. 11, 2016, and Washington skated off with a 4-3 victory in that contest, fueled by an Alex Ovechkin hat trick.