Oct. 24 vs. Edmonton Oilers at Rogers Place
Time: 9:00 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7, 106.7 FAN
Washington Capitals 7-2-2
Edmonton Oilers 7-2-1
Two of the league's four division leaders and hottest teams will tangle on Thursday night in Edmonton. The Caps play the middle match of a five-game road trip against the Oilers in Alberta's capital city.
Thursday's game against the Oilers also starts the Caps' second set of back-to-back games in 2019-20; Washington will take on the Canucks in Vancouver on Friday.
Washington rolls into Edmonton with a four-game winning streak, and having won five of its first six road games of the season for the first time in franchise history. After opening their trip with a 5-3 win over the Blackhawks in Chicago on Sunday, the Caps downed the Flames by the same score on Tuesday night in Calgary.
The Caps have scored the game's first goal in three straight games and in eight of 11 this season. They struggled with some third period leads early in the season, but they've buttoned things down better defensively over the life of their current winning streak. Washington has nurtured one-goal leads into the third period of each of its last three games, and though there were some anxious moments in the final frame in Chicago, they've finished each game with a regulation win, doing so without trailing at any point.
Entering Thursday's game with the Oilers, the Caps have not trailed in their last 214 minutes and 53 seconds of hockey. In 11 games this season, Washington has spent a total of 341 minutes and 18 seconds playing with the lead, tops among all teams in the NHL.
"I think we've come out and got the lead in the majority of games this year," says Caps defenseman John Carlson. "It's a good change of pace from years past, I think. We could have done a better job early on of finishing games, but the guys are just doing their job out there. Maybe we put a little more onus on a good start, but whatever we're doing seems like a good formula."
Braden Holtby has won each of his last three starts, and he was strong in the Washington nets once again on Tuesday. Calgary's first goal came on a power play, its second goal came on a rebound just four seconds after the expiration of a Flames power play, and the last goal game in "garbage time," with less than half a minute remaining in the game and the Caps up by three goals at the time. Early in the game, when the contest was still up for grabs, Holtby was excellent.
"He was really solid early on," says Caps coach Todd Reirden of Holtby. "We know [the Flames] are a shot mentality team. They shot 15 pucks on our net [in the first]. Not a ton of scoring chances, but nevertheless a lot of volume. He was really good at controlling most of his rebounds. He was aggressive, he was confident. I really liked [his game]. That's three in a row for him, and now going into a back-to-back, we'll see both [goalies], and it will be a good opportunity to get Samsonov back in there as well."
Edmonton started the season with five straight victories, and it earned at least a point in eight of its first nine (7-1-1). The Oilers are coming into Thursday's game on the heels of their first set of consecutive setbacks (0-1-1) this season, and Edmonton was blanked in both of those losses, going scoreless on a two-game road trip.
The Oilers dropped a 1-0 shootout decision to the Jets in Winnipeg on Saturday, claiming a point thanks to a 23-save shutout from veteran Mike Smith. Edmonton then fell 3-0 to the Wild in Minnesota on Tuesday.
Three forwards have accounted for two-thirds of Edmonton's offense on the young season. James Neal has nine goals in 10 games, ranking second in the league in that category. Leon Draisaitl (six) and Connor McDavid (five) have also been hot in the early going, but there has been a dearth of scoring from the Oilers' bottom six, and Edmonton enters Thursday's game lugging a scoreless drought of 152:38 in length. After pouring 21 pucks into opposing nets in their first five games, the Oilers' output has slowed to a trickle; they've netted nine goals in five games since.
Edmonton has had good goaltending in the first month of the 2019-20 season. Smith, signed as a free agent over the summer, is 3-2-1 with a shutout, a 2.15 GAA and a .925 save pct. Incumbent netminder Mikko Koskinen has been even better, going 4-0-0 with a 2.21 GAA and a .934 save pct.
Thursday's game against Washington is the start of a two-game homestand for the Oilers, who will host the Florida Panthers here on Saturday.