January 8 vs. Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center
Time: 8:00 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7, 106.7 FAN
Washington Capitals (20-7-8)
Minnesota Wild (20-10-2)
The Caps conclude a weekend set of back-to-back games on Saturday night when they face the Wild in Minnesota. Washington started its two-game weekend journey on Friday night in St. Louis, where it suffered a 5-1 setback at the hands of the Blues.
Playing for the first time after a Tuesday night postponement forced an unscheduled four-day break, the Caps came out with a lot of early energy on Friday in St. Louis. They had a number of high danger scoring chances early in the contest, but were only able to get one of them to drop.
Daniel Sprong staked the Caps to a 1-0 lead at 2:02 of the first, but that was as good as it got for the visitors. St. Louis struck for five unanswered goals to hand Washington its biggest losing margin of the season to date.
Washington led 13-3 in shot attempts at the first television timeout, and narrowly missed converting on three or four early chances. Once the Blues shook off their early doldrums, the Caps rued leaving all those early opportunities on the table. More than a third of Washington's 24 shots on net and nearly a third of its 41 shot attempts on the night came in the first 6 minutes and 38 seconds of the game.
St. Louis did not squander many of its chances. The Blues struck for three goals on just six shots on net in the second period, scoring twice in the final three minutes of the middle frame to separate themselves from the Capitals.
"I think we had those chances at the beginning," says Caps defenseman Nick Jensen. "They kind of diminished in the second, and then we tried to put a push on in the third, not quite as strong as we did in the first.
"I think we let their opportunities push us back a little bit. We kind of lost some wind every time we gave them an inch, they took that and turned it into a mile and that kind of sucked the wind out of our game. And we started forcing, being a little loose, not quite supporting. We wanted to be there, but we just weren't quite there. We were an inch away on everything, on [their] goals and on our opportunities."
Ilya Samsonov started in net for Washington on Friday, but he yielded the crease to Zach Fucale after being dented for four goals on just 16 shots, including three goals on six shots in the second. Fucale stopped all seven shots he faced in his third period relief effort.
Vitek Vanecek is on the trip with the Caps, but didn't dress on Friday because of non-COVID illness. Theoretically, any of the three could start on Saturday against the Wild.
Friday's loss was the Caps first this season by a margin of as many as four goals. After winning each of their first two games following the prolonged holiday break, the Caps have dropped their first two games of calendar 2022.
Although Washington's total of seven regulation losses is tied for the fewest in the League to date, the Caps find themselves embroiled in a tight, four-team chase for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division. The Caps and the New York Rangers are both a single point behind frontrunning Carolina, which holds three games in hand on both Washington and New York. On the strength of a 10-game winning streak, the Penguins have pulled to within three points of the Caps and Rangers.
While Washington is facing the prospect of making up four postponed games to date, Minnesota has had seven of its games postponed. The Wild has been playing in fits and starts since the middle of last month, frequently playing a game and then having one postponed, and then repeating the process.
Two of Minnesota's postponements are road games at Winnipeg and Edmonton, respectively, in the week ahead. After it faces the Capitals on Saturday, the Wild will be idle until Friday when it hosts Anaheim.
The Wild has played just four games in the last 26 days, including a Winter Classic loss to St. Louis a week ago at Target Field in Minneapolis,, and a 3-2 victory over the Bruins in Boston on Thursday night. The win over the Bruins came at a cost; star winger Kirill Kaprizov left the game after suffering an upper body injury from a Trent Frederic hit, and he isn't expected to play on Saturday against the Caps.
After putting together two four-game winning streaks early in the season, the Wild won eight straight before the schedule got wonky on them. Thursday's win in Beantown halted a five-game slide for the Wild, which went 27 days between victories.