Tonight marks the last of the Capitals' six straight one-game homestands at Capital One Arena to start the 2017-18 season, the first time it's happened in franchise history. The home cooking will be a bit more consistent going forward; tonight's game also starts a stretch in which Washington will play eight of 12 at home over the rest of November, and the Caps also play 12 of the next 16 here in the District, moving into mid-December.
Tighten Up - Last season, the Caps surrendered the fewest goals in a season in franchise history, and they led the NHL in fewest goals against. But Washington got off to a rugged start in that regard this season, giving up three or more goals in seven of its first 10 games of 2017-18.
Video: Two-Man Advantage | November 6
Recently - and somewhat quietly - the Caps have been more tightly buttoned down in that regard. Over their last four games, the Capitals have permitted a total of nine goals, but only six of them at even strength.
"I think we're playing a little bit tighter as five guys," says Caps defenseman Brooks Orpik. "We were getting too much separation between the forwards and the defensemen, and that's something that we looked at and watched a lot of video on. It's probably still a work in progress there. And the goaltending - it always helps out when they're playing as well as they are."
"It's just more commitment and more detail in our two-way game," says Caps coach Barry Trotz, "and not as much cheat as we had. I think we're puck managing just a little bit better and making better decisions. When all that comes together, goals against are going to come down."
Video: Rinkside Update | Madison Bowey | November 6
Primary Problem - Early in the 2017-18 regular season, the Capitals were getting only primary scoring and were somewhat in need of more secondary scoring. But over the last handful of games, the situation has been reversed. Production from the Capitals' top six has gone somewhat dry while the bottom six - and in particular the Lars Eller line - has been providing the lion's share of Washington's offense.
Alex Ovechkin scored one of Washington's goals on Saturday in Boston, his first goal in six games. Nicklas Backstrom is without a point in five straight games; he has never gone as many as six straight games without a point in his NHL career. T.J. Oshie has a single assist in his last six games, and Jakub Vrana has one goal in his last eight games.
Backstrom and linemates Oshie and Vrana typically draw a tough assignment from night to night; they're generally tasked with going up against one of the opposition's top two lines, and
"I think it would help," says Trotz when asked if he needs more scoring from the Backstrom line, in addition to the defensive responsibilities. "I think that's where a guy like Vrana could come in. I have a lot of trust in Backy and Osh. They're going to produce offense; I'm not too worried about that. They do get some tough [defensive] assignments. They usually have a 1A or a 1B and they have had some tough assignments.
"For the most part, you'd like more offense from everybody, and [you'd like] everybody to be strong defensively. But we've had some tough assignments. We've had a lot of games.
Video: Barry Trotz Pregame | November 6
Quick Coyotes - Although the Coyotes come to town with the league's worst record at 2-12-1, they've won two of their last four games, and they've scored the game's first goal in 11 of their 15 games to date this season, tied for the most in the NHL.
"[Arizona] is a very dangerous team," says Trotz. "In some ways, it's a little bit of a trap game, because you look at their record and you go, 'That's not a very good record.' But at the same time, they haven't had a goaltender that's been able to give them the saves, and now Raanta is back, and I think they've won two of their last four games, and Raanta has played in two of them.
"They look confident. They've got dynamic people like [Clayton] Keller. Christian Dvorak is exceptionally talented [Brendan] Perlini is a really talented kid. [Oliver] Ekman-Larsson is - to me - sort of the Nick Lidstrom of the west that no one knows about. They've got [Alex] Goligoski and [Jason] Demers on the back end, so they've got some really good pieces.
"Their top six can absolutely fly. They played Carolina [Saturday] night, and watching the game, they made Carolina look slow in parts of that game. And I don't think Carolina is slow at all. I think Carolina makes us look slow sometimes. So this team is very dangerous, and I think they're starting to get some confidence. When those two things come together, you've got to make sure that you're detailed, you've got to make sure that you work, and as I said to the guys - we talked about it this orening - it's a little bit of a trap game because you don't respect their record, but you should respect the tremendous talents that they have on that hockey team."
One of those tremendous talents is Keller, the Coyotes first-round pick (seventh overall) in the 2016 NHL Draft. He had a couple of assists in three late-season games with Arizona in 2016-17, his first foray into the NHL waters, but he has really blossomed in the first month of this season.
Keller leads all NHL rookies with 10 goals and 16 points, and he has had a hand in more than 40 percent of all of Arizona's offense this season.
"He is a fast, talented player," says Trotz of Keller. "He is a new age player, a high skill set and seems to have a very high hockey IQ. That whole line has got lots of speed and they're pretty dynamic. [Coyotes center Derek] Stepan is a real reliable, smart hockey player who's got two young guys who can fly on the wings."
According to Elias Sports Bureau, Keller is one of only seven active players who reached the double-digit goal level in 18 or fewer games at the start of his career, and three of them will be on the ice tonight in Washington.
The list: Ovechkin (14 games), Patrik Laine (14), Evgeni Malkin (16), Alex Chiasson (16), Tomas Hertl (17), Keller (18) and Alexander Radulov (18).
In The Nets - For the first time this season, Braden Holtby will make three straight starts for the Capitals. Holtby has won each of his last three starts, seeing an average of 37 shots a night in those games. Aiming for his eighth win of the season and the 199th of his NHL career, Holtby is 7-3-0 on the season with a 2.70 GAA and a .921 save pct.
Lifetime against Arizona, Holtby is 3-1-0 in four career starts, with a 2.54 GAA and a .905 save pct.
Monday's game is also the front end of a set of back-to-backs for both teams. The Caps are in Buffalo on Tuesday, and the Coyotes are in Pittsburgh. Scott Wedgewood gets the net tonight for Arizona. A third-round choice of the New Jersey Devils in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, Wedgewood was obtained in a trade with the Devils on Oct. 28. He is 1-1-0 in two starts this season, with a 3.41 GAA and a .900 save pct.
Lifetime in the NHL, Wedgewood is 3-2-1 in six appearances with a 1.98 GAA and a .935 save pct. He has one previous appearance against Washington; Wedgewood was in goal for the Caps' 1-0 overtime win (courtesy of a John Carlson overtime goal) on March 25, 2016 in Newark. He stopped 25 of 26 shots against the Caps that night.
All Lined Up - Here's how we expect the Caps and the Coyotes to look on Monday night when they take to the ice at Capital One Arena for the Yotes' lone visit to the District this season:
13-Vrana, 19-Backstrom, 77-Oshie
8-Ovechkin, 92-Kuznetsov, 25-Smith-Pelly
18-Stephenson, 20-Eller, 43-Wilson
79-Walker, 83-Beagle, 39-Chiasson
2-Niskanen (upper body, week-to-week)
10-Connolly (upper body)
65-Burakovsky (upper body, week-to-week)
91-Graovac (upper body, week-to-week)
11-Perlini, 21-Stepan, 9-Keller
16-Domi, 18-Dvorak, 36-Fischer
48-Martinook, 15-Richardson, 25-Cousins
34-Rinaldo, 29-Kempe, 8-Rieder
4-Hjalmarsson (upper body)