After a much needed off day on Thursday, the Capitals are back to work on Friday when they take on the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena in Glendale, Ariz. The Caps started their season-long journey of five games in four time zones spread over eight nights by sweeping a back-to-back set of games in Minnesota and Colorado, respectively.
Friday's game against the Coyotes is the Caps' final game against a Western Conference opponent for the 2016-17 regular season. The Caps own a 19-7-1 record against Western opponents this season.
These two teams met in Washington less than a week ago with the Caps prevailing by a 4-1 count. The Caps dominated much of the game's first 40 minutes that night, but were only able to forge a 1-0 lead. They took that narrow advantage into the third, only to have Arizona tie the game near the midway mark of the third.
Ex-Coyote Daniel Winnik put the Caps back on top when he scored what would prove to be the game-winner shortly thereafter, and Washington was able to safely salt away the game from there.
Video: Alzner talks before Friday's matchup with Arizona
"We were playing with structure," says Caps defenseman Karl Alzner of Washington's win over Arizona last Saturday. "And we had a good forecheck, to take away some of the things that they really enjoy doing in order to break the puck out, and we had some success. If we take away what their goalie can do by stopping the puck and getting it moved out of the zone, then we can get our forecheck going."
Five-On-Five - Somewhat uncharacteristically, the Capitals have been outscored by a 6-3 count at five-on-five in the first two games of their current road trip. Washington's special teams have been stellar in delivering wins in both of those games, but the Caps know they need to be more buttoned down at five-on-five going forward.
Video: TJ Oshie talks prior to Friday's matchup with Arizona
"We're taking a few chances right now to create some offense and it's biting us a little bit," says Alzner. "We also played Colorado, which is a pretty darned fast team that does a good job in transition. It didn't really seem to matter where [Nathan] MacKinnon was on the ice, he could beat everybody up the ice except or maybe [Evgeny Kuznetsov].
"So we've just got to be a little more responsible. We want to put pucks in the back of the net, but we've got to make sure that we're not sacrificing what the foundation of this team is."
The Capitals have allowed the fewest five-on-five goals against at just 106 in 75 games this season, and they rank third in the NHL with 167 goals scored at five-on-five.
Video: Coach Trotz talks before Friday's #CapsYotes matchup
"We've got to work from the inside out a little bit more," says Caps coach Barry Trotz. "We're staying on the perimeter a little bit; we've got to get inside first and then work our way from there. Just get a few more pucks [to the net], the shot mentality, the net front mentality, the creating of tips and second [chances], and zone time. I think we're always good on zone time and possession, but just forcing the issue to create a little bit more of the dirty goals.
"We can create the real creative ones offensively, we can do it off the rush and we can do it different ways, but in the playoffs we're not going to get all of those odd-man rushes. We're not going to get maybe as much zone time, you're not going to get a lot of space. So you've got to fight for your space. If you get to the inside first, then you're already there, rather than starting on the outside and trying to get inside. It doesn't work that way. So just being really diligent and working from the inside out."
In The Nets - Philipp Grubauer picked up his 11th win of the season on Wednesday in Denver, but we expect Braden Holtby to be back in the crease for the Caps on Friday in Arizona. Holtby's last start was on Tuesday in Minnesota when he earned a 5-4 victory over the Wild for his 40th triumph of the season. With that win, he became just the third goaltender in NHL history to earn 40 or more wins in three consecutive seasons. He joins Martin Brodeur and Evgeni Nabokov with that distinction.
Lifetime against the Coyotes, Holtby is 3-0-0 in three starts with a 1.31 GAA and a .950 save pct.
Mike Smith has handled the lion's share of the netminding chores for the Coyotes for several seasons now, and the Caps faced him in Washington last Saturday night. But Smith is under the weather and won't play tonight, so the Capitals will face Louis Domingue instead.
Domingue is 9-15-1 on the season with a 3.08 GAA and a .906 save pct. He started and lost his lone career game against the Capitals in Washington last season, a 3-2 loss at Verizon Center on Feb. 22, 2016. He has a 3.07 GAA and a .912 save pct. in that extremely small sample size against the Caps.
All Lined Up - The Caps take on the Arizona Coyotes in the middle match of a five-game road trip on Friday night at Gila River Arena. Here's how we expect the Capitals to look for that contest and an uneducated guess at how the Coyotes might lineup for that contest:
8-Ovechkin, 19-Backstrom, 77-Oshie
90-Johansson, 92-Kuznetsov, 14-Williams
10-Connolly, 20-Eller, 65-Burakovsky
26-Winnik, 83-Beagle, 43-Wilson
16-Domi, 91-Burmistrov, 10-Duclair
29-Perlini, 48-Martinook, 8-Rieder
14-Keller, 18-Dvorak, 17-Vrbata
67-Crouse, 13-Holland, 19-Doan
15-Richardson (broken tibia/fibula)
44-Connauton (upper body)
63-Bolland (lower body)