Washington hosts the Arizona Coyotes at Verizon Center on Saturday night in the finale of a three-game homestand. The Caps are facing the Coyotes for the first time this season, and the first time in nearly a calendar year.
Having won the first two games of the homestand, the Caps are aiming for a clean sweep on Saturday against Arizona. If they're able to get two points tonight from the Coyotes, the Capitals will establish a franchise record for most victories in a single season.
The 1985-86 Capitals established the current franchise mark of 30 home wins, forging a 30-8-2 home mark while playing their home games at the old Capital Centre out in Landover, Md. The 2009-10 edition of the Capitals matched that mark, posting a 30-6-5 record at Verizon Center.
Coming into tonight's game against the Coyotes, the Caps have earned at least a point in 24 of their last 26 games (22-2-2) at Verizon Center.
For the first time in nine games, the Caps are facing an opponent with no playoff hopes, a team that's just playing out the string. But the Coyotes are well-coached and competitive, and they've downed a few teams recently who needed points far more than Arizona does.
"They're obviously in a different realm than we are right now in terms of how they're feeling when they come to the rink," says Caps defenseman John Carlson of the Coyotes. "But a lot of guys have jobs to fight for and a lot of guys want to stick around or showcase themselves to someone else at this point.
"So it's just going to be a different type of game. This is our first game against a team that has been eliminated [from postseason contention], so we'll just have to read and react. I think that we've got to make sure that it doesn't matter what's going on in the game, we've got to dictate the way that we play. And if they come out flying and are the best they've played all year, we're going to have to handle that. If they want to try to play a different game, we can't succumb to what they're trying to do. We have to worry about ourselves."
Washington is facing the Coyotes for the first time in nearly a calendar year. Arizona's team has changed its complexion a fair amount since then - the Coyotes are currently featuring six skaters who have made their NHL debuts in 2016-17 - so the Caps haven't had a first-hand look at them in their current iteration.
Video: Coach Barry Trotz talks before matchup with Arizona
"Anytime you play a team from the West," says Caps coach Barry Trotz, "you don't know them. You really don't know them. They've got a lot of guys. I can tell you this: with a team that's young - look at the skill level of some of the teams in the East, like Toronto - Toronto is a way better team than they were the first 20 games of the year. Those young guys have produced.
"You look at Arizona, I think they've got the second most production of rookies in the league. They are very fast, they have skill and their high draft choices are highly skilled and very quick, and that makes them dangerous. A lot of them have almost a whole year of experience now because we're in the seventies in terms of games played. They're good hockey players and they're a dangerous type of team because of the fact that they're improving and they're getting more confident as the year has gone on."
Washington embarks upon a five-game road trip this week, its longest in several seasons. Once they return from that nine-day journey, the Caps will have just two home games remaining on the season.
Familiar Face - After carrying just a dozen forwards for the last few games, the Caps recalled forward Paul Carey from AHL Hershey on Friday. With the aforementioned five-game road trip looming just ahead, the Caps will need to bring a spare forward along on that journey. They're already carrying two extra blueliners in Taylor Chorney and Nate Schmidt.
Carey has accrued more recalls (six) than NHL games played (four) this season, but he is in the midst of a stellar campaign with the Bears, where he has 24 goals and 55 points in 55 games. He has registered career high totals in every offensive category at the AHL level this season, and he ranks third on the team and fifth in the league in scoring. He is tied for eighth in the AHL in goals, but is only three goals shy of the league leader in that department.
Video: Capitals recall Paul Carey from the Hershey Bears
Born on the exact same day as Caps defenseman Karl Alzner, Carey has played in a total of 30 career NHL contests compared to Alzner. Washington is likely to flesh out its roster just a bit for the homestretch, and perhaps even more so in the playoffs when roster limits and salary cap constrictions are no longer in place.
Carey was brought in with no guarantees, however.
"Hershey has gone to Newfoundland, and we're heading on a long trip," explains Trotz. "So we're going to carry an extra guy. To be honest with you, we're going to through the trip and see where we are. That's the plan, but all plans are subject to change at any time."
In The Nets - Braden Holtby goes for his 39th win of the season tonight against the Coyotes, Holtby is vying to become just the third goaltender in NHL history to record three straight seasons with 40 or more victories.
When starting on one day's rest this season - as he will be doing tonight against Arizona - Holtby is 22-3-3 with six of his eight shutouts, a 1.74 GAA and a .935 save pct. He is 2-0-0 lifetime against Arizona with a 1.46 GAA and a .941 save pct.
Mike Smith is expected to get the net for the Coyotes on Saturday in Washington. In his last nine starts, Smith is 2-5-2 with a 2.78 GAA and a .917 save pct. Over the course of his NHL career, Smith is 2-7-1 with a shutout, a 3.72 GAA and an .879 save pct.
All Lined Up - The Caps take on the Arizona Coyotes in the finale of a three-game homestand on Saturday night at Verizon Center. Here's how we expect the two teams to look 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, 18-Dvorak, 17-Vrbata
29-Perlini, 48-Martinook, 8-Rieder
88-McGinn, 13-Holland, 10-Duclair
67-Crouse, 86-Jooris, 36-Fischer
15-Richardson (broken tibia/fibula)
19-Doan (lower body)
44-Connauton (upper body)
63-Bolland (lower body)
91-Burmistrov (upper body)