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SKATE SHAVINGS - News and Notes from Caps' Morning Skate 12/04

Backstrom to miss a seventh straight game on Wednesday in LA, Caps defense has improved over last month, more

by Mike Vogel @VogsCaps / washingtoncaps.com

Coming Into Los Angeles - The Caps move into the back half - the Southern California portion - of their four-game road trip on Wednesday night when they make their seasonal visit to Los Angeles to tangle with the Kings.

Washington is coming in hot, 11-2-2 in its last 15, and with a four-game winning streak. On their most recent visit to Staples Center last Feb. 18, the Caps got out of town with a 3-2 victory, their first win here since 2005. That game was also the back half of a set of back-to-backs, but it followed a 5-2 loss to the Ducks in Anaheim a day earlier.

Although the Kings occupy the basement of the Pacific Division standings, they are 7-1-1 in their last nine games at home. With seven wins on home ice last month, Los Angeles established a franchise mark for most home wins in the month of November.

Video: Two-Man Advantage | December 4

Not Yet - Washington still awaits the return of center Nicklas Backstrom to its lineup, and that will not happen tonight. Caps coach Todd Reirden has been adamant about not placing Backstrom back in the lineup until he is 100 percent ready to play.

When Backstrom does return, we expect Lars Eller to slide back between wingers Carl Hagelin and Richard Panik on Washington's third line, a spot that is currently occupied by Travis Boyd. And given the way that Boyd and his wingers played in Tuesday's 5-2 win over the Sharks in San Jose the Caps don't need to rush Backstrom.

Hagelin stepped back into the lineup on Tuesday after missing 11 games with an upper body injury, and he showed no signs of rust. He was buzzing around the ice, creating havoc on the forecheck, keeping pucks alive in the attack zone, and helping to create chances for his linemates. That line was on the ice for one of Washington's five goals - John Carlson's game-winner late in the first period - but it created a number of good scoring chances.

"I think we're going to definitely need the depth of scoring tonight," says Caps coach Todd Reirden, "especially in a back-to-back. This is - I think - where you really feel the difficulties of missing a superstar, is in the second game of a situation like this. But we've done a great job with our depth scoring, and it continues to be a difference maker for us, and we need it to be again tonight."

Video: Todd Reirden | December 4

Tighten Up - In the wake of Tuesday night's 5-2 win over the Sharks, the Caps cracked the league's top 10 in goals against. Washington has allowed 2.86 goals against per game this season, tied for 10th in the NHL.

Although the Caps posted a franchise record 9-2-3 mark in October, they did so largely on the strength of their attack. Washington yielded an average of 3.28 goals per game in the season's first month, hardly the thing of which Stanley Cup dreams are made of. Over the last 15 games, they've shaved that figure to a more manageable 2.47 goals per game.

"It's still a work in progress for sure," says Reirden. "I think we're starting to develop some chemistry now with some pairs, starting to get some lines that are used to playing with one another, that can read off each other. It's difficult to defend in this league now, with the penalties and the face-off setups, and possession on certain sides of the ice. It's not as easy to defend as it once was.

"It takes work, and in addition to that it's a five-man job. And we've been fortunate that our goaltending has really, really stepped up when we have broken down, whether it's [Braden] Holtby or [Ilya] Samsonov in that situation. They've really been able to backstop us when we did make mistakes."

In The Nets - With Braden Holtby going on Tuesday in San Jose, Ilya Samsonov will be in net for the Caps on Wednesday in LA. The Russian rookie sparked the trip with a strong start on Saturday in Detroit, winning for the sixth time in his first eight starts in the league.

"I thought he did really well," said Reirden of his netminder's performance against the Wings. "Some things you're starting to see with him that are difference makers in his game is his ability to play the puck. He has really gotten better at that, and our team is trying to do a better job of forcing dumps, forcing bad plays where our goaltender can be more involved.

"Braden is so good playing the puck, and that's one of the challenges we had for Ilya, not just stopping the puck, but being able to get it and put it into the proper player's hands to be able to execute coming out of the [defensive] zone. That's an area that you see him really grow with, and you also see obviously the size and the presence that he has."

Samsonov has a 2.58 GAA and a .914 save pct. in his nine appearances on the season.

For the Kings, we're expecting to see veteran Jonathan Quick, who is 7-10-1 on the season with a 3.36 GAA and an .882 save pct. Quick has had the last two games off as Jack Campbell started those contests - a home game against Winnipeg and a road game at Anaheim - the second time this season that Quick has had two straight starts off.

Like the rest of his team, Quick has struggled on the road where he is 1-7-0 in eight starts this season with a 4.46 GAA and an .846 save pct. At home, he has been much better, posting a 6-3-1 mark with a 2.50 GAA and a .912 save pct.

Lifetime against the Capitals, Quick is 9-3-0 with a 2.55 GAA and a .910 save pct. in a dozen appearances.

All Lined Up - Here is a look at how we expect the Capitals and the Kings to look on Wednesday night when they get together for the first of two meetings this season:

 

WASHINGTON

Forwards

8-Ovechkin, 92-Kuznetsov, 43-Wilson

13-Vrana, 20-Eller, 77-Oshie

62-Hagelin, 72-Boyd, 14-Panik

28-Leipsic, 26-Dowd, 21-Hathaway

Defensemen

6-Kempny, 74-Carlson

9-Orlov, 3-Jensen

34-Siegenthaler, 33-Gudas

Goaltenders

30-Samsonov

70-Holtby

Injuries

19-Backstrom (upper body)

Scratches

None

 

LOS ANGELES

Forwards

19-Iafallo, 11-Kopitar, 23-Brown

77-Carter, 10-Amadio, 73-Toffoli

9-Kempe, 46-Lizotte, 51-Wagner

13-Clifford, 74-Prokhorkin, 22-Lewis

Defensemen

6-Ryan, 8-Doughty

15-Hutton, 3-Roy

56-MacDermid, 26-Walker

Goaltenders

32-Quick

36-Campbell

Injuries

24-Forbort (upper body)

27-Martinez (upper body)

Scratches

2-Ladue

64-Luff

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