Anaheim's much-needed victory over the Buffalo Sabres two nights ago couldn't have come at a better time, and here's why. Not only were the Ducks in dire need of a win on what was - at the time - a fruitless road trip, they had only produced four goals over the first three games. An enigmatic Ducks offense roared to life with five goals that night at KeyBank Center, two of which off the stick of Corey Perry, who was mired in a lengthy scoring drought himself.
The win gave them life and rejuvenated their spirits as they made their way to the nation's capital where tonight they face a beast unlike any other this season. The Washington Capitals are winning. A lot. In dominating fashion.
Since the 2017 calendar year began, the Caps have four 5-0 victories, a 6-0 win, and they've scored at least five goals in 13 of their past 19 games. They're an offensive juggernaut that's also nearly unbeatable at Verizon Center, having won 11 in a row on home ice, most recently a 6-3 triumph over the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday night. The streak is the third longest run of its kind in franchise history. The Capitals won 13 straight home games in 2009-10 and posted a 12-game home winning streak last season. Furthermore, the Capitals could make history tonight. They've scored five or more goals in 10 consecutive home games, becoming the first NHL team to do so since the 1970-71 Boston Bruins (11 consecutive home games). During the streak, Washington has outscored opponents 56-15 and posted five shutouts.
"In order for teams to have those types of numbers, they need a solid defensive core and their goalie has to be making big stops for them in key situations," said Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle. "That goes hand in hand."
Washington's No. 1 goaltender Braden Holtby enters tonight's game with a 13-0-0 record in his last 15 games with four shutouts, a 1.87 goals-against average and .930 save percentage. The 27-year-old has allowed two goals or fewer in 28 of his 42 games this season and Washington has posted a 22-2-4 record in those games. As for the club's defense, the Caps lead the NHL in goals-against per game (2.05) and five-on-five goals against (68), and have allowed two goals or fewer 35 times this season (29-1-5 in those games).
"We've used the first few months of the year to really build our team. Not really focused on results and the standings, but more on what we need to do as a group," said Holtby. "We're getting some scoring and some luck. We have to realize we need to be prepared for when it doesn't go our way. We have a mature group in here and we're keeping a level head with where we're at."
The Ducks, meanwhile, enter tonight's game with the fewest goals allowed (21) in the league since Christmas (shootout goals excluded) and have held opponents to two goals or less in 14 of the last 17 games (31 GA total, shootout goals excluded). In addition, the Ducks have held teams without a power-play goal in 11 of the last 14 games.
"It's going to show where we are as a team and where we have to go from here," said Perry, on tonight's game. "It's going to be a good test."
Capitals forward Andre Burakovsky will be out of the lineup until mid- to late March because of a hand injury suffered during the club's game on Thursday night against Detroit. Burakovsky blocked a slap shot off the stick of Red Wings defenseman Brendan Smith with less than five minutes remaining in the first period and didn't return. Burakovsky had 29 points (11g/18a) in 52 games at the time of the injury, which also happened to be his on his 22nd birthday.
Will the Lines Stick?
Carlyle's line juggling on Thursday night appeared to reinvigorate the Ducks, and they responded with five goals against Buffalo. The Ducks didn't skate this morning, so it remains to be seen whether those new-look combinations carry over into the game tonight.
"We were happy we scored the goals," said Carlyle. "It hopefully stimulated some people. Now the decision is whether you stick with it or go back to what they were before. You don't do them just to do them. There's always a purpose."
Ducks right wing Jakob Silfverberg adds, "I've been playing with [Cogliano] and [Kesler] for as long as I can remember, but at the same time it could be good to get some fresh energy. All the lines had good jump. We looked fresh. It was a change that came at a good time."
NOTE: Sami Vatanen skated yesterday for the first time since he suffered a knee injury on February 3 against the Florida Panthers. The 25-year-old didn't take part in any drills yesterday, but instead opted for a conditioning skate. Vatanen has missed the last three games and isn't expected to play tonight.
Potential Line Combinations