After taking over sole possession of first place in the Pacific Division with a resounding 3-2 victory over the LA Kings on Saturday, the Ducks resume action tonight against the league’s top dog, the Washington Capitals.
To be the best, you have to beat the best, and tonight will be a measuring stick game against a team that was the first to reach 100 points this season. But even the league-leading Capitals haven’t been soaring as high as the Ducks since the Christmas break. At 25-4-2 (52 points), the Ducks have the top record in the NHL since the holiday break, while the Capitals rank second in that span at 23-7-2 (48 points).
Anaheim’s victory on Saturday was also its 11th in a row – a new franchise mark. In addition, the Ducks have also picked up eight straight victories at Honda Center, their longest home winning streak since Dec. 9, 2013 – Jan. 14, 2014 (10-0-0).
The Capitals, meanwhile, are 22-7-2 on the road this season, ranking first in the NHL in point percentage (.742), and second in road wins and points (46). Washington’s 22 victories are tied for the most road victories through a team’s first 31 road games in NHL history.
“This is a new animal altogether,” said Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau. “Looking at every game they play, if they don’t start out good, they decide they want to play in the second and third, and come out and win in the second and third. It’s a great challenge for us. They’re four lines deep – probably deeper than any team we’ve seen. They’re six defensemen deep and they have a great goaltender. I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
Boudreau says this is another opportunity to see where his team stacks up against the league’s elite. “We've faced some tough teams, but this is the best in the East,” he said. “We haven't seen what the top team does. We'll be able to judge ourselves after tonight's game.”
Of course, when you think of the Capitals, one name always comes to mind, and that’s captain and NHL goal-scorer extraordinaire Alex Ovechkin. The 30-year-old continues to be the league’s deadliest scorer, pacing the NHL in goals (41), power-play goals (16) and goals per 60 minutes (1.91).
Built like a freight train at 6-3, 239 pounds, Ovechkin also ranks tied for eighth in plus/minus (+22) and 11th in points (60) this season. Since entering the NHL in 2005-06, the “Great 8” has recorded 158 more goals, 39 more points, 36 more multi-goal games and 18 more game-winning goals than any other player. In fact, Ovechkin leads the NHL in goals since the 2001-02 season despite beginning his NHL career in 2005. Ovechkin brings 516 career goals, 955 points, 192 power-play goals, 86 game-winning goals, 4,154 shots and 106 multi-goal games to tonight's contest. In 11 career games against Anaheim, Ovechkin has 9-10—19 points.
Anaheim’s shutdown line of Andrew Cogliano, Ryan Kesler and Jakob Silfverberg is expected to go up against Washington’s top line. Ovechkin will flank the left wing with Nicklas Backstrom up the middle and T.J. Oshie on right wing.
Kesler says it’s about keeping the foot on the gas at all times. “We just have to play them hard,” he said. “Make them quit, make them give up. If we play them hard, and frustrate them, we'll be fine.”
Ovechkin was the subject of discussion following his hit on Boston Bruins defenseman Kevan Miller in a game on Saturday. Ovechkin was assessed a five-minute major for boarding, but was not given a hearing from the NHL’s Department of Player Safety. Miller did not return to the game, which the Capitals won in overtime, 2-1.
The Capitals lead the league in goals per game (3.22) and power-play percentage (23.8), the latter driven by Ovechkin and his patented one-timer from the left dot. The key, obviously, is to stay out of the penalty box, but if penalties occur, Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler and the rest of the penalty killers will have to face a five-headed monster on the other side.
“Their power play, since Ovechkin and Backstrom have been there, has always been at the top of the league,” Fowler said. “Backstrom is the playmaker and [Evgeny] Kuznetsov is one of the premiere passers in the league. And, you have Ovechkin, who, even though you know where he's going to be, with the other weapons they have, he's still hard to take away all the time. Great shooters. They have a lot of one-timers in different spots.”
John Gibson is expected to get the start for Anaheim, while Braden Holtby figures to get the nod for Washington. Gibson is part of a stellar one-two punch (with Frederik Andersen) for Anaheim - the lone NHL team to have two goaltenders currently in the league's top-10 for goals-against average this season. Gibson ranks second with a 2.09 GAA and Andersen is tied for sixth with a 2.21 GAA. Gibson currently leads rookies in GAA and shutouts (4), co-leads in wins (16) and ranks tied for third in save percentage (.918). Gibson also currently owns a career tying four-game winning streak (4-0-0).
Holtby, or “Holtbeast,” as he is often called, enters tonight’s game with a 40-8-3 record, two shutouts, a 2.24 GAA and .922 SV% in 52 games, becoming the fastest goaltender in NHL history to reach 40 wins in a season, according to Elias Sports Bureau.