ARLINGTON, Va. -- Part of what allowed the Washington Capitals to develop into Stanley Cup contenders several seasons ago was their distinct home-ice advantage. Between the 2008-09 and 2013-14 seasons, the Capitals’ 146 home victories were fourth-most in the NHL.
This season, however, Verizon Center has been too welcoming to opposing teams.
Washington has a 5-5-4 record at home, having lost four of its last five at Verizon Center entering its game Saturday against the Tampa Bay Lightning. It is the Capitals’ worst home start in seven years.
“I can’t put my finger on it,” Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “I’m sure there’s got to be a difference. I don’t know what it is.”
In terms of goals for and against at home and on the road, there isn’t a significant disparity. The Capitals have scored 42 goals at home and allowed 40 compared to 38 and 35 on the road, respectively.
Same goes for special teams. The Capitals’ power play is potent regardless of venue. T have converted 34.5 percent of their road power plays; no team has finished higher than 28.3 percent since at least 1997-98. The penalty killed has struggled, 25th at home and 27th on the road.
The Capitals are a better possession team at home with a 54.5 Fenwick percentage at even strength, but that doesn’t account for score effects.
So what could it be?
“It’s usually some kind of mentality difference, whether you’re more aggressive. Simpler on the road is the common one,” Niskanen said. “You hear people say, ‘We played a really smart road game.’ That usually means you didn’t have many pretty goals. You’re hard on the walls and you got a couple of traffic-type goals and played good defense and had good goaltending. … Maybe a little bit more of that at home, we need.”
A visit from the Lightning, who begin a five-game road trip Saturday, may be what the Capitals need to figure out their home woes. Washington has won 16 of its past 20 home games against Tampa Bay dating to the start of the 2007-08 season.
Here are the projected lineups:
Valtteri Filppula – Steven Stamkos – Ryan Callahan
Alex Killorn – Tyler Johnson – Nikita Kucherov
Jonathan Drouin – Cedric Paquette – Brett Connolly
Brenden Morrow – Brian Boyle – J.T. Brown
Victor Hedman – Anton Stralman
Matt Carle - Radko Gudas
Jason Garrison - Andrej Sustr
Scratched: Mark Barberio
Injured: Ondrej Palat (lower body)
Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas Backstrom – Tom Wilson
Marcus Johansson – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Troy Brouwer
Brooks Laich – Eric Fehr – Joel Ward
Andre Burakovsky – Michael Latta - Jay Beagle
Brooks Orpik – John Carlson
Karl Alzner – Matt Niskanen
Nate Schmidt – Mike Green
Scratched: Jason Chimera, Jack Hillen
Injured: Aaron Volpatti (upper body), Dmitry Orlov (wrist), John Erskine (neck surgery)
Status report: The Lightning didn’t hold a morning skate. … Burakovsky, a healthy scratch in Washington’s past three games, will return to the lineup Saturday. He will replace Chimera, who drew Trotz’s ire by committing an interference penalty that allowed Columbus Blue Jackets forward Nick Foligno to score the game-winning power-play goal in Columbus’ 3-2 overtime victory Thursday. Chimera has not been scratched since April 4, 2013. “You’ve got to learn from it,” Chimera said. “I think it’s embarrassing as a player when you get sat out. A player that’s played a long time, I think it’s embarrassing but you’ve got to move [on] from it. You can’t really let it get to you too much.” Trotz said that he intended to insert Burakovsky back into the lineup Saturday regardless of Chimera’s penalty.
Who’s hot: Kucherov scored both Lightning goals in Tampa Bay’s 2-1 victory against the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday. … Ovechkin and Stamkos have faced each other 30 times in regular-season play with Ovechkin scoring goals in 15 of those 30 games. According to Elias Sports Bureau, the Capitals have won each of the 15 games in which Ovechkin has scored with Stamkos in the lineup. Ovechkin scored twice in a 5-3 victory against the Lightning on Tuesday.