ARLINGTON, Va. -- The Washington Capitals have earned points in 15 of their past 16 games and their 11-1-4 record since Dec. 4 is the best in the NHL.
Despite such success, the Capitals are still fourth in the Metropolitan Division entering their game against the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday.
After Washington's 3-2 overtime loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday, coach Barry Trotz scoffed at the notion the Capitals have not gained any ground in their division. On Dec. 4, the Capitals, then 10-10-4, trailed the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins by 12 points each. Those deficits have since shrunken to five and four, respectively. The New York Rangers, 12-2-0 in their past 14 games, also remain entrenched in the divisional race.
"I don't think we're frustrated by it," defenseman Matt Niskanen said. "By us being just so-so early, that's why it's so important to recognize how important every game is. Early we were just so-so, and it takes this good of a streak just to get back within a couple points. With three-point games every night, I think it's harder to catch teams, so when you fall behind it's harder to make up."
In the past 16 games, the Capitals have benefitted from an even-strength PDO (a statistic that measures shooting and save percentage and is used as a proxy for "puck luck") of 104.1, second-highest in the League according to war-on-ice.com. That suggests a regression is likely at some point.
The Capitals collected three of a possible four points against the Toronto Maple Leafs and Flyers in back-to-back road games on Wednesday and Thursday, but Trotz was not pleased with their overall effort.
Detroit has won three of four and will sternly test Washington in the first game of a three-game homestand at Verizon Center.
"We need to play better," Trotz said. "I don't like the way we played in the last two games, but we got three out of four points. I don't want to be greedy or anything, but I've seen this movie play a while and we need to ramp our game up again because our game has slipped here."
Neither forward Henrik Zetterberg nor defenseman Kyle Quincey participated in Detroit's morning skate Saturday, but coach Mike Babcock said both will play.
Here are the projected lineups:
Darren Helm – Pavel Datsyuk – Tomas Tatar
Gustav Nyquist – Henrik Zetterberg – Justin Abdelkader
Drew Miller – Riley Sheahan – Teemu Pulkkinen
Joakim Andersson - Luke Glendening – Stephen Weiss
Jonathan Ericsson – Niklas Kronwall
Kyle Quincey – Danny DeKeyser
Brendan Smith – Xavier Ouellet
Scratched: Daniel Cleary, Brian Lashoff
Injured: Johan Franzen (upper body), Tomas Jurco (back), Jakub Kindl (elbow), Jonas Gustavsson (shoulder)
Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas Backstrom – Andre Burakovsky
Marcus Johansson – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Troy Brouwer
Brooks Laich – Eric Fehr – Joel Ward
Jason Chimera – Jay Beagle – Tom Wilson
Brooks Orpik – John Carlson
Karl Alzner – Matt Niskanen
Jack Hillen – Mike Green
Scratched: Michael Latta, Aaron Volpatti, Steve Oleksy
Injured: Dmitry Orlov (wrist), John Erskine (neck surgery)
Status report: Pulkkinen, the American Hockey League's leading goal-scorer with 20, will play for the Red Wings on Saturday. … The Capitals assigned goaltender Justin Peters to the Hershey Bears on a conditioning loan Friday. Peters, who hasn't appeared in an NHL game since Nov. 29, had a 24-save shutout for the Bears on Friday. He is scheduled to start for Hershey on Sunday before returning to Washington. Copley, who has made 11 AHL appearances this season, will back up Holtby. … The Capitals recalled Oleksy and reassigned defenseman Nate Schmidt on Saturday. Schmidt will play two games with the Bears this weekend and return next week.
Who's hot: Abdelkader has two goals and five points in his past two games. … Holtby will make his 18th straight start; he is 11-2-4 with a 2.21 goals-against average and .928 save percentage in the previous 17.