CAPITALS (4-1-2) at CANUCKS (4-3-0)
TV: CSN-DC, SNV
VANCOUVER -- The Vancouver Canucks and Washington Capitals play Sunday as two teams headed in opposite directions defensively under new coaches so far this season.
The Capitals come into Vancouver after a 3-1 win against the Calgary Flames on Saturday, and have held the opposition under 30 shots in all seven games under coach Barry Trotz. After finishing 27th and 28th in the NHL in shots allowed the past two seasons, Washington sits third in the League after giving up 23.7 shots per game, almost 10 fewer than their 33.5 shots against average last season.
"You can see the changes in the team," said Canucks defenseman Dan Hamhuis, who played his first six seasons under Trotz with the Nashville Predators. "They are checking really well, they are certainly focusing a lot on defense. I credit that to Barry because that's the type of game he preached in Nashville when I was there. He's a very detailed coach and he plays a tough system."
So how much better are the Capitals defensively under Trotz?
It took almost half of last season to get to seven games holding an opponent under 30 shots. By the time they did so on Dec. 29, the Capitals had already surrendered 40-plus shots nine times.
Washington hasn't had a seven-game streak of holding opponents under 30 shots in four years. If they keep the Canucks under 30 to make it eight straight, it will match the Capitals' longest such streak since 2007-08. It will also be only the third time Washington has done so for eight straight games since Alex Ovechkin debuted in 2005.
That won't be easy against a Vancouver team that hired coach Willie Desjardins with a promise to play a more offensive, up-tempo style.
"We’re going back-to-back here. We have to make sure we manage the puck really well. That will be real key for us," Trotz said. "I think we used our whole bench pretty well last night, so we should be fine. Just got to make sure we have the right mentality, make sure we get off to a decent start, just manage the puck in the right areas against a very good team. Got to stay out of the box. I’ve seen the Sedins work their magic on the power play for a number of years."
So far the Canucks have delivered on offense with the League's second best shot average at 33.7 per game while matching the Capitals for seventh place in the League with 3.14 goals per game.
But it's come at the expense of defense. Vancouver is 18th in shots allowed at 30.6 and 26th in average goals allowed at 3.43, which is almost double the Capitals' 1.86 goal-against average so far.
Vancouver's recent three-game road trip started and ended with lopsided losses, including a 7-3 against the Colorado Avalanche on Friday in which the Canucks were outshot 48-29.
After years of priding themselves on a deep defensive core, the Canucks are struggling to keep the puck out of their net and are low on outside options to help clean things up in their own end.
Defenseman Luca Sbisa, acquired from the Anaheim Ducks as part of the trade for Ryan Kesler in the summer, finished minus-5 against the Avalanche. He has become a focal point for defensive angst among local fans, even though his early possession numbers are better than veterans Hamhuis and Kevin Bieksa so far.
"I can tell you I didn't have a good sleep that night," Sbisa said of the game in Colorado. "That's a record low for me in my career. I wasn't happy with my game. Up to that point I was playing some pretty good hockey and that was just one of those nights where I wasn't ready, I played bad, no excuses. I have to bounce back [Sunday]."
Staying out of the penalty box will be an important part of that against a Capitals power play ranked third in the League at 28 percent, but the Canucks average 14 penalty minutes per game, the fourth-highest total.
"A lot of our troubles come out of our discipline," Desjardins said.
Here are the projected lineups:
Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Eric Fehr
Marcus Johansson - Andre Burakovsky - Troy Brouwer
Jason Chimera - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Jay Beagle
Liam O'Brien - Michael Latta - Joel Ward
Brooks Orpik - John Carlson
Karl Alzner - Matt Niskanen
Nate Schmidt - Mike Green
Scratched: Jack Hillen, Chris Brown
Injured: Aaron Volpatti (neck), Dmitry Orlov (wrist), Brooks Laich (shoulder)
Daniel Sedin – Henrik Sedin – Radim Vrbata
Chris Higgins – Nick Bonino – Alexandre Burrows
Brad Richardson – Shawn Matthias – Zack Kassian
Derek Dorsett – Linden Vey – Jannik Hansen
Alexander Edler – Christopher Tanev
Dan Hamhuis – Kevin Bieksa
Luca Sbisa – Yannick Weber
Scratched: Tom Sestito, Frank Corrado
Injured: Ryan Stanton (lower body)
Status report: The Capitals, who are wrapping up a three-game road trip through Western Canada after playing in Calgary on Saturday, did not skate in Vancouver Sunday, but were not expected to make any roster changes beyond playing backup goalie Justin Peters. … Stanton was a surprise participant in the morning skate Sunday, his first since sustaining a lower-body injury on Oct. 17, but is not expected to play.
Who's hot: Ward was split up from longtime linemate Chimera and dropped to the fourth line after struggling in a loss against the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday, but responded by scoring two goals against Calgary on Saturday. … Canucks left wing Daniel Sedin has points in six of the first seven games, including a goal and an assist Friday in Colorado. He leads Vancouver with 10 points.