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Capitals conclude quick California trip against Kings

by Brian Hunter
CAPITALS (24-10-6) at KINGS (23-15-3)

Last 10: Washington 5-5-0; Los Angeles 5-5-0

Season Series: This is the lone meeting of the 2009-10 season between these teams. Los Angeles swept Washington in a pair of games last season, winning 5-2 at home on Nov. 20, 2008, and 5-4 on the road on Feb. 5, 2009. Anze Kopitar led the Kings with three goals while Michal Handzus had a pair. Jonathan Quick and Erik Ersberg each picked up a win in goal.

Big Story:
Each team has played .500 hockey over its past 10 games. However, while the Capitals have little to worry about right now in the Southeast Division, where they continue to hold a double-digit lead over their nearest competitors, the Kings have fallen from first in the Pacific to third and all the way down to eighth in the Western Conference standings. They play eight of their next nine at the Staples Center and are looking to build off a 5-2 win in Minnesota on New Year's Eve.

Team Scope:

This game concludes a brief California trip for Washington, which is coming off a 5-2 loss in San Jose on Wednesday. Ryan Clowe and Joe Thornton scored on penalty shots for the Sharks, who led 3-0 after two periods. Mike Knuble and Alex Ovechkin scored in the third for the Capitals, who have lost consecutive games in regulation for the first time since early October.

"I don't know if we were playing tentative or a little bit cautious," forward Brendan Morrison said. "They obviously have a good team, but so do we. A couple mistakes directly led to goals. We battled harder in the second and third and were a little more intense. The first period, I don’t know why it was kind of like a feeling out period.

"We had chances to get back in with our power play, but we really only have one line going right now. It's been that way for a couple of weeks now. We need to get some secondary scoring. It would help out a lot."

Quick, captain Dustin Brown and defenseman Jack Johnson were all selected Friday to play for the U.S. in the upcoming Olympic Games. All three players will be key over the next several months in determining whether Los Angeles can build on a solid first half and end a long playoff drought. The Kings rebounded from a loss in Calgary on Wednesday to beat Minnesota 5-2 the following night, as Alexander Frolov scored twice.

"That's a character win," coach Terry Murray said. "That's digging in and playing with the right kind of an attitude to get back in the win column. Just building off the momentum of the last couple games.

"We talked about that. They were good efforts, and we just weren't able to find ways to win, but tonight it was very good, doing the right stuff. A real good character win for us."

Who's Hot:
Ovechkin has five goals and seven assists during a five-game points streak for Washington. Nicklas Backstrom has seven goals and six assists in his last nine games. … Los Angeles forward Brad Richardson has scored five goals and 11 points in his last 14 games after not recording a single point in his first 26 games.

Injury Report: The Capitals assigned rookie goaltender Semyon Varlamov to Hershey of the AHL as he recovers from a groin injury. Defenseman Brian Pothier (ribs) remains on injured reserve.

Kings forwards Jarret Stoll (groin), Justin Williams (right leg/ankle) and Andrei Lokitonov (shoulder) are all on injured reserve. Defenseman Randy Jones has been out since mid-December with a neck injury.

Stat Pack:
Washington coach Bruce Boudreau spent four seasons in the Los Angeles organization coaching their AHL affiliate in Manchester. The Kings, ironically, are the only team Boudreau has faced more than once and hasn't beaten as Capitals coach.

Puck Drop: The first three weeks of January provide a golden opportunity for the Kings to move up in the standings. After facing the Capitals they travel to San Jose before returning home for seven straight. The Sharks will pay a pair of visits, while the Red Wings, Blues, Ducks, Bruins and Sabres also make appearances at the Staples Center.

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