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Capitals face Oilers thriving under new approach

by Adam Vingan /

OILERS (11-26-9) at CAPITALS (24-13-8)


ARLINGTON, Va. -- Trailing 3-0 to the Dallas Stars on Saturday, the Washington Capitals were forced to loosen their structure, ultimately losing 5-4 in a freewheeling offensive game.

It was the Stars' ninth game this season in which they and their opponent each scored at least four goals, the most in the NHL. It was also familiar to Washington, which led the League with 13 such games last season and 42 total between 2009-10 and 2013-14.

"We know what that's like," defenseman Karl Alzner said. "We used to be that team."

The Capitals, though, have become a better two-way team capable of winning low-scoring games, which in a way has affected how they approach high-scoring games.

"This team has had more than enough practice over a few years in playing high-scoring games that they know how to play them," forward Troy Brouwer said. "It's our ability to play those tight, low-scoring games that has been winning us games."

Offensively, Washington has morphed into a cycling team under coach Barry Trotz. A rush-heavy attack which regularly had the Capitals among the League's highest-scoring teams never carried them to success in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, when wide-open scoring chances tend to dwindle.

Forward Brooks Laich offered the example of the Los Angeles Kings, who trailed 2-0 in Games 1 and 2 of the Stanley Cup Final last season against the New York Rangers before winning each in overtime.

"They just started to lean on the other team," Laich said. "You could tell after 20 minutes or 30 minutes that this game was changing. And that's the way I feel about our squad a little bit.

"OK, we're down 3-0 against Dallas, just keep leaning on people, play heavy, forecheck. All of a sudden, you start to see them coming back to the bench panting and tired, and their 'D' are just rimming pucks now. Sixty minutes is a long time, and I think our team has developed an identity and still developing [an identity] of grinding on teams. We're able to grind them and lean on them and finally they'll break. We're blessed we have the natural talent to make plays, the game-breaking talent to make plays. Whether it's low-scoring or high-scoring, we still have a huge underlying belief that we're always going to prevail and come out on top."

Washington may not have to worry about a high-scoring game against the Edmonton Oilers, who average 2.22 goals per game and have scored four or more goals seven times this season, the fewest in the League.

A win against Edmonton would give Washington an eight-game home winning streak, its longest since a franchise-record 13-game streak set Jan. 5 - March 6, 2010.

The Oilers ended a 14-game road losing streak (0-8-6) Saturday against the Florida Panthers. Edmonton has not won consecutive games since Nov. 7 - Nov. 9.

"We want to take momentum into [the All-Star break]," forward Taylor Hall told the Oilers official website.

Here are the projected lineups:


Taylor HallRyan Nugent-HopkinsJordan Eberle

Benoit PouliotDerek RoyNail Yakupov

Matt FraserAnton LanderTeddy Purcell

Matt HendricksBoyd GordonRob Klinkhammer

Oscar KlefbomJustin Schultz

Andrew FerenceJeff Petry

Nikita NikitinMark Fayne

Viktor Fasth

Ben Scrivens

Scratched: Luke Gazdic, Keith Aulie

Injured: Tyler Pitlick (spleen)


Alex OvechkinNicklas BackstromAndre Burakovsky

Marcus JohanssonEvgeny KuznetsovTroy Brouwer

Brooks LaichEric FehrJoel Ward

Jason ChimeraJay BeagleTom Wilson

Brooks OrpikJohn Carlson

Karl AlznerMatt Niskanen

Jack HillenMike Green

Braden Holtby

Justin Peters

Scratched: Michael Latta, Aaron Volpatti

Injured: Dmitry Orlov (wrist), John Erskine (neck surgery)

Status report: After not playing against the Stars, Holtby will start against the Oilers. In 21 straight starts, Holtby was 14-3-4 with a 2.08 goals-against average and .931 save percentage. … The Oilers are not expected to make any lineup changes from their 3-2 shootout win against the Panthers.

Who's hot: Pouliot has scored six goals in Edmonton's past five games. … Ovechkin has nine goals in his past 10 games.

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