ARLINGTON, Va. -- The Washington Capitals are winless in five of their past six games (1-4-1) and struggling in several key areas at a time when they can't afford to do so.
One area of particular concern is the faceoff circle, where the Capitals have won 133 of 333 draws (39.9 percent) during their recent skid, well below their 48.9 percent season average.
Beginning Friday against the Vancouver Canucks, seven of Washington's next nine games are against teams ranked among the top 10 in faceoff percentage in the NHL, including five against the top five.
"I've been struggling the last couple games in the faceoff circle," said center Nicklas Backstrom, who has won about 47 of his faceoffs over his past six games. "You want to be better at it because it helps get puck possession right away."
Washington has struggled on faceoffs in all three zones, winning 44.7 percent of offensive-zone draws, 41.6 percent of defensive-zone draws and 33.3 percent of neutral-zone draws during the past six games.
Considering the Capitals are one of the worst puck-possession teams in the League (a 48.7 Corsi percentage that ranks 23rd in the League, according to ExtraSkater.com), they put themselves at a distinct disadvantage by struggling to win faceoffs.
"I think lately it has been [the root of our possession problems]," said forward Eric Fehr, who has taken 241 faceoffs in his first season as a regular center after taking 22 combined in his previous eight seasons. "I think you can contribute it to the lack of faceoffs, but we're turning pucks over even when we have them so we can't completely blame it on faceoffs."
The Canucks will be without one of their faceoff leaders, center Ryan Kesler, who will be out "a couple of weeks," according to Canucks coach John Tortorella. Kesler was injured Wednesday in a knee-on-knee collision with the Winnipeg Jets' Jim Slater.
Forward Zack Kassian will return from his three-game suspension for boarding Dallas Stars defenseman Brenden Dillon last week.
Here are the projected lineups for the Canucks and Capitals:
Alexandre Burrows - Henrik Sedin - Nicklas Jensen
Christopher Higgins - Shawn Matthias - Jannik Hansen
David Booth - Brad Richardson - Zack Kassian
Tom Sestito - Jordan Schroeder - Yannick Weber
Dan Hamhuis - Christopher Tanev
Alexander Edler - Kevin Bieksa
Ryan Stanton - Jason Garrison
Scratched: Darren Archibald, Zac Dalpe
Injured: Ryan Kesler (knee), Daniel Sedin (hamstring), Mike Santorelli (shoulder), Andrew Alberts (concussion)
Brooks Laich - Nicklas Backstrom - Alex Ovechkin
Dustin Penner - Marcus Johansson - Troy Brouwer
Jason Chimera - Eric Fehr - Joel Ward
Evgeny Kuznetsov - Jay Beagle - Tom Wilson
Karl Alzner - John Carlson
Jack Hillen - Mike Green
Dmitry Orlov - Connor Carrick
Scratched: Casey Wellman, John Erskine
Injured: Mikhail Grabovski (ankle), Aaron Volpatti (shoulder)