For only the second time in NHL history, two teams who have played at least five games with unblemished records will meet Saturday night in Washington.
The undefeated Washington Capitals, winners of six straight to start the season, will play host to the Detroit Red Wings, who have won their first five contests of the campaign, in a contest that will be broadcast on the NHL Network in the United States.
Goaltender Tomas Vokoun chose Washington instead of Detroit this summer, and said one of the reasons was he felt the Capitals had a better chance to win the Stanley Cup this season. After a shaky debut with the Capitals, he has been fantastic in net. His main competition, countryman Michal Neuvirth, hasn't been available because of a bruised foot, so Vokoun has made five straight starts and now has a .939 save percentage and a 1.95 goals against average.
Jimmy Howard -- the goaltender Vokoun would have been competing for time with in Detroit -- has been equally stingy this season. He has a .933 save percentage and a 1.72 goals against average in four starts.
The Red Wings have also been a dominant team at even strength -- 17 of the 19 skaters who have dressed for Detroit are on the positive side of the plus-minus ledger and the other two are even. The Wings' goals for/against ratio at even strength is tops in the NHL.
Washington is tied for third in that category, and the Capitals just edge Detroit for the NHL lead in goals per game. Nicklas Backstrom, who struggled mightily in the 2010 postseason while trying to play through a broken thumb, leads Washington with eight points. Alex Ovechkin had two goals against Philadelphia on Thursday, but Jason Chimera continues to pace the club with four tallies.
The Red Wings continue to be the NHL's model franchise. Several key players from recent Cup runs retired during the summer, but the quest for a 21st consecutive playoff berth is off to a fine start. Detroit has won its division nine of the past 10 seasons, and the Wings' four championships is the most of any organization in the past 30 years.
Their opponent Saturday night is one of the teams trying to replicate that level of success. The Capitals have won four straight division titles and appear a strong bet to capture a fifth. Still, this club has yet to accumulate any measure of postseason success, with only two series victories and a 17-20 record in the Stanley Cup Playoffs during the Bruce Boudreau era.
Vokoun could be part of the solution, along with other veteran newcomers like Troy Brouwer, Joel Ward and Roman Hamrlik. The Capitals have already defeated both of their Keystone State rivals, traveling to Pennsylvania to defeat both Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.
The only other time in NHL history two teams with unblemished records met this far into the season was Oct. 23, 1986, when the Flyers (7-0-0 at the time) collected a 5-3 victory against the Penguins (5-0-0). Defenseman Mark Howe, who will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame next month, had a goal and three assists for the Flyers.