WASHINGTON, DC - Tonight’s Oilers vs. Washington Capitals game is Edmonton’s final matchup before the NHL All-Star break, and the team would like nothing more than to head into the break on a two-game winning streak.
The Oil defeated the Florida Panthers 3-2 in a shootout on Saturday in Sunrise, with Viktor Fasth making 35 saves, Matt Hendricks tallying the shorthanded equalizer and Nail Yakupov scoring the shootout winner. Another victory tonight in the U.S. capital would give the team a nice little momentum boost heading into a pair of home games next week.
“We just want to create momentum going into this break,” Taylor Hall said following morning skate at Verizon Center in downtown D.C. “We know we’re far our of the playoffs and everything like that, but getting wins is something you can be proud of, and especially against a team like Washington we’re going to have to play well.”
The Oilers have already bested the Caps once this season and will look to secure the season sweep tonight. Edmonton fell behind 2-1 during their first encounter on Oct. 22 at Rexall Place, but Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nikita Nikitin each scored in the middle frame, while Ben Scrivens shut the door with 32 saves, to give the home side the win.
The Oilers completely shut down Caps superstar Alexander Ovechkin that night, limiting the Russian to zero points, just two shots on goal (none through 40 minutes) and a -1 rating. Hall said Ovechkin (25 goals, 41 points, +12 in 45 games) can hurt you with his offence, but also his physical defensive play.
“He’s a great player and someone that we’re going to have to watch out for,” Hall said. “He’s a true sniper and someone who doesn’t need a whole lot of shots to get goals. We have to be on the defensive side and make sure we’re taking the body against him. And also when you have the puck he’s going to hit you so you have to watch out for that."
Fresh off his sterling 35-save performance and three-for-three showing in the shootout on Saturday against the Panthers, Fasth will make his second straight start between the Oilers pipes. Prior to Saturday, the Swede had a 37-save effort against the Detroit Red Wings on Jan. 6, so he’ll look to make it three straight solid outings.
“I thought Vik played a really strong game last game,” Coach Todd Nelson said of the goaltending decision. “He got the win and we’re going to reward him.”
Fasth has yet to face the Caps in his three-year career split between the Oilers and Anaheim Ducks. The 32-year-old said he likes the way the team is playing defensively right now, giving him and Scrivens more time to see opponents’ shots on net.
“I’m really excited,” Fasth said. “I think we played a good game last game and we’ve got to continue to do that. Last game is history, so you have to think ahead and stay focused on the next game. We’re playing really solid on the whole ice and keeping team on the outside more than we did earlier in the year. That’s very important for us. It’d be really nice to get another win here before the break.”
NELLY SAYS RELAX
Since Nelson, the team’s interim head coach, officially took over the bench on Dec. 30 against the LA Kings (3-2 shootout win), the Oilers have posted a respectable 4-4-2 record. The mood in the locker room has reflected those improved performances, which is something the coach has focused on since his arrival from OKC.
“Any time you win hockey games, it’s a bit more relaxed,” Nelson said. “My philosophy and my attitude is I want players to come to the rink to work hard and have some fun. That’s the way it always has been. The guys enjoyed winning the other night, and hopefully we can get two points again tonight.”
Everyone but NHL All-Star selection Nugent-Hopkins will have the next five days off before the Oilers are back on home ice next Tuesday to play the Minnesota Wild. They’ll host the Buffalo Sabres the following Thursday before travelling to Calgary and San Jose for divisional matchups against the Flames and Sharks.
-- Ryan Frankson, edmontonoilers.com
OILERS (11-26-9) at CAPITALS (24-13-8)
TV: SNW, CSN-DC
Season series: Nikita Nikitin scored late in the second period on the power play to help the Oilers defeat the Capitals 3-2 at Rexall Place on Oct. 22. Capitals defensemen Mike Green and John Carlson scored and goalie Braden Holtby made 17 saves.
Oilers team scope: The Oilers will look to win two games in a row for the first time since Nov. 7-9. Edmonton is 5-18-8 since then, and 5-13-4 against teams in the top 18 of the NHL standings. The Oilers have lost nine straight against other teams in the bottom 12 (0-5-4). This is a homecoming of sorts for Boyd Gordon, who was selected in the first round by the Capitals in the 2002 NHL Draft, and spent his first seven NHL seasons in Washington. New Oilers coach Todd Nelson also played for Washington coach Barry Trotz when they were both with the Portland Pirates.
Capitals team scope: Washington lost back-to-back games for the first time since Nov. 29-Dec. 2 with losses at Nashville and Dallas this past weekend. The Capitals blew a 3-2 lead late in the third period of a 4-3 loss to the Predators on Friday. Washington gave up goals 19 seconds apart after it was a 3-3 game in the third against the Stars in a 5-4 loss Saturday. Despite the losses, the Capitals are 14-3-4 since a loss Dec. 2 to the Vancouver Canucks. Holtby will be starting for the first time when he didn't start the game before since Nov. 15, after his span of 20 straight starts was snapped Saturday by Justin Peters. Alex Ovechkin scored three times over the weekend, and he is fourth in the League with 25 goals, three behind co-leaders Tyler Seguin and Rick Nash. Ovechkin has led the NHL in goals four times. He could become the seventh player in League history to do five times.