They might reside a continent away from each other, but the Washington Capitals and Vancouver Canucks meet Friday night at Verizon Center in similar predicaments.
After making the playoffs for several consecutive years – Washington six straight seasons, Vancouver five – they’re on the outside of the postseason picture in their respective conferences with 70 points and in a frantic search for wins that could allow them to extend their season.
“First thing I said in the meeting this morning: ‘We’ve both got 70 points, we both need this game,’ ” Coach Adam Oates said. “They had a tough week last week but they won in Winnipeg the other day so I’m sure they’re feeling better about themselves. … So it is a desperate must game.”
Vancouver, like the Capitals, has struggled under the NHL’s realignment. They won the Northwest Division each of the past five seasons but now that they’re in a division with juggernauts Anaheim, San Jose and Los Angeles, a top-tier finish is more difficult to come by. (Washington, as we all know, dominated the Southeast for years and is now sixth in the new Metropolitan Division.)
Their place in the standings isn’t the only familiar thing about the Canucks, either. John Tortorella, who became a regular springtime villain for the Capitals in recent years as they faced his Rangers in playoff series four of the last five years before he was fired in New York, is now Vancouver’s coach. Oates can see the hard-working, defensive-oriented traits of a Tortorella team in Vancouver.
“They protect their goalie, they really protect their goalie. They work hard and they’re relentless with their work ethic,” Oates said. “They try to be physical and finish their checks at all times, especially on the forecheck. We talked about our defense handling that pressure, making quick decisions and don’t allow them to come. In our neutral zone we’ve got to slow them down.”
>> One lineup alteration of note is that the Capitals will start Friday’s game with Jack Hillen skating alongside Mike Green while Dmitry Orlov will be paired with Connor Carrick. Oates liked the spark that pairing Hillen with Green brought the team in the second half of their 2-0 loss at Pittsburgh on Tuesday and wants to see if it can continue to help the Capitals move the puck out of their own end more efficiently.
“Every game he’s getting a little more comfortable,” Oates said of Hillen. “He’s a savvy guy, he’s been around he knows where to go he jumps up in the rush nicely and every little play helps.”
>> Brooks Laich (groin) skated lightly before the rest of the team hit the ice and did not stay out for the full session Friday morning. As will continue to be the case moving forward, Laich is a game-time decision but expected to play barring a setback and will slot on the top line.
>> Mikhail Grabovski (left ankle) also skated briefly Friday morning but there remains no timetable for when he will resume practicing with the team.
>> Projected lineups for both teams
Alexandre Burrows-Henrik Sedin-Nicklas Jensen
Chris Higgins-Shawn Matthias-Jannik Hansen
David Booth-Zac Dalpe-Zack Kassian
Tom Sestito-Jordan Schroeder-Yannick Weber
Dan Hamhuis-Christopher Tanev
Alexander Edler-Kevin Bieksa
Ryan Stanton-Jason Garrison
Eddie Lack is expected to start. Jacob Markstrom will back up.