Last week, when the Capitals faced the Los Angeles Kings for the first time this season, they admitted to being somewhat awestruck by their foes. The Kings, after all, are a somewhat foreign opponent, won the Stanley Cup in 2012 and play a grueling brand of hockey unlike most other teams in the league.
It wasn’t until halfway through the March 20 game at Staples Center that the Capitals realized that the best way to handle Los Angeles’ unrelenting and fluid play was to match it.
While Washington ultimately fell, 2-1, in a shootout, the team will be more familiar with the Kings Tuesday night at Verizon Center. The Capitals know that to succeed against Los Angeles there are no shortcuts and their play must be equally hard-working and mistake-free to avoid giving their opponent additional waves of offensive-zone pressure.
“We were able to finally get in on a forecheck and create some opportunities that way,” Troy Brouwer said of the shift in the Capitals’ play against the Kings. “They did a real good job at the beginning of the game, getting back, holding us up as forwards so we couldn’t create pressure on their D-men.”
Brouwer credited that to the Kings’ ability to move the puck through the middle of the ice, rather than the safer, more common route along the walls that gives them more options and makes it more challenging for opponents.
It “is very tough to defend because as soon as you bite to the middle they go to the outside,” Brouwer explained. “When you play teams with confidence to be able to move the puck through the middle like that it makes it a little more difficult to read, create pressure and force the puck where you want it to go.”
The first game back from any lengthy road trip is rarely easy, especially against the league’s best possession team, but the Capitals are well aware if they don’t keep winning, the progress they made over the last five games can quickly erode.
Just look at the decline of the Toronto Maple Leafs – they went 2-1 during their California trip and had won four of five prior to their 4-2 loss to Washington at Verizon Center on March 16. That defeat was the first in a stretch of five consecutive losses for Toronto.
So the Capitals want to kick off the final 10 games of the regular season with the same intensity they had in California, and being fully aware of what it will take to beat the Kings should help them this time around.
“We played a pretty good game against them,” Nicklas Backstrom said. “They’re not going to let up too much and that’s the kind of hockey it is in playoffs anyways. It’s going to be fun to play them again.”