Caps off to California for tough three-game West Coast road trip

March 17

With 13 games remaining, the Capitals are two points behind the Rangers for the second wild-card spot in the East. (Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Capitals will spend the next week traversing California, running a three-game gauntlet against some of the NHL’s best teams.

With the Ducks, Kings and Sharks up next, the Capitals face a Herculean task at a time of year when any slip-up is magnified.

“We know that we have to play good hockey — or not good; good is not good enough,” goaltender Jaroslav Halak said.

The West Coast has been unkind to the rest of the league so far this season. Fifteen teams have traveled to play Anaheim, San Jose and Los Angeles consecutively and only four have earned at least four of a possible six points.

Each opponent poses a unique challenge. The high-scoring Ducks have the ability and skill to overwhelm teams offensively. The Capitals are 1-15-2 against the Sharks since 1999-00 and have not won in San Jose in more than 20 years. Los Angeles is the best puck-possession team in the NHL, which is one of Washington’s most glaring weaknesses.

“They’re all very defensively sound, have great goaltending and capitalize on other teams’ mistakes,” said forward Dustin Penner, who played for both the Ducks and Kings. “We can’t give them too many opportunities.”

The Capitals earned two much-needed victories against the Canucks and Maple Leafs at home last weekend to keep pace in the playoff race. With 13 games remaining, the Capitals are two points behind the Rangers for the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.

Their postseason aspirations could hinge upon successful completion of this trip, which may mean as little as stealing a point or two. Washington, however, has set higher standards than that.

“You’ve got to win them all,” coach Adam Oates said. “I know they’re better than us in the standings, but you’ve got to have the attitude you’re going to beat them.”

Laich Likely Done for the Year: Capitals forward Brooks Laich underwent surgery Monday to release a tight adductor. With a four- to six-week recovery time, Laich’s season is likely over. The 30-year-old has missed 57 of Washington’s past 117 regular-season games. This season, Laich has eight goals and seven assists in 51 games played.

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