Washington Capitals prepare for a late-season push
Friday, February 11, 2011; 11:54 PM
Over the next 10 days, the Washington Capitals will play six games in a stretch that begins in the friendly confines of Verizon Center then jumps to Arizona, California, New York and Pennsylvania. They will have 21 games remaining in the regular season when they return to Washington from the longest road trip of the year to date, and the time to hone their play is rapidly coming to a close.
Washington needs points - it ranks fifth in the East with 68 - and needs to find a groove just like many of the teams it will face, beginning with Saturday's home matinee against the Los Angeles Kings.
"Everyone needs to step up," forward Matt Hendricks said. "When we get back from this road trip, we're going to be at 21 [games left] and those last 20 games, they go quick. If you can set yourself up for a good ending of the season, it's a good 20 games, but it's tough if you're really fighting."
The Kings, whom the Capitals have not defeated since Feb. 8, 2007 and have only played four times in the past four seasons, visit Washington in the middle of their 10-game trip and are desperately trying to claw their way back into the playoff picture. Los Angeles sits in 10th place, two points out of eighth in the hyper-intense West, where 10 points separate third from 14th.
Although the Capitals and Kings don't see each other often, they have much in common. Both have struggled to score this season and have goals-per-game averages within one-hundredth of each other, with Washington owning the minuscule edge at 2.69. Neither the Kings nor the Capitals can seem to get their power play going for significant stretches, either, with success rates of 17.3 and 17.0 percent, respectively. Los Angeles is 5-0-2 in its past seven outings, however, and after suffering a 2-1 overtime loss to Pittsburgh on Thursday night, the Kings could present a considerable challenge for the Capitals.
"I guarantee L.A. will be ready for us," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "They're in such a dogfight in the West, as we are in the East. It's getting down to where you really start scoreboard watching and it's an important part of the year. . . . They were preseason favorites to maybe have a Cup run, and I think they still have the team to do it. If they win two or three games in a row, they're right back there."
But while a win against Los Angeles would send them into the trip on a positive note, the Capitals aren't looking at one single game as a potential turning point. There is more Washington needs to accomplish in the final stretch of the regular season, veteran defenseman Scott Hannan said.
"I think we want to focus in on [Saturday's] game, but if there's too much attention on winning one game here and one game there, it isn't what we need," Hannan said. "We need to focus on getting some consistency in our game. If we play the same way over the last 27 games here . . . our goal is to play consistently. We're obviously not going to win them all, but we just want to come out and play our game every single night and things will take care of themselves where the playoffs are concerned. But we need to get down to playing every game the same way."
Capitals note: Defenseman Mike Green, who missed Tuesday's game against San Jose after he was struck in the head by a puck Sunday against Pittsburgh, was scheduled to undergo neuropsychological testing on Friday. Both Green and Boudreau said on Friday that they expect him to return to the lineup against the Kings barring any unforeseen developments.