By Greg Schimmel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 25, 2011; 12:13 AM
As strange as it may sound for a team that finished with the best home record in the NHL last season, the time away might not have been a bad thing.
The Capitals have gone 4-3-3 in their last 10 games on home ice, and that last home appearance 13 days ago was among their worst of the season - a 4-1 loss against Los Angeles.
Washington played well enough on the road to finish 3-2-0 on a grueling trip that began in Phoenix and ended a week and a half later getting snowed in for an extra day in Pittsburgh. But starting Friday night, the Capitals' focus will shift back to re-establishing their once-potent home-ice advantage.
With six of their next nine games at Verizon Center, including three of their next four, the Capitals know they don't have much choice but to start winning again in their building.
"We'd like to start being way more consistent at home," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "We only lost five [home games in regulation] all last season and now we've lost seven [this season]. Our fans deserve, quite frankly, for us to be a little bit better at home."
Several players said they did not want to make excuses for their lack of success on home ice. Rather, they wanted to acknowledge that Friday night against a tough-but-struggling Rangers team is a good chance to start a more positive trend.
The Rangers have only one regulation win in their last 14 games - though they have gone 4-1 in shootouts in that stretch - and are 1-4 in their last five games on the road.
The Capitals haven't won two consecutive home games since the end of November, and with a home-and-home coming up after the Rangers against the bottom-dwelling New York Islanders (starting Saturday night on Long Island), Friday night could get things rolling.
"We don't have a very good home record now and we definitely know where we want it to be," defenseman Karl Alzner said. "The way we've been playing on the road is not trying to impress, just go out there and play. I think sometimes when we're at home we try to do a little bit too much. Sometimes we've got to play a road game at the Verizon Center."
The Capitals took two days off of practice after their road trip, and seemed to enter their first practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex since Feb. 11 on Thursday with a renewed focus.
With only 21 games left in the regular season and the NHL's trading deadline approaching (it's on Monday), the Capitals feel there is a finish line in sight, and a mental edge in knowing they can't afford to take any more nights off.
The monotony of the middle of the season is breaking.
"We need a little more urgency," forward Mike Knuble said. "We're getting down to the end here and we need to start heading toward the playoffs with some vigor in our game."
Capitals notes: Washington could receive a physical boost in its lineup Friday if defenseman Mike Green returns.
Green missed all five games on the road trip and hasn't played in six of the Capitals' last seven after a slap shot struck him in the head on Feb. 6. Green missed practice Thursday with the flu, but Boudreau said he expects the defenseman to play tonight against the Rangers unless he gets worse. . . .
Center Nicklas Backstrom also is expected to play after he suffered a thumb injury Monday against Pittsburgh.
"It feels pretty good," Backstrom said. "I can't feel a difference today [in stick-handling] so we'll see. If I can play I'm going to play."