The Capitals and Red Wings face off Saturday as the only undefeated teams remaining in the NHL. In fact, this is just the second game in NHL history pitting two teams with at least 5-0 records matching up against each other, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, the other instance came on Oct. 23, 1986 when the Penguins (7-0-0) faced the Flyers (5-0-0).
Even if this wasn’t a contest between two unbeaten teams, though, the Red Wings would provide a formidable challenge for Washington even though they arrived in town late last night following a 5-2 defeat of the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday.
Like the Capitals, Detroit thrives on puck possession, and its players are well-tuned to its system of methodical play. When the Wings are on, they simply don’t make mistakes and make it very difficult for opponents to get the puck.
“They’re the masters,” Coach Bruce Boudreau said. “If you want to learn anything about puck possession you just watch their team so we’re just young students as compared to what they have. We’re not in their category.”
Washington faced the Red Wings just once during the 2010-11 season, a game on March 16 that Detroit won 3-1 at Joe Louis Arena. It was the first time John Carlson had faced the Red Wings and Karl Alzner’s second appearance against the perennial playoff team.
It may only be a slight advantage but Carlson said it helps to have faced Detroit before simply to be prepared for the constant flow of their game. He also knows that in order for the Capitals to succeed in this test of undefeated teams is to make sure they take care of their own end and work as a unit to limit Detroit’s puck possession.
“As a defensemen, they’re rolling off you and you’re trying to contain them and take the puck away at the same time,” Carlson said. “But you’ve got to find that ground in between where you’re not putting yourself out there so you’re going to get beat.
“They’re always waiting to make a play and that’s why it has to be a team effort in the D-zone against these guys,” Carlson continued. “Even on the rush you have to put back pressure on them, to try to contain them to only being able to go to one place if we do it right. I think that’s crucial.”