The Capitals learned valuable lessons about patience and persistence in their 3-2 shootout win over the stingy Minnesota Wild on Thursday. It wasn’t pretty, but when the Capitals stuck with a chip-and-chase approach, it paid off.
Washington must adapt again on Saturday night. The Phoenix Coyotes sit at 11-4-2, having found ways to triumph regularly despite giving up an average of 3.06 goals per night, tied for fifth most in the league, and allowing an average of 34.9 shots, fourth most in the league.
Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith, who will make his first appearance against Washington since Nov. 26, 2010, when he was with the Tampa Bay Lightning, has proven he can handle a daunting workload. He’s won four of his last five starts, during which he stopped 170 of 183 shots he faced for a .928 save percentage and 2.51 goals-against average.
But even with all the shots and offensive zone time the Coyotes have conceded this year, Capitals Coach Adam Oates sees an opponent that is trying to improve its defensive game. He wants to make sure the Capitals take advantage of the time and opportunity Phoenix may likely give them in the offensive zone by keeping the defensemen involved and grinding away.
“I’m sure that they’re trying, like everybody, to batten down the hatches and play better D. We all are,” Oates said. “The last couple games I watched they looked more responsible in their own end, protecting [Smith] more, kind of like Minnesota. Our D are going to be involved. We had 41 touches the other night on the blue line, we ended up getting one goal out of it. We need more shots, can’t get them blocked, gotta put them in the right spot and hopefully wear them out over 60 minutes.”
The Capitals know that they didn’t have a perfect game against Minnesota. But if they can build upon the method in which they came back to tie the contest and eventually secured two points it could help them start this tough back-to-back slate off well.
“You’ve just got to be patient,” Nicklas Backstrom said. “When you play these teams you have to be ready to do the same thing over and over again to get opportunities. We did that all right against Minnesota but we could still be a little bit better.”
>> Michal Neuvirth gets the nod Saturday night in the first half of this back-to-back weekend and will face the Coyotes for the third time in his career. He’s 1-1-0 with a .896 save percentage and 2.52 goals-against average in two previous appearances against Phoenix. In his last start, Neuvirth made 31 saves in Washington’s 3-2 shootout victory against the Florida Panthers on Nov. 2.
It’s likely that Braden Holtby will start Sunday against the Colorado Avalanche, unless Neuvirth has a stellar performance in Phoenix.
>> Potomac, Md., native Jeff Halpern will return to the Coyotes’ lineup after missing the past five games with an upper body injury to face his former squad. Halpern is expected to center Phoenix’s fourth line.
They Coyotes held an optional skate Saturday morning so it’s unclear exactly what their lineup will look like with both forward Radim Vrbata and defenseman Derek Morris out with lower-body injuries. It’s possible Phoenix could opt to go with seven defensemen rather than a full group of forwards.
>> Here are the projected lineups for both teams.
Lauri Korpikoski-Martin Hanzal-Shane Doan
Kyle Chipchura-Mike Ribeiro-David Moss
Rob Klinkhammer-Antoine Vermette-Mikkel Boedker
Paul Bissonnette-Jeff Halpern-Jordan Szwarz
Oliver Ekman-Larsson-Zbynek Michalek
Keith Yandle-Michael Stone
Rusty Klesla-David Schlemko/David Rundblad
Mike Smith will start.