LOS ANGELES – To prepare the Capitals to face the Los Angeles Kings for the first time this season Thursday night, Coach Adam Oates focused once more on the details required to move the puck up ice and reinforced the need to make smart zone exits and entries.
“They got some really good forwards, very strong, they can bump your D off the puck. They forecheck strong, so we’ve got to handle their waves of the physicality and the [Capitals’] forwards getting on their D. We’ve got to make sure everybody gets back,” Oates said. “We’ve got to really be conscious of it’s not out of the zone until it crosses that blue line.”
Washington struggles most when it fails to clear the puck out of its own end. Under Coach Darryl Sutter, the Kings have made hemming in opponents and playing keep-away with the puck something of an art form.
They own the best Corsi ratings (the percentage of shots taken by both teams) in the league at 57.1, boast the best goals-against average in the league at 2.09 – 2.11 at home — and allow the third-fewest shots against (26.4) as they take away time and space with a physically punishing style of play. While Los Angeles might not have a steady offense – the Kings are ranked 27th with just 2.35 goals per game – the Capitals must take care of the puck when they do have it so as not to spend the entire contest chasing the play.
Oates showed video clips of the Kings’ 4-3 loss to Phoenix on Monday, when the Coyotes gained control of the puck in their own zone only to cough it back up at the last second, offering another wave for the Kings. He drew parallels to the first goal Anaheim scored Tuesday, when the Capitals’ inability to put the puck deep combined with a poorly timed line change.
“We got it out but we didn’t really have possession, and until we do and we get it down the ice we can’t get a bad change. We’ve got to be ready,” Oates said. “They’re a puck-possession team because they’re five guys together in all three zones; they’re physical; they don’t give you much. They’re not a breakaway team necessarily, but they control the play and you’ve got to be ready to match that.”
>> Jaroslav Halak will make his seventh consecutive start and look to build on the 4-2, .931 save percentage and 2.35 goals against average he’s put up with the Capitals. This is the first time Halak has started as many as seven games consecutively since March 9-24, 2011 with St. Louis. (HT: Ben Raby) More on Halak to come.
>> With Chris Brown in the mix as fourth-line center, the Capitals have quite a bit of size on that unit. Brown is listed at 6-2, 215; left wing Dustin Penner is 6-4, 247 and right wing Tom Wilson is 6-4, 210 and their largess was noticeable even during the morning skate. It will be interesting to see if that group can get a forecheck going and create some momentum against the Kings.
Brown, who Washington acquired from Phoenix as part of the trade that sent Martin Erat to the Coyotes, made his Capitals’ debut March 6 skating at left wing against the Bruins but is a natural right wing. Given the Capitals’ stacked depth chart at right wing, though, Oates wants to try him at center.
“I don’t want to put him on his off side, but I’d like to see what he can do for us,” Oates said. “I talked to George [McPhee] about it; I know he had some time at right ;wing and center down in Hershey if he can play center great. A little bit of an experiment like Ferhsie and that gives us another big guy down there.”
>> After missing the last two games because of a lower-body injury, Kings captain Dustin Brown could be back in their lineup to take on Washington. He skated with the fourth line in Wednesday’s practice and his return could be a boost for Los Angeles, which has lost three consecutive one-goal games.
Projected lineups for both teams.
Marian Gaborik-Anze Kopitar-Justin Williams
Dwight King-Mike Richards-Jeff Carter
Tanner Pearson-Jarret Stoll-Tyler Toffoli
Kyle Clifford-Trevor Lewis-Dustin Brown/Jordan Nolan
Robyn Regehr-Drew Doughty
Willie Mitchell-Slava Voynov
Alec Martinez-Matt Greene
Jonathan Quick is expected to start, Martin Jones will back up.