VANCOUVER — Make no mistake, the Washington Capitals insisted after wrapping up a practice at Rogers Arena, the Vancouver Canucks are just as intimidating as ever, regardless of their unimpressive 4-5-1 start.
It’s the same core squad that reached the Stanley Cup finals last spring after running away with the Presidents’ Trophy and boasting the best power play, the third-best penalty kill, most goals scored and fewest goals allowed in 2010-11.
But the team Washington will face Saturday night is hungry for a statement game after losing two straight, struggling to create consistent offense and weathering a goaltending controversy. The Capitals, who stand second in the league heading into this weekend, know if they aren’t prepared Vancouver could find a way to put everything together against them.
“I hate it when you’re playing a great team that’s lost two in a row, and that’s what we’re doing,” Coach Bruce Boudreau said. “They’re a great team and sometimes you look at it, it’s overshadowed because they didn’t win the Cup last year, of how great a year they had. . . . We’re nervous because they’re mad. We know it’s going to be a tremendous, tremendous test.”
Tomas Vokoun will make his eighth consecutive start for Washington on Saturday night, coming off his first loss of the season, on Thursday in Edmonton. The 35-year-old Czech has turned away all but 13 of the 217 shots he has faced as a Capital, good for a 1.83 goals against average and .940 save percentage.
Opposing Vokoun will be embattled netminder Roberto Luongo, who hasn’t played a full game in nine days and was pulled from his most recent start after allowing three goals on 14 shots to the Oilers on Oct. 25. Luongo is under intense scrutiny in British Columbia after giving up 19 goals in six appearances with a .868 save percentage and 3.45 goals against average.
But Boudreau, who coached Luongo during the 1999-2000 season when both were with the Lowell Lock Monsters, knows the 32-year-old is capable of stealing a game in any outing. Luongo has fared well against the Capitals, going 17-10-3 with a .929 save percentage in 32 career meetings.
“You’ve just got to turn the page and get to work; that’s how you get over the hump,” Luongo said when asked how he moves on from the poor performances, adding that he believes a matchup against the Capitals is just what the Canucks need.
“It’s a good challenge for our team,” Luongo continued. “I think it’s what we need right now to get amped up for a big game like that. Obviously [Washington is the] best team in the league so far this year. It’s exciting game for our troops and we’re getting amped up for it.”
The Capitals will require disciplined play on Saturday in order to both move on their penalty-littered efforts against Edmonton on Thursday and to keep the Canucks from gaining any momentum on their power play (19.2 percent). Vancouver has struggled this season on five-on-five play, where its been outscored 20-15.
“We’re not that far off. I think we realize that in here,” said Daniel Sedin, who leads Vancouver with four goals and 12 points. “Defensemen playing pretty good right now, offense we’ve got to work a little harder to get those scoring chances. If we do that we’ll be fine.”
Though the teams, the past two Presidents’ Trophy winners, don’t play each other often, they expressed mutual respect for each other. Each recognizes a strong outing will be required to beat its elite foe.
“They’re a great team. They’re just going through a minor rough patch. Those types of teams scare you because they’re due for a breakout solid game,” Capitals forward Brooks Laich said. “We have a tremendous amount of respect for them. For us to be successful tomorrow night we’re going to have to play our best game of the season. Better than we played against Philly, better than we played against the Red Wings, certainly better than we played” against the Oilers.
Capitals notes: Mike Green missed a fifth consecutive practice with a twisted right ankle on Friday and is not expected to play against the Canucks. General Manager George McPhee said he doesn’t believe Green’s ankle injury is a long-term concern. . . . Jeff Halpern was given a maintenance day and was the only Washington player on the trip, other than Green, who did not practice.