The Washington Capitals battle the Chicago Blackhawks for the second and final time this season when the two teams clash on Saturday night at United Center. The defending regular season conference champions met back on December 6 at Capital One Arena, when Washington skated away with a 6-2 drubbing of Chicago.
The Capitals seek to build on Thursday’s dominating 5-2 win in Minnesota against the Wild. Tom Wilson registered his third two goal game of the season at Xcel Energy Center, surpassing his previous career high of seven goals. The second of those three two goal games came against the Blackhawks, where he also tallied his first career four-point night. Wilson also exceeded his previous career-high of 23 points with a three-point performance in Minnesota. He also tallied an assist. Alex Ovechkin scored his league-leading 34th goal of the season, which surpassed his total output from last season, and added three assists to eclipse the 1100-point plateau. Ovechkin became the 61st player in NHL history to hit that milestone. Nicklas Backstrom registered a goal and an assist and Andre Burakovsky scored his second goal in as many games for the first time this season and also tallied an assist. The win ended Minnesota’s 13-game home point streak (10-0-3). Prior to the game on Thursday, the Wild hadn’t lost at home in regulation since December 16.
With the win, the Capitals snapped a two-game skid but extended their point streak to five (3-0-2). Evgeny Kuznetsov’s point streak halted at eight.
On Saturday, the Capitals begin the back half of their season-long four-game road trip. So far, they have snagged a three out of a possible against two very good home teams in the Jets and the Wild. The Capitals’ last two games of the road trip are not as tough as the first two games but the Capitals need to take them seriously with the Penguins three points behind them, though the Capitals have two games in hand.
Barry Trotz will coach his 1500th NHL game on Saturday. He will be the fifth head coach in NHL history to reach the milestone joining Hockey Hall of Famers Scotty Bowman (2,141 games) and Al Arbour (1,607), as well as Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville (1,597) and Dallas Stars coach Ken Hitchcock (1,511). He passed Lindy Ruff for fifth place on the NHL’s all-time games coached list on February 4 against the Vegas Golden Knights (1,493). He is 746-559-134 with 60 ties and trails only Bowman (1,244 wins), Quenneville (875), Hitchcock (814) and Arbour (782).
After Philipp Grubauer made 32 saves on the 34 that came his way at Xcel Energy Center on Thursday, it will be Braden Holtby’s turn in net Saturday night at the United Center. In his career against Chicago, Holtby is 9-2-0 with a .930 save percentage with a 2.21 goals against average and one shutout. He is 28-10-4 on the season with a .913 save percentage and 2.82 goals against average. Holtby made 40 saves on 44 shots on Tuesday when the Capitals fell 4-3 to the Winnipeg Jets in overtime.
The Blackhawks will look to end an eight-game losing streak on Saturday. They have not won since a 2-1 victory at the Nashville Predators on January 30, their first game after the NHL’s All-Star Break. They have gone 0-7-1 since, including a 6-1 loss to the last place Arizona Coyotes on Monday.
The Blackhawks play the second game of a five game homestand. After leading 2-0 more than halfway through the game, they allowed three unanswered goals to the Anaheim Ducks and fell 3-2 in their homestand opener.
After making the postseason for nine consecutive seasons, the Blackhawks are 10 points behind the Colorado Avalanche for the second to last spot in the Central Division and are 12 points out of a playoff spot.
Besides Patrick Kane, who leads the Blackhawks with 22 goals and 53 points, Chicago’s top threats haven’t played to their expected heights this season. Captain Jonathan Toews only has 15 goals and 37 points, Brandon Saad only has 14 goals and 25 points, and Artem Anisimov has 21 points this season. Kane is the only Blackhawks player to have at least 40 points, though Nick Schmaltz has 39, which is good for second on the team.
Their defense took a hit over the summer when they traded Nicklas Hjalmarsson to the Coyotes. The backend is a gaping hole for Chicago. Duncan Keith just scored his first goal of the season while Brent Seabrook was a healthy scratch this season.
Another reason for Chicago’s drop in the standings is the absence of Corey Crawford, who has not played since December 23. He was stealing games for the Hawks early on in the year and had an impressive .929 save percentage and a 2.27 goals against average. With Crawford out with an upper body injury. Anton Forsberg, who is 5-11-3 with a .907 save percentage and a 3.06 save percentage, will likely start for Chicago. He started December 6 against the Capitals but got pulled in the first period after giving up three goals on 10 shots.
-Since 2008, the Capitals are 13-5-0 on their mentors’ trip
-Tom Wilson scored his career high eighth and ninth goals of the season Thursday in Minnesota and three points, which boosted him to a career-high 26 points. He has scored three goals and seven points (including a career-high four-point game where he also had two goals) lifetime against Chicago
-The Capitals have won three consecutive games and seven of their past eight games (7-1-0) against the Blackhawks
A Look Back in Time
The last time the Capitals visited Chicago was November 11, 2016. Jay Beagle struck twice in the first period to give the Capitals the 2-1 lead through 20 minutes. It would remain that way until Marian Hossa tied the game with 23 seconds left to ensure Chicago would get a point. In overtime, Marcus Johansson scored his seventh of the season to end the contest. Washington’s 3-2 victory would halt Chicago’s seven-game winning streak.
By Harrison Brown