Photo: Washington Times
The Washington Capitals and Detroit Red Wings will close out their season set on Thursday night at Little Caeser’s Arena in Detroit. The two teams split the first two meetings with each prevailing in overtime on the other’s home ice. The Capitals took the first meeting of the season 4-3 in overtime in Detroit on October 20 and the Red Wings responded by winning a 5-4 meeting in overtime at Capital One Arena on February 11, despite giving up a 4-1 lead heading into the third period. Puck drop is 7:30 p.m. and will be televised on NBC Sports Washington.
The Capitals, who have won five of their last six games, begin a three-game road trip. All three teams they play likely will not be in the postseason (Detroit was eliminated from the postseason on Tuesday). After tomorrow night’s game in Detroit, they move on to Montreal to play the Canadiens, who are 18 points out of a playoff spot, at Bell Centre on Saturday night, and visit the New York Rangers, who are 10 points out of a playoff spot, to begin a home-and-home series on Monday night at Madison Square Garden.
The Capitals are coming off of a strong performance at home against the Dallas Stars on Tuesday when they beat the Stars 4-3. The win marked their first win in Washington against Dallas since 2006, spanning six games. Alex Ovechkin, who scored the overtime winning goal in Detroit earlier this season, netted his league-leading 44th goal of the season in the win. T.J. Oshie scored his fourth goal in as many games, Brett Connolly struck, and John Carlson continued to add to his career year with his career-high 15th goal of the season, which tied P.K. Subban of the Nashville Predators, defenseman Alex Pietrangelo of the St. Louis Blues, and Aaron Ekblad of the Florida Panthers for the second-most goals among defenseman. Ovechkin also tallied two assists for his 100th career three-point night. The win was a nice bounce back after a 6-3 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday. It also marked the Capitals sixth straight win on home ice, where they have not lost since the Tampa Bay Lightning handed the Capitals a 4-2 loss back on February 20.
The Capitals are now down to their last nine games of the season and hold a four-point advantage over the Pittsburgh Penguins, who play the Montreal Canadiens at PPG Paints Arena on Wednesday night, and the Columbus Blue Jackets, who host the Florida Panthers while the Capitals have their hands with the Red Wings on Thursday. The Penguins dropped a 4-1 decision at Barclays Center on Tuesday night while the Jackets grabbed their ninth consecutive victory at Madison Square Garden against the Rangers with a 5-3 win. The Capitals will enter Thursday with a game in hand on the Penguins and Blue Jackets.
Center Evgeny Kuznetsov, who has missed the past two games with an upper-body injury, will come on the road trip after getting hit by New York Islanders‘ defenseman Thomas Hickey in the Capitals’ 6-3 victory on Friday night at Capital One Arena. He was a full participant in the Capitals’ practice on Wednesday without any restrictions. Capitals’ coach Barry Trotz said it is not a promise that he’ll suit up against Detroit but it appears likely at this point. He is considered day-to-day. Kuznetsov appeared in 292 consecutive games and had not missed a game since December 4, 2014, where he sat out as a healthy scratch against the Carolina Hurricanes. Sunday’s 6-3 loss in Philadelphia marked the first game Kuznetsov has missed due to injury in his NHL career.
The Capitals will continue to flip-flop goalies heading into the playoffs to decide their starter for Game 1 of the postseason. After Braden Holtby started on Tuesday against the Stars, it will be Philipp Grubauer‘s turn to get the net on Thursday in Detroit. Grubauer is slated to make his first career appearance against the Red Wings on Thursday night. He is 11-9-3 with a save percentage of .922 and a goals-against average of 2.37, including a save percentage of .933 and a goals-against average of 2.02 in his past 26 appearances. He made 29 saves on 34 shots against in the Capitals’ 6-3 loss in Philadelphia on Sunday.
Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings are eliminated from the playoffs for the second consecutive season after making the postseason for 25 straight seasons following their 5-4 shootout win against the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday. They may have won but a shootout win did them no good to save their season. The Red Wings’ 22 regulation-overtime wins is tied for the fewest in the NHL with the Arizona Coyotes and Buffalo Sabres. The win against the Flyers ended their nine-game losing streak.
The Red Wings only have one player who has eclipsed the 20-goal plateau (Anthony Mantha: 23) and the 50-point mark (Dylan Larkin: 53). The Red Wings are 28th in the league with an average of 2.52 goals per game average and 184 goals. Their defense is only slightly better, ranking 23rd in the league with a 3.11 goals against per game average and 24th with 227 goals against. They have the 23rd ranked penalty kill with just a 77.7% efficiency and 23rd ranked power play with just a 17.6% conversion rate.
The Red Wings’ rotten campaign led to some changes at the NHL Trade Deadline a few weeks ago. They sent winger Tomas Tatar, who scored four times in two games for the Red Wings against the Capitals this season, to the Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for 2018 first round draft pick, 2019 second round draft pick, and a 2021 third round draft pick. They also sent goaltender Petr Mrazek, who can become a restricted free agent in the offseason, to the Flyers for 2018 fourth-round draft pick and a 2019 third-round draft pick. Detroit is also retaining half of Mrazek’s $4 million cap hit. They also traded forward Scott Wilson, who was acquired in the Riley Sheahan trade with the Penguins in October, to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for a 2019 fifth-round draft choice. The Red Wings opted not to trade former Caps’ defenseman Mike Green, who the Capitals rumored to be interested in. Green, 32, has eight goals and 33 points in 66 games with the Red Wings this season and become an unrestricted free agent July 1.
The Red Wings have 11 draft picks in this June’s draft in Dallas, including eight in the first four rounds (two per round). After going two consecutive seasons without a playoff spot, Red Wings are refusing to call what they’re going through a rebuild but it is pretty clear that they want to tinker with the roster after getting eliminated from the playoffs for the second straight year.
Jimmy Howard will start against Washington on Thursday. He is 4-2-3 in his career against the Capitals with a save percentage of .894 and a goals-against average of 3.00. This season, he is 19-25-8 with a save percentage of .909 and a goals-against average of 2.89. The 33-year old netminder made 23 saves in the Red Wings’ 5-4 overtime win against the Capitals on February 11.
-T.J. Oshie’s 16.8 shooting percentage ranks fifth in the NHL since the Capitals acquired him in 2015 and his 75 goals rank second on the team since joining the team
-Capitals have six power-play goals in their last five games (31.6%). Since Jan. 1, the Capitals have the most successful power play in the NHL (26.9%). During that time frame, 11 different Capitals have recorded a power-play point. John Carlson’s 15 points (two goals, 13 assists) on the power play leads the Capitals during the stretch, ranks first among defensemen during that stretch and tied for eighth overall.
-Capitals’ defensemen have combined for 158 points this season, tied for the seventh most in the NHL. Additionally, Capitals’ defensemen have combined for 124 points at even strength, which is the fifth most in the NHL. This year, 26.5% of the Capitals’ total even strength points (468) have come from defensemen.
A Look Back in Time
The Capitals clinched a playoff berth against the Red Wings back in 2015. Evgeny Kuznetsov scored and current-Red Wing Mike Green notched the game-winning goal and an assist for the Capitals. Braden Holtby made 35 saves on 36 shots, including all 22 shots at even strength, to give the Capitals a 2-1 win.
By Harrison Brown