The Washington Capitals clash with the Arizona Coyotes in the first meeting of the season between the two teams. Each team won 3-2 in overtime at home while the loser never trailed in regulation in two games against each other last season. NBC Sports Washington will have the coverage of the game, which is slated for a 5 PM puck drop at Capital One Arena.
The Coyotes come into town for the third game of a four-game road trip. The team was swept in a home-and-home series with the Philadelphia Flyers, including 5-4 in overtime in their road trip opener on Thursday. They also beat them 5-2 in Arizona on Monday night. Before suffering back-to-back defeats to the Flyers, the Coyotes won five consecutive games, including a 7-1 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning at home. Arizona lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins by a score of 4-0 on Saturday night and will play their second game in less than 24 hours against the Capitals on Sunday. The Coyotes finish their road trip on Tuesday against the Detroit Red Wings.
Arizona made a couple of big acquisitions over the summer, signing forward Michael Grabner, who is third on the Coyotes with nine points, and acquiring center Alex Galchenyuk, who has posted two goals and six points in seven games this season, from the Montreal Canadiens after finishing last season 17-9-3 in their final 29 games (a .637 points percentage).
The Coyotes entered Saturday night’s game against the Penguins leading the league with a 91.1% efficiency on the penalty kill. Arizona has also scored a league-high nine shorthanded goals. The Minnesota Wild, Detroit Red Wings, New York Islanders, and San Jose Sharks each tied for second behind Arizona with four shorthanded goals. Arizona owns the top-three scorers in shorthanded goals (Grabner and center Brad Richardson tied for first with three and center Derek Stepan right behind them with two). Grabner leads the league with five short-handed points with Richardson right behind him with four. Defenseman Alex Goligoski is tied with Stepan and 10 other players for fourth in the league with two shorthanded points.
After being a finalist for the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie with 23 goals and 65 points a year ago, forward Clayton Keller leads the Coyotes in scoring once again with 11 points and is tied with Richardson for the team lead with five goals. Keller had a five-game point streak, where he’s tallied two goals and three assists in that span, snapped against the Penguins.
Goaltender Hunter Miska could make his NHL debut against the Capitals. In seven games with the AHL’s Tucson Roadrunners this season, Miska posted a save percentage of .901 and a goals-against average of 3.11. If Miska doesn’t start, it will be Darcy Kuemper, who is 2-2-1 with a .917 save percentage and a 2.61 goals-against average and started against the Penguins on Saturday. In his lone start against the Caps in his career, Kuemper stopped 27 of 30 shots.
The Capitals conclude a five-game homestand against the Coyotes. They have gone 2-1-1 on their homestand so far and look to end it on a high note on Sunday evening after the Columbus Blue Jackets snapped the Capitals’ first two-game winning streak of the season with a 2-1 win on Friday night. Following Sunday night’s tilt with the Coyotes, the Capitals will begin a four-game road trip.
Washington is in the middle of a tight Metropolitan Division, where the first place Blue Jackets and Philadelphia Flyers are just four points ahead of the Penguins, who are seventh in the division. The Capitals are just two points back of the Blue Jackets and Flyers but find themselves outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture by a point.
The dangerous penalty killing unit of the Coyotes will go up against the second-ranked power play in the league on Sunday night. The Capitals’ 32.7% efficiency on the power-play only trails the Winnipeg Jets for first (34.8% efficiency) in the league. Washington boasts four of the top six league leaders in power-play points: centers Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov are tied for second with 11 while defenseman John Carlson and captain Alex Ovechkin are tied for fourth with New Jersey Devils forward Taylor Hall. Jets forward Blake Wheeler leads the league with 12 power-play points. The Capitals are also fifth in the league with an average of 3.47 goals-per-game.
Kuznetsov comes into Sunday’s game against the Coyotes riding a six-game point streak, where he’s recorded one goal and seven points in that span. The 26-year old center has gotten on the scoresheet in all but two of the Capitals’ games this season. The Capitals have been outscored by a total of 10-1 in the two games Kuznetsov has not recorded a point this season. Kuznetsov’s six power-play goals are tied with Ovechkin for second in the league behind Jets forward Patrik Laine (seven).
Carlson, 28, will likely suit up against the Coyotes after missing Friday’s game against the Blue Jackets with a lower-body injury. The defenseman practiced with the Capitals on Saturday and felt good. The team and Carlson will make the final call on whether he’s ready to return prior to puck drop. Carlson is fourth among NHL defensemen with 18 points and tied for second with five goals.
Goaltender Braden Holtby will likely start against the Coyotes on Sunday. After a slow start, the 29-year old goaltender has a save percentage of .960 in his past two starts while giving up three goals, two of which while the Capitals were shorthanded. He is 5-4-2 with a save percentage of .903 and a goals-against average of 3.26 so far this season. In his career against Arizona, Holtby is 4-1-0 with a save percentage of .908 and a goals-against average of 2.41.
-Forward T.J. Oshie has 18 points (12 assists) in 25 career games against Arizona
-Carlson will pass Sylvain Cote (623) for sixth place on the Capitals’ franchise games played list among defensemen if he plays on Sunday
-Kuznetsov is one assist shy of 200 in his career
A Look Back in Time
After the Coyotes scored two goals in the first 6:42 of the game with tallies from Keller and forward Christian Fischer, forward Devante Smith-Pelly scored on his backhand in front of the goal crease less than two minutes later to get the Capitals back within one. Ovechkin scored a power-play goal from his office with a little more than five minutes to go in the second period to tie the game. The game would go to overtime, where Carlson would finish a nice tic-tac-toe play with Oshie and Kuznetsov on the doorstep with 44 seconds left to win the game for Washington. Holtby made 24 saves in the win.
By Harrison Brown