Photo: Orange County Register
The Washington Capitals visit the Vegas Golden Knights for the second meeting of the year between the two teams and the first since in Sin City since hoisting the Stanley Cup on June 7, when they won 4-3 in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final. The Capitals won the first meeting against the Golden Knights by a score of 5-2 at Capital One Arena on October 10. Action from T-Mobile Arena can be seen on NBC Sports Washington starting at 10 PM Eastern.
The Capitals start a three-game road trip and a stretch where they will play four of the next five away from Capital One Arena. The team has won four consecutive road games and five of their past six road contests to enter Tuesday’s game in Vegas 7-4-1 in 12 road games this season after starting the year only 2-3-1 away from home.
Head coach Todd Reirden told reporters before the team’s 6-5 loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday that forward T.J. Oshie (upper-body injury; possible concussion), who is labeled as day-to-day, and defenseman Brooks Orpik (leg injury), who is on long-term injured reserve, will not travel with the team. Oshie, 31, has missed the past eight games while Orpik, 38, has missed the past 16.
Before falling 6-5 to the Ducks, the Capitals won a season-high seven straight games and eight of their last nine. Washington looked like they will be on their way to Sin City with an eight-game winning streak after they led 5-1 to the Ducks with six minutes left in the second period but they allowed two goals in a minute before the end of the period and allowed two power-play goals for the Ducks to tie it in the third period. The Ducks struck again with a hair more than five minutes left to halt Washington’s winning streak.
One bright spot from the loss to the Ducks was that center Nicklas Backstrom extended his point streak to three with a goal on Sunday afternoon. Backstrom, 31, has four goals and eight points over the streak. In addition, the Swede has eight goals and 21 points in his past 15 games. He leads the team with 33 points and is one assist behind defenseman John Carlson for the team lead (23).
Goaltender Braden Holtby will likely start for the Capitals against the Golden Knights on Tuesday. Holtby, 29, is 10-6-2 with a save percentage of .910, a goals-against average of 2.94, and one shutout this season. In two career regular-season games against Vegas, the goaltender is 1-1-0 with a save percentage of .915 and a goals-against average of 2.50. In last year’s Stanley Cup Final series against the Golden Knights, Holtby recorded a save percentage of .916 and a goals-against average of 2.62.
The Golden Knights saw their five-game winning streak end with a 2-1 loss at the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday night. Before losing to the Oilers, they also won six of their past seven games since former Capitals defenseman Nate Schmidt, who signed a six-year contract worth an average annual value of $5.95 million on October 25 and leads the Golden Knights with an average of 21:53 worth of ice time per game, returned to the lineup from a 20-game suspension for violating the league’s sports-enhancement substance program to start the season.
Vegas started out slowly, going 8-11-1, without Schmidt. A big reason for the slow start was that they were and still are missing a lot of key players due to injuries. Former Capitals’ center Cody Eakin has been the second-line center in Vegas for a while with injuries to free-agent acquisition Paul Stastny, who suffered a lower-body injury in the team’s third game of the season and was expected to miss at least two months, and center Erik Haula, who is month-to-month with a lower-body injury. Eakin, 27, has done a nice job stepping in for Haula and Stastny with 10 goals and 17 points so far this season.
Linemates William Karlsson, who put up 43 goals after never getting more than nine in a single season and led the NHL with a +49 rating a season ago, and Jonathan Marchessault, who led Vegas with 48 assists last year, are tied for the team led 21 points. Marchessault is tied with Eakin and offseason acquisition Max Pacioretty for the team lead with 10 goals. Despite being a point behind Karlsson and Marchessault for the team lead, forward Alex Tuch has been impressive averaging a point-per-game after missing the first eight games.
Despite missing Schmidt for 20 games, the Golden Knights allow the fewest shots-per-game average in the NHL (27.6) and own the third-best penalty-killing rate (84.1%).
The Golden Knights made one of the biggest trades in the offseason, acquiring Pacioretty from the Montreal Canadiens for forward Tomas Tatar, center prospect Nick Suzuki, and a second-round pick on September 10. After producing only two goals in his first 14 games with the Golden Knights, the 30-year old left wing saw a seven-game point streak, where he recorded eight goals and 11 points in that span, end in the team’s 2-1 loss to the Oilers on Saturday. He also had 13 points in the team’s past nine games before the loss to the Oilers.
Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury will likely start for the Golden Knights against the Capitals on Tuesday night. The 34-year old goaltender, who signed a three-year contract extension worth $21 million ($7 million AAV) with Vegas on July 13, is 14-9-1 with a save percentage of .913, a goals-against average of 2.38, and a league-leading five shutouts this season. His 14 wins are also second in the NHL behind Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Fredrick Andersen. Lifetime against the Capitals, Fleury is 22-13-2 with a save percentage of .912, a goals-against average of 2.58, and four shutouts.
-forward Tom Wilson has seven goals in a six-game goal-scoring streak and 13 points in an eight-game point-streak
-Ovechkin is four shots shy of becoming the ninth player in NHL history to record 5,000 shots
-Over the last four seasons, the Capitals are 37-10-9 in the month of December. That’s the most wins and points (83) by any team in the NHL during that span; additionally, the Capitals’ 171 goals for and their 119 goals allowed during that time frame are the highest and the lowest total, respectively, during that span
Back To Game 5
After a scoreless first period, forward Jakub Vrana got a pass from Wilson in the neutral zone and sniped it top corner over the glove of Fleury to open the scoring 6:24 into the second period. After Schmidt tied it up against his former team with a shot from the point that deflected off Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen‘s skate and in, captain Alex Ovechkin drew a tripping penalty on defenseman Brayden McNabb on the next shift and scored from the low left circle after getting a cross-ice feed from Backstrom to tie a franchise record with his 15th goal on the playoffs 34 seconds after Schmidt tied it. The Golden Knights would get the next two, the first being a double deflection goal after defenseman Colin Miller let it go from the point and Tatar and forward David Perron each got a touch on it and the second being a Reilly Smith tally after Tuch got the rebound from defenseman Shea Theodore’s shot and fed Smith for a wide open net. The Capitals pressured the Golden Knights in their zone to start the third period but each attempt was foiled by Fleury… until Orpik kept a loose puck in the zone and threw it on the net. Forward Devante Smith-Pelly caught it with his skate and swept it past Fleury while falling to tie the game with 10 minutes to go. Less than three minutes later, forward Andre Burakovsky pressured defenseman Luca Sbisa along the boards and got the puck to forward Brett Connolly in the slot for a shot that was foiled by Fleury but center Lars Eller pounced on the loose puck to put it behind Fleury for a 4-3 Capitals lead, which would be the final as the Capitals would secure their first Stanley Cup in franchise history. Ovechkin won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP and would be the first to hoist the Stanley Cup and Backstrom was the first to get Lord Stanley after him. Holtby made 28 saves in the win.
By Harrison Brown