Photo: Katharine Lotze/Getty Images
The Washington Capitals tangle with the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday night for the first meeting of the season between the two teams. The Capitals swept last year’s season set with the Kings, which included a 3-2 victory in Los Angeles on February 18 for their first win there since 2005. Action from Staples Center can be seen on NBC Sports Washington beginning at 10 PM ET.
The Capitals begin the second half of a four-game road trip after opening the trip with two wins. The team concludes a set of back-to-back games after a 5-2 win over the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center on Tuesday night. The team is 3-0-1 in the second half of a back-to-back this season and 12-2-1 away from Capital One Arena, including 11-1-1 in their last 13 road games.
Captain Alex Ovechkin was on a four-game goal-scoring streak, where he had tallied five goals, before getting held off of the scoresheet in San Jose, and is currently second in the NHL with 20 goals in 29 games this season. Only Boston Bruins forward David Pastrnak, who has 25, has more. Defenseman John Carlson’s 31 assists are third in the NHL behind only Edmonton Oilers centers Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, who each have 32, while his 40 points rank sixth. After going scoreless in three consecutive outings, the 29-year old has a goal and four points, including three against the Sharks on Tuesday, in his last two.
The Capitals’ average of 3.66 goals-per-game ranks second in the NHL entering Wednesday night and they have scored at least four goals in each of their past four games. Their 24.7% power-play efficiency ranks sixth while their 83% penalty-killing rate is 12th. Though, they entered Tuesday’s game having allowed at least one power-play goal in each of their past two games and five of their past six before not taking a penalty against the Sharks. Their average of 2.86 goals-against per game is currently tied with the Edmonton Oilers for 10th in the league.
Center Nicklas Backstrom could make his return to the lineup in Los Angeles after missing his sixth consecutive game against the Sharks as he will be a game-time decision. He has been taking contact in practice for the past few days and joined the team for their morning skate at SAP Center on Tuesday but didn’t take line rushes with the team. The 31-year old has four goals, 18 points, and a -3 rating in 23 games this season. Forward Carl Hagelin, who will face his former team for the first time since the Kings dealt him to the Capitals on February 21, returned to the lineup against the Sharks after missing the last 11 games with an upper-body injury. Defenseman Radko Gudas, who left the third period of Tuesday’s game after getting hit in the head by Sharks forward Evander Kane, could be out against the Kings, which would mean the Capitals would have to go with five defensemen.
Goaltender Ilya Samsonov, who is 6-2-1 with a .914 save percentage and a 2.58 goals-against average in nine games this season, will start for the Capitals at Staples Center on Wednesday night. This will mark his first career start against the Kings. The 22-year old made 25 saves in his last start against the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday.
After finishing last season with the fewest points in the Western Conference (71), the Kings sit in the same spot once again through 28 games with only 24 points. The Kings, who have missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs in three out of the last five seasons since winning their second Stanley Cup in three in 2014, finish a stretch where they play six out of eight at home on Wednesday night. After Wednesday’s game, the team hits the road for the next two games, eight of the next nine, and 10 of the next 12. The Kings are 9-5-1 on home ice this season, including 2-0-1 in their last three home games and 7-1-1 in their last nine.
Captain Anze Kopitar leads the Kings in goals (10), assists (17), and points (27) this season. He is the only Kings player to hit the 20-point mark this season and currently sits 10 points ahead of defenseman Drew Doughty for the team lead. After recording points in four straight games (three goals, five points), the 32-year old has been held off of the scoresheet for three in a row.
After their average of 2.43 goals-per-game was last in the NHL in 2018-19, the Kings have gone up slightly in that category but their average of 2.57 goals-per-game is currently the sixth-lowest in the league. However, the Kings’ average of 34.8 shots-per-game is the second-highest only behind the Montreal Canadiens (35.1) and their average of 28.1 shots-against per game is the lowest. Their 11.6% power-play efficiency is the third-worst while their 74.4% penalty-killing rate is tied with the Buffalo Sabres for the third-worst as well.
The Kings made some minor changes in the offseason after finishing at the bottom of the Western Conference a year ago. They bought out defenseman Dion Phaneuf’s contract and did not tender Capitals forward Brendan Leipsic, who will play against the Kings for the first time since leaving Los Angeles, as a restricted free agent. They signed some depth players in defenseman Joakim Ryan, who has posted a goal, two points, and an even rating in 15 games this season, and defenseman Ben Hutton, who has tallied a goal, five points, and a -6 rating in 28 games, in free agency.
Goaltender Jonathan Quick, who is 7-10-2 with an .882 save percentage and a 3.36 goals-against average in 18 games this season, will likely start for the Kings on Wednesday night. In 12 career games against the Capitals, the 33-year old is 9-3-0 with a .910 save percentage and a 2.55 goals-against average. He made 25 saves in his lone start against the Capitals last season, a 6-4 loss at Capital One Arena on February 11.
- Carlson enters Wednesday one goal shy of 100 career goals
- Ovechkin enters Wednesday one power-play goal shy of passing Teemu Selanne (255) for the third-most power-play goals in NHL history
- Forward Jakub Vrana scored two goals against the Sharks on Tuesday to extended his point streak to five games (four goals, seven points), the longest point streak of his career
- The Capitals are 6-0-3 against the Pacific Division this season
- Samsonov ranks second among rookie goaltenders in wins and first in goals-against average with at least three games
By Harrison Brown