Time to ClimbPosted on January 14, 2013 by Mike Vogel
Hockey games aren’t played on paper, and they never will be. But for a team that has been struggling on the road as much as the Washington Capitals have been this season, the team’s current four-game homestand has a chance to be a mid-season panacea. The Caps got the homestand off to a good start on Wednesday against the Penguins, taking a 1-0 decision over their most heated and hated rivals. The loss was Pittsburgh’s sixth in a row. The Penguins have been outscored 19-6 in those six losses and they’ve scored two or fewer goals in all six games. According to Elias Sports Bureau, it’s just the second time in Pittsburgh’s franchise history that the Pens have lost as many as six straight games while scoring two or fewer in each contest. The first time was from Feb. 27-March 9, 2003, when they dropped seven straight without scoring more than twice in a game. Another fragile team hits town tonight when the Tampa Bay Lightning visits Verizon Center for the first time since Oct. 10. Like The Penguins, the Lightning suffered a lopsided loss on home ice the night before, and also like the Penguins, the Bolts are lugging a five-game losing streak (0-4-1) with them into the District. Washington is 15-5-1 on home ice, and the Caps have won seven of their last eight at Verizon Center. In 10 home games under bench boss Dale Hunter, the Caps have surrendered just 17 goals; they’ve permitted more than two goals in a game just once on home ice under Hunter. In winning seven of their last eight home games, the Caps have scored the game’s first goal in all seven victories, and they’ve scored in the first period in all seven. The Caps have not trailed at any point in any of those seven wins. Tampa Bay is 13th in the NHL’s Eastern Conference standings. Sunday’s opponent – the Carolina Hurricanes – is 14th. Tuesday’s foe – the New York Islanders – is 15th. All three teams play the night before arriving at Verizon Center. The table is set for the Caps to run said table on this homestand, but they’ll have to do some grunt work to get it done. Establishing an early physical tone against a tired team, scoring first, taking and maintaining a lead, winning the special teams battles, and getting good goaltending. These are a few of the basics that have enabled the Caps to ease their way into eighth place in the Eastern Conference standings. They’ve got to keep that formula in place for these next three home games. If you’re not going to win on the run, you’ve got to win at home. Each of the six teams immediately ahead of the Caps in the Eastern Conference standings has won their last game; most have won more than just their last game. Six of the seven teams beneath the Caps in the standings have lost at least their last game; most have lost more. The Caps need this one tonight, this one and the next two. Then they need to get out on the road for a three-game trip to Montreal, Carolina and Pittsburgh and find a way to play in those barns the way they do at The Phone Booth. The second half starts tonight. Time for the Caps to climb, and the stars are aligned for them to do so. The rest is up to them.
When the Caps and Carolina Hurricanes take to the ice on Sunday afternoon at Verizon Center, it’s quite likely that eight of the 12 defenseman dressed for the game will have less than 200 games worth of NHL experience. The Caps have played their last two games with four defensemen below the