From Road Warriors to Road Woe-rriorsPosted on January 14, 2013 by Mike Vogel
When the Caps set out for Montreal in the immediate aftermath of a 3-0 home ice loss to the New York Islanders on Jan. 17, they began a daunting stretch in which they were to play six of their next seven games on the road. The word “daunting” applies only because the Caps have struggled so mightily away from Verizon Center this season. (This after having won at least 20 road games in each of the last four seasons.) Going into that Jan. 18 game at Montreal, the Capitals had led for a combined total of just 45 minutes and 12 seconds of their prior 13 road contests, a span that encompassed 785 minutes of hockey beginning on Nov. 15 in Nashville. Not at all surprisingly, Washington posted an anemic 3-9-1 record in those 13 road games. Things were different that night in Montreal for the Capitals. Mathieu Perreault got them on the scoreboard first with a goal at 4:41 of the first frame. Marcus Johansson added another tally before the first intermission. For just the third time all season – and the first since Nov. 5 – Washington took a lead to the locker room after the first 20 minutes of a road game. The Capitals maintained that lead for the rest of the night, a span of 55 minutes and 19 seconds. That means they held the lead longer in that one road game than they had in their previous 13 road games combined. With a 3-0 victory that night, there was optimism that Washington might have turned a corner on the road, that the Caps could author another strong finishing flourish away from the District in the season’s second half. In retrospect, that game might be an anomaly. The Caps have failed to win in four road games since, picking up just two of a possible eight points while facing three teams that sat outside the playoff picture when the puck dropped to start the game. Coming out of the All-Star break, the Caps took on divisional foes Tampa Bay and Florida on consecutive nights, drawing Mathieu Garon and Scott Clemmensen in the opposite nets, respectively. Washington earned just one point in those two games, that by virtue of an overtime loss against the Lightning. “It seems to be something different every night,” laments Caps center Brooks Laich. “One night the power play doesn’t score. One night the penalty kill gives one up, or a mistake or a missed assignment. We’re just not getting it done. It has nothing to do with game plan or structure. A mistake here or there changes the game and we’re fighting from behind. “We just have to be better. I’m sick and tired of losing on the road.” Since their 3-0 win over the Habs in Montreal on Jan. 18, Washington has led for a combined total of just 7:53 of the 244:16 of road hockey it has played. “It’s tough to put a finger on it,” says Washington blueliner Karl Alzner. “I just don’t think we have a enough energy or as much energy as we do when we’re playing at home. Our special teams seem a little bit different. I think we seem to be doing a pretty good job at home, but I have no idea what the difference is for that, at least. It’s nothing that I could tell you exactly. I don’t know why it’s happening.” Today in Montreal, the Caps get a third straight backup goaltender (the Canadiens' Peter Budaj) and they face yet another team sitting outside the Eastern Conference playoff chase. With Washington sitting in ninth place, with the days on the calendar dwindling, and with defending Stanley Cup champion Boston visiting Verizon tomorrow, the Caps really need two points in Montreal on Saturday. “We haven’t played well on the road right from the get-go,” says Caps coach Dale Hunter. “It’s one of those things where we are in these games but it’s the one-goal difference and we’ve been on [the wrong end of] the one-goal difference pretty much.” The Caps won 20 or more games on the road in each of the last four seasons. This season, they’ve already suffered 14 regulation setbacks on the road. None of the last 15 Stanley Cup winners lost more than 15 games in regulation on the road during the regular season. “On the road, I don’t know why but I don’t think we play our game at all,” says Caps captain Alex Ovechkin. “And if we play our game, in three games maybe we play one game very good. Sometimes the puck goes in, lucky goals. Last game, from the red line. Right now, our team gets down. Usually we think, ‘That’s okay.’ We know we can score more goals than any team in this league. Right now we just have to realize we still have the same team and same players. We just have to be mentally ready. If we go down one or two, it’s okay. We still have lots of time to come back.” The Caps may have lots of time to come back in those individual games when they fall behind, but they’re running out of time to get their road game turned around. Washington has won just six of its last 23 games (6-14-3) away from Verizon Center.
Two weeks ago in Pittsburgh, Caps coach Dale Hunter formed a new line featuring Brooks Laich flanked by Matt Hendricks on the left and Troy Brouwer on the right. The trio was put together that afternoon to check the Penguins’ potent top line of Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and Chris Kunitz. That