Caps vs. Flames NotesThe Caps face a stiff challenge today from a Calgary Flames squad that is desperate for points and is superior to the recent "desperate" Eastern Conference foes the team has faced.
Washington enters the game today with a league-best and team-record 109 points and having secured at least one point in 26 of its last 29 contests. A victory by the Caps today would lock up the Eastern Conference regular-season title, the first in franchise history, and would tie the team record for wins in a season (50) that was set last year. The Capitals also are seven points in front of San Jose in the race for the President's Trophy. Washington has eight games left, while the Sharks have seven remaining contests.
Calgary owns the 14th-best overall record in the NHL, but in the stronger Western Conference their 83 points leave them on the outside looking in, six points behind Colorado with seven games to play. So, to say that this is a must-win for the Flames would be an understatement. Calgary, which has lost two straight and is 5-5 in its last 10, is better on the road than at home with a solid 18-13-6 road mark.
The Caps will be without fourth-liner Boyd Gordon, who is in Hershey rehabbing a back injury that has nagged him all season, and 24-goal scorer Brooks Laich, who was hit in the face with a John Carlson slaphshot that hit the crossbar in practice earlier this week. He has missed the last two games after playing in more than 250 straight contests. Wednesday's victory against Pittsburgh marked the first time in head coach Bruce Boudreau's NHL career that Laich was not in the lineup. Scott Walker skated in practice yesterday and could be available today for Washington. Shaone Morrisonn, who sat out Thursday's shootout loss to Carolina, is questionable after earning the team hardhat with a club-best nine hits vs. the Pens.
Eight of the Caps' last 15 games and six of their past nine have gone into overtime as the team seems to be readying itself for playoff-style hockey. The Flames defeated the Caps, 2-1, in Calgary in the only meeting last year despite an 8-minute power play for Washington in the contest. The Caps have won five straight games vs. the Flames at Verizon Center.
Washington is on pace to score more goals than any team since the 1995-96 Pittsburgh Penguins and have scored 289 goals on the season, 45 ahead of the next-closest team (Vancouver), and their plus-80 goal differential is 28 better than Chicago. The Caps not only lead the league in overall goals, but also first-period, second-period and third-period goals and they have the best come-from-behind record in hockey. Still, in an indication of their recent commitment to defense, Washington has allowed three or fewer goals in seven of its last eight and eight of its last 10 outings. Caps' goalie Jose Theodore has not lost a regulation decision in 19 contests (17-0-2) and has a 2.42 GAA and .927 save percentage in that span. He has won seven straight, posting a 1.95 GAA and .937 percentage in those contests.
Calgary, on the other hand has scored just 189 goals, but their 190 goals allowed is the third-best number in the Western Conference and seventh-best overall. With their desperation and defensive style, today's matchup at 3 p.m. in D.C. should prove to be a playoff-style game.
Today's contest matches the top NHL overall and home power play (Washington, 25.5 percent) against the no. 11 overall penalty kill (Calgary, 83.2). The Caps have struggled a bit overall on the power play (25th, 79.1 percent), but have been solid at home (10th, 84.8 percent) and have shown tremendous improvement and greater commitment in the last seven games. Calgary's power play is 25th in the league overall (16.4 percent) and 15th on the road (16.8 percent).
Notable Numbers: The Caps are 38-2-3 when scoring three or more goals.
Captain's Choice: Since naming Alex Ovechkin captain, Washington is 25-3-5 and has gone from five points down in the race for the Eastern Conference regular-season crown to 16 poins in front.