Ben Raby, wtop.com
WASHINGTON – The Capitals return to Verizon Center tonight for their only meeting of the season against the Anaheim Ducks (Caps Pregame at 7:00 on 1500AM & www.wfed.com).
The Caps (7-2-0) were winless on their two-game trip to western Canada, falling in Edmonton Thursday and in Vancouver Saturday. The Ducks (5-5-1) have also lost two straight, dropping back-to-back games over the weekend in Nashville and Columbus.
Anaheim has lost five of six overall and the Ducks are 29th among the NHL’s 30 teams, averaging just 1.91 goals per game. Meanwhile, Washington is a perfect 5-0 on home ice for the first time in franchise history, and the Caps’ 3.78 goals per game are a league best.
With offensive contributions coming from all four lines, and Washington’s power play clicking at 25.7 percent (third-best in the NHL), the Capitals will need to improve their play away from the puck if they hope to return to the win column.
Below are three keys to a win tonight over Anaheim:
Contain Anaheim’s No.1 line of Perry-Getzlaf-Ryan
To fully appreciate the Ducks’ dependency on their No.1 line, consider that Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan have combined for 12 goals this season. The rest of the team has combined for nine.
Widely considered the best trio in the NHL, Perry, Getzlaf and Ryan accounted for nearly 44 percent of Anaheim’s scoring last season, led by Perry’s league-high 50 goals.
“You have to shut them down to give yourself a chance to win,” said Capitals forward Joel Ward, who faced the Ducks in the Western Conference quarterfinals last year while playing with Nashville.
“They’re big guys that can skate well. It’s a quick line, they’re big bodies, so you have to pay close attention to them and obviously just take away their space.”
If Washington head coach Bruce Boudreau tries to match lines with Anaheim’s Randy Carlyle, the task of shutting down the Ducks No. 1 trio will likely fall on Ward and fellow third-liners Matt Hendricks and Brooks Laich.
In two games against the Caps last season, the Perry-Getzlaf-Ryan line combined for four goals and 12 points, highlighted by Getzlaf’s overtime game-winner Dec. 15 in DC.
Perry was named the NHL’s Most Valuable Player last season and is not afraid of high-traffic areas. The Stanley Cup (2007) and Olympic (2010) champion scores the bulk of his goals from close in and his 11 game-winning goals last year were tied for the NHL lead with Alex Ovechkin.
Getzlaf, who also has a Stanley Cup and Olympic championship on his resume, is the playmaker on Anaheim’s top-unit. The 6’4", 221-pound center doesn’t shy away from the physicality either, and finished 19th among forwards last year with 189 hits.
Ryan rounds out the top line with his speed and puck skills. The 24-year-old is the youngest of Anaheim’s leading scorers and is one of only nine players with at least 30 goals in each of the last three seasons.
Going into last Thursday’s road game in Edmonton, the Capitals were the NHL’s least penalized team. The Caps then went out and took a season-high nine minor penalties against the Oilers, leaving themselves shorthanded eight times. Predictably, the Oilers scored two power play goals in their 2-1 win.
Saturday wasn’t much better in Vancouver, where the Canucks converted on two of five power plays in their 7-4 win.
“The thing that really has to get better is our penalty killing, which was really good last year and is really not very good right now,” Boudreau said after Saturday’s loss. “We have to correct that. It’s put us in the hole in both games that we’ve lost. In games that we’ve won, we’ve still allowed (power-play) goals. We shore that up, and a lot of other things take care of themselves.”
The Capitals penalty-killing unit is rated 23rd in the league at 77.1 percent. The Caps finished second in the NHL last season at 85.6 percent.
“We just have to stay out of the box and we won’t have any issues on the PK,” said defenseman Roman Hamrlik. “We can take lessons from the last two games in Edmonton and Vancouver. We’re just not doing the little things that we’re supposed to do… We’re just doing too much running [around] out there.”
The Ducks have struggled with man advantage this season (rated 22nd in the NHL at 13.3 percent), but have the weapons to rebound. Anaheim finished third in power play efficiency last season at 23.5 percent, with the same nucleus as this year.