By Bill Sands
After a resounding 5-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night, the Washington Capitals are kicking off the month of March by taking their annual road trip through California. The team starts things off on Tuesday in Anaheim, then heads to Los Angeles on Thursday, and wraps things up Saturday afternoon in San Jose.
It’s a big week for the Capitals, who hold a tenuous lead in the Metropolitan Division with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers only a few points behind. Here’s what to look for during this three-game swing:
Turn The Tide: For whatever reason, the Capitals have never had much luck on the West Coast. In a combined 45 games at Staples Center, SAP Center, and Honda Center, the Caps have a dreadful record of 14-27-4. Whether it’s the time zone, strength of opposition, or some other unknown factor, California is not kind to Washington.
This needs to change if Washington is going to keep its lead in the Metro. The Caps need to get at least four out of a possible six points on this road trip. All three opponents are in the playoff hunt in the Western Conference, so it certainly won’t be an easy task, but now is the time to bear down and get some gutsy victories.
Complete Games: As we’ve already touched on, the Caps have had a hard time putting together a complete 60-minute effort. Even when they win, it seems like the team takes a period off and it usually comes back to bite them, especially against stronger teams.
Saturday’s outdoor win against Toronto was one of those rare 60-minute appearances; the Caps came out strong and kept their foot on the gas for the entire game. The result: a solid win over one of the best teams in the East.
The Capitalss are looking at 180 minutes of game play over the next week, and they’ll need to show up for at least 80 percent of them if they want this trip to be a success.
Defensive Rebound: The Caps have had trouble keeping the puck out of their net for most of the season. The team made a few moves here and there to shore up the blue line, but Braden Holtby’s numbers have been far below his career averages.
On this trip, defense is going to be key; Los Angeles and San Jose play close-checking hockey and don’t give up many chances, so expect low-scoring games. Over the course of three games, the Caps will be in excellent shape if they can allow five or fewer goals.
One week from now, we will have a much better idea of just how legitimate this Washington team is as a contender. The results of this road trip will be a huge indicator of what this team is made of and how good their chances of winning the Stanley Cup are.