Washington Capitals at Arizona Coyotes
Date: Friday, Dec. 22, 2017
Time: 9.00 p.m. Eastern Time
Venue: Gila River Arena, Glendale, Arizona
TV: FS-A, NBCSWA+
By Bill Sands
The Washington Capitals are in Glendale on Friday night for the second game in their pre-Christmas road trip. The trip began on Tuesday with an overtime win against Dallas in a game that saw TJ Oshie return to action for the first time since December 4. The trip concludes with a trip to Las Vegas over the weekend and then the Caps get a few days off to enjoy the holiday break.
Waiting for the Caps are the Arizona Coyotes, who have had a rough start to the year. Featuring a talented core led by Max Domi and Clayton Keller, the Coyotes still boast a nice blend of young talent and veteran leadership that should pose a tough test for the Caps, who can’t take this game for granted.
Washington: The big story for the Caps is the return of TJ Oshie. His return was at the top of our Christmas list, and Oshie looked like his old self in Tuesday night’s game. The Caps went 5-1 in the six games that he missed and the offense didn’t miss a beat, but there’s no doubt that he makes Washington a more complete team and Caps fans are thrilled to see #77 on the ice.
In other injury news, Andre Burakovsky was a force against Dallas., playing easily his best game since coming back from a broken thumb. Andre had two goals (including the OT winner) and generated multiple scoring chances throughout the night.
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Washington finally has their optimal lineup and hopes to continue its recent hot streak (11-2 in their past 13 games). The Caps are scoring in bunches (even without Oshie) and keeping the puck out of their own net. All four lines are rolling, the defense looks steady, and Braden Holtby has been his usual stellar self.
Play on the road, however, continues to be a concern. The Caps sit at .643 and this game against a lowly Arizona team represents a great opportunity to improve their record.
Arizona: Things couldn’t have gotten off to worse start for Arizona and new head coach Rick Tocchet. The team lost their first 11 games and didn’t record a regulation win until November 16, almost a month and a half into the season. Included in that stretch was a 3-2 loss to the Caps on November 6 in which Arizona blew a 2-0 lead.
Things looked like they were turning around by Thanksgiving, but a recent six-game losing streak has the Coyotes stuck in the basement with a dismal 7-23-5 record. Offseason acquisitions Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta have been decent, but not the #1 center and goaltender that the team thought they were getting when making their trades.
It’s not all bad in Arizona, however, thanks to encouraging play by several young forwards. Rookie Clayton Keller leads the team in points and is the current favorite for the Calder Trophy, and Max Domi, Christian Fischer, and Brendan Perlini make up an impressive core of young forwards that management hopes will lead the team in future years.
Keys to the Game
1. Avoid the Trap: A date with Arizona in December may not seem like a big deal, but this game is a huge test that will go a long way towards determining how legitimate this Caps team is. Immediately after this game, the Caps head to Vegas for a Saturday night tilt with the red-hot Golden Knights. Before they can do that, however, the Caps need to take care of business against Arizona. The league’s best teams know how to stay focused and not lose games like this, and Washington needs to prove that it belongs in this category. The Caps will have to play a focused game and they can’t make the mistake of looking past the Coyotes.
2. Special Teams: As mentioned above, having Oshie back in the slot is a huge boost for the power play. Alex Ovechkin is always a threat from his office in the right circle, but Oshie provides a secondary threat and forces penalty killers to divide their attention. Arizona is a disciplined team and has taken the fifth-fewest penalties in the league, and they’ll need to stay out of the box to prevent Washington from taking control of the game.
3. Goaltending Strategy: This game is the first of a back-to-back, meaning Trotz will need to decide how to best use his two goaltenders over the weekend. It may be wise to give backup Philipp Grubauer the easier matchup and save starter Braden Holtby for Saturday night in Vegas, but Trotz has repeatedly shown in recent years that he prefers using Holtby in the first game when the Caps play on consecutive nights. Arizona also plays a game the following night against Colorado, so Tocchet will also need to decide how he wants to deploy Raanta and backup Scott Wedgewood, who played a solid game when the Coyotes were in Washington.