The Washington Capitals have been nearly unbeatable at home all season, and in the last month they’ve been virtually untouchable wherever they’ve played.
A road game against the Philadelphia Flyers was the lone exception.
Earning a victory will be significantly more difficult for the Flyers at the Verizon Center, where on Tuesday the Capitals will try to win for the 18th time in 20 games while extending their overall winning streak to seven in a row.
Washington (26-11-3) closed the 2007-08 regular season by winning its last six games in the nation’s capital, but lost there twice in the first round of the playoffs to Philadelphia - including a devastating 3-2 overtime season-ender in Game 7.
This season, however, the Capitals have been a force on home ice from the beginning. Their 17-1-1 record at the Verizon Center is the best home mark in the East, and they’ve won their last eight games there.
“We really appreciate our fans. They support us all the time,” said Alex Ovechkin, tied for the league lead with 27 goals. “It doesn’t matter if we play or have practice … this is the best atmosphere ever in Washington.”
The latest home win came Saturday, when Ovechkin’s fourth career short-handed goal was the difference in a 2-1 victory over the New York Rangers, giving the Caps the best 40-game start in their history.
Ovechkin wasn’t selected by fans as an Eastern Conference All-Star starter, but the reigning Hart Trophy winner has looked like the league’s best player recently. Ovechkin has 13 goals and five assists in his last 12 games.
He’s produced a point in all but two of those contests as Washington has gone 11-1-0. One of the times Ovechkin was held off the scoreboard was in the lone loss - a 7-1 defeat to the Flyers (21-10-8) on Dec. 20.
Despite those offensive efforts, the biggest star for the Flyers may have been goaltender Antero Niittymaki. The Caps outshot Philadelphia 48-28, but Niittymaki stopped all but one of those shots.
“We still don’t believe it was a 7-1 game when you get 50 shots on the other goalie, but we’ll come out and play hard again,” Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said Saturday. “We want to beat them like they want to beat us.”
Philadelphia is 10-0-2 in its past 12 home games, but has been on the road since Dec. 26 as it enters the finale of a six-game trip. The Flyers were outscored 8-1 in losing the first two games of the swing, but have picked up five points in their last three contests.
Following wins in Vancouver and Anaheim, Hartnell scored his 15th goal of the season Saturday in Los Angeles but Philadelphia lost 2-1 in a shootout.
The outcome didn’t concern coach John Stevens nearly as much as the Flyers’ growing injury list. Simon Gagne, whose 18 goals rank second behind Carter, missed his second straight game with a shoulder strain, while right wing Joffrey Lupul (13 goals) will miss at least two weeks due to a pulled abdominal muscle.
“We’re missing a lot of guys,” Stevens said. “Jeff Carter had one of the most dominating performances I’ve seen all year even though he didn’t get the puck in the net. We’re really proud of the effort there and it turned out to be a big point for us.”
Gagne is expected to play Tuesday but Niittymaki won’t, joining six other Flyers on the injury list.
That means Martin Biron - 7-2-2 in his last 11 starts despite a 3.21 goals-against average - will start for Philadelphia, facing the Capitals for the first time since starting all seven games in the playoff series last spring.