The Vancouver Canucks entered a grueling road trip struggling with consistency. They’re returning home with a vastly improved record.
Playing their first home game in more than two weeks, the Canucks seek a fourth straight victory Monday night against a Washington Capitals team they’ve regularly frustrated.
Vancouver (8-4-1) was 3-3-0 prior to a season-long seven-game trip, totaling 14 goals in the wins while getting outscored 12-3 in the defeats. The Canucks then went 5-1-1 away from home, scoring at least three goals in all but one game, completing the trip with a 3-2 overtime win in St. Louis on Friday.
“Day by day, it’s a really good trip,” coach John Tortorella said. “Throughout the trip, we won in different ways. We kept our composure. We handled ourselves and stayed within ourselves. We know how long this trip has been.”
Ryan Kesler’s second goal Friday was the difference with 15 seconds remaining in the extra period. Kesler has already scored seven times, including four in his last three games along with two assists.
“I can always improve,” said Kesler, who was limited to 13 points in 17 games with multiple injuries last year. “I’m going to keep riding it. This trip has helped me a lot.”
He also has a goal and five assists in his last five games versus Washington. Henrik Sedin, who assisted on Kesler’s 4-on-3 winner, has seven points in his last seven matchups with the Capitals.
Vancouver owns a 37-19 scoring advantage during an 8-1-0 stretch against Washington with 20 goals on 47 power plays (42.6 percent). Washington, which has lost four straight in Vancouver, hasn’t surrendered a power-play goal in six straight games overall, thwarting all 18 of its opponents’ opportunities.
The Capitals (5-6-0) continue to be plagued by slow starts after a 5-2 loss at Calgary on Saturday. They fell behind 3-1 in the first period and have been outscored 12-6 in the first. They are outscoring opponents 24-23 in all other periods.
“We’re going to have to realize as a group that we have to do something before the game to make sure we’re prepared because the majority of the games we’re losing, it’s because of the first period,” said goaltender Braden Holtby, who had posted a .945 save percentage in his previous five games before being pulled in the first period when he allowed three goals on 14 shots.
“It’s nothing to do with systems, it’s nothing to do with what the coaching staff can do, it’s what we do as professional athletes, hockey players. You prepare yourself and we’re not doing a good enough job in here.”
Alex Ovechkin recorded five shots but went without a point for just the third time this season. Eight of his 15 points have come on the power play as Washington is 11 for 41 on the season (26.8 percent) but 0 for 6 in its last two games.
Roberto Luongo is 13-1-0 with a 2.23 goals-against average and two shutouts in his last 14 starts against the Capitals.
Marcus Johansson has scored a goal in each of his only two matchups with Vancouver, while Daniel Sedin has two goals and two assists in his last two games versus Washington.