The Capitals (37-22-7) had a rocky start to their western swing on Tuesday night by dropping a 4-0 decision to the Anaheim Ducks. The loss snapped a two-game winning streak and was the first time in 27 games Washington was shutout. Though the Capitals doubled Anaheim's shot total (36-18) and had three power play opportunities they could not solve Ducks netminder John Gibson.
Washington coach Barry Trotz noted that while the time change to the West Coast in the first game of a road trip was a factor in the defeat, a bigger concern is the play of starting goaltender Braden Holtby. Holtby, a nominee for the Vezina Trophy last season was pulled 5:32 into the second period after surrendering three goals on nine shots.
"We talked before the game and said, let's focus on the start," Trotz said. "Because of the time change, sometimes you are a little off. First shift, we actually were ok but then we took a penalty and they ended up scoring."
Trotz has pulled Holtby four times from a game since Feb. 3 and his backup Phillippe Grubauer has won his last four starts but Trotz affirmed his support for his starter after the Anaheim loss.
"He hasn't had a real good stretch just like any player," Trotz said. "He is going to work with our goaltending coaches and get his game in order. He has won a lot of games for us and he is an elite goaltender in this league. Everybody goes through some dry spells and he is having one right now."
Washington captain Alex Ovechkin is closing in on a major milestone as he enters the contest just two goals short of 600 career goals and will be just the 20th player in NHL history to achieve that total. In addition, Ovechkin would become the NHL's first player to join the 600 goals club since Jarome Iginla on Jan. 4, 2016 and the only player to make his NHL debut after the 1996-97 season.
The Kings (36-25-5) have had four days to recover from a stunning 5-3 defeat to the Chicago Blackhawks last Saturday afternoon at Staples Center. The defeat to the Central Division's last place team snapped a three-game winning streak and was due to undisciplined play which led to four Chicago third-period goals in a game that Los Angeles clearly controlled after two periods.
Los Angeles coach John Stevens normally stoic in his post season press conferences was visibly angered at his team play in the final period which included an unsportsmanlike penalty to Drew Doughty that keyed the Chicago comeback.
"If you can write a script for losing hockey games, we just wrote it," Stevens said. "This team can have success if everybody does everything in the best interest of the team."
Moving on to tomorrow night's opponent, Stevens assumes the Kings will see a better prepared Capitals team than the one who lost to their division rivals. Los Angeles defeated Washington 5-2 on Dec. 30 and the two standings points are important as they try to return the post season in Stevens' first season as head coach.
"It's the second game of a trip, teams are probably a little more acclimated to the travel out here," Stevens said. "They will probably be a better team in game two than they would in game one, but certainly they'll be a better team than they were against Anaheim. They have high-end players that are very dangerous on special teams and they forecheck very well. We know what they're capable of and we have to be ready for their best game."
Winger Trevor Lewis could make his return from the injured reserve list after missing 12 games with an upper-body injury. Lewis is a key depth player for Los Angeles, registering 13 goals and 11 assists in 54 games. The winger has practiced throughout the week and was on line with winger Adrian Kempe and center Michael Amadio on Wednesday, a further indication of his possible return.
Defenseman Dion Phaneuf missed Wednesday's practice due to illness but is expected to play Thursday.