WASHINGTON -- The Washington Capitals are getting ready to embark on a five-game, eight-night road trip that could derail their spot atop the NHL points race.
But first they will host the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday night at Verizon Center. The Coyotes (27-38-9) are no longer contending for the post-season, but Capitals head coach Barry Trotz isn't looking past them.
"We've got to collect points. We've got nine games left and we hold our own fate in our hands, really," Trotz said. "We just take it individually, each game. Arizona should not come in here and think they can win a hockey game. We've got to make sure that we're on top of our game and we've got to perform at a high level, and if we can get a victory tomorrow, then we move on to the next team."
After hosting the Coyotes, Washington plays six of its final eight games away from Verizon Center, including stops in Minnesota, Columbus and Toronto and Boston, so the Capitals can ill-afford to leave a potential two points on the table versus an Arizona team with nothing to lose.
"We need a victory against a team that's playing pretty well," Trotz said. "They're fast, they're young and they're not...they're out of the playoffs. They're playing free."
Washington is on a roll. The Capitals are 4-0-1 in their last five after rallying to defeat Columbus 2-1 in a shootout on Thursday night.
With Pittsburgh losing in a shootout to the Islanders on Friday night, Washington (49-17-8) is one point ahead of the Penguins for the Metropolitan Division and NHL lead, with a game in hand.
"The last few games we've been playing a good system and try to get more shots at the net, and work everywhere in the offensive zone," said Dmitry Orlov, who scored the tying goal against Columbus. "I think we need to just keep doing that."
After winning three straight, the Coyotes have lost four of five.
Jonathan Marchessault scored twice in a 26-second span late in the second period as the Florida Panthers defeated the Coyotes 3-1.
"They turned it up a notch in the second, and we didn't respond very well -- second and third," head coach Dave Tippett told the Arizona Republic. "Just make too many mistakes like that, it ends up in the back of your net. That's what you get. It's usually a pretty honest game. You get what you deserve."
The Panthers first goal came on a bizarre play that resulted with goaltender Mike Smith face down on the ice, his head facing the goal mouth and the net on top of him. A video review determined that Joe Thornton's shot crossed the goal line before the net was displaced.
The momentum turned and Smith made 36 saves in defeat.
"We end up defending all game. When you defend for the rest of the game against a good team, your chances of winning are slim to none," Smith told NHL.com. "So it's been something that's been hard for our team all year. When good teams make a push, it takes us quite a while to figure out what's going on."
The Capitals have earned a point in four of their last five home games against Arizona (4-1-0). Alex Ovechkin has 14 points (five goals, nine assists) in 12 career games versus the Coyotes, and Braden Holtby is 2-0-0 in his career against Arizona with a 1.46 goals-against average.
Smith is 2-7-1 with a 3.72 GAA versus Washington. Radim Vrbata has seven goals and five assists 18 games against Washington.