Washington Capitals Win Streak Snapped, Backstrom Hurt

The Washington Capitals (24-18-2) eight game win streak was snapped on Thursday night, as they fell to the Ottawa Senators (23-14-6) on the road by a 3-1 score. Although led by an outstanding performance in net from goaltender Braden Holtby (35 saves on 37 shots), the team from the nation’s capital managed only one goal from center Mike Ribeiro in the second period. You can view a game recap from Japers’ Rink here.

Even with the loss, the Capitals still hold an above .500 road record (11-10-2) and are tied with the Chicago Blackhawks for the best record over the last ten games (8-1-1). Unfortunately for Washington, they received no help from the division rival Winnipeg Jets. The team from up north notched an overtime victory over the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday night, pulling to within two points of the Southeast Division leading Capitals.

Both teams failed to register any special teams’ goals as each club earned three power play opportunities apiece. The Senators were dominant in the faceoff circle, winning 31 of the contest’s 51 draws, led by center Zack Smith who won 9 of 13 draws (69%). Center and impending unrestricted free agent Matt Hendricks led the Capitals at the faceoff dot, winning four out of the eight (50%) draws he took.

The Senators doubled the Capitals shot output (19), with 38 shots on Holtby. Washington managed only four shots during their three power plays, and only had 15 shots on goal during even strength play, something you need more of if you’re going to beat a high quality goaltender like Craig Anderson (18 saves on 19 shots).

“I think we didn’t make lots of shots on them,” Capitals Captain Alex Ovechkin said after the game. “Unfortunately, we did not have a good start. Holtby played well. The game all the time is going to be [about] who gets the lead. They’re going to be [more successful.]”

Perhaps the worst news of the night for the Capitals came in the third period, as they lost center Nicklas Backstrom to an upper body injury. Backstrom was hit up high during offensive play following a shot from defenseman Mike Green with around seven minutes remaining in regulation. Washington head coach Adam Oates told the media after the game that there would be an update regarding Backstrom on Friday.

Nicklas Backstrom
(Icon SMI)

The Road Ahead

With a two point edge in the division over Winnipeg, the Capitals can clinch a division championship and the third seed for the playoffs by finishing the regular season 3-0-1. However, that is easier said than done. Washington travels to Montreal for a tough matchup against the Canadiens on Saturday, followed by a monumental game against the Jets next Tuesday at Verizon Center. Their contest against Winnipeg could define their season as a success or failure, as the Jets have a far easier final four games (Islanders, Sabres, Capitals and Canadiens).

Following their home contest against the Jets, Washington’s final two home games come against the Ottawa Senators on Thursday and against hungry Boston Bruins on Saturday April 27th.

It’s unsure whether the Capitals will hold an early first round pick or a playoff spot by next weekend, but it would play a huge role for roster decisions this summer.

Minor League Updates

The Capitals AHL affiliate, the Hershey Bears, are fighting for playoff position as they enter this weekend out of the playoffs by two points with three games left to play. They travel to Adirondack and Binghamton on Friday and Saturday, followed by their final game of the year at home against the Manchester Monarchs Sunday evening.

Washington’s ECHL affiliate, the Reading Royals, enters the second round of the Kelly Cup playoffs on Friday, taking on the Florida Everblades in a best of seven series. The Royals are led offensively by Capitals forward prospect Stanislav Gailev who posted two goals in two assists in Readings 4-1 series win over the Greenville Road Warriors in the first round. You can read about Reading’s previous series victory from the Reading Eagle’s Jason Guarente.

The Capitals also extended their affiliate with the Reading Royals for the 2013-2014 season last week.

Washington also signed Hershey Bears forward Ryan Stoa to a one year contract extension for the 2013-2014 season that will earn him $550,000 at the NHL level. He’ll likely spend next year in the American Hockey League.

You can follow Matthew on twitter @m_speck and email him at mspeck21@yahoo.com with any questions or comments.