The narrative heading into recent seasons has been whether the Detroit Red Wings and their aging stars can help keep their playoff streak alive.
They’ve done so in each of the last two, and a solid start to 2014-15 could help the Red Wings defy their critics once again.
Detroit and its league-best penalty kill visits the Washington Capitals on Wednesday night looking to hold Alex Ovechkin without a point for a fifth straight game.
The Red Wings (4-2-2), who have reached the playoffs in each of the last 23 seasons, have played six of their first eight against clubs that made the postseason last year. They’ve more than held their own despite Pavel Datsyuk missing the first five recovering from a separated right shoulder.
Datsyuk recorded an assist in each of his first two games before scoring his first goal Saturday against Philadelphia, but Detroit fell 4-2 after winning three of its previous four.
"I think it’s a start we all were looking for," goaltender Jimmy Howard told the team’s official website. "Looking at the schedule heading up to training camp, you didn’t really know. It was going to be a true test. We’ve got (two) more games here at the end of the month that are going to be real good tests for our team."
The Red Wings host defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles on Friday, but they’ll first have to contend with a Capitals club returning home after a 1-2-0 road trip through Western Canada.
Washington (4-2-2) ranks among the league leaders in power-play percentage at 25.9, but Detroit killed off 25 straight penalties to open the season before allowing a power-play goal to the Flyers in the third period.
"When we get short-handed, I don’t think anyone panics," Howard said. "We know we’re going to kill it off."
The Capitals went 4 for 8 on the power play in the last two meetings with Detroit last season and went 2-0-1 in the season series. Ovechkin has nine goals and seven assists while recording at least a point in each of his 11 career games against the Red Wings, including six power-play goals.
Ovechkin had five goals in his first four games this season, but he’s gone without a point in his last four, including Sunday’s 4-2 loss to Vancouver.
Marcus Johansson scored and rookie Liam O’Brien netted his first NHL goal, but the Capitals couldn’t generate much else and were outshot 34-22.
"That was probably our poorest game in terms of puck management and puck protection," coach Barry Trotz said. "We turned over way too many pucks, gave up way too many odd-man rushes."
Washington also gave up a pair of power-play goals and has allowed opponents to convert 33.3 percent of their chances over the last four. Detroit, though, has one of the league’s worst power plays and has gone 0 for 19 over its last five games.
"It’s not very good," coach Mike Babcock said. "We have to fix it."
Howard, 3-1-2 with a 1.95 goals-against average in six starts, could be back in net for this contest after Jonas Gustavsson made 13 saves against Philadelphia. Howard is 1-1-2 with a 3.82 GAA in his last four against Washington, though.
The Capitals seem likely to go back to Braden Holtby after Justin Peters started against Vancouver. Holtby is 3-1-1 with a 1.92 GAA in six starts and has won both of his career outings against Detroit.