Capitals-Coyotes Preview

The Washington Capitals’ sputtering offense didn’t do them any

favors heading into a crucial five-game road trip.

Facing the red-hot Ilya Bryzgalov may not be a cure for their

woes.

The Phoenix Coyotes shoot for their fifth straight win Monday

night against Washington while looking to keep pace in the tight

Western Conference playoff race.

Bryzgalov improved to 4-0-0 with a 0.98 goals-against average in

his last four starts, beating Chicago 3-2 in a shootout Saturday.

He started the streak with back-to-back shutouts against Minnesota

and Colorado, then extended it by stoning Patrick Kane on a

breakaway attempt in with just over a minute left in overtime.

”I closed my eyes and hoped he’s not going to score,”

Bryzgalov said.

Kidding aside, Bryzgalov’s play has helped Phoenix (29-19-9) in

its bid for home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs

despite the Coyotes scoring more than three goals only once in the

last 12 games.

“He’s big in the net right now and he’s giving our team

confidence,” coach Dave Tippett told the NHL’s official website.

“That was a heck of a save (on Kane). That’s one they call a

game-saving save.”

However, Bryzgalov lost his only start against the Capitals, a

4-2 defeat Jan. 23, 2010, in the teams’ last meeting.

Radim Vrbata scored the shootout winner and added one in

regulation, giving him four goals in his last three games. He

scored in overtime against Dallas on Wednesday and netted two

against the Avalanche last Monday.

Vrbata’s recent output has equaled the offensive production of

the entire Washington team in its last three.

The Capitals (29-17-10) have scored two or fewer goals in nine

of 13 games after falling 4-1 to Los Angeles on Saturday.

”It’s like we’re waiting for something to happen,” winger Mike

Knuble said. ”It’s time to throw the switch toward the playoffs.

We’re entering the toughest part of the season. It’s going to be a

real indicator if we’re a serious contender or not, quite

honestly.”

After two straight home losses, Washington’s road trip may have

come at a good time. The Capitals are 6-2-2 in their last 10 away

from home, holding opponents to two or fewer goals in seven of

those matchups.

Alex Ovechkin scored his 21st goal just 1:06 into the game, but

the Kings scored four unanswered goals on Semyon Varlamov, who fell

to 1-4-2 with a 2.52 GAA in his last seven starts.

”We outworked them in the first, got outworked in the second

and all we had to do was outwork them in the third to start off a

tough road trip,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. ”(The Capitals)

looked like they were already thinking about what’s going on in the

sun.”

Ovechkin had a goal and an assist, and Alexander Semin had a

goal and three assists in last season’s win against Phoenix, which

ended a two-game losing streak against the Coyotes.

Phoenix has won three straight at home after losing five

consecutive at Jobing.com Arena from Jan. 17-Feb. 2.