Caps start California trip at Anaheim

ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Washington Capitals open a three-game California road trip against the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday night at Honda Center.

The Capitals (37-21-7) enter with a two-game winning streak after defeating the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-2 in the latest edition of the NHL Stadium Series game staged outdoors at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., on Saturday night. Five different Washington players registered goals including captain Alexander Ovechkin’s 40th goal of the season. Ovechkin hit the 40-goal plateau for the ninth time in his 13-year career.

Ovechkin registered the overtime winner in the Capitals’ 3-2 overtime victory over Anaheim on Dec. 16 in Washington in the first of the two-game season series.

The victory was goaltender Braden Holtby’s first victory since Feb. 9 and it could be the platform he needs to return to the form needed if the Capitals are going to maintain their slim Metropolitan Division lead over the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins on this road trip.

“Saturday was a good day,” said defenseman Matt Niskanen. “He played hard and well, and we are looking to carry that momentum across country where we play three really good teams. The Ducks have some high-end skill guys, they are big and have long reaches. They can score without having a lot of space, so we will have to be on top of our game and play fast.”

Capitals coach Barry Trotz noted the usual advantage his team has at center with Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov may be negated by Anaheim’s strength down the middle.

“They are built through the middle,” Trotz said. “Ryan Getzlaf is hot right now and is a fantastic player. He is one of the secrets in the league, he can dominate games with his skill and size. Ryan Kesler is known as a premier shutdown center with an edge to his game. He always tries to disrupt the center he is keying on. It will be a good challenge for us.”

The Ducks (33-21-12) enter the game with a two-game winning streak of their own after defeating the Chicago Blackhawks 6-3 on Sunday afternoon at Honda Center. Corey Perry and Jakob Silfverberg each registered two goals in supper of a 37 save performance by goaltender John Gibson.

Hampered by injuries through most of the season, Anaheim is closing with a rush in the hopes of securing an automatic postseason berth by finishing in the top three in the Pacific Division. They are 6-1-1 in their last eight games and have a 2.00 goals-against average in that stretch. Leading scorer Rickard Rakell (27 goals, 27 assists) has recorded five goals in his last three games and Gibson owns a 7-1-1 record since the All-Star break.

Silfverberg, entered the game with two goals in his last 22 games placing him far off the pace of last season’s career-high 23-goal output. While an exceptional defender and a mainstay on a penalty kill unit that has killed 20 consecutive penalties at home, Silfverberg realizes his offensive production must increase to better his team’s hopes of making a sixth consecutive post-season appearance.

“We have had a few guys, me included, that haven’t been able to find the back of the net consistently,” Silfverberg said. “Hopefully this gets me going. We need everyone, especially at this time of the year. We played almost a full 60 minutes of good structured hockey.”

Getzlaf feels that with a fully healed team, the Ducks are prepared to make a big run in their final 16 games.

“Things are starting to click,” Getzlaf said. “As a group it is nice to have our full lineup in and everybody going. This is what it is all about this time of year, this is the way we want to be playing.”