CAPITALS (9-7-0) at COYOTES (11-4-2)
Season series: This is the first matchup between the Washington Capitals and Phoenix Coyotes in almost two years. They last met on Nov. 21, 2011, with Washington winning 4-3. These teams have split their past four meetings, dating to 2008-09.
Big story: Washington and Phoenix have been among the NHL's hottest teams and are near the top of their respective division standings. Washington comes into the game having won four straight while Phoenix had a five-game win streak snapped by the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday.
Coyotes: Arizona has not been a very hospitable place for visiting hockey teams this season. The Coyotes boast a League-best 7-0-1 home record. They host Washington having won six straight at Jobing.com Arena, including a 3-2 shootout win against the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday.
Phoenix lost at Anaheim on Wednesday to snap a five-game win streak.
“You put win streaks together because you play consistently well and if you don’t play well, then sometimes you have a power play or a goaltender or something to win games,” Head Coach Dave Tippett said. “If you look at the streak we had, that was kind of the case. We won games different ways, but that being said, you’ve got to get back to playing well so you can win again.”
Center Mike Ribeiro will play against the Capitals for the first time since leaving Washington after last season.
"It was a nice experience to see D.C. and live there for a year, but I was excited to come here and get up with the sun every morning," Ribeiro said about his decision to sign with Phoenix as a free agent over the summer.
The Coyotes have allowed at least one power-play goal in their past five games. The penalty-kill unit will be tested by the Capitals, who lead the NHL in power-play efficiency (28.1 percent).
“We’ve taken some penalties that have come back to bite us,” Tippett said. “There are two sides — don’t take the penalty or get it killed —and we haven’t been able to do both. Those are areas we certainly can see improvement.”
The Coyotes are expecting former Capitals player Jeff Halpern to be back in the lineup tonight after missing the past five games with an injury. Tippett said defenseman David Schlemko, who has missed the past four games, also is ready to return.
Mike Smith is expected to start in goal for the Coyotes. Smith has not fared well vs. Washington in his NHL career; he is 0-6-0 with a 5.01 goals-against average and .843 save percentage.
Capitals: A difficult stretch in which the Capitals closed out October with losses to the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks got even tougher when captain Alex Ovechkin suddenly went down with a shoulder injury. But Washington won both games without Ovechkin, including a 7-0 dismantling of the Philadelphia Flyers on Nov. 1.
Ovechkin didn't skip a beat when he returned to the lineup. The Russian sniper scored twice in a 6-2 win against the New York Islanders on Tuesday before opening the scoring on the power play against the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night.
Charlie Coyle and Mikael Granlund would reply for Minnesota to give the Wild a 2-1 lead. But Marcus Johansson tied the game with 3:08 left in regulation when his shot from the right circle beat Josh Harding. Nicklas Backstrom then scored the only goal in the shootout to ice Washington's fourth straight win.
"We're certainly going to have to play better than we did tonight," forward Brooks Laich said. "We kind of escaped with a win. We expect more out of ourselves. I don't think we're going home really patting ourselves on the back and feeling fantastic."
Who's hot: Shane Doan has five goals in his past seven games for the Coyotes, while Martin Hanzal has three goals and five points in his past five games... Ovechkin has three goals in his past two games for the Capitals. Backstrom has eight points in his current four-game point streak.
Injury report: Defenseman Derek Morris (lower-body injury) and forward Radim Vrbata (lower-body injury) will not play in this game .... Defensemen Jack Hillen (tibia surgery) and John Erskine (upper body) are both out for Washington.
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