NHL Preview from The Sports Network
Saturday, January 23rd (All times eastern)
Phoenix Coyotes (29-17-5) at Washington Capitals (32-12-6), 7 p.m.
(Sports Network) - The red-hot Washington Capitals vie to keep up their recent high-scoring ways when the current Eastern Conference front-runners return home tonight to take on the Phoenix Coyotes at the Verizon Center.
Washington has amassed 24 goals over the course of a five-game winning streak that was extended with Thursday's 6-3 triumph at Pittsburgh, the team's first encounter with the Penguins since losing Game 7 of last year's Eastern Conference semifinals to the eventual Stanley Cup champs. Over a nine-game run in which they've gone 8-1-0, the Capitals have averaged an impressive 4.95 goals per contest.
The Capitals led the NHL with 187 goals for the season, 18 more than San Jose for the top spot.
As expected, Alex Ovechkin has been the forefront of Washington's offensive outburst. The two-time Hart Trophy winner had two goals and an assist in Thursday's victory over the Penguins and now has amassed 18 points (6 goals, 12 assists) during a personal eight-game scoring binge.
Mike Knuble and Tomas Fleischmann each added a goal and an assist for the Caps, who now have a conference-best 70 points. Goaltender Jose Theodore, fresh off a stellar 44-save performance in a 3-2 win over Detroit on Tuesday, did his part as well by stopping 35-of-38 shots against the dangerous Penguins.
"This week has been good for our confidence, especially beating these guys (Pittsburgh) in their building," said Theodore afterward.
Washington has been awfully tough in its own building so far in 2009-10. The Capitals have amassed an excellent 17-3-3 record at the Verizon Center this season and enter tonight's clash having won their last five home tilts.
The Coyotes may not be intimidated by that gaudy mark, considering the team has left with a win in each of its last two visits to Washington. Phoenix has also taken four of the past five overall matchups in this series, including a 2-1 decision in Arizona last season.
Phoenix flies in after completing a long homestand with a 4-2 win over Nashville on Thursday, the club's third in its last four outings.
Scottie Upshall registered a natural hat trick -- the first of his career -- to pace the Coyotes offensively, while goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov bounced back from a rough night in his previous start with a sharp 41-save effort.
Bryzgalov was pulled early in the second period of Monday's 7-2 loss to Buffalo after allowing three goals on only 13 shots.
Matthew Lombardi added a goal and an assist for Phoenix, which stands second in the Pacific Division with 63 points at the moment.
"This game was a big momentum builder," said Upshall, a former member of the Predators. "We had everyone step up. [Bryzgalov] stood on his head and made big saves. And to have an opportunity to have an impact and score a few goals was huge."
Upshall leads the Coyotes with 17 goals this season, the highest total of the former first-round pick's seven-year career.
Washington played Thursday's test without standout defenseman Mike Green, who was scratched due an undisclosed injury and is uncertain to play tonight. The 2008-09 All-Star has at least one point in the last nine games in which he's appeared, notching three goals and nine assists over that span.
01/23 10:59:00 ET