Coyotes conclude road trip at Washington
Goaltender Mike Smith has been a key catalyst to Phoenix's hot start this season. The Coyotes hope that a trip to Washington won't serve as an inhibitor to his solid play.
The Coyotes look to close out a five-game road trip with another victory while handing the struggling Capitals a fifth loss in a row for the first time in nearly a year.
Phoenix finds itself just two points behind first-place San Jose in the Pacific Division thanks to a 4-1-1 record over its past six games. The Coyotes have won three times already on their swing and bounced back from a loss in Philadelphia last Thursday to post a 4-3 victory at Buffalo two nights later.
Paul Bissonnette picked a great time for his first goal of the season, scoring 66 seconds after Radim Vrbata for the game-winning goal. Vrbata's first goal had tied the game and he sealed the victory with an empty-net tally.
Vrbata leads the Coyotes with eight goals on the year and has 12 points over his last 10 games.
Shane Doan also scored, notching the 750th point of his NHL career, as the Coyotes improved to 6-2-1 as the road team this season and 9-0-3 when scoring the first goal.
"We didn't play exactly the way we wanted, but we found a way to win and found ways to score goals," Doan said. "We got to the net on a couple of rebounds and that really was the difference."
Smith made 43 saves to improve to 9-3-3 with a 2.16 goals-against average and .936 save percentage this year. Brought in to help replace former starter Ilya Bryzgalov, Smith's save percentage is fourth-best in the league.
Head coach Dave Tippett may entertain the idea of going with backup Jason LaBarbera given Smith's history with the Capitals. As a former Lightning goaltender, Smith is 0-6-0 with a 5.01 GAA and .843 save percentage lifetime versus the Capitals.
Smith may be catching Washington at a good time. The Capitals have lost a season-high four straight and are coming off a winless three-game road trip in which they were outscored 14-3. The swing marked the first time Washington was held to a goal or less in three straight games since Dec. 27-31, 2003.
Washington was routed in Toronto on Saturday by a 7-1 margin. Tomas Vokoun started in net and allowed four goals on 18 shots before getting pulled in the second period. Michal Neuvirth stopped eight of the 11 pucks fired his way in relief.
Brooks Laich notched the Capitals' lone goal.
"We made too many mistakes out there tonight," said Laich. "And give them credit, they pounced on most of the mistakes we made. That's what good teams do."
Washington is 6-1-1 at home and would love to see Alex Ovechkin get going tonight. Ovechkin has not posted a single point over the Caps' four-game losing streak, though head coach Bruce Boudreau says his sniper is still getting chances.
"We all look at those numbers, and they're out there, but I don't know how many chances he had at points [Saturday night. If they had of bounced the right way he could have had five," said Boudreau, who is still one win shy of 200 in his coaching career.
"Yeah we look at the numbers and the numbers aren't good ... but what we always tell the players is start really worrying when you're not getting opportunities."
Ovechkin has three goals and six points in five career games versus the Coyotes, who won a 3-2 decision at home over the Capitals in the lone meeting between the clubs last year.
Phoenix has won five of the past seven encounters overall and had won five in a row at Washington until a 4-2 loss there on Jan. 23, 2010.