Erat, Coyotes visit Capitals

( - The struggling Washington Capitals will try to halt a three-game slide when they welcome Martin Erat and the Phoenix Coyotes for Saturday's battle at Verizon Center.

The Capitals won their first two games after the Olympic break to extend their winning streak to four games overall, but the club then was swept by Philadelphia in a home-and-home series before losing Thursday's test in Boston.

The recent 0-2-1 skid has pushed Washington out of a playoff spot in the East, but the Caps enter Saturday just three points behind Detroit for the conference's final postseason berth.

The Caps were handed a 3-0 loss in Boston and managed to put only 16 shots on net in the loss. Both Washington and the Bruins went the entire game without committing a penalty.

"The killer instinct isn't there right now and it needs to be there because we're running out of time," noted Caps defenseman Karl Alzner.

Braden Holtby was solid for Washington in the loss, making 40 saves. The Caps will turn to Jaroslav Halak in net on Saturday, as the netminder gets set to debut for his new team.

Halak was acquired before Wednesday's trade deadline from Buffalo, with Washington flipping a piece picked up from Phoenix in order to gain the veteran backstop's services.

The Caps picked up forward Chris Brown, defenseman Rostislav Klesla and a fourth-round pick in the 2015 draft from the Coyotes on Tuesday in exchange for Erat and John Mitchell. Klesla was then sent to the Sabres along with goaltender Michal Neuvirth in exchange for Halak and a third-round pick in 2015.

It was the second time Halak was traded in the span of a days. He moved from St. Louis to Buffalo last Friday in the deal that moved former Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller to the Blues. The 28-year-old Halak did not play with Buffalo, but he was 24-9-4 with a .917 save percentage and 2.23 goals-against average in 40 games with the Blues this season.

Erat, who had one goal and 23 assists in 53 games with the Capitals this season, made his debut with Phoenix on Thursday. The Czech winger failed to reach the scoresheet but the Coyotes beat the visiting Montreal Canadiens by a 5-2 score.

Phoenix won for the second straight time in Thursday's tilt versus the Habs. The victory ended a three-game homestand, but the Coyotes hope to continue the winning streak when they open a four-game road trip on Saturday.

Erat's countryman Radim Vrbata scored two goals to help Phoenix beat Montreal and snap the Coyotes' 14-game winless streak against the Canadiens.

Shane Doan and Oliver Ekman-Larsson both had a goal and one assist for the Coyotes, who notched their first victory over Montreal since Dec. 9, 1998. The Canadiens had won nine straight and 11 of the previous 14 meetings, with the other three ending in ties.

"We talked about coming out like we did in the first and I think we did a pretty good job in the third," Ekman-Larsson said.

Mike Smith picked up the win with 24 saves, including 11 in a second period that was dominated by Montreal.

Phoenix improved to 19-11-3 as the host after Thursday's victory, but the club is just 10-12-8 on the road this season.

Like Washington, the Coyotes are fighting to get back into the playoff picture. Phoenix is one point behind the Dallas Stars for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.

Phoenix recorded a 4-3 shootout win when the Capitals visited the desert back on Nov. 9, giving the Coyotes victories in two of three and four of the last six meetings. Washington, which is 17-10-5 as the host this season, has won the last two encounters in D.C.