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Monday Roundup/Gamenight: Caps @ Wild

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[AP Preview - WashingtonCaps.com Preview]

The last time the Caps and Wild hooked up, it was just hours after the trade deadline last February, and Brooks Laich's two-goal/two-assist performance paced the Caps in a game that produced one of the year's great hockey photos and the host's third win in four all-time meetings between the teams at the V.C.

In Minnesota, however, the story has been quite different, with Washington going 0-3-1 while scoring just three goals getting shutout twice against the Wild. In fact, the Caps haven't won in Minny since February 9, 1993 (when Nicklas Backstrom was five years old and Niklas Backstrom was 14), meaning that Washington has averaged exactly one goal every five years in the Land of 10,000 Lakes since Pablo Honey was released, which isn't good (the lack of offense, that is, not the record).

As if a rough history isn't enough, the present day doesn't offer much more reason for optimism. Minnesota has the lowest team goals against average in the NHL, allowing just two goals per game, which should suit the Caps just fine, as they've only scored twice in each of their last two games. But the Caps' offense, even without any semblance of puck control Mike Green, Alex Semin and Sergei Fedorov, is doing some things right - the power play, for example, has scored at least once in each of the past six games, going 8-for-25 over that stretch. Of course, Minnesota has the League's best penalty kill so far at a staggering 91.4%.

If the Caps are going to have any chance tonight, they'll likely have to take an early lead and protect it - the Wild are 4-0-0 when leading after the first period and 6-0-1 when leading after two. In fact, throw in last season and Jacques Lemaire's squad is 27-3-4 with a lead after twenty minutes and 38-0-5 when ahead after forty, and since the lockout, they're 67-11-6 and 90-4-7, respectively.

Mustering up offense will be just half of the challenge, however, and the team's collective inability to keep pucks out of its own net of late could put this game out of reach in a hurry. In their last four games, the Caps have allowed 21 goals and their goalies have a woeful .833 combined save percentage. Enter Jose Theodore (one would think), who has had some success against Minnesota in the past, going 3-2-1-1/2.10/.920 in his career.

Tonight's game, the Caps' eleventh in 21 nights, offers a road-weary Washington team the opportunity to return home with five points from a brutal five-game trip and a renewed sense of confidence - let's see what they do with the opportunity.

Oh, and don't forget to get your drinking game on tonight. Given the Wild's style of hockey, the Caps' play recently and a Versus broadcast, it may be the only way to make it all tolerable (though this is scheduled to be a Lindsey Soto game). And if you're playing with the right beverage, you might even see something like this by the third period.

Elsewhere 'Round the Rinks:

Michael Russo is a personal favorite hockey writer of mine, so his Caps/Wild preview is a must read.... OFB has video on JT60's new mask. Question - does he play for the Caps or Reebok?... Caps PA announcer Wes Johnson lends his pipes to "Fallout 3".... Hey, a Ted Leonsis fan page on Facebook (I guess if you're not one of the lucky 4,995, this is the next best thing).... Loose lips sink trades, Dave Bolland (whoever the hell that is).... Good morning, Katie - make sure to grab this next one.... The Vancouver Sun ran a feature on Karl Alzner over the weekend, and he's pretty blunt about the reason he's not a Capital right now (not that we didn't know).... Speaking of Caps prospects, here's a nice piece on Nick Larson (h/t Nate).... Finally, I would never tell you how to vote, but if you don't vote for Mirtle's "From The Rink" here, I'm pretty sure the terrorists have won.