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Sittin at the End of the (Capitals) Bar

The Peerless takes a look back at ten years of trips to California (with a little Phoenix thrown in) to see just how much there is to this "tough west coast trip" thing.

Bruce Bennett

This whole west coast trip the Caps are on and their win over Anaheim last night got me to thinking about some trips they took way back when...

Just before Christmas in 2002, the Caps went west to visit Anaheim, Phoenix, and San Jose. That was a three-in-four-nighter trip. It started in Anaheim, too. Not well, as it turned out. The Caps went into that game 12-14-0, but the Ducks weren't a whole lot better at 11-9-3. Trouble is, the Ducks had Jean-Sebastien Giguere in goal when he was a big thing, and the Caps had...Sebastien Charpentier (Olaf Kolzig was out with a groin injury). Actually, Charpentier played pretty well, allowing only two goals on 29 shots. But Giguere was better, turning aside all 26 shots he saw in a 3-0 Ducks win.

Two nights later they were in Phoenix. Sure, not California, but not a whole lot closer to Washington. This one started fast. The Caps got a goal from Michael Nylander 69 seconds into the game, then Todd Simpson scored for the Coyotes 34 seconds after that. Mike Grier and Ladislav Nagy exchanged power play goals late in periods, Grier for the Caps late in the first, Nagy for Phoenix late in the second. Steve Konowalchuk put the Caps in front for a third time early in the third period, but then Phoenix got a power play. It seemed like the teams would just go back and forth, until Mike Grier took advantage of a turnover by Shane Doan and scored a shorthanded goal seven minutes in for some insurance. The Caps needed it. Teppo Numminen scored late for the Coyotes, but it was not enough in a 4-3 Caps win.

The next night the Caps were back in California - San Jose, to be precise. Maybe it was the salt air or something, because the Caps couldn't dent Evgeni Nabokov. They failed to get a single one of their 34 shots behind Nabokov, and two goals just over five minutes apart in the second period for San Jose would be enough as they held on for a 2-0 win.

2002-2003 trip: 1-2-0. Highlights: 1-for-17 on the power play...17-for-21 penalty killing (yes...21 shorthanded situations), shut out twice.

In 2003-04 the Caps did not make an extended west coast trip, but they did make two two-game trips out west in 2005-06 coming out of the 2004-05 lockout.

The first of these two trips took place in December as a struggling Caps' team hit the road for Los Angeles and San Jose, just a 3-9-2 record in their previous 14 games. It looked as if they would add to their frustration in their game against Los Angeles when, after scoring first on a goal by Jamie Heward eight minutes into the first period, they fell behind on power play goals by the Kings' Eric Belanger and Sean Avery. The Caps overcame that deficit in the third period, though, with a shorthanded goal by Brian Sutherby nine minutes into the third period and then on Heward's second goal of the game on a power play with just 1:03 left for the 3-2 win.

Two nights later in San Jose the Sharks jumped on the Caps with a pair of goals in the first period barely four minutes apart, then added a goal early in the second period to end the competitive portion of the evening. Ben Clymer scored mid-way through the third period to get the Caps a little closer, but the Sharks added a goal late for a 4-2 win.

In January they visited Anaheim and Phoenix. It went well; in fact, it was pretty memorable.

In the first game the Caps took a lead on an Alex Ovechkin power-play goal less than two minutes into the second period, but gave that back barely two minutes later (sound familiar?) on a goal by Joffrey Lupul. Ovechkin scored again eight minutes later, but the Caps again gave that one back five minutes after that on a goal by Travis Moen. After the Caps and Ducks split four goals in the second period, there was no scoring in the third, and it was up to Ovechkin to complete the hat trick with a goal three minutes into overtime, giving the Caps a 3-2 win... but that was merely a prelude.

Three nights later in Phoenix, Ovechkin scored his fourth goal in two nights, opening the scoring against the Coyotes. Phoenix tied the game on a Doan goal with just over two minutes in the first, but the Caps laid it on the Coyotes after the intermission. Ben Clymer started it 30 seconds into the period, and Matt Bradley finished it 13 minutes later with two goals in between.

When done, the Caps had four goals and a 5-1 lead going into the third period. All that was left was this...


It was Ovechkin's second goal of the game, and the Caps had a 6-1 win to sweep the last of their two-game trips west. It was the first time that season that the Caps won consecutive road games.

2005-2006 trips: 3-1-0. Highlights... 4-for-25 on the power play... 21-for-24 penalty killing (including a shorthanded goal)... Jamie Heward's third career two-goal game... all the goals scored in Caps/Kings came were on special teams... five goals for Ovechkin on second western trip, including his first career hat trick and "The Goal."

After skipping the west coast in each of the following two seasons, the Caps found their way back to California in November 2008 with visits to Anaheim, Los Angeles, and San Jose. They did so carrying a 5-0-1 record in their previous six games. They made it 6-0-1 when they beat Anaheim, 6-4 to open the California portion of their road trip. The six goals were scored by six different players, but Alex Ovechkin played a key role in that win with a goal and three assists, a goal and two assists coming on the three power play goals the Caps recorded in that game.

Things went downhill after that.

The following night in Los Angeles the Caps found themselves behind the eight ball for most of the night. The Kings scored first on a goal by Drew Doughty 14 minutes into the third period, but Nicklas Backstrom got it back with a power play goal early in the second. That might have been a momentum builder for the Caps, but the Kings scored with 1:35 left in the second period to take a 2-1 lead, then added a goal by Dustin Brown 14 minutes into the third period to make it 3-1. Brooks Laich scored just 32 seconds after the Brown goal to make it a one-goal game again, but that would be as close as the Caps would get. Los Angeles scored two empty net goals in the last 40 seconds to make it a 5-2 final.

In the rubber game of the three game swing, the Caps took it in the teeth early and often in San Jose. The Sharks scored three goals in a 6:32 span of the first period to set the tone, and after Tom Poti got one back eight minutes into the second period, the Sharks put an end to any thoughts of a comeback with goals by Joe Thornton and Marc-Edouard Vlasic before the second intermission. A Tomas Fleischmann goal two minutes into the third for the Caps was answered by a goal by Ryane Clowe less than four minutes later and an empty netter by former Cap Mike Grier in the last minute in a 7-2 final.

2008-2009 trip: 1-2-0. Highlights... 5 of 10 goals scored on the power play (on 17 chances)... 12-for-16 on penalty kill... six goals allowed in the first periods of games... seven goals allowed to San Jose tied for most allowed on road in 2008-2009 (four times, all on the road)... six goals scored against Anaheim most scored by Caps in a road game in 2008-2009.

The Caps spent New Year's in California in the 2009-2010 season, meeting San Jose on December 30th and Los Angeles on January 2nd. In this case, "auld lang syne" meant "two California losses." The Caps were never really in that first game against San Jose. Joe Pavelski and Torrey Mitchell scored 75 seconds apart in the first period to give the Sharks a 2-0 lead, and Ryane Clowe added a third goal late in the second period. Mike Knuble got the Caps on the scoreboard five minutes into the third period, but Pavelski and Joe Thornton slammed the door on any comeback bid, with Ovechkin adding what amounted to merely a window dressing goal in a 5-2 loss.

The first game of 2010 was played in Los Angeles, where Washington played a smothering defensive game, holding the Kings to just 19 shots on goal. However, special teams ruled, and not in the Caps' favor. Ryan Smyth scored a power play goal in the last minute of the first period to give the Kings a lead going into the first intermission, and Mike Green returned the favor less than three minutes into the second period. That is where the teams remained until early in the third period, when Smyth was whistled for a boarding penalty to put the Caps on a power play - it would be the Kings taking advantage, though, as Michal Handzus scored shorthanded, and then the rest was up to Jonathan Quick en route to a 2-1 Kings win.

2009-2010 trip: 0-2-0. Highlights... the Caps went 17-1-1 in their next 18 games upon leaving California, and the Caps would not lose consecutive games in regulation again for the rest of the 2009-2010 season.

In February 2011 the Caps took a three game turn through Phoenix, Anaheim, and San Jose to open a five-game road trip. In Phoenix the Caps and Coyotes fought to a scoreless draw in the first period, but Marcus Johansson got the Caps on the board with a goal 8:46 into the second period. Just 49 seconds later, though, Martin Hanzal tied the game to stifle the Caps' momentum. The Coyotes took momentum for their own late in the period when Ray Whitney scored on a power play with 2:17 left. Vernon Fiddler doubled the Phoenix margin 4:24 into the third period, but Mat Bradley got that one back with a goal just 40 seconds later. It was as close as Washington would get. Despite holding the Coyotes to 18 shots on goal, the Caps lost, 3-2.

In Anaheim two nights later the Caps and Ducks had a wild one. Ryan Getzlaf got the Ducks out of the gate early with a power play goal at 4:10 of the first period. That was how the game stood for the next six minutes. Then the teams started trading head shots. Alex Ovechkin for the Caps at 10:43... Brooks Laich at 16:07 to give the Caps the lead... Teemyu Selanne and Toni Lydman scoring in the last two minutes of the period to restore the Ducks' lead at 3-2.

It was more of the same in the second period. In less than a six-minute span midway through the period, the teams split four goals, Anaheim taking a 5-4 lead into the third period. Mike Knuble and Bobby Ryan exchanged goals early in the third to make it 6-5, Ducks, but Alexander Semin pushed the Caps over the top with a tying goal at 11:37 and the game-winner, completing his hat trick, with 1:47 left to give the Caps a 7-6 win.

The following night Washington visited San Jose, where Capital dreams of winning streaks go to die. The teams exchanged power play goals in the last two minutes of the first period, then held each other scoreless in the second to set up the third period. San Jose got the better of the Caps with goals from Ryane Clowe and Dany Heatley before Nicklas Backstrom scored with 1:55 left to close the Sharks' margin to 3-2. That would be as far as the Caps would get, though, and San Jose had its eighth straight home win over the Caps and 14 in 15 games against Washington overall.

2010-2011 trip: 1-2-0. Highlights... The Caps held the three teams to a total of 67 shots... allowed a power play goal in each of the three games... the seven goals scored against Anaheim tied for most in a road game in 2010-2011, the six goals allowed to Anaheim was second most in a road game.

In 2011-2012 the Caps made a two-game trip to California to face San Jose and Los Angeles. Those games in January 2012 looked different in their respective beginnings but very much alike in their results, and not in a way Caps fans would like. Against the Sharks the Caps allowed the game's first goal, that to Jason Demers five minutes into the second period. Just 1:22 later, though, Dennis Wideman tied the game on a power play. It might have been a small victory to get to the second intermission tied, but the Sharks took the lead with just nine seconds left in the period on a Brent Burns power play goal. Joel Ward scored in the first minute of the third period, but the Sharks took back the lead just 16 seconds after that goal. That would be the clincher, with Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Torrey Mitchell adding goals to give the Sharks a 5-2 victory.

In Los Angeles it was the Caps opening the scoring less than two minutes into the contest on a Marcus Johansson goal. The Kings erased the lead mid-way through the period, and the period wound down looking as if the teams would go to the first intermission tied. However, the Caps would allow their second last-minute goal in a period for the second consecutive game, this one by Anze Kopitar with just 34 seconds left in the first period. The Kings added a pair of goals in the second period, then added a goal mid-way through the third to put the Caps in a head lock. Johansson scored again late in the third, but it was not enough to prevent the Caps' second 5-2 loss on this trip.

2011-2012 trip: 0-2-0. Highlights... the Caps won three in a row after this trip, including a 1-0 win against Pittsburgh. As for finding highlights in California, good luck.

So what do we have here? Seven trips over ten seasons comprising 17 games. The Caps had a record of 6-11-0 over those 17 games. The Caps had a winning record in Anaheim (3-1-0) and were over .500 in Phoenix (2-1-0). But against the Kings (1-3-0) and Sharks (0-6-0), it has been far from "California Dreamin' unless nightmares are your preferred fare.

In 17 games the Caps were outscored by 17 goals, 62-45. The special teams were not much to commit to memory, the Caps going 13-for-80 (16.3 percent) on power plays and 65-for-82 killing penalties (79.3 percent).

There were some interesting games out there, though. There was an overtime winner, a game with goal-scoring reminiscent of the 1980's, and "The Goal." But when it comes to heading west, Phoenix might be sunny, and Anaheim might be the Magic Kingdom but the Caps do not love L.A, and they do not know the way to a win in San Jose.

Let's hope this time is different. That Anaheim game was a good start.