Pre-game primer: Neuvirth to face Coyotes

Pre-game primer: Neuvirth to face Coyotes
November 9, 2013, 2:30 pm
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Caps stay patient, rally to beat Wild

News and notes as the Capitals [9-7-0] prepare to take on the Phoenix Coyotes [11-4-2] tonight at Jobing.com Arena [8 p.m., CSN]:

Neuvy gets the call: Michal Neuvirth [2-2-0, 2.79 GAA] is expected to make just his fourth start of the season. In his last appearance, Neuvirth turned aside 31 of 33 shots in a 3-2 shootout win over Florida.“If I get to start I’ll be ready,” Neuvirth said. “I’ve been practicing well. I did good last time and I’m ready.”

Smith a ‘backbone’: Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith [9-3-2, 2.87 .915] has been solid between the pipes for the Coyotes. Smith has faced a league-high 484 shots this season. “He’s given them an identity the last couple years,” Capitals coach Adam Oates said. “He’s really been a backbone for them and allowed them to evolve as a team. They are a well-rounded team. They skate well and skate fast.”

Hot in the desert: The Coyotes are off to their best start since 1998-99 when they begn the season 13-2-2. The Coyotes are one of only two NHL teams [Anaheim is the other] that has not had a regulation loss on home ice. They are 7-0-1 on home ice. The Caps are 3-4-0 on the road. Both teams have won seven of their last 10 games. Phoenix is 5-0-2 in one-goal games and is 8-1-1 when scoring first. The Caps are 6-2-0 when scoring first.

Big finishers: The Coyotes have been outscored 18-8 in first periods this season but have outscored their opponents 45-33 in the second and third periods.

East vs. West: Entering Saturday’s action Western Conference teams had a 72-28-11 record against teams in the East. That includes the Coyotes’ 5-1-1 record against the East. This season marks the first time since 2002-03 that the Caps and Coyotes will play twice in the same season. The Coyotes visit VerizonCenter on March 8.

Special teams: The Caps are ranked first on the power play [28.1 percent] and first on the penalty kill [90.3], while the Coyotes are ranked 12th on the power play [19 percent] and 23rd on the PK [78.8].

Remember me? Former Capitals veteran and Potomac, Md., native Jeff Halpern is on the Coyotes’ roster but is on injured reserve with an upper body injury. Phoenix coach Dave Tippet played 91 games for the Capitals over parts of two seasons [1990-92]. Tippet recorded 8 goals and 19 assists in his time with the Caps. Tippet’s 438 wins in the NHL rank second among active coaches behind Mike Babcock’s 454.

Who’s hot: For the Caps, Alex Ovechkin has 3 goals in 2 games; Marcus Johansson has two goals in two games; Nicklas Backstrom has four points in two games; and Tom Wilson has three points in two games. For the Coyotes, Shane Doan has 2 goals in 2 games and has 5 goals and 2 assists in his last 7 games.

Shot blocker: Phoenix defenseman Zbynek Michalek ranks second in the NHL with 54 blocked shots. Since 2005, only New Jersey’s Anton Volchenkov [1,327] has blocked more shots than Michalek [1,318].

Other leaders: Phoenix forward Rob Klinkhammer leads the Coyotes with 54 hits and his plus-12 ranks third in NHL. Center Antoine Vermette leads the NHL with 241 faceoff wins. Defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson leads the Coyotes and is sixth in HL with 434:53 of ice time.

O from D: The Capitals have received just four goals from their defensemen this season – two from John Carlson and one each from Connor Carrick and Alex Urbom. The Coyotes have gotten 13 goals and 44 assists from their blue liners.

Noteworthy: Mikhail Grabovski is one goal away from 100 in the NHL. Nicklas Backstrom can pass Scott Stevens for fifth on the Caps’ all-time power play assists list with his 136th. The Caps have outscored their opponents 17-6 during their four-game win streak. This is their second of 17 sets of back-to-back games. They are 2-0 so far.

What's next: The Caps will head to Denver following the game and face the Avalanche on Sunday night at 8 p.m.