The western Canada trip is in the rear-view mirror of the Washington Capitals. It was a successful 2-1-0 trip for which their reward is long break before a light, two-game week ahead.
Week 5 will be the third week in five in which the Caps will play only two games. First up is a visit to Montreal to face the Canadiens. Montreal has to be considered among the league’s pleasant surprises to start the season with a 6-2-2 record through four weeks, good for third place in the tough Atlantic Division. They have done it primarily with a stingy defense and the usual fine goaltending of Carey Price.
Montreal heads into Week 5 tied for the fourth-best scoring defense in the league (2.50 goals allowed per game), while their shots allowed per game (29.0) is seventh-fewest in the league and shot attempts-against at 5-on-5 ranks as the ninth-fewest. This is a club that in one sense plays quite opposite to type. The Canadiens have dressed only three players this season heavier than 200 pounds, while eight skaters less than 185 pounds have dressed. Nevertheless, Montreal ranks third in the league in credited hits after four weeks and second in credited hits per game (26.9) to the Vegas Golden Knights (28.3). What the Caps might be able to exploit is a home penalty kill that has not been impressive (76.5 percent/tied for 19th through four weeks).
On Saturday the Caps return home for a date against the Dallas Stars. If Montreal is a pleasant surprise, the Stars have to qualify as something of a mediocrity to date. They do have a 5-4-0 record through four weeks, but that record is good for only sixth in the Central Division, four points behind the Chicago Blackhawks in fifth. They rank in the middle of the pack in scoring offense (3.11 goals per game/tied for 16th) and scoring defense (2.78/tied for 13th).
However, their special teams are quite good. The power play ranks fourth (29.6 percent), while the penalty kill ranks ninth (84.0). Dallas struggles a bit more with shot attempts. Their shot attempts-for percentage (49.09) ranks 19th, one spot lower than the Caps. The Stars are at the other end of the grittership numbers from Montreal, ranking only 26th in credited hits (173) and 23rd in blocked shots (134). Those rankings are a function of having played so few games, but their takeaway-to-giveaway ratio (0.54) leaves much to be desired as well. If that kind of sloppiness makes its presence felt against Washington, the Stars can be made to pay.
- Alex Ovechkin was 2-3-5 in Week 4 to tie for the team lead in goals and lead the team in points. Four of those points came in the 5-2 win over Vancouver to start the week (2-2-4). He has five multi-point games in ten contests so far this season. Last season he had his fifth multi-point game of the season in Game 25.
- T.J. Oshie broke out of a mild slump in Week 4. After going 4-2-6 in his first three games to start the season, he recorded a lone assist in his next four contests. He was 2-1-3 last week, even with his total ice time pared back to a total of just over 55 minutes after logging over 64 minutes in his previous three games.
- Nicklas Backstrom had a three-assist week, bringing his total for the season to 11, leaving him tied for third overall in the league in assists. He has three multi-assist games so far this season and recorded at least one assist in six of the ten games played by the Caps so far.
- Dmitry Orlov did not record a point in Week 4 and is 0-0-0, minus-7 in his last seven games. He has been very uneven in his shooting performance, recording nine of his 15 shots in just two games this season (five in an overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins and four in a shootout loss to the Florida Panthers).
- Devante Smith-Pelly had no points in Week 4 and only one shot on goal. He is only 1-1-2 in ten games so far this season. He is being worked into the lineup a little more heavily, though. He averaged just under 13 minutes per game in Week 4 versus just over 10 minutes in his first seven games.
- Chandler Stephenson went without a point in Week 4, bringing his streak of games without a point to five. He does not have a point in five road games so far this season and is a minus-3.
- That the Caps are 5-3-2 through ten games might not be the start Caps fans hoped for, but it might not be all that surprising. A long season has its rhythms, and in the NHL that means generally playing games every other day or so. Before the Caps play their 11th game of the season on Thursday, they will have played in two back-to-back sets and will have had three instances of three or more full days off between games. It will be the fourth week in five that they have not played a game earlier in the week than Wednesday.
- The Caps have the closest spread between power play (37.1 percent) and penalty kill (72.5 percent) of any team in the league, a measure of how good their power play has been (first in the league) and how poor the penalty kill has been (26th). No other team in the league is top-six on the power play and bottom-six on the penalty kill.
- The Caps are one of six teams heading into Week 5 with both goaltenders sporting a save percentage under .900. At least they are not the Philadelphia Flyers, the only club to dress three goalies with a save percentage under .900.
Potential Milestones to Reach This Week…
- Evgeny Kuznetsov needs one goal to tie Dainius Zubrus and Larry Murphy for 33rd place in team goal-scoring history (86). Two more, and he ties Gaetan Duchesne and Eric Fehr for 31st place.
- With two assists, Kuznetsov would pass Sylvain Cote and Steve Konowalchuk for 22nd place in team history in assists (he has 195, tied with Cote).
- With a couple of wins, Braden Holtby can climb the all-time goalie win rankings, passing Martin Biron (230 wins) and tying Glenn Resch (231) for 65th place in wins.
- Holtby is currently locked in a tie with Arturs Irbe and Jose Theodore at 33 career shutouts, tied for 59th place all-time. One shutout this week would tie Holtby with Steve Mason, Ilya Bryzgalov, and Bill Durnan for 56th place. Two would tie him with Patrick Lalime and Olaf Kolzig for 54th place with 35 shutouts (Kolzig is the all-time franchise leader in shutouts).
- One even strength goal this week would break a tie John Carlson has with Calle Johansson for fourth place on the all-time franchise list of even strength goals by defensemen (both have 58). Two this week would tie Carlson with Mike Green for third place on the franchise all-time list. If he was to get two power play goals, it would give him 25 for his career and tie him with Sylvain Cote for seventh place on the all-time franchise list of power play goals by defensemen. If he was to get the game-winner in both games, he would tie Sergei Gonchar for third place in career game-winning goals by a Caps defenseman (19).