The Washington Capitals get their earliest start on a week so far this season, having played the Arizona Coyotes on Sunday afternoon, the first of what will be a four-game week, three of them to be played west of the Mississippi (depending on where you stand on where Xcel Energy Center sits in Saint Paul, Minnesota) in what is “Western Conference Week.”
This year’s edition of the Arizona Coyotes are not a pushover that they might have seemed in years past, and that’s before getting to the part where they have been especially annoying to the Caps (the Caps are 2-2-1 in their last five games against Arizona before Sunday). Although they did go into their Sunday game against the Caps on a three-game losing streak, they were still a 7-7-1 team that was perhaps strongest against the Caps’ strength. Their 91.5 percent penalty kill going into the game was tops in the league by a wide margin over the second-ranked San Jose Sharks and Tampa Bay Lightning (each at 87.7 percent). They were even better on the road, killing 20 of 21 shorthanded situations in eight road games, the only power play goal they allowed on the road coming in a 5-3 loss to the Winnipeg Jets on October 20th.
On Tuesday, the Caps visit the Minnesota Wild and former head coach Bruce Boudreau. The Wild are off to a fine start (10-4-2 at the start of Week 7), and they have yet to lose consecutive games in regulation time. After getting off to a sluggish 1-2-2 start, they are 9-2-0 in their last 11 games. Over that span the Wild outscored opponents by a 39-24 margin and out-shot them, 357-308. Over that same span, the Wild have been especially adept at protecting the puck, their 72 charged giveaways being the fewest in the league. Getting to ten wins in 16 games is the fastest they reached that number since 2015-2016, when they did it in 15 games. If there is a magic number for this contest, it is four. The Wild are 9-0-1 in ten games allowing fewer than four goals, 1-4-1 when allowing four or more, and the win was earned in overtime. The Caps have won four straight meetings against the Wild in Minnesota
The following night, the Caps descend on Winnipeg to face the Jets, a team that has been on a bit of a roller coaster start. After alternating wins and losses over their first six games (3-2-1), the Jets won three in a row for the first and only time so far this season. Since that streak, they have returned to alternating wins and losses, going 3-3-0 over their last six games. What they are, however, is a solid team on home ice, although even there a bit of inconsistency has crept in. After earning points in each of their first six games on home ice (5-0-1), they are 1-2-0 in their last three games at Bell MTS Place. Washington is 1-1-2 in their last four visits to Winnipeg.
The Caps close the week on Friday with a visit to Denver to take on the Colorado Avalanche. The Avs have fallen on hard times recently, wrapping up Week 6 on a five-game losing streak (0-4-1) after a 7-2-2 start. Defense, or rather the lack of it, has been the issue. The Avalanche allowed four or more goals in each of their last four games, 22 goals overall after allowing only 23 in that 7-2-2 start. Home has been an infrequent destination for the Avs so far, the six games they played through six weeks at Pepsi Center tied for fewest home games played in the league (with New Jersey, Edmonton, and Florida). The key stat on home ice for Colorado might be their penalty kill (88.9 percent) that is third-best in the league. Washington has won three of their last four games played in Colorado.
- Evgeny Kuznetsov recorded points in each of last week’s games, bringing his points streak to six games (1-6-7). Kuznetsov has points in 13 of 15 games through six weeks.
- Alex Ovechkin likes taking his act on the road. His five goals and eight points leads the team in road scoring.
- Braden Holtby stopped 75 of 78 shots in Week 6 (.962 save percentage). It is the first time this season he posted save percentages over .905 in consecutive games, lifting his overall save percentage to .903, the first time this season he finished a week over .900.
- It is getting to be a broken record at this point, but Andre Burakovsky shows up in this space again after a week in which he did not record a point. He is without a point in 13 of 15 games this season on his way to a 1-1-2, minus-6 scoring line.
- Lars Eller went Week 6 without a point and was only 44.7 percent in the faceoff circle. The scoreless week interrupted a stretch in which he was 2-5-7 over a six-game stretch.
- The penalty killers had their worst week of the season, killing off only six of ten shorthanded situations faced in Week 6. They have allowed at least one power play goal in 11 of 15 games played. Only three teams have allowed at least one power play goal in more games: Carolina (12), Philadelphia (13) and Ottawa (14).
- The Caps scored 25 second period goals through six weeks, most in the league. They had only 27 goals scored in the other two regulation periods and overtime of games.
- Washington scored first in only six of their first 15 games. Only one team scored first fewer times – Minnesota (five).
- The Caps are averaging 8:24 in penalty minutes so far this season. It is their lowest penalty minutes per game…ever. By more than half a minute per game (9:08 in 2016-2017).
Potential Milestones to Reach This Week…
- Alex Ovechkin scored two power play goals last week to reach 236 career power play goals and pass Marcel Dionne for eighth place on the all-time list. One more and he ties Mario Lemieux for seventh place. Two, and he ties Brendan Shanahan for sixth place.
- It would be a reach, but Ovechkin needs six goals to tie Jarome Iginla and Joe Sakic (625 apiece) for 15th place on the all-time goal scoring list.
- Also in the “it would be a reach” department, T.J. Oshie is five goals short of 200 for his career.
- Two points, and Ovechkin will tie Nicklas Lidstrom for 53rd place on the all-time points list (1,142).
- Nicklas Backstrom is tied with Michel Goulet for 83rd place on the all-time assist list (605). Four more, and he will tie Marian Hossa for 82nd place.
- Evgeny Kuznetsov’s next assist will be the 200th of his career (if he didn’t already get it against Arizona).
- If Kuznetsov gets five points, he jumps into the top-25 in career points as a Capital, tying Marcus Johansson (290).
- If John Carlson returns to the lineup on Sunday and appears in all four games this week, he will tie Brendan Witt for 15th place on the Caps’ all-time list of games played (626).
- With three assists, Carlson would tie Sergei Gonchar for 13th place on the all-time assist list (272).