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Snapshots of the Week Ahead for the Capitals

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Hockey and Turkey. It’s Thanksgiving week with a feast for the table and a feast of four games on the schedule. Let’s take a look.

NHL: Washington Capitals at Montreal Canadiens Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Capitals had a challenging Week 7 with rough games against Western Conference teams. Week 8 might be called “Original Six” week with a quartet of games against four of the league’s Original Six franchises.

The Opponents

The Capitals open the week on Monday against the Montreal Canadiens. It will be their second visit to Bell Centre this season, the Caps dropping a 6-4 decision to the Habs on November 1st. The Caps visit Montreal under the same circumstances as they made their first visit. After going 2-1-0 in three games to open a four-game road trip, the second win coming in extra time, the Caps dropped a 6-4 decision in Montreal to complete the four-game trip with a 2-2-0 record. They do the same this time around on a four-game trip, going 2-1-0 to start the trip, the second win coming in extra time. The Caps will be looking for a different result this time around. Meanwhile, Montreal has been spinning their wheels somewhat since that first meeting in Montreal, going 4-3-1 in eight games since then.

Montreal tends to dominate opponents on the shot meter at home, outshooting opponents by a 356-291 margin in ten home games so far this season. It has not translated to the scoreboard, though. The Canadiens have been outscored, 35-34, in those ten home games. Part of their problem is an anemic power play that has converted only five of 42 chances so far (12.2 percent), the third-worst home power play in the league. Their home penalty kill is not a lot better, killing only 78.8 percent of their shorthanded situations, tied with Nashville for 18th place through Saturday’s games. What saves Montreal’s special teams is having a plus-8 differential in opportunities on home ice (41 power plays, tied for second in the league, and 33 shorthanded situations).

The Caps return home for the traditional pair of games wrapped around Turkey Day. On Wednesday, they host the Chicago Blackhawks, a club that bears little resemblance to the teams that won three Stanley Cups over a six year period earlier in this decade. Since winning the Cup in 2015, the Blackhawks bowed out of the postseason in the first round in each of the following two seasons before missing the playoffs altogether last year for the first time since the 2007-08 season.

Not coincidentally, that 2007-08 season was the last season before Joel Quenneville took over behind the bench (he took over for Denis Savard five games into the 2008-09 season). Quenneville won three Stanley Cups, a Jack Adams Award as top coach, and 452 regular season games (second in franchise history to Billy Reay with 516). However, it would seem that all coaches are hired to be fired, and Quenneville, the second-winningest coach in NHL history with 890 wins (Scotty Bowman had 1,244 wins), was relieved of his duties as head coach on November 6th after the Blackhawks opened this season with a 6-6-3 record.

Enter Jeremy Colliton, who took over as the youngest head coach in the league (33 years old) after spending last season coaching the Rockford IceHogs of the AHL. The Blackhawks have not realized much of a boost with the change behind the bench, going 1-2-2 under the new regime. The club Colliton inherited struggles quite a bit on offense. Through Saturday, Chicago managed a total of only 13 goals over its last nine games since October 28th and was shut out twice. No team in the league over that span scored fewer goals. Worse, they have been dominated on the road, outscored by a 20-7 margin in five road games over that span. Of particular note for their game against the Caps, the 21 times they were shorthanded over those last nine games is tied for the fewest instances in the league over that span (Florida has 21 shorthanded situations in seven games).

On Friday, the Caps host the Detroit Red Wings, another team that has fallen on hard times after a long run among the league’s elite. When Detroit missed the postseason in 2017 it broke a streak of 25 consecutive seasons making the playoffs, during which time they won four Stanley Cups. When they missed last year’s postseason, it was the first time that Detroit missed the shot in consecutive years since they had a five-year drought from 1978-79 through 1982-83.

On the basis of their overall record (9-9-2 entering the week), this season’s club looks unlikely, at least on paper, to return to the postseason. Through Saturday, the Red Wings were seventh in the Atlantic Division, nine points behind the division-leading Tampa Bay Lightning and five points behind the second wild-card team (Montreal). However, after a 1-7-2 start, Detroit began the week with an 8-2-0 record over their most recent ten games. What complicates that record is that half of the wins came in extra time, two of them in a shootout. Of particular note in this regard, Detroit lost its first five road games this season (0-4-1), but they are 4-1-0 in their last five road games, three of them coming in extra time. All of those games were played close to the margin, four of them ending in one-goal decisions and the fifth featuring an empty net goal in the last minute to give the Red Wings a 5-3 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on October 30.

The Caps will end the week on Saturday in New York against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. It will be the first visit for the Caps to Manhattan this season and their second overall, beating the Rangers, 4-3, in overtime on a Matt Niskanen goal on October 17. The Rangers have to be considered something of a surprise at this point of the season, especially given their ghastly start. In their first 11 games, New York was 3-7-1 and was outscored, 38-27. Since then, however, they are 7-1-1 and have outscored opponents by a 30-26 margin.

The Rangers enter the week having won five straight home games after alternating wins and losses in their first five contests at Madison Square Garden this season. They have been stingy in allowing goals on home ice so far. In ten home games, the Rangers allowed two or fewer goals seven times and have allowed as many as four only once, in a 4-1 loss to the Calgary Flames on October 21 in what is their last home ice loss going into this week. The Caps are 4-1-1 in their last six visits to Madison Square Garden and have outscored the Blueshirts by a 20-11 margin in those games.

Hot Caps…

  • Dmitry Orlov scored his first two goals of the season in the 5-2 win over the Minnesota Wild last Tuesday and tripled his point total for the season with a four-point week.
  • Tom Wilson returned to the lineup in a big way after spending the first 16 games of the season sitting out a suspension. He had a goal and a pair of assists in three games, and his 24:24 in ice time against the Colorado Avalanche to end last week was a career high in ice time, more than three minutes than he recorded (21:06) in a 4-3 win over the Dallas Stars on March 20, 2018.
  • Pheonix Copley had a fine week filling in for injured Braden Holtby. He stopped 71 of 77 shots in three games, winning two of them. Since dropping his first appearance of the season, Copley is 4-1-1, 2.07, .925.

Cold Caps…

  • Dmitrij Jaskin is still searching for his first goal as a Capital after 13 games. He dressed for one game last week without a point and has been held without a point over his last four games. He has failed to record a shot in six of the 13 games in which he played.
  • John Carlson had what for him this season was an uncharacteristically quiet week with one assist. He did make it count though, it being the primary assist on the overtime game-winning goal by Nicklas Backstrom against Colorado.
  • Chandler Stephenson finished last week with one assist in three games and did not record a shot on goal. He is without a shot on goal in five of his last six games.

Weird Facts…

  • The 24:24 that Tom Wilson logged against the Colorado Avalanche last week was the first time in his career he skated more than 20 minutes in a road game.
  • The Caps are 7-3-1 when Devante Smith-Pelly skates more than 10 minutes, 2-4-2 when he does not.
  • Washington has 20 first period goals, 19 second period goals, and 21 third period goals. No team in the league has that tight a range of goals by period.

Potential Milestones to Reach This Week…

  • Alex Ovechkin has 235 career power play goals. He needs one to tie Mario Lemieux for seventh place on the all-time list, two to tie Brendan Shanahan for sixth place.
  • If John Carlson dresses for all four games this week, he will pass Bengt Gustafsson for 14th place on the franchise’s all-time games played list. If he gets two assists, he will tie Sergei Gonchar for 13th place on the Caps’ all-time assist list.
  • Nicklas Backstrom has 821 career points. Four more, and he will tie Peter Bondra for second place on the team’s all-time points list (825), trailing only teammate Alex Ovechkin (1,143).
  • If T.J. Oshie returns to the lineup this week and posts two power play goals, he would become the 26th player in team history to record 30 or more power play goals with the team.
  • Evgeny Kuznetsov (286 points) needs four points to tie Marcus Johansson (290) for 25th place on the all-time Caps points list.