Week 8 will be hard to top for the Washington Capitals. Four-win weeks are not common at this level of play, and doing so in the midst of holiday distractions said a lot for the team’s focus. That focus will be challenged in a different way in Week 9 as the Caps play through a bit lighter workload.
After a week entirely comprised of Original Six opponents, the Caps return to a divisional slate of games to open Week 9. They visit Brooklyn on Monday to face the New York Islanders at Barclays Center in the first game of the week and the only coach to lead them to a Stanley Cup in team history in Barry Trotz. The Isles might be considered among the surprise teams in the league through the first quarter of the season. After missing the playoffs in each of the last two seasons, they are third in the Metropolitan Division through eight weeks, three points behind the Caps and one point behind the Columbus Blue Jackets with a game in hand on both clubs.
Frankly, one wonders just how the Islanders are doing it. Their scoring offense is not especially impressive (3.18 goals per game/13th through Week 8), nor is their scoring defense (2.86/13th). Their special teams are unimpressive on both sides of the ledger, their power play being among the weaker clubs (17.1 percent/23rd in the league) and their penalty kill almost as weak (79.7 percent/16th). What they do is win at home. After dropping their first home contest of the season to the Nashville Predators, New York is 6-1-2 at Barclays Center. When the Caps beat the Isles, 7-3, last March, it broke a three-game losing streak at Barclays Center.
The Caps host the New Jersey Devils on Friday in another divisional matchup. If the Islanders are a pleasant surprise to open the season, things have been surprising in a more unpleasant way for the Devils. Last season, New Jersey returned to the postseason after a five-year absence, winning more games (44) than they had in any season since 2011-2012 (48), a season in which they reached the Stanley Cup final.
This season, however, the Devils stumbled out of the gate, going 9-9-3 through the first eight weeks of the season. It has been especially slow going for the Devils, who were winners of their first four games to open the season. The road has been particularly unkind for New Jersey, whose two road wins (in ten road contests) is tied for fewest in the league going into Week 9 (with Ottawa and St. Louis). Only Vancouver and Vegas, with nine regulation road losses apiece (but with 17 and 14 road games played, respectively, through eight weeks) have more losses in regulation on the road than New Jersey (eight in ten games).
One problem the Devils have had is a failure to keep games close. They are 2-2-3 in one-goal games this season, a winning percentage (.286) better than only three other teams (Colorado, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis). On the other hand, the Devils are no strangers to blowouts, for or against. They have won six games by three or more goals, tied for seventh-most in the league. They also have lost six games by three or more goals, a total exceeded by only five other teams.
The Caps close the week and open their December schedule with a Sunday afternoon contest with the Anaheim Ducks at Capital One Arena. Going into Sunday’s games, the Ducks were third in the Pacific Division and about to embark on a five-game road trip, four of them to be covered in Week 9, the last of them coming in Washington. This could be a tired team at Capital One Arena come next Sunday. It is also a team that has not won a road game in almost six weeks, not since they defeated the Blues in St. Louis, 3-2, on October 14th. Anaheim is 1-6-0 in their last seven road games.
What the Ducks seem to do well is scratch out wins. Of their ten wins going into Week 9 (pending the results of their game against Nashville Sunday), eight of them were by one goal, and they lost only one game in regulation by that margin. That the Ducks can sustain that kind of lopsided margin of results in one-goal games would seem unlikely, especially given that this team struggles to score (2.17 goals per game/30th in the league), and only the Ottawa Senators allow more shots on goal per game (38.6) than do the Ducks (35.7).
- Tom Wilson. In seven games since his return from suspension, Wilson has goals in four games, points in six, and has three multi-point games on his ledger (4-5-9 overall). And, the results are few, but after logging seven minutes in penalties in his first game back after suspension, he has only one minor penalty in his last six games. He also has logged more than 20 minutes in his last five games and posted the first three-game (and counting) goal streak of his career.
- Alex Ovechkin. Consistency is Alex Ovechkin’s game, and he has been that lately. After a four-game streak without a goal earlier in November, he has five goals in his last five games. Since November 16th, when he embarked on this recent run, only Patrick Laine (11), Max Pacioretty (6), and Cam Atkinson (6) have more goals. He starts the week on a two-game goal streak, looking to tie his high for the season, a three-game streak to open the schedule.
- Braden Holtby. Since a slow start to the season, Holtby continues playing at a higher level. He stopped only 269 of 303 shots in his first ten appearances (a .888 save percentage), but in his last six appearances he has 183 saves on 192 shots faced (.953). None of the 32 goalies in the league with at least 125 shots faced since November 7th, when Holtby started this run, has a better save percentage.
- Christian Djoos. In 13 games in November, Djoos has one assist and is averaging a team low among defensemen of 12:47 per game (minimum: five games played). He has only three points this season and is still without a goal in calendar year 2018 (he scored his last goal on December 20, 2017, in a 5-2 win over New Jersey). That is a span of 76 regular season and playoff games.
- Chandler Stephenson. In Week 8, Stephenson went without a point, recorded only two shots on goal, and was a team low minus-3 with only 10:24 in ice time per game. He has only one point (an assist) in his last dozen games and is without a goal since he scored in a 4-2 loss to Toronto on October 13th, a span of 18 games going into Week 9.
- Dmitrij Jaskin. Four games without a point in Week 8 extended Jaskin’s streak without a point to eight games. And, he is still looking for that first goal as a Capital. He averaged a team low 8:16 in ice time last week, but he did get 11:25 in ice time against the Rangers to close the week, and he was more engaged. The four shots on goal he recorded were as many as he had over his previous five games combined and was his high for the season.
- The four-win week for the Caps last week was their first such week since they posted four wins in the last week of the 2016-2017 season.
- John Carlson has more multi-assist games than any other defenseman this season (seven).
- The Caps are one of three teams with a top-ten power play (27.8 percent/4th in the league) and a bottom-ten penalty kill (75.9 percent/24th). Florida (25.6 percent/sixth on the power play, 75.0 percent/T-27th on the penalty kill) and Ottawa (24.3 percent/eighth on the power play, 68.5 percent/31st on the penalty kill) are the others.
Potential Milestones to Reach This Week…
- Alex Ovechkin has 624 career goals. One more, and he ties Jarome Iginla and Joe Sakic for 15th place all-time (625).
- Ovechkin’s next power play goal will be his 237th, tying Brendan Shanahan for sixth-place all-time.
- Ovechkin’s next game winning goal will be his 104th, tying Patrick Marleau for seventh place all-time (assuming Marleau does not record one of his own).
- With seven penalty minutes, Ovechkin would tie Chris Simon for 13th place on the all-time Capitals list (666).
- Nicklas Backstrom has 215 career goals with the Caps. Three more, and he ties Mike Ridley for fourth place on the franchise all-time list (218).
- Backstrom’s next point will be his 825th as a Capital, tying Peter Bondra for second place on the team’s all-time list.
- With two points this week, John Carlson would tie Mike Green for fifth place on the all-time list of points by defensemen for the Caps (360).
- If Carlson records one assist, he will tie Kevin Hatcher for third place in assists among Caps’ defensemen all-time (277).
- With two power play goals, Carlson would tie Sylvain Cote for seventh place among defensemen in Caps history (25).
- When Matt Niskanen takes the ice for his next game, it will be his 334th as a Capital, tying Yvon Labre for 18th place all time among Caps defensemen.
- Tom Wilson needs two games to reach 400 games played in his career.
- With two more games, Devante Smith-Pelly will reach the 100 games played mark with the Caps.