Over the first five weeks of the season, the Washington Capitals played an odd schedule, three weeks with only two games, a schedule loaded toward the ends of weeks, a jumbled mess of fits and starts that led to a slow start in which they have yet to win consecutive games. As the schedule changes to something of a more regular nature, perhaps the scheduling rhythm will lead to a playing rhythm that gets the Caps out their early season funk.
Week 6 will feature three games played on alternating nights, the first time this takes place on the Caps’ schedule. First up is a matchup against the Edmonton Oilers on Monday night at Capital One Arena. It will be a rematch of the clubs, who met on October 25th, the Oilers taking a 4-1 decision. Based on their 13 games to date, perhaps this is finally the season in which the Oilers become serious contenders. After dropping their first two games in ugly fashion, three-goal losses on the road at the New Jersey Devils and Boston Bruins, the Oilers are 8-2-1, the ominous part of that being that Edmonton has won their last five road games. On the other hand, four of those five wins were by one goal, two in overtime, and the fifth win (5-3 over Nashville) featured an empty net goal in the last two minutes. The Oilers have been playing on the sunny side of the margin on the road.
The middle game of the week is the “rivalry” game, the Pittsburgh Penguins coming to town. These teams have also met once so far this season, the Caps clawing back from a two-goal third period deficit on goals by T.J. Oshie before falling, 7-6, on a Kris Letang goal 80 seconds into overtime. Going into Week 6, the Penguins are tied with the Caps for the top scoring offense in the league (3.75 goals per game). They have been especially productive on the road, averaging 4.67 goals per game away from the Confluence. The Pens’ defense on the road has been something of an all or nothing affair. In six road contests they allowed a single goal once and posted two shutouts. In the other three games they allowed a total of 12 goals. What the Penguins have done too often for their comfort is allow shots on goal. In averaging 36.7 shots allowed on the road, they have allowed 38 or more four times in six games. But results count, and Pittsburgh is one of three teams remaining yet to lose a road game in regulation (4-0-2, trailing only Nashville and Toronto, both 6-0-0).
The Caps close the week hosting Columbus in the teams’ first meeting since the Caps dispatched the Blue Jackets in six games in the opening round of last spring’s playoffs. If there is a surprise in the Blue Jacket’s performance so far, it is in being so leaky on defense. Eight times in 13 games they have allowed four or more goals, equally split between home and road. Their ability to score might be considered a surprise as well, five times in 13 games recording five or more goals. What Columbus has not been able to do on the offensive side of the ledger is score with the man advantage. At 12% through five weeks, the Blue Jackets rank 29th of 31 teams. Their penalty kill is not much better, tied for 24th in the league (73.8%).
- Lars Eller had a three-point week for the Caps, recording a pair of goals against the Montreal Canadiens and an assist against the Dallas Stars. He is 2-5-7 in his last six games after starting the season 1-0-1 in his first six games.
- Evgeny Kuznetsov carries a three-game points streak into Week 6 (1-3-4),and he has points in every home game played so far this season (5-7-12 in six games). All of his six goals overall so far this season have been scored on power plays.
- Nicklas Backstrom has more assists on home ice through five weeks (eight) than all but two players (Nashville’s Ryan Johansen and Calgary’s Mark Giordano, each with nine). He broke out of a three-game streak without a point with a goal and an assist in the Caps’ 4-3 overtime loss to Dallas on Saturday.
- John Carlson had an uncommonly quiet week in Week 5. He did not record a point and was a minus-5 in two games. He is without a point in his last three games overall, his longest streak without a point so far this season.
- Dmitry Orlov came out of a prolonged slump with an assist against Montreal in the first game of Week 5. However, he has only one point on home ice this season, an assist on an empty net goal in the Caps’ second home game of the year, a 5-2 win over the Vegas Golden Knights on October 10th.
- Caps penalty killers did kill off both shorthanded situations they faced against Dallas on Thursday, but in their last four games on home ice they are only 11-for-16 killing penalties (68.8%).
- Five of the Caps’ 12 games to date have ended in extra time with a record of 2-3. Three of those games were played on home ice, half the Caps’ home schedule through Week 5. Last season, the Caps did not play their third extra time game on home ice until their 19th game on the home schedule.
- Ten clubs through five weeks had power plays executing at 25% or better. The Caps had the best power play of the bunch (35.9%). They also had the worst penalty kill of the group (75%).
- The grittership numbers are a bit uneven for the Caps. They are one of 13 teams with more than 300 credited hits so far this season (306/9th), but they are last in that group in blocked shots (158/30th overall).
Potential Milestones to Reach This Week…
- If he dresses for all three games this week, John Carlson will pass Sylvain Cote for 16th place in franchise history in games played (he currently has 620 games played).
- Evgeny Kuznetsov has 86 career goals, tied with Larry Murphy and Dainius Zubrus for 33rd place in team history. His next goal will tie him with Eric Fehr and Gaetan Duchesne for 31st place in team history.
- Kuznetsov is now breathing down Craig Laughlin’s neck on the all-time points list for the club. Kuznetsov (282 points) is one behind the 26th place Laughlin. If he gets two game-winning goals, he would tie Laughlin and Sergei Gonchar for 20th place on the franchise list (Kuznetsov has 17).
- With his next goal, T.J. Oshie would break a tie with Troy Brouwer and Jaromir Jagr for 36th place in goals in Caps history (they have 83 apiece).
- John Carlson (82 goals), tied with Jason Chimera for 39th place in all time goal scoring, needs two goals to pass Brouwer and Jagr on the franchise rankings of goal scorers.