Ten weeks into the season, the Washington Capitals find themselves a bit ahead of last season’s points pace. After a week that could have gone a lot worse, winning two games after losing their first two of four games, or a lot better, having third period collapses in both of those losses, the Caps will be looking for consistency of effort and results as they meet three surprising teams in Week 10.
Few might have picked any of the Caps’ three opponents in Week 11 to be at .500 or better this late in the season. That all three of the Caps’ opponents have reached that level is would have been the extremely rare prognostication when the season started.
Detroit Red Wings. The 2018-2019 season started as many might have expected for the Red Wings. The once proud franchise that won four Stanley Cups in 11 years and reached the postseason in 25 straight seasons was coming off their second straight season missing the playoffs, and then they started this season going 1-7-2 in their first ten games. However, since beating the Dallas Stars, 4-2, on October 28th, Detroit is 12-6-2. Only the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference has a better record over that span (16-5-0). The team that will be coming to Capital One Arena on Tuesday seems to have done it with mirrors, since their ranking in a variety of categories on their recent run is unimpressive – ninth in goals scored (65), tied for 14th in fewest goals allowed (57), 26th in power play efficiency (13.7 percent), 20th in penalty killing (78.8 percent), 28th in shot attempts-for at 5-on-5 (46.20 percent). What they have done is win games in extra time. Detroit is 6-2 in extra time games in their 12-6-2 run. This will end the Washington portion of the season series between the teams, the Caps having taken a 3-1 decision at Capital One Arena on November 23rd.
Carolina Hurricanes. When the Caps visit Carolina on Friday, they will be meeting an old adversary that prior to this season had fallen on hard times. The Hurricanes have not reached the postseason since the 2008-2009 season, the nine-year absence being the longest in franchise history dating back to their inaugural season in 1979-1980 as the Hartford Whalers. This year, the script might be changed. Carolina enters the week one point behind the New York Islanders for the third place in the Metropolitan Division and playoff eligibility. However, they have stumbled of late, losing three of their last four games to end Week 10 (1-2-1). Until they beat the Anaheim Ducks, 4-1, to break a three-game losing streak on Friday, they had a hard time scoring goals, posting a total of only five in five games before shooting down the Ducks. This will be the first of four meetings between the clubs this season. Washington won two of the four contests last season.
The Caps end the week hosting the Buffalo Sabres in the back half of back-to-back games. Among the surprising teams in the first third of the season, Buffalo might be the most surprising of all. The Sabres are another of those teams that have been on the outside looking in on the playoffs in recent years, last season being the seventh straight that Buffalo missed the postseason. This is a team that has not won at least half of its games since going 43-29-10 in 2010-2011, the last year they made the playoffs. This season, things look a lot different. Their 17-9-4 record through Saturday is third in the tough Atlantic Division but would lead the Metropolitan Division. Much of the Sabres’ early season success was fueled by a ten-game winning streak that did not reflect strength as much as it did an opportunistic bent. Seven of those ten straight wins came in extra time. Since then, the Sabres have dropped five in a row, two of those losses in extra time. This will be the first of three meetings between these teams this season.
- Alex Ovechkin. Since Thanksgiving, Ovechkin is 7-5-12, plus-9, in eight games. He has been uncommonly efficient as a shooter. More of a goal scorer as a product of shot volume, he recorded those eight goals on just 30 shots, a 23.3 percent shooting rate. Only Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine has more goals (eight) since Thanksgiving than Ovechkin.
- Brett Connolly. Secondary scoring is an important ingredient to success, as is stepping up when a teammate goes down to injury. Connolly has been successful at both. Since November 14th, when T.J. Oshie went down to injury, Connolly is 3-5-8, plus-3. He goes into the week on a four-game points streak (1-4-5) and is 2-5-7 in his last seven games.
- John Carlson. This might be an odd pick here, since Carlson has not recorded a goal since October 22nd. However, since then he does have 17 assists in 20 games and is a plus-10. Those 17 points are seventh-most among defensemen in that time, and the 17 assists are topped only by Thomas Chabot (18) and Mark Giordano (20) in that time. With 30 points, Carlson is one of only three defensemen in the league with 30 or more points entering the week (Chabot has 33; Moran Rielly has 32).
- Lars Eller. Going into the week, Lars Eller has a nine-game streak without a goal and has only three assists over that span. He does have the odd spread of those assists, one each at even strength, on the power play, and shorthanded. His low point volume in those nine games comes despite getting more power play time (2:27 per game over that span).
- Devante Smith-Pelly. In eight games since Thanksgiving, Devante Smith-Pelly is without a point. As primarily a fourth liner, he does not get a lot of opportunity to create offense, but it is his longest streak of the season without a point. His shooting has picked up, though, with shots on goal recorded in five straight games, his second-longest such streak of the season.
- Christian Djoos. It has been quite a dry spell for the sophomore defenseman. Djoos is now eight games without a point, without any goals this season, and ten straight games without recording more than one shot on goal, six of which he did not record a single shot. He was held out of Saturday’s game against Columbus, only the second game he has missed this season and the first since October 27th.
- There are 48 players in the league through ten weeks with ten games played and averaging at least a point per game. The Caps have five of them (Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, John Carlson, and Tom Wilson). No team has more, and only Calgary has as many.
- Through 29 games this season the Caps have had 22 players record at least one point, the same number as through 29 games last season.
- Since November 20th through Saturday, 150 power play goals were scored among the 31 teams in the NHL. Alex Ovechkin had none of them.
Potential Milestones to Reach This Week…
- Alex Ovechkin’s next power play goal will be his 237th, tying Brendan Shanahan for sixth-place all-time.
- With five penalty minutes, Ovechkin would tie Chris Simon for 13th place on the all-time Capitals list (666).
- John Carlson’s next even strength goal will be his 59th as a Capital, breaking a tie with Calle Johansson for fourth place among defensemen in Capitals history. Two more, and he ties Mike Green for third place on that list.
- With two power play goals, Carlson would tie Sylvain Cote for seventh place among defensemen in Caps history (25).
- With two game-winning goals, Evgeny Kuznetsov would move into a tie for 20th place on the all-time franchise list, joining Craig Laughlin and Sergei Gonchar with 19.
- Braden Holtby needs one shutout to tie Olaf Kolzig for the most shutouts by a goalie in Caps history (35).
- If Holtby records a point, he would join Kolzig as the only goalies in Caps history to score at least ten career points (Kolzig had 17).