For the Washington Capitals, Week 9 was equal parts historic with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom hitting milestones for goals and points, and stomach-churning with Capitals Nation awaiting the fate of Tom Wilson after a questionable hit on an opponent. Week 10 gives the Caps a chance to do that whole team-bonding thing that road trips are for with a three-game out-of-town slate on the schedule. One hopes that the Caps don’t come up “short” on this trip.
Vegas Golden Knights. The Caps start their week’s work with a trip to the desert southwest to the scene of the greatest triumph in franchise history. On Tuesday the Caps visit T-Mobile Arena in Paradise, Nevada to take on the Vegas Golden Knights. The last time the Caps played in this arena was “paradise,” indeed, the Caps beating the Golden Knights, 4-3, to clinch their first Stanley Cup in team history.
It is a new season, though, but both teams are playing in a way consistent with how they did for much of last season. The Caps went into Sunday’s game against the Anaheim Ducks on a seven-game winning streak, while the Golden Knights were waiting on the Caps as winners of five of their previous six games, losing to the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday to end a five-game winning streak of their own. This contest will end the regular season series between the teams, the Caps winning the first game in Washington, 5-2, on October 10th.
Apparently, a 7-2 pasting at the hands of the Calgary Flames on November 19th was a wake-up call for the Golden Knights. That loss left Vegas with a 9-12-1 record, seventh in the Pacific Division at the time and in 13th place in the Western Conference, well off a playoff pace. They started turning things around with a 3-2 overtime win over the Arizona Coyotes and then turned things over to goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who got getting the call in both ends of back-to-back games, pitching shutouts in a rematch against the Flames and against the San Jose Sharks to put the Knights back on a winning path. As it is, Vegas has outscored opponents, 24-10, on their 5-1-0 run of late and have killed 14 of 15 shorthanded situations (93.3 percent). That penalty kill has been especially adept at scoring shorthanded, the Golden Knights ranking third overall in shorthanded goals scored through Saturday’s games (five).
Arizona Coyotes. And that brings us to the Caps’ second opponent for the week. They visit the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday to wrap up that season series (Arizona won in Washington, 4-1, on November 11th). The Coyotes are once more struggling to be competitive in the standings, sixth in the Pacific Division and 11th in the Western Conference heading into Week 10. However, there are two hopeful signs for the Coyotes. First, they are winners of three in a row heading into the new week, their longest winning streak since they put together a five-game winning streak to close October and open November. Second, this is the most dangerous team in the league when shorthanded. The Coyotes lead the league in shorthanded goals (10). Only one team in the league has fewer power play goals than shorthanded goals, and that is the bad news for this club. Arizona has only eight power play goals this season, leaving them as the only club in the league with a positive shorthanded-to-power play goal differential (plus-2). Two of those eight power play goals came against the Caps in their first meeting this season.
Columbus Blue Jackets. The Caps close the week with a visit to Columbus on Saturday to face the Blue Jackets. This will be the Caps’ first visit to Ohio since they clinched the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against the Blue Jackets, 6-3, winning the series in six games after dropping the first two at Capital One Arena. Columbus, the team that seems to have a knack for hanging around in the standings (one point behind the Caps for the division lead as the week opens), has not been a particularly successful club on home ice overall. The 12 games they played on home ice through nine weeks is fewer than any club in the Eastern Conference and fewer than any club except Colorado and Vegas (each with 11 after nine weeks), but they have only 15 standings points earned on home ice with a 7-4-1 record, tied for 20th in home standings points earned. That seems to be changing, though. After going 2-3-0 in their first five games on home ice this season, Columbus is 5-1-1 in their last seven games at Nationwide Arena. They have done it by pounding their opponents with goals. In all six games in which they earned points, the Blue Jackets scored four or more goals. The odd part of the offensive barrage is how little of it reflects power play production. Columbus is only 3-for-18 in those seven games on home ice (16.7 percent). The odd part of the power play is that the goals scored (three) equal the number of shorthanded goals scored by the Blue Jackets in those seven home games.
- Nicklas Backstrom. It was a big week last week for Backstrom. He had a three-point and a four-point game, bringing his career point total to 831 and passing Peter Bondra for second place on the Caps’ all-time points list. It also lifted him past Ilya Kovalchuk (830) into 11th place in points among active players in the NHL. He has been on a lengthy productive run. Since he went three games without a point to close October and open November, Backstrom is 7-12-19, plus-9, in his last 14 games. Those seven goals include his second career hat trick, recorded in the Caps’ 6-3 win over the New Jersey Devils last Friday.
- John Carlson. It was an odd month for John Carlson, but a productive one. He has not had a goal since October 22nd in a 5-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks. However, he had 13 assists in 14 games to lead the team in November. That was more assists than any other defenseman in the league for the month except Ottawa’s Thomas Chabot, who had 14 assists in 16 games. Carlson ended Week 9 with points in six of seven games (0-9-9) and was a plus-12.
- Tom Wilson. Week 9 did not provide the league a respite from Tom Wilson’s offensive rampage since returning to the ice. He was 3-1-4, plus-3, for the week, bringing his goal scoring streak to a career-best five games. After only nine games played through Saturday, Wilson was already half-way to his career high of 14 goals (in 78 games) posted last season, and his 1.44 points per game was fourth-highest in the league among players appearing in at least five games.
- Devante Smith Pelly went last week without a point and had one shot on goal in two games. That could be explained by his getting dinged up in the Caps’ 4-1 win over the Islanders to start the week, a game in which he skated only 5:26. “Cold” in this instance might be more being put “on ice” than a performance problem, although he did finish the week without a point in four straight games and had only three shots on goal.
- Christian Djoos is still looking for that first goal this season and goes into Week 10 with a five-game streak without a point. That is mitigated by his being a “plus” player over that span (plus-2), but his average ice time over his last five games (12:33 per game) is almost two minutes lower than his ice time over his first five games this season (14:31).
- Matt Niskanen has been gobbling up minutes on the blue line over his last eight games (22:13 per game), but he has only two assists to show for it. He has one goal in his last 15 games, but he does not have an even-strength goal since October 27th.
- The Caps finished Week 9 with a plus-12 goal differential in the second periods of games this season (37 for, 25 against), but they were “even” in both the first and third periods (24 goals for and against in the first periods of games, 25 goals for and against in the third periods of games).
- Of the 23 skaters to dress for the Caps so far this season, only Jonas Siegenthaler does not have a point, but then again, he has dressed for only three games.
- Pheonix Copley has more road starts this season (seven) than does Braden Holtby (five) in goal through nine weeks.
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.
- Ovechkin needs ten shots on goal to reach the 5,000 shot mark for his career. That is most among active players; Patrick Marleau is second on that list with 4,060.
- With five penalty minutes, Ovechkin would tie Chris Simon for 13th place on the all-time Capitals list (666).
- 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).
- Matt Niskanen’s next point will tie him with Darren Veitch for 13th place among defensemen in Caps’ history (143 points).
- Braden Holtby needs two shutouts to tie Olaf Kolzig for the most shutouts by a goalie in Caps history (35).