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Snapshots of the Week Ahead for the Capitals

The Caps have a heavy workload this week with games that will be a challenge to their ability to hold onto the top spot in the Metropolitan Division

NHL: Preseason-St. Louis Blues at Washington Capitals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

For the Washington Capitals, Week 16 is one with a heavy workload – four games with a decided Central Division bent to it, three opponents representing that division on the week’s schedule.

The Opponents

Nashville Predators (Tuesday/8:00). Another opponent that the Caps faced recently, another opponent to whom the Caps lost decisively in that meeting. Washington dropped a 6-3 decision to the Predators on New Year’s Eve, the last game that the Caps lost at Capital One Arena. The rematch will be played in Nashville, where the Caps have lost two in a row and are just 1-4-1 in their last six visits to Tennessee.

The Predators are in a groove at the moment with points in seven straight games (5-0-2), starting with that 6-3 win over the Caps on December 31st. They have been consistent in their goal scoring, posting three or more goals in all seven games. It is their defense that has been a bit uneven, allowing three or more goals in four of those seven games but getting two shutouts along the way as well.

Nashville has been a dominant team on home ice so far. After starting the year 3-3-0, the Predators are 12-4-0 in their last 16 games. The odd thing about the four losses is that two of them were shutout losses. It brought the total of shutouts suffered on home ice to three, tied for most in the league (Montreal, Philadelphia, Toronto).

New York Islanders (Friday/7:30). The Caps return to home ice and the Metropolitan Division for their opponent when they host the New York Islanders on Friday. This will be the second of four meetings between the clubs this season, Washington taking a 4-1 decision in Brooklyn on November 26th. This game will be the highlight matchup of the week, marking the first time that Barry Trotz will stand behind the bench at Capital One Arena since Game 4 of last spring’s Stanley Cup final. In that game, the Caps’ penultimate game of the season and Trotz’ as Capitals head coach, Washington dominated the Vegas Golden Knights in a 6-2 win.

Trotz and the Islanders have doggedly dragged themselves back into contention for a playoff spot. Since dropping consecutive decisions to the Pittsburgh Penguins (in a shootout) and Vegas Golden Knights in mid-December, the Islanders are 10-3-0 in their last 13 games going into the new week. It has enabled them to climb into the second wild-card spot in the standings, a tie-breaker (points percentage) ahead of the Buffalo Sabres. Consistent offense has been key. In those 13 games, New York scored three of more goals 11 times. Two of their three losses occurred when they failed to reach that three-goal threshold.

The Trotz effect has been precisely where Caps fans might have expected it. Last season, the Islanders finished the year allowing 3.57 goals per game, the worst scoring defense in the league. Going into Week 16, the Islanders are allowing only 2.63 goals per game, the fourth-best scoring defense in the league. They have been a lot stingier in allowing shots on goal, cutting their average from 35.6 per game last year to 30.9 per game going into the new week. Where they could stand to improve is in their shot attempts-for at 5-on-5 where this year’s performance to date (47.72 percent) is only marginally better than last year’s season mark (47.49 percent).

Chicago Blackhawks (Sunday/12:30). Washington closes the week with an afternoon meeting in Chicago on Sunday against the Blackhawks. This contest will complete the two-game season series between the teams, the Caps having taken a 4-2 decision in Washington on November 21st. Chicago has not been an especially hospitable place for the Caps. Only once in their last eight visits to Chicago have the Caps beaten the Blackhawks in regulation (3-2 in November 2014), and they are 3-5-0 in their last eight visits to the Windy City.

Perhaps the Blackhawks are paying a price for their own hard-earned success and a nod from the hockey gods earlier this decade, because they can’t seem to buy a break these days on the ice. Most notably, their fans get their money’s worth in terms of hockey, but usually leave with a bitter taste as a result. Of their 47 games played going into the new week, 14 of them went to extra time. Their first five games this season went to extra time, and they went 3-2-0 in those contests. But since then, the Blackhawks are 2-7 in extra time games. The odd part of the whole “extra time” issue is that only once this season did the Blackhawks take the game to a shootout, a 2-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings on November 16th. In their 5-9 extra time record, six losses have come when the Blackhawks scored first. It is a team that has done a fine job of stealing defeat from the jaws of victory.

Hot Caps…

  • Jakub Vrana. He just seems to keep improving. Jakub Vrana had three goals and an assist last week to finish with a career high in goals for a season (15) in just 44 games played. And, his defensive game appears to be improving. It was his play to anticipate a pass from Sean Couturier to Claude Giroux just inside the Caps’ blue line, poking the puck off Giroux’ stick to set himself up for a breakaway goal that gave the Caps a 3-1 lead on their way to a 5-3 win. He has nine goals in his last 18 games.
  • Tom Wilson. If I told you that Tom Wilson’s longest streak of games without a goal this season was shorter than Alex Ovechkin’s longest streak, would you believe me? Answer: true. Wilson’s longest streak of games without a goal this season is three (twice), the latter of which he broke last week with goals in consecutive games. By the way, Ovechkin has two longer streaks without a goal than Wilson, a four-game and a six-game streak. With 13 goals heading into the new week in 25 games played this season, Wilson’s next goal will tie his career high set last season (14).
  • T.J. Oshie. With two goals in the 5-3 win over Philadelphia and two assists in the 4-2 win over Boston last week, T.J, Oshie had consecutive multi-point games for the first time since he opened the season with a pair of multi-point games – a goal and an assist in the 7-0 win over Boston on Opening Night and two goals with an assist the next night in a 7-6 overtime loss to Pittsburgh. The two two-point games snapped a five-game streak without a point for Oshie and a dry spell in which he had only one point (a goal) in 11 games.

Cold Caps…

  • Dmitry Orlov. The change of the calendar has not been a boost to Dmitry Orlov’s offensive production. He has just one point in seven games since the start of the 2019 schedule and is a minus-4. He also has ten giveaways since January 1, most on the team.
  • Devante Smith-Pelly. More penalty minutes in five 2019 games (seven) than shots on goal (five), although that penalty minute total was earned when he came to the defense of teammate Nic Dowd, who took a hard (if legal) hit from Flyer Radko Gudas, earning a roughing and a fighting major. Being a good teammate is not always about numbers on the score sheet.
  • Matt Niskanen. The other half of the top defensive pair isn’t having a good time of it lately, either. He and partner Orlov are worst on the team in January with a minus-four each.

Weird Facts…

  • The Caps are spreading things around since the calendar turned over. In seven games as the new week begins, 15 different skaters have points. Nine different players have ten or more shots on goal. Three players have shooting percentages of 25 percent or better (Travis Boyd is one of them with only three shots, but still).
  • Anybody have Tom Wilson leading the team in blocked shots (13) since January 1st? And that includes all skaters, including defensemen. He also leads the team in takeaways since the new year started (seven).
  • Since January 1st, no team in the league has fewer power play goals than the Caps. They have one, tied with nine other teams, which is a lot, but not a neighborhood in which Caps fans would think the team would be traveling.

Potential Milestones to Reach This Week…

  • Brooks Orpik‘s game against the Blues last night made him the 37th active player with at least 1,000 games played.
  • If T.J. Oshie dresses for two games, it will mark 700 games played in his career.
  • With 640 goals, Alex Ovechkin needs one goals to pass Dave Andreychuk (640) for 14th place on the all-time goal scoring list.
  • Nicklas Backstrom needs three assists to tie Mike Gartner on the all-time assist list.
  • T.J. Oshie has 90 goals as a Capital. His next one will tie Bob Sirois and Jeff Halpern for 29th place on the all-time Caps goal scoring list.
  • If John Carlson dresses for three games this week, he will tie Sergei Gonchar for fourth place among Caps defensemen in games played (654).
  • With four penalty minutes, Alex Ovechkin will tie Peter Bondra for 12th place all-time on the Caps’ list (679).
  • Braden Holtby’s next shutout will be his 35th, tying Olaf Kolzig for the top spot in franchise history.