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Snapshots of the Week Ahead for the Capitals

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The Washington Capitals return to action this week, hoping to start the post-All-Star-Game portion of their schedule a lot better than they ended the pre-All-Star Game schedule.

NHL: Calgary Flames at Washington Capitals
Mar 21, 2017; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Capitals right wing T.J. Oshie (77) advances the puck against the Calgary Flames during the second period at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Capitals (save for All Stars Braden Holtby and John Carlson) are in the midst of eight full days away from the NHL schedule - and that might be just the tonic they need to break free of a seven-game losing streak. That hiatus comes to an end late in the coming week with two home games on the schedule. Pitted against formidable opponents in both contests, the Caps will get an early indication of whether they are recharged or continue to be regressing.

The Opponents

Calgary Flames (Friday/7:00). In 2003-04, the last campaign before a season-long lockout the following year, the Calgary Flames were a Stanley Cup finalist, falling in seven games to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Since then, the Flames have missed the postseason seven times in 13 seasons (seven of the last nine), won only one division title (in 2005-06, the first season after the lockout season), and have won only one playoff series, that in 2015 against the Vancouver Canucks.

In that context, the Flames leading the Pacific Division at the All-Star Game break has to be considered something of a surprise. That they do so with 71 points, by six points and a game in hand over the San Jose Sharks, and with the best record in the Western Conference, might be considered shocking. What is more, the Flames are 28-8-4 since losing a 4-3 shootout decision to the Caps on October 27th in Calgary that dropped the Flames record at the time to 5-5-1. That 28-8-4 record is good for 60 points, one fewer than the Tampa Bay Lightning in that span, but in two fewer games played.

Calgary has done it by sticking to basics, scoring and not allowing themselves to be scored upon. In their 28-8-4 run, they are the only team in the league in the top five in goals scored over that span (154/2nd) and in fewest goals allowed (104/5th). They also rank fourth in power play efficiency over those 40 games (26.3 percent), and they have a respectable 81.3 percent penalty kill (13th).

The Flames might be the epitome of the contemporary speed-possession team when one considers a combination of statistics. Some are of a mind that hits are a reflection of how much you do not have the puck, because if you accumulate a high volume of hits, it is the other team that has (and is being separated from) the puck. In their 40-game run, the Flames rank last in the league in credited hits, and by a wide margin (550, 67 fewer than the Toronto Maple Leafs). Similarly, a high volume of blocked shots is thought to be indicative of possession issues, the other team possessing the puck to take those shots that are blocked. Calgary has the fourth-fewest number of blocked shots in their 28-8-4 run (501). There is the matter of takeaways and the ability to turn momentum around. Calgary has the third highest number of takeaways since turning their season around in late October (422). And, the Flames rank eighth in shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 in that span (52.12 percent). While they can be loose with the puck (their 595 giveaways is most in the league in their 40-game run), this is a formidable team in terms of dictating momentum.

Boston Bruins (Sunday/12:30). Going into the new week, the Boston Bruins are the last team that the Caps defeated before their seven-game losing streak. That win came back on January 10th, a 4-2 win in Boston. Washington will be trying to complete a season series sweep of the Bruins, having defeated them on Opening Night, 7-0.

The recent history of this series is one of the more remarkable stories of dominance in recent years in the NHL. The Caps have won 14 straight regular season decisions against Boston, the last Boston win in this series coming on March 29, 2014, when the Bruins doubled up on the Caps, 4-2, at Verizon Center (now Capital One Arena). The odd thing about that game and just how long ago it was, the winning goalie for the Bruins was Chad Johnson. He has played for five different teams since then (New York Islanders, Buffalo, Calgary, St. Louis, and Anaheim).

The dominance in that span in putting together those 14 straight wins has been incredible. They have outscored Boston, 52-21, and shut out the Bruins four times. Their power play efficiency of 26.7 percent is far better than the 18.7 percent Boston has managed. The Caps’ 13.1 percent shooting percentage dwarfs the 4.8 percent mark of the Bruins. The incredible part, though, might be in the fact that the Bruins have out-shot the Caps, 437-398, in those 14 games, won 477 of 833 faceoffs (57.3 percent), out-hit the Caps by a 365-346 margin, and had 673 shot attempts at 5-on-5 to 552 for the Caps (54.94 percent).

More recently, the Bruins are treading water since their loss to the Caps in Boston almost three weeks ago. They went into the All-Star Game break with a 2-2-1 record since facing the Caps, outscoring opponents by a 15-14 margin. The Bruins have exhibited a quite consistent offensive trend in road games over the last six weeks. In seven road games over that span, they have scored a total of 23 goals, never fewer than three nor more than four in that span. It has been their scoring defense that has had issues on the road recently. In those same seven games, the Bruins allowed only 20 goals, but they allowed five goals on two occasions and four in one other instance. Not surprisingly, the Bruins lost all three of those seven road games in which they allowed four or more goals, while they won all four games in which they allowed two or fewer.

Hot Caps…

  • Alex Ovechkin. Over his last eight games since January 10th, Alex Ovechkin is 7-3-10, those seven goals tied with San Jose’s Tomas Hertl over that span and his ten points ranking third. He recorded his third hat trick of the season last week in the Caps’ 7-6 overtime loss to the San Jose Sharks. It was the 23rd hat trick of his career, tops among active players and breaking a tie with Teemu Selanne for 12th-place all-time. He is now tied with Jari Kurri for tenth place on the all-time hat trick list.
  • T.J. Oshie. Since January 1st, no Capital has more points than T.J. Oshie. His 12 points (4-8-12) is tied with Ovechkin in total scoring for the month. His four goals ranks second on the club in the new year. And, he is the only forward since January 1st with a “plus” rating (plus-1). He went into the All-Star Game break with three straight multi-point games, his longest such streak as a Capital.
  • Brooks Orpik. These things are relative, but consider that after Orpik had an assist on Opening Night and a goal in his next game, he went his next ten games without a point (a period of time interrupted with an injury) and only one point (an assist) over an 18-game span. He recorded his second goal of the season last week in the 8-5 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, leaving him one goal short of his career high of three with the Caps in 2015-2016, also a season that featured a lengthy absence to injury. Orpik also recorded a plus-3 in the Caps’ 7-6 loss to San Jose last week.

Cold Caps…

  • Tom Wilson. It was bound to happen that Tom Wilson would cool down after his hot start, and he has. After going 11-8-19, plus-12, in 19 games in the 2018 portion of the season after returning from a suspension, Wilson is 2-2-4, minus-3, in 12 games of the 2019 season to date, and his 28 penalty minutes lead the league in the new calendar year.
  • Lars Eller. One Capital who is having an unusually difficult time finding the back of the net these days is Lars Eller. He has only two goals over his last 30 games on 55 shots (3.6 percent). He is one of eight forwards in the league over that span, since November 21st, to have recorded at least 50 shots with a shooting percentage of 4.0 percent or lower.
  • Evgeny Kuznetsov. The Caps have two forwards on that list of eight with at least 50 shots since November 21st and a shooting percentage of 4.0 percent or lower. Evgeny Kuznetsov is the other one. He has three goals on 75 shots (4.0 percent). On that list, only Tyler Toffoli has more shots on goal than Kuznetsov (three goals on 96 shots, a 3.1 percent mark). Kuznetsov, who last season set a career high of 27 goals, is on a pace to barely reach half that number this season (15).

Weird Facts…

  • The Caps have allowed seven or more goals four times this season. It is the most such games they have allowed in a single season since they allowed seven or more goals four times in the 2008-2009 season. But that is not the weird part. The weird part is that the Caps have earned two standings points out of those four games, one in a 7-6 overtime loss to Pittsburgh in Game 2 of the season and another in a 7-6 overtime loss to San Jose last week. Only one other time in the new standings point format (since 2005-2006) have the Caps earned a standings point when allowing seven or more goals, an 8-7 overtime loss to the Penguins on January 16, 2017.
  • The 14 straight wins against Boston is the longest winning streak that the Caps have against any team, although it is worth noting that they have two longer unbeaten streaks. In the age of ties, the Caps went 19-0-3 against the New York Islanders from April 12, 1997 through March 30, 2002. They also went 15-0-1 against the Pittsburgh Penguins from October 25, 1983 through November 20, 1985.
  • The Caps have had 21 skaters record at least one goal this season, matching their total from last season.

Potential Milestones to Reach This Week…

  • A hat trick for Alex Ovechkin in either game this week, and he will break a tie with Jari Kurri for tenth place on the all-time list (both have 23).
  • Alex Ovechkin is tied with Sergei Fedorov in career points with 1,179. His next point will leave Ovechkin as the leading Russian-born scorer in NHL history.
  • With two even-strength goals this week, Ovechkin would tie Guy Lafleur for 16th place all-time (403). Four even strength goals, and he would tie Mario Lemieux for 15th place (405).
  • With five assists, John Carlson would reach the 300 assist mark in his career, the tenth player in Capitals history to reach that mark and the third defenseman to do so, joining Calle Johansson (361) and Scott Stevens (331).
  • With two goals, Evgeny Kuznetsov will tie Jeff Halpern and Bob Sirois (91 apiece) for 30th place in franchise history.
  • T.J. Oshie’s next power play goal will break a three-way tie with Steve Konowalchuk and Troy Brouwer (30 power play goals apiece) for 24th place in team history.
  • With two power play goals, Kuznetsov would tie Joe Juneau (27) for 30th place in team history.
  • John Carlson’s next goal will tie Larry Murphy (86) for seventh place in team history among defensemen.