Week 3 for the Washington Capitals brings a change in climate. Week 2 had them paying visits to cities with dry, warm-weather and defensive-oriented teams; this week they’ll be hosting a trio of clubs from colder climes who can bring a deluge of offense before heading off to the Windy City. The four teams on the schedule might be fun to watch, but perhaps not so much fun to play, as we will find out.
Colorado Avalanche (Monday/5:00 pm)
The Avs will arrive in Washington for the first game of their first road trip of the season. Colorado opened the new season sweeping a four-game home stand and finishing last week as one of two teams in the league left with perfect records (Edmonton, at 5-0-0, was the other through Saturday’s games). This is a team that has been making, if not spectacular, than steady improvement. Three seasons ago, Colorado had the worst record in the league at 22-56-4, 21 points behind the next worst team (Vancouver). They almost doubled their standings point total the following season, going 43-30-9 in 2017-18 and reaching the postseason where they lost in the first round to Nashville. Last year they slipped a bit in the regular season, going 38-30-14, but they qualified for the playoffs once more – the first time since 2005-06 they qualified for consecutive playoff appearances – and beat Calgary in the first round before falling to San Jose in the conference semi-final.
The Avalanche are doing it in both ends of the ice, tied for fourth in the league in scoring offense (4.00 goals per game) and fifth in scoring defense (2.25 goals per game). Their special teams, however, are not quite as consistently good. The power play is humming along (27.8 percent/seventh), but the penalty kill ranks in the bottom third in the league (75.0 percent, tied for 10th-worst). What has helped on the penalty killing side is that only six teams have been shorthanded fewer times through Saturday’s games than the Avalanche (12).
The Avs do have some proving to do on the road, though. They finished last season with a 17-16-8 road record, the worst road record of a Western Conference playoff qualifier. And, while being on the road did not seem to diminish their offense (130 goals were second among Western Conference teams), they allowed 129 goals on the road, second-most among conference playoff qualifiers (San Jose allowed 141).
Toronto Maple Leafs (Wednesday/7:00 pm)
The Toronto Maple Leafs might be Team Enigma in the NHL. Fun to watch, never lacking for drama, but frustratingly (for their fans) disappointing in the postseason. In the first 11 seasons following the 2004-2005 lockout, the Leafs reached the postseason once, losing in the first round to the Boston Bruins. After that decade-plus drought, though, Toronto has reached the postseason in each of the last three years, falling each time in the first round. They have not won a postseason series since dispatching the Ottawa Senators in seven games in the first round of the 2003-04 playoffs.
The Leafs finished last week with a 3-2-1 season record, their points percentage (.583) squarely in the middle rung of the NHL ladder (17th). The offense has performed as expected, which is to say, prolific (4.00 goals per game/tied for fourth). But offense is a feature of just about any Maple Leaf game. In six games so far this season, the Leafs scored five goals in three of them, while their opponents scored five or more in two. In one, a 6-5 shootout loss to Montreal, both team recorded five goals. It is a carryover from last year for Toronto, who ranked second in 2018-19 in total games with five or more goals (28), trailing only Tampa Bay (36).
Toronto’s visit to Washington will be only their third road game of their first eight of the new season, although they do have wins in their first two (4-1 over the Blue Jackets in Columbus and 5-2 over the Red Wings in Detroit). Toronto has had decent results in recent trips to Washington, winning two of their last three visits after losing seven in a row (0-5-2) and 12 of 14 (2-9-3).
New York Rangers (Friday/7:00 pm)
The Capitals renew one of their longest rivalries on Friday when the New York Rangers visit. From the very first game the Caps played in team history (a 6-3 loss on October 9, 1974) through last season, the Caps enjoy a 107-90-7 record (with 18 ties) in 222 regular season meetings. Add to that the 55 postseason games these teams have played against one another (the Caps holding a 28-27 advantage in wins, but the Rangers holding a 5-4 edge in series wins), and this is a long, deep, and rich rivalry.
The Rangers are in rebuild mode. After reaching the postseason in 11 of 12 seasons since 2005-06, New York missed the playoffs in each of the last two seasons. The first absence cost head coach Alain Vigneault his job, and his replacement, David Quinn, is looking to improve on his first year’s record of 32-36-14 last season that was good for seventh in the Metropolitan Division. The roster reflects the rebuild mode as well. Only two of 19 skaters to dress so far this season for New York have reached their 30th birthdays (defensemen Marc Staal and Brendan Smith are 32 and 30 years old, respectively). Ten are 25 or younger, including 2019 second overall draft pick Kaapo Kakko, who was born on February 13, 2001 (18 years old).
It is hard to get a bead on the Rangers so far in the new season. They played only their third game of the season on Saturday night, dropping a 4-1 decision to the Edmonton Oilers at Madison Square Garden after opening the season with wins over the Winnipeg Jets and Ottawa Senators. One odd thing about them, though. Despite the low volume of games played (one of only three teams with three games played through Saturday), the Rangers are one of only two teams with more than one shorthanded goal scored (two; Vegas has three in five games).
Chicago Blackhawks (Sunday/7:00 pm ET)
The Capitals close the week with a visit to another team that could be considered in rebuild mode…sort of. After a nine-year run of consecutive playoff appearances and three Stanley Cups, the Blackhawks missed the postseason in each of the last two years. Last season, a 6-6-3 start cost head coach Joel Quenneville his job, his departure coming after compiling a regular season record of 452-249-96 (the second winningest coach in Blackhawk history to Billy Reay (516))and a postseason record of 76-52 with those three Stanley Cups. Jeremy Colliton took over for Quenneville and finished the year 30-28-9, but through Saturday he was looking for his first win of the new season (0-2-1).
The “sort of” in the rebuild is reflected in the roster. Chicago dressed 21 skaters this season through Saturday, and seven of them are 25 or younger, all of them forwards. But there is also the famous four in the core – Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, and Brent Seabrook – all of them veterans of all three Stanley Cup teams and all of them 30 or older.
The Blackhawks, despite their recent troubles, can still be a formidable team on home ice. Last season they were 19-14-8 at United Center, tied for ninth in the league in standings points earned on home ice. More to the point, Chicago is 6-1-2 on home ice against the Caps since 2005-06 and has lit up the Caps for five or more goals five times in that span, 15 goals scored against the Caps in Washington’s last two visits to Chicago, a 7-1 Caps loss in February 2017 and an 8-5 loss last January.
- Ilya Samsonov. Two games are not a season, let alone a career, but in two career games to date, Samsonov is 2-0-0, 1.00, .961. The last Capital rookie goaltender to win his first two starts was Michal Neuvirth, who defeated Tampa Bay and the Atlanta Thrashers in his first two stars in February 2009. Braden Holtby won his first two decisions as a rookie, but the first of them was in a relief role.
- John Carlson. Still hot, Carlson is 2-8-10, plus-4, through Saturday, leading all NHL defensemen in points. He has points in five of the six games in which he played so far. Among active defensemen, he is the third-highest point getter against the Rangers with 22 points in 33 games. He trails Kris Letang (35 points in 48 games) and Zdeno Chara (36 points in 72 games).
- T.J. Oshie. He has not shot much – 12 shots on goal in six games – but Oshie has been efficient when he pulled the trigger, hitting the back of the net three times for a 25.0 shooting percentage, tied for 15th in the league among 189 skaters with at least ten shots on goal through Saturday.
- Richard Panik. Through six games, Panik is still looking for his first point as a Capital, although he is a plus-2. He has not recorded more than one shot in any game and has only four through six games so far.
- Nic Dowd. Although he does have an assist on ledger through Saturday, Dowd has yet to record a shot on goal in four games. He is the only forward among 310 to have played in four or more games through Saturday yet to record a shot on goal.
- Braden Holtby. Not all numbers, good or bad, belong to the goaltender. However, Holtby has a save percentage of .868 in four appearances. That ranks 40th among 45 goaltenders to have faced 50 or more shots through Saturday.
- Since the team’s incarnation as the Avalanche began in 1994-1995 in Colorado, after moving from Quebec, the Caps are 5-1-0 against the Avs at home when recording fewer than 30 shots against Colorado goalies.
- Feisty can be fun. In 15 games in the all-time series against Toronto on home ice, the Caps are 13-1-1 when recording more than 20 minutes in penalties. They are 15-2-0 at home when the Leafs recorded more than 20 penalty minutes.
- High shot volumes haven’t mattered much for the Caps at home against the Rangers, until it did. In the all-time series, the Caps recorded more than 35 shots 17 times on home ice and have a record of 7-5-1, with four ties. However, four of those wins have come in the last four instances, the last three in overtime.
Potential Milestones to Reach This Week:
- Alex Ovechkin needs one power play goal to become the fourth player in NHL history with 250 career power play goals
- With two game-winning goals, Ovechkin would tie Brendan Shanahan (109) for sixth-place in league history; with three he would tie Teemu Selanne and Brett Hull (110) for fourth place
- Ovechkin’s next hat trick will break a tie with Jari Kurri (23) for tenth place in career hat tricks; with two he will tie Cy Dennehy for ninth place
- John Carlson needs five points to catch Sergei Gonchar (416) for fourth place on the franchise points list among defensemen
- Carlson needs two game-winning goals to become the 21st player in Caps history to record at least 20 game-winning goals with the team
- Nicklas Backstrom needs one power play goal to break a tie with Dale Hunter for fourth place all time in franchise history in power play goals with the Caps (both have 72)
- With three assists, Nicklas Backstrom will tie Daniel Sedin (648) for fifth place in career assists by a native of Sweden
- With his next win, Braden Holtby will break a tie with Ken Dryden (258) for 52nd in career victories by a goaltender
- With his next shutout, Holtby will break a tie with Olaf Kolzig (35) for most shutouts by a goaltender for the Caps