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Snapshots of the Week Ahead: Week 4

The annual Western Conference swing is on deck as the Caps hit the road

Washington Capitals v Edmonton Oilers

Week 4 is Western Canada Week for the Washington Capitals, as for the seventh consecutive season the Caps will make a late October visit to the western Canadian provinces. On occasion, the trip included a visit to Winnipeg to take on the Jets, but in each of the seven instances the Caps will have faced the Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, and Vancouver Canucks. That will be the order of the itinerary this week as the Caps look to build on a three-game winning streak.

The Opponents

Calgary Flames (Tuesday/9:00pm ET)
Two teams reached the 50-win mark last season. The Tampa Bay Lightning got most of the attention with their 62 wins that tied a league record set by the Detroit Red Wings in 1995-1996. The Calgary Flames were the other, winning 50 games to reach that mark for the second time in team history (they won 54 games on their way to a Stanley Cup in 1988-1989). The second time winning 50 games was no charm, though. Calgary was upset in the first round of the playoffs in five games by the Colorado Avalanche.

In some respects, the start to this season resembles last year for Calgary, most important being the slow start. The Flames started last season 5-5-0 in their first ten games. After their 2-1 win against the Anaheim Ducks last night in the latter of a two-game road trip, the Flames are 5-4-1 as they prepare to host the Caps.

Home has been good to the Flames in the early going. They are 3-0-1 at Scotiabank Saddledome so far, but this should be no surprise. Calgary had the third-best record on home ice last season (26-10-5), trailing only Tampa Bay (32-7-2) and the Boston Bruins (29-9-3). What Calgary has done a good job of so far on home ice is smother opponents. In their three wins they held the Philadelphia Flyers and Detroit Red Wings to a single goal apiece, and they shutout the Canucks, 3-0, in their home opener. Only in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Kings did they allow more than one goal at the Saddledome.

If there is one thing to look for, and for the Caps to avoid, in this game, it is shot attempts at even strength. Calgary has a knack for making things hard on opponents when getting a lead, their plus-21 shot attempt differential at fives when leading being the third largest shot attempt differential in those situations in the league. What Calgary has not done is make things as difficult for the Caps as you might expect a team playing on home ice to do. Washington is 7-3-0 with two ties in their last dozen visits to Calgary dating back to October 1998.

Edmonton Oilers (Thursday/9:00pm ET)

In 2005-06, the Edmonton Oilers reached the Stanley Cup final, where they lost to the Carolina Hurricanes in seven games. Since then through last season, the Oilers were the only one of 30 teams playing over the period to earn fewer than a total of 1,000 standings points (946 on a record of 416-502-114). Only once in those 13 seasons did they finish as high as second in their division. That instance, when they went 47-26-9 in 2016-2017, was their only postseason appearance in those 13 seasons, losing in the second round to the Anaheim Ducks in seven games.

And it is not as if all that futility didn’t come with benefits. From 2007 through 2018 season, by virtue of their struggles on the ice, the Oilers had ten top-ten draft picks, four of them number one overall picks. You might be forgiven for thinking that all of that top of the draft talent would have reversed the Oilers’ fortunes, but two of those top overall picks (Taylor Hall and Nail Yakupov) are no longer with the team, while Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Connor McDavid remain.

Perhaps things are changing in Edmonton, though. The Oilers are 7-1-1 through nine games, their best nine-game start since they went 8-1-0 to open the 1985-86 season.

Edmonton will go into this game with a perfect 4-0-0 record on home ice, but frankly, one wonders how they are doing it. They have a shot differential on home ice of minus-31 (112 for, 143 against), the worst home ice shot differential in the league. Their shot attempt differential at 5-on-5 on home ice (minus-33) is fourth-worst in the league. Perhaps this is a product of a “skill premium” the Oilers enjoy with such high-end skill players as McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and the rejuvenated James Neal (combined nine of the 17 goals scored by the Oilers on home ice) making life difficult for opponents.

One other thing to watch about the Oilers is their special teams, particularly their power play. Their home ice power play (4-for-11/36.4 percent) ranks fifth in the league. They can be loose with the puck, though. No team in the Western Conference has been charged with more giveaways on home ice so far than the Oilers (77 in four games). For the Caps, the object will be to continue an odd pattern over their recent visits to Edmonton. 2005-06, the Caps have alternated losses and wins in Edmonton (4-5-0). They lost in their last visit, 4-1, last October.

Vancouver Canucks (Friday/10:00pm ET)
The Caps close the week with a visit to Rogers Arena in Vancouver on Friday to face the Canucks. Vancouver is another of those teams with recent frustration in their record. They failed to reach the postseason in each of the last four years after making the playoffs in 11 of the previous 14 seasons, including a trip to the Stanley Cup final in 2010-2011, where they lost to the Boston Bruins in seven games.

The Canucks opened with a pair of losses on the road before sweeping a three-game home stand. They will host the Caps at the end of the week after wrapping up a four-game road trip. That three game home stand feature an impressive show in the offensive end of the ice, the Canucks denting the Los Angeles Kings, Philadelphia Flyers, and Detroit Red Wings for a total 15 goals, including an 8-2 beat down of the Kings to open the home portion of their season. The 15 goals in their first three home games is their largest output over three home games to start the season since they scored 16 goals in their first three home games of the 1992-93 season.

The Canucks have done it at the other end of the ice, too, the five goals allowed in three home games tied for fewest goals allowed on home ice in the league (with Boston). Drilling down a bit, although it is only three home games played to date the Canucks have had fine special teams play. They are 4-for-9 on the power play (44.4 percent/third in the league on home ice) and 9-for-10 on the penalty kill (90.0 percent/eighth).

The Canucks are another team with results that seem contrary to performance on home ice. In their three games to date, they have been outshot overall, 98-81, and their minus-38 shot attempt differential at 5-on-5 on home ice is second worst in the league. Regarding the latter, they have been consistently deficient over their three home games with a 5-on-5 shot attempt differential of minus-11 against both Los Angeles and Philadelphia and minus-16 against Detroit. The Caps will look to use this to their advantage as they look to win their fourth game in their last five visits to Vancouver.

Hot Caps:

  • John Carlson. Contributing to his overall hot start this season, Carlson has been productive on the road. He is 1-8-9 in five road contests so far.
  • Alex Ovechkin. Five of Ovechkin’s six goals so far this season have been scored away from Capital One Arena.
  • Lars Eller. Through five road games, Eller has been all over the score sheet. He is second in points among all players (six), leads all forwards in even strength points (five), leads all forwards in even strength assists (three), is one of seven plus players for the Caps on the road, has won 51.3 percent of his faceoffs, is tied for third in shots on goal (12), and is the only forward averaging at least one minute of power play and two minutes of shorthanded ice time per game on the road.

Cold Caps:

  • Carl Hagelin. Although he got his first road point of the season in Chicago on Sunday night, Hagelin is still 0-for-13 shooting on the road so far.
  • Nick Jensen. In five road games, Jensen has one shot on goal and one point (assist), and he is a minus-5.
  • Brendan Leipsic. Through five road games, Leipsic is 0-1-1, minus-2.

Weird Facts:

  • Last scoreless tie that the Caps played on the road was played in Calgary against the Flames. The teams played to a 0-0 tie on October 30, 1998, Rick Tabaracci stopping 20 shots for the Caps and Ken Wregget stopping 27 shots for the Flames in the double shutout.
  • In the all-time series against Vancouver, shots matter. The Caps are 12-2-0, with two ties, in 16 games in which they recorded 35 or more shots; 6-16-1, with two ties, in 25 games in which they recorded fewer than 25 shots against the Canucks.
  • In 38 games played in Edmonton over the all-time series with the Oilers, only Evgeny Kuznetsov has a hat trick for the Caps, that coming in a 7-4 win on October 23, 2015.

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.
  • Ovechkin needs nine penalty minutes to become the 11th player in team history to record 700 penalty minutes with the Caps.
  • John Carlson needs five points to catch Kevin Hatcher (426) for third place on the franchise points list among defensemen.
  • Carlson needs one game-winning goal to break a tie with Mike Green (20) for second place on the team’s all-time game-winning goals list among defensemen.
  • If Carlson dresses for all three games this week, he will become the 11th player in team history to play in 700 games 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).
  • Backstrom is two overtime goals short of becoming the second player in Caps history with at least ten overtime goals (Ovechkin: 22).
  • With one assist, Nicklas Backstrom will break a tie with Daniel Sedin (648) for fifth place in career assists by a native of Sweden.
  • With eight faceoffs taken, Evgeny Kuznetsov will become the sixth player in team history (since the statistic was first kept in 1997-1998) to take 5,000 draws.
  • If Tom Wilson is charged with six penalties, he will be the 11th player in team history to be whistled for 300 penalties in his Caps career.
  • With his next shutout, Holtby will break a tie with Olaf Kolzig (35) for most shutouts by a goaltender for the Caps.