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Snapshots of the Week Ahead: Week 5

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We turn the clocks back this week, but the Caps look ahead to coming home for a pair of games after ending their road trip with visit to Toronto.

NHL: Buffalo Sabres at Washington Capitals Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Week 5 of the NHL season will start in October and end in November; for the Washington Capitals, it will also start on the road and end on home ice for a pair of contests in the three-game week. It is a week of challenges, as the Caps face a couple of teams that made the playoffs last year sandwiched around one that didn’t but is the early surprise of the season.

The Opponents

Toronto Maple Leafs (Tuesday/7:00pm ET)
The Caps make their first and only visit to Toronto this season on Tuesday night. The Maple Leafs will be looking to avenge the 4-3 loss to the Caps at Capital One Arena on October 16th, a see-saw battle in which the Leafs opened the scoring with a pair of goals in the first 11 minutes of the game, followed by the Caps storming back with four consecutive goals before the visitors made it interesting with a late third period goal before falling short in the decision.

The Maple Leafs have had a healthy portion of home cooking in the early part of their schedule. No team has had more games on home ice through four weeks than the Leafs (eight). What they have not been so far on home ice, though, is intimidating. Toronto has a respectable 4-2-2 record at Scotiabank Arena, formerly Air Canada Centre, but they have managed to out-score opponents by only a two-goal margin in eight games (30-28) and have not been particularly impressive on special teams, their power play tied for 15th on home ice (20.8 percent, with Nashville) and their penalty kill ranked 19th (79.2 percent).

Toronto has been a bit sloppy in managing the puck on home ice to date. Scoring on such things can differ by venue, but the Maple Leafs, New York Rangers, and New York Islanders are the only teams in the league to have been charged with at least 110 giveaways and credited with fewer than 80 takeaways on home ice so far (Toronto has 110 giveaways and 76 takeaways).

The Maple Leafs do have an abundance of offensive skill, though, and play a style that tends to their strengths. One facet of that is shooting. Despite holding a one-shot on goal edge in shot differential on home ice so far (262-261), the Maple Leafs have a plus-51 differential in shot attempts at 5-on-5, their 53.86 shot attempts-for percentage at fives ranked 13th in the league. Wide open is what the Leafs play, especially on home ice. They are one of two teams in the league with more than 300 shot attempts for at 5-on-5 on home ice (356; Vegas has 324) and one of only four to have allowed more than 300 such attempts on home ice (305). They are the only team with more than 300 in both categories.

This will be the 149th all-time meeting between the clubs, the Caps holding a 75-57-6 edge (with ten ties). Washington is 28-34-4 (six ties) in 72 games played in Toronto.

Buffalo Sabres (Friday/7:00pm ET)
When NHL.com published its 2019-20 predictions on October 1st, none of the 20 prognosticators had the Buffalo Sabres making the playoffs this season. Here we are as October comes to a close, and the Sabres are tied with the Caps for the most standings points in the Eastern Conference (19) and top the Atlantic Division with a 9-2-1 record.

There has been little mystery to the Sabres’ success so far. They are a top-ten club in both scoring offense (3.42 goals per game/eighth) and in scoring defense (2.50 goals per game, tied for sixth). The Sabres are third in the league in power play efficiency (28.9 percent). And while their penalty kill is ranked in the middle of the pack overall (81.1 percent/tied for 14th), they are 21-for-24 over their last eight games (87.5 percent) after a slow start (9-for-13 in their first four games/69.2 percent).

The Sabres might be out of their element on Friday, though. While they are 5-0-0 on home ice so far, the only team with a perfect record on home ice, Buffalo is 4-2-1 when playing away from KeyBank Center through four weeks of play. What is more, their total goal differential (19 for-19 against/even) and shot differential (209 for-248 against/minus-38) are unimpressive. Drilling further down, their shot attempts differential at 5-on-5 overall (minus-12/tied for 20th in the league) and shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 overall (49.34/20th) are not what one might expect from a bona fide playoff contender.

The Sabres have played quite a bit on the margin. Five of their last ten games were one-goal decisions, four of them in extra time. In those games the Sabres are 4-0-1, two of the wins settled in extra time. And, their offense appears to be entering, if not in the midst of a slump. Buffalo scored 24 goals in their first six games of the season, but they have only 17 in their last six games. Inconsistency has crept into their defense as well. They have three shutouts in their last seven games, but they allowed five or more in two others in that span.

This will be the 162nd all-time meeting between the Caps and Sabres, the Caps with a 57-84-5 record (with 15 ties). On home ice, the Caps are 31-38-3 (nine ties) in 81 games.

Calgary Flames (Sunday/9:00pm ET)
The Capitals feature another rematch to close the week. In the first game after the clocks are turned back, the Calgary Flames will visit Washington two weeks after the Caps took a 5-3 decision in Calgary. Their visit to Washington will be the last game of a five-game road trip, the longest one the Flames will have until February.

The road has not been kind to Calgary so far. They enter the week 2-4-1 in seven road games, including a 2-1 overtime loss in Winnipeg to the Jets to start their five-game road swing. Offense has been an issue for the Flames on the road, having managed to score only 12 goals in seven road games over the first four weeks. Only the Minnesota Wild (1.43) and the New Jersey Devils (0.67) have averaged fewer goals per game on the road than have the Flames (1.71). The Flames have been held to two or fewer goals six times in seven road games, failing to hit three since a 5-3 loss in Colorado to the Avalanche that opened their road season, and they have recorded single goals in three of their last four road contests. Even strength goals have been a particular issue, Calgary recording only eight even strength goals in seven road contests.

One thing that might get the attention of the Caps heading into this week and this game is Calgary’s tendency to take penalties on the road. The 31 shorthanded situations faced and 4.43 shorthanded situations faced per road game are top-five in the league in both categories going into Week 5. That Calgary has had nine fewer power play chances (22) than shorthanded situations faced (31) on the road (only Dallas (minus-11) and Anaheim (minus-12) had a worse special teams opportunity differential on the road through four weeks) has added to their problems.

This will be the 99th all-time meeting between the teams, the Caps looking to improve on a 40-43-2 record (with 13 ties). They are 26-16-2 (with six ties) in 50 meetings against the Flames on home ice.

Hot Caps:

  • Lars Eller. Over the last week, Lars Eller has been a jack-of-all-trades. He was 1-2-3 last week (Monday through Sunday), a plus-2, scored one shorthanded goal, and won 59.1 percent faceoff wins, while averaging 2:17 in penalty killing ice time per game over the three games.
  • Alex Ovechkin. Yes, still hot. Alex Ovechkin led the team with three goals last week, including a power play goal, bringing his career totals to 667 goals overall (one behind Luc Robitaille for 12th place all-time) and an even 250 career power play goals, fourth all-time and within five of Teemu Selanne for third place.
  • Michal Kempny. Since his return from a hamstring injury that ended his season last year and delayed his participation this season, Michal Kempny has five points in five games (3-2-5), including the first two-goal game of his career, recorded in the Caps’ 6-5 shootout win over Vancouver on Friday night. Those three goals so far have been recorded on a total of five shots on goal.

Cold Caps:

  • Dmitry Orlov. Last week, Dmitry Orlov went without a point in three games and was a minus-2 despite averaging more than 22 minutes a game. He is without a goal since recording one in the Caps’ season opener in St. Louis on October 2nd and is a minus-8 in that span.
  • Nic Dowd. In three games last week, Nic Dowd did not record a point (the only forward failing to do so) and won 48.5 percent of his faceoffs while averaging just 10:38 in ice time.
  • Nicklas Backstrom. It was a decidedly un-Backstromian week for Nicklas Backstrom. In three games he had one point (an assist), was minus-2, and won 49.1 percent of his faceoffs. He is just 0-2-2, even, in his last five games going into the new week.

Weird Facts:

  • Toronto is one of two franchises against which the Caps have recorded two separate 10-goal games. They beat the Maple Leafs 11-2, on December 11, 1981, and then 10-2 on March 13, 1987 (both games in Washington). The other franchise against which the Caps did it was the Quebec Nordiques (now the Colorado Avalanche).
  • The Caps have played the Buffalo Sabres 161 times since 1974-75; only once have the Caps gone without recording a single penalty minute. That occurred on November 20, 1977 in a 5-2 loss in Buffalo. The Sabres have also only gone penalty-less once in their shared history, interestingly also in a loss as they fell 3-2 in overtime to the Caps in Buffalo on January 27, 2002.
  • That the Caps have allowed a lot of shots lately is cause for some concern, especially with Calgary on the schedule this week. The Caps have allowed 40 or more shots to the Flames ten times in the all-time series without beating the Flames (0-7-0 with three ties). The good news (and perhaps the true weird fact here) is that the Caps have allowed the Flames 40 or more shots only once in the last 30 years, giving up 44 shots in a 3-3 tie against the Flames on January 14, 2004.

Potential Milestones to Reach This Week:

  • 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.
  • 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 three penalty minutes to become the 10th player in team history to record 700 penalty minutes with the Caps.
  • John Carlson needs two points to catch Kevin Hatcher (426) for third place on the franchise points list among defensemen. Five points, and he will tie Scott Stevens (429) for second place on that list.
  • 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.
  • With two assists, Carlson will tie Scott Stevens (331) for ninth place among all skaters in team history and second place among defensemen.
  • 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). He is currently tied with Mike Green for second-most overtime goals in team history (eight).
  • Tom Wilson is five penalties shy of his 300th, which would make him just 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.