Week 2 is a mirror image of the schedule of Week 1, this time kicking off the week with a pair of games on the road following a matchup at Capital One Arena. It will also be a rare “all-West” week against a pair of opponents that have given the Caps fits over the years.
Dallas Stars (Tuesday 7:00 pm ET and Saturday 8:00 pm)
The Caps will open and close the week against the Stars, hosting Dallas on Tuesday and visiting Big D on Saturday. Dallas has been a difficult opponent for the Caps to deal with over the years, having posted a 32-48-3 record (plus 16 ties) in 99 meetings between the clubs. Home ice advantage doesn’t seem to have improved their lot, with a record in DC of 17-22-2 (eight ties) compared to a road record of 15-26-1 (eight ties) in 50 games in Dallas and Minnesota.
Upon moving to Dallas from Minnesota for the 1993-94 season, the Stars were among the most reliable qualifiers for the postseason for more than a decade, missing the playoffs only twice in their first 14 seasons in Texas. However, after reaching the Western Conference final in 2007-08, the Stars reached the postseason only twice over the next ten seasons, winning one playoff round, until last season.
The Stars were a club that did not do it with electric offense, ranked 29th in scoring offense for the season (2.55 goals per game). They did have the second-best scoring defense in the league (2.44 goals against per game). On offense last season, the Stars were consistently a team that struggled to find the back of the net. No team recorded three or more goals fewer times than did Dallas (36, tied with the Los Angeles Kings). They were just as consistent in preventing goals, allowing two or fewer 43 times, third most instances in the league behind Nashville and the New York Islanders (44 apiece).
Dallas tried to address the scoring issue by signing Joe Pavelski, formerly of the San Jose Sharks, to a three-year/$21 million contract. They hoped to squeeze out some more production from 34-year old Corey Perry, who, after 14 years with the Anaheim Ducks, signed a one-year/$1.5 million deal with Dallas. However, he suffered a broken foot just before training camp opened and has not yet skated with the team. Unless the Stars can get more production from Pavelski and, later, from Perry, and a bigger year from well-regarded sophomore left winger Roope Hintz (9-13-22 in 58 games last season), they will be leaning heavily on goalie Ben Bishop, who had the best goals against average (1.98) and save percentage (.934) among 37 goalies with at least 2,000 minutes last season.
The Caps dropped both decisions to Dallas last season, both in overtime, a 4-3 loss at home on November 3rd and a 2-1 loss in Dallas on January 4th.
Nashville Predators (Thursday 8:00 pm)
Washington visits Music City in the middle game of the week, another city that has not been kind to them in the past. Fifteen times the Caps have played in Tennessee, and only five times did they leave town with a win, only once since 2010 (a 5-3 win in February 2016).
The Predators have been a consistently good team over the last 15 years or so — largely, of course, thanks to having a pretty good coach at the helm for most of that time in former Caps’ coach Barry Trotz. Since making their first postseason appearance in 2003-04, Nashville reached the playoffs 12 times in 15 seasons through last year. Last season they won the Central Division title for the second year in a row, the first times they captured division titles in team history.
However, Nashville is developing an unfortunate reputation as an underperformer in the postseason. After reaching the Stanley Cup final in 2017, they lost in the second round of the playoffs in 2018 and bowed out in the first round to the Dallas Stars last spring. Only five times in 12 playoff appearances have the Preds advanced to the second round or further, and only once among those five instances did they advance further, the Stanley Cup final appearance in 2017.
The Predators are another team the Caps are facing early that was more effective in the defensive than the offensive end of the ice. Nashville was a not a bad team on offense last year, but their 2.88 goals per game ranked just 19th in the league, and only four times in their last 21 games did they post more than three goals, while they were held to one or none five times. That scoring offense was plagued by a league-worst power play at 12.9 percent, the seventh-worst power play in the league over a season since the 2005-06 season.
Their scoring defense was more effective, though, finishing tied for third in the league (2.59 goals against per game, with Boston). It was effective at 5-on-5, allowing 143 goals (fourth fewest in the league), but had issues on the penalty kill. It was not a matter of efficiency, the Preds having the sixth-best penalty kill in the league (82.1 percent). The issue was times shorthanded, the 251 times down in manpower being eighth-most in the league. The result was that the 44 power play goals against was tied for tenth-fewest in the league, underperforming their penalty kill efficiency.
Nashvile is in the enviable position of not having any of their top six point-getters from last season being older than 29 (defensemen Mattias Ekholm and Roman Josi). However, number one goalie Pekka Rinne will turn 37 in November. Juuse Saros, who started 27 games for Nashville last season (17-10-2, 2.62, .915, three shutouts), might be asked to provide at least that much support in a backup role this season.
- Nicklas Backstrom. Last season, Nicklas Backstrom went 2-2-4 in four games against Nashville and Dallas. He was the only Capitals with goals against both teams. But there was that minus-5 in two games against Nashville that blemished that record. Backstrom is the active leader among Caps in points against Dallas (4-12-16 in 16 games) and against Nashville (5-14-19 in 19 games).
- If Michal Kempny is cleared to play, keep in mind that he was the only Capitals defenseman to record at least one point against both Dallas and Nashville last season. He had the only goal for a Capitals defenseman against either team, lighting the lamp in a 6-3 loss on December 31st. He happens to be the only active Capitals defenseman with at least one career goal against Nashville. He also had an assist in the Caps’ 4-3 overtime loss to Dallas in Washington on November 3rd.
- John Carlson. John Carlson is the all-time points leader among Capitals defensemen against Nashville (ten points, all assists) and against Dallas (six points, 2-4-6).
- Alex Ovechkin. In four games played against Dallas and Nashville last season, Alex Ovechkin recorded a single point (an assist against Nashville) and was minus-7.
- Tom Wilson. In three games against last season against this week’s opponents (two against Nashville, one against Dallas), Tom Wilson did not record a point, had five shots on goal, and was minus-3 with 15 penalty minutes (all against Nashville).
- Dmitry Orlov. In four games against Nashville and Dallas last season, Dmitry Orlov did not record a point, had four shots on goal, and was minus-5.
- The Caps have recorded more than 35 shots against the Stars (either against Minnesota or Dallas) 16 times since the teams first met and won only one of those games, a 4-2 win against the Minnesota North Stars on March 29, 1987. They have eight regulation losses, two extra time losses, and five ties.
- Only two defensemen in Capitals history have recorded multi-point games against Nashville. Both came, as you might expect, in losses. Mike Green did it in a 4-3 loss in Nashville on January 16, 2005 (two assists); and John Carlson did it in a 6-3 loss in Nashville on November 14, 2017 (two assists).
- Going shorthanded against the Predators has been an odd indicator of success. Six times in the history of the rivalry, the Caps went shorthanded six of more times and won in five of those instances.
Potential Milestones to Reach This Week:
- Alex Ovechkin could break a tie with Luc Robitaille for fourth-place all-time in career power play goals (247).
- With three points, John Carlson would jump over Alexander Semin and Kelly Miller (408 points) into 15th place on the all-time list of Capital point scorers.
- With four blocked shots, Dmitry Orlov will have 500 for his career, the tenth Capital to reach that mark since the statistic was established in 1997-1998.
- With an empty-net goal, T.J. Oshie would become the fifth player in team history to record ten or more empty-net goals as a Capital.
- If John Carlson dresses for all three games this week, he will pass Steve Konowalchuk (693 games) for 11th place in games played for the Caps.
- With one power play point, Carlson will tie Larry Murphy (153 power play points) for sixth place all time among Caps defensemen in power play points.
- With one power play goal, Nicklas Backstrom will break a tie with Dale Hunter (72 power play goals) for fourth place all-time for the Caps.