The Washington Capitals head into Week 7 with a six-game winning streak, one shy of the longest current run in the League (St. Louis with seven). They head into the new week with points in 11 straight games, one shy of the Islanders for the longest current run in that department.
But the Caps have what any team would want heading into Week 7 – the best record in the NHL.
Arizona Coyotes (Monday/7:00pm)
The Caps open their four-game week hosting the Arizona Coyotes at Capital One Arena on Monday evening. That the Coyotes are 9-6-2 through 17 games this season qualifies as something of a surprise, but perhaps not as much of one as one might think. Now in their third season under head coach Rick Tocchet, this is a team that has displayed steady improvement, going 29-41-12 in Tocchet’s first season behind the Coyote bench in 2017-2018 and 39-35-8 last season. A 40-win season is not out of the question (it would be their first since winning 42 games in 2011-12), nor is making the playoffs after a seven-year absence.
Arizona has put together a respectable record by being a hard opponent on the road. Since dropping a 2-1 decision in Anaheim to the Ducks in their first road contest this season, the Coyotes are 5-2-2 away from Glendale and have points in four straight (3-0-1). Going into the new week, their road record is ranked fourth in the league (12 points).
However, looking closely at their results, one could reasonably think a correction is at hand for the Coyotes on the road. Four of their last six games ended in one-goal decisions, all of them in extra time, Arizona winning three of them. The other two were two-goal decisions, but both featured a late empty net goal for the final margin, the Coyotes splitting the decisions.
Where the Coyotes have struggled the most on the road is with their special teams, neither of which has been all that special. Their power play has scored just four times on 27 chances, 19th in the league at 14.8 percent; they are just 1-for-16 on the power play over their last five road contests. Amazingly the penalty kill has been worse, clicking at just 72.4% (28th), and they’ve given up at least one power-play goal in six of their nine road games to date — although that may be due to minimizing the chances as much as anything. They went one-for-one against the Ducks on opening night, did so again against the Islanders in a 4-2 loss on October 24, and killed off both shorthanded situations they faced in a 3-2 overtime win in Edmonton last week.
All that aside, there’s a high chance based on history that tonight goes down as a one-goal game. Five of the last seven contests between these teams in DC have been one-goal decisions, with the Caps winning four of them (one in overtime), and 12 of the last 16 decisions have been one-goal decisions or ties.
Philadelphia Flyers (Wednesday/7:30pm)
The Caps meet their first Metropolitan Division opponent in almost a month when they visit Philadelphia on Wednesday. The Flyers have been very much a Jekyll-and-Hyde team when it comes to home-road splits this season. They have only one win in regulation on the road this season while going 4-4-1 (three wins came in shootouts in their last three road games). At home, though, the Flyers have been hard to solve. They are 6-1-1 at Wells Fargo Center, and they have been unsparing against their opponents with an average of 4.00 goals scored per game at home and four of their wins coming by three or more goals.
Their dominance at home extends down through the statistical categories. The have out-shot opponents by an average of 38.1 to 27.1 per game. They have enjoyed 35 power play chances to only 24 for opponents, and converted 10 of those chances for a rate of 28.6% with the extra man, while limiting opponents to just three goals in their 24 chances (87.5% penalty kill. The Flyers have the second-best shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 on home ice (56.14), trailing only Carolina (57.67), and even lead the League in faceoff winning percentage on home ice (58.3).
That the Flyers are on pace for their best points percentage (.647) since 2002-03 (45-20-13/.652) might be a product of their new coach. New bench boss Alain Vigneault is on his fourth tour as a head coach in the NHL with previous stops in Montreal (109-118-4 with 35 ties), Vancouver (313-170-57) and the New York Rangers (226-147-37). The last of his five seasons with the Rangers finished outside of the playoffs, ending a streak of nine straight seasons in which teams he coached reached the postseason, twice reaching the Stanley Cup final (2011 with Vancouver and 2014 with the Rangers.
If there is one thing to watch with the Flyers, it might be how much “bully” has been taken out of Broad Street. Consider that from 2005-06 through 2013-14, the Flyers led the NHL with an average of 15:49 in penalty minutes per game and were second in major penalties assessed (477, trailing only Anaheim (521). Since 2014-15, however, the Flyers’ penalty average dropped to 9:46 per game and were assessed only 130 majors... both still in the top third of the League, but a dramatic dropoff from their bullying days.
Montreal Canadiens (Friday/7:00pm)
The Caps return home on Friday night to host the Canadiens in the first of a pair of Atlantic Division opponent matchups to close the week. The Canadiens have been strong of late, going 5-1-1 overall in their last seven games to stay within four points of Boston in the Atlantic Division standings, but it is hard to get a read on this team on the road. In nine road games to date, Montreal is 4-2-3, six of the decisions by one goal, five of them in extra time with the Canadiens losing three of them.
One thing plaguing the Canadiens away from Bell Centre this season is the high rate of shots being allowed per game. Opponents have hit Montreal goalies with 337 shots to date, tied for third-most in the League — and yet the Habs have played one fewer road game than the Tampa Bay Lightning, with whom they are tied, two fewer than the Vancouver Canucks, and three fewer than the Minnesota Wild. It is something of an unexpected result, since Montreal has a positive differential in shot attempts at five-on-five (+8) and is eighth in shot attempts-for percentage at five-on-five in road games (50.54).
Montreal has also struggled to stay out of the box in road games this year. They are tied for eighth in most shorthanded situations faced (35, with Los Angeles), but seven of the eight teams ahead of or tied with them have played more road games, and none have played fewer. Add in a relatively weak penalty kill (77.1%, tied with the Kings for 18th), and this looks like it might be the soft underbelly of the Canadiens on the road.
This is a club that has struggled to find consistency in recent years, both in terms of season and game results. Since 2014-15 the Canadiens have alternated 40-plus-win seasons with under-40 win seasons. And while they are tied with the Dallas Stars and Winnipeg Jets for the ninth-most standings points earned on home ice in that span, they are just tied for 17th in standings points earned on the road. In short, this is not a team that has traveled particularly well in recent history... something the Caps might be able to take advantage of late in the week.
Boston Bruins (Saturday/7:00pm)
Over their first 14 games this season, the Boston Bruins were 11-1-2 and had not lost consecutive games in regulation. That’s changed of late, as the Bruins go into the new week having suffered three straight losses, the first two of them on the road in Montreal and Detroit before losing in a shootout yesterday against Philadelphia at home.
Recent slide aside, this Bruins team has been formidable on home ice where the Caps will face them on Saturday. They are 7-0-2 at TD Garden and have scored five or more goals in three of their last four home games; all seven wins were by multi-goal margins, as well, four of them by three or more goals.
While they are scoring in buckets at home (3.89 goals per game), and limiting opponents’ offense with the fewest goals-against per game (1.78), a lot of the other metrics don’t scream home-ice dominance. They’re roughly middle of the pack in shots allowed (30.8 allowed per game at home) and power-play opportunities given up (30 in nine games 10th most in the League). Their plus-29 differential in five-on-five shot attempts is good but not great, as is their 52.5% of shot attempts-for at five-on-five.
What the Bruins have done is make teams pay a high price for going shorthanded. Boston has power play goals in seven of nine home games to date and multiple power play goals in four of those games. On the other side of special teams, the Bruins have allowed only two power play goals on home ice this season (Toronto, San Jose) in 30 shorthanded situations, the third-best home ice penalty kill in the league (93.3 percent).
- John Carlson. In the Caps’ 11-0-1 run, John Carlson leads the team in assists (11) and points (17). Both numbers also lead the league’s defensemen over that span. Carlson has ten multi-point games this season, tops in the league among all skaters and twice as many as any defenseman (Brent Buns, Ryan Ellis: 5). That includes a two-point and a three-point result in his last two games.
- Alex Ovechkin. Over that same 11-game span, Alex Ovechkin has eight goals, tops on the team and tied for fourth-most in the league over that span. He is closing on Teemu Selanne in both the career total goals list and that for power plays. Ovechkin needs 13 goals to tie Selanne for 11th place all-time in career goals (684) and three power play goals to tie Selanne for third place all-time (255).
- Nicklas Backstrom. Nicklas Backstrom shook off a recent slump (0-4-0 over seven games) to post a pair of goals against Vegas in a 5-2 win on Saturday night. He has points in consecutive games (2-1-3) for the first time since posting three points (1-2-3) over two games against Toronto and the New York Rangers in Games 8-9 last month.
- Nick Jensen. While the Caps have been potting goals like a pinball machine over their 10-0-1 run, Nick Jensen has only one point (assist) and is a team-worst minus-2. He has only two points in 18 games this season (both assists).
- Carl Hagelin. Only seven forwards going into Week 7 have played in at least 17 games with no goals. Hagelin is one, but he has good company. Joe Thornton is also among them (none in 18 games). And now, he is banged up with an upper-body injury.
- Jakub Vrana. It might seem odd to include Jakub Vrana here, and it might be a sort of “backhanded” cold to describe, but Vrana and Florida’s Jonathan Huberdeau are the only players in the league with nine or more goals and none of them on the power play.
- Playing on Veterans Day in Washington is not exactly a tradition with the Caps. When they face Arizona on Monday evening, it will be only the 14th time that the Caps hosted a game on November 11... and yet it this will now be the second-straight year in which they’ve hosted Arizona on Veterans Day. Washington lost last season, 4-1.
- The winner of the Caps-Flyers game in Philadelphia on Thursday will likely score a lot of goals. The winner in each of the last four games in Philly scored at least five goals, the Flyers winning 8-2- and 6-3 decisions, and the Caps winning the last two games in Philly by 5-3 and 5-2 margins.
- Since the NHL went to its current divisional format in 2013-14, no non-Atlantic Division team has more wins against Atlantic Division teams than the Caps. Washington is 99-32-17 in 148 games against Atlantic Division teams since the new division set up started.
Potential Milestones to Reach This Week:
- With one game-winning goal, Ovechkin would tie Brendan Shanahan (109) for sixth-place in league history; with two 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 one penalty minute to become the 10th player in team history to record 700 penalty minutes with the Caps.
- John 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.
- Carlson one goal to break a tie with Scott Stevens for fifth place in goals in team history among defensemen; he needs two goals to become the fifth defenseman in team history with at least 100 goals with the Caps.
- With one overtime goal, Carlson would be alone in second place among Capital defensemen in career overtime goals with the club (he has two at the moment), trailing only Mike “Game Over” Green (eight).
- Nicklas 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).
- Backstrom’s next empty net goal will be his 14th career empty netter with the Caps, breaking a tie with Kelly Miller for third place on the all-time franchise list.
- If Tom Wilson is charged with one penalty, he will be the 11th player in team history to be whistled for 300 penalties in his Caps career.
- With four assists this week, Evgeny Kuznetsov would jump three places, from a tie for 19th into 16th place, on the all-time assist list for the Caps, passing Kelly Miller (246, with whom he is tied), Mike Green (247), and Dennis Maruk (249).
- With his next shutout, Holtby will break a tie with Olaf Kolzig (35) for most shutouts by a goaltender for the Caps.