The first full week of November is a light work week for the Washington Capitals, with just two games on the schedule. The opponents will be an up-and-comer that has known frustration in recent seasons and another that has known little but success in its short history, one that features the Capitals prominently.
Florida Panthers (Thursday/7:00pm)
The Capitals open the week visiting the Florida Panthers on Thursday night. There are teams in the NHL that have had years, even decades of frustration. And sometimes that frustration gets a lot of attention. The Toronto Maple Leafs, with their more than half century without a Stanley Cup, comes to mind. Other teams suffer in relative media silence. The Florida Panthers are such a team. After entering the NHL in 1993-94, they were a Stanley Cup finalist in their third season, swept by the Colorado Avalanche in their quest for the title. Since then, the Panthers reached the playoffs four times in 22 seasons, winning only six games and failing to get out of the first round all four times. The last time that Florida won a playoff game to clinch a playoff series – a 3-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on June 1, 1996 – gasoline was $1.26 a gallon, a loaf of bread cost 88 cents, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average was 5,643.18. It has been a while.
This year’s edition of the Panthers are keeping within reach of two of the more successful teams in the early going, their 7-3-4 record in the Atlantic Division still within two points of the surprising Buffalo Sabres (9-4-2) and within four points of the streaking Boston Bruins (10-1-2). One feature of Panther Hockey to date has been giving fans value in minutes played. The Panthers have gone to extra time six times in their last 11 games, winning twice and losing four times in the extra time contests. What might be noted here is that only one of the six games was played on home ice. Something else to note as well, four of the six extra time decisions were settled in the shootout, Florida losing three of them. Reversing that record would have left the Panthers tied with Buffalo for second place in the Atlantic as this week begins, an illustration of how close to the margin teams can play in the league these days.
The Panthers have played five games on home ice through five weeks; only Tampa Bay has played fewer (four). Through those five games on the road schedule, Florida is 3-1-1, and those games have not lacked for offense. The Panthers are averaging 3.80 goals per game and are allowing 3.20 goals per game at BB&T Center. That scoring offense for the Panthers has a lack of even strength scoring, though. They have only 13 even strength goals in those five games, while almost a third of their offensive production on home ice comes from special teams (five power play goals, one shorthanded goal). Florida is also a team that has been rather ordinary managing shots on home ice. The Panthers’ 52.45 shot attempt-for percentage at 5-on-5 in road games ranks 16th in the league. They have been especially adept in situations in which they are behind, their 64.71 percent mark on home ice being second in the league only to Carolina (65.22 percent).
This will be the 127th game in the all-time regular season series between these teams, the Caps holding a record of 64-42-11 (nine ties). In games played in Florida, the Capitals are 30-25-4 (four ties) in 63 games played against the Panthers. Since 2005-06, the Caps are 36-24-10 in 70 games overall against Florida and 17-14-4 on the road.
Vegas Golden Knights (Saturday/7:00pm)
The Capitals renew their short but intense rivalry with the Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday when Vegas visits the Caps at Capital One Arena. The Stanley Cup final foes of 2018 will lock horns for only the fifth time in the regular season, matching the total of games played in the 2018 Stanley Cup final won by the Caps, 4-1. The Caps are just 1-3-0 in the four regular season games to date, 1-1-0 at Capital One. Vegas will visit Washington for the third game of a four-game road trip, the Knights’ longest in the 2019 portion of the season (they have an eight-game trip in late-January/early-February).
The Golden Knights open the week heading to the road after a disappointing four-game home stand in which they went 1-1-2. It was the defense that let them down, allowing four or more goals in each of the losses, one of them a 6-1 pasting by the Colorado Avalanche.
Vegas has had success on the road, though, going 4-2-0 in six games to date. And despite their recent leakiness on defense at home, they have been holding teams in check on the road, allowing only 14 goals in six road games (2.33 per game). No Western Conference team allowed fewer road goals through the first five weeks (although Edmonton is allowing fewer on average, 1.89 per game). The 14 goals allowed is particularly impressive since Vegas has done it while allowing 200 shots on goal in six road games (33.3 per game).
Part of the defensive success on the road has been penalty killing. The Golden Knights lead the league in road penalty killing (91.3 percent) and have allowed the fewest power play goals (two, tied with the Avalanche and Islanders) as the new week starts. They have killed off their last 16 shorthanded situations on home ice since allowing both of their road power play goals to date against the Philadelphia Flyers in a 6-2 loss on October 21st. They are also dangerous in killing penalties, their three shorthanded goals scored on the road tied for the league lead (with Washington). They are one of two teams in the league to have scored more than one shorthanded goal without allowing one in away games (Dallas has two shorthanded goals scored).
The Knights have been all over the place in terms of shot attempt differentials on the road at 5-on-5. They opened their season getting the better of San Jose, 36-32 in 5-on-5 shot attempts (52.9 percent), but fell off quickly thereafter, going four straight road games under 50 percent, going 43.13 percent over those four games. They rebounded with a dominating performance in their last road game, out-attempting Chicago at fives, 42-29 (59.2 percent).
- Braden Holtby. Since allowing three goals on three shots to open the contest in a 6-3 loss to Colorado on October 14th, Braden Holtby is 5-0-1, 2.63, .923.
- John Carlson. John Carlson leads all defensemen in multi-point games this season (eight) and is tied with forwards Leon Draisaitl and David Pastrnak as the new week begins.
- Michal Kempny. Since returning from injury on October 18th, defenseman Michal Kempny is 3-6-9, plus-10, in eight games. Kempny is one of a dozen players at plus-10 or better and the only one to have played fewer than ten games.
- Jonas Siegenthaler is still seeking that first career goal. We are at 42 games and counting.
- Travis Boyd. Although he does have three assists in the four games in which he has played so far, forward Travis Boyd has only one shot on goal.
- Radko Gudas/Carl Hagelin. These two players are tied for most shots on goal so far for the Caps (23) without recording a goal. And come to think of it, Nicklas Backstrom has only two goals on 36 shots, his 5.6 shooting percentage worst among forwards with at least ten shots on goal after Hagelin.
- In 126 games against the Panthers since 1993, the Capitals have been awarded only one penalty shot. Matt Pettinger took it on April 15, 2006. He missed, but the Caps won anyway, 2-1.
- If the Caps are going to get the first goal of the game against the Panthers, bet on Alex Ovechkin or Nicklas Backstrom getting it. They are the only active Caps to have done it, Ovechkin five times and Backstrom three.
- Alex Ovechkin’s next power play goal against Vegas will be his first one against the Golden Knights. Yes, it has only been four games to date, but still, it remains the only team against which he does not have a career power play goal.
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 point to break a tie with Kevin Hatcher (426) for third place on the franchise points list among defensemen. Three 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.
- Carlson needs three 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).
- 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).
- If Tom Wilson is charged with three 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.