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Snapshots of the Week Ahead: Week 14

The calendar turns over to the new year, but there is no rest for the League-leading (still) Capitals with a three-game slate.

Washington Capitals v Tampa Bay Lightning Photo by Mark LoMoglio/NHLI via Getty Images

Week 14 will find the Washington Capitals closing the book on the 2019 portion of the 2019-2020 season and opening the book on the 2020 portion of the season. The new year will begin as the old one ends, with a game against a Metropolitan Division rival before wrapping up against a west coast foe that has been a tough opponent to slay on home ice.

The Opponents

New York Islanders (Tuesday/1:00pm)
The Capitals host the New York Islanders in a New Year’s Eve matinee game to close the 2019 portion of the schedule and the first half of the 82-game regular season schedule. It will be the second meeting in the four-game series between the clubs this season and the first in Washington, the Caps besting the Islanders, 2-1, in New York on October 4th. It took a while, but the New York Islanders finally became sort of ordinary. After starting the season 16-3-1 in their first 20 games, the Isles are just 8-7-2 in their last 17 games. There has been a price for the Islanders coming back to earth. While they remain in second place in the Metropolitan Division, eight points behind the Caps, only three points separate them from the fifth-place Carolina Hurricanes, although the Isles do hold two games in hand on the Hurricanes going into the new week.

There is little mystery to what has happened to the Islanders between their first 20 games and their last 17. Scoring offense is down, from 3.25 goals per game to 2.47 goals per game, and scoring defense has slipped, from 2.45 goals allowed per game to 2.76 goals per game. The power play has edged downward, from 22.7 percent to 18.2 percent, and the penalty kill has been less effective, dropping from 83.0 percent to 77.5 percent.

While the Islanders have been a mediocre team at home in their recent slump (3-2-1), their road record has collapsed. After going 6-1-0 in their first seven road games in that fine 20-game start, the Islanders are just 5-5-1 in ten road games in their 17-game slide. All five of the losses in regulation in that road record were by multi-goal margins, and three of them were by three goals. On the other hand, four of the five wins in that road stretch were by multi-goal margins (the other in a shootout). The Islanders have left little doubt, one way or another, in road games in the last six weeks.

Carolina Hurricanes (Friday/7:30pm)
Less than a week after being treated rudely in Raleigh by the Carolina Hurricanes, the Caps get a chance to return the favor in the role of impolite guest when the Caps return to Carolina on Friday to open the 2020 portion of the regular season schedule.

When the Hurricanes beat the Caps, 6-4, on Saturday night it broke a three-game losing streak for Carolina. Nevertheless, this is a team that is hemorrhaging goals at the moment. The four goals allowed to the Caps made it four straight games in which Carolina allowed at least four goals in a game (a total of 21). It is the second time that Carolina has allowed four or more goals in four consecutive games, the first instance coming in Games 14-17 to open November (a total of 17 goals). It is something of an odd occurrence since before this four-game defensive slump, the Hurricanes went 13 games without allowing more than three goals in a game and allowed that many only four times.

Carolina is a good, but not great team on home ice, their win over the Caps on Saturday notwithstanding. Their 11-6-0 record going into Week 14 is 13th in the league in points percentage (.647). But even with that win over Washington, the Hurricanes have had recent struggles on home ice, going 5-5-0 in their last ten games in Raleigh. The Hurricanes have underperformed their possession numbers on home ice, their 13th-place position in winning percentage standing inconsistent against their top-ranked 57.9 percent shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5. And, as the Caps found out on Saturday, falling behind the Hurricanes on their rink is a bad place to be. They are one of two teams in the league with perfect records on home ice (Los Angeles is the other) when leading after one period (6-0-0) and when leading after two periods (7-0-0).

San Jose Sharks (Sunday/12:30pm)
Washington concludes its two-game season series with the San Jose Sharks when the Sharks visit Capital One Arena on Sunday afternoon. The Caps won the first meeting between the clubs in San Jose, 5-2, on December 3rd.

Until the Sharks beat the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday, 6-1, San Jose had been suffering a prolonged slump, losing four in a row and 10 of 11 games (1-8-2), a slump that started with that loss in early December to the Caps. It might have cost the Sharks any realistic chance of reaching the postseason, even with half the season left to play. Before the slump, the Sharks were perched on the edge of the playoff mix, sitting in eighth place in the Western Conference on December 2nd. As the new week begins, they are in 14th place in the conference, eight points behind the Calgary Flames for the second wild-card spot.

In San Jose’s recent 2-8-2 slide they have been bleeding goals, getting outscored by a 45-27 margin and allowing five or more goals five times in the 12 games. Not that they have come close to outscoring the poor defense, being held to two or fewer goals nine times in those 12 games. Special teams have been a problem for the Sharks in this December slump. Not only do they suffer from few opportunities (29, third-fewest in the league in that period), but they have been inefficient, converting only two of those 29 chances (6.9 percent, worst in the league). The penalty kill has not been up to the challenge of offsetting the weak power play, either, skating off only 30 of 38 shorthanded situations (79.0 percent/19th in the league in that span).

What makes this contest – this week – important for the Sharks is that they will be swimming against the current trying to climb back into the playoff race. Sunday’s contest against the Caps will be the fourth of a five-game road trip for San Jose, and the back half of a back-to-back set of games and their third game in four days at that. San Jose goes into the new week on a four-game losing streak on the road (0-3-1), outscored by a 17-5 margin. The lack of scoring is not new, either. Only three teams have scored one or no goals more times on the road than the Sharks (seven): New Jersey (eight), Calgary (eight), and Detroit (nine).

If there is a team against which San Jose can find a cure for their road woes, though, it is the Caps. Since October 1999, the Sharks are 13-2-0 in 15 games in Washington. Four of those wins came in extra time, three of those via shootout.

Hot Caps:

  • John Carlson. When John Carlson posted a pair of assists against Carolina on Saturday he hit the 50-point mark for the season. According to NHL Public Relations, that is the first time a defenseman hit the 50-point mark in 40 or fewer games since Paul Coffey did it with Detroit in 1994-1995 (he had precisely the same scoring line as Carlson: 13-37-50). Since the 1979-1980 season, Carlson is the only Capitals defenseman in team history to record more than 40 points in the team’s first 40 games (Al Iafrate had 40 points in 40 games in 1992-1993).
  • Ilya Samsonov. Seventeen rookies have dressed for at least one game in goal this season. Only MacKenzie Blackwood among them has appeared in more games (29) than Ilya Samsonov (14), logged more minutes (1,639 to 815), and has more wins (12 to 10). The difference is Blackwood is getting his minutes trying to establish himself as a number one goalie, while Samsonov is in the last stages of his apprenticeship, serving as a traditional backup. And, Samsonov’s goals against average (2.28) and save percentage (.918) are best among all rookie goalies logging at least 250 minutes. At his current rate of play he would finish the season with more than 1,700 minutes played. His goals against average would rank sixth among all rookies logging at least 1,500 minutes since 2005-2006, and his save percentage would rank 11th. He remains the only goalie in the league, rookie or veteran, to have appeared in more than two road games with a perfect record (7-0-0).
  • Nicklas Backstrom. As December draws to a close, Nicklas Backstrom is second to John Carlson for the month in goals (four to five for Carlson), assists (seven to eight for Carlson), and points (11 to 13 for Carlson). He became the second player in team history to reach the 900-point mark with the club. Going into the new week he has points in six of nine games he played in December.

Cold Caps:

  • Road Caps. After starting the year 15-2-1 on the road, the Caps go into the new week 1-3-0 in their last four road games and have been outscored, 19-13, in the process.
  • Braden Holtby. Goalies have hot stretches, and they have cold spells. Holtby is in the midst of the latter. In his last six games, he is 2-4-0, 3.64, .878.
  • Jakub Vrana. Jakub Vrana has gone nine straight games without a goal, coming up empty on 21 shots over that span. This after scoring six goals on 32 shots in his previous nine games.

Weird Facts:

  • The Caps have gone 120:58 on home ice without a goal against the New York Islanders. The last goal they scored on home ice against the Isles was an empty netter with 58 seconds left by Lars Eller in a 6-3 win over New York on March 16, 2018.
  • Each of the last seven wins that the Caps have in Carolina against the Hurricanes have been by one goal, three of them in extra time.
  • Three goals has been the magic number for the Caps on home ice against San Jose in their all-time series. In the 22 games played in Washington, the Caps have a 7-2-2 record when scoring at least three goals against the Sharks, but an 0-9-2 record when scoring two or fewer goals.

Potential Milestones to Reach This Week:

  • With two goals, Alex Ovechkin would tie Teemu Selanne for 11th place on the all-time NHL goal scoring list (684).
  • 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.
  • If he gets the game-winning goal against either the Islanders or the Hurricanes this week, Ovechkin would record his 50th career game-winning goal in road games.
  • Ovechkin’s next hat trick will tie Cy Denneny for ninth place in career hat tricks (Denneny had 25); with two he will tie Maurice Richard (26) for eighth place.
  • With 24 career game-winning goals, John Carlson needs one to break a tie with Kevin Hatcher for most all time among Caps defensemen and with Brooks Laich for 11th place on the all-time franchise rankings.
  • 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: 23). He is currently tied with Mike Green for second-most overtime goals in team history (eight).
  • T.J. Oshie’s next empty net goal will make him the sixth player in team history with at least ten empty net goals with the Caps.
  • Tom Wilson’s next shorthanded goal will make him the active leader among Capitals in shorthanded goals with the club (five), unless Alex Ovechkin gets one first.
  • Wilson needs three penalty minutes to become the sixth player in team history with 1,000 penalty minutes.
  • 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.
  • With one goal this week, T.J. Oshie would tie Guy Charron for 21st place on the all-time team list for goals scored 118).
  • With 113 career goals with the Caps, Evgeny Kuznetsov needs one goal to break a tie with Ryan Walter for 23rd place on the all-time franchise list.
  • With his next shutout, Holtby will break a tie with Olaf Kolzig (35) for most shutouts by a goaltender for the Caps.