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Snapshots of the Week Ahead for the Capitals

The Caps make a brief stop at home before hitting the road again against a couple of Metro Division opponents

Washington Capitals v New York Islanders

The Capitals begin the post-trading deadline stretch run in earnest this coming week with a three-game slate on the schedule. They sandwich a pair of comparatively weak opponents around the team they are pursuing in their quest for a fourth-straight Metropolitan Division title.

The Opponents

Ottawa Senators (Tuesday/7:00). The Caps host the Ottawa Senators for the first and only time this season, hoping to wrap up the season series with a sweep. Washington won the two previous games in Ottawa, a 4-0 win on December 22nd and a 3-2 win a week later. The Senators, who occupy the last place position in the Eastern Conference standings, are clearing the decks. On Friday, they traded forward Matt Duchene and defenseman Julius Bergman to the Columbus Blue Jackets for forwards Vitaly Abramov and Jonathan Davidson, a 2019 first round draft pick, and a conditional 2020 first round draft pick. Ottawa followed that up with a second trade to their new BFFs, sending forward Ryan Dzingel to the Blue Jackets for forward Anthony Duclair and a pair of second round draft picks on Saturday. The shoe still hanging in the air as the Monday deadline approaches fits forward Mark Stone, among the top ten in goals and points in franchise history, who is widely considered all but gone in the Ottawa scheme of things.

It is hardly surprising that Ottawa finds itself in selloff mode. They have not put together a winning streak of as many as three games in more than two months, and since they last did that, with three wins to end November and begin December, they are 10-23-2, the worst record in the league over that span. Their minus-30 goal differential over those 34 games was second worst in the league (Anaheim: minus-39). Only Anaheim and Dallas had fewer power play chances over that span (85 apiece) than the Senators (89), which negated a reasonably efficient power play (18.0 percent, 18th over that span). One thing the Senators have done well in their two-month slide is avoid going shorthanded. The 88 times they have gone short is third-fewest in the league over that span, and their penalty kill is fourth-best over that same span. The Senators drag a four-game losing streak overall and a 1-7-0 record on the road into the new week.

New York Islanders (Friday/7:00). If a game is going to have a playoff feel to it this week, this is the one. The Caps will have the advantage of catching the Islanders playing in the back half of back-to-back games. On the other hand, New York is 9-0-1 in the back half of such games this season. They have been absolutely dominant in those ten games, too, out-scoring opponents by a 36-13 margin. The Islanders are a bit of an odd team. Going into the new week, they have not lost consecutive games in regulation since early December and have gone 23-7-4 since they did, the second-best record in the league since then, to take command of the Metropolitan Division. However, they have been out-shot over that same span of time, 1011-969, have scored only 97 goals (18th in that span), are under water in shot attempts at 5-on-5 (48.41 percent), have more than 100 fewer takeaways (236) than giveaways (342). They do not have an especially impressive record in one-goal decisions over those 34 games, going 9-7-4.

This team does do two things very well. One, they are in just about every game. In those 34 games they have not suffered a defeat of three or more goals, and only four times did they lose by a pair of goals. Conversely, the Islanders have nine wins in that span by three or more goals. Second, they are suffocating on defense, hardly a surprise for a Barry Trotz coached team. The 62 goals allowed in their 23-7-4 run are, by far, the fewest in the league (Tampa Bay: 75 goals). Sixteen times in that span the Islanders allowed one or no goals, including five shutouts. And don’t sit on a lead. New York is one of only two teams in the league (Tampa Bay being the other) with a better than .500 winning percentage when allowing the game’s first goal (14-11-2/.519). This is a team that makes a two and a half hour game seem like a six-hour grind.

New York Rangers (Sunday/12:30). Washington heads to Madison Square Garden to end the week in a rematch of the February 24th matinee played at Capital One Arena. The Rangers are also in “sell” mode, pulling the trigger on a deal on Saturday that sent Mats Zuccarello to the Dallas Stars for a pair of conditional draft picks, a second in 2019 and a third in 2020. It is hardly surprising, given that the Rangers have been stuck in neutral of late, going 6-6-2 over their last 14 games, generally alternating wins and losses and unable to gain any traction to advance in the standings.

Over the course of the season, the Rangers have struggled with some fundamental aspects. For instance, their shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 (46.25) is second worst in the league going into the new week. Their shot differential per game (minus-4.2) is weak. While they are not as bad as the Caps in the faceoff circle, they reside in the same neighborhood, their 47.3 percent winning percentage ranking 29th of 31 teams. They give the puck away too much, charged with the fourth-highest number of giveaways in the league (789).

The Rangers have had the unexpected misfortune of finding it increasingly hard to win on home ice. Since going 9-3-0 in their first dozen games at Madison Square Garden this season, the Rangers are just 7-7-6 in 20 home games since Thanksgiving. And in those 20 home games is the difference between one New York team and another. Both the Islanders and Rangers have played 20 home games in that span. Both teams scored 57 goals in those 20 games on home ice. But where the Islanders allowed only 39 goals over that span, the Rangers allowed 62.

Hot Caps:

  • Tom Wilson. When he scored a goal against the Rangers on Sunday, it was Tom Wilson’s third goal in six games – one at even strength, one shorthanded, and one on a power play. He has come on of late after enduring a 15-game stretch with just one goal. Wilson has already posted a career high in goals (17) and has topped 30 points for the second straight season.
  • Alex Ovechkin. When he took the ice against the Rangers on Sunday, Alex Ovechkin had goals in five straight games, his longest streak of games with at least one goal since he peeled off a six-game streak in early December. Even though that streak came to an end on Sunday, that run merely extended a sustained hot streak that had him posting 11 goals over 13 games, including a hat trick against San Jose to start that run on January 22nd.
  • Jakub Vrana. Since February 1st, Jakub Vrana has three goals. While it does not sound like a lot, all of them were game-winners, tops on the team since the start of February. Vrana has already set career highs in goals (18), assists (19), points (37), and game-winning goals (four).

Cold Caps:

  • Chandler Stephenson. In 19 games since January 1st, Chandler Stephenson has one point (an assist) and is minus-4.
  • Nicklas Backstrom. Uncharacteristically, Nicklas Backstrom is a team-worst minus-13 since the calendar flipped over to 2019.
  • Lars Eller. Since January 1st, Lars Eller has only two goals on 46 shots, a 4.3 shooting percentage.

Weird Facts…

  • The Caps have eight players with at least 30 points so far this season, matching their total for all of last season.
  • Last season, the Caps had three players with 30 or more power play points – John Carlson (32), Alex Ovechkin (31), and Evgeny Kuznetsov (30). This season, only Carlson is on a pace to finish with more than 30 (33).
  • When Nicklas Backstrom posted a pair of goals on Sunday against the Rangers, he became the seventh Capital with at least 15 goals this season, matching their total of last season.

Potential Milestones to Reach This Week…

  • Alex Ovechkin’s next goal will be his 45th, thus making him the first player in NHL history to record 45 or more goals in ten seasons.
  • With one power play goal, Alex Ovechkin will hit the 15-power play goal mark for the 11th time. He is the only player with ten or more 15-power play goal seasons in league history (four players have eight).
  • Should he record five goals, Ovechkin would tie Brendan Shanahan for 13th place all-time in NHL history (651).
  • With six points, Ovechkin would become the 48th player in league history to reach the 1,200-point mark (or the 49th, if Sidney Crosby, who trails Ovechkin by two points entering the week, gets there first).
  • If he goes plus-5 for the week, Alex Ovechkin would be the third Capital in team history with a career plus-100 or better, joining Nicklas Backstrom (plus-119) and Rod Langway (plus-116).
  • Nicklas Backstrom’s next power play goal will tie Dale Hunter (72) for fourth place in team history.
  • With one goal, John Carlson would reach double digits in goals for the fourth time in his career, tied with Calle Johansson and Larry Murphy for fifth-most among defensemen in franchise history (Sergei Gonchar and Kevin Hatcher lead with seven).
  • If Alex Ovechkin takes one penalty this week, he will tie Alan May for eighth place on the all-time franchise list (314). He would still be far short of May in penalty minutes, though. Ovechkin starts the week with 681 penalty minutes as a Capital, while Alan May had 1,189 minutes in penalties. He can catch Joe Reekie (688) for 11thplace in penalty minutes with the Caps.
  • Braden Holtby’s next shutout will tie Olaf Kolzig (35) for most in team history.
  • With three assists this week, Nicklas Backstrom would tie Peter Forsberg (636) for seventh place in assists recorded by players born in Sweden. Five, and he would tie Borje Salming for sixth place (637).
  • A hat trick for Alex Ovechkin this week, and he will break a tie with Jari Kurri for tenth place on the all-time list (both have 23).
  • With one even-strength goal this week, Ovechkin will tie Mario Lemieux for 15th place all-time (405). Three even strength goals, and he would tie Jari Kurri for 14th place (407).