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Snapshots of the Week Ahead for the Capitals

It’s back to the normal grind this week as the Washington Capitals take the ice three times on home ice.

NHL: Vancouver Canucks at Washington Capitals Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Capitals return to a more normal schedule in Week 19, three games played every other day. That the three opponents are experiencing a varying degree of struggles at the moment, it calls to mind the adage, “make hay while the sun shines.” But the Capitals, who have had recent struggles of their own, can take no one lightly these days. It makes for an interesting challenge as the Caps look to break out and move up in the standings.

The Opponents

Vancouver Canucks (Tuesday/7:00). The Vancouver Canucks were expected to struggle this season, and that is precisely what they did in the 2018 portion of their regular season. They had three three-game winning streaks, but they also had losing streaks of four and eight games on their way to a 19-19-4 record through December 31st. They have been only marginally better in the new year, going 5-3-2, the 17th-best record in the league since January 1st going into the new week, although their standing is due, in part, to their having played fewer games (10) than any team in the league in 2019 so far.

The challenge for the Caps here is that Vancouver is hanging on to the last playoff spot in the Western Conference, holding the second wild-card spot two points ahead of the Colorado Avalanche and three points ahead of four other teams. For the Canucks, the challenge is the whole scoring first part. They are good at winning when they do so; their .727 winning percentage when scoring first in games being seventh-best in the league. Their problem is that they do not score first often enough. They have done so only 22 times in 52 games (16-5-1). And, having the league’s seventh-worst winning percentage when scored upon first (.267/8-17-5) makes who scores first in the Tuesday night game one of the things to look for.

There are other things to look for. One, Vancouver has had trouble in recent games scoring on the road. They have been shut out in three of their last five road games. Two, don’t let the Canucks get to “four.” Vancouver is 17-1-0 when scoring four or more goals. The flip side of that is that Vancouver has yet to win a game in regulation this season when scoring two or fewer goals, the lone win in their 1-17-3 record being a 2-1 overtime win over the Boston Bruins back on October 20th. Finally, the Canucks struggle with special teams on the road, their power play ranking 20th (17.6 percent) and their penalty kill ranking 26th (75.8 percent).

Colorado Avalanche (Thursday/7:00). When Colorado ran off an 11-game points streak to end November and begin December (9-0-2), their 16-6-5 record was fifth-best in the league and second-best in the Western Conference, a tie-breaker behind the Nashville Predators. Since then, however, the Avs have not won consecutive games and posted a record of 6-15-3, worst in the league through the end of last week. It is not much of a secret why the Avs’ fortunes have taken a dive. They cannot stop anyone from scoring. The 94 goals allowed over their last 24 games are most in the league through last week’s schedule.

A big part of the “avalanche” of goals allowed is a porous penalty kill. Colorado has allowed 23 goals on 79 shorthanded situations over their 24-game slide, more power play goals allowed than any club over that span and their 70.9 percent penalty kill being worst in the league over that same span, almost four points worse than the Chicago Blackhawks (74.6 percent). What might be more surprising, though, it the deterioration of the Colorado power play. In their 16-6-5 start they had the league’s best power play (32.2 percent), posting a league-high 28 goals on 87 opportunities. In 24 games since December 3rd, however, the Avalanche have only 19 goals on a league-high 103 chances, their 18.4 percent conversion rate ranking 15th over the period.

One thing to look for here is reputation versus performance. Colorado is a team that can score and score often, but do they? Lately, not so much. In their 16-6-5 start, they recorded five or more goals ten times. In going 6-15-3 since, they scored five or more goals only five times. Colorado has been more prone to allowing the five-plus goal game in that span, doing so 10 times since December 3rd after doing to only four times in their hot start. It matters, since the Avalanche are 0-13-1 in the 14 games this season in which they allowed five of more goals. There is only so much they can do to out-score their mistakes.

Florida Panthers (Saturday/7:00). The Florida Panthers started the 2019 portion of their regular season trying mightily to play themselves out of playoff contention. When they beat the Detroit Red Wings on New Year’s Eve, 4-3 in a shootout, to close the book on 2018 they were looking up at a playoff spot, six points behind the Boston Bruins for the second wild-card spot. But then, things took a turn. Florida lost seven in a row to start the 2019 portion of their schedule (0-5-2), and they found themselves in 14th place in a 16-team conference, 14 points out of the second wild-card spot.

The Panthers have turned things around of late, winning four of five games against stiff competition, beating Toronto, Nashville, San Jose, and Vegas, while losing a rematch against the Nashville. They did it by finding a way to stop other teams. In their seven-game losing streak to start 2019, Florida allowed four or more goals in each game, a total of 31 goals (4.43 per game). In their recent 4-1-0 run they allowed only 10 goals, four of them in their lone loss, 4-1 to Nashville last Friday.

Despite their recent success in limiting opponents’ scoring, Florida has allowed the fourth-highest goal total on the road this season (103), and only Ottawa has allowed five or more goals more in road games so far (13) than the Panthers (11). The flip side of that is that Florida is one of only two teams this season to allow five or more goals twice in wins (Tampa Bay is the other).

Hot Caps:

Evgeny Kuznetsov. When Evgeny Kuznetsov posted a goal and an assist in the Caps’ 4-3 win over Calgary last Friday, it marked his first three-game points streak since he went on an eight-game streak in late November and early December (1-9-10). The two goals in those three games (including the game-winner against Calgary) matched is total over the preceding 23 games.

Jakub Vrana. Since the start of the new year, Jakub Vrana is tied for the team lead in points on home ice (2-4-6 in six home games). He is second in plus-minus rating (plus-2) to Brooks Orpik over that span of home games. He is 3-4-7, plus-1, in his last eight games at Capital One Arena.

John Carlson. Only Mark Giordano among NHL defensemen has recorded more points on home ice (8-24-32) than John Carlson this season (4-22-26). He is 1-7-8 in his last nine games on home ice.

Cold Caps:

Jonas Siegenthaler. While he has dressed for only 12 home games this season, defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler is the only skater among 23 to dress for the Caps yet to record a point on home ice.

Dmitry Orlov. In 27 games on home ice so far this season, defenseman Dmitry Orlov does not have a goal, and his minus-5 rating is tied for worst on the club on home ice.

Brett Connolly. With nine goals in his first 39 games, Brett Connolly looked to be on his way to setting a career best in goals in a season (he recorded 15 in each of his first two years in Washington). However, he is currently riding a 13-game streak without a goal.

Weird Facts…

  • The Capitals were one of five teams with two players recording a 20.0 shooting percentage on 20 or more shots through Saturday’s games. That’s not the weird part. The weird part is that the players were Nic Dowd (five goals on 25 shots) and Travis Boyd (four goals on 20 shots).
  • When the Caps beat Calgary on home ice last Friday, they passed the New York Islanders for total all-time wins on home ice (914 to 913).
  • Do faceoffs matter? Probably not, until they do, at least in wins and losses. The Caps are the worst team in the league in taking draws, but they are just 7-7-2 in 16 games in which they won more than 50 percent of their draws this season.

Potential Milestones to Reach This Week…

  • 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).
  • Alex Ovechkin is tied with Sergei Fedorov in career points with 1,179. His next point will leave Ovechkin as the leading Russian-born scorer in NHL history.
  • With two even-strength goals this week, Ovechkin would tie Guy Lafleur for 16th place all-time (403). Four even strength goals, and he would tie Mario Lemieux for 15th place (405).
  • With four assists, John Carlson would reach the 300 assist mark in his career, the 11th player in Capitals history to reach that mark and the third defenseman to do so, joining Calle Johansson (361) and Scott Stevens (331).
  • With one goal, Evgeny Kuznetsov will tie Jeff Halpern and Bob Sirois (91 apiece) for 30th place in franchise history.
  • Kuznetsov needs one game-winning goal to reach 20 for his career and tie Mike Green, Marcus Johansson, and Dmitri Khristich for 17th place on the franchise list.
  • T.J. Oshie’s next power play goal will break a three-way tie with Steve Konowalchuk and Troy Brouwer (30 power play goals apiece) for 24th place in team history.
  • With one power play goal, Kuznetsov would tie Joe Juneau (27) for 30th place in team history.
  • John Carlson’s next goal will tie Larry Murphy (86) for seventh place in team history among defensemen.
  • With two goals, 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 he gets into two games this week, Braden Holtby will reach the 400-game mark, the 112th goalie in NHL history to hit that mark.