The upcoming week for the Washington Capitals brings three challenges – their most bitter rival, an old rival interested in settling scores, and perhaps the biggest threat to the Caps advancing for a second straight year to the Stanley Cup final. There will be no lack for drama this week.
Pittsburgh Penguins (Tuesday/7:00). The Caps and the Penguins wrap up their season series on Tuesday night in Pittsburgh, Washington looking to gain a split of the four games and winning the series on points (currently 1-1-1). The Caps head into this game on a seven-game winning streak, outscoring opponents by a 29-14 margin, and winners of nine of their last ten contests. Meanwhile, the Penguins go into the new week having ended the Boston Bruins’ points streak at 19 games on Sunday night and taking over third place in the Metropolitan Division.
The Caps and Penguins, while separated by six points in the standings having each played in 69 games as the week begins, are almost identical in scoring profiles. The Pens own a slight 236-233 edge in goals scored and a slight 207-211 edge in goals allowed. They also have a slender margin on the power play (24.9 percent to 22.0 percent) and on the penalty kill (80.5 percent to 79.2 percent).
What the Penguins have been at home, though, is leaky. Their holding the Bruins to two goals on Sunday night notwithstanding, they have allowed four or more goals six times in their last 13 games at PPG Paints Arena. That they also have six games of four or more goals scored in that span is what has allowed them to tread water with an 8-5-0 record in those 13 games.
One aspect of the Penguins’ season one would not expect of a veteran team such as this is their record in one-goal games. Their 12-5-9 record works out to a .462 winning percentage, which ranks 22nd in the league going into the new week. On the other hand, they do well in lopsided decisions, their 18 wins by three or more goals tied for fourth-most in the league. The Caps will be looking to reverse an unsuccessful run in Pittsburgh. The Penguins are 5-1-0 in their last six meetings at the Confluence. But on the other hand, this is a series that in the regular season can turn on a dime, at least in Pittsburgh. Before this latest Penguin run, the Caps won three straight on the Penguins’ ice sheet. Before that it was a five game Pens winning streak, preceded by an eight-game Caps winning streak and a seven-game Penguin winning streak.
Philadelphia Flyers (Thursday/7:00). The Capitals will visit Philadelphia on Thursday to face the Flyers for the second time in eight days on the Wells Fargo Center ice sheet. The Caps won their first meeting in Philadelphia, 5-3, the second time in two meetings against the Flyers this season that ended with a Caps win by that score. Philadelphia is stubbornly hanging on to the possibility of reaching the postseason, although they are in a race against time as the schedule dwindles to a precious few games. The Flyers open the week on a 5-1-1 run that leaves them five points behind the second wild card club, the Columbus Blue Jackets, with 14 games to play and two teams – Columbus and the Montreal Canadiens – to climb over.
In their 5-1-1 run, the Flyers have displayed a penchant for the blowout. Four of the five wins were by three goals, three of those wins on the road (at New Jersey and twice on Long Island against the Islanders). They outscored their opponents over those seven games, 30-20. Their lone regulation loss in that span was the 5-3 loss to the Caps. It has been an odd streak of sorts in that the Flyers were out-shot in those seven games by a 244-218 margin, and their shot differential at 5-on-5 (minus-62) is second-worst in the league in that span. What Philadelphia has done well is be special. Their special teams index over their last seven games (109.8) is impressive, and they have done it by being effective in each phase, their power play at 23.1 percent and their penalty kill at 86.7 percent).
The Flyers have not been especially successful lately on home ice. They are 4-3-1 in eight games at Wells Fargo Center since they ran off a six-game winning streak on home ice to close January and open February. In each of their wins in that span they scored four or more goals, but they lost all four games in which they failed to reach four goals.
Tampa Bay Lightning (Saturday/7:00). When the Caps visit Tampa for the first meeting of the clubs since last spring’s Eastern Conference final, Washington will have played 71 games. It only might seem as if that is the win total the Lightning have as they enter the new week, but they go into the new week with 52 wins in 69 games. That puts the Lightning on pace to tie the 1995-1996 Detroit Red Wings for most wins in a regular season in NHL history (62). It is worth noting that the Wings lost in the conference finals that year to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche. One might look forward with the hope that history repeats itself with the Caps playing the role of conference finals spoiler.
For now, the Lightning certainly have momentum. They have not lost consecutive games in regulation in four months, since Games 17 and 18 on their schedule on November 10th and 13th to, of all teams, the Ottawa Senators and the Buffalo Sabres. Since then, they are 40-8-3. They seem to be pushing the pedal harder to the metal recently, going 13-2-0 in their last 15 games. Over that span they are second in the league in scoring offense (3.80 per game) and are second in scoring defense (2.07 per game). Overall, the Tampa Bay scoring offense (3.77 goals per game) is threatening to take over the top spot as the best since the dark 2004-2005 season. Only the 2009-2010 Caps (3.82 goals per game) and the 2005-2006 Ottawa Senators (3.80 per game) were better.
One area in which the Lightning seem likely to finish as the best of this era is their power play. At 28.6 percent to start the week, theirs is the best since the 2004-2005 dark season, eclipsing this year’s Florida Panthers (27.1 percent) and the 2012-2013 Capitals (26.8 percent in a 48-game season). It is also a team that dominates opponents with regularity. The Lightning have 24 wins by three or more goals this season through 69 games. There are only three teams that over a full season had more – the 2005-2006 Ottawa Senators (30), the 2013-2014 Boston Bruins (26), and the 2005-2006 Detroit Red Wings (26). The Lightning are, for this era, an historically dominant team.
- Brett Connolly. Since the All-Star Game break, Brett Connolly has eight goals in 18 games, propelling him to a career-high 17 goals in 68 games. What might be lost in the goal scoring is that he also has posted a career high of 19 assists and 36 points, his first 30-point season in the NHL.
- Carl Hagelin. When he scored on a breakaway against Winnipeg on Sunday night, Carl Hagelin scored his second goal in eight games as a Capital, matching his goal total in 38 games with Pittsburgh and Los Angeles to start this season.
- Andre Burakovsky. Since the All-Star Game break, Andre Burakovsky is 5-6-11 in 19 games after going 6-6-12 in 44 games before the break. What is more, he compiled those post All-Star Game break numbers while averaging just over 10 minutes per game.
- T.J. Oshie. Over his last four games, T.J. Oshie is without a point, his longest since a five-game streak without a point to close the 2018 and open the 2019 portions of the season.
- Evgeny Kuznetsov. The road has not been kind to Evgeny Kuznetsov. He is without a goal in his last 27 road games and has only one this season, that coming back on October 22nd in Vancouver against the Canucks. He is 0-for-63 shooting over that span on the road.
- Dmitry Orlov. The streak without a goal for Dmitry Orlov reached 21 games on Sunday against Winnipeg.
- The Caps are clicking at a 24.8 percent rate on the power play at home, but only 17.6 percent on the road.
- When the Caps beat the Flyers in Philadelphia on March 6th, this year’s team became the second in team history to have 20 road wins in their first 67 games. At the 67-game mark in 2015-2016, the Caps had 23 road wins in 33 road games; this year’s club has 20 wins in 34 road games.
- The Caps already have 13 players with at least ten points on the road this season. They had 13 such players all of last season. Travis Boyd needs one point to make it 14 players with ten road points this season, and Nic Dowd needs two to get there.
Potential Milestones to Reach This Week:
- Alex Ovechkin (653 goals) is three goals short of tying Brendan Shanahan for 13th place on the all-time goal scoring list in NHL history (656).
- With one point, Ovechkin would become the 49th player in league history to reach the 1,200-point mark.
- If he goes plus-4 for the week, Alex Ovechkin would be the third Capital in team history with a career plus-100 or better, joining Nicklas Backstrom (plus-123) and Rod Langway (plus-116).
- Nicklas Backstrom’s next power play goal will break a tie with Dale Hunter (72) for fourth place in team history.
- If Alex Ovechkin takes one penalty this week, he will break a tie with Alan May for eighth place on the all-time franchise list (314). That would tie Mike Gartner (315) for seventh place in team history.
- Braden Holtby’s next shutout will break a tie with Olaf Kolzig (35) for most in team history.
- With his next assist, Nicklas Backstrom would break a tie with Borje Salming for sixth place on the all-time list of NHL players born in Sweden (both with 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).
- Evgeny Kuznetsov needs three goals to reach 100 in the NHL, all with the Caps.
- With two assists, T.J. Oshie would reach the 300 assist mark for his career. He needs two goals to reach 100 as a Capital and two assists to reach 100 with the Caps.