It is Southeast Division Alumni Week for the Washington Capitals, who face a home-and-home against the “surging” Carolina Hurricanes and the last game of the season series against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Once upon a time, the Caps dominated these clubs... but that was then, and this is now.
Carolina Hurricanes (Tuesday/7:00 in Washington and Thursday/7:00 in Raleigh). When a team has spent the last nine seasons on the outside looking in on the postseason, something to change attitudes might appear in order. Enter the “Storm Surge.” It began in what now might be considered tame fashion, just the team doing something out of the ordinary to celebrate a home win. On October 7th, after an 8-5 win over the New York Rangers, Captain (and former Capital) Justin Williams led the team in a slow “Skol” clap, and then the players tore off down the ice for a leap into the end boards at the far end of the ice. Since then, the surges have become more intricate, more clever, and (to some) more annoying.
Like it or love it, or if you find it a bit gimmicky, it is the Hurricanes’ performance before the final horn that has taken center stage. Carolina goes into the week holding the first wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, five points ahead of the first non-qualifier, the Columbus Blue Jackets. It has been a tale of two seasons for Carolina. The finished the 2018 portion of the season 16-17-5, but the last game of the old calendar year was a win. It would be a good sign. In the 2019 portion of the season, the Hurricanes are 26-9-2, the third-best record in the league, and only Tampa Bay has more wins (27).
It has not been a fluke. Since January 1, the Hurricanes have 130 goals scored in 37 games, tied with Tampa Bay (130 in 36 games). At the other end, they have allowed only 97 goals, tied for 9th-fewest in the league. They have done it mostly with a top-notch offense at even strength. They are the only team in the league with more than 100 even strength goals since the new year (107).
The game in Washington on Tuesday will be of concern given that Carolina has the second-best road record in the league since January 1 (14-4-2), trailing only St. Louis (14-5-4). Again, their road record has been built on a strong offense, their 3.60 goals per game average in the new year being third-best in the league (Tampa Bay and San Jose: 3.67), while their 55 even strength goals on the road are tops in the league in that span. It more than makes up for a middle of the road scoring defense (2.65 goals per game) in away games.
Carolina’s home record in this span looks poor in comparison, although they do have an 12-5-0 record on home ice since the start of the calendar year. Their scoring offense overall (3.41 goals per game) is off just a bit from their road output, while their scoring defense is slightly better (2.59 goals per game). One difficulty Carolina has had at home in 2019 is converting power play chances. Their 9.8 percent conversion rate is third-worst in the league since January 1st, and only the Ottawa Senators have scored fewer power play goals (three) than the Hurricanes (four).
Tampa Bay Lightning (Saturday/7:00). The Capitals will be trying to salvage what they can of the season series with the Lightning when they visit Tampa Bay on Saturday. The Caps lost the first two meetings, one of them in overtime, and were outscored by a combined 11-7. The Lightning dropped a 4-3 decision in St. Louis to the Blues on Saturday to end a winning streak at seven games. With six games left in their regular season to start the week, the Lightning still have a chance to eclipse the 1995-1996 Detroit Red Wings’ league record 62 wins. The Lightning need four wins in six games to tie that mark, five to beat it.
That loss to St. Louis broke a streak of six games in which the Lightning scored four or more goals (a total of 32). They have, however, scored four of more goals in five of their last seven home games, including a 6-3 win over the Caps on March 16th.
When the Lightning beat the Caps in overtime last Wednesday in Washington, it was Tampa Bay’s fourth straight win in extra time and extended their extra time record to 13-4 in extra time games this season, 7-3 in overtime and 6-1 in shootouts.
Beating Tampa Bay at home is a tall order. Heading into the new week, the Lightning are 31-6-2 at home, the league’s best home record, and they have points in 14 of their last 15 home contests (12-1-2), the only regulation loss on that record a 3-0 loss to the Minnesota Wild on March 7th. While being out-shot by a narrow margin on home ice (1,257 to 1,253), they have outscored opponents by a margin of 157-92 at Amalie Arena.
This game against Washington will be Tampa Bay’s last home game of the regular season, and it is a chance to win a fourth consecutive regular season game against Washington, dating back to last season. Only once before have the Lightning won four consecutive games against the Caps in team history, that taking place in the 2006-2007 season, when Tampa Bay won four straight from December 19th through March 1st.
- Alex Ovechkin. In his last seven road games, Alex Ovechkin is 4-4-8, his goal total tied for the team lead and his point total leading the team.
- Brett Connolly. In those same seven road games, Brett Connolly is tied for the team lead in goals (four) and has accomplished that on only 14 shots (28.6 percent shooting).
- Evgeny Kuznetsov. Since January 22, Evgeny Kuznetsov is 12-15-27, plus-6 in 28 games.
- Almost anyone on the Caps’ power play. In 12 games since March 1, only four Capitals have power play goals, and of that group, Ovechkin is the only one with more than one (three). The Caps are 6-for-38 that span (15.8 percent/19th).
- Evgeny Kuznetsov. Yes, he shows up here, too. Since March 1st, 35 players have taken at least 150 faceoffs. Of that group, Kuznetsov is next to last in winning percentage (39.7), ahead of only Buffalo’s Jack Eichel (39.4)
- Chandler Stephenson. It is only five games, but Chandler Stephenson is the only Capital skater without a shot on goal in March. He has gone seven games without one, dating back to February 18th, when he had one shot on goal in a 3-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings.
- Alex Ovechkin is an equal opportunity entertainer. In 540 career home games through Sunday, he has 327 goals. In 538 road games, he has 328 goals.
- The Capitals have a 30-5-2 record with three ties when scoring two or more power play goals against Carolina in their all-time series. That is not the weird part. What is, is that Washington also has a .500 record (standings points) against the Hurricanes when allowing two or more power play goals (11-11-1 with two ties).
- Washington is 7-1-1 in the all-time series against Tampa Bay when recording 40 or more shots, including the overtime loss to the Lightning when they put up a franchise record 58 shots. No, that’s not the weird part, either. The Caps have never lost a game to the Lightning in regulation when allowing 40 or more shots (9-0-2).
Potential Milestones to Reach This Week:
- Alex Ovechkin still needs one goal to tie Brendan Shanahan (656) for 13th all-time in goals scored.
- With one more power play goal, Ovechkin will break a tie with Phil Esposito for fifth place in NHL history (both have 246 power play goals).
- T.J. Oshie needs one goal to reach 100 goals as a Capital. He needs one point to reach the 200-point mark as a Capital.
- Lars Eller needs two points to reach 100 points as a Capital.
- With 72 career power play goals, Nicklas Backstrom needs one power play goal to break a tie with Dale Hunter for fourth place in team history in that category.
- John Carlson needs two points to reach the 400-point mark for his career. He would become the 17th player (and fifth defenseman) to record 400 points with the Caps.
- With his next game-winning goal, Kuznetsov would break a four-way tie for 17th place on the all-time franchise list. He shares that spot with Mike Green, Dmitri Khristich, and Marcus Johansson with 20 game-winners. It would tie Kuznetsov with Dave Christian for 16th place on that list (21).
- With his next shutout, Braden Holtby will break a tie with Olaf Kolzig (35) for most shutouts by a goaltender in Capitals history. He is 15th among active goaltenders in shutouts.
- If Alex Ovechkin takes two penalties this week, he will tie Peter Bondra (319) for sixth place on the all-time franchise list. He needs five penalty minutes to tie Greg Adams for tenth place (694) as a Capital.
- 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 break a tie with Mario Lemieux for 15th place all-time (405). Two even strength goals, and he would tie Jari Kurri for 14th place (407).
- If he dresses for all three games this week, John Carlson will tie Kevin Hatcher for 12th place in games played for the Caps (685) and tied for third among defensemen, trailing only Calle Johansson (983) and Rod Langway (726).