The first full week of hockey in March is a mixed bag of opponents and venues, featuring a team fighting for a playoff spot, one that is rebuilding, and another among the best in the league. And, after starting on the road against one of their most bitter all-time rivals, the Caps close the week with a pair of games at Capital One Arena.
Philadelphia Flyers (Wednesday/7:30). The Caps open the week with a Wednesday night rivalry matchup, traveling to Philadelphia to take on the Flyers. Philly will also be opening their week against the Caps with two full days off after a Sunday matinee against the New York Islanders. The Flyers were active up to and at the trading deadline, obtaining goaltender Cam Talbot from the Edmonton Oilers on February 16th for goaltender Anthony Stolarz. Then, on deadline day, they sent long-time Flyer forward Wayne Simmonds to the Nashville Predators for forward Ryan Hartman and a conditional 2020 fourth-round draft pick.
Despite activity that might reflect that of a seller (they remain five points out of a playoff spot to start the week), the Flyers have had a good run of sorts over the last two months, going 16-3-2 over their last 21 games since January 14th, the best record in the league over that span . In that same span, they are 9-2-1 on home ice, tied with Boston for the best record in the league since January 14th.
The Flyers have done it over the past two months primarily with offense. Their 3.71 goals per game over their last 21 games ranks second in the league to the Chicago Blackhawks (4.44 per game in 18 games). The Flyers’ 28.8 percent power play ranks second in that span, and only Chicago has more power play goals (19) than the Flyers (17) in that span.
This will be the second of four meetings of these clubs this season, the Flyers having taken a 5-3 decision in Philadelphia on January 6th. Philadelphia has been a difficult place for the Caps, who are just 3-6-5 in their last 14 appearances on Flyers ice and have not won consecutive games in Philadelphia since their last meeting of the 2010-2011 season and the first of the following season.
New Jersey Devils (Friday/7:00). The Caps return home of Friday to face a team that has long been out of the playoff conversation this season. Since the Devils opened their season with four wins, two of them by shutout, they are 21-33-8 as they head into the new week. It was a club that did crawl its way back within a win of a .500 record (by standings points) as the 2018 portion of the season ended, but they are just 10-17-1 since then, the worst record in the Metropolitan Division. It is little wonder that they occupy last place in the Metro standings as the new week begins.
The 2019 portion of the season has been one in which the Devils cannot stop the puck. The 95 goals they have allowed overall are third-most in the new year (Chicago and Washington: 96), and only the Los Angeles Kings, Ottawa Senators, and the Capitals allowed more goals on the road (53 for the Kings and Caps; 52 for Ottawa) than the Devils (51) since the start of the new year in fewer games than the three teams in front of them.
The Devils’ difficulties on the road since January 1st can be traced, in part, to their shot attempt differential at 5-on-5. They have a whopping minus-156 differential in shot attempts at fives, worst in the league, and their shot attempts-for percentage (43.30) is also last in road games since the start of the new year. Only three times in 13 road games in the new year have the Devils finished over 50 percent in 5-on-5 shot attempts, only once in their last 10 road games.
Stopping opponents has been an issue specific to the Caps and Capital One Arena, too. Washington has outscored the Devils, 16-8, in their last three meetings in Washington, including a 6-3 win on November 30th in the first of two home games on that ice sheet this season. Washington has points in 16 of the last 17 meetings of these teams (15-1-1), the 6-0 loss to the Devils in New Jersey last October being the only regulation loss in that span.
Winnipeg Jets (Sunday/7:00). Going into the new week, only one team in the NHL has more wins over the last two seasons than the Winnipeg Jets (90, tied with Nashville). Tampa Bay leads all clubs with 104. What the Jets have not been, however, is a successful club on the road this season. Their 17-14-0 record in 31 road games this season ranks 17th in points earned. Their win over Columbus on Sunday night gave them consecutive wins on the road for the first time since closing out the 2018 potion of their road schedule with three wins (at San Jose, at Vancouver, and at Edmonton). Since then, the Jets are 5-8-0 in 12 road games.
The Jets’ road woes generally this season are a case of being all over the place in terms of decisions on a game-to-game basis. In the 31 road games played so far, nine were one-goal decisions, and Winnipeg is 7-2-0 in them, winning all four of their one-goal decisions settled in extra time. On the other hand, the Jets are 6-9 in road games settled by three or more goals. When they are good on the road, they are okay, but when they are bad, well…
Since the Caps peeled off a seven-game winning streak against Winnipeg from March 2013 until February 2015, the teams have fought to a draw, the Caps owning a 4-2-2 record against the Jets (the league points conventions being what they are, the Jets also have a 4-2-2 record against the Caps over those eight games). Those decisions have cleaved along home-road lines, Washington with a 3-0-0 record on home ice against the Jets, and Winnipeg enjoying a 4-1-0 record against the Caps at Bell MTS Place.
- Alex Ovechkin. In his last 11 games, Alex Ovechkin has eight goals, two of which were game-winners, not including the game-winning shootout goal he had in the 3-2 win over the New York Rangers on Sunday. He has 23 points in his last 17 games.
- Andre Burakovsky. Despite averaging under 12 minutes a game over his last 13 games, Andre Burakovsky is 3-6-9, plus-1.
- Braden Holtby. Over his last five appearances, Braden Holtby has stopped 136 of 147 shots (.925 save percentage) and is 4-1-0.
- Dmitry Orlov. Dmitry Orlov is without a goal in his last 18 games and has only one in his last 49 games.
- Evgeny Kuznetsov. Since the All-Star Game break, Evgeny Kuznetsov has won only 85 of 230 faceoffs. That is the second-worst winning percentage of 115 players with at least 100 faceoffs taken (Elias Petterson is at 36.2 percent on 105 draws).
- Pheonix Copley. In his last seven appearances, Pheonix Copley has allowed 28 goals on 212 shots (.868 save percentage). Still, he has a 4-3-0 record.
- The Caps have lost the last five games they played in Philadelphia that were settled in extra time, twice in overtime and three times in a shootout.
- Washington has earned points in the last 12 games they played against the Devils on home ice in which they scored a goal. The only regulation loss in their last 13 games against the Devils in DC (10-1-2) was a 1-0 loss in November 2014.
- In 44 games at home in the history of the rivalry with the Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets, the Caps were shutout on home ice only once, a 2-0 Thrashers win in February 2008. That might not be weird enough. This might be, though. The Thrashers recorded only 13 shots in that game, one of them being an empty net goal. At the other end, Kari Lehtonen stopped all 36 shots he faced to author that lone shutout.
Potential Milestones to Reach This Week:
- Alex Ovechkin (652 goals) is four goals short of tying Brendan Shanahan for 13th place on the all-time goal scoring list in NHL history (656).
- With three points, Ovechkin would become the 48th player in league history to reach the 1,200-point mark (or the 49th, if Sidney Crosby, who is at 1,199 points entering the week, gets there first).
- 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 tie 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). He would still be far short of May in penalty minutes, though. Ovechkin starts the week with 683 penalty minutes as a Capital, while Alan May had 1,189 minutes in penalties. He can catch Joe Reekie (688) for 11th place in penalty minutes with the Caps.
- Braden Holtby’s next shutout will tie Olaf Kolzig (35) for most in team history.
- With his next assist, Nicklas Backstrom would break a tie with Peter Forsberg (636) for seventh place in assists recorded by players born in Sweden. One more, 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).
- 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.
- With one point, Lars Eller would reach 250 in his NHL career.