If familiarity breeds contempt, the Caps will have their fill of it in Week 16. The three games on tap are all against Metropolitan Division opponents, all of whom they have seen recently, some more than once. It gives the Caps a chance to send a message to the division that they remain the best in class, and it would be a fine way to get some separation from the pack in the division before the bye/All-Star Game break coming up after this week.
Carolina Hurricanes (Monday/7:00pm)
The Caps and Hurricanes have to be getting sick of seeing one another, as if this rivalry needs any extra juice these days. When the teams meet on Monday night it will be their third meeting since December 28th. Not quite playoff series frequency, but as frequent as such matchups get in the NHL regular season. Carolina will look to take the season series against the Caps in this last regular season meeting of the clubs. The Caps won at home against the ‘Canes on January 3rd, 4-3, after losing a pair of decisions, 6-4 in Carolina on December 28th and 3-2 in overtime on October 5th.
Carolina is a good, if not great road team so far this season, their 12-8-2 record ranking tenth in points percentage (.591). What the Hurricanes have not done recently, though, is actually play games on the road. Their visit to Washington on Monday will be their first road game since December 27th, and they have not won a road game since beating the Colorado Avalanche, 3-1, in Denver on December 19th. The success Carolina has had on the road this season is due in large part to the stingiest penalty kill in the league on the road (89.4 percent).
Carolina has not been particular about how they beat teams on the road this season. They have four one-goal wins, four two-goal wins, and four wins by three or more goals among their 12 road wins. The trick, though, is to keep the Hurricanes from scoring first. They are 9-1-0 in ten road games in which they scored first this season to date, and they are 6-0-1 in road games in which they took a lead into the first intermission.
New Jersey Devils (Thursday/7:00pm)
The Caps will host the New Jersey Devils for the second time in less than a week when they meet on Thursday. The Caps played what might have been their worst game of the season when they dropped a 5-1 stink bomb at Capital One Arena on Saturday night, their most lopsided loss of the season on home ice and only the second time this season that they were held by an opponent to a single goal at home (the other being a 2-1 shootout loss to Vancouver on November 23rd).
While New Jersey has struggled for much of the year, they are a respectable road team. Their 10-12-0 record on the road is 23rd in points percentage (.455), which might sound unimpressive, but they are outperforming their overall points percentage (.443) and overall points percentage ranking (27th). Where they have been weak on the road is special teams. Their road power play (12.3 percent) ranks 28th of 31 teams, while their penalty kill (79.1 percent) ranks 14th. It is unsurprising that the Devils would rank 25th in scoring offense in road games (2.41 goals per game) and 20th in scoring defense (3.41 goals per game).
That is what made the five-goal effort against the Caps so unusual and disappointing. Before that, the Devils managed to score just 20 goals in eight road games, more than a third of that output coming in a 7-1 win in Chicago over the Blackhawks on December 23rd. But do not think for a moment that the one goal the Devils allowed to the Caps on Saturday was unusual. Even though it was unexpected, given the level of competition, it was the sixth time this season that the Devils allowed one or fewer goals in a road game, tied for most in the league.
New York Islanders (Saturday/1:00pm)
The Islanders are another opponent of relatively recent acquaintance, the teams having last met on New Year’s Eve, the Isles taking a 4-3 decision from the Caps at Capital One Arena. This will be the first time the Islanders hosted the Caps since dropping a 2-1 decision to the Capitals back on October 4th. That game happened to be Caps goalie Ilya Samsonov’s NHL debut and his first win, stopping 25 of 26 shots in the win.
If fans like scoring, visits to Long Island are not the ticket to book. The Isles have allowed only eight goals in their last four games on home ice, this after allowing 13 goals in consecutive games to Nashville and Anaheim in mid-December. The trouble is, New York scored only six goals in those last four home games, accounting for their 1-2-1 record in them and a record of 1-3-2 in their last six home games starting with those high scoring games against the Predators and Ducks.
The Islanders have been as confounding on home ice as they have been overall in that one wonders just how they do it. They are tied for 20th in scoring offense on home ice, with Arizona, at 3.00 goals per game. They are eighth in scoring defense at home (2.59 goals allowed per game), 17th on the power play (20.4 percent), 19th in penalty killing (80.0 percent), 24th in winning percentage when scoring first (9-3-3/.600), 28th when leading after one period (5-1-2/.625). But there they are, tied for the fifth-best points percentage on home ice this season (14-5-3/.705, with Vancouver). What the Caps will try to do here is remedy some of their recent defensive issues (34 goals allowed in their last nine games overall) against a team that has only 22 goals in their last nine home games.
- Jakub Vrana. In five games played in the new year to date, Jakub Vrana leads the team in goals (five), points (six), even strength goals (four), even strength points (five, tied with T.J. Oshie), and shots on goal (18).
- T.J. Oshie. Since January 1st, T.J. Oshie has three goals on just nine shots on goal in five games (33.3 percent shooting).
- Ilya Samsonov. In his last eight appearances overall, goalie Ilya Samsonov is 7-0-0, 1.83, .932.
- Nick Jensen. The points watch for Nick Jensen continues. He is up to 38 consecutive games without a point. Since October 18th, when that streak began, he is the only player in the league to dress for 20 or more games without having recorded a point.
- Carl Hagelin. He seems to be back in a bad-luck rut, but Carl Hagelin has yet to record a point in 2020, an no Capital forward has as many shots on goal in the new year (12) without finding the back of the net.
- Tom Wilson. The other forward with at least ten shots on goal without a goal to show for it in the new year is Tom Wilson, although he does have three assists. Wilson has just one goal in his last 11 games overall and just one goal in his last 11 games on home ice.
- The Caps have not carried a lead into the first intermission on home ice since Thanksgiving. Not since November 27, when they took a lead into the first intermission against Florida, have the Caps led after 20 minutes on home ice. That’s nine games in a row at home without a lead after 20 minutes.
- If the Caps beat Carolina on Monday, it will be the 100th victory over the Hartford Whalers/Carolina Hurricanes in Caps history.
- The Caps have been most successful over the years on the road against the Islanders in one-goal games. Washington is 25-8-3 in one-goal decisions in New York, but just 11-14 in two-goal decisions and 18-27 in decisions of three or more goals.
Potential Milestones to Reach This Week:
- With one goal, Alex Ovechkin would break a tie with Teemu Selanne for 11th place on the all-time NHL goal scoring list (684). Six more, and he would tie Mario Lemieux for tenth place all-time (690).
- With one game-winning goal, Ovechkin would tie Brendan Shanahan (109) for sixth-place in league history; with two he would tie Teemu Selanne and Brett Hull (110) for fourth place.
- Here is one out of left field….the next post or crossbar Alex Ovechkin hits will be the 100th time he hit iron since the league started compiling statistics with the 2009-2010 season. That is most in the league over that span (Tyler Seguin has hit iron 84 times).
- If he gets the game-winning goal against the Flyers this week, Ovechkin would record his 50th career game-winning goal in road games.
- Ovechkin’s next hat trick will tie Cy Denneny for ninth place in career hat tricks (Denneny had 25); with two he will tie Maurice Richard (26) for eighth place.
- With 24 career game-winning goals, John Carlson needs one to break a tie with Kevin Hatcher for most all time among Caps defensemen and with Brooks Laich for 11th place on the all-time franchise rankings.
- With one overtime goal, Carlson would be alone in second place among Capital defensemen in career overtime goals with the club (he has two at the moment), trailing only Mike “Game Over” Green (eight).
- Nicklas Backstrom is two overtime goals short of becoming the second player in Caps history with at least ten overtime goals (Ovechkin: 23). He is currently tied with Mike Green for second-most overtime goals in team history (eight).
- T.J. Oshie’s next empty net goal will make him the sixth player in team history with at least ten empty net goals with the Caps.
- Tom Wilson’s next shorthanded goal will make him the active leader among Capitals in shorthanded goals with the club (five), unless Alex Ovechkin gets one first.
- Wilson needs two game-winning goals to become the 50th player in team history with at least ten game-winning goals.
- Backstrom’s next empty net goal will be his 14th career empty netter with the Caps, breaking a tie with Kelly Miller for third place on the all-time franchise list.
- With 12 shots on goal this week, Nicklas Backstrom would reach the 2,000 shot mark for his career.
- With one goal this week, Evgeny Kuznetsov (currently with 117 goals for the Caps) would tie Guy Charron for 22nd place on the all-time team list for goals scored (118).
- With his next shutout, Holtby will break a tie with Olaf Kolzig (35) for most shutouts by a goaltender for the Caps.