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Snapshots of the Week Ahead: Week 20

It is a heavy work week for the Caps with four games on the slate. Here is what lies ahead.

NHL: MAY 03 Stanley Cup Playoffs Second Round Game 4 - Capitals at Penguins Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Week 20 will be a heavy work week for the Washington Capitals, with four games on the slate — and a little something for everyone. A game at the scene of the team’s greatest triumph, back home for a contest against the League’s most storied franchise, a visit to a divisional opponent, and — oh yeah — a nationally televised game against you-know-who to wrap up the week.

The Opponents

Vegas Golden Knights (Monday/6:00pm ET)
The Caps wrap up their three-game road trip with a visit to T-Mobile Arena, which will always conjure memories of, well, you know…

In the here and now, the Caps will be visiting the Golden Knights looking to sweep the two-game season series after beating Vegas, 5-2, back in November in Washington. Vegas is a team that has been very uneven in their performance since the start of the new year. Vegas started the 2020 portion of their schedule with a pair of wins to extend a winning streak to four games, but since then, they are 6-7-2.

The problem is not hard to spot. Vegas has had to change light bulbs frequently in the goal light behind their own net. Since January 7th, when this slump began, their 3.20 goals allowed per game is tied for sixth-worst in the league (with the Caps), their 69.0 percent penalty kill is dead last, and their net penalty kill (accounting for shorthanded goals scored) of 76.2 percent ranks 26th in the league.

The Golden Knights have not had the benefit of much home cooking during the slump, having played in only six home games in this period; only four teams have played fewer. Not that they have done much with what home games they had. In those five home games, the Golden Knights are just 2-3-1 and have allowed 22 goals, the 3.67 goals per game allowed ranked 28th in scoring defense on home ice in since January 7th.

The best that could be said of the Vegas penalty kill at home over this span of games is that it hasn’t been deployed much. They went shorthanded only 13 times in the five home games since January 7th. The trouble is, they killed only eight of those 13 shorthanded situations, the 61.5 percent penalty kill being worst in the league on home ice over that span.

Montreal Canadiens (Thursday/7:00pm)
The Caps return home to Capital One Arena on Thursday to host the Montreal Canadiens in another game that will complete a season series, the teams splitting a pair of games earlier this season, each team winning on their opponent’s ice, the Caps dropping a 5-2 decision in Washington on November 15th and beating the Canadiens in Montreal, 4-3, on January 27th.

Montreal goes into the new week on a downslide, having lost four in a row, the most recent of the losses being especially ugly, sprinting out to a 3-0 lead over the Dallas Stars in the first 27 minutes of Saturday’s contest, and then suffering four unanswered goals, the last by Tyler Seguin in overtime to lose, 4-3. What makes that loss a bit harder to take is that it was Montreal’s only home game in a six-game stretch, the Canadiens heading back on the road for the new week with games in Detroit, Washington, and Ottawa.

The Canadiens on the road have been defined by streaks of late. They won five of six road games in December before dropping four in a row. Then, they won four in a row on the road, but they start the new week having lost their last two road games, by identical 4-1 scores to the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins.

Montreal is one of the league’s better offensive teams on the road. They average 3.21 goals per game on the road, tied with Boston for the fifth-best scoring offense in the league in road games. And a lot of that is a product of the league’s best road power play (26.1 percent). What they do not get is a lot of opportunity to unleash that power play. Over their last 20 road games dating back to November 7th, they have had two or fewer power play chances 13 times. That they are 12-for-43 over those 20 games (27.9 percent) demonstrates that they are very efficient with the man advantage, but their limited opportunities (2.15 chances per game, fewest in the league over that span) have limited their success overall, posting a 10-9-1 record over those 20 games.

New Jersey Devils (Saturday/1:00pm)
Washington will complete its season series against the New Jersey Devils on Saturday in Newark. The teams have alternated wins and losses over the first three games of the series, the Caps winning in New Jersey by a 6-3 margin on December 20th and again in Washington by a 5-2 score on January 16th, while the Devils won the middle game of the series to date, 5-1, in Washington on January 11th.

The Devils were never really in contention this season. They opened their season with six straight losses (0-4-2) and did not put together a winning streak of as many as three games until they had a three-game streak to close the 2019 portion of the schedule and open 2020, 40 games into their schedule.

It didn’t have to be this way, either. What is especially painful about the Devils’ record this season is that they have ten losses in extra time on home ice in 29 games, the most extra time losses on home ice in the league. Six of those extra time losses have come via the shootout, the most shootout losses on home ice in the league. And, four of New Jersey’s last five losses on home ice have come in extra time, two in shootouts.

The Devils really have themselves to blame for their extra time woes, though, especially on home ice. In 29 home games, New Jersey has allowed 41 third period goals, tied for most in the league with San Jose. They have a minus-17 goal differential on home ice in the third period, which wipes out the plus-15 goal differential they managed to build over the second periods of home games this season.

The Devils have been better of late in third periods, though, having shut out teams in the third period in three straight home games, their longest such streak of the season, before allowing a third period goal to Columbus to tie a game on Saturday that the Devils won in a shootout, 4-3. Odd New Jersey Third Period Goal Fact… Twice this season the Devils put up four goals in the third period on home ice. Both times, they did it against the Detroit Red Wings.

Pittsburgh Penguins (Sunday/12:00pm)
The Caps host the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday to close the week in what will be only the second matchup of the season between these two teams. Pittsburgh won the first meeting, 4-3, earlier this month in Washington.

Both the Caps and Penguins will be playing the second of back-to-back games, the Caps coming home after a game in New Jersey, and the Penguins visiting Washington after hosting Buffalo. This will be Pittsburgh’s 12th back-to-back set of games this season. They have swept three, been swept in regulation twice, and split the remainder of their sets.

Pittsburgh has been among the better teams in the league over the last couple of months. Since Christmas, they are 15-4-2, their 32 standings points tied for third-most in the league with Columbus, and their .762 points percentage ranking second only to Tampa Bay (21-2-1/.896). The record is a bit deceptive, though. Five of the Penguins’ last 12 wins have come in extra time, and four others were one-goal wins in regulation. They have been consistently on the right side of a thin margin, their 9-0-2 record in one-goal games since Christmas being best in the league in terms of wins and winning percentage (.818). The issue going forward is if this is sustainable.

It is even more head scratching how the Penguins have been as successful as they have been on the road since Christmas. In 11 road games since then, they are 8-3-0, tied for third in points percentage over the period (.727, with Calgary and Columbus). That record has been earned despite a plus-1 goal differential (31 for, 30 against), a power play ranked 20th on the road in that span (17.1 percent), only 28.5 shots per game (25th in the league), a minus-1 differential in penalties drawn and taken, and 37 times going shorthanded (seventh-most in the league).

They have not benefited from scoring first often (five times in 11 road games since Christmas), nor do they put teams in a hole early (four games leading after the first period) or force them to come back late (four games leading after two periods), although when they did find themselves in that situations, they won (4-1-0 when scoring first, 4-0-0 when leading after one period, and 4-0-0 when leading after two periods). What they have done is what veteran teams that have enjoyed success do; they do what they have to, even if it looks a bit ugly, to win.

Hot Caps:

  • Braden Holtby. After stopping just 229 of 272 shots over 11 appearances from December 23rd to February 8th (.842 save percentage), Braden Holtby has stopped 71 of the last 75 shots he faced over his last three appearances (.947).
  • T.J. Oshie. Since January 1st, T.J. Oshie is 7-7-14, plus-7, and is shooting 26.9 percent.
  • John Carlson. Since January 1st, John Carlson leads all defensemen in the league in points (19), is the only defenseman averaging more than a point per game (1.12), is tied with Boston’s Tory Krug in power play points (eight), and is averaging more than 24 minutes of ice time per game (24:06).

Cold Caps:

  • Ilya Samsonov. It was bound to happen sooner or later, but after stopping 278 of 297 shots (.936 save percentage over 12 appearances in which he posted an 11-0-0 record (one no-decision), Samsonov is 0-2-0 (one no-decision) in his last three appearances, stopping 45 of 54 shots (.833).
  • Garnet Hathaway. Of 20 skaters to dress for the Caps since January 1st, Garnet Hathaway is the only one yet to record a point.
  • Tom Wilson. This is a bit of an odd one. Wilson is a respectable 4-7-11 in 17 games since January 1st, but he is also a team-worst minus-8.

Weird Facts:

  • The Caps have two home games this week, against Montreal and Pittsburgh. If they allow a shorthanded goal in either of them, it will be the 200th shorthanded goal allowed on home ice in team history. Please not against Pittsburgh. Please not against Pittsburgh. Please not against Pittsburgh.
  • Since the league began compiling missed shots that hit posts or crossbars in 2009/2010, Alex Ovechkin is the only player in the league to hit iron 100 times (89 posts, 11 crossbars).
  • Each of the four games of this season’s series between the Caps and Penguins are scheduled to be early afternoon starts between 12:00 and 1:00 pm. The Caps have only nine games on their regular season slate scheduled for these time slots.

Potential Milestones to Reach This Week:

  • With two goals, Alex Ovechkin would become the eighth player in NHL history to reach 700 goals for his career.
  • With one game-winning goal, Ovechkin would break a tie with Teemu Selanne and Brett Hull for fourth place on the list (110).
  • Ovechkin’s next hat trick will tie Marcel Dionne and Bobby Hull for sixth place (both with 28).
  • With four credited hits, Ovechkin would become the first Capital in team history since the league started capturing this statistic in 2005-2006 to record 3,000 career hits.
  • If he records an empty net goal, Ovechkin would become the third player in NHL history with 40 or more empty net goals. Wayne Gretzky (56) and Marian Hossa (40) are the others.
  • If he scores the first goal of any game this week, Ovechkin would become only the fourth player in NHL history to record the first goal 120 times. Jaromir Jagr (135), Brett Hull (131), and Gordie Howe (127) are the others.
  • 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).
  • With two points, Carlson would tie Calle Johansson for most career points by a Capitals defenseman (474).
  • 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 his next shutout, Holtby will break a tie with Olaf Kolzig (35) for most shutouts by a goaltender for the Caps.