Week 21 will be something different for the Washington Capitals. After a period in which the Caps played 14 games against Metropolitan Division teams over a 24-game stretch, the Caps will have “Central Division Week,” with a home-and-home set against the Winnipeg Jets and a visit to the Land of 10,000 Lakes to face the Minnesota Wild to open the month of March.
Winnipeg Jets (Tuesday/7:00pm in Washington, Thursday/8:00pm ET at Winnipeg)
The Winnipeg Jets are a team marching backward. After reaching the playoffs in 2018 after a two-year absence and reaching the Western Conference final, the Jets were eliminated in the first round of the postseason last spring, and they are in jeopardy of missing the playoffs altogether this season, finding themselves one point behind the Calgary Flames and Arizona Coyotes for the wild card spots in the West.
It was not supposed to be this way. The Jets have one of the best young goal scorers in the game in Patrik Laine, potent point producers in Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele, and a top-notch goalie in Connor Hellebuyck. But this team has been a disappointment, and nowhere else has that been more true than on home ice, where the Jets are tied for 20th place in home standings points earned (35, with Edmonton) and are 24th in home points earned percentage (.530).
A big part of that home ice frustration has been an inept penalty kill that ranks dead last in the league (74.0 percent), its only saving grace so far being that the 77 shorthanded situations faced by Winnipeg on home ice are the third-fewest in the league and lowest in the league on a per-game basis (2.33).
Not that the Jets have been a juggernaut on the road, but their 16-13-2 record does rank ied for 12th in standings points earned, and their .548 points percentage is tied with Vegas for 16th-best in the league. What is odd about the Winnipeg home-road split is now similar they look at home and on the road in other respects. At home, the Jets have scored 93 goals and allowed 95, while on the road that is 97 goals for and 95 allowed. The power play is 20.4 percent at home, 20.7 percent on the road. The penalty kill is 74.0 percent at home, 80.0 percent on the road. It is that home-ice advantage that the Jets have been unable to exploit that could spell the difference between making the playoffs and starting their off-season early.
Minnesota Wild (Sunday/8:00pm ET)
The Minnesota Wild head into the new week, if not still on a sugar high with a recent coaching change, then at least stopping the bleeding that had them out of the playoff mix. The Wild relieved Bruce Boudreau of his head coaching responsibilities on Valentine’s Day, bestowing those responsibilities on assistant Dean Evason in an interim capacity. The change struck some, not least of whom was Boudreau himself (in his own pithy way of expressing it), as a surprise. A case could be made for that point of view, the Wild having cobbled together a 7-3-1 record in the 11 games leading up to Boudreau’s firing.
With Evason’s 2-2-0 record so far, the Wild have been rather respectable of late. Their 9-5-1 run since January 16th is tied with Montreal and Nashville for ninth-best in the league in standings points earned in that stretch, and their .633 points percentage is ninth-best in that span. They have done it with defense, their 2.60 goals allowed per game over those 15 games ranking seventh in scoring defense over that period.
On the other side of the rink, the Wild power play has been fearsome, their 31.1 percent conversion rate being second in the league over their 15-game run. The same cannot be said of their penalty kill, which ranks 26th over the same number of games (75.6 percent). Their plus-3 special teams goal differential, accounting for all special teams goals scored and allowed, seems less impressive in that context. In fact, it might be that weak penalty kill that the Caps can exploit. Even with their recent 9-5-1 run, the ten power play goals allowed on home ice are tied for seventh-most in the league.
- Alex Ovechkin. When a team is struggling, you find the rays of sunshine where you can. Of the 84 goals scored by the Caps since their 12-12-1 slump started on December 23rd, Alex Ovechkin has 20 of them, tied with Auston Matthews for most in the league over that period.
- John Carlson. Over that same span of games, John Carlson has 11 power play points, giving him a hand in almost 65 percent of the power play goals scored by the Caps in that period.
- Carl Hagelin. Over his last 15 games, Carl Hagelin has six goals. He had a total of five in 58 games played among three teams last season (one in 16 games with Pittsburgh, one in 22 games with Los Angeles, and three in 20 games with the Caps).
- Alex Ovechkin. Yeah, he has all those goals, but a minus-10 (worst on the team) over the last 24 games? That’s tied for 738th among 764 skaters to dress since December 23rd.
- Fourth line. They are an aggressive bunch and do set a tone for attitude, but the Nic Dowd/Brendan Leipsic/Garnet Hathaway trio has one goal (Dowd) in the 2020 portion of the season to date.
- Coaching staff. Over the last two months they have been mining for gold and found little but gravel.
- The home-and-home set of games against Winnipeg is the Caps first, and only set of home-and-home games this season.
- The Caps have never beaten the Wild in Minnesota or even earned a standings point when giving up the game’s first goal. Okay, it’s only five times.
- In the all-time series against Minnesota, Alex Ovechkin has 15 goals. No other Capital, active or inactive, has more than four (T.J. Oshie, Dmitry Orlov).
Potential Milestones to Reach This Week:
- 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).
- 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.
- 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 eight blocked shots, Carlson will reach the 1,500 mark for his career with the Capitals.
- 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.
- With his next shutout, Holtby will break a tie with Olaf Kolzig (35) for most shutouts by a goaltender for the Caps.