Week 22 will be “Metro Madness” week for the Washington Capitals. After a week in which they played three games against a pair of Central Division teams, the Caps return to the divisional wars with three games against Metropolitan Division opponents. This could be a critical stretch for the Caps, who have struggled against their divisional foes this season, but it is also an opportunity to blunt the playoff push of the upstart Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers, and to put some more distance between themselves and their archrivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Philadelphia Flyers (Wednesday/7:00pm)
The Caps and Flyers will meet on Wednesday in a nationally-televised game from Capital One Arena. This game will complete the four-game season series between the teams, the Caps looking to earn a split in the four games. They won the first game between the clubs, a 2-1 shootout win on November 13th, before dropping consecutive decisions to the Flyers a month apart, a 3-2 loss in Philadelphia on January 8th and a 7-2 drubbing at Capital One Arena on February 8th.
On January 7th, the Flyers coughed up an early two-goal lead to the Carolina Hurricanes, came back late from a two-goal deficit to tie the game and force overtime, but lost in the extra session to bring their record to 22-15-6. But starting with a 3-2 win over the Caps in their next contest, the Flyers are 16-5-1 over their last 22 games, their 33 points tied for most in the league earned over that span with Tampa Bay and Boston, and their .750 point percentage is tied for second, with Boston, behind the Colorado Avalanche (.775). They bring a six-game winning streak into this game overall
While the Flyers have been next to invincible on home ice with the best record in the league, based on points percentage (.781/23-5-4), they have been quite fallible on the road, their 15-15-3 record tied for 20th in the league based on points percentage. What the Flyers have done lately on the road is not so much dominate, as they have at home, as much as avoid losing streaks. After suffering a four-game losing streak to end 2019 and start 2020 (0-3-1), the Flyers are 6-2-1 in their last nine road games, avoiding consecutive losses along the way. Their success on the road has been the product of a productive offense that averaged 4.22 goals per game over their 6-2-1 run. And, not once in those nine road games did they score fewer than three goals. The three goal threshold applies to their scoring defense, too. Three times in those nine games they allowed more than three goals, and those instances account for each of the losses.
New York Rangers (Thursday/7:00pm)
The Rangers have not faced the Caps since winning a 4-1 decision in New York over the Caps on November 20th. Wednesday’s contest in New York is the third of four meetings between the clubs this season, New York dropping the first game in the series back on October 18th, 5-2, in Washington.
A club thought to be in rebuilding mode this season, the Rangers outperformed expectations over the first half of their schedule, going 19-18-4 over their first 41 games. But starting with a 5-3 win over the Colorado Avalanche on January 7th, the Rangers are 16-8-0 and have climbed to within four points of a wild card berth in the Eastern Conference.
The resurgence on the part of the Rangers is not attributable to any single factor; they have been excellent across the board. Since January 7th, when their current run began, they are fourth in the league in standings points earned (32), fifth in points percentage (.667), second in scoring offense (3.46 goals per game, trailing only Philadelphia with 3.74), sixth in scoring defense (2.71 goals per game), first on the power play (31.4 percent). Their penalty killing could use work, ranked 20th over that period (78.5 percent). For the analytically-minded, one wonders if it is a bit of a mirage. Over that same span, the Rangers rank just 23rd in shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 (48.3), and they are allowing 33.9 shots on goal per game overall, fifth-most over that period.
Pittsburgh Penguins (Saturday/1:00pm)
The Capitals make their first appearance in Pittsburgh this season when they head to PPG Paints Arena on Saturday to face the Penguins. This is the third of four meetings of the teams this season, the Caps and Pens splitting the first two games in Washington, the Pens taking a 4-3 decision on February 2nd and the Caps winning, 5-3, on February 23rd.
On November 30th, the Penguins lost to the St. Louis Blues, 5-2, to drop their second consecutive decision. They would not lose consecutive games again over their next 32 games, until they lost to the Buffalo Sabres on February 22nd, 5-2, the second of what would be a season-long four-game losing streak. Over that 32-game run, the Pens went 23-7-2, their points earned (48) and points percentage (.750) trailing only the Tampa Bay Lightning (56/.778) over that period.
In some respects, that 32-game run by the Penguins resemble that which the Rangers are on at the moment in that it was a product of effectiveness in multiple statistical categories. Over that span of games from December 4th through February 20th, the Pens ranked 12th in scoring offense (3.16 goals per game), fourth in scoring defense (2.50 goals allowed per game), fifth in power play efficiency (26.1 percent), and ninth in penalty killing (83.3 percent). But like the Rangers, too, the Pens had other numbers that called into question whether it was fundamentally solid play. Their shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 (47.9) ranked 26th, and they had an overall shots differential of minus-1.7 shots per game.
The Pens are dragging a six-game losing streak behind them at the moment, over which they have been outscored, 24-8, and shut out twice. Their power play has been anemic (1-for-18/5.6 percent, second worst in the league over those six games), as has been their penalty kill (70.6 percent/23rd in the league). The odd part of the losing streak, though, is that shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5. Their 53.3 percent is sixth-best in that short span of games.
- T.J. Oshie. In his five seasons as a Capital, T.J. Oshie has been the least hospitable of Capitals when the Flyers come to town. He is the active leader over the last five seasons in goals scored on home ice against Philadelphia (four), points (seven), and he has one of the five game-winning goals scored by the Caps against the Flyers in Washington over those five seasons. He has goals in three of his last five games overall on home ice.
- Alex Ovechkin. He always likes a big stage, and there are few stages bigger anywhere than Madison Square Garden. Alex Ovechkin leads all Capitals in goals (seven) and is tied for the team lead in points (eight) in games played at MSG over the last five seasons. He is the leader among active players in goals scored as an opponent at Madison Square Garden against the Rangers (19).
- Nicklas Backstrom. Looking for a Capital to post at least one point against the Penguins? Over the last five seasons, Nicklas Backstrom has posted at least one point against the Penguins 12 times in 19 games, most on the team, going 5-19-24 in those 12 games (the 24 points are tied with Oshie (12-12-24) for most against the Penguins in that span).
- John Carlson. Over the last five seasons, John Carlson has one goal on 31 shots in 19 games against the Flyers (3.2 percent shooting).
- Tom Wilson. In 18 games against the Rangers over the last five seasons, Tom Wilson has only five points, but he does have 25 penalty minutes.
- Braden Holtby. Over the last five seasons, no goaltender in the league has more losses to the Penguins than Braden Holtby. True, he gets more chances because he is a number one goalie, and he plays in the same division, but his nine losses (six in regulation, three in extra time) are still tied for most with Sergei Bobrovsky (five in regulation, four in extra time).
- If the Caps beat the Flyers on Wednesday, it will be the 50th time that the Caps have beaten the Flyers in Washington in the all-time series. And, if the Caps beat the Rangers on Thursday, it will be the 50th time that the Capitals beat the Rangers in New York in that all-time series. If they beat the Penguins on Saturday, it will be the Caps’ 100th win overall in the all-time series.
- The Caps have done a good job managing leads when playing in New York against the Rangers over the years. In 41 games in which they took a lead into the third period at MSG, the Caps have lost only three times, all of them in regulation (31-3, with seven ties).
- Since 2005-2006, no team has scored more shorthanded goals against the Penguins than the Capitals (13).
Potential Milestones to Reach This Week:
- Alex Ovechkin needs five goals to tie Mike Gartner for seventh place on the all-time NHL goal scoring list (708).
- 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 two blocked shots, Carlson will reach the 1,500 mark for his career with the Capitals.
- Carlson needs four assists to tie Dale Hunter for fifth-place on the all-time franchise list for assists (375).
- 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.
- With 22 penalty minutes, Tom Wilson will tie Brendan Witt for fifth-place on the club’s all-time list (1,035).
- 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.
- If he dresses for all three games this week, Dmitry Orlov will tie Joe Reekie for 25th place in games played for the Caps in franchise history.
- With his next shutout, Holtby will break a tie with Olaf Kolzig (35) for most shutouts by a goaltender for the Caps.