Week 2 for the Washington Capitals ramps up the workload – a three-game week – and features games against three very different types of opponents. There is the odd-on favorite to come out of the Western Conference to reach the Stanley Cup final, a rebuilding team with a lot of young talent, and a team that has been described as “polarizing” in their approach to this season.
Colorado Avalanche (Tuesday/7:00 – Capital One Arena)
When a panel of NHL contributors weighed in with their predictions for the 2021-2022 season all 16 named the Colorado Avalanche as their pick to win the Central Division. Eleven of them picked the Avs to come out of the West to reach the Stanley Cup final. Nine picked them to win the Cup. Over at The Athletic, 56.4 percent of their panel picked the Avs to win it all, well clear of the runners-up Vegas Golden Knights and Tampa Bay Lightning.
Small wonder. This team is loaded. Last season the Avalanche finished second in the league in wins and tied for the league lead in standings points. They led the league in scoring offense and were third in scoring defense. They were eighth in net power play (accounting for shorthanded goals against and tenth in net penalty killing. What they are for the moment, though, is shorthanded. Nathan MacKinnon went into COVID protocol, Devon Toews is recuperating from a shoulder injury, Gabriel Landeskog is serving a two-game suspension for boarding Chicago’s Kirby Dach, Valeri Nichushkin and goalie Pavel Francouz are injured.
This will be Colorado’s first road game of the season and the first meeting of the teams this season (they will meet again in Denver on April 18th). The teams last met on February 13, 2020, in Denver, the Caps earning a 3-2 decision, erasing a 2-0 deficit, when T.J. Oshie scored with 2:04 left in regulation. Colorado won the last meeting in DC, a 6-3 win on October 14, 2019. Colorado is 33-43-2 (nine ties) in the all-time series against the Caps.
New Jersey Devils (Thursday/7:00 – Prudential Center, Newark, NJ)
The New Jersey Devils are a team in transition, a team looking to regain the competitive stature that enabled them to win three Stanley Cups in a nine-year period from 1995 through 2003. It has been a long road for the Devils who, since losing in the Stanley Cup final in 2012, have made the playoffs once (2018) and are looking for their first playoff series win since that Finals appearance. It is a young team with only two players among the 18 skaters to dress so far having passed their 30th birthday (Tomas Tatar is 30, and P.K. Subban is 32).
This week’s contest with the Caps will be the third game of a five-game home stand to start the season. They defeated the Chicago Blackhawks, 4-3 in overtime, and they will meet the Seattle Kraken on Tuesday before facing the Caps on Friday.
As is the case with a young developing team, the Devils are one that struggled to score (2.59 goals per game/26th) and keep other teams from scoring (3.38 goals allowed per game/27th) last season as a team finishing 29th among 31 teams in standings points. Special teams did not help the Devils, the power play ranking 28th last year (14.2 percent) and the penalty kill ranking last (71.0 percent).
The Devils just have to get more high-end scoring; they did not have a player post more than 17 goals last season. The good thing bu9t that, though, is that the two players who posted 17 goals – Pavel Zacha and Miles Wood – are just 24 and 26 years old respectively. There could be room for growth there. Add in Jack Hughes (11 goals last season/20 years old) and Yegor Sharangovich (16 goals/23 years old), and the Devils might be a team to surprise this season. The Devils are 92-115-6 (13 ties) in the all-time series against the Capitals.
Calgary Flames (Saturday/1:00 – Capital One Arena)
Washington plays their first matinee game of the new season when the Calgary Flames visit on Saturday. Calgary is 0-1-0 entering the new week, losers to the Edmonton Oilers, 5-2, on Saturday night. They will have chances to reverse that direction when they host the Anaheim Ducks on Monday and visit the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday before visiting DC on Saturday.
The Flames have been a perennial disappointment, reaching the postseason only four times in the last 12 seasons and winning only one playoff round. It has not been a case of the Flames being persistently bad, at least in the regular season. They did win 50 games in 2018-2019 but lost in a five-game series to Colorado in the first round. In two other seasons they won 45 games, but they have not been able to translate regular season success into success in the postseason.
Last season was a frustrating one for the Flames, who finished 26-27-3, good for fifth place in the North Division. They were a rather mediocre team in scoring (2.77 goals per game/20th in the league) and preventing goals (2.86 goals allowed per game/16th). It was a team that resembled a “40 minute” club in that you could feel safe predicting who would win based on the score after two periods. Calgary was 22-1-0 when leading after 40 minutes (.957 winning percentage/second in the league) and 1-22-1 (.042 winning percentage/tied for second worst in the league). Getting better performances in the last 20 minutes of games will go a long way to determining how Calgary will fare this season. The Flames hold a 45-39-2 (13 ties) advantage over the Caps in their all-time series.
- Alex Ovechkin: 2-3-5, plus-1, 11 shots on goal, 1-2-3 in power play scoring, one shorthanded goal.
- Vitek Vanecek: 1-0-1, 1.44 (ninth in the league), .938 (13th among 42 goalies logging 50 or more minutes).
- Justin Schultz: 1-0-1, plus 1, one power play goal, one game winning goal (only one to date for the Caps), eight shots on goal
- Daniel Sprong: Looking for his first point of the season and has only two shots on goal.
- Dmitry Orlov: Also looking for his first point of the season and also has only two shots on goal.
- Lars Eller: No points yet, minus-1, 43.3 percent on faceoffs.
- Washington and Colorado tied for the league lead last year in scored in overtime (4) and goals allowed in overtime (3).
- Evgeny Kuznetsov has already logged more shorthanded ice time this season in two games (1:51) than he did in all of last season (1:22 in 41 games).
- John Carlson is second in the league in takeaways per 60- minutes among defensemen (6.32)
Potential Milestones to Reach This Week (or soon):
- Needs eight goals to catch Brett Hull for fourth place all-time in goal scoring (741)
- Needs one game for 1,200 games played in his career (1,199)
- Needs eight assists for 600 in his career (592)
- Needs one shorthanded goal to tie Gaetan Duchesne, Bobby Gould, and Steve Konowlachuk (six apiece) for 12th place in team history.
- Needs one power play point to tie Michal Pivonka (194) for sixth place all-time for the Caps.
- Needs two game-winning goals to tie Pivonka (27) for tenth place all-time for Washington.
- Need two shots on goal to tie Kevin Hatcher (1,863) for fifth place all-time for the Caps and first among defensemen.
- Needs one even strength goal for 100 in his career.
- Needs one game to reach the 300-games played mark for his career.
- Needs eight assists to reach 300 in his career (292).
- Needs one goal to reach the 100-goal mark for his career.
- Needs four penalty minutes for 200 in his career (196).
- Needs four power play points for 400 in his career (396).