There are weeks that on paper look challenging, and there are weeks when a fan might think, “three games, six points.” Fans can afford to think that way, and Caps fans might be forgiven if Week 3 looks like it could be a chance for the Caps to make hay while the sun shines, or snow cones while the ice freezes. The three opponents in Week 3 for the Caps – the Ottawa Senators, Detroit Red Wings, and Arizona Coyotes – combined for a 66-81-21 record last season, none of them reaching the postseason. But this is the NHL, and one takes teams that are struggling lightly at their peril.
Ottawa Senators (Monday/7:00 – Canadian Tire Centre)
It is hard to say whether the Ottawa Senators are rebuilding or looking for directions to “rebuild.” Since reaching the Eastern Conference finals in 2017, the Senators have not finished higher than sixth in their division in any of four seasons since. Last season, the Senators were ranked in the bottom half of the league in almost every meaningful statistical category – standings points (51/23rd), scoring offense (2.77 goals per game/T-19th), scoring defense (3.38 goals allowed per game/28th), power play (15.5 percent/26th), penalty killing (79.0 percent/20th), net power play (12.6 percent/27th), net penalty kill (83.0 prcent/15th, their one encouraging category), shots per game (29.7/16th), shots allowed per game (32.1/27th), shot attempt percentage at 5-on-5 (48.6 percent/19th).
This season, the Senators have come out the gate sideways, alternating wins and losses until they lost a second consecutive game at the hands of the New York Rangers on Saturday, 3-2, to fall to 2-3-0 on the season. In those five games to date, the Senators’ scoring defense has tightened up, averaging 2.40 goals allowed per game (ninth in the league), but their offense has been inconsistent (2.00 goals per game, tied for 27th). They have yet to allow more than three goals in a game, but on the flip side they have scored as many as three goals only twice. No team has scored fewer goals at 5-on-5 so far than the Senators (five, tied with Dallas). If there is an area the Caps need to beware of, it is the Senator power play, which is 4-for-16 (25.0 percent).
In former Caps’ news, Zach Sanford is 0-1-1, minus-2, in five games.
Detroit Red Wings (Wednesday/7:00 – Capital One Arena)
The Red Wings, once the platinum standard for success, reaching the playoffs for 25 straight years ending in 2015-2016, winning four Stanley Cups and reaching the final on two other occasions, have missed the playoffs for the last five seasons. The last time they had a longer streak of missing the postseason was a seven-season stretch from 1970-1971 through 1976-1977.
The Red Wings came out of the gate fast, going 2-0-1 in their first three games and outscoring opponents, 13-9 (seven of those goals against came in the opener, a 7-6 overtime loss to Tampa Bay). But they stumbled against the Calgary Flames, getting shut out, 3-0, last Thursday and falling to the Montreal Canadiens, 6-1, on Saturday. The Wings bounced back with a 6-3 win over Chicago on Sunday.
Detroit is struggling on special teams, posting a 16.0 percent power play (4-for-25) and a 75.0 percent penalty kill (18-for-24). They also struggle with possession, carrying a 47.3 percent shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5, 25th in the league, and have the sixth-worst percentage (45.8 percent) in close situations.
Arizona Coyotes (Friday/7:00 – Capital One Arena)
In 2012, the Coyotes, then the “Phoenix Coyotes,” reached the Western Conference final, where they lost to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings. Since then, the Coyotes have fallen on hard times. In nine seasons since then, coming into this season, Phoenix/Arizona had a record of 272-310-84 (in 666 regular season games…draw what conclusions you will from that) and reached the postseason once, losing in the first round in 2020.
The Coyotes are a mess at this early stage of the season, taking an 0-4-1 record into the new week, allowing 24 goals in five games (4.80 goals allowed per game, worst in the league) games and scoring only eight goals of their own (1.60 goals per game, also last in the league). Still worse is the Coyotes’ penalty kill, which sits last in the league (there is a theme here) at 36.4 percent, having allowed seven power play goals in 11 shorthanded situations. At 13.3 percent (27th in the league), the Arizona power play is not much better, their only two goals scored on the man advantage to date having been recorded by Clayton Keller.
The Coyotes have shown almost no life when falling behind in games thus far, entering the new week having lost all three games in which they allowed the first goal while posting an 0-3-0 record when trailing after one period and an 0-4-0 record when trailing after 40 minutes.
In former Caps’ news, Travis Boyd has a goal in three games and is one of only two Coyotes with a plus rating (plus-1). Jay Beagle has yet to register a point and is a minus-5 in five games, but he does have a 61.8 winning percentage on faceoffs. Liam O’Brien is without a point and has seven penalty minutes in two games.
- Tom Wilson. With Nicklas Backstrom out with an injury, Tom Wilson goes into the new week as the team leader in assists (six, all at even strength). He also has the best even strength on-ice goal differential at plus-7.
- Evgeny Kuznsetsov. Kuznetsov led the Caps in goals (four) and total scoring (six points) in Week 2. He also led the team in shots on goal for the week (15) and posted a plus-5 rating.
- Martin Fehervary. The rookie defenseman scored his first NHL goal in Week 2, posted a plus-5 rating, led the team in credited hits (eight), and was second in blocked shots (six).
- Conor Sheary. Sheary had no points in Week 2, blanked on the goal sheet on nine shots on goal. He is looking for his first goal of the season and is 0-1-1 through five games.
- Connor McMichael. The rookie forward was also blanked on the goal sheet on nine shots.
- T.J. Oshie. Oshie was without a point in three games and posted the only minus rating for the Caps in Week 2 (minus-2).
- The Caps’ visit to Ottawa will be their 50th in team history, If they win, they will reach .500 in their all-time record in Ottawa (currently 22-23-3, with one tie).
- If the Caps log 19 penalty minutes against Detroit, they will have hit the 2,000 penalty minute mark against the Red Wings in their all-time series.
- There have been 62 players in Capitals history to record a power play goal in a game against the Coyotes; none have two in a game.
Potential Milestones to Reach This Week (or soon):
- Needs six goals to catch Brett Hull for fourth place all-time in goal scoring (741)
- Needs five 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 five points to tie Mike Gartner for 31st place in all-time scoring, eight points to tie Dave Andreychuk and Denis Savard for 29th place on that list (currently 1,330).
- 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 one shot on goal to pass 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 six assists to reach 300 in his career (294).
- Needs two points to tie Scott Stevens for 12th place on the Caps’ all-time points list, four to tie Dennis Maruk for 11th place (currently 427).
- Needs two game-winning goals to tie Michal Pivonka for tenth place on the Caps’ all-time list (currently 25).
- Needs one overtime goal to tie Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green for second place on the all-time Caps’ list (currently seven).
- Need two penalty minutes for 200 in his career (198).