For the Washington Capitals, Week 6 on the NHL schedule features a familiar road trip with a new player in what will be the second straight four-game week. What makes this week challenging will be the Caps having to play a pair of back-to-back games, giving them three sets of back-to-backs in the space of 11 days, all of them on the road.
Anaheim Ducks (Tuesday/10:00pm Eastern – Honda Center)
The early part of the 2021-2022 season has been full of surprises – the resurgent Red Wings in Detroit, the determined Devils in New Jersey, the fast-starting Flames in Calgary. To that we can add the amazing Anaheim Ducks, off to an 9-4-3 start after a 17-30-9 season last year, their record good for second place in the Pacific Division.
The Ducks have done it largely with offense, their 3.56 goals per game ranking fourth in the league, and their power play (28.3 percent) also ranks fourth in the league. It has made the Ducks the hottest team in the league, their current seven-game winning streak almost twice as long as the next longest current streak (Washington, with four straight wins).
The odd part of their season to date, despite the high rankings on the offensive side of the puck, is how stingy the Ducks have been allowing goals on home ice. True, they are averaging 3.44 goals per game on offense at Honda Center (tied for 11th in home scoring offense with the Caps), but the 1.88 goals allowed per game at home ranks second in the league in scoring defense on home ice. Only once in nine home games did they allow as many as four goals in regulation, a 4-3 loss to Winnipeg on October 26th (they also have a 4-3 overtime loss to Buffalo on October 28th). The work on the defensive side of the puck at home has propelled the Ducks to a five-game home winning streak over which they allowed only five goals and recorded a 4-0 shutout of New Jersey.
One thing to watch for in this game is how the Capitals start. Anaheim has allowed only four first period goals in nine home games, and the Ducks have scored first in five of those games, going 4-1-0 when scoring first. The Caps are 19-18-1 (one tie) in the all-time series against Anaheim, 9-9-0 (one tie) in California.
Los Angeles Kings (Wednesday/10:30pm Eastern – STAPLES Center)
The Pacific Division seems to have their share of surprising teams this season. To the Ducks, one might add the Los Angeles Kings, who are 8-5-2 after a disappointing 21-28-7 finish last season. Their formula has been different than Anaheim’s in the overall. They have shaved more than half a goal allowed off last year’s number, averaging 2.47 goals allowed per game to date versus 3.02 goals allowed per game last season.
An anomaly in the defensive numbers is the penalty kill, which is struggling at 74.4 percent, compared to their seventh-ranked power play last season (83.7 percent). The 74.4 number is a bit misleading, though. The Kings had a ghastly three-game stretch over which they allowed seven power play goals in 13 chances, including four that the St. Louis Blues scored on seven chances in a 7-3 loss to the Blues on October 23rd. Outside of that three-game stretch, the kings are 23-for-26 (88.5 percent), and they are 14-for-16 at home overall (87.5 percent).
The Kings might have something to contribute to this “hottest team in the league” discussion. Los Angeles is on an eight-game points streak (7-0-1) and have won four in a row at home, allowing only two goals in each of those four wins. On the other hand, they have played on a razor-thin margin. Their last three home games were 3-2 wins, the last two of them going to extra time to settle.
Washington is 41-57-3 (13 ties) in the all-time series against the Kings, 17-33-2 (six ties) in Los Angeles.
San Jose Sharks (Saturday/10:30pm Eastern – SAP Center)
There was time in the not too distant past when a visit to San Jose could be marked down as a loss – in pen, not pencil. From December 2, 1995 through January 7, 2012, the Caps went 0-11-1 in San Jose, outscored by a 46-23 margin. Things have changed. I their last seven visits to San Jose, the Caps are 5-2-0, outscoring the Sharks, 23-18. They take a three-game win streak in San Jose to Honda Center when they meet on Saturday. All three of the wins were by multi-goal margins.
San Jose is having a rough time of it as they enter the new week. After winning their first four games of the season, they are 3-6-1 and have lost their last two games on home ice, a 5-3 loss to the St. Louis Blues and a 3-2 shootout loss to the New Jersey Devils.
There is little mystery to the Sharks’ troubles. They are a mediocre team in scoring offense overall (2.79 goals per game/21st in the league) and scoring defense (2.86 goals allowed per game/tied for 14th in the league). It is worse on home ice where San Jose averages 2.67 goals per game (23rd in the league) and 3.00 goals allowed per game (24th).
Special teams on home ice have not been a problem for the Sharks with a 23.8 percent power play (11th) and a 94.1 percent penalty kill, the best home ice penalty kill in the league. The problem has been at even strength, where their eight goals scored in six home games rank tied for 30th, and their 12 goals allowed rank tied for 13th.
The Capitals are 16-24-4 (one tie) in the all-time series against the Sharks, 8-13-0 (one tie) in San Jose.
Seattle Kraken (Sunday/9:00pm Eastern – Climate Pledge Arena)
The Caps face the NHL’s newest entry into the league on Sunday to close the Week 6 schedule. Fans of the Seattle Kraken are still enjoying the glow of a new franchise for whom they can cheer, but the Kraken have not had much to cheer about, their 4-10-1 record entering the new week being last in the Pacific Division.
For those expecting a repeat of the Vegas Golden Knights’ success as a new franchise in 2017-2018, capped with a Stanley Cup finals appearance (and we all know how that ended), those expectations need to be tempered. The Kraken are tied for the next-to-worst record in the league going into the new week at 4-10-1, ahead of only the Arizona Coyotes (1-13-1). The Kraken are 20th in scoring offense (2.80 goals per game), 31st in scoring defense (3.67 goals allowed per game), 31st on the power play (10.9 percent), 20th in penalty killing (80.7 percent), tied for last in 5-on-5 goals allowed (41, with Chicago).
Seattle did give their fans some home in late October when they won consecutive games for the first time in franchise history, but since then the Kraken are 1-6-0, five of the losses by multi-goal margins. The 20 goals allowed in those losses could be considered distressing and their 11 goals allowed in their last two games on home ice (a 7-4 loss to Anaheim and a 4-2 loss to Minnesota) alarming.
- Alex Ovechkin. Ovechkin is 4-6-10 in road games this season, tied for seventh in the league in points. He has done it in fewer road games (six) than any of the six players ahead of him. He is tied for the league lead in even strength points on the road (ten, with Matt Duchene).
- Nick Jensen. Jensen leads the league in plus-minus rating in road games (plus-11) and has a plus-11 goal differential at even strength on the road to lead the league.
- Conor Sheary. In six road games, Sheary leads the team in takeaways per 60 minutes (2.69).
- Ilya Samsonov. Of 55 goalies to log at least 100 minutes on the road, Samsonov is 49th n save percentage (.869).
- Justin Schultz. In six road games, Schultz does not have a point, the only Capitals defenseman without one.
- Martin Fehervary. In six road games, Fehervary is a team-worst minus-3 and has one point (an assist).
- The Caps have the top four players in the league in plus-minus in road games as Week 6 begins: Nick Jensen (plus-11), Alex Ovechkin (plus-8), Lars Eller (plus-7), and Dmitry Orlov (plus-7).
- The Caps have allowed five goals in two of their six road games to date, and they have points in both (1-0-1), a 7-5 win in Ottawa over the Senators and a 5-4 overtime loss to the Panthers in Florida.
- Washington leads the league in scoring offense in road games (3.83 goals per game); their plus-1.00 goal differential per game on the road is tied for second-best, trailing only Carolina (plus-1.16).
Potential Milestones to Reach This Week (or soon):
- Needs three points to tie Mats Sundin for 28th place all time (currently, Ovechkin has 1,346 points).
- Needs one shorthanded goal to tie Gaetan Duchesne, Bobby Gould, and Steve Konowlachuk (six apiece) for 12th place in team history.
- Needs two power play points to tie Luc Robitaille and Brendan Shanahan for 25th place all time (currently 505 points).
- Needs two game-winning goals to tie Phil Esposito for third place all-time (currently 16 GWG).
- Need one blocked shot to tie Matt Stajan and Jordan Staal for 49th place since 2005-2006 among forwards (currently 480 blocked shots).
- With one game-deciding goal in a shootout, Ovechkin will tie Kris Letang for tenth place all-time (currently 14).
- Needs one power play goal to break a tie with Alan Haworth (32) for 25th place on the all-time Caps list.
- Needs four assists to tie Michal Pivonka for third place all-time for the Caps (currently 414).
- Needs one game-winning goal to tie Pivonka (27) for tenth place all-time for Washington; two game-winning goals and he will tie Alexander Semin for (28) ninth place; three and he will tie Dale Hunter and Kelly Miller (29) for seventh place.
- Needs three power play points to become the sixth player in team history with 200 power play points.
- Needs one even strength goal for 100 in his career.
- Needs five goals to tie Dmitri Khristich for 19th place on the Caps’ all-time goals list (currently 135).
- Needs two game-winning goals to tie Michal Pivonka (27) 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).