After a week against tough opponents that ended with a three-game losing streak (0-2-1), the Washington Capitals head into Week 5 against a quartet of teams that might not pose the challenges the Caps faced in Week 4 but will be stiff tests nevertheless. It is precisely such a stretch of the schedule that the Caps cannot take lightly as the Caps look to climb back into the top-four in the Metropolitan Division.
Buffalo Sabres (Monday/7:00pm – Capital One Arena)
Every season has its surprise teams to open the schedule, and the Buffalo Sabres opened the season as a surprise through the first seven games of their schedule when they went 5-1-1. They outscored their opponents, 22-14, posted a power play of 30.0 percent, killed penalties at an 88.2 percent rate, and had three of their wins settled by three or more goals. They were tied for the third-best record in the league.
Things have changed. The Sabres go into Monday night’s game having lost four in a row (0-3-1), tied for the worst record in the league (by points percentage) and one of four winless teams in the league over that stretch. Their defense having deserted them for the time being. In those four losses the Sabres allowed 17 goals. That is an odd result, the Sabres having killed penalties at a 91.7 percent rate (11-for-12) over those four games, tied for the fifth-best penalty kill in that span of games (four teams are at 100.0 percent).
During the four-game losing streak, the Sabres have had trouble getting started. They scored first in only one of the four games and lost that game, 3-2, to the Los Angeles Kings. They did not take a lead into the first intermission of any of the four games. And, they could not hold leads late when they had them, losing both games in which they took a lead into the third period (0-1-1).
What could be interesting to see unfold in this game is how the Sabres perform in the last 40 minutes. In their four-game losing streak, they scored seven second period goals, most in the league in that span of games. However, they allowed nine third period goals over those same four games, also most in the league.
Detroit Red Wings (Thursday/7:30pm – Little Caesar’s Arena)
The Red Wings might have qualified as a surprise team as well on the basis of their 4-2-1 start. But the Wings have fallen on hard times of their own. Then, Detroit lost four games in a row (0-3-1). It was another case of defense being a problem. The Wings allowed 16 goals in the four losses, and even in the win to break the streak allowed three goals to the Sabres. They have, however, won their last two games heading into the new week.
Defense has been an issue with the Red Wings in the early going, if only for its inconsistency. They allowed two or fewer goals in regulation five times in 13 games, but they also have allowed five or more four times in those dozen games.
Special teams have been a struggle for the Red Wings as well, on both sides of the ledger. Their power play ranks 22nd (18.2 percent), while their penalty kill ranks 27th (77.1 percent). Their special teams index, the combination of the two, ranks 27th (89.3).
What the Wings can do, though, is be difficult on home ice. They took both Tampa Bay and Florida to extra time before taking losses, they rang up six goals against the Lightning in their 7-6 overtime loss, and they beat the Vegas Golden Knights decisively on Sunday night, 5-2. They are 3-1-2 on home ice going into the new week.
Detroit also has difficulty getting started in games. Their eight first period goals are tied for 19th in the league (their three first period goals against Vegas on Sunday lifted them out of a tie for last place), while the 13 first period goals they have allowed are tied for fourth-most in the league.
Columbus Blue Jackets (Friday/7:00pm – Nationwide Arena)
Columbus comes into the new week on a three-game winning streak, two of them in extra time (we will get to that in a moment). The wins include a home-and-home sweep of the Colorado Avalanche. The Blue Jackets have done it with offense, scoring 13 goals in the three games
Columbus might qualify as “Team Strange” in the early going. They have a 7-3-0 record, which might be a bit of a surprise, but what is odd about their record is that only three of those seven wins have come in regulation. They carry a 4-0 extra time record into the new week, which can’t be good news for a Caps team that is 0-4 in extra time so far.
As for those regulation wins, Columbus has had a knack for dropping the hammer on opponents – an 8-2 win over Arizona, a 4-1 win over Dallas, and a 4-2 win over Colorado. And all of them were on home ice, where Friday’s game will be played.
The Blue Jackets might have had good offensive numbers overall through ten games (3.10 goals per game/tied for 13th in the league), they have struggled some early. Their six first period goals are tied for fifth-fewest in the league, and every team below them have five first period goals heading into the new week. They have been stingy in the first period, though, allowing only six goals, tied for fourth-fewest in the league.
Pittsburgh Penguins (Sunday/7:00pm – Capital One Arena)
The rivalry renews on Sunday evening in Washington, and it will be a contest of two teams beat up by injury and illness. The Caps are missing Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, and Anthony Mantha to injury (all are on injured reserve) – pretty much a second line’s worth of contributions, while the Penguins are dealing with COVID protocol issues with Brian Dumoulin, Sidney Crosby, Chad Ruhwedel, Marcus Petterson, and head coach Mike Sullivan, with Evgeni Malkin’s knee injury in for good measure.
With the injury/illness bug having been a persistent feature of the Penguins’ season to date, it is no wonder they have struggled. They have yet to win consecutive games through ten games so far, although they did start the season with a five-game points streak (3-0-2). And, they go into the new week last in the Metropolitan Division standings.
It is their last five games in which their health problems have caught up with them. Over those five games, the Pens are 1-3-1, their win coming in overtime against the Philadelphia Flyers. In that span, they are tied for the second-worst scoring offense (2.00 goals per game) and are tied for the third-worst scoring defense (3.80 goals allowed per game). Their 5.9 percent power play ranks 30th. Their penalty kill has been the rare positive, ranking second over that five-game span (90.9 percent).
Pittsburgh has had issues closing out games, despite the 4-0-1 success then have had when taking a lead to the third period. Their 15 third period goals allowed overall are tied for sixth-most in the league going into the new week. What the Caps will want to do, though, as any NHL team would, is score first. The Penguins are 0-2-3 when allowing the game’s first goal. And like the Caps, they struggle in one-goal games, posting a 1-0-3 record in such decisions so far.
- John Carlson is the all-time leader among Caps defensemen in scoring against the Columbus Blue Jackets (6-13-19 in 28 games). He is also tied for the all-time scoring lead among defensemen against the Detroit Red Wings (4-13-17, the 17 points tied with Calle Johansson). If he gets two points against Buffalo, he will tie Mike Green for the all-time lead among Caps defensemen in points against the Sabres.
- Nick Jensen. The defenseman is off to a fine start offensively – 2-2-4, plus-10 (leads team), 0.36 points per game (career best), 1.45 shots per game (career best), 12.5 shooting percentage (career best).
- Brett Leason. The rookie has two goals and three points in four games and has a shooting percentage of 28.6 percent.
- Carl Hagelin. The forward is 0-1-1, even, in 11 games, and he had that breakaway chance against the Flyers that he chunked off the heel of his stick, missing a chance for what might have been a game-changing play.
- Hendrix Lapierre. Since potting his first NHL goal in his first NHL game, he is without a point in five straight contests and has averaged less than ten minutes of ice time (9:28). He has the wheels, and he has the hands; now, he needs the finish.
- Ilya Samsonov. Is there a luckier goalie than Ilya Samsonov, at least as far as the alignment of record and performance goes? He is 3-0-1, but he has a save percentage of .893, and he avoided a lost against Florida, despite allowing three goals on 18 shots in 25:31 in ice time, when the Caps erased a 4-1 deficit with Vitek Vanecek in goal (he took the 5-4 overtime loss).
- Columbus has scored four or more goals in each of their last four wins and five of their seven wins overall, one or none in each of their three losses this season.
- If the Caps are charged with 15 penalty minutes against Detroit, they will reach 2,000 penalty minutes in the all-time series against the Red Wings.
- The Caps have dressed five rookie skaters so far – Connor McMichael, Hendrix Lapierre, Martin Fehervary, Brett Leason, and Aliaksei Protas. That is the most rookie skaters taking the ice for the Caps since 2017-2018, when the Caps dressed nine rookies. Of that nine-member rookie class in 2017-2018, only Shane Gersich remains in the organization, currently with the Hershey Bears in the AHL.
Potential Milestones to Reach This Week (or soon):
- Needs one goal to catch Brett Hull for fourth place all-time in goal scoring (741)
- Needs two assists for 600 in his career (596)
- Needs one shorthanded goal to tie Gaetan Duchesne, Bobby Gould, and Steve Konowlachuk (six apiece) for 12th place in team history.
- Needs one point to break a tie with Dave Andreychuk and Denis Savard for 29th place on that list (1,338).
- Needs two game-winning goals to tie Phil Esposito (118) for third-place all-time.
- Needs eight takeaways for 700 in his career.
- Needs one goal as first goal of the game to break a tie with Gordie Howe for most first goals all-time (currently 127). He needs four to tie Brett Hull for second place (131).
- Needs one power play goal to tie Alan Haworth (32) for 25th place on the all-time Caps list.
- Needs five power play points to reach 200 in his career.
- 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 one even strength goal for 100 in his career.
- His next takeaway will be the 300th of his career.
- Needs three assists to reach 300 in his career (297).
- Needs one point to break a tie with Dennis Maruk (431) for 11th place on the Caps’ all-time points list.
- Needs one goal to break a tie with Bobby Gould (134) for 19th place on the Caps’ all-time list.
- 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).
- Needs one shootout goal for 20 in his career.
- Needs two assists to reach 100 assists as a Capital.
- Needs two wins to tie Brent Johnson (34) for 13th place on the Caps’ all-time list; three, and he will tie Bob Mason (35) for 12th place.
- With 21 saves, Samsonov will reach 1,200 saves for his career and tie Michel Belhumeur for 25th place on the all-time Caps list.
- Needs two wins to tie Tomas Vokoun for 19th place on the all-time Caps list for goaltenders.