The Washington Capitals start Week 10 with two days off to catch up on some holiday shopping, but they get back into action starting on Wednesday in what is a three-game work week, two games on the road against Central Division foes before wrapping up on Sunday with a home tilt against a struggling Pacific Division opponent.
Chicago Blackhawks (Wednesday/8:00pm (Eastern) – United Center)
October was brutal for the Chicago Blackhawks, who did not record a single win in the month (0-7-2). They started November with a win, and while they are still in a deep hole when it comes to thoughts of playoffs, things have been looking better for the Hawks since, going 10-8-0 since that ghastly start.
The Blackhawks have struggled on offense all season to date, averaging just 2.19 goals per game, 29th in the league. Those struggles have not gotten much easier in their 18 games following their winless October. Over that stretch they are averaging only 2.33 goals per game, 28th in the league over that span.
The problems on offense for Chicago, even since their awful start, are manifold. First, they are not getting pucks to the net. The Blackhawks rank 31st overall in shots per game (28.0) and rank 30th since November 1st (27.2 shots per game). Next, they do not score at 5-on-5. They have only 37 5-on-5 goals this season, 31st in the league, and they have only 30 since November 1st (tied for 27th). Third, Chicago has had an anemic power play since November 1st, a league-worst 10.9 percent over that span.
What has allowed the Blackhawks to climb at least some distance out of the October hole they dug is defense and goaltending. In October, Chicago had the second-worst scoring defense in the league, allowing 4.11 goals per game. Since then, however, they have allowed 2.72 goals per game, tied for 12th in the league. They allowed only 31 goals at 5-on-5 over those 17 games since November 1st, tied for seventh fewest in the league over that stretch.
Washington is 45-43-2 (11 ties) in its all-time series against Chicago, 16-28-0 (six ties) in the Windy City. The Caps are 4-6-0 in their last ten trips to Chicago, and after winning in their last visit, a 5-3 win on October 20, 2019, they are looking for their first winning “streak” in Chicago since winning three consecutive games there from October 1997 to February 2000.
Winnipeg Jets (Friday/8:00pm (Eastern) – Canada Life Centre)
Washington will make its first visit to Winnipeg since February 2020 when they face the Jets on Friday. The Caps will be in search of their first win in more than five years in Winnipeg, their last win coming on November 1, 2016, a 3-2 win that featured a game-winning goal by Jay Beagle with only 30 seconds left in regulation after the Jets tied the game with just 2:25 left.
The Jets might qualify as a minor disappointment this season, sitting in fifth place in the Central Division and in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2016-2017. What is odd about the Jets’ season to date is how thin a margin exists between making the playoffs and missing them. Consider that last season Winnipeg finished third in the reconfigured “Scotia North” Division with 63 points, well clear of the first non-qualifier in the division, Calgary (55 points). This season, they are only three points behind Colorado in the Central Division, but they remain out of the top-four mix. That said, Winnipeg’s scoring offense and defense are nearly identical in the two seasons – 3.00 goals per game this season versus 3.04 last year; 2.70 goals allowed per game this season versus 2.71 allowed last year.
Where the Jets have had a significant change, and certainly not in a good way, is their penalty killing. At 69.2 percent for the season, this year’s penalty killing is worst in team history, and not by a small margin (76.0 percent in 2008-2009, when they were in their Atlanta Thrashers incarnation). They have allowed at least one power play goal in 15 of their 27 games to date, although the odd part there is that they have managed to post a 7-5-3 record in those 15 games.
Winnipeg can be prolific on offense at home, though. Their 3.57 goals per game on home ice rank sixth in the league, as does their 26.7 percent power play. On the other side of the puck, they have allowed only 2.36 goals per game at home, sixth-best scoring defense in the league, but their penalty kill is vulnerable. At 62.5 percent on home ice, their penalty kill ranks 31st of 32 teams.
Washington is 51-28-9 (five ties) in their all-time series against the Jets (including those years when they were in Atlanta), 20-19-6 (two ties) in Winnipeg. The Caps are 6-2-2 in their last ten games overall against the Jets and 5-3-2 in their last ten games in Winnipeg.
Los Angeles Kings (Sunday/7:00pm – Capital One Arena
Washington returns home to close Week 10, hosting the Los Angeles Kings. The Caps won the first meeting of the season in Los Angeles, Ilya Samsonov pitching a 34-save shutout in a 2-0 win on November 17th. Since then, the Kings are 3-4-2 and have slipped to sixth place in the Pacific Division.
The Kings are a team struggling to regain a competitive stature, having missed the postseason the last three years and without a playoff series win in two appearances since winning the Stanley Cup in 2015. If there might be one word to describe this year’s edition of the Kings, it might be “boring.” With 2.65 goals scored per game and 2.58 goals allowed, the Kings rank 31st in the league in combined goals scored per game in the league. Fifteen times in 26 games they scored two or fewer goals, not including shootout goals (shut out three times), and in 15 games they allowed two or fewer goals (posting two shutouts).
The Kings are very much a middle of the road team when on the road, posting a 4-4-2 road record. While a strong defensive team on the road (2.60 goals allowed/seventh-best in the league), they are weak in the offensive end, averaging only 2.30 goals per game (27th). The Kings have had difficulty scoring at 5-on-5 of the road, where their 16 goals are second fewest in the league (tied with Dallas).
It also no surprise, given the King’s general lack of punch, that they start road games slowly, their six first period goals in road games tied for second-fewest in the league with Detroit. They do not end games well, either, scoring only nine third period goals on the road, tied with Seattle for third-fewest in the league. The Kings are the only team in the league to have scored less than ten goals in each of the first, second, and third periods this season on the road.
Washington is 42-57-3 (13 ties) in their all-time series with the Kings, 24-24-1 (seven ties) at home. The Caps are 5-2-3 in their last ten games against the Kings overall and 6-3-1 in their last ten games on home ice against Los Angeles (currently on a six-game winning streak).
- Lars Eller. There have not been many shots off Lars Eller’s stick in December, but he has made them count. He has two goals on six shots, a 33.3 shooting percentage that is best among Caps with more than five shots on goal in December.
- Brett Leason. Second on the team in takeaways in December (five); first in takeaways-per-60 minutes (4.25).
- Carl Hagelin. He was 0-3-3, plus-4, in 23 games to start the season, but he is 1-1-2, olus-1, in five games in December. Baby steps.
- Connor McMichael. 0-0-0, minus-3, 38.5 faceoff percentage, in just over ten minutes per game in five games in December. Rookie, meet “wall.”
- Beck Malenstyn. 0-0-0, even, averaging 8:46 in ice time per game (but he does have 15 hits, tied for the team lead) in five games in December.
- Nick Jensen. 0-0-0, minus-2, two shots on goal in five games in December (but he has not been charged with a giveaway).
- Chicago’s 2.12 goals per game overall this season is their worst scoring offense since they averaged 1.90 goals per game in 1953-1954.
- If the Caps beat Winnipeg this week they will become the all-time leader in standings points earned against the Jets/Thrashers (currently with 116, one point behind Carolina).
- Los Angeles is the only team in the league to average fewer than 2.7 goals scored per game and fewer than 2.7 goals allowed.
Potential Milestones to Reach This Week (or soon):
- Needs one shorthanded goal to tie Gaetan Duchesne, Bobby Gould, Steve Konowlachuk, and Tm Wilson (six apiece) for 12th place in team history.
- Need five points to tie Johnny Bucyk (1,369) for 25th place all-time.
- Needs five power play points to tie Adam Oates for 24th place all time (currently 508 points).
- Needs one game-winning goal to break a tie with Phil Esposito for third place all-time (currently 118 GWG); he needs three to tie Gordie Howe for second place.
- With one game-deciding goal in a shootout, Ovechkin will tie Kris Letang for tenth place all-time (currently 14).
- Ovechkin needs one power play goal to tie Dave Andreychuk for the all-time lead in this category (currently 273).
- With one empty net point, Ovechkin will tie Jarome Iginla for sixth all-time (Ovechkin has 55 empty net points).
- With three first goals in games, Ovechkin will tie Brett Hull (131) for second place all time behind Jaromir Jagr (135).
- Needs two power play goals to tie Dainius Zubrus and Evgeny Kuznetsov (35) for 23rd place on the all-time Caps list.
- Needs one game-winning goal to tie Michal 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.
- If Carlson goes plus-4 for the week, he would become the third player in Capitals history to reach the plus-100 mark (Nicklas Backstrom: plus-119; Rod Langway: plus-116).
- If Orlov goes plus-5 for the week, he would become the third player to reach the plus-100 mark for his career with the Capx (if Carlson does not beat him to it).
- Orlov’s next goal will be his 50th in the NHL and as a Capital (tenth on the all-time franchise list among defensemen).
- Orlov’s next game-winning goal will be the 14th of his career and would tie him with Scott Stevens and Sylvain Cote on the all-time franchise list among defensemen.
- With his next penalty taken, Orlov will pass 250 penalty minutes for his career (currently 249).
- Needs one game-winning goal 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 power play goal to break a tie with Dainius Zubrus for 23rd place, all-time (both with 35).
- Needs two even strength goals to reach 100 for his career.
- Needs five points for 250 in his career.
- Needs seven penalty minutes for 500 in his career.
- With three more faceoffs taken, Eller will reach 5,000 faceoffs taken as a Capital, seventh on the all-time franchise list.