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Snapshots of the Week Ahead: Week 3

It’s a three-game week chock full of rivalry and standings implications.

Washington Capitals v New York Rangers Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Week 4 provides some variety for the Washington Capitals, who will face three opponents, the two teams immediately behind them in the standings at home sandwiched around a date at Madison Square Garden against the rebuilding New York Rangers.

The Opponents

Boston Bruins (Monday/7:00pm)

Washington brings the curtain down on its season-opening six-game home stand when it wraps up its two-game set with the Boston Bruins on Monday. The Caps stormed out to a 3-0 lead in the first game, gave it all back, and then won in overtime, 4-3, on an Alex Ovechkin goal 28 seconds into the extra session.

Neither team has been a stranger to overtime this season, both clubs going to extra hockey five times, the Caps with a 2-0-3 record and the Bruins with a 3-0-2 record in extra time. As it turns out, though, the Bruins are no strangers to losing in extra time. Since 2005-2006, only three teams have had more extra time losses than Boston (152) – Florida (170), Detroit (159), and Philadelphia (157).

The Bruins go into the new week as the only team in the league with both a top-five power play (34.6 percent/fifth) and a top-five penalty kill (90.0 percent/third). They also happen to be a top-five club in shots on goal (32.5 per game/fifth) and fewest shots on goal allowed (22.9/second). Add to this the fact that the Bruins are the top team in the league in faceoff percentage (58.7) , fifth in takeaways per 60 minutes (6.60), and third in shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 (55.6), this is as fundamentally sound a club as there is in the league.

New York Rangers (Thursday/7:00pm)

The New York Rangers are a team in transition. Some might use the word “rebuild,” but then again, this is a club that dresses 19-year old number one overall draft pick forward Alexis Lafreniere and 15-year veteran defenseman Jack Johnson on a regular basis (Johnson a bit less regularly than Lafreniere so far). Still, the Rangers bring the youngest team in the league to the ice against the Caps this week, averaging 25.6 years of age. And, it is a team that has dressed five skaters not with the club last season. In addition to Lafreniere and Johnson, there are Colin Blackwell, K’Andre Miller, and Kevin Rooney in that group.

The Rangers Remix has not yet really clicked on offense. But for a five-goal explosion against the New York Islanders in their second game of the season and posting four in their last game, a 5-4 overtime loss to Pittsburgh, they have not scored more than three goals in any game and rank 21st in scoring offense (2.76 goal per game). Add to that the fact that the Blueshirts have allowed three or more goals in six of nine games, and it makes for a struggling team on both sides of the puck.

Special teams is another area in which the Rangers are struggling. Their 23rd ranked power play (14.7 percent) added to their 23rd-ranked penalty kill (75.0 percent) make for the 26th-ranked team in special teams index in the league (89.7), ahead of only New Jersey, St. Louis, and Nashville. The special teams difficulties are something of a wasted opportunity for the New Yorkers, who rank eighth in power play chances per game (4.25) and are tied for the 9th-fewest shorthanded situations faced per game (3.50). Their special teams chances differential of 0.75 chances per game is sixth-best in the league.

As the week begins there is a soap opera playing out in New York concerning defenseman Tony DeAngelo, who was placed on waivers by the club after a 5-4 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Although the situation appears to have been brewing for some time, the matter boiled over after the game when DeAngelo and goaltender Alexandar Georgiev had a physical altercation outside the Ranger locker room. More about that situation can be found here and here. The Rangers are 2-0-1 in their last three games against the Caps at Madison Square Garden.

Philadelphia Flyers (Sunday/12:00pm)

The Philadelphia Flyers came into the 2020-2021 season as a team with intermittent success in recent years. Over the past nine seasons they alternated years reaching the postseason and years failing to qualify, winning two playoff series along the way. There seemed to be little doubt, though, that this season would be one in which the Flyers would reach the postseason for a second consecutive year.

The optimism might have been fueled by a 2019-2020 season in which the Flyers were a top-ten team in both scoring offense (3.29 goals per game/seventh) and scoring defense (2.77 goals allowed per game/seventh). On the defensive side of the puck, a lot of the success was due to the emergence of goalie Carter Hart, who in his second NHL season at age 21 became the youngest goalie in team history to post at least 20 wins (24).

Despite their 7-2-1 record, the Flyers have been inconsistent in the early going. Some of that is attributable to a slow start by Hart (4-2-1, 3.34, .900), but the Flyers have been quite leaky in their penalty kill, ranking 22nd (75.7 percent). And, they have allowed five or more goals in three of their last seven games.

At the other end, the Flyers would seem to suffer from an insufficient volume of shots on goal. They average 23.6 shots on goal per game, second-worst in the league (Dallas: 23.5). That they allow 33.7 shots per game (second most in the league) and have the worst shot-attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 (43.8) places that much more of a burden on the team and its goaltending. The team might be righting itself, though. They carry a four-game winning streak into the new week and have allowed only nine goals in the four games.

Hot Caps:

  • Nicklas Backstrom. Again, Backstrom makes the “Hot Caps” trio. If anything, he is getting hotter. He goes into Week 4 with a five-game points streak (3-6-9) and has three multi-point games in that run, including his last two contests.
  • John Carlson. He might not be doing it in as flashy a way as he started last season, but John Carlson is putting together quite a start. He has a six-game points streak going into Week 4 (2-6-8), and his ten points for the season are third in the league among defensemen (Quinn Hughes and Cale Makar: 11).
  • Vitek Vanecek. Among rookie goalies, Vitek Vanecek might be at the top of his class to date. He leads all rookie goaltenders in wins (five), is second in save percentage (.918), is fourth in goals against average (2.78), and has played the most minutes (431:36)

Cold Caps:

  • Carl Hagelin. Nine games in, and Carl Hagelin has one point, an assist, and no goals on 15 shots. He is one of 12 forwards in the league with at least 15 shots on goal and no goals to show for it (curiously, Nashville’s Ryan Johansen and Matt Duchesne, and Buffalo’s Jeff Skinner also appear on that list).
  • Jonas Siegenthaler. In five games, Jonas Siegenthaler is looking for his first point of the season and has a minus-3 rating.
  • Caps Penalty Kill. Since opening the season killing 12 of 13 shorthanded situations over their first three games (92.3 percent), the Caps are 13-for-20 over their last six games (65.0 percent).

Weird Facts:

  • If the Caps beat the Rangers in New York on Thursday, it will be the 50th win for the Caps in New York against the Rangers in team history.
  • Among active players, Alex Ovechkin is the only player with five or more power play goals against the Rangers in New York. He has ten, while Wayne Simmonds and Patrice Bergeron have four apiece.
  • Discounting Brandon Dubinsky, who has not played since the 2018-2019 season, Tom Wilson and Zdeno Chara rank one-two in career penalty minutes against the Philadelphia Flyers among active players (96 and 94 minutes, respectively).

Potential Milestones to Reach This Week:

  • Alex Ovechkin needs one goal to break a tie with Mike Gartner for seventh place on the all-time NHL goal scoring list (708 apiece).
  • Nicklas Backstrom needs one overtime goal to break a tie with Mike Green (currently with eight apiece) and take over second place alone in Caps history (Ovechkin: 23).
  • If Backstrom does not get that OT goal, Evgeny Kuznetsov needs only one to tie Backstrom and Green for second place all-time on the Caps’ list.
  • With four penalty minutes, Tom Wilson would tie Brendan Witt (1,035) for fifth place on the all-time Caps’ rankings.
  • Evgeny Kuznetsov needs three power play points to tie Bobby Carpenter (116) for 20th place in team history.
  • Carlson needs one power play point to tie Scott Stevens (182) for tenth place all-time in Caps history.