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Snapshots of the Week Ahead: Week 7

Where we look at a four-game week played against two old rivals.

NHL: Washington Capitals at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Week 7 on the Capitals schedule goes old school. Real old school, like back to the Patrick Division days old school. The Caps’ four-game slate of games include a pair against the Pittsburgh Penguins and another pair against the New Jersey Devils, two of the oldest rivals in team history. The more urgent consideration for the Caps is that they go into the week holding a two point lead over three teams, including the Penguins).

The Opponents

Pittsburgh Penguins (Tuesday and Thursday/7:00pm)
These teams have been playing one another since the November 1974, when the Pens opened the series with an 8-1 win over the Caps (if the question comes up in trivia, Denis Dupere scored the first ever goal for the Caps against the Penguins). The Caps will be looking to win their second consecutive game of this season against Pittsburgh, their current record over their first four games at 1-1-2, and break a tie in standings points with the Pens (19).

The Penguins come into the new week looking like a team that is getting its legs back under them. After a five-game stretch over which they went 1-3-1, they have a 4-1-0 record over their last five games. Over that span, only Carolina had more standings points (11) than the Penguins (eight, tied with four other teams). But they have done it with poor special teams play, their power play (18.2 percent) ranking 19th over those five games and their penalty kill (78.6 percent) ranking 18th. Only four teams allowed more shots on goal over those five games than the Pens (33.8) – New Jersey (34.0), Chicago (34.0), Philadelphia (34.0), and Winnipeg (35.0).

The weak special teams are hardly an anomaly in the whole-season context. Pittsburgh ranks 25th on both the power play overall (14.9 percent) and 26th on the penalty kill overall (74.0 percent). What Pittsburgh gets is balance across the period in scoring offense, posting 15 goals in each of the first and second periods of games, and 16 goal in the third periods of 16 games heading into the new week. They do tend to improve slightly in goals allowed over the course of games, though, with their first-second-third period goal total of 20-18-14 keeping them in games.

New Jersey Devils (Saturday/1:00 and Sunday/3:00pm)
It took a while, but the Caps finally opened their season series with the New Jersey Devils on Sunday, using a three-goal third period to win, 4-3, in Washington. The Caps head to Newark for a pair of games to close the week. The Devils own a 54-44-3 (seven ties) record against the Caps at home in the all-time series. However, New Jersey is just 3-7-2 in their last dozen home games against Washington dating back to December 2014.

The Devils have struggled at home this season, although with only six home games played (only San Jose has played fewer – two), it is tough to draw conclusions. Still, their 2-3-1 record and .417 points percentage on home ice ranks 25th in the league. And the Devils are a weak special teams squad on home ice as well, 11.1 percent on the power play (rank: 27th), while their penalty kill stands at 70.6 percent (28th).

The Devils have managed to score as many as three goals only once at home in six games going into the new week, while they have allowed three or more three times (not including a 3-2 shootout loss to Boston in their home opener), all in their last three home games.

Middle periods have been a scoring issue for the Devils at home. In six games on their rink, they have two second period goals; only the New York Islanders have fewer (none in eight home games).

Hot Caps:

  • Nicklas Backstrom. Over his last 13 games, Backstrom is 6-12-18 and has five multi-point games.
  • Nick Jensen. Over his last four games, Jensen has 10 shots on goal, which might not sound like a lot, but he has only 18 shots on goal in 14 games this season. That first goal is coming.
  • Nic Dowd. The “Nick” trifecta ends with Dowd, who over his last six games is 45-for-70 on faceoffs (64.3 percent, third-best in the league of 77 skaters taking at least 50 draws).

Cold Caps:

  • Nicklas Backstrom. In February, Backstrom has won 33 of 96 faceoffs. That 34.4 winning percentage ranks 104th among 107 skaters taking at least 50 draws this month.
  • Nick Jensen. Since he last scored a goal on October 11, 2018 (two goals in 5-3 win over Toronto), Jensen is the only one of 222 players dressing for at least 150 games not to score a goal.
  • John Carlson. He had a two-point game in Sunday’s 4-3 win over New Jersey, but Carlson is also minus-8 in his last eight games, and his minus-10 for the season is a team worst.

Weird Facts:

  • With two wins against the Penguins this week, the Caps would even their lifetime record against Pens at 103-103-12, with 16 ties.
  • Pittsburgh is one of four teams in NHL history to average 3.00 or more goals per game in their history (3.00). Edmonton (3.16), Philadelphia (3.05), and Quebec/Colorado (3.02) are the others.
  • New Jersey is one of two teams in the league to rank in the bottom five in power play and penalty killing percentage on home ice – 11.1 percent on the power play (27th) and 70.6 percent on the penalty kill (28th). Detroit is the other club in this neighborhood.

Potential Milestones to Reach This Week:

  • 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: 24).
  • Backstrom needs two assists to reach 700 for his career.
  • 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.
  • Ovechkin is seven points short of 1,300 for his career. He will be the 35th player in NHL history to reach that mark.
  • Ovechkin needs five goals to tie Phil Esposito (717) for sixth place on the NHL all-time list.
  • Ovechkin needs three power play goals to tie Brett Hull (265) for second place all-time.
  • Evgeny Kuznetsov needs one power play points to tie Bobby Carpenter (116) for 20th place in team history; with one point of any sort he would tie Carpenter (395) for 18th place on the all-time franchise list.
  • Kuznetsov needs one assist to pass Sergei Gonchar (272) for 14th place on the Caps’ all-time list, five to tie Kevin Hatcher (277) for 13th place.
  • John Carlson needs two power play points to tie Sergei Gonchar (185 apiece) for ninth place all-time in Caps history.
  • Carlson needs two game-winning goals to tie Michal Pivonka (27) for tenth place on the Caps’ all-time list.