The Washington Capitals enter Week 8 at the top of the East Division. However, it is an uneasy perch. Only five points separate the top five teams in a division in which only four teams get a postseason berth. Week 8 is a critical juncture in the schedule for the Caps, who will play their closest pursuers, the Boston Bruins, twice and the fourth-place Philadelphia Flyers to close the week.
Boston Bruins (Wednesday and Friday/7:00pm)
Boston is one of those teams for which it is hard to find a true fault. In the East Division they rank third of eight teams in scoring offense (3.00 goals per game), second in scoring defense (2.63 goals allowed per game), third in goal differential per game (0.37), third in power play efficiency (26.8 percent), first in penalty killing (87.9 percent), first in shots on goal per game (32.1), first in shots allowed on goal per game (25.9), first in shot differential per game (plus-5.2), first in shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 (54.1 percent), first in faceoff winning percentage (56.8 percent), and second in winning percentage in one-goal games (.636).
However, they have been in a rut lately. They have lost four of their last six games (2-4-0), scoring two goals in each of the losses. Eleven of their 19 goals scored over those six games came in their wins, a 7-3 win over Philadelphia on February 21st and a 4-1 win over the New York Rangers on Sunday.
Only two teams have fewer standings points since Boston went into this skid (Dallas: three and Anaheim: two). Scoring overall has not been a problem for the B’s over those six games, but defense has. Only San Jose allowed more goals per game over the same stretch (4.17) than Boston (4.00). They allowed three or more goals in five straight games before their win over the Rangers on Sunday. Allowing 16 5-on-5 goals over those six games has gone a long way to putting the Bruins in that rut, even as they posted a 51.0 percent shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 (12th in the league).
The Caps are 1-1-0 in their two games so far this season, both in Washington, outscored by the Bruins, 8-7.
Philadelphia Flyers (Sunday/7:00pm)
Over the years, Philadelphia has been anything but the City of Brotherly Love for the Caps. In the all-time season series, the Flyers have twice as many wins on home ice (70) as they do losses in regulation (35). The Caps have been less hospitable guests of late, winning five times (once in a shootout, in December 2016) and losing five times, twice in extra time, an overtime loss in March 2016 and a shootout loss in March 2016. This will be the Caps’ first visit to Philadelphia this season.
Since putting together a four-game winning streak to close the month of January, the Flyers have been inching along, posting a 4-2-2 record, the 11th-best record in the league over that span, measured in standings points percentage (.625). It has been one-goal games that have frustrated the Flyers over those eight games, posting a 1-1-2 record in such games.
Despite the inconsistency over those five games, the Flyers have dominated scoring with a 0.50 positive goal differential per game (3.25 for, 2.75 against). They might have had a better record over that span with a better power play, which was just 4-for-32 over those eight games (12.5 percent), tied for 27th in the league. The penalty kill, if anything, has been worse, going 18-for-26 over those eight games, their 69.2 percent penalty kill ranking tied for 28th in the league over that span. What mitigates the poor penalty kill has been the Flyers’ ability to avoid penalties. In posting that 4-2-2 record over their last eight games, their net penalties per 60 minutes (penalties drawn versus penalties taken) of 0.74 ranks second in the league over that span (Toronto: 0.83).
- Nicklas Backstrom. With the books on February closed with the 3-2 win over the New Jersey Devils on Sunday, Backstrom led the Caps in goals (five, tied with Alex Ovechkin) and points (12). His scoring included a power play goal and two man advantage assists in 12 games, and his shooting percentage (26.3 percent) was best on the team among players recording more than five shots on goal.
- Alex Ovechkin. In addition to tying Backstrom for the team lead in goals in February, Ovechkin was the other Capital to finish February in double digits in points (ten). His four power play points tied T.J. Oshie for the team lead in the month. He finished the month with 713 career goals, four short of Phil Esposito for sixth place on the all-time list.
- John Carlson. In 12 games for the month, Carlson went 2-7-9, tied for 13th in the league among defensemen in points for the month. He also averaged more than 24 minutes per game for the month. (24:01).
- Dmitry Orlov. Of 16 Caps dressing for at least ten games for the month, Orlov posted the fewest points (one, an assist). So far this season, he has one goal on 20 shots in 15 games.
- Craig Anderson. It is not as much a matter of his numbers (1-1-0, 3.63, .853) as much as having only 82:45 in ice time this season. And with Ilya Samsonov returning after a rehabilitation stint in Hershey, he will exchange the cold end of the bench for the press box.
- Justin Schultz. After posting goals in consecutive games in late January, Schultz is ten games, and counting, without a goal. That puck he took to the face against the Islanders in his last game in January didn’t help matters.
- Through 20 games this season, 22 Caps have recorded at least one point. After 20 games last season, that number was 19.
- When the Caps take the ice against Boston on Wednesday, it will be the 1,800th road game in team history (727-842-80, with 150 ties).
- If Alex Ovechkin scores a goal in Philadelphia on Sunday, it will be his 20th career goal on Flyers’ ice. He would tie Sidney Crosby for third most all-time in goals scored Philadelphia. Among active Caps, only Nicklas Backstrom has double-digit career goals in Philadelphia (12).
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 one assist 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 five points short of 1,300 for his career. He will be the 35th player in NHL history to reach that mark.
- Ovechkin needs four 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.
- Ovechkin needs 29 shots on goal to tie Jaromir Jagr (5,637) for second-place all-time.
- Evgeny Kuznetsov needs one power play point to tie Bobby Carpenter (116) for 20th place in team history; with one point of any sort he would pass Carpenter (both tied with 395 career points for the Caps) for 18th place on the all-time franchise list.
- Kuznetsov needs four assists to tie Kevin Hatcher (277) for 13th place on the Caps’ all-time list.
- John Carlson needs one power play point to tie Sergei Gonchar (185 apiece) for ninth place all-time in Caps history.
- Kuznetsov needs two shootout goals to become the third Capital with 20 in his career (Ovechkin: 34; Backstrom: 27).
- Carlson needs two game-winning goals to tie Michal Pivonka (27) for tenth place on the Caps’ all-time list.
- Carlson needs two points to be the seventh-best road scorer in Caps history (Mike Ridley: 243 points).
- With three penalties taken, Tom Wilson would tie Craig Berub (334) for sixth-most in team history. With one major, he would tie Dale Hunter (71) for fourth place in Caps history.