Week 10 for the Washington Capitals is noteworthy for two reasons. First, it is a heavy work week with four games on the slate, all against teams from New York, concluding with a back-to-back set against the New York Rangers to end the week. Second, the Caps will pass the half-way mark on the schedule with this week’s games.
Buffalo Sabres (Monday/7:00pm)
The Buffalo Sabres, who after ten games this season were a .500 team in January (4-4-2) and entertaining visions of playoff contention, had their dream interrupted by COVID with their schedule suspended, going dark for more than two weeks before resuming play on February 15th. Since then, the Sabres have the worst record in the league (2-12-2) and find themselves looking to next year.
Injuries and poor performance have combined to put the Sabres in a deep hole, a ten-game losing streak (0-8-2) leaving them in last place in the East Division, 16 points behind the Boston Bruins for the last playoff spot going into the new week.
Jack Eichel leads the list of critical absences, out of the lineup since March 7th and “for the foreseeable future” according to head coach Ralph Krueger, although the injury is not now thought to be season-ending. His is not the only injury to a critical element in the Sabres’ lineup. Defenseman Zemgus Girgensons has been out all season with a hamstring injury, and Dylan Cozens has been out since taking a hard hit to the boards in a 5-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on March 11th.
COVID, poor play, and injuries have left the Sabres with one of, if not the worst statistical profiles in the league: 31st in standings points (16), 31st in points percentage (.308), 30th in scoring offense (2.15 goals per game), 27th in scoring defense (3.31 goals allowed per game), 28th in shots on goal per game (28.0), third-highest total losses by three or more goals (nine, tied with Nashville), 30th in points percentage on home ice (.231/2-9-2). While their special teams have been good – fifth in power play (27.1 percent) and 14th in penalty killing (79.7 percent) – they have not been enough to stop the sliding.
New York Islanders (Tuesday/7:00pm)
The New York Islanders are the last team in the league without a loss in regulation on home ice (12-0-2). Unfortunately for the Islanders, they will be the visitor in their meeting with the Caps this week. And on the road, the Islanders look less formidable, carrying a 6-6-2 record when playing off of Long Island. But even here, the Islanders are getting better. After going 1-4-2 in their first seven road games this season, the are 6-2-0 in their last eight games on the road.
The change in fortune on the road has been a product of stingier defense. In those first seven road games, the Isles allowed 23 goals (3.30 per game), while in their last eight games they allowed only 13 goals (1.63 per game) and have two shutouts. The recent success on the road is an example of taking advantage of considerably lesser teams. New York is 6-0-0 against the New York Rangers, Buffalo Sabres, and New Jersey Devils over that span, but they lost both games they played against the Pittsburgh Penguins over that stretch.
Part of the Islanders’ success has been continuity. While they have had 23 skaters dress for the team so far this season, 11 of them have appeared in every game, and four more have appeared in at least 27 games. What will hurt, though, is that one of those other players who have appeared in at least 27 games is Anders Lee, who was place on long-term injured reserve, retroactive to March 11th, after he was involved in a collision with New Jersey Devil forward Pavel Zacha in the Islanders’ 5-3 win over the Devils last Thursday. Lee is tied for the team lead in goal scoring for the Islanders going into the new week (12, with Brock Nelson). While the offense will be missed, the Islanders are a team that succeeds with suffocating defense and goaltending, their 2.17 goals allowed per game being the league’s best as the new week begins.
New York Rangers (Friday and Saturday/7:00pm)
The New York Rangers are a hard team to figure out. Not surprising given the state of their rebuild. It is a team that has already suffered three losing streaks of at least three games though 26 games played. In an example of their inconsistency, it is a team that can score, posting four or more goals eight times in those 26 games, including twice in two tries against the Caps – a 4-2 win in Washington on February 4th and a 4-1 win in New York on February 20th. On the other hand, the Rangers have two or fewer goals in 12 of 26 games (not including shootout goals) and have been shutout four times. That inconsistency has left the Rangers 20th in the league in scoring offense overall (2.73 goals per game).
The defense has had the same sort of inconsistency. On the good side, the allowed two or fewer goals 12 times, including two shutouts. On the bad side, they have allowed four or more goals nine times (not including shootouts).
New York has had difficulties finishing games strong, at least on offense. Their 22 goals scored in the third periods of games is tied for third-fewest in the league. However, their third period scoring defense has been quite good, allowing only 19 goals in the final frame of games this season, also tied for third-fewest in the league. What they have not done well, though, is win one-goal games with any regularity. Their 3-5-3 record in one-goal games ranks 28th in winning percentage in the league (.273).
Your bizarre fact about the Rangers. They have been involved in six shutouts this season, all of them against Boston (1-2-0) and the New York Islanders (1-2-0).
- Jakub Vrana. With March almost half-way complete, Jakub Vrana is tied for the team lead in goals scored for the month (three) and leads the team in points (six) and even strength points (six). This while posting a plus-2 rating in just 13:32 of ice time per game this month.
- Nick Jensen. Now that the great goalless streak is over, it is time to step back and look at Jensen a bit more broadly. Jensen is tied for fourth in points among all skaters in March (four), is one of six Caps with a multi-goal month (two), and he has a plus-2 rating while averaging 17:31 in ice time per game.
- John Carlson. Carlson continues to build numbers. He has points in eight of 11 games dating back to February 21st, and he is carrying a four-game points streak into the new week. In March, he leads all defensemen in assists (four), points (five), shots on goal (19), and ice time (22:59 per game). He became the first defenseman in Capitals history to record 500 points with the club when he scored a goal in the Caps’ 5-3 win over Philadelphia last Thursday.
- Conor Sheary. After a solid February (3-1-4, plus-4, in 11 games), Conor Sheary has cooled off in March, going 1-0-1, minus-4 (tied for worst on the team), in six games, despite his ice time bumping up from 12:37 per game last month toe 14:49 per game so far this month.
- Lars Eller. Before he was forced out of the lineup with an injury on Saturday against the Flyers, Eller was 1-0-1, minus-1, with a 40.4 percent faceoff winning percentage in five games in March. Perhaps a family situation that necessitated his return to Washington, missing a game last week, influenced his March start.
- Evgeny Kuznetsov. In six games in March, Evgeny Kuznetsov has yet to record a goal, going without one in only nine shots on goal. He does have four assists for the month, but he is without a goal over his last dozen games.
- The game against Buffalo to start the week kicks off a stretch of 12 straight games that the Caps will play against teams from New York state or the New York City metro area.
- Evgeny Kuznetsov leads all active Capitals in career plus-minus rating against Buffalo (plus-13).
- The Caps have the second-best winning percentage in one-goal games against the Islanders in their all-time series (.638/51-19-6), trailing only one other Islander opponent (San Jose: .667/12-3-3).
Potential Milestones to Reach This Week:
- 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).
- 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.
- If Backstrom goes plus-6 for the week at home, he will be the only player in Capitals history with a plus-100 rating on home ice over his Caps career.
- With a game-winning goal at home, Backstrom would become the sixth player in Caps history to record at least 20 game-winning goals on home ice.
- Backstrom needs seven points on home ice to reach 500 points at home in his career, the second player in Caps history to reach that mark (Alex Ovechkin: 666).
- Is two points short of 1,300 for his career. He will be the 35th player in NHL history to reach that mark.
- Ovechkin needs one goal to tie Phil Esposito (717) for sixth place on the NHL all-time list.
- Ovechkin needs two power play goals to tie Brett Hull (265) for second place all-time.
- Needs one power play point to tie Bobby Carpenter (116) for 20th place in team history.
- Kuznetsov needs one assist to pass Kevin Hatcher (277) for 13th place on the Caps’ all-time list.
- Kuznetsov needs two shootout goals to become the third Capital with 20 in his career (Ovechkin: 34; Backstrom: 27).
- Needs two game-winning goals to tie Michal Pivonka (27) for tenth place on the Caps’ all-time list.
- Carlson needs one power play point to pass Sergei Gonchar (185 apiece) for ninth place all-time in Caps history.
- Carlson needs one point at home to pass Calle Johansson for ninth place in points recorded at home in Caps history (257).
- If he dresses for all four games this week, Richard Panik will reach the 500-games played mark in his career.
- His next assist will be his 100th in his NHL career.