It is all about seeding now. As the Washington Capitals enter Week 16, the top-four teams in the East Division have separated themselves from the rest of the division by a sufficient margin where we can start thinking seeding among the top four. And Week 16 is all about that subject for the Caps, who have a three-game work week against the two teams with which they are fighting for the top spot in the East.
New York Islanders (Tuesday/7:00pm at Capital One Arena)
The 8-4 win that the New York Islanders reminds one of the old adage, “don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” Or at least don’t score all your goals in one game. Since that licking the Isles put on the Caps on April 1st, the Islanders are 6-4-1 (3-4-1 in their last eight games), but they have had little help from their offense in assembling that record. They have only 21 goals in 11 games since then (1.91 per game) and have been shutout twice while posting a single goal in four other games. Almost a third of their goals in that stretch were scored in a 6-1 win over the New York Rangers last Tuesday.
Three of those last 11 games were played against the Caps, the teams trading 1-0 shutouts (the Caps’ win coming in a shootout) before the Caps doubled up on the Islanders, 6-3, on Saturday night.
The two losses at home to the Caps in the three-game set that started in Week 15 still left the Islanders with the most points earned on home ice this season (41), but their road record is less than impressive. At 10-11-2 to enter the new week, they are tied for 21st in points earned on the road, and their .478 points percentage ranks 19th. Their problem on road is that they cannot score, ranking 30th of 31 teams in scoring offense in road games (1.96 goals per game). Their power play also ranks 30th on the road this season (11.4 percent). New York has scored only three goals in their last four road games heading into the new week and have not won a game on the road in regulation since beating the New Jersey Devils, 3-2, on March 13 (4-5-0 since then, all the wins in extra time).
Pittsburgh Penguins (Thursday and Saturday/ 7:00pm at Capital One Arena)
After the Caps put a bow on their three-game set against the Islanders to start the week, the Caps end it with a pair of games against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Capital One Arena. These games will end the eight-game season series between the bitter rivals, the Caps hoping to improve on their 2-1-3 record against the Pens so far this season and recapture the top spot in the East Division that the Pens now occupy as the new week begins. The Caps have won two of the last three games (2-0-1), outscoring the Pens by a 10-6 margin, but have not faced the Pens since putting a 5-2 spanking on them in late February.
One could say that that game was a pivot point for the Penguins. After that loss, the Pens had a 10-7-1 record, tied for 14th in the league in points (21) and tied for 15th in points percentage (.583). Their rankings in most other statistical categories were similarly dismal, by Penguin standards – 17th in goals per game (2.94), tied for 27th in goals allowed per game (3.33), 25th in power play efficiency (15.1 percent), 25th in penalty killing (74.6 percent), 22nd in shots per game (29.6), ninth in shots allowed per game (29.0), and seventh in shot attempts-for at 5-on-5 (52.0 percent).
But since that loss to the Caps on February 25, the Penguins have a 22-7-2 record and have climbed the statistical charts. Over that span they are tied for the third-best record in the league by points (46), are fourth in points percentage (.742), third in goals per game (3.65), fifth in goals allowed per game (2.39), third on the power play (28.4 percent), 17th in penalty killing (79.6 percent), 13th in shots per game (30.3), 17th in shots allowed per game (30.2), and 13th in shot attempts-for at 5-on-5 (50.1 percent). Theirs is the best record of any team east of the Mississippi River (including all North Division teams as well) over that span of games, despite dressing 29 skaters and missing star center Evgeni Malkin since March 16.
The flip side of that, though, is that over those 31 games, 22 were played against teams now out of the playoff mix in the East, against whom they compiled a 16-4-2 record – Buffalo (5-1-0), New Jersey (6-1-1), the New York Rangers (3-1-0), and the Philadelphia Flyers (2-1-1). Against the playoff-eligibles over that span, the Pens are 6-3-0 – Boston (3-2-0), the Islanders (3-1-0).
- Evgeny Kuznetsov: Kuznetsov is 7-15-22, plus-9, over his last 24 games, second in total points on the club since March 9 (Alex Ovechkin: 24).
- T.J. Oshie: After posting only two goals in his first 15 games this season, T.J. Oshie has 15 goals in his last 32 games, a 38-goal pace over 82 games.
- Ilya Samsonov: Over his last four appearances, Ilya Samsonov is 4-0-0, 1.72, .933, with one shutout.
- Nic Dowd. He is having what could be a career year in scoring, but while Dowd is 8-0-8, plus-5, in 26 road games (third on the team in road goals scored), he is only 1-2-3, minus-2, in 22 home games.
- Alex Ovechkin. “Cold” is a relative term here. When Ovechkin went two consecutive games without a point before sitting out Saturday’s game against the Islanders, it was his first instance of consecutive games without a point since March 3-5. In the 22 intervening games he was 17-8-25.
- Vitek Vanecek. It has been an up-and-down two months for Vanecek, and at the moment he is in a down cycle – 0-2-0, 5.85, .813 in his last two appearances.
- If history is a guide, the Caps will win a one-goal decision on Tuesday night against the Islanders. Since the 2004-05 lockout, the Caps are 2-3 in two-goal decisions on home ice against New York, 6-5 in three-goal decisions. But they are 11-3-3 in one-goal decisions.
- The Caps and Penguins have not lacked for offense in recent meetings. In their last 23 matchups dating back to March 2016, 12 ended with one or the other team scoring five or more goals, and on two occasions both teams did, both extra time wins for the Penguins (7-6 on October 4, 2018, and 8-7 on January 16, 2017).
- T.J. Oshie has 14 goals against Pittsburgh as a Capital, four of them being game-winners. If he gets a game-winner against the Pens this week, he will tie Mike Gartner for the top spot in franchise history in game-winning goals against Pittsburgh (five).
Potential Milestones to Reach This Week (or soon):
- 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).
- With two empty net goals, Backstrom would tie Mike Ridley (16) for second place on the Caps’ all-time list.
- With three empty net points, Backstrom would hit the 50-empty net point mark in his career.
- With six power play points, Backstrom will reach the 400 power play point mark in his career. He would become the sixth active player in the NHL to reach that mark.
- Ovechkin needs one power play point to reach 500 power play points for his career. He would be the second active player to reach that mark (Joe Thornton: 544 power play points).
- Ovechkin needs five power play goals to tie Dave Andreychuk for the all-time lead in power play goals (274).
- Ovechkin needs two game-winning goals overall to tie Phil Esposito for third place all-time in game-winners (118).
- With one goal, Ovechkin would tie Marcel Dionne for fifth-place on the all-time goal scoring list.
- With one game-winning goal on home ice this week, Ovechkin would tie Gordie Howe for third place all-time in game-winning goals scored on home ice (67).
- Kuznetsov needs one shootout goal to become the third Capital with 20 in his career (Ovechkin: 34; Backstrom: 27).
- With one game-winning goal, Kuznetsov would break a tie with Brooks Laich and Kevin Hatcher (all with 24) for 12th place on the Caps’ all-time list.
- Kuznetsov needs only one overtime goal to tie Backstrom and Mike Green for second place all-time on the Caps’ list.
- Kuznetsov needs five even strength points to become the 11th player in team history to reach 300 even strength points for the Caps.
- 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 break a tie with Bengt-Ake Gustafsson for seventh place in franchise history (192 apiece) and two to tie Michal Pivonka for sixth place on that list.
- Carlson needs one power play goal to tie Larry Murphy (31) for sixth place among defensemen in franchise history.
- With one game-winning goal, Chara would tie Larry Murphy, Mathieu Schneider, and Dustin Byfuglien for 12th (36) on the all-time list among defensemen. With two, he would tie Kevin Hatcher for 11th (37).
- With 17 penalty minutes, Chara would become the 18th defenseman in NHL history with 2,000 penalty minutes.
- Hagelin needs two even strength goals to reach 100 in that category for his career.
- Oshie needs five points to reach 300 points as a Capital. He would be the 26th player in franchise history to reach that total.
- Oshie needs one power play goal to tie Bobby Carpenter (54) for 11th place in team history. Two, and he will tie Alexander Semin and Dennis Maruk (55 apiece) for ninth place. Three, and he will tie Michal Pivonka (56) for eighth place.
- With one goal, Mantha will have 100 goals for his career.
- With 12 penalty minutes, Mantha will have 200 PIMs for his career.
- Orlov needs five points to reach 200 points for his career. He would be the tenth defenseman to reach that mark as a Capital.
- Dowd’s next game will be the 300th of his NHL career.