If Week 13 had a tag line, it might be “Rough and Buf.” The Caps have four games on the schedule, three against playoff eligible teams, and one against the struggling Sabres. Given the Caps 2-2-0 record in Week 12 and their up and down (mostly down) defense, there is no telling what Week 13 holds in store.
New York Islanders (Tuesday/7:00 pm at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum)
Back to the scene of the crime, so to speak. Last Thursday, the worst loss of the season. First time the Caps allowed eight of more goals in a game since January 19, 2019 in an 8-5 loss in Chicago to the Blackhawks. A hat trick for Mathew Barzal. Second four-goal loss of the season. First loss of the season to the Islanders.
It is not as if the Islanders have been burning down houses with their fiery play. Yes, they are 13-4-0 since March 1st, tied with the Caps for the second-best points percentage in the league, but even with their demolition of the Caps on April Fool’s Day, they are 5-4-0 in their last eight games, only two of the wins in regulation.
You really just have to wonder how the Islanders have been as successful as they are this season. They don’t have an intimidating offense (3.00 goals per game/tied for 13th in the league), their power play lacks power (19.2 percent/20th), their penalty kill is middle-of-the-pack (80.2 percent/tied for 13th), they don’t pummel goalies with shots (29.2 per game/23rd), they are not especially tight with the puck (7.30 giveaways per 60 minutes/15th), pilfering pucks is not their game (4.71 takeaways per 60 minutes/25th). They do not have a goal scorer ranked in the top-40 (Jordan Eberle, Brock Nelson, and Mathew Barzal: 13 each/tied for 41st), they have one point producer in the top-25 (Barzal: 34/tied for 24th).
They do it with structure, balance, and defense. Fifteen skaters have double digits in points, six have more than 20. Eighteen of 25 skaters to dress for the Isles this season have positive plus-minus ratings. They struggle a bit on shot-attempts percentage at 5-on-5 (49.2 percent/15th in the league), but they lock down thing when they are ahead, one of only seven teams with a positive SAT differential when leading games. And, they do not put themselves in poor situations often, manpower-wise, averaging only 2.53 shorthanded situations faced per game, tied for second-fewest with the Winnipeg Jets. This is a difficult team to get off their game with a scheme that is difficult to pierce.
Boston Bruins (Thursday/7:00 pm at Capital One Arena and Sunday/7:00 pm at TD Garden)
The Caps get a brief respite at home before heading out on the road again to finish the week (incluldng a rematch in Boston) when they host the Boston Bruins at Capital One Arena. The Bruins head into the new week a struggling team. After a 10-1-2 start to the season, they are just 9-9-3 over their last 21 games. By points percentage, that record (.500) is tied for 20th since February 13th. That lackluster record has Boston hanging on to a four-point lead over the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers for the fourth and final playoff spot in the East Division.
The Bruins have struggled on the road in that 21-game stretch, going 3-4-1, ranked 24th in points percentage over that span. The struggle is not a mystery. Since February 13th, when they started on that 3-4-1 road run, they rank 26th in scoring offense (2.25 goals per game), 22nd in scoring defense (3.13 goals allowed per game), 13th in power play efficiency (21.7 percent) but only 29th in net power play efficiency (8.7 percent, accounting for shorthanded goals scored against), and 30th in shooting percentage (6.4 percent). They have done well in shot-attempts for percentage at 5-on-5 (52.4 percent/5th in the league), but they have not translated that into results on the road. Boston has shown signs of emerging from their road lethargy of late, especially on the defensive side of the puck. They allowed two or fewer goals in four of their last five road contests, holding three opponents to a single goal.
Boston has not been much better at home over their 9-9-3 overall run since February 13th, although they have had the opportunity to play more games at TD Center. Their 6-5-2 home record over that span ranks 18th in the league. The same problems on offense have plagued them – 16th in home scoring offense (2.85 goals per game), 21st in power play efficiency (18.0 percent), 23rd in net power play efficiency (12.8 percent), 18th in shooting percentage (9.1 percent).
The Bruins have been stingier on defense at home over this stretch, averaging 2.54 goals allowed per game on home ice (11th in the league). They also have the third-best penalty kill over this span (92.3 percent) and the second-best net penalty kill (94.9 percent). They have had opportunities to flash their penalty killing skills, though, the 3.00 shorthanded situations faced per game tied for eighth-most in the league on home ice.
Buffalo Sabres (Friday/7:00pm at Key Bank Center)
Break up the Sabres! Since they suffered an 18-game winless streak (0-15-3), the Sabres are 2-0-1 going into the new week. It has done nothing to help the Sabres out of the cellar in the league standings (seven points behind the Anaheim Ducks), but progress comes in increments.
They might have better days ahead, but this Sabres team just is not very good. They lurk at or near the bottom of just about every major statistical category this season: 31st in wins (eight), 31st in points percentage (.297), 31st in scoring offense (2.14 goals per game), 29th in scoring defense (3.41 goals allowed per game), 27th in shots per game (27.9), 28th in shots allowed per game (32.2), 31st in winning percentage when scoring first (5-4-4/.385), tied for 27th in winning percentage when trailing first (3-19-2/.125), 29th in power play chances per game (2.46), tied for last in wins when outshooting opponents (three), most losses when outshot by opponents (16).
There has been a spark on home ice for the Sabres of late, though. They went 0-9-2 in the home portion of their 18-game winless streak and averaged only 1.18 goals scored per game, getting shut out five times (once by the Caps). In the same span of home games, the Sabres allowed 3.91 goals per game and suffered seven losses by three or more goals. Since then, though, the Sabres are 2-0-1 on home ice and have out-scored opponents, 10-6 (not including a game-winning shootout goal).
- T.J. Oshie. Even with being held without a point against New Jersey on Friday night, T.J. Oshie is 4-3-7, plus-3 over his last six games.
- Evgeny Kuznetsov. Since a four-game streak without a point to end February and start March, Evgeny Kuznetsov is 5-9-14, plus-8, in his last 14 games, with three game-winning goals.
- Alex Ovechkin. In his last 13 games, Alex Ovechkin is 11-5-16, plus-9, with three game-winning goals.
- Nick Jensen. It might be more reverting to norm, but since Nick Jensen posted consecutive two-point games in mid-March, he is 0-0-0, even, in his last ten games.
- Nic Dowd. Among Caps dressing for more than two games since March 1st, Nic Dowd is the only one with no assists. He does, however, have four goals in 16 games since March 1st.
- Justin Schultz. In 16 games since March 1st, Justin Schultz has no goals on 19 shots.
- The Caps have nine goals in four games against Boston this season. All from nine different players, among them the infrequent goal scorers Richard Panik and Trevor van Riemsdyk.
- John Carlson leads the team in goals (four), points (seven), and shots on goal (12) against the Islanders this season.
- Back to Carlson… he is the only Capital having played more than two games against the Sabres this season with a minus rating (minus-1 in six games).
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).
- With one game-winning goal this week, Backstrom would have 20 career game-winning goals on the road.
- With four blocked shots, Backstrom would reach the 600 mark in his career. He already occupies the top spot on the all-time franchise list among forwards.
- 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.
- Ovechkin needs one power play goal to pass Brett Hull (265) for second place all-time.
- Ovechkin needs two game-winning goals overall to tie Phil Esposito for third place all-time in game-winners (118).
- With six goals, Ovechkin would tie Marcel Dionne for fifth-place on the all-time goal scoring list.
- With one game winning goal this week, Ovechkin would tie Patrick Marleau (51) for sixth-place all time in game winning goals scored on the road. Two, and he would tie Brett Hull (52) for fifth place on that list. Three, and he would tie Brendan Shanahan (53) for fourth place. And if he runs the table and gets four, he would tie Gordie Howe (54) for third place.
- Needs one power play point to pass Bobby Carpenter (116) for 20th place in team history.
- Kuznetsov needs two shootout goals to become the third Capital with 20 in his career (Ovechkin: 34; Backstrom: 27).
- With one game-winning goal, Kuznetsov would tie Brooks Laich and Kevin Hatcher (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.
- Needs two game-winning goals to tie Michal Pivonka (27) for tenth place on the Caps’ all-time list.
- Carlson needs four power play points to tie Dale Hunter (191) for eighth place all-time in Caps history.
- With five assists, Carlson would become the fourth player in Caps history to reach the 400-assist mark for his career.
- With one game-winning goal, Chara would tie Larry Murphy, Mathieu Schneider, and Dustin Byfuglien for 12th place (36) on the all-time list among defensemen. With two, he would tie Kevin Hatcher for 11th place (37).
- With 17 penalty minutes, Chara would become the 18th defenseman in NHL history with 2,000 penalty minutes.
- Hagelin needs three even strength goals to reach 100 in that category for his career.
- With six points, Oshie would reach the 600-point mark for his career.
- Oshie needs one goals to reach the 250-goal mark for his career.