We are into Week 14 of the season, and with the year-end/New Year holidays receding in the rear view mirror, we are getting into the long slog leading up to the trading deadline and the last sprint to the end of the regular season.
But fear not, Caps fans, there is reason for anticipation in Week 14, because it’s “Former Caps Coaches Week” ! This week, all three games will see the Caps facing former coaches who had varying degrees of success with the Caps.
Boston Bruins (Monday/7:00pm — Capital One Arena)
The Caps open the week facing the Boston Bruins, led by Bruce Cassidy, who posted a 47-47-7 (nine ties) in 2002-03 and 2003-04 before he was relieved of his duties in favor of Glen Hanlon in December 2003 after losing a third consecutive game that dropped the Caps’ record to open the 2003-04 season to 8-18-1-1. It was a bumpy tenure for his first NHL head coach posting.
It would be more than 12 years until Cassidy got another chance to lead an NHL team, during which he served the apprenticeship he perhaps should have had before being tapped to be an NHL head coach – assistant with the Chicago Blackhawks, head coach of the Kingston Frontenacs in the Ontario Hockey League, assistant coach with the Providence Bruins in the AHL, head coach for Providence, assistant with Boston. Cassidy was hired by the Bruins as the 28th head coach in team history, replacing the fired Claude Julien in February 2017. Since then, Cassidy is 211-93-43 in the regular season with the B’s (his 211 wins the fifth-most in Bruins history), 33-33 in the postseason (33 wins being second on the team’s all-time list), led the Bruins to the Stanley Cup final in 2019, and won the Jack Adams Award as top coach in 2019-20.
The team he leads into Week 14 is struggling to get a firm grip on a playoff spot. They are 18-11-2, fourth in the Atlantic Division, three points ahead of Detroit for the last playoff spot but with four games in hand. This is a team that has had difficulty establishing any sort of winning momentum this season. They have two three-game winning streaks so far (one in October, the other just ended last Thursday with a loss to Minnesota), but have spent a lot of time alternating wins and losses.
The Bruins’ inconsistency is reflected in their team statistics, which are generally mediocre – 17th in scoring offense (2.94goals per game), sixth in scoring defense (2.58 goals allowed per game), 10th in power play efficiency (22.0 percent), 11th on the penalty kill (82.0 percent), 13th in winning percentage when scoring first (12-5-0/.706), 10th when trailing first (6-6-2/.429), tied for ninth in winning percentage in one-goal games (6-2-2/.600). They just haven’t dominated in ways one usually associates with Boston teams that usually excel at both ends of the ice.
What is odd about the Bruins’ scoring offense and scoring defense is another pair of stats. The Bruins rank second in the league in shots on goal per game (35.8) and rank fourth in fewest shots allowed per game (29.3). They rank 26th in team shooting percentage (8.2 percent) and 12th in team save percentage (91.2 percent). It is a club that, despite some high end offensive talent, has underperformed in terms of being an efficient, and ultimately effective, team on offense.
The Caps are 68-74-8 (21 ties) in the all-time series against Boston, 36-33-4 (12 ties) at home. Washington is 5-5-0 against the Bruins in their last ten games overall.
New York Islanders (Saturday/2:00pm – UBS Arena)
Former Caps Coach number two in Week 14 is Barry Trotz. The Islanders head coach has had to deal with personal misfortune recently, but he should be behind the Islanders’ bench for the Saturday matinee matchup. Trotz goes into the new week third on the all-time list of regular seasons games as an NHL head coach (1,758) and third in wins (887). He is fourth on the Caps’ all-time list in regular season games as a head coach (328) and second in wins (205). His .677 points percentage trails only current coach Peter Laviolette (.687) in Caps head coaching history.
Trotz took over as the Isles head coach after laving Washington after leading the Caps to the Stanley Cup in 2018, and he already has established himself as one of the most successful coaches in Islanders history – third on the franchise list in games coached (234), third in wins (125), and first in points percentage (.598).
Trotz might be in the most challenging season in his coaching career. His Islanders started the season with 13 straight road games, over which they went 5-6-2, the worst record in the Metropolitan Division. The finally got to break the seal on their new arena and promptly lost their first seven home games (0-5-2) and found themselves at 6-11-5, the fourth-worst record in the league.
The Islanders are 4-1-1 in their last six games, all four wins at UBS Arena, but the Isles would appear to have dug themselves too deep a hole to challenge for a postseason spot. They enter Week 14 with a 10-12-6 record, last in the Metropolitan Division and 19 points behind Pittsburgh for the last playoff spot. Even with at least four games in hand on each of the seven teams above them in the division, there are too many points to make up and too many teams to leap over to make a credible run at a playoff spot.
Where the Islanders have come up far short of expectations this season is scoring offense. Their 2.29 goals scored per game rank 30th in the league, but if that was not bad enough, that scoring offense is the third-worst by the Isles in 49 seasons of hockey. Only the 2000-2001 team (2.26) and the 1972-1973 team (2.18) – their inaugural season in the NHL – were worse. It is a team that does not get enough shots on goal (28.5 per game/28th in the league) or even shot attempts at 5-on-5 (1,148; fewest in the league) to put enough pressure on opponents.
The Caps are 117-94-6 (13 ties) in the all-time series against the Islanders, 57-53-3 (two ties) on the road. Washington is 7-3-0 overall against the Islanders in their last ten meetings.
Vancouver Canucks (Sunday/2:00pm – Capital One Arena)
Bruce is Back! The Vancouver Canucks enter Week 14 having yet to lose a game under Bruce Boudreau in regulation time (8-0-1). It harkens back to 2007-2008, when Boudreau took over a moribund last in the entire league Caps team – 6-14-1 after a ghastly loss at home to the Atlanta Thrashers – and led them to a 37-17-7 finish and the Southeast Division crown. He did not coach in the most games in Caps history (third with 329 games behind the bench), he did not win the most games (third with 201 wins), he did not have the highest points percentage (third at .672), and he had a sub-.500 record in the playoffs (17-20/.459). But Boudreau might be the most beloved coach in Caps history, as much for his unfiltered personality and ability to connect with players and fans alike. This is not to say that Boudreau is some bumpkin behind the bench. He has 575 career wins as a head coach (22nd all-time) and a career .637 points percentage (18th all-time) and has a knack for jump starting teams with an up-tempo approach. He is closing in on 1,000 game coached in the NHL; when he faces the Caps it will be his 997th career game behind an NHL bench.
Since taking over the Canucks, Boudreau has the best record in the league by winning percentage (8-0-1/.944), and he has done it in a fashion Caps fans might not associate with their former coach. Over those nine games, Vancouver has allowed only 1.56 goals per game, by far the best scoring defense in the league over that span (Carolina: 2.10 goals allowed per game in second place). They have yet to allow more than three goals in a game under Boudreau and have allowed as many as three twice.
Vancouver’s offense has been middle-of-the-road to date under Boudreau (3.00 goals per game, tied for 15th in the league since Boudreau took over), but their power play has been anything but. The Canucks are humming at 33.3 percent under Boudreau, tied for third best in the league over that period. Where the power play has suffered, though, is in lack of opportunity. They averaged 2.33 chances per game in nine games under Boudreau to date, fifth-fewest in the league. Despite the lack of chances and only seven power play goals scored, though, the Canucks have spread the power play points around, nine different skaters recording at least one.
The power play efficiency has not come at the expense of the other side of special teams. In nine games under Boudreau to date, the Canucks have an 89.5 percent penalty kill, fourth-best in the league over that span. And, they have limited opponents’ power play opportunities, averaging only 2.11 shorthanded situations faced per game, tied for second-fewest in the league over this period.
The Caps are 48-40-2 (nine ties) in the all-time series against Vancouver, 28-17-1 (four ties) on home ice. The Caps are 8-1-1 in their last ten games against the Canucks.
- Alex Ovechkin. “Playmaker” is not often an adjective attached to Alex Ovechkin, but he is averaging 2.0 assists per 60 minutes this season, the second time in his career he has topped 2.0 assists/60 minutes (2.3 in 2009-2010).
- Evgeny Kuznetsov. Since December 1, Evgeny Kuznetsov has five goals in ten games, tied for most on the team in that span, with Ovechkin.
- Garnet Hathaway. Since December 1, Garnet Hathaway has distinguished himself in the more obscure statistical categories. He leads the team in credited hits in that span (30), is second in hits per 60 minutes (15.57), fourth in takeaways (six), second in takeaways per 60 minutes (3.11), tied for second in empty net points (two), and it tied for first in net penalties (drawn less taken) at plus-3.
- Power play. Yeah, still. Even with a 1-for-5 effort on Saturday night in Minnesota, the Caps ae 3-for-39 with the man advantage since November 30th, third-worst in the league over that span.
- Tom Wilson. Since December 1… nine games, 1-0-1, minus-5 (tied for worst on team), 47.4 percent on-ice shot-attempts/for (worst on team; minimum: five games).
- Dmitry Orlov. Orlov has been on ice for 14 goals against at even strength in 13 games since December 1 (tied for most on team).
- Carl Hagelin’s last two “goals” have been empty-netters. There was, of course, his shooting a puck into his own net while skating on a delayed penalty situation against Minnesota on Saturday night. He scored an empty net goal against Nashville on December 29. His last goal with a goaltender in net was on December 6 in a 4-3 shootout win over Anaheim, his only other goal this season to date.
- If Boston at least drags their game against the Caps to extra time, they will become the seventh team in history to earn 200 standings points against the Caps (currently 199).
- If the Caps outscore opponents by nine goals this week, their all-time franchise history ledger will have total goals scored (currently 11,568) equal to total goals allowed (currently 11,577).
Potential Milestones to Reach This Week (or soon):
- Needs one shorthanded goal to tie Gaetan Duchesne, Bobby Gould, Steve Konowlachuk, and Tom Wilson (six apiece) for 12th place in team history.
- Needs three points to tie Mike Modano (1,374) for 25th place all-time.
- Needs four even strength goals to tie Marcel Dionne for fourth-place all time (Dionne with 478 ES goals).
- Needs two power play points to tie Adam Oates (513) for 24th place all time.
- Needs two game-winning goals to tie Gordie Howe (121) for second place all-time.
- With one game-deciding goal in a shootout, Ovechkin will tie Kris Letang for tenth place all-time (currently 14).
- With one empty net point, Ovechkin will tie Joe Thornton and Blake Wheeler for fourth all-time (both with 58 empty net points); with three empty net points he would tie Eric Staal (59) for third place.
- With two first goals in games, Ovechkin will tie Brett Hull (131) for second place all time behind Jaromir Jagr (135).
- Needs one point to break a tie with Bengt-Ake Gustafsson for seventh place on the all-time franchise rankings (Gustafsson with 554 points); two points and he will tie Dale Hunter for sixth place.
- Needs two power play goals to tie Dainius Zubrus (35) for 24th place on the all-time Caps list.
- Needs one game-winning goal to tie Michal Pivonka and Evgeny Kuznetsov (27) for tenth place all-time for Washington; two game-winning goals and he will tie Alexander Semin for (28) ninth place; three and he will tie Dale Hunter and Kelly Miller (29) for seventh place.
- With one even strength goal, Carlson would tie Sergei Gonchar for second place among defensemen in Caps history (Gonchar with 90 ESG).
- With one overtime goal, Carlson will hold second place by himself among defensemen on the all-time franchise list (he has two).
- If Orlov goes plus-6 for the week, he would become the fourth player to reach the plus-100 mark for his career with the Caps.
- Orlov’s next goal will be his 50th in the NHL and as a Capital (tenth on the all-time franchise list among defensemen).
- Orlov’s next game-winning goal will be the 14th of his career and would tie him with Scott Stevens and Sylvain Cote on the all-time franchise list among defensemen.
- Needs one game-winning goal to pass Michal Pivonka (both with 27) for tenth place on the Caps’ all-time list and tie Alexander Semin for ninth place (28).
- Needs one overtime goal to tie Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green for second place on the all-time Caps’ list (currently seven).
- Needs five points for 250 in his career.
- Needs two goals to tie Marcus Johansson for 30th in team history (Johansson with 102).
- Needs one empty net goal to tie Peter Bondra for fifth on the all-time franchise list (Bondra with 11).
- Needs one penalty minute for 500 in his career.
- Needs two penalty minutes to reach 200 PIMs as a Capital.
- Needs one empty net goal to tie Peter Bondra for fifth on the all-time franchise list (Bondra with 11).
- His next game will be his 200th as a Capital.
- Needs five penalty minutes for 100 in his career.
- Needs two penalty minutes to reach 100 PIMs as a Capital.