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Snapshots of the Week Ahead: Week 16

It is a short work week for the Caps — two games — but it won’t lack for star power in the back-to-back games in mid-week.

NHL: Washington Capitals at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Capitals head into Week 17 with a lighter than usual work schedule, playing back-to-back games on Tuesday and Wednesday before the All-Star Game break. Goals might be aplenty this week as the Caps face two of the more dynamic offenses in the league on paper, although one is at the top of its game, while the other is struggling.

The Opponents

Pittsburgh Penguins (Tuesday/7:00pm – PPG Paints Arena)

On December 1st, the Pittsburgh Penguins dropped a 5-2 decision to the Edmonton Oilers and fell to a record of 10-8-5 record, their .543 points percentage ranking 22nd in the league. Since then, however, their record is 17-3-2, second-best in the league by points percentage (.818) since December 2nd. The before and after in the Penguins’ record has been dramatic. Scoring offense is up from 2.78 goals per game in that first 23-game stretch (21st in the league) to 3.86 goals per game (fifth in the league) since December 2nd. Scoring defense down from 2.70 goals allowed per game (ninth) to 2.41 (third). Power play is up from 13.6 percent (27th) to 27.7 percent (fourth). Five-on-five shooting percentage up from 7.2 percent (22nd) to 9.6 percent (eighth). Special teams index (power play plus penalty kill percentages) up from 99.8 (20th) to 102.1 (sixth). Five-on-five goals scored up from 46 in 23 games (ninth) to 56 goals in 22 games (third). Five-on-five goals against reduced from 41 in 23 games (17th) to 39 in 22 games (eighth).

The Penguins have been a formidable team on home ice. After a sluggish 2-3-1 start at PPG Paints Arena this season, they are 11-3-3 in their last 17 games at home. And, their offense on home ice has picked up of late. In their last ten games at home, they scored five or more goals five times. They have been held to six goals over their last three home games, so a drought might be settling in.

If there is an area that bears watching, it will be in the special teams opportunities the teams have. In their most recent 11-3-3 run on home ice, the Penguins have enjoyed 3.29 power play chances per game, fifth most in the league in that span. On the other side, they have suffered only 2.47 shorthanded situations per game, tenth fewest in the league over the same span. That plus-0.82 differential in special teams opportunities on home ice over that span is the fifth-highest in the league.

Washington is 103-105-14 (16 ties) in the all-time series against the Penguins, 43-59-7 (seven ties) on the road. The Caps are 3-3-4 in their last ten games against Pittsburgh overall.

Edmonton Oilers (Wednesday/7:00pm – Capital One Arena)

The Edmonton Oilers have two of the top four point-getters in the NHL (Leon Draisaitl (61/second) and Connor McDavid (58/T-third)). Draisaitl and McDavid rank first and second in points per game (minimum: 20 games). Yet the Oilers rank 16th in points percentage in the league (22-16-2/.575), and it took a four-game winning streak they are on at the moment to get to that high a ranking. What gives? Why is this team struggling to contend for a playoff spot, currently sixth in the Pacific Division and two points behind the Calgary Flames for fourth place?

First, despite having two of the most prolific scorers in recent years, the Oilers rank just tenth in scoring offense (3.30 goals per game). Draisaitl and McDavid account for 52 of the team’s 132 goals to date (39.4 percent). It is a top-heavy scoring team. And at the other end of the rink, the Oilers cannot seem to stop others from scoring, their 3.30 goals against per game ranking 22nd in the league in scoring defense.

The Oilers happen to have a dominant power play (28.6 percent/second in the league), but their 2.80 power play chances per game (tied for 23rd in the league) do not appear to maximize the advantages their power play can provide despite ranking fourth in the league in power play goals per game (0.80). Further, their 84 goals at 5-on-5 are tied for 15th in the league, a neighborhood that includes Detroit and Calgary, ranked 23rd and 12th, respectively in overall scoring offense, not the most dynamic of offenses.

What makes it worse for the Oilers is that they have allowed 91 goals at 5-on-5 (a minus-7 goal differential) and have one of the poorer power plays in the league at 77.3 percent, 20th in the league. Some point to weak goaltending as a cause for the lackluster scoring defense, but it remains that this team has to outscore its opponents to win games, not hold them to low goal production.

Washington is 39-30-2 (six ties) in their all-time series with Edmonton, 25-10-1 (two ties) at home. The Caps are 6-2-2 in their last ten meetings with the Oilers overall.

Hot Caps:

  • Evgeny Kuznetsov. Kuznetsov leads the Caps in total points (10) and power play points (five) in January.
  • Vitek Vanecek. Among 41 goalies logging at least 250 minutes in January, Vanecek ranks sixth in goals against average (2.00) and seventh in save percentage (.929).
  • Nicklas Backstrom. Backstrom is the only Capital having played more than one game in January and averaging a point per game (3-6-9 in nine games).

Cold Caps:

  • Alex Ovechkin. Although he leads the league in even strength goals (21) and even strength points (44), he has only four even strength goals in January (tied for 37th) and six even strength points (tied for 91st).
  • Carl Hagelin. Hagelin is 0-0-0, minus-4, in ten games in January. He is on an 11-game pointless streak, registering neither a goal nor an assist since he had one of each in the Caps’ 5-3 win over Nashville on December 29th. His goal in that game was an empty-netter. His last – and only – goal against a goalie this season was in a 4-3 win over Anaheim on December 6th.
  • Ilya Samsonov. In January, Samsonov is 0-3-1, 3.84, .876.

Weird Facts:

  • Since 2005-2006, the Caps have scored 15 shorthanded goals against the Penguins, by far the most against any opponent in that span (New Jersey: 9).
  • The Edmonton Oilers, among current teams, have the top scoring offense of all time – 3.31 goals per game over 3,275 games played.
  • Since 2009-2010 (when the league began collecting such statistics), the Caps have more 5-on-5 goals than any other team (1,979, two more than Pittsburgh).

Potential Milestones to Reach This Week (or soon):

Alex Ovechkin

  • Needs one shorthanded goal to tie Gaetan Duchesne, Bobby Gould, Steve Konowlachuk, and Tom Wilson (six apiece) for 12th place in team history.
  • Needs seven goals to tie Jaromir Jagr (766) for third place all time.
  • Needs one even strength goal to break a tie with Marcel Dionne for fourth-place all time (both with 478 ES goals).
  • Needs one power play point 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 break a tie with Joe Thornton and Blake Wheeler for fourth all-time (both with 58 empty net points); and he will tie Eric Staal (59) for third place.
  • With one first goal in games, Ovechkin will tie Brett Hull (131) for second place all time behind Jaromir Jagr (135).
  • With one multi-point game, Ovechkin will tie Joe Thornton for 20th place in all-time multi-point games (Thornton with 391).
  • Ovechkin needs three multi-goal games to tie Brett Hull for second place all-time (Hull with 158).
  • Ovechkin’s next hat trick will be the 29th of his career, breaking a tie with Brett Hull and Marcel Dionne for sixth place all-time.

Nicklas Backstrom

  • Backstrom needs eight points to reach 1,000 for his career.
  • With five penalty minutes, he would tie Kevin Kaminski (483) for 26th place in franchise history.
  • With one first goal of a game, Backstrom would break a tie with Mike Gartner (46 apiece) for third place in franchise history.
  • With two empty net goals, he would tie Mike Ridley (16) for second place in team history.
  • With two empty net points, Backstrom would reach the 50 empty net point mark in his career.

John Carlson

  • Needs one point to tie Dale Hunter for sixth place on the all-time franchise rankings (Hunter with 556 points).
  • Needs one 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 Carlson goes plus-2 for the week, he will be plus-100 for his career.

Dmitry Orlov

  • 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.

Evgeny Kuznetsov

  • 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 Mike Green for third place on the all-time Caps’ list (currently seven).
  • With two power play assists, Kuznetsov will hit the 100-assist mark on power plays in his career.

Tom Wilson

  • Needs one empty net goal to tie Peter Bondra for fifth on the all-time franchise list (Bondra with 11).

Lars Eller

  • Needs one penalty minute for 500 in his career.
  • Needs two penalty minutes to reach 200 PIMs as a Capital.

T.J. Oshie

  • Needs one empty net goal to tie Peter Bondra for fifth on the all-time franchise list (Bondra with 11).

Nick Jensen

  • Needs five penalty minutes for 100 in his career.