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Snapshots of the Week Ahead: Week 4

It is a four-game week for the Capitals, including their second set of back-to-back games this season.

Los Angeles Kings v Washington Capitals Photo by John McCreary/NHLI via Getty Images

The schedule for the Washington Capitals in Week for revs up a notch with four games on the menu. The Caps wrap up their four-game road trip to open the week, follow it up with the back half of their second back-to-back set of games this season, and then they wrap it up with a pair of games against opponents looking to climb back into competitive status.

The Opponents

Carolina Hurricanes (Monday/7:00 pm at PNC Arena)

The class of last year’s Metropolitan Division host the Capitals in Raleigh, North Carolina, to open the week. The Carolina Hurricanes finished last season with 54 wins and 116 standings points, both third-best in the league, but their playoff hopes were dashed by the New York Rangers in the second round of the postseason.

This season, the Hurricanes are picking up where they left off, going 5-2-1 to open the season, tied with the surprising Philadelphia Flyers for first place in the Metropolitan Division. How have they done it? Part of it is strength of competition. Their five wins so far are over the Columbus Blue Jackets, San Jose Sharks, Seattle Kraken, Vancouver Canucks, and the Flyers. Those five teams have a combined record of 17-25-5 through Saturday’s games, and that includes the Flyers with their surprising 5-2-1 start (Carolina defeated them, 4-3, in overtime on Saturday).

It is not that Carolina’s numbers are not bad, but they are not extraordinary. The Hurricanes rank 13th in scoring offense (3.25 goals per game), but they have been dragged down on the offensive side of the puck with an under-performing power play that ranks 24th in the league (17.2 percent). They have been reasonably effective scoring at 5-on-5, their 20 5-on-5 goals in eight games tied with the Caps and two other teams. That power play bears watching. While their 3.63 power play chances per game is tied for 15th in the league, it is getting almost a full chance more per game in the early going than they had last season (2.83 chances per game) and are the most chances per game they have had on average since 2010-2011, when they averaged 4.22 chances per game.

Carolina’s defense has been a bit more impressive. They are allowing 2.88 goals per game, tied for ninth in the league in scoring defense. But their performance has been uneven. The Hurricanes allowed two or fewer goals four times, all in regulation wins, and they allowed three in two extra time sessions, splitting two decisions. But there are those other two games, contests in which they allowed six goals to the Edmonton Oilers in a 6-4 loss and six goals to the New York Islanders in a 6-2 loss. Their problem, to the extent one exists, has not been at 5-on-5, where the Hurricanes have allowed only 13 goals, fifth-fewest in the league. The penalty kill, though, has been mediocre, ranking 17th in the league. And, it has been deployed with some frequency, facing 3.75 shorthanded situations per game, tied for tenth-most in the league.

This will be the 183rd meeting of these teams in their all-time series, the Caps holding a 103-56-9 (14 ties) advantage and a 48-29-4 (ten ties) record on the road.

Vegas Golden Knights (Tuesday/7:00 at Capital One Arena)

Over their first five seasons in the NHL, the “expansion” Vegas Golden Knights did not play like an “expansion” team. Four times they posted 40 or more wins, including in the 56-game 2020-2021 season in which they went 40-14-2. They have yet to finish a season with a points percentage under .550. Last season, however, they missed the postseason for the first time in franchise history, despite a 43-31-8 record. This season, the Golden Knight appear on their way back to the upper ranks of the Western Conference, their 7-2-0 record being best in the Western Conference by points percentage (.778). They owe their record to date to an uncommonly stingy defense that has allowed just 1.78 goals per game, more than half a goal per game better than the second-stingiest teams (Boston Bruins and Dallas Stars: 2.33). In nine games, Vegas has yet to allow more than three goals, and they have two shutouts on their record.

Their offense has been, if not as dominant as their defense, then effective. The 3.33 goals averaged per game ranks 11th in the league in scoring offense, and it is good enough that Vegas’ goals-per-game differential of 1.55 goals per game is second best in the league (Boston: 1.89).

What Vegas does not do is dominate on special teams. Their 20.7 percent power play is tied for 17th in the league, while their 77.3 percent penalty kill ranks just 20th. Their 98.0 special teams index ranks 20th in the league.

Vegas has been adept at getting out in games quickly. The Golden Knights scored first in seven of nine games to date, tied for most in the league with three other teams. The have 12 first period goals scored, tied for most in the league, also with three other teams, and have allowed only two goals in first periods fewest in the league. They have taken a lead into the first intermission six times in nine games, posting a 5-1-0 record when doing so.

This will be the ninth meeting of the Caps and Golden Knights. Washington is 2-5-1 so far, 2-2-0 on home ice.

Detroit Red Wings (Thursday/7:00 pm at Little Caesars Arena)

The Atlantic Division is full of surprises so far. The dominance of the Boston Bruins (8-1-0), Buffalo getting off to a good start (5-3-0), Tamps Bay (5-4-0) and Toronto (4-4-1) struggling out of the gate. The most surprising team, though, might be the Detroit Red Wings, who are off to a 4-2-2 start and with a 3-1-1 record on home ice. The Wings have had their issues. They have not been in the postseason since 2016, and they have not won a playoff round since 2013, when they beat the Anaheim Ducks in seven games before dropping a seven-game series to the Chicago Blackhawks in the second round. Since the Red Wings’ playoff drought started with the 2016-2017 season, only the expansion Seattle Kraken have a worse regular season record by points percentage (.380/31-53-8) than the Red Wings (.429/167-233-63).

Detroit’s record looks better than the numbers underneath it. They are tied for 15th in scoring offense (3.13 goals per game), tied for 13th in scoring defense (3.00 goal allowed per game), and 21st in power play efficiency (19.4 percent). They have done well in killing penalties, their 84.0 penalty kill ranking seventh in the league. They have only 15 goals scored at 5-on-5, tied for 23rd in the league, but they allowed 15 goals at fives, tied for eighth-fewest in the league.

The Red Wings have struggled when scoring first in game. They have done so five times in eight contests, but they have a record of 2-1-2 in those games. Only four teams have a worse winning percentage when scoring first than Detroit (.400). On the other side, they are 2-1-0 when allowing the first goal, one of only five teams with a winning percentage over .500 when trailing first.

The eight games for the Red Wings have been all or nothing affairs, either one-goal decisions (1-0-2) or blowouts by three or more goals (3-2-0).

The start for Detroit has been promising, but for those who think this year’s Red Wings are the real deal as a playoff challenger, here is a cautionary note. Last year, they also started 4-2-2. They finished 28-38-8 and sixth in the Atlantic Division.

This will be the 124th meeting of the teams in their all-time series. The Caps are 56-45-6 (16 ties), 25-23-4 (11 ties) on the road.

Arizona Coyotes (Saturday/7:00 pm at Capital One Arena)

The Caps end the week against another long-suffering team in the Arizona Coyotes. In 2012 they lost the Western Conference final (as the “Phoenix Coyotes”) in five games to the Los Angeles Kings. Since then, they reached the postseason once, losing in five games in the opening round to the Colorado Avalanche. And in ten-plus seasons since they reached the Western Conference final, they have the third-worst record in the league, by standings points percentage (.457/299-364-92).

The Coyotes have been consistent in their start to the season, although not in a good way. Two losses by three of more goals, followed by a win, followed by two more losses by three or more goals, followed by a win. They lost in their home opener, 3-2 to the Winnipeg Jets in overtime, in their most recent contest, which points to another loss, if the pattern of wins and losses holds.

The defense and goaltending for the Coyotes have been nothing short of ghastly in their first seven games. Four times in their first five game they allowed six goals, making their scoring defense of 4.57 goals allowed per game worst in the league. They allowed 36.3 shots on goal per game, second-most in the league (Anaheim: 37.4).

The odd part of that is that the Coyotes have allowed only 47.1 shot attempts per game at 5-on-5, 11th most in the league. Not good, but not entirely in alignment with the shots on goal they allowed. At even strength, though, they are not getting saves. Of 33 goalies to appear in at least five games so far, Karel Vejmelka has a save percentage of .889, 29th among the members of that group, and only three goalies have allowed more even strength goals than Vejmelka (17 in five games). As it is, Vejmelka and Connor Ingram have combined to stop only 222 of 252 shots overall, a .881 save percentage. It has not helped that Arizona plays loose with the puck. Their 10.70 giveaways per 60 minutes are fifth-most per 60 minutes in the league.

These teams will meet for the 84th time in their all time series on Saturday night. Washington is 37-30-4 (12 ties) and 25-10-2 (five ties) on home ice.

Hot Caps:

  • Aliaksei Protas. In Week 3, Protas tied for the team lead in goals (two), tied for the team lead in points (three), and had a plus-1 rating in just 11:05 in ice time per game.
  • Beck Malenstyn. In his third game this season, Beck Malenstyn scored the first goal in a 3-0 win over the Nashville Predators. It was his second NHL goal and his first career game-winning goal.
  • Darcy Kuemper. There were 39 goalies who appeared in two games last week. Kuemper finished fourth among them in save percentage (.967) and recorded his first shutout as a Capital in the 3-0 win over Nashville on Saturday night.

Cold Caps:

  • Alex Ovechkin. Alex Ovechkin is in what for him is a goal scoring slump. He has one even strength goal against a goaltender this season, and that was the last goal in a 6-3 win over Vancouver on October 17th. His second even strength goal of the season came in the Caps’ most recent outing, the 3-0 win over Nashville on Saturday into an empty net, giving him two even strength goals in nine games. Through nine games last season, Ovechkin had six even strength goals.
  • Evgeny Kuznetsov. It was a rough week for Kuznetsov, who went without a point in three games and had a minus-1 rating. He is still looking for his first goal of the season. And, of 77 players to take 100 faceoffs to date, Kuznetsov ranks 75th in winning percentage (39.0).
  • The defensemen not named “Jensen.” Nick Jensen went 1-2-3, plus-3, for the week, scoring the only goal by a defenseman. The other five defensemen went a combined 0-2-2, plus-4.

Weird Facts:

  • The Capitals have killed off the last 13 shorthanded situations they faced over four games after going just 9-for-14 (64.3 percent) over their first five games.
  • Of the four opponents this week, only Arizona has a defenseman with at least one power play goal. Shayne Gostisbehere has two for the Coyotes. Carolina, Vegas, and Detroit are still looking for a power play goal from a defenseman.
  • All four of Arizona’s losses on the road have been by three or more goals.

Potential Milestones to Reach This Week (or soon):

John Carlson

  • 600 career points (he currently has 599)
  • 300 career penalty minutes (292)

Lars Eller

  • 200 career assists (198)
  • 200 points as a Capital (197)

Nick Jensen

  • 100 career points (97)

Charlie Lindgren

  • 1000 career shots faced (969)

T.J. Oshie

  • 100 even strength goals as a Capital (99)

Alex Ovechkin

  • 122 career game-winning goals (121, would break tie for second place all-time with Gordie Howe)
  • 29 career hat tricks (28, would break three-way tie with Marcel Dionne and Bobby Hull for sixth place all-time)
  • 400 career multi-point games (398)
  • 399 career multi-point games (398, would tie Mark Recchi for 15th place all-time)
  • 786 goals with one franchise (784, would tie Gordie Howe for most all time)
  • 50 career empty net goals (49)

Conor Sheary

  • 100 career penalty minutes (98)