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Snapshots of the Week Ahead: Week 8

The Washington Capitals head west in the new week hoping the change of scenery will usher in some more consistent success.

Washington Capitals v Vancouver Canucks

As November ends, and December begins, the Washington Capitals head west for a pair of games in the provinces of western Canada wrapped around a trip to Seattle. These will be the second, third, and fourth games of a season-long six-game road trip, the Caps losing the first game of the trip, 5-1, in New Jersey on Saturday night.

The Opponents

Vancouver Canucks (Tuesday / 10:00 pm (Eastern) at Rogers Arena)

The 2022-23 season started poorly – even disastrous – for the Vancouver Canucks, who went 0-5-2 in their first seven games. Since that awful start, the Canucks are 9-5-1. In doing so, they found their scoring touch, their 4.07 goals per game leading the league in scoring offense since the run began on October 27 and a vast improvement over the 2.57 goals per game they scored (27th in the league) with the 0-5-2 opening to the season. But this being a Bruce Boudreau-coached team, it is a team that does give up chances at the other end. While they have shaved almost a full goal per game off what their defense allowed in those first seven games (4.29 goals per game), they still gave up 3.47 goals per game in the 15-game run on which they find themselves, 21st in the league in scoring defense over that span.

It helped that the Canucks actually won games lately in which they scored first. In their first seven games they took the first lead three times and lost in each instance (0-2-1). In the 15 games since, the Canucks still struggle with early leads, but they have improved, going 7-2-1, their .700 winning percentage when scoring first tied for 14th over that span of games.

The Canucks also turned things around in holding leads late. In their first seven games, they took a lead into the third period three times and lost in each instance (0-1-2), one of only two teams over that period failing to record a win when leading after two periods (Anaheim failed to record a win because they failed to carry a lead into the third period in the seven games they played, the only team in the league failing to do so). Since then, Vancouver has not lost a game in regulation when leading after two periods, but they have a different problem – few instances when leading after 40 minutes. They are 5-0-1 in those instances, but having carried that lead into the last 20 minutes only six times in 15 games is not an indication of late-game dominance.

In those early games, the Canucks struggled mightily trying to kill off penalties, their 57.1 penalty kill ranked last in the league over their 0-5-2 start. The problem was mitigated somewhat by their having to deploy that penalty kill only 3.00 times per game. Only five teams had fewer shorthanded situations per game. Their penalty kill has improved since then but still remains a problem, their 70.0 percent penalty kill over their last 15 games ranking 28th in the league over that span.

This will be the 103rd meeting of the teams in the all-time series, the Caps holding a 50-41-2 (nine ties) record against the Canucks, 21-23-1 (five ties) on the road. This game will end the two-game season series, the Caps beating Vancouver in Washington on October 17, 6-4.

Seattle Kraken (Thursday / 10:00 pm (Eastern) at Climate Pledge Arena)

In an early season with it share of surprise teams, the Seattle Kraken certainly qualify as a “surprise.” After going 27-49-6 in their inaugural season, a record one would think normal for an expansion franchise, not a lot was expected of this team going into its second season, given its 2021-2022 performance:

  • Wins: 27 (tied for 28th in the league)
  • Standings points: 60 (30th)
  • Scoring offense: 2.60 goals/game (28th)
  • Scoring defense: 3.46 goals allowed/game (24th)
  • Power play: 14.6 percent (29th)
  • Penalty kill: 74.9 percent (31st)
  • Winning percentage when scoring first: (.484/15-14-2; 30th)
  • Winning percentage when leading after two periods (.739/17-5-1; 29th)
  • One-goal wins: 11 (T-27th)
  • Three-goal losses: 23 (T-sixth-most)

But what a difference a year makes. Seattle sits in second place in the Pacific Division entering Week 8, and they are on a tear, going 10-1-1 in their last 12 games after a 3-4-2 start to the season. Since October 29, when their run of success started, their .875 points percentage in those 12 games is second in the league, trailing only the streaking New Jersey Devils (.929/13-1-0). And while their scoring offense has been effective (3.75 goals per game over that span/T-6th in the league), it is their scoring defense that has been a bit more impressive (2.25 goals allowed per game/4th in the league).

What the Kraken have not been on their recent run is efficient on special teams. Their 17.7 percent power play over their last 12 games ranks 27th in the league, while their penalty kill of 74.3 percent struggled as well (21st in the league over that span). The problem, such as it is, is compounded by chances, at least on the power play, the 2.83 man advantage opportunities per game, 26th in the league over the period. They have been better holding down shorthanded situations faced, the 3.14 penalty kills per game being tenth-fewest in the league.

One thing the Caps will not want to do is fall behind early on this team. In the 10-1-1 run, Seattle is 7-0-1 when scoring first. But on the other hand, they are 3-1-0 when trailing first. It has not really mattered a great deal. Odd Seattle fact…three of their last four home games have gone to extra time, all of which ended in 3-2 decisions, the Kraken winning two of them.

This will be the third game in the all-time series between the teams and first of two meetings this season. Washington is 1-1-0 against the Kraken, 0-1-0 in Seattle.

Calgary Flames (Saturday / 10:00 pm at Scotiabank Saddledome)

Last season, the Calgary Flames posted the third 50-win season in franchise history, going 50-21-11, the 111 standings points second-most in team history (the 1988-1989 team that won the Stanley Cup went 54-17-0/117 points). This year’s team has far to go to get close to last year’s pace. At 9-9-3 and 21 standings points through 21 games, they lag well behind last year’s club at a similar juncture (12-4-5/29 points). And unlike the Caps’ first two opponents in Week 8, who started slowly and came on of late, the Flames started hot (5-1-0). But starting on October 29, with a 3-2 loss to the arch rival Edmonton Oilers, the Flames stumbled to a 4-8-3 record in their last 15 games, their .367 points percentage being sixth-worst in the league over that span.

Calgary has struggled on both sides of the puck in their 15-game slump, their 2.53 goals per game ranking 26th in scoring offense, and their 3.33 goals allowed per game ranking 19th in scoring defense. Their special teams have been, at best, uneven, the Calgary power play at just 14.0 percent over those games (30th) and their penalty kill at 76.0 percent (18th). The penalty kill has been a head scratcher. Their lack of efficiency aside, the Flames found themselves shorthanded 3.33 times per game, in the middle of the pack over their last 15 games (12th most in the league), but they do have two shorthanded goals, and only the Vegas Golden Knights have more over that period (three).

Of relevance for this game, Calgary’s performance on home ice has been something less than fearsome. First, they have been streaky in wins and losses, winning their first two games on home ice this season before losing and then winning consecutive games once more. But that was followed by a four-game losing streak at the Saddledome (0-3-1) before winning their last two contests at home. Then there is the defense. In 11 home games to date, the Flames allowed four or more goals five times. The Flames will go into this week dead even in goals scored and goals allowed on home ice overall (37 for and 37 against in 11 games).

This will be the 103rd meeting of the Capitals and Flames in the all-time series, Washington with a 43-43-3 (13 ties) record, 15-27-0 (seven ties) in Calgary. This game also ends the two-game season series between the clubs, the Caps winning the previous meeting in Washington, 3-0, last Friday.

Hot Caps:

  • John Carlson. John Carlson leads the Caps in points per game on the road this season (0.78) and is 16th in per-game points among 208 defensemen to play at least five road games this season. Carlson is also tied for first in power play goals among all Caps skaters on the road (two) and leads in power play points (four).
  • Conor Sheary. In 11 road games this season, Sheary has three goals on 14 shots, his 21.4 shooting percentage tops among all Caps logging at least ten shots on goal on the road.
  • Anthony Mantha. Mantha is the only Capital to play in at least ten road games this season without having been charged with a penalty.

Cold Caps:

  • Road Caps. Last season, the Capitals had the best record in the league on the road (25-10-6/56 points) and best points percentage (.683). With 11 road games in the books this season, only three teams have fewer road points than the Caps (2-7-2/six points), and two of them have played fewer games (Ottawa: 2-6-1 in nine games/five points, and Columbus: 1-4-1 in six games/three points).
  • Evgeny Kuznetsov. Ten road games, 31 shots on goal, no goals. He is the only forward in the league with more than 30 shots on goal on the road and no goals to show for it.
  • Aliaksei Protas. The youngster seems to have hit a wall, although it seems early for that sort of thing. He is 1-0-1, minus-2, in his last 14 games overall.

Weird Facts:

  • The Caps are just 1-6-1 when recording at least 24 shots on goal in road games so far this season.
  • Twice this season, the Caps scored two goals in the first period on the road. They lost both games – 3-2 to Toronto on October 13 and 5-2 to Ottawa on October 20.
  • Only three times in 11 road games this season have the Caps scored first. They are 1-2-0 in those games, their only win coming in Nashville, a 3-0 win on October 30.

Potential Milestones to Reach This Week (or soon):

John Carlson

  • 300 career penalty minutes (he currently has 292)
  • First among defensemen in franchise history in power play points (228 (Calle Johansson); he has 222)

Nic Dowd

  • 200 career penalty minutes (194)

Lars Eller

  • 200 career assists (199)
  • 200 points as a Capital (199)
  • 201 points (would tie Jaromir Jagr for 43rd place in franchise history)
  • 202 points (would tie Rod Langway for 42nd place in franchise history)

Erik Gustafsson

  • 100 career penalty minutes (96)

Marcus Johansson

  • 30th place in franchise history in goals scored (110 (Craig Laughlin); he has 110)
  • 26th place in franchise history in goals scored (115 goals; he would pass Dino Ciccarelli (112), Calle Johansson (113), Mike Green (113) and Ryan Walter (114); he currently has 110)
  • 200 assists as a Capital (196)

Darcy Kuemper

  • 300 games started in the NHL (299)

Evgeny Kuznetsov

  • Eighth place in franchise history in assists (359 (Bengt-Ake Gustafsson; he has 356)
  • Seventh place in franchise history in assists (361 (Calle Johansson))
  • 15th place in power play points (157; he would pass Larry Murphy (153) and Alexander Semin (156); currently has 152)

Alex Ovechkin

  • 29 career hat tricks (28, would break three-way tie with Marcel Dionne and Bobby Hull for sixth place all-time)
  • 13th all-time in two-point games (405; he would pass Stan Mikita (403) and Ray Bourque (404); currently with 402)
  • 22nd all-time in power play points (542 (Brian Leetch); he has 539)
  • 22nd all-time in three-point games (128; he would pass Teemu Selanne (126), Jean Beliveau (126), and Denis Savard (127); currently has 126)

Peter Laviolette

  • Seventh all-time in wins by a Caps coach (90; would break tie with Todd Reirden)