The Washington Capitals come off their worst week of the season to date, record-wise, and step into a four-game buzz saw on the schedule, facing the best player in the game, their most bitter rival, and then finishing with a home-and-home set against a team that has been in the Stanley Cup final in each of the last three seasons.
Edmonton Oilers (Monday/8:00 pm at Capital One Arena)
Eighty-two goals, 171 points. No, that is not a Wayne Gretzky season from the 1980’s with the Edmonton Oilers. While the team is the same, the player is Connor McDavid, and that is the scoring pace he is on through 12 games this season. But while he is the best and most fearsome offensive player in the game, he is not the only weapon at the disposal of the Oilers.
The Oilers are a team that scores goals. Lots of them. Their 3.83 goals per game to date is tied for third in scoring offense in the league. They are averaging even more on the road (4.00 per game, tied for fourth road scoring offense). Only Boston has more games with five or more goals scored (seven to the Oiler’s five).
What makes the Oilers an especially lethal offensive team is a power play that converted 31.9 percent of their chances, second only to the Colorado Avalanche (38.2 percent). And, they are averaging 3.92 power play chances per game, tied for fourth-most in the league. But it is also a team that can struggle to get its offense in gear. With 11 first period goals, the Oilers are tied for 13th in first period goals scored. It has put them in difficult situations, having to dig themselves out of early holes. The Oilers have led after two periods only four times in 12 games.
However, the Oilers enter the new week 7-5-0 for a reason. Seven times in 12 games they allowed four or more goals, losing four of them. Their 3.50 goals allowed per game rank 24th in the league in scoring defense. Despite their gaudy offense, they have only two wins by three or more goals. Only four teams in the league have allowed more shots on goal than the Oilers (34.8 per game).
This will be the 80th regular season meeting of these teams, the Caps holding a 39-31-3 (six ties) advantage, 25-11-1 (two ties) on home ice.
Pittsburgh Penguins (Wednesday/7:30 at Capital One Arena)
From the frying pan into the fire. While this year’s version of the Pittsburgh Penguins is not having the start to the season fans of the dumpy skating penguin would like, it nevertheless is a team that should never be taken lightly, especially by the Capitals. The Penguins go into the new week in an irritable state of mind, losers of seven straight (0-6-1), their longest losing streak since losing seven in a row, January 26 – February 8, 2006 (0-5-2). The last time they had a longer losing streak was shortly before that seven-gamer, a ten-game losing streak from January 6 – January 23 (0-10-0). Oddly enough, the only win that came between those streaks was against the Caps, an 8-1 pasting on January 25, 2006.
It is hardly a secret why it is that the Penguins are dragging a seven-game losing streak into the new week. They cannot score, for one thing. Their 2.29 goals per game over the streak is tied for 27th in the league…with the Caps (these teams are always welded together at the hip, it seems) and the New York Rangers. Part of the problem has been a weak power play (15.4 percent) that is 26th in the league since October 24th, when their losing streak began. The inefficiency on the power play has wasted a decent effort in drawing penalties and getting power play chances, their 3.71 man advantages per game being ninth-most over their streak.
The Pens cannot keep anyone from scoring, either, their 4.71 goals allowed per game being tied for the 29th-ranked scoring defense over the streak. One problem has been allowing shots on goal. They are tied with Edmonton for allowing the fifth-highest number of shots per game this season (34.8). It is their highest average shots allowed in the Sidney Crosby era, topping the 33.3 shots allowed in 2018-2019. A related problem has been the penalty kill, which has been uncharacteristically poor. Coming into this season, the 87.8 percent penalty kill they compiled since Crosby arrived in the league ranked seventh among all NHL teams. But this year’s edition of the penalty kill is at 73.2 percent, 27th in the league and the worst, again, since Crosby entered the league in 2005-2006.
Another piece of evidence that these teams seem welded together. This will be the 241st meeting between them, the Caps’ record is 105-105-14 (16 ties) overall. The Caps are 60-46-7 (nine ties) on home ice against the Pens.
Tampa Bay Lightning (Friday/7:00 pm at Capital One Arena – Sunday/7:00 pm at Amalie Arena)
If three straight trips to the Stanley Cup finals is the kind of thing that wears a team down with so many games played and off-seasons that might seem to get shorter with each passing trip to the Finals, that realization has not yet made its way to the Gulf coast of Florida. The Lightning are second in the Atlantic Division going into the new week with a 7-4-1 record, a 103-point pace over 82 games.
After starting the season sluggishly with a 1-3-1 record, the Lightning have regained their footing, going 6-1-1 over their last eight games going into the new week. They have regained their scoring touch, their 3.75 goals per game over that eight-game stretch tied for sixth in the league in scoring offense. Although their scoring defense has not quite kept pace (2.88 goals allowed per game/14th in the league over that stretch), their plus-0.87 goal differential per game still ranks eighth in the league over those eight games.
The Lightning have done damage on offense over their 6-1-1 run at 5-on-5, the 20 goals scored at full and even strength tied for fifth since October 21st, when their eight-game run began. However, they almost gave that advantage away over the stretch, allowing 17 goals at fives, 11th-most in the league.
Despite their 6-1-1 record over their last eight games, Tampa Bay has struggled some on the offensive side of special teams. Their 20.6 percent power play ranks 20th in the league over that span, even though they have had 4.25 chances with the man advantage per game, most over those eight games. They also allowed two shorthanded goals; only Anaheim allowed more over the same stretch (three). Where they have not struggled is in penalty killing, their 86.2 percent kill rate ranking fourth in the league over their last eight games. A good thing for them, too, since their 3.63 shorthanded situations faced per game over that span ranks in the top half of the league (ninth).
This will be the 135th regular season meeting of the teams in their all-time series. The Caps are 83-34-11 (six ties), 46-12-six (four ties) on home ice and 37-22-5 (two ties) on the road.
- Alex Ovechkin. Ovechkin is on a five-game points streak (4-1-5), although the Caps have lost four of those games. He has points in six of his last seven games (5-1-6), over which the Caps are 2-3-2.
- Dylan Strome. In six home games so far, Strome is 1-5-6, second in points on home ice on the club (Ovechkin: 3-4-7).
- Evgeny Kuznetsov. In six home games, Kuznetsov is tied for the team lead in assists (five), and his plus-2 rating is second among all Capitals on home ice so far (Marcus Johansson: plus-3).
- Aliaksei Protas. After six home games to date, Protas is looking for his first point of the season.
- Garnet Hathaway. Hathaway is in the same leaky boat as Protas – no points to date in six home games and only two shots on goal.
- Capitals Defense. The seven blueliners to dress for the Caps on home ice so far have a total of three goals, and with John Carlson (two goals) on the shelf with an injury, that leaves Trevor van Riemsdyk as the only Capital defenseman with a goal at Capital One Arena.
- Of the top-four active scoring leaders for the Caps against Pittsburgh, three are injured (Nicklas Backstrom/11-53-64 in 59 games, John Carlson/7-25-37 in 48 games, and T.J. Oshie/15-16-31 in 30 games)
- It would hardly be surprising to note that Alex Ovechkin is the active leader in power play points against the Edmonton Oilers, but second in that category is not Nicklas Backstrom, who five points in 19 career games against the Oilers. It would be John Carlson (six points).
- Being in different conferences, the Caps and Oilers do not meet often, making it difficult to amass a lot of numbers against one another. But of 24 goalies to dress for the Caps against Edmonton all-time, only two have faced the Oilers in more than ten games (Braden Holtby: 12, and Olaf Kolzig: 11).
Potential Milestones to Reach This Week (or soon):
- 900 career games (he currently has 896)
- 600 career points (599)
- 300 career penalty minutes (292)
- 200 career penalty minutes (190)
- 200 career assists (198)
- 200 points as a Capital (197)
- 100 NHL games (98)
- 100 career NHL points (98)
- 200 career NHL games (198)
- 100 even strength goals as a Capital (99)
- 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)
- 126 three-or-more point games (125, would tie Teemu Selanne and Jean Beliveau for 23rd place all time)
- 100 career penalty minutes (98)
- 1,364 NHL games as head coach (would pass Alain Vigneault (1,363) for 14th place all time)
- 723 wins as head coach in the NHL (would pass Vigneault (722))
- 1,615 standings points earned as an NHL head coach (would pass Dick Irvin (1,614) for eighth place all time)