Here we are in holiday week with the celebrations of Hanukkah and Christmas. The Washington Capitals hope to be celebrating all week with three games on the schedule and with the potential for it to be both successful and historic. The Caps will open and close the week at home with a trip to Canada in-between and a chance to jump back into the playoff picture.
Detroit Red Wings (Monday/7:00 pm at Capital One Arena)
One goal to tie, two to pass “Mr. Hockey,” and possibly against the club where Gordie Howe spent 25 years, played in 1,687 games, and posted 786 of his career 801 goals in the NHL. Alex Ovechkin will be looking to pass Howe for second-place on the all-time NHL goal scoring list, and the Red Wings are a club against which he might reach that milestone. Through 25 games, the Red Wings were among the surprise teams in the league, posting a 13-7-5 record. But the bubble might have burst. They come to Washington on Monday night losers of five straight, their longest losing streak of the season and their longest since suffering a six-game losing streak (0-4-2) in Games 64-69 last season. Only Chicago has fewer standings points since December 8th, when the Wings’ slide began (none/0-4-0) than Detroit (one).
The offense has dried up in the five-game losing streak, Detroit posting only seven goals in the five contests, although three of them came in a 6-3 loss to the Ottawa Senators in their last contest on Saturday. Their 1.40 goals per game are tied for 30th in the league over those five games. Not that the defense has been any better. The Red Wings allowed 19 goals in the five losses, three times allowing four or more goals. The 3.80 goals allowed per game in the losing streak is tied for 27th in scoring defense.
It is quite a comedown for the Wings, who were tied with the Tampa Bay Lightning and the New York Rangers for 12th place in the league in standings points in posting that 13-7-5 record through December 7th. Their scoring offense at the time (3.20 goals per game) ranked 14th, and their scoring defense (3.04 goals allowed per game) ranked 15th. Not top-level, but indicative of a team showing improvement over last season, when the scoring offense ranked 25th (2.77 goals per game), and the scoring defense ranked 31st (3.78 goals allowed per game).
What might be important for this game – and Ovechkin possibly passing Howe – is that the Red Wings have lost three straight on the road and allowed three or more goals in all three contests. Their 3.50 goals allowed per game on the road is tied for the 25th-ranked scoring defense in the league overall. To this, add that Detroit has allowed power play goals in eight of 14 road games to date including a power play goal in each of their last two road games. They are just 2-4-2 when allowing at least one power play goal on the road so far this season.
This will be the 125th meeting in the all-time series between the clubs, the Caps with a 56-46-6 (16 ties) record overall and 31-22-2 (five ties) on home ice.
Ottawa Senators (Thursday/7:00 pm at Canadian Tire Centre)
If Alex Ovechkin does not catch and/or pass Gordie Howe against Detroit, the Ottawa Senators would be a good bet. Ten of his 162 career multi-goal games have come against the Senators, four of them in Ottawa, the most recent of which came in October 2021. But on the other hand, he and the Caps will be facing a team that had a four-game winning streak before losing on Sunday night to the Minnesota Wild and with an 8-3-1 record since Thanksgiving. But on the third hand, the Senators have not been an especially effective team on home ice this season. They started in fine fashion, winning their first four games at Canadian Tire Centre. But then, they lost five in a row on home ice. They are treading water over their last seven home contests (4-3-0) but are still lacking in demonstrating any consistent dominance at home since that season-opening four game winning streak.
The Senators are 8-8-0 on home ice overall, tied for 20th in points earned (16) and tied for 22nd in points percentage (.500). It is not that they cannot score on home ice; their 3.38 goals per game ranks 11th in scoring offense on home ice. However, their 3.13 goals allowed per game at home is the 19th-ranked scoring defense in the league. The Senators’ special teams mirror this profile. The home power play (26.5 percent) ranks tenth in the league, but their 76.3 percent penalty kill ranks 25th. What is ominous for the Senators in this contest is that only five teams this season have allowed five or more goals on home ice more often than they have (five times in 16 games).
At the other end of the ice, the Senators’ offensive output on home ice has shrunk some. After averaging 3.90 goals per game in their first ten games on home ice this season, Ottawa has only 15 goals in their last seven games at Canadian Tire Centre (2.14 per game). And, their scoring profile in recent games borders on the bizarre. Over their last four games on home ice the Senators have only four goals scored at 5-on-5, but they have nine power play goals in the same span and are working on a four-game streak at home with multiple power-play goals.
What the Caps will be looking for in this game is a lead after 40 minutes. Ottawa is 0-7-0 when trailing after two periods on home ice this season (they are 6-0-0 when leading after two periods). Only Chicago (ten times) and Montreal (nine) have more losses in those situations.
These two teams will be meeting for the 103rd time in their all-time series, the Caps with an overall record of 54-38-5 (five ties), 23-24-3 (one tie) in Ottawa.
Winnipeg Jets (Friday/7:00 pm at Capital One Arena)
The Caps go into the holiday break facing an old rival in newer colors. The Winnipeg Jets had a long and mostly unfortunate history as the Atlanta Thrashers, a 342-437-78 (45 ties) in that incarnation. With the move to Winnipeg in 2011-2012, that record has been turned around, the Jets going 441-334-87 since moving to Canada.
This season could end up being the best regular season finish in franchise history. With a 20-10-1 record, the Jets’ are on a pace for 53 wins, which would be a franchise record and only the second time they finished with 50 or more wins (52 in 2017-2018). Their .661 points percentage ranks second all time to that 2017-2018 club (.695).
The Jets are building what could be an historic season for the franchise on their road performance, at least recently. Winnipeg enters the new week having had a five-game road winning streak snapped with a loss in Seattle against the Kraken on Sunday night. Nevertheless, over their last six road games they outscored opponents by a 27-13 margin, a 4.50 goals per game scoring offense on the road. Since Thanksgiving they are tied for fourth in points earned on the road (ten) and tied for fifth in points percentage (.833). And it is not just their scoring offense that has been impressive in the recent road run. Winnipeg is averaging 2.17 goals allowed per game over those six games, fourth in the league over that span.
The Jets have been a generally effective team on the road overall this season. They have not lost consecutive games on the road in regulation and only once lost consecutive games of any type (a 2-1 overtime loss to Vegas on October 30th followed by a 3-2 loss to Calgary on November 12th). They have only five losses in regulation on the road this season, tied for third-fewest in the Western Conference (Vegas has two). Their 3.33 goals per game overall rank 11th in the league in road scoring offense, while their 2.93 goals allowed per game is tied for eighth in scoring defense.
Winnipeg’s special teams on the road are a bit uneven. The Jets’ power play (25.5 percent) ranks eighth in the league, and their 80.0 percent penalty kill ranks 12th. What the Jets do bring into Week 11 is a five-game streak on the road with at least one power play goal, going 7-for-14 overall (50.0 percent, best in the league over that span). On the other hand, they are 17-for-22 on penalty kills (77.3 percent) over their last eight games overall. This could turn out to be a special teams battle.
Washington an Winnipeg will meet for the 97th time in the all-time series, the Caps with a 54-28-9 (five ties) record overall and 32-9-3 (three ties) on home ice.
- Alex Ovechkin. Since Thanksgiving, Ovechkin is 10-6-16, plus-6, in 12 games, tied for third in the league in goals over that period and tied for 11th in points (tied for fourth in even strength points with 12).
- Erik Gustafsson. The hat trick against Toronto on Saturday aside, Gustafsson is tied for the best plus-minus rating among the league’s defensemen since December 5th (plus-9 in six games).
- Charlie Lindgren. Since December 5th: 6-1-0, 1.87, .938 – tied for first in wins, sixth in goals against (minimum: 200 minutes), fifth in save percentage.
- T.J. Oshie. Oshie went out with an injury against Toronto on Saturday night, but not before he posted a team-worst minus-6 rating in 12 games since Thanksgiving. He also had a team-high 11 penalty minutes in that span.
- Aliaksei Protas. Although he has shown versatility as a player able to move up and down the lines and across the positions at forward, he is 0-for-15 shooting in 12 games since Thanksgiving.
- Alex Ovechkin. Yes, he shows up here, too. Ovechkin has the worst on-ice goal differential at even strength on home ice among all Caps skaters this season (minus-4).
- Even if the Caps sweep the week, they will go into the Christmas break with 19 wins for the season (19-13-4). It will be the first time since the 2013-2014/2014-2015 seasons that the Caps went consecutive seasons without having reached the 20-win mark by Christmas (19 wins in 2013-2014, 17 wins in 2014-2015). Although last season, they were 18-6-7 at the break.
- Ottawa has not yet played an extra time game on home ice this season.
- Nicolas Aube-Kubel has played in seven games for the Caps to date. The team has alternated wins and losses when he was on the ice (4-3-0). In fact, that history of alternating games goes back to his last four games with Toronto (6-5-0 overall).
Potential Milestones to Reach This Week (or soon):
- 300 career penalty minutes (he currently has 294)
- First among defensemen in franchise history in power play points (228 (Calle Johansson); he has 223)
- Most ten-goal seasons by a defenseman in team history: eight (currently seven, tied with Sergei Gonchar and Kevin Hatcher; Carlson has eight goals)
- 19th place in franchise history in goals scored (currently with 140, tied with Dmitri Khristich)
- 200 career penalty minutes (196)
- 26th place in franchise history in goals scored (currently with 112, 29th in team history, would need three goals to pass Ryan Walter (114) for 26th place)
- 200 assists as a Capital (198)
- 25th place in team history in power play points (currently with 93, needs four to pass Dmitri Khristich (96) for 25th place)
- 13th place in game winning goals in team history (currently tied for 13th with 24; needs one to break the tie with Brooks Laich and Kevin Hatcher (24 apiece) for 13th place)
- Second place in overtime goals in team history (currently with seven, he needs three to pass Mike Green (eight) and Nicklas Backstrom (nine) to take second place.
- 29th place in assists in team history (currently n 31st place with 170, needs four to pass Joe Juneau and Craig Laughlin)
- 13th place in game winning goals in team history (currently tied for 16th with 23; needs two to pass Brooks Laich, Kevin Hatcher, and Marcus Johansson (24 apiece) for 13th place)
- All-time leader in shots on goal (currently with 6,202; Ray Bourque has 6,209)
- 12th all-time in two-point games (currently with 407, needs two to pass Paul Coffey for 12th place)
- 22nd all-time in power play points (542; needs one to break a tie with Brian Leetch)
- 22nd place in three-or-more point games (currently with 127; needs one to break a tie with Denis Savard for 22nd place)
- 100 career NHL points (95)
- 200 career points (194)
- 100 career penalty minutes (96)