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Snapshots of the Week Ahead: Week 9

The Caps are arguably at the low point of their season to date, but Week 9 gives them four chances to get off the mat and back into the playoff race.

Calgary Flames v Washington Capitals Photo by John McCreary/NHLI via Getty Images

The Washington Capitals limp into Week 9 a battered and too often beaten team of late. As if things were not bad enough, the Caps looked disaster in the face on Saturday night when number one goaltender Darcy Kuemper left the contest against the Calgary Flames late in the second period after being elbowed in the head by Tyler Toffoli. The Caps also lost defenseman Martin Fehervary to an apparent injury to his arm to add to the injury list. Their status uncertain as of Sunday morning, it could make for a very challenging four-game week for the Caps in Week 9, three of them on the road.

The Opponents

Edmonton Oilers (Monday/8:30 pm Eastern at Rogers Place)

The timing of Kuemper’s injury could not have come at a worse time, given the opponent against which the Caps will start the week. Since suffering their first shutout of the season, a 3-0 loss to the New York Islanders on November 23rd, the Oilers are 4-1-0 and scored four or more goals in all four wins. But while the Oilers have been hot lately and consistent on offense this season (more on that below), they have not been an elite scoring team, or at last as prolific as their roster on paper might suggest. The Oilers go into Week 9 tied with the Florida Panthers with the eighth-ranked scoring offense in the league (3.48 goals per game) but tied with Carolina and Montreal for 18th place in 5-on-5 goals scored (47).

On the other hand, the Oilers will make teams pay for playing outside the rules. They are third in the league in power play efficiency overall (29.4 percent) and are seventh in power play chances per game (3.68). When combined, it is a small wonder that they are tied for first in the league in power play goals scored (27, with the Tampa Bay Lightning). The Oilers have power play goals in 18 of 25 games played thus far, tied for second most in the league with Los Angeles, Buffalo, and Boston (Tampa Bay has power play goals in 19 of 24 games played) and have a record of 12-6-0 in those contests. They have at least one power play goal in ten of 13 home games so far, going 7-3-0 in those games.

What the offense gives, though, the defense gives back. Edmonton is the 27-ranked team in the league in scoring defense, allowing 3.60 goals per game. They are tied with the Ottawa Senators for eighth-most instances allowing four or more goals (12), but they do have the ability, at least by NHL standards, to outscore an iffy defense. The Oilers are 4-8-0 in those 12 games, their .333 winning percentage tied for third in the league when allowing four or more goals. Still, Edmonton allowed 55 goals at 5-on-5, tied with the Montreal Canadiens for ninth-most in the league. If the 5-on-5 defense has been weak, the penalty kill has been worse. Ranked 28th in the league (70.4 percent), the Oilers have allowed at least one power play goal in 19 of 25 games so far. Only Anaheim has allowed power play goals in more games (20). But again, the Oilers have the ability to outscore their defense, going 10-9-0 when allowing at least one power play goal overall and 6-4-0 at home.

This will be the 81st meeting of the Capitals and Oilers, the Caps holding a 40-31-3 (six ties) record, 14-20-2 (four ties) on the road. Washington won the first meeting this season between the clubs, a 5-4 win on November 7th.

Philadelphia Flyers (Wednesday/7:00 pm at Wells Fargo Center)

For the Philadelphia Flyers, the 2022-2023 season has already been one of two separate pieces. There was the 7-3-2 start, their .667 points percentage ranking sixth in the league at the time. The Flyers were not scoring with frequency (2.75 goals per game/28th in scoring offense), but they were keeping opponents off the scoreboard (2.42 goals allowed per game/fourth best scoring defense).

That changed abruptly. Starting with a 5-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on November 10th, the Flyers are 1-9-3. No team has fewer wins in that span, no team has more losses in regulation, their .192 points percentage ranks dead last, their scoring offense (2.00 goals per game) ranks dead last, their scoring defense (4.00 goals allowed per game) is second-worst over the period, their 8.1 percent power play ranks dead last, their 64.9 percent penalty kill is third-worst in the league. They can’t even win faceoffs, their 43.4 winning percentage ranking 30th in the league over that span.

This is a team that has wilted badly late in games lately. In their 1-9-3 slide, they have allowed 21 third period goals. Only the San Jose Sharks allowed more (25). But getting off to good starts has been an issue as well, the Flyers being outscored by a 16-8 margin in the first periods of those 13 games. There is little mystery about the poor starts. Only three times in those 13 games did the Flyers score first. Only Chicago has done so fewer (twice in 11 games). And, the Flyers and Anaheim Ducks are the only teams in this span not to have won a game when scoring first, the Flyers going 0-1-2 (Anaheim is 0-3-0).

Then there are the margins of defeat. The Flyers have not been in games late, having lost eight times in their 1-9-3 run by three or more goals, far more than any other team in that stretch (the Caps did so five times in 11 games, and San Jose did so five times in 14 games). Home ice has not been kind in this area to the Flyers, either. In seven home games over this period, they are 1-6-0 and lost by three or more goals five times.

This will be the 237th meeting of the Caps and Flyers in the all-time series. Washington is 96-110-11 (19 ties) overall and 43-64-7 (six ties) in Philadelphia. In their first meeting this season, the Caps beat the Flyers, 3-2, in overtime on November 23rd.

Seattle Kraken (Friday/7:00 pm at Capital One Arena)

Barely a week after squandering a late lead and losing to the Seattle Kraken seven seconds into overtime, the Caps will get another crack at the Kraken in Washington on Friday. If there was a sliver of good fortune in the Caps’ loss to the Kraken last week it was in the fact than in holding them to three goals in an overtime loss snapped a four-game run over which Seattle scored at least four goals in each contest and recorded 26 goals overall. That the Kraken followed up the win over the Caps with a 5-1 loss to the Florida Panthers on Saturday suggests that the hot streak might be followed by a cold spell for Seattle as they wrap up their current three-game home stand against Montreal on Tuesday before starting a four-game road trip in DC on Friday.

If the Kraken were tough in Seattle, they might be even tougher in DC. No team has lost fewer games in regulation on the road this season than Seattle, tied with New Jersey with one regulation loss apiece. Their 8-1-1 record on the road ranks second in points percentage (.850) to the Devils (.917). They do it with offense, their 4.50 goals per game in road games being the top scoring offense in the league on the road. While they have been effective scoring at 5-on-5 in road games (32 goals, sixth-most in the league), it is their road power play that has been very efficient. At 29.7 percent, it ranks fourth on the road in the league. It also averages being on ice 3.70 times per game, seventh-most in the league, leaving them as one of just three teams averaging more than 1.00 power play goals per road game (1.10). Tampa Bay (1.08) and Buffalo (1.10) are the others.

Seattle has not been particularly effective on defense on the road, giving up 3.30 goals per game, 16th in the league in scoring defense. A big part of that is the league’s second worst penalty kill on the road (64.5 percent). Fortunately for the Kraken, they have not had occasion to deploy the penalty kill that often, the 3.10 shorthanded situations per game being sixth-fewest in the league. What the inefficiency does mean, though, is that the Kraken have allowed as many power play goals as they have scored on the road to date (11).

Seattle has done a good job tending to what might be most important in road games – scoring first. They have done so seven times in ten road contests and have a 6-1-0 record in them. The .857 winning percentage when scoring first on the road is tied with New Jersey for second-best in the league (Boston: 3-0-0/1.000). And, they have taken leads into the third periods of road games seven times in ten contests, going 5-1-1 in those games.

This will be the fourth meeting in the all-time series between Washington and Seattle, the Caps with a 1-1-1 record overall and winners of the only game played to date in DC.

Winnipeg Jets (Sunday/7:00pm (Eastern) at Canada Life Centre)

The Caps close Week 9 with a visit to Winnipeg to take on the Jets, who have been much more a jet-powered team since a sluggish start to the season. Since going 2-3-0 in their first five games, Winnipeg is 13-4-1, tied for fifth in the league in wins over that span, tied for sixth in standings points (27), and fourth in points percentage (.750). Their 3.44 goals scored per game ranks 11th in scoring offense over that span, and their 2.33 goals allowed per game ranks third in scoring defense. The Jets’ special teams reflect the unevenness of their offense and defense over this 17-game period, their power play ranking 19th (22.6 percent), while their penalty kill tops the league at 87.8 percent.

At home over this period, the Jets have been dominant in generally low-scoring games. In ten home games since their run started (8-2-0 record), they are averaging 3.40 goals per game on offense, 12th-best in the league on home ice over that period. On the other side of the puck, they allowed only 1.70 goals per game, the second-best scoring defense on home ice over that span. Their plus-1.70 goal differential on home ice is second-best in the league as a result (Boston: 2.80).

One odd thing about the Jets’ run of good fortune is that they did not score first often, or at least as much as one might expect for a successful team. Only eight times in 17 games overall did Winnipeg score first, although they are 7-0-1 when doing so. They are 4-0-0 when doing so on home ice over that span. The Jets have done a very good job closing out games, going 8-0-0 over this 17-game span when taking a lead into the third period, 5-0-0 on home ice.

The Jets have played close to the margin in posting that 13-4-1 record over their last 18 games. Games were settled eight times by one goal, the Jets going 6-1-1 in those contests. Then again, Winnipeg also played to lopsided games often, going 6-3 in nine games decided by three or more goals. This has been something of an all-or-nothing team of late.

This will be the 96th game in the all-time series between these franchises. Washington is 53-28-9 (five ties) overall and 21-19-6 (two ties) on the road.

Hot Caps:

  • Conor Sheary. Conor Sheary is off to a hot start in December with a goal in each of two games, the only Capital with a pair of goals so far this month and the only two power play goals scored by the Caps so far in December. The goals against Seattle and Calgary were the first instance this season in which Sheary scored goals in consecutive road games. He is also tied for the team lead in shot on goal (six).
  • Nic Dowd. He struggled on faceoffs early in the season, but Nic Dowd is 17-for-23 (73.9 percent) to start December.
  • Sonny Milano. He was held without a point in his first two games with the Caps, but over his last 12 games, Sonny Milano is 3-5-8. Only Alex Ovechkin has more points over that span (12).

Cold Caps:

  • Nic Dowd. Yes, he shows up here, too. Dowd has gone 19 straight games without a goal and has only three assists.
  • Erik Gustafsson. Erik Gustafsson is 26 games and counting this season without a goal, looking for his first one as a Capital.
  • Lars Eller. Lars Eller has one goal in his last 20 games and only three (on 36 shots) so far this season.

Weird Facts:

  • Edmonton has yet to go three consecutive games this season without scoring at least four goals in a game.
  • Marcus Johansson will go into the game against Seattle as the 17th-ranked goal scorer in team history…the Kraken, that is. He is tied for 30th in goals in Capitals history.
  • The next overtime loss for the Philadelphia Flyers will be their 200th in team history.

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)
  • 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)

Nic Dowd

  • 400 NHL games played (397)
  • 200 career penalty minutes (194)

Lars Eller

  • 900 NHL games played (896)
  • 202 points (would tie Rod Langway for 42nd place in franchise history)

Erik Gustafsson

  • 100 career penalty minutes (98)

Garnet Hathaway

  • 400 NHL games played (399)

Marcus Johansson

  • 30th place in franchise history in goals scored (110 (tied with Craig Laughlin))
  • 200 assists as a Capital (198)

Evgeny Kuznetsov

  • Eighth-place in franchise history in assists (359 (Bengt-Ake Gustafsson; Kuznetsov has 357)
  • Seventh-place in franchise history in assists (361 (Calle Johansson)

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 (404 (Ray Bourque); he has 404)
  • 22nd all-time in power play points (542 (Brian Leetch); he has 540)
  • 22nd place in three-or-more point games (127 – Denis Savard; Ovechkin is tied with Teemu Selanne and Jean Beliveau with 126 for 23th place)
  • 500 career even strength goals (497)

Conor Sheary

  • 100 career even strength goals (99)
  • 100 career even strength assists (99)

Dylan Strome

  • 300 career NHL games played (299)