After a week off on the schedule, the Washington Capitals will wrap up their four-game journey away from Capital One Arena with a pair of games against a pair of long-time rivals in hopes of making progress up the Metropolitan Division standings.
New York Rangers (Thursday/7:00 – Madison Square Garden)
It was supposed to take longer. After missing the playoffs in three of the last four seasons, and being swept out of the qualifying round by Carolina in the one year they did reach the postseason, the New York Rangers started this season painstakingly rebuilding their roster to once more be a competitive team. But instead of making incremental progress this season, the Rangers have already eclipsed last year’s 27 wins in 56 games with 32 wins in 50 games going into Week 20. Their third-place position in the Metropolitan Division standings is their highest since they finished third in the Metro in 2015-2016, and they are only three points behind Carolina for the division lead as the new week begins.
The Rangers’ success is largely the product of defense and goaltending. Their 2.50 goals allowed per game rank third in the league and is their best scoring defense since they held opponents to 2.28 goals per game in 2014-2015. What is more, that scoring defense has been consistent. In 50 games, the Rangers allowed two or fewer goals 27 times, tied for second most in the league behind Pittsburgh’s 29 instances.
Special teams are also an area of improvement. In fact, the Rangers’ special teams index of 109.8 (26.6 percent power play plus 83.2 percent penalty kill) ranks fourth in the league and is their best since the NHL began compiling special teams statistics in 1977-1978. Again, consistency in special teams has been an important element in success. The Rangers have scored at least one power play goal in 29 games so far this season, fourth-most in the league. They have been slightly less successful in penalty killing, shutting out opponents’ power plays in 30 games, but they are still a top-ten team, tied with Columbus in that tenth spot.
The Rangers have punished opponents on home ice in the new year. Since January 1st, they are 8-1-1 and have outscored opponents on a per game basis, 3.60 to 1.90. They did not allow any opponent more than three goals in those ten games while scoring more than three five times. And, their special teams at home in the 2022 portion of the schedule have been lethal, their power play blazing at 35.5 percent (third in the league over that span) and their penalty kill operating at 83.9 percent (12th).
The Caps are 113-95-8 (18 ties) in their all-time series against the Rangers, 51-53-4 (nine ties) in New York. They are 5-4-1 in their last ten games overall against the New Yorkers.
Philadelphia Flyers (Saturday/12:30pm – Wells Fargo Center)
Nine days after beating the Flyers, 5-3, at Wells Fargo Center, the Caps return to Philadelphia to complete the road portion of the four-game season series against the Flyers. The Orange and Black continue to slide in the standings. They enter the new week on a four-game losing streak (0-3-1) and are 2-13-4 in their last 19 games dating back to December 30th. They are last in the league in wins over that period, and their .211 points percentage is also last in the league.
The Flyers just cannot score. Over that 19-game stretch, they are averaging 2.37 goals per game, 30th in the league. No Flyer ranks in the top-100 in goals scored over that span (Cam Atkinson and Claude Giroux tied for 103rd with five goals apiece), and no Flyer ranks in the top-50 in points (Atkinson is tied for 64th with 17 points). And it isn’t that the Flyers are sacrificing offense to play a suffocating defensive style. They might aspire to that, but their 3.89 goals allowed per game over their last 19 games is tied with New Jersey for 29th in the league in scoring defense.
Dig deeper, and it gets worse. The Flyers rank 30th on the power play in their 19-game slide (12.1 percent) and dead last in penalty killing (66.7 percent). How bad it that? Since the NHL started capturing power play and penalty killing statistics in 1977-1978, no team finished a season with a power play under 15 percent and a penalty kill under 70 percent. The Flyers likely will not become the first team to accomplish this feat (their penalty kill is at 76.0 percent for the season overall), but it does reflect how bad those special teams have been lately.
The Caps are 94-109-11 (19 ties) in their all-time series against the Flyers, 43-63-7 (six ties) in Philadelphia. Washington is 7-3-0 against the Flyers in their last ten meetings overall.
- Garnet Hathaway. In two games against the Flyers this season, Hathaway is 2-1-3, plus-3, with one game-winning goal. He has skated more minutes against the Flyers in his career (230:36) than he has against any other team.
- Alex Ovechkin. Although the Caps have played only once against the Rangers so far this season, Ovechkin is 2-2-4, plus-1, in that single game, a 5-1 win on Opening Night of the 2021-2022 season.
- Ilya Samsonov. Among 27 goalies in Caps history to log at least 100 minutes against Philadelphia, Samsonov ranks third in save percentage (.921), trailing only Clint Malarchuk (.927) an Jose Theodore (.924). He is the only goalie in that group never to have lost to the Flyers (6-0-0).
- Lars Eller. In three games against the Flyers and Rangers this season, Eller has yet to record a point and has as many penalty minutes as shots on goal (four).
- Nic Dowd. Usually a top-notch faceoff man, Dowd is just 9-for-27 (33.3 percent) in two games against the Flyers this season.
- Tom Wilson. In two games against the Flyers this season, Wilson is 0-0-0, minus-3 (worst on the team).
- Since December 30th, the Flyers have scored first only five times in 19 games, tied with Edmonton and Montreal for fewest in the league, and they have the worst record by winning percentage when doing so (.200/1-1-3).
- The Caps lead the league in games in which they scored first (35), but only New Jersey has lost more games in regulation when scoring first (12) than the Caps (nine) in those situations. The Caps’ .629 win percentage when scoring first (22-9-4) ranks 21st in the league.
- Possession is said to matter. For the New York Rangers, it does not, at least in one category. The Rangers are last in the league in shot attempt differential at 5-on-5 (minus-444). Only two teams have fewer shot attempts at fives – Arizona (1,867) and the New York Islanders (1,802) – than the Rangers (1,906), and the Rangers’ 44.8 percent shot-attempts for at fives is last in the league.
Potential Milestones to Reach This Week (or soon):
- Needs one shorthanded goal to tie Gaetan Duchesne, Bobby Gould, Steve Konowlachuk, and Tom Wilson (six apiece) for 12th place in team history.
- Needs two game-winning goals to tie Gordie Howe (121) for second place all-time.
- With one game-deciding goal in a shootout, Ovechkin will tie Kris Letang for tenth place all-time (currently 14).
- With one empty net point, Ovechkin will break a tie with Eric Stall for fifth place all-time (both with 59 empty net points) and tie Marian Hossa, Blake Wheeler, and Sidney Crosby for second place (60 points apiece).
- With one first goal in games, Ovechkin will tie Brett Hull (131) for second place all time behind Jaromir Jagr (135).
- Ovechkin needs two multi-goal games to tie Brett Hull for second place all-time (Hull with 158).
- With one multi-point game, Ovechkin will break a tie with Joe Thornton for 20th place in all-time multi-point games (both with 391) and tie Bryan Trottier for 19th place.
- Ovechkin’s next hat trick will be the 29th of his career, breaking a tie with Brett Hull and Marcel Dionne for sixth place all-time.
- Backstrom needs six points to reach 1,000 for his career.
- With one penalty minute, he would tie Kevin Kaminski (483) for 26th place in franchise history; with five, he would tie Paul Mulvey (487) for 24th place.
- With one first goal of a game, Backstrom would break a tie with Mike Gartner (46 apiece) for third place in franchise history.
- With two empty net goals, he would tie Mike Ridley (16) for second place in team history.
- With two empty net points, Backstrom would reach the 50 empty net point mark in his career.
- Needs one power play goal to tie Dainius Zubrus (35) for 24th place on the all-time Caps list.
- Needs one game-winning goal to tie Michal Pivonka and Evgeny Kuznetsov (27) for tenth place all-time for Washington; two game-winning goals and he will tie Alexander Semin for (28) ninth place; three and he will tie Dale Hunter and Kelly Miller (29) for seventh place.
- With one even strength goal, Carlson would break a tie with Sergei Gonchar for second place among defensemen in Caps history (both with 90 ESG).
- With one overtime goal, Carlson tie Dmitry Orlov for second place among defensemen on the all-time franchise list (he has two).
- Orlov’s needs one game-winning goal to break a tie with Scott Stevens and Sylvain Cote for sixth place on the all-time franchise list among defensemen (all with 14).
- Needs one game-winning goal to pass Michal Pivonka (both with 27) for tenth place on the Caps’ all-time list and tie Alexander Semin for ninth place (28).
- Needs one overtime goal to tie Mike Green for third place on the all-time Caps’ list (currently seven).
- With two power play assists, Kuznetsov will have 100 for his career.
- Needs one empty net goal to break a tie with Peter Bondra for fifth on the all-time franchise list (Bondra with 11).
- Needs one empty net goal to tie Tom Wilson and Peter Bondra for fifth on the all-time franchise list (Wilson and Bondra with 11).
- Needs three penalty minutes for 100 in his career.