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Snapshots of the Week Ahead: Week 21

The Caps wrap up February and get started on March returning to home ice and trying to shake off the sluggishness that has played their game lately.

New York Islanders v Washington Capitals - Game Three Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

The pace picks up for the Washington Capitals in Week 21, both in workload with a three-game week and in the pace their opponents set when they take the ice. This is a week that presents stiff challenges for a team that sometimes struggles against teams that play up-tempo. Caps fans hope the home cooking on the three-game home slate will be tasty.

The Opponents

Toronto Maple Leafs (Monday/7:00pm – Capital One Arena)

Washington will face the Maple Leafs for the first of three matchups this season on Monday. Toronto’s team song might be the old Ray Stevens tune, “The Streak.” Not that the Leafs skate without the benefit of uniforms, but for their propensity this season for streaks. On the winning side they have streaks of six, five (three times), and four games. On the losing side, Toronto has streaks of three and four games, and they lost consecutive games on two other occasions. They have embarked on another winning streak, defeating the Minnesota Wild on Thursday and the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday after enduring a three-game losing streak.

The usual line of thinking about the Leafs is that they are primarily an offensive team, and to a large extent this is true. They head into the week with the fourth-ranked scoring offense in the league at 3.65 goals per game. They come into this game having just rung up the Detroit Red Wings for ten goals, the first time that a team recorded ten goals in a game since Montreal beat Detroit, 10-1, back on December 2, 2017. It was the fifth time in their last 13 games that Toronto scored at least six goals in a game. The Leafs scored 59 goals in those last 13 games (4.54 per game). Nineteen of 20 skaters to dress for the Leafs in that stretch have points; 15 have goals. They are a team on fire in the offensive end over the last month.

However, while overshadowed by the offense, Toronto’s defense has been decent over the season as a whole. They are by no means a shutdown team that will suffocate teams in their own end, but they do rank 14th in scoring defense. But cracks have appeared in their defense. Over those same 13 games leading up to Monday’s matchup, the Maple Leafs have allowed four or more goals seven times, ending with the seven they allowed to the Red Wings on Saturday, and allowed an average of 3.54 goals per game.

The Caps are 76-57-6 (ten ties) in their all-time series against Toronto, 47-23-2 (four ties) on home ice. Washington is 7-3-0 against Toronto in their last ten meetings overall.

Carolina Hurricanes (Thursday/7:00pm – Capital One Arena)

The Carolina Hurricanes, who will face the Caps on Thursday, will go into the new week with the best record in the Eastern Conference and on just about anyone’s short list as a bona fide contender to win it all when summer begins in a few months. The Hurricanes started the season on a 9-0-0 run and have not taken their foot off the gas pedal. Only once this season did they lose two or more consecutive games in regulation, suffering a three-game losing streak in regulation in Games 20-22 in late November/early December, including a 4-2 loss at the hands of the Caps to start that skid. On the other hand, in addition to the nine-game winning streak to start the season, the Hurricanes have six winning streaks of three or more games (three, four (three times), and five games (twice)).

While the Hurricanes have considerable offensive talent (sixth in scoring offense at 3.48 goals per game) and balance (seven players with at least ten goals, 17 with at least ten points), they are arguably the best defensive team in the league. Their 2.35 goals allowed per game are fewest in the league, and their penalty kill (91.3 percent) is tops in the league. They have allowed only 28.8 shots per game, fewer than any team in the league except Los Angeles (28.3). Only Vancouver and Calgary have allowed fewer goals at 5-on-5 (82 and 84, respectively) than the Hurricanes (88, tied with Tampa Bay and Los Angeles). Their 54.4 percent shot attempts-for at 5-on-5 rank forth in the league, driven by their 2,085 shot attempts allowed at fives, fourth fewest in the league.

The determining factor in this game could come early. While the Caps continue to lead the league in games in which they scored first (35), Carolina is right there in second place with 34 instances of scoring first (tied with Vegas). And, while the Caps are just 22-9-4 when scoring first, their .629 winning percentage ranking 23rd in the league, the Hurricanes are 28-3-3 in those games, their .824 winning percentage ranking fourth.

Carolina also closes out games efficiently. In 51 games, they have taken a lead into the third period 28 times and won 26 times (26-1-1), the second-most wins in the league when leading after two periods (Colorado has 28 wins). It is small wonder that they close out games efficiently; the Hurricanes have a plus-28 goal differential in third periods of games overall, tops in the league. They have been especially dominant in this area on the road, too, with a plus-22 goal differential in third periods (37 for, 15 against). No team in the league has allowed fewer third period goals on the road than Carolina, and it is not close. Their 15 goals allowed in the third periods of 27 road games is six fewer than Florida and the Caps.

There is something of a merciless quality to the Hurricanes as well. They are 17-4 in games decided by three or more goals, their .810 winning percentage in those 21 games being best in the league. No team has fewer losses by three or more goals overall than Carolina.

The Caps are 101-55-9 (14 ties) in their all-time series against the Hurricanes, 54-26-5 (four ties) on home ice. Washington is 7-2-1 against Carolina in their last ten games overall.

Seattle Kraken (Saturday/7:00pm – Capital One Arena)

The Caps are winless against the NHL’s newest franchise. OK, it is one game, but the Kraken dominated in a 5-2 win over Washington in Seattle on November 21st. As if to top that, the Kraken beat Carolina three nights later on home ice, those two wins propelling them to a 4-1-1 stretch that might have had Kraken fans thinking they could replicate the Vegas Golden Knights and their successful inaugural season in 2017-2018 in which they went to the Stanley Cup finals, only to lose to the Caps.

But that was not to be. Since that 4-1-1 run in late November and early December, the Kraken are 7-21-3 since December 6th, the worst record in the league over that span. There is little mystery about that result, the Kraken ranking last in the league in scoring offense since December 6th (2.16 goals per game), 28th in scoring defense (3.61 goals allowed per game), 30th on power plays (13.1 percent), and 29th on penalty kills (75.0 percent).

The odd part about the Kraken performance is that while their team scoring is rather anemic, it is remarkably balanced. Over the 31-game slide, 20 of 28 skaters to play have at least one goal, and 23 of them have at least one point. The problem is that they do not really have a go-to scorer, unless one counts Jared McCann, who has 11 of the Kraken’s 67 goals over those 31 games. Only two other skaters – Calle Jarnkrok (nine) and Ryan Donato (six) have more than five.

Seattle has had a devil of a time getting off to good starts, and even when they do, it has not mattered much. Over their last 31 games they scored first only nine times; only Edmonton has scored first fewer times in that span (seven). In those nine game, the Kraken are just 3-5-1, their .333 winning percentage being worst in the league in this category over that period. At the other end of games, they finish poorly, too. In their last 31 games they took a lead into the third period only three times (fewest in the league by miles, half as many instances as Philadelphia), losing twice. The 19 times they trailed going into the third period is most in the league, and they are just 1-17-1 in those games. This is a team that has found itself severely overmatched over the last 12 weeks.

Hot Caps:

  • Evgeny Kuznetsov. Since January 1st, Kuznetsov leads the Caps in points (17 in 21 games) and is 2-7-9 in his last ten games overall.
  • Martin Fehervary. Despite giving indications he has hit a wall in his performance at this point of the season, he is still 0-3-3, plus-2 over the nine games he has played in February, and his 31 credited hits rank fifth among all NHL defensemen, second among rookies. He is also a plus-6 in even strength on-ice goal differential since January 1st, best among all Caps skaters.
  • Nic Dowd. Since January 1st, Dowd has been credited with 11 takeaways and only one giveaway.

Cold Caps:

  • Lars Eller. Since January 1st, Eller is a team-worst minus-11 and has a team worst minus-10 goal differential at even strength.
  • Evgeny Kuznetsov. Yes, he shows up here, too. Since January 1st, 143 players have taken at least 100 faceoffs. Kuznetsov ranks 132nd in winning percentage (40.2).
  • Justin Schultz. Since January 1st, Schultz is 0-for-27 shooting the puck, most shots by a Capitals without lighting the lamp. He’s in good company, though. The Islanders’ Zdeno Chara is also 0-for-27 over that span. And at least he’s not Seth Jones, who is a league worst 0-for-48 in the new year.

Weird Facts:

  • The three-four goals scored boundary seems to be what splits success and failure for a lot of NHL teams, and Toronto is no exception, but it is a quite pronounced difference. The Leafs are 21-0-1 when scoring four or more goals (not including shootout goals), 13-14-3 when scoring three or fewer goals.
  • Washington has not done much right over the last two months, but they are a team that plays inside the rules. The 3.23 penalties they have taken per 60 minutes so far this season are third-fewest in the league. Their 0.38 net penalties per 60 minutes (penalties drawn less penalties taken) rank fifth. But even here there is a blemish. The 164 minor penalties they have taken are only 13th-fewest in the league.
  • If the Caps score five 5-on-5 goals this week, they will become the first team in the league since 2009-2010, when the league began capturing 5-on-5 goals, to reach the 2,000 goals scored mark this category. And if they score four 5-on-4 goals, they will be the first team to rord 600 such goals since 2009-2010.

Potential Milestones to Reach This Week (or soon):

Alex Ovechkin

  • 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.

Nicklas Backstrom

  • Backstrom needs five 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.

John Carlson

  • 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).
  • Carlson is 18 shots short of 2,000 for his career.

Dmitry Orlov

  • 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).

Evgeny Kuznetsov

  • 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 one power play assist, Kuznetsov will have 100 for his career.
  • Kuznetsov’s next credited takeaway will be the 300th of his career.

Tom Wilson

  • Needs one empty net goal to break a tie with Peter Bondra for fifth on the all-time franchise list (Bondra with 11).
  • With seven penalty minutes, Wilson will reach the 1,200 mark for his career.

T.J. Oshie

  • 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).

Nick Jensen

  • Needs three penalty minutes for 100 in his career.