The Washington Capitals return from the All-Star Game break with a trio of games that, at least on paper, provide an opportunity to get the second half of the regular season off to a good start.
Columbus Blue Jackets (Tuesday/7:00pm – Capital One Arena)
On the day after Thanksgiving, the Columbus Blue Jackets beat the Vancouver Canucks. 4-2, to push their record to 12-6-0, their .667 points percentage ranking tenth in the league. It has been downhill for the Blue Jackets ever since. They are 8-16-1 since that good start, their .340 points percentage tied with Buffalo for 28th in the league going into the new week.
It has been a matter of falling short at both ends of the rink. In their 12-6-0 start, Columbus averaged 3.44 goals per game, the sixth-best scoring offense in the league at the time. But in 25 games since then, their scoring offense dipped to 2.84 goals per game, 20th in the league. At the other end, the Blue Jackets averaged 2.94 goals allowed per game, tied with New Jersey for 19th in the league, but since then they averaged 4.20 goals allowed per game, worst in the league.
On offense, much of the problem in their last 25 games has been a power play that makes the Caps look like the 1985 Edmonton Oilers. With a 10.5 conversion rate, Columbus ranks last in the league on the power play since November 27th, when their troubles began. Making it worse, the Blue Jackets have averaged the fewest power play chances per game in that span (2.28). Small wonder that they have only six power play goals in their last 25 games; again, worst in the league.
Unsurprisingly, the goal differentials by period for Columbus are dismal over their last 25 games – minus-9 in the first periods of games, minus-13 in second periods, and minus-13 in third periods. Add to this the fact that Columbus has just a 5-4-1 record when scoring first over their last 25 games (second-worst in the league over that span, by points percentage), ranks 27th in the league in winning percentage when leading after two periods (5-2-0), and is third-worst in shots on goal differential (minus-7.8 shots on goal per game), it is a formula for failure.
The Caps are 27-12-5 (one tie) in their all-time series against Columbus, 14-4-3 (one tie) on home ice. Washington is 4-5-1 in their last ten game against the Blue Jackets overall.
Montreal Canadiens (Thursday/7:00pm – Bell Centre)
Much is made over the fact that the Montreal Canadiens have gone from Stanley Cup finalists last season to last in the league standings at the All-Star Game break. Truth be told, Montreal was not all that good last season. They were underwater in goal differential for the season (2.82 goals scored per game versus 2.95 goal allowed in the regular season), had the league’s 17th-ranked power play (19.2 percent), had the 23rd ranked penalty kill (78.5 percent), were poor in one-goal games (9-4-11/.375 winning percentage, 25th in the league), couldn’t score much in the third periods of games (47 goals, third-fewest in the league), and had the fifth-worst net penalties per game (minus-0.30).
Not that things are much, if at all, better for the Habs this season – 31st in scoring offense (2.23 goals per game), last in scoring defense (3.91 goals allowed per game), 31st in power play efficiency (14.0 percent), 30th on the penalty kill (73.3 percent), tied for second-worst in games scoring first (15, with Seattle), second-worst in winning percentage when scoring first (6-6-3/.400), tied for second-worst in winning percentage when leading after two periods (6-2-1/.667, with Seattle), and this is a team that has not won consecutive games at all this season. Their longest points streak is three games, but they lost two of those in extra time.
And playing at home has provided no relief. The Canadiens are 5-13-1 at Bell Centre, their .289 points percentage on home ice ranking 31st in the league. In keeping with their 30-somethng rankings in most statistical categories, they rank 31st in scoring offense on home ice (2.21 goals per game) and 30th in scoring defense in their familiar, if not friendly, confines (3.63 goals allowed per game). This is a team that has allowed five or more goals in five of their last nine home games.
The Caps are 75-74-6 (17 ties) in their all-time series with the Canadiens, 35-40-3 (eight ties) on the road. They are 6-3-1 in their last ten games overall against Montreal.
Ottawa Senators (Sunday/12:30 – Capital One Arena)
It is a Sunday matinee to close the week’s work for the Caps when the Ottawa Senators come to town. In the Senators, the Caps will face a team that is, in some ways, the opposite of the Canadiens. After going 4-15-1 in their first 20 games of the season, Ottawa is 10-7-3 in their last 20 games. They will not make the playoffs – they are seventh in the Atlantic Division and 23 points out of a playoff spot – but their recent push suggests they could make other teams more uncomfortable than most teams might in Ottawa’s position.
The trouble for the Senators is the hole from which they must climb. In those first 20 games their 4-15-1 record was worst in the league by points percentage (.225). Since then, the Senators’ 10-7-3 record ranks 16th in points percentage (.575), and if that does not sound all that impressive, it is one ranking spot higher than the Caps over the same period (11-9-4/.542).
What Ottawa had done to improve their position is tighten up on defense. Over their first 20 games, through December 1st, they were last in the league in scoring offense (3.95 goals allowed per game). Over 20 gams since they, they have whittled more than a goal per game off their average (2.80/15th in the league over that span, one ranking spot better than the Caps (2.96 goals allowed per game).
A big part of that improvement on defense has been their penalty kill, which has gone from 73.4 percent over their first 20 games (28th in the league) to 88.3 percent in 20 games since than (second in the league). There is, however, quite a difference in the Ottawa penalty kill based on venue. At home over their last 20 games, the Senators have killed off 95.7 percent of their shorthanded situations (22-for-23). On the road, though, they have been good, just not quite as good (31-for-37/83.8 percent/sixth).
On the other side of the puck, the Senators have benefitted from scoring first in games on the road, but that has been a two-edged sword. Only three teams (Pittsburgh, Nashville, and Washington) have scored first in games more often on the road (nine times apiece) than the Senators (eight). In those eight games, however, Ottawa is 5-2-1, tied for 20th in winning percentage in that category.
An important consideration for this game is that the Senators have had some problems on defense on the road of late. Five times in their last eight road games, Ottawa has allowed four or more goals, and all three of their road losses in regulation in that stretch have been by multi-goal margins.
Washington is 54-36-5 (five ties) in their all-time series with Ottawa and 31-13-2 (four ties) at home. The Caps are 10-0-0 in their last ten games overall with the Senators and are 17-1-1 in their last 19 games against Ottawa.
- Nicklas Backstrom. Over his last ten games, Backstrom is 3-7-10, plus-4.
- Tom Wilson. Over his last ten games, Wilson has four goals, three of them game-winners.
- Dmitry Orlov. Over his last ten games, Orlov is 3-for-13 shooting (23.1 percent). That is the best shooting percentage by a defenseman in the league over that span among 107 defensemen with at least ten shots on goal.
- Matt Irwin. Matt Irwin has gone 105 consecutive games without a goal. The last goal he scored was December 6, 2018, when his Nashville Predators lost to San Jose, 5-3.
- Brett Leason. Brett Leason is without a point in his last 12 games.
- Nick Jensen. Nick Jensen has one point in his last 18 games on home ice. He last recorded a point at Capital One Arena when he went 1-1-2 in a 6-3 win over Colorado on October 23rd.
- If Columbus loses in a shootout the Caps, it will even their record in the skills competition at 74-74.
- How bad has Montreal’s scoring defense been overall? At 3.91 goals allowed per game, it is the fifth-worst scoring defense in team history and their worst in 100 years...yes, 100 years. Montreal allowed 3.92 goals per game in 1921-1922.
- Do you think the Caps have had problems in extra time? Over the last two seasons, no team has more extra time losses than Montreal (18, tied with Anaheim).
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 one even strength goal to break a tie with Marcel Dionne for fourth-place all time (both with 478 ES goals).
- Needs one power play point to tie Adam Oates (513) for 24th place all time.
- 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 Joe Thornton and Blake Wheeler for fourth all-time (both with 58 empty net points); and would tie Eric Staal (59) for third place.
- With one first goal in games, Ovechkin will tie Brett Hull (131) for second place all time behind Jaromir Jagr (135).
- Ovechkin needs three multi-goal games to tie Brett Hull for second place all-time (Hull with 158).
- With one multi-point game, Ovechkin will tie Joe Thornton for 20th place in all-time multi-point games (Thornton with 391).
- 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 seven points to reach 1,000 for his career.
- With five penalty minutes, he would tie Kevin Kaminski (483) for 26th place in franchise history.
- 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 point to break a tie with Dale Hunter for sixth place on the all-time franchise rankings (both with 556 points).
- 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 tie Sergei Gonchar for second place among defensemen in Caps history (Gonchar 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).
- If Carlson goes plus-3 for the week, he will be plus-100 for his career.
- 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.
- 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 Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green for second place on the all-time Caps’ list (currently seven).
- Needs one empty net goal to tie Peter Bondra for fifth on the all-time franchise list (Bondra with 11).
- Needs one penalty minute for 500 in his career.
- Needs two penalty minutes to reach 200 PIMs as a Capital.
- Needs one empty net goal to tie Peter Bondra for fifth on the all-time franchise list (Bondra with 11).
- Needs five penalty minutes for 100 in his career.