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Snapshots of the Week Ahead: Week 23

It is a heavy work week for the Caps with three games against divisional rivals and wrapping up with a visit from the Stars

Washington Capitals v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images

The Washington Capitals return from a successful three-game road trip in Week 22 to face a four-game week in Week 23 that will give a Capital another chance to reach a career milestone in front of a former coach, face a pair of division rivals in back-to-back road games, and wrap it up with a late afternoon date at home to face visitors from Big D.

The Opponents

New York Islanders (Tuesday/7:00pm – Capital One Arena)

Alex Ovechkin did not break his tie with Jaromir Jagr for third place on the all-time list of NHL goal scorers when he faced former coach Bruce Boudreau on Friday night, but he gets another shot at a former coach on home ice when Barry Trotz’ New York Islanders come to town for the first time this season. Trotz has just set a record of his own, becoming only the third coach in NHL history to reach the 900-win mark, adding his name to those of Scotty Bowman (1,244 wins) and Joel Quenneville (969 wins) in the 900-win club. He hit the 900-win mark when the Islanders defeated the Winnipeg Jets, 5-2, on home ice on Friday night. Unfortunately for Trotz, he also happens to rank second all-time in regulation losses (659), trailing only Paul Maurice (681).

Of particular importance to the Islanders, the win over Winnipeg was their second win in a row, the first time they put together consecutive wins in almost two months, not since winning three in a row, January 17-21. New York made it three in a row with a 4-3 win over Anaheim on Sunday.

Since that three-game winning streak in January, and even with their current three-game winning streak, the Islanders have been stuck in neutral, going 10-11-2, 19th in points earned (22) and 20th in points percentage (.478). It has been a considerable stretch of mediocrity at both ends of the ice over this stretch of games, the Isles ranking 16th in scoring offense (3.17 goals per game) and 14th in scoring defense (2.91 goals allowed per game). The uninspired production extends to the power play, where the Isles rank 14th (22.8 percent). Their penalty kill has been good, though, ranking fifth over this stretch at 85.1 percent.

But what those overall numbers mask over the last 22 games is a team that struggles quite a bit on the road. Since January 22nd, when their slide began, New York has a 3-5-1 record on the road, 27th in points earned (seven) and 27th in points percentage (.389). They have had problems keeping pucks out of their own net on the road over this period, allowing 3.56 goals per game, the 23rd-ranked scoring defense over those nine road games. Both sides of special teams have also been a problem over this stretch, the Isles ranking 30th on power plays (10.0 percent) and 21st on penalty kills (75.0 percent) on the road. They head into the new week on a six-game streak without a power play goal on the road (0-for-13), and their penalty kill has allowed goals in four of the nine games, all of them in losses (0-3-1).

The Caps hold a 118-94-6 (13 ties) edge in the all-time series against the Islanders, 60-41-3 (11 ties) on home ice. Washington is 7-3-0 in their last ten games against the Islanders overall and bring a four-game winning streak against the New Yorkers into this game.

Columbus Blue Jackets (Thursday/7:00pm – Nationwide Arena)

The 2022 portion of the season for the Columbus Blue Jackets has been one to make even the sturdiest person a victim of motion sickness. The started the new year with a 3-8-0 record in their first 11 games through January 26th. Over their next 11 games they went 9-2-0, but they gave a lot of that progress back with a 3-4-2 record over their last nine games heading into Week 23.

Over that last nine-game stretch since February 25th, the Blue Jackets are tied for 18th in points (eight) and 25th in points percentage (.444).

There is little mystery about what drives Columbus’ record since January 1st. Over those first 11 games of the new year, they scored just 2.36 goals per game, 28th in the league in scoring offense as they went 3-8-0. Over their next 11 games, they averaged 4.73 goals per game, tops in the league while putting together a 9-2-0 record. Since then, over their last nine games, they averaged 2.78 goals per game, 23rd in the league in scoring offense as they assembled a 3-4-2 record.

That up and down performance on offense contrasts sharply with the Columbus defense, which has been uniformly awful in the new year. Overall, their 3.97 goals allowed per game ranks 30th in scoring offense, but break it down into those same three segments. In their first 11 games of the new year, the Blue Jackets allowed 4.27 goals per game, 31st in the league in scoring defense as they went 3-8-0. They followed that up with some improvement, to 3.73 goals allowed per game, but still 26th in the league over that span in scoring defense. Fortunate for the Blue Jackets that over that stretch they could out-score their woeful defense by a full goal per game (4.73) in going 9-2-0. In their last nine games, Columbus has allowed 3.89 goals per game, 28th in the league in scoring defense over that stretch.

Specific to this game, the Blue Jackets have performed poorly on home ice since the first of the year. Their 7-9-2 home record is tied for 13th in points, 23rd in points percentage (.444). And that scoring defense – 4.22 goals allowed per game at Nationwide Arena, 31st in the league in scoring defense on home ice since January 1st. Six times in those 18 games on home ice they allowed five or more goals (not including shootouts).

Washington is 27-13-5 (one tie) in their all-time series against Columbus, 13-8-2 on the road. The Caps are 4-5-1 in their last ten games overall against the Blue Jackets.

Carolina Hurricanes (Friday/7:00pm – PNC Arena)

The Hurricanes just keep spinning along. Yes, Carolina was shut out by the Caps, 4-0, back on March 3rd, but that was their only loss in regulation in a month, since they dropped a 3-2 decision to the Minnesota Wild on February 12th, until they lost in Pittsburgh to the Penguins, 4-2, on Sunday. Since then, the ‘Canes are 8-2-2 in 12 games and hold a healthy six-point lead, with a game in hand, over Pittsburgh for the Metropolitan Division lead.

Carolina has been the embodiment of the idea that it isn’t “a” loss that is a problem, it is the accumulation of them in a short amount of time that can be a problem. Only once this season have the Hurricanes lost consecutive games in regulation, a three-game streak of such losses in late November. That also represents the only time this season that the Hurricanes lost more than two in a row, regardless of whether the losses came in regulation or in extra time. Carolina doesn’t do slumps, at least not so far this season.

What has been truly amazing about Carolina this season is their record at home. They started the season well at PNC Arena, going 6-3-0 in their first nine home games. That would be the closest they came to a “slump” at home. Since that start, the Hurricanes are 17-1-2 at home, the lone loss in regulation coming on January 13th, a 6-0 loss to Columbus. That record matches the Colorado Avalanche precisely at the top of the home ice standings since December 4th, when Carolina’s run began.

Over those most recent 20 games at PNC Arena, Carolina’s offense has been good, averaging 3.55 goals per game (eighth in scoring offense at home), but their defense has been nothing short of superb. Theirs is the second-best scoring defense (2.00 goals allowed per game) over that stretch on home ice, and their penalty kill ranks second at 93.6 percent (Calgary is at 96.3 percent on home ice over the same period).

And, they have not just beaten opponents, they have beaten them badly over this 20-game run. Eight times in those 20 home games, the result was a decision by three or more goals, and Carolina won seven of them, tied for third in wins by three or more goals and tied for fewest instances of losses by three or more goals. They win close, too, going 6-0-2 in one-goal decisions over the same period on home ice.

The Capitals are 102-55-9 (14 ties) in their all-time series against Carolina, including games played against the Hurricane’s in their previous life as the Hartford Whalers, 47-29-4 (ten ties) on the road. Washington is 8-1-1 against Carolina in their last ten meetings overall and bring a four-game winning streak against the ‘Canes into this game.

Dallas Stars (Sunday/5:00pm – Capital One Arena)

Washington returns home to close the week against the Dallas Stars, wrapping up their season series after the Caps beat the Stars in Big D, 5-0, on January 28th at the expense of former Caps goalie Braden Holtby, who allowed all five goals on 27 shots in 40 minutes of work.

At the moment, Dallas is one point behind the Vegas Golden Knights for the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference, but with four games in hand.

The loss to the Caps notwithstanding, Dallas has had a fine 21-game run, going 14-6-1 since January 20th, tied for seventh over that span in points earned (29) and tied for fifth in points percentage (.690). Their success has been largely due to defense, allowing only 2.71 goals per game over that period, sixth-best scoring defense in the league. It is a bit odd that their performance on defense should be as good as it is over this period, given that they allowed 31.3 shots per game (14th fewest) and 972 shot attempts-against at 5-on-5 (12th-most), with their minus-49 differential in shot attempts at fives ranking 18th in the league over that period.

One thing that has helped their defense is their avoidance of shorthanded situations. Over their last 21 games, Dallas has been shorthanded an average of 2.62 times per game, sixth-fewest in the league. It means that while their 81.8 percent penalty kill is good (eighth-best in the league over that stretch), the ten power play goals allowed are tied for sixth-fewest in the league over that span. Their 5-on-5 scoring defense has been good as well, allowing only 40 5-on-5 goals in their last 21 games, tied for ninth-fewest in the league over that period.

It is this defense that has allowed to Stars to flourish over their last 21 games despite a middle-of-the-road offense that averaged 3.19 goals per game (15th in scoring offense) and power play (22.4 percent/16th). They have awakened of late, though, scoring four or more goals in five of their last six games.

Washington is 34-48-4 (16 ties) in their all-time series against Dallas, including their previous incarnation as the Minnesota North Stars, 17-22-3 (eight ties) on home ice. The Caps are 5-2-3 in their last ten games against Dallas overall.

Hot Caps:

  • John Carlson. Since January 28th, the Caps have the third-best power play in the league (30.2 percent). John Carlson leads the Caps in power play points in this power surge (1-8-9).
  • Evgeny Kuznetsov. In addition to that hat trick he recorded against Vancouver on Friday night, Kuznetsov leads the Caps with four power play goals since January 20th, when the recent success started.
  • Alex Ovechkin. One of the best power play goal scorers of all time, Alex Ovechkin leads the team in primary assists on power plays (four) since January 28th.

Cold Caps:

  • Daniel Sprong. Since the All-Star Game, Daniel Sprong has been more or less locked in the press box. He has played in only five games since then, with no points and a minus-2 rating. He has not played since logging just 8:36 in ice time in the Caps’ 4-0 win over Carolina on March 3rd.
  • Lars Eller. Yes, he had the game-winning overtime goal against Vancouver on Friday night, but he is also a team-worst minus-8 since the All-Star Game.
  • Justin Schultz. It is 24 games, and counting, since Justin Schultz last recorded a goal (December 19th in a 3-2 loss to Los Angeles). He is 0-for-35 shooting over that span. He is one of nine players in the league since December 20th to record no goals on 35 or more shots on goal. John Carlson is not far behind in goal scoring frustration with one goal on 37 shots in his last 15 games.

Weird Facts:

  • The Caps have allowed the Islanders 16 goals over their last eight meetings, half of them in an 8-4 loss on April 1, 2021. They also have shut out the Islanders three times over those eight games, twice by 1-0 scores, one of those in a shootout. The Caps shut out the Isles in their only previous meeting this season, 2-0, in New York on January 15th.
  • When the Caps play back-to-back games at Carolina and at Columbus this week, it will be their ninth set of back-to-backs this season and the sixth time that they will have played both games of a back-to-back on the road.
  • If the Caps go plus-6 in goal differential this week, they will reach the break even point in their history in goals for and goals against (currently 11,643 for and 11,649 against).

Potential Milestones to Reach This Week (or soon):

Alex Ovechkin

  • Needs one goal to pass Jaromir Jagr for third place on the all-time NHL goal-scoring list (both with 766 goals).
  • Needs nine points to become the 21st player in NHL history to record 1,400 points.
  • Needs 14 shots on goal to become the second player in NHL history to record 6,000 shots on goal.
  • Needs one game-winning goal 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 Marian Hossa for fourth place all-time (both with 60 empty net points) and tie Sidney Crosby for third place (61 points).
  • With one first goal in games, Ovechkin will tie Brett Hull (131) for second place all time behind Jaromir Jagr (135).
  • Ovechkin needs one multi-goal game to tie Brett Hull for second place all-time (Hull with 158).
  • With one multi-point game, Ovechkin will break a tie with Dale Hawerchuk for 18th place in all-time multi-point games (both with 393). With two multi-point games, he will tie Guy Lafleur (395) for 17th 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.
  • Needs one shorthanded goal to tie Gaetan Duchesne, Bobby Gould, and Steve Konowlachuk (six apiece) for 13th place in team history.

Nicklas Backstrom

  • 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 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 (27) for 11th place all-time for Washington; two game-winning goals and he will tie Alexander Semin and Evgeny Kuznetsov 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 seven 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 break a tie with Alexander Semin for ninth place (28) and tie Dale Hunter and Kelly Miller (29 apiece) for seventh place.
  • 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 (both 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 one penalty minute for 100 in his career.

Nic Dowd

  • Needs five points to reach the 100-point mark for his career.

Garnet Hathaway

  • Needs six points to reach the 100-point mark for his career.