From the friendly confines of Capital One Arena in Week 21, the Washington Capitals take to the road for three games in Week 22, visiting the western Canadian provinces for three games, one against a division leader and two against teams fighting for their playoff lives.
Calgary Flames (Tuesday/9:00pm (Eastern) – Scotiabank Saddledome)
The Capitals open their three-game road trip with a visit to Calgary to face the Flames on Tuesday in their first visit to the Saddledome since October 2019. “Flames” is an apt description of Calgary’s play this season. They are an effective team on offense (3.48 goals per game/sixth best scoring offense), suffocating on defense (2.46 goals allowed per game/third in scoring defense). They are top-ten on both sides of special teams, a 23.1 percent power play (tenth) and an 84.4 percent penalty kill (fifth) going into the new week.
And, since suffering a four-game losing streak in mid-January, the Flames have been almost unbeatable, going 16-3-1 in their last 20 games overall, the best record in the league over that span in points (33), and points percentage (.825) over that span, since January 18th. The Flames have not been living on the margins over those 20 games, either, beating opponents by an average of 1.95 goals per game (4.25 goals per game, 2.30 goals allowed per game). They have pummeled opponents in shots over that period, averaging nine more shots per game (37.1, most in the league) than shots allowed (28.1, fewest in the league).
Part of the secret to Calgary’s recent success is getting out to leads. Fourteen times in 20 games (third-most instances in that period) they scored the first goal, posting a 12-1-1 record in those games. Eleven times in those 20 games they took leads into the first intermission (tied for most instances in the league over that span) and posted a record of 10-1-0.
If Calgary has a weakness, it is that they can be sloppy with the puck. Their 10.05 giveaways per 60 minutes is third-most in the league, and even in their recent 16-3-1 run, they were charged with 11.43 giveaways per 60 minutes, also third-most in the league. This is one of those statistical categories that is in the eye of the beholder as to what constitutes a “giveaway,” but it could be something to watch.
If you are looking for another dent in the Calgary armor, they are a good, but not great home team. The Flames are 15-4-5 for the season overall, their .729 points percentage ranking eighth in the league. On the other hand, on this 16-3-1 run on which they find themselves, they are 11-0-1 in 12 home games, the best home record in the league since January 18th, and have blown opponents away, outscoring them by an average of more than three goals per game (4.75 goals scored per game, 1.67 allowed per game). Caps fans might hope for regression to a steady state.
The Caps are 41-43-3 (13 ties) in their all-time series with the Flames, 14-27-0 (seven ties) in Calgary and, until 1980-1981, in Atlanta. Washington is 6-2-2 in their last ten games overall against the Flames.
Edmonton Oilers (Wednesday/8:00pm (Eastern) – Rogers Place)
After visiting the best team in the league over the last month and a half, the Caps will head to Edmonton to face the Oilers the next night. Edmonton poses a different and perhaps unique challenge. The Oiler have two of the best offensive players in the league in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl (tied for first in points in the league), and they have, at least on paper, a capable (if not elite) defense with the likes of Darnell Nurse, Tyson Barrie, Duncan Keith, and Codi Ceci. So, why are the Oilers on the outside looking in at the postseason as the new week gets underway?
Well, they are weak in goal. Of 58 goalies with at least 750 minutes played, Mikko Koskinen has a .904 save percentage to rank 37th in the league, and he’s the better of the two Oiler goalies to log at least 750 minutes. Mike Smith has a save percentage of .893 (51st among those 58 goalies). It might say something that the Oilers might have a third goalie pass the 750 minute mark soon. Stuart Skinner has 734 minutes and a team-best save percentage of .913. Smith has been a victim of injuries (36 games missed this season), and Koskinen missed five games to COVID. But for now, they appear to be Edmonton’s choice in goal, Skinner currently toiling for Bakersfield in the AHL.
It would be tempting to add a weak defensive performance in front of the goalies for a scoring defense that ranks 21st in the league (3.21 goals allowed per game), but that is not a story that clearly accounts for the problems on the defensive side of the puck. The Oilers have allowed 2,332 shot attempts at 5-on-5, ninth-fewest in the league, and their plus-272 in shot attempts, for and against, at fives is also ninth-best in the league. The Oilers also have allowed 118 goals at 5-on-5, tied for 20th-fewest in the league. These are not great numbers, but it is not the profile of an awful defense.
One problem the Oilers do have is penalty killing efficiency. Their 75.7 penalty kill rate ranks 26th in the league, their 3.09 shorthanded situations faced per game are ninth-most in the league. Going shorthanded often and being poor at penalty killing is a recipe for trouble. Add to this the fact that Koskinen has a save percentage of .844 when shorthanded (50th of 69 goalies appearing in 10 or more games), and Smith ranking 61st in that group with a .821 save percentage, and it is clear teams have been able to take advantage of Edmonton with the man advantage.
The Caps are 39-31-2 (six ties) in their all-time series with Edmonton, 14-20-1 (four ties) on the Oilers’ ice sheet. Washington is 6-3-1 in their last ten games against the Oilers overall.
Vancouver Canucks (Friday/10:00pm (Eastern) – Rogers Arena)
The dreaded “three-games-in-four-nights” is how the Caps will end this three-city road trip. And they will do it against a well-motivated team that has performed quite well since changing coaches back in early December. Since Bruce Boudreau took over for Travis Green behind the Vancouver bench, the Canucks are 20-8-4, seventh in points earned over that period and sixth in points percentage (.688). Quite a turn around from the 8-15-2/.360 start for the Canucks under Green (28th in points/29th in points percentage).
The improvement across statistical categories with the coaching change has been dramatic. Scoring offense is up from 2.36 goals per game under Green (27th in the league) to 3.19 under Boudreau (23th). Scoring defense has improved from 3.16 goals allowed per game (23rd) to 2.59 (fifth). The power play improved from 17.4 percent (22nd) to 24.0 percent (eighth). Penalty killing is up from 64.6 percent (32nd) to 76.0 percent (22nd). The Canucks scored first eight times in 25 games under Green and have scored first 19 times in 32 games under Boudreau. The record when scoring first improved from 4-4-0 (.500/tied for 25th in winning percentage) to 15-2-2 (.789/eighth). They took a lead into the third period only seven times in 25 games under Green (6-1-0/.57/tied for 15th in winning percentage) and have done so 16 times in 31 games under Boudreau (14-0-2/.875/15th).
With the change in coaches, the Canucks have become much harder to play on their ice. Under Green, Vancouver was 3-7-1, their .318 points percentage ranking 30th in the league. Since the change behind the bench, the Canucks are 9-3-2 on home ice, their .714 points percentage ranking seventh in the league.
And should they lead after two periods, the Caps cannot take their foot off the pedal. NHL teams win much more often than they lose games when leading after two periods, but even here there has been a difference between the pre- and post-coaching change Canucks. Over their first 25 games through December 5th, Vancouver was 1-9-2, their .083 winning percentage tied for 21st in the league. Since the coaching change, though, the Canucks are 3-8-1 when trailing after two periods, their three wins in such situations trailing only Pittsburgh (five) and Colorado (six), and their .250 winning percentage tied for fifth in the league.
The Capitals are 48-41-2 (nine ties) in their all-time series against the Canucks, 20-23-1 (five ties) on the road. The Caps are 7-2-1 in their last ten games against Vancouver overall.
- Evgeny Kuznetsov has 11 points in his last 11 games against Calgary (3-8-11, plus-4); he is second all-time in points per game against Vancouver (1.29) among all Capitals skating in at least 15 games against the Canucks (Dennis Maruk: 1.33 points per game).
- Of 250 active skaters to appear in at least 15 games against Edmonton, Alex Ovechkin ranks third in points per game (1.21), trailing only Claude Giroux and Patrick Kane, both with 1.28 points per game. He also ranks third among 255 active skaters appearing in at least 15 games against Calgary in points per game (1.35).
- Of 60 goalies logging at least 250 minutes since January 1st, Vitek Vanecek is third in save percentage (.937), trailing only Igor Shesterkin (.950) and Jeremy Swayman (.939). He also ranks third in goals against average (1.83), trailing Shesterkin (1.67) and Swayman (1.71). His three shutouts is tied with Darcy Kuemper and Jacob Markstrom for the league lead since January 1st.
- Of 60 goalies to log at least 250 minutes since January 1st, Ilya Samsonov ranks 44th in goals against average (3.48) and 45th in save percentage (.891).
- Of 20 Caps to dress for at least 20 road games this season, Justin Schultz is the only one without a goal.
- Conor Sheary is the only one of 15 Capitals appearing in at least 20 road games with a negative goal differential on ice at even strength (minus-1).
- Bruce Boudreau is 20-8-4 in his first 32 games with Vancouver, the same record he posted in his first 32 games as head coach of the Minnesota Wild, his previous stop. He was 16-11-5 in his first 32 games with the Anaheim Ducks, and he was 18-10-4 in his first 32 games with the Caps in his first NHL head coaching posting.
- No active Capital has ever scored an overtime goal as a Capital against Calgary, Edmonton, or Vancouver.
- In their all time series against Edmonton, the Caps have scored 267 goals and allowed 267 goals.
Potential Milestones to Reach This Week (or soon):
- Needs one shorthanded goal to tie Gaetan Duchesne, Bobby Gould, and Steve Konowlachuk (six apiece) for 13th 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 Bryan Trottier for 19th place in all-time multi-point games (both with 392) and tie Dale Hawerchuk for 18th place. With three 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.
- Here’s one from way out in left field…if he hits posts on two shots, he will be the first NHL player ever to record 100 missed shots by hitting posts since the statistic was first captured in 2009-2010.
- Backstrom needs three 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).
- Carlson is 10 shots short of 2,000 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 (all with 14).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.