In the penultimate week of the regular season for the Washington Capitals, the team heads to the mountain west for a trio of games, facing the best and the worst of the Central Division and a rare regular season matchup with a playoff foe of some familiarity before returning home with a rematch against a club that thumped them pretty good in the week just ended.
Colorado Avalanche (Monday/9:00pm (Eastern) – Ball Arena)
If you find a list of Stanley Cup contenders these days, the Colorado Avalanche are at the top of it, or they can see it clearly from where they stand. The Avs enter the new week with the best record in the league (55-14-6). With seven games remaining in their regular season schedule, Colorado has already set a franchise record for wins in a season, passing the 52 wins they posted in 2000-2001 and again in 2013-2014. Being a 50-win team has been an adventure for the Avalanche, who won the Stanley Cup in 2001 after their 52-win seasons, while they were bounced out of the postseason in the first round after posting 52 wins in 2013-2014.
This team would appear to have just about all the ingredients a team needs for a deep playoff run. They can score (3.87 goals per game/second in scoring offense), they have what might be an underrated defense (2.73 goals allowed per game/seventh in scoring defense), their power play is efficient (26.1 percent/third in the league), they have depth in scoring (five skaters have played in at least 50 games with points per game greater than 1.00), they jump on teams early and make it stick (48 times scoring first (tied for most in the league) with 42 wins (also most in the league)), they close out teams (38 wins when leading after two periods, tied for most wins in the league with Calgary), they can win close (18-1-6 in one-goal games, best winning percentage in the league (.720)), they can win big (21-6 in games decided by three or more goals, second-best winning percentage in the league (.778)), they can punish teams at 5-on-5 (plus-52 goal differential, tied for third in the league), and they close strong (109 third period goals, most in the league).
To this add the fact that the Avalanche are next to impossible to beat on their ice. Their four losses in regulation at Ball Arena are fewest in the league. They have only two losses in regulation at home since October 26th after going 1-2-0 in their first three home games. They are a truly dominant team on home ice – second in scoring offense (4.18 goals per game), fifth in scoring defense (2.50 goals allowed per game), second in goal differential (plus-1.68).
This being the age of parity in the NHL, though, no team is without its flaws, although they are few and hard to find with the Avalanche. For one thing, their special teams are somewhat out of balance, compared to their standing in the league. Their overall power play is impressive, sure (26.1 percent/third in the league), and they enjoy a lot of opportunities to deploy it (3.37 power play chances per game, most in the league), but their penalty kill is just 79.2 percent (17th). It has not made a lot of difference in the Avalanche’s fortunes, their record being 24-7-4 when allowing at least one power play goal. And even high volumes of shorthanded situations haven’t seemed to matter much, Colorado going 15-5-2 when going shorthanded four or more times in a game. There is also the matter of shots. It is a challenge to hold down Colorado shot volumes, but teams have had limited success when outshooting the Avalanche, the Avs holding a 16-9-3 record when outshot by opponents.
Washington is 46-32-1 (nine ties) in their all-time series against Colorado (and before them, the Quebec Nordiques), 21-18-0 (five ties) on the road. The Caps are 8-2-0 in their last ten games overall against the Avs.
Vegas Golden Knights (Wednesday/10:00pm (Eastern) – T-Mobile Arena)
For the time being, the rivalry between the Caps and Vegas Golden Knights will be defined, at least by Caps fans, by six postseason games in 2018, the Caps winning four of them to secure their first Stanley Cup. The two teams have played barely that many in their regular season series – seven games to date. The Knights are not yet a team with which the Caps or their fans have developed a rich and deep hatred. Or perhaps knowledge, for that matter. For instance, as the league heads into the new week, Vegas is on the outside looking in on the playoffs. They are fourth in the Pacific Division, three points behind Los Angeles with a game in hand. However, they trail the wild card Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators by four points, with Dallas holding a game in hand against Vegas.
The Golden Knights have been a more difficult team to beat lately, though. After suffering a five-game losing streak in mid-March, they are 9-4-1 in their last 14 games. This is a team that is not a stranger to streaks. So far this season Vegas has had two five-game winning streaks, and they recorded four- and five-game losing streaks. Breaking it down by venue, the Golden Knights have both a seven-game winning streak and a seven-game losing streak on the road. But it is at home that is the immediate concern. And here, too, the Golden Knights have been a bit streaky with four- and five-game winning streaks and three three-game losing streaks at T-Mobile Arena.
Vegas has been a good, if not great team on home ice as the season winds down. Their 3.37 goals per game is tied for 10th in scoring offense on home ice, while their 2.89 goals allowed per game rank 14th in home ice scoring defense. It is in special teams, however, that Vegas has been weak on their ice sheet. Their power play of 20.4 percent on home ice ranks 21st in the league, the problem compounded by their averaging only 2.71 power play chances per game at home, 27th in the league in that measure. On the other side of special teams, their 77.7 percent penalty kill ranks 24th. The lack of efficiency in killing penalties is mitigated by their going shorthanded only 2.47 times per game, sixth-fewest instances per game in the league.
Vegas is a team that can pile up shots at home – 12 times they recorded 40 or more shots – but they have not turned that into an advantage, going just 6-5-1 in those games. Not even being on the good side of shot attempts seem to help. In 27 home games in which Vegas was plus-1 or better in shot attempt differential at 5-on-5, the Golden Knights are just 15-10-2. They are 6-4-1 in the 11 games in which they finished even or worse in 5-on-5 shot attempt differential.
Washington is 2-5-0 in the all-time regular season series against Vegas, 0-3-0 at T-Mobile Arena. The Caps have lost their last two meetings against Vegas, including a 1-0 loss in Washington on January 24th.
Arizona Coyotes (Friday/10:30pm (Eastern) – Gila River Arena)
The on-ice fortunes of the Arizona Coyotes, such as they are, might be the least of their problems these days as the team struggles to fill seats (fewer than 12,000 per game, 30th in capacity filled per game) in Gila River Arena and are facing a future that might involve playing in a venue that seats about a third of what a normal NHL venue might hold for the next three years as a permanent solution is worked out.
But our concern here is Friday’s meeting in the desert between the Caps and Coyotes. Arizona has been one of the least successful teams on the ice for more than a decade. The last time they won as many as 40 games was back in 2011-2012, when they won 42 games and went to the Western Conference finals in the postseason. Since then, Arizona has been to the playoffs once, in 2020 when they were ousted in the first round, and their 294-357-89 record is second-worst in the league in points and points percentage among the 30 teams that played in all ten seasons of that period (only Buffalo has been worse).
Entering the new week, the Coyotes have the worst record in the league by points (49 on a record of 22-48-5) and points percentage (.327, the fourth-worst points percentage of any team over the last decade). And there is no mystery about their record, which reflects poor rankings across a range of measures – scoring offense (2.43 goals per game/32nd in the league), scoring defense (3.77/30th), power play (14.1 percent/30th), penalty kill (73.0 percent/32nd), shots on goal (25.7 per game/32nd), shots allowed per game (35.4/32nd), games scoring first (27/31st), winning percentage when scoring first (.444/12-13-2/31st). One gets the picture.
The first thing one might notice about the Coyotes’ home record is that they have more multi-goal losses at home (20 – 10 by two goals and 10 by three or more goals) than every team except the expansion Seattle Kraken (21). It is not hard to see why, given that the Coyotes get such poor starts at home, scoring first only 13 times in 36 home games (tied for second-fewest instances in the league). And, they rarely take leads into the third periods of games at home, doing so only seven times in those 36 home games (5-2-0/.714/T-30th in winning percentage).
The Capitals are 36-30-4 (12 ties) in their all-time series with Arizona, 11-20-2 (seven ties) on the road. Washington is 4-4-2 in their last ten games against the Coyotes overall.
Toronto Maple Leafs (Sunday/7:00pm – Capital One Arena)
When the Caps were toasted by the Maple Leafs last Thursday, 7-3, it was the 11th time in 151 games against the Leafs in franchise history that the Caps allowed seven or more goals to Toronto and the most they allowed to Toronto since dropping a 7-1 decision in Toronto on November 19, 2011. Toronto does that. It was the sixth time this season that they posted seven or more goals in a game. Only Colorado and Florida have done so more often (eight times each).
The Leafs have been on a 26-game tear. Since February 24th, their 18-6-2 record is second-best in the league, trailing only Florida (19-4-1). Their 4.46 goals per game is the best scoring offense in the league over that stretch. Their 79 goals scored at 5-on-5 are nine more than second-place Calgary. Their 12-2-0 record when scoring first is tied for second-best winning percentage (.857, with the New York Rangers). And, they are tough in close games; they are one of only two teams over that period not to lose a one-goal decision in regulation (Detroit is the other).
In what might be an ominous sign for the Caps, given that this game will be played in DC, the Leafs have averaged 5.00 goals per game in 12 road games over this recent 26-game run, the best scoring offense on the road in the league over this stretch. On the other hand, no team has a worse scoring defense on the road over this same period (4.33 goals allowed per game, tied with Philadelphia). And the Leafs have struggled on their own power play on the road over this span, converting 19.4 percent of their chances (tied with Minnesota for 14th), but averaging only 2.58 power play chances per game (tied with Minnesota for 19th), and they have allowed three shorthanded goals on the road over this stretch, tied with three other teams for most in the league.
Washington is 76-59-6 (ten ties) in their all-time series against the Maple Leafs, 47-24-2 (four ties) on home ice. The Caps are 5-5-0 in their last ten games against Toronto overall and will be trying to avoid a sweep of the season series by the Leafs.
- Evgeny Kuznetsov. Kuznetsov is the team leader in assists on home ice this season (30), and he is 8-18-26 over his last 23 games overall.
- Garnet Hathaway. Hathaway is tied for the team lead in plus-minus on home ice this season (plus-11, with Martin Fehervary). His six even strength goals on home ice are tied for fifth on the club. He is 3-1-4, including a game-winning goal, over his last six games overall.
- Alex Ovechkin. Ovechkin is one of seven players in the league with at least 20 goals and at least 50 points on home ice this season (24-26-50). He is 15-7-22 over his last 20 games overall.
- Marcus Johansson. In seven home games since his return to Washington, Johansson is without a point and is a minus-4.
- Trevor can Riemsdyk. In 32 home games this season, van Riemsdyk does not have a goal, and he has only one in 45 home games as a Capital.
- Connor McMichael. McMichael is one of six skaters in the league to dress for at least 30 games on home ice and average less than ten minutes per game (9:52 in 33 home games).
- Colorado has 16 players with game-winning goals this season; six of them have five or more (the Caps have two).
- The Caps have two regular season wins against Vegas in their all-time series. Both wins were by 5-2 margins.
- Washington has faced Arizona 82 times in their all-time series. They scored first 41 times and were scored upon first 41 times.
Potential Milestones to Reach This Week (or soon):
- Needs one game-winning goal to break a tie with Gordie Howe for second place all-time (currently 121 GWG apiece).
- With one game-deciding goal in a shootout, Ovechkin will pass Phil Kessel for ninth place all-time (both with 16) and tie Anze Kopitar (17) for eighth place.
- With two empty net points, Ovechkin tie Blake Wheeler and Sidney Crosby (63 points apiece) for second-place all-time.
- With one first goal in games, Ovechkin will break a tie with 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 two multi-point games, Ovechkin will tie Adam Oates (398) for 16th place all-time in multi-point games.
- 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.
- With one blocked shot, Ovechkin will reach the 500 mark in this category.
- With one penalty minute, he would tie Paul Mulvey (487) for 24th place in franchise history.
- With two empty net goals, he would tie Mike Ridley (16) for second place in team history.
- With one empty net point, Backstrom would reach the 50 empty net point mark in his career.
- With three even strength points, Backstrom will have 600 for his career.
- With seven credited hits, Backstrom would tie John Erskine for eighth place in club history (since hit statistics were first recorded in 2005-2006).
- Needs one game-winning goal to break a tie with Michal Pivonka (27) for 11th place all-time for Washington and tie Alexander Semin and Evgeny Kuznetsov for (28) ninth place; two and he will tie Dale Hunter and Kelly Miller (29) for seventh place.
- With one overtime goal, Carlson would 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 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).
- Needs eight points to reach 500 points for his career.
- With two power play points, Kuznertsov would tie Dennis Maruk (147) for 17th place all-time for the Caps.
- With one power play goal, Kuznetsov would break a tie with Brooks Laich (42 apiece) for 20th place on the all-time franchise list.
- Needs one empty net goal to break a tie with Peter Bondra for fifth on the all-time franchise list (both with 11).
- With three penalty minutes, Wilson would tie Craig Berube (1,220) for third-place on the all-time franchise list.
- With two even strength points, he would tie Calle Johansson (232) for 20th place on the all-time club list.
- With one shorthanded goal, he would break a four-way tie for ninth place and tie Matt Pettinger (eight) for eighth place on the all-time franchise list.
- With one game-winning goal, Wilson would break a tie with Dino Ciccarelli for 25th place on the all-time franchise list and tie Craig Laughln and Sergei Gonchar (19 apiece) for 23rd place.
- 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).
- With two shootout goals, Oshie would tie Patrick Kane and Frans Nielsen (49 apiece) for second place all-time since the league went to a shootout in 2005-2006.
- Needs one point to reach the 100-point mark for his career.
- With one shutout, Samsonov will tie Michal Neuvirth and Pete Peeters (seven apiece) for sixth place on the team’s all-time list.
- With one shutout, Vanecek will tie Pat Riggin, Ricl Tabaracci, Philipp Grubauer, and Samsonov (six apiece) for seventh place on the team’s all-time list.