In Week 26, the Washington Capitals will get a pre-playoff chance to see just where they stand relative to three teams who are bona fide contenders for a Stanley Cup, all of whom have faced the Capitals in the postseason in recent years. And as if to test the waters further, they end their week with back-to-back matinee games.
Tampa Bay Lightning (Wednesday/7:00pm – Capital One Arena)
On March 6th, the Tampa Bay Lightning were the class of the Atlantic Division. They were in a dogfight with the Florida Panthers for the division lead, but they did hold a one-point advantage with both teams having played 55 games. Since then, though, the Lightning have slipped. In 13 games since then, they are 6-6-1, their 13 points tied for 20th since March 7th and their .500 points percentage tied for 19th.
The problem is that the team offense is in a slump. In 55 games thought March 6th, the Lightning averaged 3.25 goals per game, the third-best scoring offense in the league at the time. Fifteen times in those 55 games the Lightning scored five or more goals. Only seven times were they held to fewer than two goals. In 13 games since then, Tampa Bay averaged 2.77 goals per game, tied for 26th in the league (with also-ran Columbus). Only once in those 13 games did the Lightning score five goals, and three times they were held under two goals. The odd part about the two segments of the season for Tampa Bay, scoring-wise, is that the power play has been more efficient in their 13-game slump going into the new week (26.2 percent) than it was in the 55 games through March 6th (21.2 percent), and their power play chances per game have been up as well, 3.23 chances per game/third in the league over the last 13 games versus 3.09 chances per game/fifth in the league in their first 55 games.
It is the scoring defense and its consistency that had kept the Lightning at .500 over their last 13 games. The Lightning’s 2.75 goals against per game over their first 55 games ranked ninth in the league, but over their recent 6-6-1 slump, that defense allowed 2.77 goals per game, eighth in the league. Look under the hood, though, and it is the penalty kill that has been notable recently, the 84.9 percent penalty kill rate ranking sixth in the league over that stretch compared to the 80.4 percent penalty kill (13th) over their first 55 games. The odd part about the penalty kill, and what is a bit disturbing for the Lightning, is that they faced 4.08 shorthanded situations per game in their last 13 games, most in the league, compared to 2.87 shorthanded situations faced per game in their first 55 games.
The Caps have an all-time record of 82-34-11 (six ties) against Tampa Bay, 45-12-6 (four ties) on home ice. Washington is 5-3-2 in their last ten games against the Lightning overall.
Pittsburgh Penguins (Saturday/3:00pm – PPG Paints Arena)
We meet again. The Caps and Penguins will meet for the 240th time in their all-time series on Saturday night. For the Caps, it is a chance to win the season series outright after winning two of the first three games of this year’s series, a 6-1 win on November 14th in Washington and a 4-3 overtime win on February 1st in Pittsburgh wrapped around a 4-2 loss in Washington on December 10th.
The Penguins’ season resembles that of the Lightning in it being divided into two distinct parts. In 50 games through February 15th, Pittsburgh had a 31-11-8 record, second best in the league by points (70) and seventh-best by points percentage (.700). In 20 games since then, the Penguins are 10-8-2, tied for 19th over that span in points (22, with Nashville and Columbus) and 20th in points percentage (.550). Unlike the Lightning, whose slump reflects more of an offensive downturn, the Penguins have slipped on both sides of the puck On offense, they averaged 3.34 goals per game over their first 50 games, ninth in the league in scoring offense, but in 20 games since then, their average slipped a bit to 3.15 goals per game (19th). On the other side, their scoring defense over their first 50 games ranked third at 2.54 goals allowed per game, but in 20 games since then they have allowed 2.75 goals per game (eighth).
On the defensive side of the puck, what was among the best penalty killing squads over their first 50 games (87.7 percent/second in the league) has dropped off some over their last 20 games (80.4 percent/13th). Compounding that situation is that while the Pens averaged fewer shorthanded situations faced per game than any team in the league over their first 50 games (2.44), they have averaged 2.55 shorthanded situations per game over their last 20 games; not a large increase, but seventh-fewest in the league over that span.
The Pens have also lagged lately in taking leads into third periods. They did so 24 times in their first 50 games, going 22-1-1 in the process. They have done so only seven times in their last 20 games, going 6-0-1. They have also struggled lately when allowing first goals. They were 9-8-7 over their first 50 games when allowing the game’s first goal, but they are only 2-7-1 over their last 20 games when doing so.
The Caps are 104-105-14 (16 ties) in their all-time series against the Penguins, 44-59-7 (seven ties) in games played in Pittsburgh. Washington is 4-3-3 in their last ten games against the Pens overall.
Boston Bruins (Sunday/1:30pm - Capital One Arena)
The Caps close out the week against perhaps the hottest team in the league at the moment. Over 20 games since February 19th, the Boston Bruins are 16-3-1, the best record in the league by points (33) and points percentage (.825). They rank fourth in the league over that span in scoring offense (3.95 goals per game) and second in scoring defense (2.35 goals allowed per game).
Boston has done it by being a dominating team at 5-on-5. Over those 20 games they outscored opponents, 59-28, their plus-31 goal differential lapping the field behind them over that span (Minnesota is second at plus-16).
While the Bruins have dominated opponents at fives, their special teams have been more middle-of-the-road over those 20 games. Their power play ranks 16th at 23.1 percent over that span and has been on ice only 2.60 times per game, 24th in the league over that period. Their 80.7 percent penalty kill ranks 12th over that stretch, while the 2.85 shorthanded situations per game they faced ranked 22nd-fewest in the league over those 20 games.
The Bruins have been able to jump on teams early in this 20-game stretch and make it count. Fifteen times they scored first in those 20 games and posted a 14-0-1 record in doing so, best in the league. They are one of three teams in the league over that period that did not lose a game in regulation when scoring first, joining St. Louis (7-0-1) and Carolina (10-0-3).
Washington is 68-76-8 (21 ties) in their all-time series against the Bruins, 36-34-4 (12 ties) at home. The Caps are 4-6-0 against Boston in their last ten meetings overall.
- Tom Wilson. Over his last 14 games dating back to February 28th, Wilson is 6-7-13, plus-3. He is third on the team in goals over that stretch, fourth in assists and points, tied for second in plus-minus, second in penalty minutes (15), third in credited hits (46), fifth in takeaways (eight), second in goals per 60 minutes (1.15), fourth in points per 60 minutes (1.92), and second in shooting percentage (17.7).
- Anthony Mantha. Over his last 11 games dating back to March 8th, Mantha is 5-3-8, third in goals, sixth in points, first in even strength goals (five), first in even strength points (eight), first in first goals of games (three), first in goals per 60 minutes (1.78), first in points per 60 minutes (2.85), and tied for third in shooting percentage (16.7).
- Nicklas Backstrom. Backstrom is the all-time leader among Caps in career assists against the Pittsburgh Penguins (52), fourth in points (63; second among active Caps), third in power play points (24; second among active Caps), second in assists per 60 minutes (1.61; first among active Caps), first in takeaways (36), and first among forwards in blocked shots (35).
- Michal Kempny. In ten home games this season, Kempny has one point (an assist), and in five road games he has one point (a goal).
- Nick Jensen. In 16 home games since January 1st, Jensen has one point (an assist).
- Lars Eller. In 18 home games since January 1st, Eller is 1-2-3 and is a team-worst minus-15.
- Tampa Bay has a record of 19-15-2 in games where they trail first, the second best record in the league by winning percentage (.528; Florida is 19-8-4/.613).
- With a win over Pittsburgh, the Caps will even their all-time record against the Pens (by points earned) at 105-105-14 (16 ties).
- Over their 16-3-1 run over their last 20 games, the Bruins are the only team in the league not to have lost a game by three or more goals.
Potential Milestones to Reach This Week (or soon):
- Needs one point to become the 21st player in NHL history to record 1,400 points.
- 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 one empty net point, Ovechkin will break a tie with Marian Hossa for fourth place all-time (both with 60 empty net 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 tie Guy Lafleur (395) for 17th 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 five blocked shots, Ovechkin will reach the 500 mark in this category.
- With one penalty minute, he would tie Kevin Kaminski (483) for 26th place in franchise history; with two, he would tie Nick Kypreos for 25th place; and 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 one empty net point, 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 (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 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 one empty net goal to break a tie with Peter Bondra for fifth on the all-time franchise list (both with 11).
- 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 five points to reach the 100-point mark for his career.
- Needs four points 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.