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Snapshots of the Week Ahead: Week 15

After a disappointing two-game Week 14, the Caps will get four chances to get the taste of consecutive losses to the Flyers out of their mouths.

NHL: Edmonton Oilers at Washington Capitals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

After a light work week in Week 14, the Caps get busy in Week 15 with four games on the schedule. It starts with the third straight game against a Metropolitan Division opponent before going forth with three games against Western Conference foes.

The Opponents

New York Islanders (Monday/7:30 pm at UBS Arena)

The Caps open Week 15 by kicking off their season series with the New York Islanders on the road. After showing signs of life with a 4-1-0 run to close 2022 and open 2023, the Isles dropped four in a row before beating Montreal, 2-1, last Saturday, as their offense dried up. Over that five-game slide, New York has only seven goals and as many as two in only two contests, in the win over Montreal and in a 4-2 loss to the Edmonton Oilers on January 5.

That the Islanders are in a playoff-eligible spot in the standings (second wild-card, three points behind Washington) is a product of their home record to date. Not that the Isles have been an elite team on their own ice; they are 13-7-1 (tied for sixth in the league in wins, tied for eighth in points, and eighth in points percentage (.643)). What they have done at home, though, is avoid losing streaks. Only once this season in 21 home games have the Islanders lost consecutive games in regulation on home ice (a 7-4 loss to St. Louis on December 6 followed by a 3-0 loss to Carolina on December 10). And, they have been stingy in allowing goals, especially of late. Since allowing seven goals to the Blues on December 6, New York allowed 11 goals in seven games at UBS Arena.

The stinginess of the Islander defense at home is largely a product of having the league’s best penalty kill on home ice this season (90.7 percent). Making the penalty kill even more effective at home is the Islanders avoiding the necessity of deploying their penalty killing unit. Only five teams have fewer shorthanded situations faced per game than New York (2.57).

It is the offense than has prevented the Islanders from posting a better record on home ice so far this season. Averaging 2.95 goals per game, New York is tied for 23rd in the league in scoring offense on home ice. And just as the Islander penalty kill accounts for much of the success in overall scoring defense, it is a relatively anemic power play on home ice that has kept the Islanders from having a more productive offense. Their 14.8 percent power play on home ice ranks 30th in the league, and no team in the league has fewer goals scored on the power play on home ice (nine, tied with Montreal).

This will be the 235th meeting of these teams in the all-time series, the Caps with a 119-96-6 (13 ties) record overall and 58-54-3 (two ties) on the road.

Minnesota Wild (Tuesday/7:00 pm at Capital One Arena)

When the Caps return home to host the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday night in the first of two games the teams will play this season, the Caps will be facing a hot team. Even with having a 2-1-2 record over their last five games, the Wild are 17-6-2 since November 19th, the fifth-best record in the league by points over that span (36) and thid in points percentage (.720). More to the point of this game, the Wild are 5-1-2 over their last eight road games, doing it with a consistent offense that posted fewer than three goals only once, a 5-2 loss to San Jose on December 22nd.

The Wild are a superior defensive team on the road this season overall, the 2.50 goals allowed per game ranked fifth in the league in scoring defense. But there have been consistency issues. In 20 road games so far, the Wild have allowed five or more goals five times. They will go into their Tuesday contest against the Caps having allowed 10 goals in their last three road games.

Minnesota has not been a very productive offense on the road, their 2.95 goals per game ranking 22nd in the league in scoring offense. An important factor in that is their lack of power play effectiveness. Their 16.2 percent power play on the road ranks 30th in the league this season. The power play on the road has been a story of wasted opportunities, since the 3.40 power play chances per game Minnesota has had rank ninth in the league. But while they have not been efficient, neither have they beaten themselves with shorthanded goals allowed. Minnesota is one of four teams in the league not allowing a shorthanded goals in a road game so far this season.

If the Wild have not been prolific on offense on the road, they have been consistent, especially of late. Minnesota scored three or more goals in nine of their last 11 road contests and in each of their last five road games.

This will the the 28th meeting of the teams in the all-time series, the Caps with an overall record of 15-10-2 and a 9-4-0 record at home.

Arizona Coyotes (Thursday/9:00 pm (Eastern) at Mullett Arena)

Washington heads back on the road on Thursday, making their first visit to Mullett Arena on the campus of Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona. For the Coyotes, the good news about playing at Mullett Arena is that they are playing to more than 90 percent capacity. The bad news is that the facility has the lowest attendance capacity in the league (4,600). It is, perhaps, the clearest indicator of a franchise in perpetual jeopardy of relocating that they would play their home games in a facility with an attendance capacity more the 10,000 fewer seats than the next lowest among the NHL franchises (Canada Life Center in Winnipeg: 15,004). Perhaps the team will remain in Arizona and play in a privately funded facility, the next (and perhaps last) step in the approval process being a public referendum on the question scheduled for this coming May. But that is a subject for a different time.

What concerns us at the moment is the contest on Thursday night and the Caps’ persistent difficulty in winning in Arizona. Since the 2005-06 season, Arizona is 7-3-1 against the Capitals on home ice. It is not as if the Coyotes have dominated in those 11 games. They averaged just 2.45 goals per game on offense and only once scored more than three goals (a 6-3 win on March 31, 2017). Only the Detroit Red Wings have a worse scoring offense on home ice over that period against the Caps (2.00 goals per game).

What Arizona has done is shut the Caps’ offense down effectively, allowing only 2.36 goals per game over those 11 games. Except for the two recent expansion teams – Vegas and Seattle – only the Los Angeles Kings have allowed fewer goals per game on home ice against the Caps since 2005-2006 (2.00 per game in 12 games).

The Coyotes have been a fine special teams squad against the Caps on home ice over this period, posting a 24.2 percent power play and an 84.6 percent penalty kill. Arizona is 4-for-9 on power plays in their last five games at home against the Caps (44.4 percent) and is 15-for-16 killing penalties on home ice against the Caps in the last seven games played in Arizona (93.8 prcent).

More recently, Arizona has been a very streaky team on home ice. After starting the season with six games on the road, they opened their home season by losing three of four games (1-2-1). After then heading out on the road for their next 14 games, they returned home and posted a three-game winning streak. The home schedule was then followed with a pair of losses (0-1-1), three straight wins, and then three straight losses (0-3-0), the streak on which they find themselves before taking on Detroit on Tuesday before the Caps come to town on Thursday.

If the Caps are to break through offensively against the Coyotes, it might be this year’s team against which they could do it. Arizona is 24th in the league in scoring defense on home ice (3.53 goals allowed per game), and their 78.9 percent penalty kill is a middle-of-the-pack 16th in the league. What could further help the Caps break out is that Arizona has the ninth-highest shorthanded situations faced per game at home in the league (3.47 per game). That the Coyotes have allowed three or more goals in each of their last five home games (an average of 3.80 per game) also suggests the Caps have a chance to break out.

The Caps and Coyotes will meet for the 85th time in the all-time series on Thursday. Washington is 37-31-4 (12 ties) overall and 12-20-2 (seven ties) against the Coyotes.

Vegas Golden Knights (Saturday/10:00 pm (Eastern) at T-Mobile Arena)

Any visit by the Capitals to T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas will conjure memories of that night in June 2018 on which the Caps won their first and only Stanley Cup. But since then, the Vegas Golden Knights have established themselves as a formidable tea on home ice. In the four and a half seasons since the Caps won the Cup on that ice sheet, the Golden Knights are one of nine teams in the NHL will 100 or more wins on home ice (102/tied for sixth-most in the league), and their .640 points percentage at home ranks 11th over that span.

This season, however, the Knights are a bit off their game at home. Their 13-11-0 record in 24 home games is tied for 11th in points earned (26) and is 19th in points percentage (.542). Vegas has had difficulty scoring at home this season, averaging just 2.79 goals per game, tied for the 28th-ranked scoring offense in the league on home ice. One part of their scoring problem, in an odd way, has been their power play. On the surface, it is among the more efficient squads in the league, converting 23.8 percent of their opportunities on home ice (15th in the league). But “opportunities” is the issue here. No team has had fewer power play chances per game at home than Vegas (2.63). Oddly enough, this not even unusual for the Knights. Since they entered the league in 2017-18, they rank 28th in the league in power play chances per game at home (2.87).

But perhaps it is a venue thing. On the other side of special teams, Vegas has had the third fewest shorthanded instances per game at home this season (2.33) and has the fourth-fewest shorthanded situations faced per game since coming into the league in 2017-18 (2.60). This contest would not appear to be one that will turn on special teams other than to say the Caps have to take advantage of the meager number of power play chances they might be presented.

Home ice has been a bit of an odd place for the Golden Knights this season, the home portion of their schedule divided into three long stretches of performance. They opened the season going 7-3-0 in their first ten home games. They followed this up with a 1-6-0 run at T-Mobile Arena, but they then reversed themselves once more, going 5-2-0 in their last seven home games. In this most recent run of success at home, Vegas posted four or more goals five times, all of them in wins.

This will be the tenth regular season meeting of the teams in the all-time series. Washington is 2-5-2 overall and 0-3-1 in Las Vegas.

Hot Caps:

  • Dylan Strome. Although he was healthy-scratched in Saturday’s game against Philadelphia at Capital One Arena, Strome has been a productive player on the road this season. He leads the team in assists on the road (14) and is second overall in points (17). He has at least one point in 11 of his last 15 road games and did not go consecutive games without a point.
  • T.J. Oshie. Of all Caps to log at least fie shots on goal on the road, T.J. Oshie is the only Capitals with a 20.0 shooting percentage or better (20.0/6-for-30). Only in 2016-2017 did Oshie record a higher shooting percentage in road games (21.9 percent).
  • Anthony Mantha. No player for the Caps has played within the rules more faithfully on the road than Anthony Mantha. In 21 road games, he has yet to be charged with a penalty. He is one of 14 skaters in the league to appear in at least 20 road games and not be charged with a penalty, and his net penalties per 60 minutes is fourth-best in that group (0.80).

Cold Caps:

  • Erik Gustafsson. While he has put together a surprisingly productive season to date, defenseman Erik Gustafsson has done it largely on the basis of his production at home. While he is 6-12-18, plus-8, 13.3 percent shooting in 23 home games, he is just 1-6-7, plus-2, 3.0 shooting percentage in 21 road games.
  • Matt Irwin. In 14 road games played to date, defenseman Matt Irwin is looking for his first point.
  • Charlie Lindgren. A correction would seem to have been in order for the backup goalie who played so well for the Caps when Darcy Kuemper was out, and it seems to have come. From December 5-17, over a period of seven games, Lindgren stopped 195 of 208 shots (.938 save percentage) while posting a 6-1-0 record. While he is 3-1-0 over his last four games, he stopped 90 of 99 shots (.909).

Weird Facts:

  • In the all-time series with the New York Islanders, the Caps have dominated one-goal games, going 54-24-6 (.643 winning percentage). On the other hand, the Caps have a losing record in games against the Isles decided by two or more goals – 26-27 in two-goal games (.491) and 39-45 in games decided by three or more goals (.464).
  • The opposite is true in the all-time series against Arizona, where the Caps are just 12-15-4 in one-goal games (.387 winning percentage) but over .500 in games decided by two or more goals – 9-7 in two-goal games (.563) and 16-9 in games decided by three or more goals (.640).
  • The Caps have averaged fewer shots per game against Minnesota in their all-time series (26.7) than they have against any other team in franchise history.

Potential Milestones to Reach This Week (or soon):

Nicklas Backstrom

  • 500 career points scored on the road (currently 494)
  • 200 career power play points on the road (199)
  • 20 career game-winning goals on the road, would be the fourth Capital to reach the 20-GWG mark in road games (19)

John Carlson

  • 300 career penalty minutes (he currently has 296)
  • First among defensemen in franchise history in power play points (228 (Calle Johansson); he has 224)
  • Most ten-goal seasons by a defenseman in team history: eight (currently seven, tied with Sergei Gonchar and Kevin Hatcher; Carlson has eight goals)
  • 19th place in franchise history in goals scored (currently with 140, tied with Dmitri Khristich)
  • 100 career even strength goals (he has 99)

Nic Dowd

  • 200 career penalty minutes (196)

Matt Irwin

  • 200 career penalty minutes (195)

Marcus Johansson

  • 24th place in franchise history in goals scored (currently with 116, Guy Charron: 116)
  • 25th place in team history in power play points (currently with 96, tied with Dmitri Khristich (96) for 25th place)
  • 11th place in game winning goals in team history (currently 13th with 26; needs one to tie Carlson and Michal Pivonka)

Evgeny Kuznetsov

  • Second place in overtime goals in team history (currently with seven, he needs three to pass Mike Green (eight) and Nicklas Backstrom (nine) to take second place.
  • Seventh place in team history in game-winning goals (currently 29, tied with Kelly Miller and Dale Hunter)
  • Sixth place in team history in assists (currently 373, two behind sixth-place Dale Hunter)
  • 14th place in team history in goals scored (currently with 159, three behind Kelly Miller)

T.J. Oshie

  • 29th place in assists in team history (currently in 31st place with 170, needs four to pass Joe Juneau and Craig Laughlin)
  • 14th place in game winning goals in team history (currently tied for 16th with 23; needs two to pass Brooks Laich and Kevin Hatcher (24 apiece) for 13th place)

Dmitry Orlov

  • 5th place in game-winning goals among defensemen in team history (currently with 15, one behind Calle Johansson)

Alex Ovechkin

  • 21st all-time in power play points (545; needs three to pass Larry Murphy and tie Joe Thornton for 20th place)
  • 20th place in three-or-more point games (currently 22nd with 129; needs one to tie Brett Hull and Adam Oates)
  • 5th place in all-time career hat tricks (currently sixth with 30, needs two to tie Phil Esposito)
  • 3rd place all time in game winning goals on the road (currently: 54, tied with Gordie Howe for third place)
  • 150 career power play goals on the road (currently: 146)

Dylan Strome

  • 100 career penalty minutes (98)

Trevor van Riemsdyk

  • 100 career NHL points (99)

Tom Wilson

  • 24th place in franchise history in goals scored (currently 115, needs three to tie Guy Charron)
  • 31st place in franchise history in points (currently 273, one short of Charron)
  • 21st place in team history in game-winning goals (currently 18, needs two to tie Mike Green and Dmitri Khristich for 20th)