August 14, 2022

Caps in Advance: Week 13

Let there be no question, last week was the type of performance the organization and fans were expecting to see when Dale Hunter took the reins for the Washington Capitals.  After a poor effort on Monday night against the Buffalo Sabres, Washington reeled off three straight victories, starting with the the top team in the East and ending with the worst team in the West.

Paramount to the Caps’ success, particularly for captain Alexander Ovechkin, who recorded five goals and two assists (and is a +4) over the past four games.  The Russian superstar now has 16 goals on the season, and although he’s still on pace for a disappointing 35-goal season, Ovechkin’s resurgence is the best sign that the tides are finally shifting for the better in D.C.

Although the standings say Washington wouldn’t make the playoffs if the season ended on December 31, the Caps are just three points back of Southeast Division-leading Florida with one game in hand, and one point out of the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference.

Joining Ovechkin in the thanks-for-finally-showing-up category is Tomas Vokoun, who posted a 1.32 GAA and .963 Sv% to earn three wins after taking over for Michal Neuvirth after the first period of last Monday’s loss to Buffalo.  Hunter has showed the propensity to keep playing one netminder until a reason to otherwise presents itself, so it’s a safe bet to expect that Vokoun will earn both starts in the Caps’ upcoming light week to open 2012.

Games this week:

7:00pm, Verizon Center

Washington Capitals: 20-15-2, 42 points, 3rd in Southeast Division, 9th in Eastern Conference
Calgary Flames: 18-16-5, 41 points, 4th in Northwest Division, 12th in Western Conference
Only meeting this season

A great deal of eyes from across the hockey world will be focused on the Verizon Center on Tuesday night, and not to watch Ovechkin. Veteran Flames sniper Jarome Iginla, in his 15th season with the team that drafted him 11th overall in 1995, scored his 499th career goal on Sunday, leaving him one strike away from the exclusive club. Iginla will be the 42nd player in the history of the NHL to reach the 500-goal plateau, and assistant head coach Jim Johnson and his defensive corps will be trying their damnedest to make sure a different city has the honor of celebrating Iginla’s milestone.

Stopping Iginla might be an onerous task for the Caps, but scoring on Calgary likely won’t be.  The Flames are in the midst of a three-game losing streak that coincides with an ongoing road trip due to the World Junior Championships, and have allowed an average of four goals a game during that streak.

While Iginla is no surprise atop the Flames’ goal-scoring leaderboard, he is surprisingly accompanied by Curtis Glencross, a former journeyman winger whose 15 goals are just nine away from his career high, less than halfway through the season.  Glencross’s emergence is one reason the Flames are at least in the playoff hunt, because extremely few of his teammates are performing up to expectations on offense. Only four Calgary players have double-digit goal totals, and the Flames are 25th in the league with just 2.45 goals/game (for reference, Washington is 9th, at 2.97/game).

10:30pm, HP Pavilion at San Jose

Washington Capitals: 20-15-2, 42 points, 3rd in Southeast Division, 9th in Eastern Conference
San Jose Sharks: 19-11-4, 42 points, 3rd in Pacific Division, 10th in Western Conference
First meeting this season

Although 10th place in the Western Conference is a disappointing spot for the Sharks, their standing is deceptive. At 42 points, the Sharks are just two points back of Pacific Division-leading Los Angeles with five games in hand, thanks to some creative scheduling from the central office. Earning 1.235 standings point/game, the Sharks would actually be the fifth seed in the West if the playoffs started today.

All season long the Sharks have been adept on both offense and defense.  San Jose is in the top 10 in both goals scored and goals allowed per game, at 2.79 and 2.41, respectively. They also boast great scoring depth. Captain Joe Thornton (7 goals, 23 assists) is the Sharks’ leading scorer, ranking 50th in the league, and 11 San Jose players are in double digits for points.

Backstopping the Sharks is Cup-winning goalie Antti Niemi, who continues to build off his stellar sophomore outing in 2010-11 with a 15-7-4 record, 2.36 GAA and .916 Sv%. The 28-year-old goalie is making his four-year, $15.2 million contract look like a steal, and Washington will be hard-pressed to beat a top-tier goalie with whom they have little to no experience (other than Troy Brouwer, who was teammates with Niemi during the Blackhawks’ Cup run in 2009-10).

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