May 24, 2018

Caps in Advance: Week 14

This is a busy week for the Washington Capitals, with four games in seven days, at the beginning of a stretch in which the Caps take the ice 10 times in 18 days.  If this were college basketball, the media would call this Rivalry Week.  After a visit to the Los Angeles Kings, Washington’s schedule presents a game against long-time enemy Pittsburgh, and then a pair of division matchups against the bottom 40% of the Southeast.

One player who’s likely glad for the busy week is Dennis Wideman, who continues to surge under Dale Hunter, his former junior coach.  Wideman scored a power play goal and added an assist in Saturday night’s 5-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks, vaulting him to 4th in the NHL scoring race among defensemen. The offensive defenseman now has four goals and 11 assists in 17 games under Hunter, scoring .88 points/game compared to .64 points/game under Bruce Boudreau.

Three of Wideman’s four goals under Hunter have been on the power play, where the Capitals are now operating at 19.7% efficiency, 7th best in the league and third in the Eastern Conference.

Games this week:

MONDAY, JANUARY 9th @ LOS ANGELES KINGS
10:30 pm, Staples Center
TV: NHL Network, CSN

Records:
Washington Capitals: 21-16-2, 44 points, 3rd in Southeast Division, 10th in Eastern Conference
Los Angeles Kings: 20-15-7, 47 points, 3rd in Pacific Division, 9th in Western Conference
Only meeting this season

The Caps hope that this Pacific Division opponent treats them kinder than the Sharks, who dispatched Washington with ease.  Last season the Capitals also faced the Sharks and Kings back-to-back, resulting in losses.  While San Jose’s roster was quite similar to last year’s, the Kings have a different look with Mike Richards, previously with the Philadelphia Flyers, who was dealt to the City of Angels during the offseason.

Richards has been disappointing for the Kings, scoring 13 goals and just 10 assists in 34 games so far this season, and no longer providing the same amount of leadership now that he isn’t the captain of his squad.  Teammate Anze Kopitar, who has topped 20 goals in each of his five NHL seasons, is barely on track to top make that benchmark and has slipped on the defensive side of the ice, poised to post a negative plus/minus after finishing 2010-11 at a +25.

Goalie Jonathan Quick has been Los Angeles’s saving grace at times.  The American Quick, in his fourth full season, has an 18-11-6 record with a 1.93 GAA and .934 Sv%, in the top 5 among starting goalies in both categories. More importantly, Quick is tops in the NHL with six shutouts, indicating crucial performances behind a team that’s dead last in the league in goals per game, scoring just 2.02 goals/game.

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 11th v. PITTSBURGH PENGUINS
7:30pm, Verizon Center
TV: NBCSN, TSN2

Records:
Washington Capitals: 21-16-2, 44 points, 3rd in Southeast Division, 10th in Eastern Conference
Pittsburgh Penguins: 21-15-4, 46 points, 4th in Atlantic Division,  8th in Eastern Conference
Season Series 1-1-0

Sidney Crosby has missed all but eight games this season (and appears likely to miss the remainder after suffering another concussion) and his injury bug appears to be spreading to the rest of the Pittsburgh Penguins roster.

Evgeni Malkin, perennially underrated in Crosby’s shadow, has 16 goals and 28 assists for 44 points to lead the team, but his comrades-in-arms James Neal (21 goals) and Jordan Staal (15 goals) both suffered potentially long-term injuries last week, dampening an offense that was previously running on all cylinders.

Health is also a major concern for the Pens’ defensive corps this season. The Penguins have dressed 12 different defensemen this season.  Zybnek Michalek and Brooks Orpik both missed significant time earlier in the season, and Norris candidate Kris Letang (who still leads Pittsburgh d-men in points) hasn’t played since suffering a concussion in a game against the Montreal Canadiens on November 26.

The Caps and Pens have played two tight games already this season, a 3-2 OT win for Washington and a 2-1 win for Pittsburgh, both on each other’s home ice.

FRIDAY, JANUARY 13th v. TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
7:00pm, Verizon Center
TV: NHLN, CSN

Records:
Washington Capitals: 21-16-2, 44 points, 3rd in Southeast Division, 10th in Eastern Conference
Tampa Bay Lightning: 17-20-3, 37 points, 4th in Southeast Division, 13th in Eastern Conference
Season Series: 1-0-0

Believe it or not, the Caps have only played Tampa Bay once this season, a 6-5 shootout win in the second game of the season.  These two teams will face off five times over second half of the season, starting with Friday’s home date.

Although the Caps haven’t played the Lightning lately, it’s impossible not to track the success of Steven Stamkos, whose 28 goals in 40 games lead the NHL and have him on pace for his third straight season with at least 45 markers.  Troubling for Washington, Stamkos also leads the NHL in goals against divisional opponents, with nine in 10 games.

Stamkos’s teammates-in-arms Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis also continue to defy age with strong seasons, and the trio continues to drive Tampa’s offense.  Those three are the only Lightning players with double-digit goals – nobody else has more than seven – even though ten players have at least 10 assists.  Marc-Andre Bergeron continues to impress given added ice time, with four goals and 19 assists as the team’s power play quarterback.

Age has not been nearly as kind to netminder Dwayne Roloson, who entered the season as Tampa Bay’s starter.  Roloson is 6-9-1 with a 3.76 GAA and .881 Sv%, those last two stats dead last in the NHL among eligible goalies.  Supplanting the 42-year-old Roloson is 33-year-old Mathieu Garon, who has been marginally better with a 11-11-2 record, 2.85 GAA and .903 Sv%, but if the Bolts have any playoff aspirations they’ll need better goaltending, from within or without the organization.

SUNDAY, JANUARY 15th v. CAROLINA HURRICANES
5:00pm, Verizon Center
TV: CSN-MA

Records:
Washington Capitals: 21-16-2, 44 points, 3rd in Southeast Division, 10th in Eastern Conference
Carolina Hurricanes: 14-22-7, 35 points, 5th in Southeast Division, 14th in Eastern Conference
Season Series: 2-0-0

Carolina is not having a particularly good season, to say the least.  After ending the 2010-11 season with a chance on the final day of the campaign to make the playoffs, the Hurricanes floundered this year and head coach Paul Maurice was fired the same day as Bruce Boudreau was let go by Washington.  Dale Hunter is 9-7-1 behind the Washington bench, while new ‘Canes bench boss Kirk Muller is just 7-9-2.

Adding to Carolina’s woes is Jeff Skinner’s concussion.  The star forward has been out since taking a heavy hit on December 7, and just began practicing again with the team in early January.  Despite missing a month Skinner is still second on the team in points with 24 (12 goals and 12 assists), and he may return to action as early as this week.

Captain Eric Staal has been severely underperforming by his standards, with just 10 goals and 16 assists in 43 games. He still leads the team in points but is on pace for his worst statistical season since his rookie year, and his -23 is by far the worst in the league in plus/minus.  Staal is a bellweather for Carolina’s success, and right now he is nothing but an ill omen for the men in red.

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