July 14, 2020

Caps in Advance: Week 15

Another week, another quartet of games for the Washington Capitals.  Alex Ovechkin and company hope to keep the good mojo flowing from last week, where they won their last three in a row (although not always playing their best).  The opportunities are there, considering the Caps take on three of the four worst teams in the Eastern Conference.

Despite earning three wins to close the week, Washington the week with an even goal ratio, having lost 5-2 to the Kings on Monday before reeling off a trio of one-goal wins: a 1-0 thriller over Pittsburgh, followed by a 4-3 victory over Tampa Bay in which the Caps struggled to put the visitors away late, and a sloppy 2-1 win over the Hurricanes where Carolina was clearly the better team.

Individually, Troy Brouwer had an outstanding week, scoring three goals against the Lightning and enabling the fourth, while Ovechkin and Dennis Wideman celebrated being named to the All-Star Game.

Tomas Vokoun has now started nine straight games for Washington, with a 7-2-0 record in that span.  The Czech goalie has cemented himself as the Capitals #1 goalie, at least for the time being, and figures to continue to earn beaucoup playing time in this busy week.

Games this week:

TUESDAY, JANUARY 17th v. NEW YORK ISLANDERS
7:00 pm, Verizon Center
TV: CSN

Records:
Washington Capitals: 24-17-2, 50 points, 1st in Southeast Division, 3rd in Eastern Conference
New York Islanders: 16-20-6, 38 points, 5th in Atlantic Division, 14th in Eastern Conference
Season Series: 0-1-0

Midway through the season the NHL haves and have-nots have begun to sort themselves out, and the Islanders are decidedly have-nots.  Jack Capuano’s squad is already 12 points back of the fourth-place team in their division, and preparations have probably already begun in Long Island for the 2012 Entry Draft.  Oft-injured goalie Rick DiPietro, he of the 15-year contract, is out for the season after sports hernia surgery.

Already supplanting DiPietro in net for the Isles is Evgeni Nabokov, who earned his 300th career win in the team’s game on Saturday.  Nabokov now has seven wins on the season, which along with his 19 games started now makes him the nominal Islanders starter over the other New York goalie, Al Montoya.  Nabokov’s stats are decent – he boasts a 2.64 GAA and .909 Sv% – but he gets no support from his teammates, who average 2.36 goals/game, fourth worst in the league.

New York rosters several potent goal-scorers whose consistency, not skill, is their weakness.  John Tavares (a former ward of Dale Hunter) is one of the best young centermen in the league, and teammate Matt Moulson has 21 goals in 42 games.  Moulson is also a +8, the only Islanders regular with a plus/minus in the positive.

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 18th @ MONTREAL CANADIENS
7:30 pm, Bell Centre
TV: RDS, TSN, CSN

Records:
Washington Capitals: 24-17-2, 50 points, 1st in Southeast Division, 3rd in Eastern Conference
Montreal Canadiens: 16-20-8, 40 points, 5th in Northeast Division, 12th in Eastern Conference
First meeting this season

Joining New York in the bottom of the Eastern Conference, somewhat surprisingly, are the Montreal Canadiens, who have imploded this season.  General Manager Pierre Gauthier fired tried firing an assistant coach to rouse his team, and when that didn’t work axed coach Jacques Martin, bringing in controversial (in that he only speaks English) coach Randy Cunneyworth.

Most recently, star forward Mike Cammalleri spoke out against his team’s attitude and, less than 24 hours, was pulled off the bench during the third period of a game and traded to the Calgary Flames.  Coming back to the Habs was Rene Bourque, finishing out a 5-game suspension for elbowing Nicklas Backstrom when the Flames and Caps met a few weeks ago.  Washington seemed poised for the chance to get revenge on Bourque, but the Caps will likely have to wait, as the physical forward appears likely to face another suspension for a hit Sunday night against the Rangers.

With Cammalleri gone, more of the offensive slack will fall on Erik Cole (17 goals, 16 assists), Tomas Plekanec (9 goals, 22 assists), and Max Pacioretty (15 goals, 17 assists).  In net for Montreal, as always, is Carey Price, whose disappointing 15-16-8 record – despite a 2.44 GAA and .913 Sv% – speaks to his teammate’s lack of production, just as with Nabokov on the Isles.

FRIDAY, JANUARY 20th @ CAROLINA HURRICANES
7:00 pm, RBC Center
TV: CSN

Records:
Washington Capitals: 24-17-2, 50 points, 1st in Southeast Division, 3rd in Eastern Conference
Carolina Hurricanes: 16-24-7, 39 points, 5th in Southeast Division, 13th in Eastern Conference
Season Series: 2-0-0

Against Carolina on Sunday night in D.C., the Capitals walked away with a 2-1 win but admitted that it was the Hurricanes that was the better team that game.  Carolina played strong against Washington one day after roundly beating the Boston Bruins, and the ‘Canes will have a chance for a revenge on Friday night, hosting a Washington team playing its third game in four nights.

Although he had little impact on Sunday, Jeff Skinner returned to Kirk Muller’s lineup after missing more than a month with a concussion.  Despite missing 16 games, Skinner is still third in scoring on his team with 12 goals and 12 assists. The sophomore sensation will hope to build on his strong start to continue to serve as a scoring threat alongside captain Eric Staal, whose offense has improved as of late but who cannot escape the albatross of his -21 plus/minus, still worst in the NHL>

SUNDAY, JANUARY 22nd @ PITTSBURGH PENGUINS
12:30 pm, Consol Energy Center
TV: NBC, NHL Network

Records:
Washington Capitals: 24-17-2, 50 points, 1st in Southeast Division, 3rd in Eastern Conference
Pittsburgh Penguins: 23-17-4, 50 points, 4th in Atlantic Division, 8th in Eastern Conference
Season Series: 2-1-0

Believe it or not, this is the last time the Caps and Pens will meet barring the playoffs.  In three meetings so far, the margin between these two teams has been razor-thin.  All three games were decided by one goal, and both squads combined for only 9 goals across those three matches.

Jason Chimera and James Neal have been the pace-setters for their respective teams in the season series, each scoring two goals.  Vokoun has started all three games against Pittsburgh, compiling a 1.32 GAA and .962 Sv% against the men in black and gold.

Still afflicted with injury, the Penguins have struggled over the past month and like Washington, teeter around the final playoff spot in the East. Star center Evgeni Malkin has stepped up his game considerably recently, allowing the Penguins to muddle through the absence of Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang, and Jordan Staal. If Pittsburgh hopes to have a fighting chance for the playoffs come April, Malkin will have to continue carrying the team on his back. From all appearances, he’s more than capable of doing so.

Abram Fox is the Washington Capitals Page Editor for District Sports Page. He has been covering the Capitals from the press box since the 2007-08 season.

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