January 27, 2020

Caps in Advance: Week 7

It was an extremely depressing week in the self-proclaimed “America’s Hockey Capital.”  Fans watched their Washington Capitals embark on a three-game road trip and return with no points.

The Caps let up last-minute goals to lose in Nashville, put forward a weak effort in Winnipeg, and then completely fell apart on a national stage with a 7-1 loss in Toronto.  Washington scored three goals, allowing 14, and are now the proud owners of a four-game losing streak, third worst in the NHL.

A week or two ago, the Caps’ week 7 slate looked like a promising opportunity to pick up some points and to challenge themselves against up-and-coming squads in the East.  Now, if you go by standings points, Alexander Ovechkin and company are underdogs in three of the four games, with the outlier being Wednesday’s match against the Jets (who, as noted above, walloped Washington last week).

And what of that company of Ovechkin?  Alexander Semin, who has recorded  more minor penalties (14) than points (9) this season, is expected to be a healthy scratch on Monday night.  In his place will skate Mathieu Perreault, who had surprisingly been relegated to the press box in five of the Caps’ past six games after a decent start in favor of the admittedly-impressive Cody Eakin.

Also expected to be scratched is either Jeff Schultz or Roman Hamrlik, whose poor performance has almost (almost) eclipsed the ongoing absence of Mike Green as the preeminent story on the D.C. blue line.  In one of their places will be Dmitry Orlov, a 6’0″, 210-pound wunderkind who brings puck movement, physicality, and exuberance to a depleted and depressed Capitals squad.

Games this week:


7:00pm, Verizon Center

Washington Capitals: 10-7-1, 21 points, 2nd in Southeast Division, 9th in Eastern Conference
Phoenix Coyotes: 10-5-3, 23 points, 2nd in Pacific Division, 5th in Western Conference
Only meeting this season

Last year:
Capitals: 48-23-11, 107 pts, 1st in Southeast Division, 1st in Eastern Conference
Coyotes: 43-26-13, 99 points, 3rd in Pacific Division, 6th in Western Conference

Phoenix, who sit in the middle of the Western Conference, could be a trap game for the Caps.  The Coyotes will be the fifth opponent Washington will only face once in the 2011-12 season; in the four previous games, Washington is 1-3-0, losing to the Edmonton Oilers (2-1), the Vancouver Canucks (7-4), and Dallas Stars (5-2), and falling behind by three goals to the Anaheim Ducks before storming back to tie the game in the last minute and then salvage a 5-4 overtime victory.

Statistically, Phoenix is in the middle of the league in goals scored (2.78/game, 16th overall) and goals allowed (2.39/game, 10th overall).  The Coyotes are led on offense by Ray Whitney (6 goals, 9 assists) and Radim Vrbata (8 goals, 7 assists).  Former Cap Boyd Gordon has been a revelation for Phoenix, with whom he signed a two-year, $2.65 million dollar contract on the first day of free agency.  Gordon has three goals in 18 games, matching his offensive output in 60 games with Washington last season, and the gritty center is a +7 while winning 55.7% of his draws, good for 10th best in the NHL (Nicklas Backstrom is the only Capital in the top 50, with a 51.4% win percentage good for 40th overall).

A key for the Caps will putting quality shots on netminder Mike Smith.  Phoenix is 2nd worst in the NHL in shots against, allowing 33.8 shots a game.  Smith has stopped most of those tries, and is 4th in the league with a .936 save percentage.  The shots will be plentiful for Washington at home on Monday night.  The key will be taking good shots and making Smith work, rather than letting him make easy stops that bolster his gaudy stats.

7:00 pm, Verizon Center

Washington Capitals: 10-7-1, 21 points, 2nd in Southeast Division, 9th in Eastern Conference
Winnipeg Jets: 8-9-3, 19 points, 4th in Southeast Division, 13th in Eastern Conference
Season Series: 0-1-0

Last year:
Jets (as Thrashers): 34-36-12, 80 points, 4th in Southeast Division, 12th in Western Conference

The chance for revenge against the Jets will come quickly for the Caps, who were dominated up and down the ice by Winnipeg last Thursday in a 4-1 loss.  Though Michal Neuvirth earned the loss, the Washington’s downfall was not a result of poor netminding but rather tepic play in the defensive zone and a complete lack of urgency in the offensive end.  The Jets are on a three-game winning streak, having triumphed in each of their games last week.

Winnipeg’s offense was led by Evander Kane, who scored twice and could have easily put in a couple others en route to the easy win.  Kane has eight goals on the season, half at home and half on the road, to lead the team in goals and points.  His surging Jets offense may soon be joined by erstwhile Capital Eric Fehr, who appears to have finally recovered from off-season shoulder surgery and was activated off Injured Reserve on Saturday.  Fehr, who hails from Winkler, Manitoba, just two hours outside Winnipeg, was traded by Washington to his childhood team in July for a 4th round draft pick and a prospect.

Beyond keeping a lid on Kane, Ovechkin and company will be hard put to solve Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec, who has been utterly dominant against the Caps as of late.  In his past four games against Washington, Pavelec is 4-0-0 with two shutouts, a 0.50 GAA, and a .985 save percentage.  If he’s not in the Caps’ head at this point, he should be.  Putting some early goals past Pavelec will be paramount to Washington’s success, otherwise they could be in for another disappointing night at home.

4:00pm, Verizon Center

Washington Capitals: 10-7-1, 21 points, 2nd in Southeast Division, 9th in Eastern Conference
New York Rangers: 10-4-3, 23 points, 3rd in Atlantic Division, 6th in Eastern Conference
First meeting this season

Last year:
Rangers: 44-33-5, 93 points, 3rd in Atlantic Division, 10th in Eastern Conference

The day after Thanksgiving (the American version), while most readers will be relaxing from the previous day’s overeating and/or doing their Black Friday shopping, the Caps will host the Rangers for our entertainment.  Friday is a national holiday, and the league is taking advantage of that by scheduling this game for a late afternoon (4:00 p.m.) time slot.  Don’t underestimate the potential impact of the early start, the first of the year for Washington.  Hockey players generally have regimented routines for game days, predicated on not taking the ice until the evening.  The earlier time, combined with possible festivities the day prior, could lead to some lethargic NHLers.

On the ice, prized offseason acquisition Brad Richards has clicked with previous prized acquisition Marian Gaborik to pace New York’s offense.  Second in goals and third in points on the Blueshirts is a more surprising name, newly-minted captain Ryan Callahan.  The American-born winger, given the captaincy weeks before the season, is having a career year and is rising to the challenge of being a leader in the New York City spotlight.

Another revelation this season has been Dan Girardi, who’s been elevated to the team’s top defender in Marc Staal’s absence.  Girardi leads the NHL in time on ice, averaging 27:48 a game.  Along with Ryan McDonough, he’ll be tasked with shutting down the Caps top line.  The way Washington has been playing on offense as of late, that assignment may not be particularly tough for the New York defensemen.

7:00pm, First Niagara Center

Washington Capitals: 10-7-1, 21 points, 2nd in Southeast Division, 9th in Eastern Conference
Buffalo Sabres: 12-8-0, 24 points, 1st in Northeast Division, 2nd in Eastern Conference
First meeting this season

Last year:
Sabres: 43-29-10, 96 points, 3rd in Northeast Division, 7th in Eastern Conference

Buffalo is a franchise with a new lease on life, thanks to the spend-happy ways of first-year owner Terry Pegula.  Hefty free agent contracts were given to Ville Leino (6 years, $27 million) and Christian Erhoff (10 year, $40 million; technically Erhoff wasn’t a free agent, the Sabres traded for the negotiating rights of the UFA-to-be).  Erhoff has been steady and Leino has underperformed, but that’s no real worry for Buffalo because franchise stars Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek are lighting it up.

Pominville, who was named captain at the start of the season, is on pace for a 33-goal, 94-point season, which would be by far a career best.  The Sabres captain is tied for fifth in the NHL in points with 23, while his teammate Vanek is fourth with 24 points and is tied for fourth in the NHL in goals, with 11.  Star goaltender Ryan Miller has faltered, and is currently out with a concussion.  In his place, third-year backup Jhonas Enroth has been playing lights out, posting a 7-2-0 record with a .931 save percentage and 2.06 GAA.


Capitals turn up intensity in shootout win over Buffalo

With every pre-season game that passes, the Washington Capitals have turned up the intensity a little bit each time.  Friday night against the Buffalo Sabres, before a not-quite packed house at Verizon Center, they did so again in beating the Sabres 4-3 in a six-round shootout.

Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green and Matt Hendricks all scored in regular time and Tomas Vokoun made 21 saves on 24 shots to lead the Caps to their second pre-season win.  After a scoreless overtime, the game went to a shootout, where the normal three rounds just weren’t enough. Backstrom beat Ryan Miller on the Caps sixth try and Vokoun stopped Luke Adam to finally secure the victory. [Read more…]

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