Four-game work weeks seem to be the norm for the Caps lately, but the spice this week is in seeing how the terrain changes as the trading deadline passes.
Week 14 is another four-game work week for the Washington Capitals. Perhaps they will be energized by the 8-1 thumping they put on the Boston Bruins to end Week 13. They could use the jolt for a week that includes two games against an old, if fading rival, and a rematch against the Bruins in Boston.
Philadelphia Flyers (Tuesday/7:00 at Capital One Arena and Saturday/12:30 at Wells Fargo Center)
Last season, the Caps had their problems with the Philadelphia Flyers, losing their last three meetings of the season (two at home) after winning their first encounter and being outscored, 15-6. Things change. The Flyers won the opening match of this season, a 7-4 loss for the Caps after Washington got out to a 2-0 lead that suggested things would continue going the Flyers’ way in this rivalry. But since that first contest, the Caps have won three in a row against the Flyers, outscoring them by a 13-8 margin.
When the calendar flipped from February to March, the Flyers were, well, flying. Their 11-4-3 record was the fifth-best points percentage in the league at the time (.694). Things took a dark turn starting in March, though. Since March 1st, the Flyers are 8-12-3, their .413 points percentage ranking 24th in the league. It has left the Flyers on the outside looking in at playoff eligibility, starting the new week four points behind the Boston Bruins for the last playoff spot in the East Division (Boston has two games in hand).
There is little mystery to what ails the Flyers. They cannot put pucks in the net, and they cannot keep pucks out of the net. In their 11-4-3 start, Philadelphia was scoring 3.39 goals per game, sixth-best in the league. But since March 1st, that scoring offense collapsed, to 2.61 goals per game (21st).
Applying that comparison to the other end of the ice, their scoring defense was middle of the pack (2.89 goals allowed per game/16th in the league) through February 28th. Since then, the Flyers have allowed 4.00 goals per game, dead last in the league since March 1st. The change in goal differential of plus-0.50 per game to minus-1.39 goals per game, a swing of almost two goals per game overall in the wrong direction, has put the Flyers in a bind from which they seem unlikely to escape this season.
Buffalo Sabres (Thursday/7:00 at Capital One Arena)
The Caps will wrap up their season series with the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday in Washington. The Caps carry a 6-0-1 record against Buffalo into this contest, although the series has not been as dominant for the Caps on the scoreboard as in the win-loss columns. Among their six losses to the Caps, Buffalo suffered three one-goal losses (one in a shootout), and another game featured an empty net goal by the Caps in what was a one-goal game with just over a minute to play (January 14th, a 6-4 Caps win).
The Sabres made a bit of a go of it by winning three of four games (3-0-1) after coming out of a ghastly 0-15-3 slump that left them at the bottom of the league standings. But they stumbled since, going 1-2-0 in their last three games heading into the new week. The Sabres have already started clearing house as the Monday trading deadline approaches, sending defensemen Brandon Montour to the Florida Panthers, goalie Jonas Johansson to the Colorado Avalanche, Eric Staal to the Montreal Canadiens, and Taylor Hall and Curtis Lazar to Boston, draft picks being the primary return in all of those deals.
It is the last bit of excitement that Sabres Nation might have this season, one that has been just so uniformly awful The Sabres are a bottom-five club in so many statistical categories – scoring (2.32 goals per game/29th), scoring defense (3.46 goals allowed per game/29th), shots per game (28.7/28th), shots allowed per game (32.6/28th), winning percentage in one-goal games (.294/27th), winning percentage in three goal or more games (.176/30th), overtime losses (six/tied for 27th), winning percentage when scoring first (.357/31st), and winning percentage when leading after two periods (.556/31st).
If there has been one ray of sunshine for the Sabres, though, and one that the Caps should pay attention to, it is the power play. The Sabres’ 21.6 percent power play ranks 13th in the league heading into the new week, although even here there is despair. Since March 1st, that power play, at 7.3 percent, ranks last in the league.
Boston Bruins (Sunday/12:00 at TD Garden)
It has not been quite like a playoff series, but three games in ten days against one opponent qualifies as close. The Caps and the Bruins will meet for that third game in ten days on Sunday afternoon after the Caps demolished the Bruins, 8-1, on Sunday night. The Bruins enter the new week in good, but not certain position to win a playoff spot, holding down fourth place in the East Division by four points over the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers with two games in hand on both teams.
But Boston is still just 9-7-4 since March 1st, ranked 17th in the league in points percentage over that span (.550). It is a thin lineup with which they are playing at the moment, missing both goaltenders – Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak – as of Sunday as well as defensemen Brandon Carlo, Charlie McAvoy, and Matt Grzelcyk. All but Grzelcyk (day-to-day) are on injured reserve.
Perhaps the addition of Taylor Hall from Buffalo will provide some needed energy to a moribund offense that has averaged only 2.45 goals per game (25th in scoring offense) in 20 games since March 1st. And perhaps the change in scenery will invigorate Hall, who after posting a 39-54-93, plus-14, season with New Jersey in 2017-2018 in which he won the Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player, has gone 29-79-108, minus-41, for three teams (New Jersey, Arizona, and Buffalo). The Bruins are entering an add part of their schedule. Of their next 11 games starting with Week 14, they play the Buffalo Sabres six times, and the Islanders, Penguins and Caps five times. When Boston hosts Washington on Sunday, it will be their third game in four days, following a back-to-back set with the Islanders. They do not have an easy week ahead of them.
- Vitek Vanecek. Since February 16th, Vitek Vanecek is 12-4-1, 2.18, .922, his 12 wins tied for fifth among all goalies over that span, his save percentage ranking 11th of 49 goalies with at least 500 minutes over that span, and his goals against average ranking 10th in that group. Overall, he leads all rookie goalies in wins (17), is fifth in goals against average (2.60; minimum: 200 minutes), and sixth in save percentage in that group (.913).
- Dmitry Orlov. After a slow start to the season (1-0-1, minus-3, in his first 18 games), Dmitry Orlov is 4-6-10, plus-9 in his last 19 games.
- Alex Ovechkin. Since March 1st, Alex Ovechkin ranks first in the league among 473 skaters appearing in at least 15 games in goals per 60 minutes (1.95), and his ten goals overall rank second (Mikko Rantinen: 11).
- Jonas Siegenthaler. After dressing for 64 games last season and averaging 15:44 in ice time per game, he suited up for only seven games this season, averaging 12:23 per game. He dressed for only one of the Caps’ last 31 games, and that one for one shift and 28 seconds. He was not just cold, he was buried under a glacier…but he was unearthed and sent to New Jersey. Good luck, Jonas.
- Richard Panik. Richard Panik is the only forward to dress for more than one game against the Flyers this season and not scored a point.
- Evgeny Kuznetsov. You would think a skill player could pad his stats against the Buffalo Sabres this season. Not Evgeny Kuznetsov. He has one point (an assist) in five games.
- If Alex Ovechkin gets a game-winning goal against the Sabres, he will tie Peter Bondra for most game-winners against Buffalo in Caps history (six).
- The Caps have three regulation losses in April. They do not normally play many regular season games in this month, but those three regulation losses are more than any the team has had in April since they went 2-7-0 in April 1999. In only three Aprils have they lost in regulation more (1992-1993: 4-4-0; 1994-1995: 7-6 with one tie).
- No defenseman in the East Division has more points this season against Buffalo than Justin Schultz (eight, tied with the Rangers’ Adam Fox), and he has the best plus-minus rating (plus-11).
Potential Milestones to Reach This Week:
- Needs one overtime goal to break a tie with Mike Green (currently with eight apiece) and take over second place alone in Caps history (Ovechkin: 24).
- With one game-winning goal this week, Backstrom would have 20 career game-winning goals on the road.
- With two empty net goals, Backstrom would tie Mike Ridley (16) for second place on the Caps’ all-time list.
- With three empty net points, Backstrom would hit the 50-empty net point mark in his career.
- Ovechkin needs two game-winning goals overall to tie Phil Esposito for third place all-time in game-winners (118).
- With four goals, Ovechkin would tie Marcel Dionne for fifth-place on the all-time goal scoring list.
- With one game winning goal on the road this week, Ovechkin would tie Patrick Marleau (51) for sixth-place all time in game winning goals. Two, and he would tie Brett Hull (52) for fifth place on that list. Three, and he would tie Brendan Shanahan (53) for fourth place. And if he runs the table and gets four, he would tie Gordie Howe (54) for third place.
- With one game winning goal at home this week, Ovechkin would tie Gordie Howe for third-place on the all-time list (67).
- With 11 shots on goal at home this week, Ovechkin would tie Wayne Gretzky for fourth-place all-time in this category (2,823).
- With one overtime goal on the road, Ovechkin would tie Jaromir Jagr for most all-time (12).
- Kuznetsov needs two shootout goals to become the third Capital with 20 in his career (Ovechkin: 34; Backstrom: 27).
- With one game-winning goal, Kuznetsov would tie Brooks Laich and Kevin Hatcher (24) for 12th place on the Caps’ all-time list.
- Kuznetsov needs only one overtime goal to tie Backstrom and Mike Green for second place all-time on the Caps’ list.
- Needs two game-winning goals to tie Michal Pivonka (27) for tenth place on the Caps’ all-time list.
- Carlson needs two power play points to tie Dale Hunter (191) for eighth place all-time in Caps history.
- With two assists, Carlson would become the fourth player in Caps history to reach the 400-assist mark for his career.
- With one game-winning goal, Chara would tie Larry Murphy, Mathieu Schneider, and Dustin Byfuglien for 12th place (36) on the all-time list among defensemen. With two, he would tie Kevin Hatcher for 11th place (37).
- With 17 penalty minutes, Chara would become the 18th defenseman in NHL history with 2,000 penalty minutes.
- Hagelin needs three even strength goals to reach 100 in that category for his career.
- With one point this week, Oshie would pass Marcus Johansson for 26th place on the all-franchise list of point getters for the Caps (both with 290). Ten, and he would become the 26th player in team history to reach that mark with the Caps.