Photo by Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images
It’s Thanksgiving Week in Washington, and that means hockey, with two home games wrapped around the holiday followed by a trip to the Motor City.
It is Thanksgiving Week, and for Washington Capitals fans, that means what has become the annual “wraparound” home games on Wednesday and Friday — this year featuring the two Florida franchises. The week’s “All-Atlantic Division” festivities wrap up with a quick visit to Detroit to play the Red Wings.
Florida Panthers (Wednesday/7:00pm)
The Florida Panthers visit Washington for the only time this season on Wednesday in the second of three games the teams will play this season. The Caps won the first game of the series in Florida on November 7th, coming back from a 4-3 deficit entering the third period on a Tom Wilson goal, and then winning it just 17 seconds into overtime on another Wilson goal.
Florida goes into the new week making some progress of late, going 5-3-0 in their last eight games. The Panthers are in the midst of a borderline bizarre schedule that sees them play 14 games at home in a 16-game stretch. After they visit the Caps they will return home for a nine-game home stand. Florida lost the first of the two road games in this portion of their schedule, dropping a 4-2 decision in Carolina to the Hurricanes last Saturday.
The Panthers have improved significantly under first-year coach Joel Quenneville, who took over for Bob Boughner. The Panthers played 24 games to a 12-7-5 record under Quenneville. Compare that to the 24-game record last season of 10-10-4. Their goal scoring is up, 85 to 77, year over year. Their goals allowed at this point (86) are almost unchanged from the same point last season (85), but they do have a more effective penalty kill, erasing shorthanded situations at an 83.0 percent rate through 24 games this season while doing it at a 76.3 percent rate at the same point last season. The power play is an odd creature for the Panthers in this regard. Last season the Panthers had 93 power play chances through 24 games and converted 26.9 percent of them. This year, the item of note is not so much the efficiency, this year’s version being slightly off last year’s pace at 24.3 percent, as much as the chances. Florida has enjoyed only 74 power play opportunities through 24 games this season.
What Florida has been able to do to improve its win-loss record so far this season is scratch out more points on the road. The Panthers have played 13 road games to date and compiled a 6-4-3 record for 15 standings points. Through 13 road games last season, the Panthers managed a 5-6-2 record and 12 points. They have done by scoring a bit more (43 goals on the road so far this season, 40 through 13 road games last season) and shaving a few off the goals allowed total (47 this season to 51 at the same point on the road schedule last season).
Tampa Bay Lightning (Friday/5:00pm)
The Tampa Bay Lightning make their first of two visits to Capital One Arena on Friday, the first meeting of the teams in their three-game series this season. If this rivalry lacks the intensity of those the Caps have with old “Patrick Division” rivals like the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Philadelphia Flyers, or the New York Rangers, it is one of the more interesting ones the Caps have. Former Southeast Division rivals, the Caps and Lightning have a memorable postseason history, having met three times. The first time, in 2003, the Lightning defeated the Caps in six games, clinching the series in a three-overtime game in Washington. The second time, in 2011, the Lightning swept the Caps while going into the series as a lower seed. The last time, in 2018, the Caps won the first two and last two games of a seven game series, shutting out the Lightning in Games 6 and 7 on their way to winning the Stanley Cup.
The Lightning seem to have shaken off some early season doldrums to get back to being the team fans were familiar with last season. After a 6-5-2 start that might have had people wondering if the team was in a funk after last year’s disappointing first-round playoff exit after posting a record-tying 62 regular season wins, the Lightning are 5-2-0 in their last seven games going into the new week.
The Lightning did not lack for offense in their sluggish start, averaging 3.31 goals per game in going 6-5-2. But since then they have been burning out bulbs on the scoreboard, averaging 4.43 goals per game in their last seven contests, posting five or more goals three times, including a 9-3 pasting of the New York Rangers on November 14th.
What stands out in the Lightning’s 5-2-0 record over their last seven games is that they have at least one power play goal in all five of the wins (12-for-21/57.1 percent), while they were blanked on the man advantage in the two losses (0-for-4). Their penalty kill is also perfect in the five wins (14-for-14), but it has been generally good of late, going 24-for-25 in November (96.0 percent). Tampa Bay goes into the new week with both the best power play (42.9 percent) and penalty kill (96.0 percent) in November.
What the Lightning have not yet done to shake off their slow start completely, though, is win on the road. Tampa Bay is just 6-5-1 on the road this season and has yet to win consecutive road games in regulation (they had consecutive road wins in October, the latter of them in a shootout). After defeating the Chicago Blackhawks in their last road contest, extending their string of alternating road wins and losses to seven games (4-3-0), they get a chance to get that second consecutive road win in regulation on Friday when they visit Washington.
Detroit Red Wings (Saturday/7:00pm)
The Caps make their first of two visits to Detroit on Saturday to face the Red Wings. For the Wings, these are the dark days. They missed the postseason for a third straight time last year, their longest string of playoff absences in more than 35 years (they missed five straight postseasons, 1979 through 1983). With the worst record in the league (7-15-3) going into the new week, they appear destined for a fourth straight year on the outside looking in on the playoffs.
Home has been no sanctuary for this team, either. Detroit goes into the new week with a 4-7-1 record on home ice, the worst in the league and as the only team left not having earned ten standings points on home ice. There is not much to wonder about as to why. The Red Wings have only 27 goals scored in 12 home games, the 2.25 goals per game being the second weakest scoring offense on home ice in the league (Winnipeg: 2.17). They have fewer even strength goals (18) on home ice than any team in the league and only twice recorded more than two in a home game.
The even strength troubles have not gotten any relief from special teams. The Red Wings have scored eight power play goals and allowed eight power play goals on home ice, and allowing both a shorthanded goal and scoring one.
The Red Wings have had a problem generally when it comes to defense at home. In 12 home games to date, they allowed five or more goals four times. Only New Jersey and Nashville have allowed at least five goals more times (five apiece), although perhaps oddly enough, only once did the Wings do so to an Eastern Conference team, and that was in early October (a 5-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs).
- Jakub Vrana. Vrana was the only multigoal scorer for the Caps last week, moving him into the number two spot in goal scoring for the Caps for the season (11, trailing only Alex Ovechkin with 15). In his last 11 games he is 7-3-10, plus-8.
- John Carlson. He just keeps piling up the points. John Carlson had four points (all assists) in Week 8 and had an eight-game points streak ended in the 2-1 shootout loss to Vancouver on Saturday. In his last eight games he is 1-12-13, plus-4.
- Lars Eller. It may seem odd to see Eller here, even given the fact that he was one of only four Caps to post two or more points in Week 8 (0-2-2). But he was effective at starting penalty kills in that he was 9-for-13 in shorthanded draws, while the rest of the team was 3-for-10 taking faceoffs on penalty kills.
- Dmitry Orlov. The Dmitry Orlov goal watch continues. He is now at 24 games and counting since recording his first and only goal of the season on Opening Night in St. Louis. Since then, he is 0-for-33 in shooting. Since he recorded that lone goal, Orlov is one of just six players in the league to have recorded at least 33 shots on goal without finding the back of the net.
- Radko Gudas. Perhaps more frustrating, Radko Gudas is looking for his first goal as a Capital, now having gone 25 games without one on 32 shots on goal. He has never been a big goal producer (career high of six with the Flyers in 2016-2017), but he and Nick Jensen are the only Caps defensemen to have played in at least ten games without one.
- T.J. Oshie. The occasional rough patch is a part of life for goal scorers, and T.J. Oshie is no exception. Oshie ended Week 8 with one goal in his last six games, two in his last ten and three in his last 15. He does not have an assist in his last seven games, and he does not have a power play goal in his last 15 games.
- The Capitals have played Wednesday-Friday home games in Thanksgiving week in each of the last four seasons, winning all eight of them.
- If the Caps score three goals against Florida on Wednesday, that will make it an even 200 goals scored against the Panthers on home ice in the all-time series.
- The Caps go into the week of facing all Atlantic Division opponents having played 150 games against the division in its current incarnation (since 2013 realignment), winning 100 of them.
Potential Milestones to Reach This Week:
- With one game-winning goal, Ovechkin would tie Brendan Shanahan (109) for sixth-place in league history; with two he would tie Teemu Selanne and Brett Hull (110) for fourth place.
- Ovechkin’s next hat trick will break a tie with Jari Kurri (23) for tenth place in career hat tricks; with two he will tie Cy Dennehy for ninth place.
- Jakub Vrana’s next point will be his 100the NHL point.
- John Carlson needs one game-winning goal to break a tie with Mike Green (20) for second place on the team’s all-time game-winning goals list among defensemen.
- Carlson needs one goal to break a tie with Scott Stevens for fifth place in goals in team history among defensemen; he needs two goals to become the fifth defenseman in team history with at least 100 goals with the Caps.
- With one overtime goal, Carlson would be alone in second place among Capital defensemen in career overtime goals with the club (he has two at the moment), trailing only Mike “Game Over” Green (eight).
- Nicklas Backstrom is two overtime goals short of becoming the second player in Caps history with at least ten overtime goals (Ovechkin: 23). He is currently tied with Mike Green for second-most overtime goals in team history (eight).
- Tom Wilson needs four assists to reach 100 career assists.
- Wilson’s next shorthanded goal will make him the active leader among Capitals in shorthanded goals with the club (five), unless Alex Ovechkin gets one first.
- Jakub Vrana needs one point to reach 100 for his career.
- Backstrom’s next empty net goal will be his 14th career empty netter with the Caps, breaking a tie with Kelly Miller for third place on the all-time franchise list.
- With one assist this week, Evgeny Kuznetsov would jump over Dennis Maruk (249) into 16th place in assists in team history.
- With one goal this week, T.J. Oshie would break a tie with Dino Ciccarelli for 25th place on the all-time team list for goals scored (both with 112) and tie Calle Johansson and Mike Green for 23rd place (113).
- Kuznetsov needs two goals to tie Johansson and Green for 23rd place on the all-time team goal scoring list and one point to tie Mike Green for 20th place on the all-time points list for the Caps (Green with 360).
- With his next shutout, Holtby will break a tie with Olaf Kolzig (35) for most shutouts by a goaltender for the Caps.
- With 47 minutes played, Holtby will pass 25,000 minutes played in his NHL career, only the second Caps goalie to do so (Olaf Kolzig: 41,260).