Washington Re-Capitals: Week Nine

Nicklas Backstrom (who has more points and assists than Sidney Crosby) has cracked the top ten of league wide point scoring while Alex Ovechkin waits just outside, and as the All-Star Game approaches (in San Jose, no less!), Capitals fans are joyfully reckoning with the fact that we may see both selected this year. The foundation for a Nicklas Backstrom, Metropolitan Division Captain campaign is already being laid on Twitter.

The real question: will you honor the Goblin King’s claim to the throne or face his fury?

Status Cup-date

Record: 15-8-3 (Home: 8-4-2 / Away: 7-4-1)

Standing: 1st Metropolitan / 4th Eastern

Goals For: 95

Goals Against: 83

Team Leaders:

  • Goals: Alex Ovechkin (19)
  • Assists: Nicklas Backstrom (23)
  • Points: Nicklas Backstrom (33)
  • PIM: Lars Eller (23)

Game Recap-ital(s)

26th November: Washington Capitals @ New York Islanders, 7:00pm EST (W, 4-1)

Though the Islanders got the first goal of the game, scored by Valtteri Filppula roughly thirty-six seconds into the game, they wouldn’t beat Braden Holtby again for the remaining fifty-nine minutes and twenty-four seconds of play — Holtby ended the night with a save percentage of 97% on thirty-three shots.

Tom Wilson opened the Capitals’ scoring, off assists by Backstrom and Bowey, extending his goalscoring streak to four games since his return from suspension. Sure, I don’t believe Wilson is going to completely shed questionable hits from his game, but the suspension at least has resulted in an offensive renaissance of sorts. Hopefully he realizes that scoring goals makes him just as valuable, if not more valuable, to the team as throwing big hits. The goal was Wilson’s fifth of the season, bringing him within nine of his career high of fourteen goals from last season. If Wilson continues at this clip, a new career high in goals (and maybe assists [21] and points [35] too) is absolutely imminent.

After a clean first period with no penalties drawn on either side, Washington earned three minors during the second period — a cross checking call against Ovechkin twenty seconds in, a too many men call roughly four and a half minutes into the second, and a tripping call against Orlov thirteen and a half minutes into the third. Thankfully, the Islanders didn’t convert on any of their three power plays. The lone goal of the second was scored by Dowd, from Jaskin and Carlson.

The Islanders came back to life in the third period, drawing two penalties twelve and twelve and a half minutes into the third — the first, a Tanner Fritz hooking call, and the second a tripping call against Thomas Hickey, which gave the Capitals an opportunity to play five on three for a minute and a half. And Tom Wilson delivered, scoring the first power play goal of his career since his rookie season in 2013-14. To wrap the win up like an early Christmas present, Ovechkin, Wilson and Backstrom combined for an empty net goal, sending Barry Trotz’ new family home with a loss.

Washington’s penalty kill didn’t allow a single conversion on four penalties, and the power play scored on the five on three, so special teams had the time of their lives tonight in Washington’s sixth win in the last two weeks. The first meeting with Trotz was heavily anticipated and the Capitals didn’t disappoint — hopefully the remaining three (18th January, 1st March, and 6th April, the last game of the season) will go their way too.

30th November: New Jersey Devils @ Washington Capitals, 7:00pm EST (W, 6-3)

The Capitals are looking for redemption in their second matchup of the season with the New Jersey Devils (9-11-4), having dropped the first decision 6-0. Thankfully, this edition of “Please Give Our Mojo Back” is taking place at Capital One Arena, where the Capitals have played their best hockey all season.

Nicklas Backstrom scored the lone goal of the first for his seventh of the season, with Ovechkin and Kempny gaining assists on the play, Washington’s only even strength goal through the first forty minutes. Washington’s PK allowed no conversions during the first period, holding the Devils to no goals on two minors.

The second period was a special teams party — Tom Wilson scored a shorthanded goal, assisted by Niskanen and Eller, eight seconds in, and Travis Zajac and Blake Coleman answered back with New Jersey’s first goal of the game, also shorthanded, to split the scoring in the second 1-1. Regardless, thanks to Backstrom, the Capitals entered the third period ahead by one, hoping to eke out the win.

And then came Crunch Time Hero, Andre Burakovsky, putting the Capitals up by two. And then Tom Wilson, not to be outdone, laid a questionable hit on the Devils’ Brett Seney. See it for yourself below.

I’m not going to get into the particulars — all we can see from the video is that the principal point of contact appears to be Seney’s shoulder, but that Wilson hit him from his blind spot, which doesn’t help his case. With Wilson’s history of checks to the head, the match penalty leveled against him for a suspected check to the head was almost inevitable. Wilson was ejected from the game.

To raise the team’s morale, Nicklas Backstrom scored again, this time on the power play, getting Evgeny Kuznetsov on the board in his return from injury. The power play marker was his second goal of the game, setting everyone on Backy Hatty Watch for the first time since December 2014.

Two Devils goals (Hischier from Hall and Johansson from Hall and Hischier) and an Ovechkin empty netter later, Nicklas Backstrom completed a hat trick nearly four years in the making, off a pass from who else? Alex Ovechkin.

The Capitals split the first two games of the series with New Jersey with a 6-3 win and come into Sunday’s game against Anaheim looking to extend a seven win streak to eight wins. Given that they didn’t lose the lead at any point against a New Jersey Devils team with better offense than Anaheim… this could be real, guys, girls, and fans of other genders. This could be a thing.

2nd December: Anaheim Ducks @ Washington Capitals, 3:00pm EST (L, 6-5)

The Capitals once again put us all through an exercise in patience today, making two hours seem like a month and a half for some ungodly reason.

Nicklas Backstrom scored his tenth of the season, from Ovechkin and Carlson, forty-one seconds into the first period to establish an early lead, cemented by Steve-o’s second goal, from Dowd and Jaskin at the six minute mark. Everyone’s favorite homophobic slur slinging chrome dome scored right before the halfway mark of the first period, but the Capitals stuffed the Ducks down further into a pit of their own making with…  another Tom Wilson power play goal, establishing a career high. He’s never had more than one power play goal in a season. Never.

The first half of the second period saw the Capitals widening their two goal lead by two more — a Kuznetsov goal from Connolly, and Nic Dowd’s third goal in four games.

And from there on in, the house of cards collapsed.

Cogliano scored his second of the season, followed shortly by Rickard Rakell’s fifth of the season. Both scores were within one minute of each other. Then, to add insult to injury the Ducks scored thrice to open the third — two goals by Aberg (7:16 [PPG] and 14:55), and one by Hampus Lindholm (9:01 [PPG]). The Capitals’ penalty kill, after two good games, falls flat on its face in allowing two power play conversions in a row.

Please don’t let the win streak end like this, Caps. Not after you successfully ousted John Gibson thirteen minutes into the game. This is beyond frustrating. This is absolutely, mind-numbingly horrible. Granted, all good things have to end, and I know this win streak wasn’t going to last forever, but going out with grace is also a possibility, right? The Caps don’t need to get absolutely plowed by the Anaheim Ducks, of all teams.

(I think my Pacific Division allegiances are getting a little too obvious.)

And the Caps lost. After a miracle of a first thirty-three minutes, the Capitals get caught slacking off in the third and Pontus Aberg signs, seals, and delivers the death notice.

I’d say good game, but, after the Kuznetsov goal, it really wasn’t.

Roster Spot Musical Chairs

  • To NHL: Evgeny Kuznetsov (back from head injury/concussion)

Next Week’s Games

  • 4th December: Washington Capitals @ Vegas Golden Knights, 10:00 pm EST
  • 6th December: Washington Capitals @ Arizona Coyotes, 9:00pm EST
  • 8th December: Washington Capitals @ Columbus Blue Jackets, 7:00pm EST

Weather Forecast

Vegas Golden Knights

The Golden Knights, like the Capitals, are coming off a recently ended win streak, though theirs was only five games long and included an inexplicably terrible (haha, sorry, I meant a terrible because their coach can’t set a lineup well) Sharks team, a Blackhawks team without Jokiharju to bail them out, the Edmonton Oilers, and a too close win over the Canucks. Both teams will be hungry for another win, but the Capitals have one thing that the Knights don’t — an absolutely ridiculous goal differential.

Over the course of their five game win streak (21st November to 29th November), the Knights won three of their five games by two goals or less. The wins against the Sharks (6-0) and the Blackhawks (8-3) were by larger margins, but if you extend the pattern out further, the Knights’ style seems to be scraping out a few one or two goal wins and then inflating their differential by massively blowing out a subpar team (Sharks, Blackhawks, Ducks, etc.)

The moral of this story is don’t let the Knights get too far ahead. Take note, Capitals. Even 5-1 leads aren’t safe anymore.

Arizona Coyotes

The Yotes, coming off a 6-1 win on the first against a truly terrible St. Louis team, have to face the Los Angeles Kings before making their trip to D.C. Given the state of affairs in L.A., I don’t know if the acquisition of Scherbak will make a difference in the seemingly obvious outcome.

With Galchenyuk back at 1C beside Keller, there’s no way L.A. doesn’t get dragged through an ocean of thorns toward an entirely unsatisfying ending. And if Arizona comes into Capital One Arena with confidence? The Capitals need to be wary. After a five game winning streak at the tail end of October, the Coyotes haven’t won more than three games in a row. Winning against L.A. would be a fourth. The Capitals have a good chance to get a much-needed win and sweep the season series and they shouldn’t squander it.

Two desert dogs with one stone, am I right?

Columbus Blue Jackets

The Blue Jackets have had a strange week. Not a tough one, but a strange one — they started the week by beating the abysmal, yet somehow still scoring Dead-troit Red Wings (I felt bad just typing that, but it had to be done) 7-5 in a high scoring romp. Then they returned home to Columbus to face Minnesota, who had lost three of their last five coming into Columbus, and the Blue Jackets made quick work of the Wild in a 4-2 loss. Then the Jackets went to the Big Apple, and Barry Trotz pulled one over them, the Islanders narrowly escaping with the win in a 3-2 decision. With both Bobrovsky and Korpisalos’ save percentages dipping below below 90% three times in their last five games (88% vs TOR on 19th November, 84.4% vs DET on 26th November, and 89.7% vs NYI on 1st December for Bob, and 57.1% vs DET on 30th October, 78.9% vs NYR on 10th November, and 88.9% vs PIT on 24th November for Korpisalo), the Capitals have a chance to turn on the shot volume, as they love to, and run away with the win.

 

This Week In Review

The ending of the win streak hurt, sure, but let’s start with a positive — Nicklas Backstrom is having a hell of a season. With thirty-three points in twenty-six games, Nicklas Backstrom, at age thirty-one, must feel a metric ton lighter after bringing home that Stanley Cup. He’s putting together a career season at what analysts say should be the tail end of his prime, if not a time of gradual decline, with less than average offensive zone starts and constantly shifting teammates. The promotion to the top line has put some new pep in his step — Backstrom has scored at least one point in each of the last three games, and more than three in two of them. He has been held pointless in only six games. Six games. He’s in the top ten in league wide scoring. Nick Backstrom is having the year of his life and we are lucky to witness it.

Kuznetsov returned from injury to the tune of three points (1G/2A) in two games, immediately making his presence known to his teammates and opponents alike, but T.J. Oshie remains out, reportedly dealing with the fifth concussion of his career. Before Josh Morrissey’s hit derailed his season, Oshie, nearly thirty-two years old, had fourteen points in eighteen games, on the doorstep of scoring his tenth goal of the season. The lowest points total Oshie has ever posted was twenty, in a season where he only played in thirty games. He is reportedly making progress, though he hasn’t skated since getting hurt (per the Washington Post’s Isabelle Khurshudyan), and will not travel with the team on this week’s road trip. Oshie has missed eight games, as of the loss against Anaheim.

Brooks Orpik, also mentioned in Khurshudyan’s article, can stay gone. The defensive corps has dealt with some hiccups and growing pains here and there, but providing young defensemen with an opportunity for growth and accumulation of NHL experience that they probably wouldn’t get with Orpik in the lineup is invaluable.

(Picture Credit: RMNB)

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