Washington Re-Capitals: Week Ten

Jakub Vrana has four points (2G/2A) this week after being held scoreless for three games straight to close out the month of November.

Vrana is four goals away from matching his career high of thirteen (2017-18) and five assists from his career high of fourteen assists (also during 2017-18). With nine more points this season, Vrana will also match his career high, all of which look easily within reach. He’s been a monster at even strength, with every one of his goals and all but one of his assists coming at even strength, and while his shooting percentage is hovering around 17%, he’s making the most of good linemates and scoring opportunities.

This increase in offense coming despite a two minute increase in average ice time for game means that Vrana, despite some minor slips here and there, is adjusting nicely to a scoring role on the Capitals. As his ELC (expiring in July 2019) comes to a close, making gains on career highs across the board is a very good sign for Vrana’s future earning opportunities and could secure himself a spot on the Capitals well past the Seattle Expansion Draft.

Status Cup-date

Record: 17-9-3 (Home: 8-4-2 / Away: 9-5-1)

Standing: 1st Metropolitan / 4th Eastern

Goals For: 106

Goals Against: 90

Team Leaders:

  • Goals: Alex Ovechkin (22)
  • Assists: John Carlson (25)
  • Points: Alex Ovechkin (36)
  • PIM: Evgeny Kuznetsov (28)

Game Recap-ital(s)

4th December: Washington Capitals @ Vegas Golden Knights, 10:00 pm EST (L, 5-3)

The Game Five rematch in T Mobile Arena obviously came with a lot of emotions, but the Caps fell short, leaving Vegas after a two goal loss. In their defense, it was a ten pm EST start and the game lasted nearly two hours — the Capitals were up past midnight, during the third, and it showed, especially when Nate Schmidt, who made this game, was on the ice.

The first period ended with the game tied at one — Ryan Reaves scored on the power play two and a half minutes in, and at fifteen and a half minutes into the first, Vrana and Connolly tied the game. The sole score of the second period was Ovechkin’s twentieth of the season (yeah, you read that right). In game twenty-seven of the season. That’s nearly a goal per game! As fans, we are truly blessed.

And then the third period happened, and the Capitals showed us why they all need a bedtime.

It started with a Bellemare goal, then continued with an Eakin goal, and closed with two Nate Schmidt goals, one on the power play and one on an empty net, once the Capitals pulled Holtby for the extra attacker. The Capitals only scored one goal to the Knights’ three that period, another tally from Jakub Vrana, who had the second multigoal game of his career. But, of course, because we can’t talk about how much Jakub Vrana’s stepped up to the plate this season in peace, this was the story of the night.

Reaves received no supplementary discipline, but Wilson was ruled out (and has remained out since) with a concussion. I don’t like Reaves. I don’t like Wilson. So I’ve kept my mouth shut, because there are a lot of people who like both, either, or neither. But an important thing to remember is that brain damage and brain injury are very real concerns for a lot of players, goons or otherwise, and any meme that refers to lasting, potentially permanent deficits in cognition, mobility, or any other field as “karma” or justified by someone’s behavior is not worth sharing. You can hate how people who throw questionable hits play the game without wishing long term disability on them and their family. It’s not a good look.

Let’s just not, okay? For the sake of disabled hockey fans everywhere. If fans are so adamant about this Hockey Is For Everyone thing working, that starts with not wishing brain injury on people, because just logically, that’s… wow. And I mean that in the worst way possible.

6th December: Washington Capitals @ Arizona Coyotes, 9:00pm EST (W, 4-2)

The Capitals came to Arizona ready to close the season series, and they closed it up well — drawing only two penalties (which seems like a record, given the Capitals’ string of penalty ridden games recently). Arizona opened the first with a Christian Fischer goal, but the Capitals evened the game in the second — Jakub Vrana’s ninth of the season and a Matt Niskanen tally, on which Pheonix Copley got an assist.

The Capitals came into the third tied, and this time, the tie didn’t signal a potential breakdown in the distance. Andre Burakovsky scored his fifth of the season, getting Matt Niskanen on the board for the second time that night, thanks to an incredible effort by Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen and Burra’s soft hands. To close out the game, Alex Ovechkin scored an empty netter from Nicklas Backstrom, the Capitals winning their first game in Phoenix since Wayne Gretzky was coaching the Yotes.

The win in Phoenix has been a long time coming, and the Capitals exit their season series with the Coyotes tied at one game apiece.

8th December: Washington Capitals @ Columbus Blue Jackets, 7:00pm EST (W, 4-0)

Well, Joonas Korpisalo did great. That’s one thing the Blue Jackets can take back to Columbus with them, but whew, Sergei Bobrovsky.

Coming into this season, everyone was talking about how a similar stellar season to last year could astronomically increase his value on the free agency market, but Bobrovsky’s three goals on thirteen saves tonight didn’t look anything like the dominant goaltender of last year.

Brett Connolly scored his fifth of the season, from Vrana (who’s been absolutely dominant this road trip) and Kuznetsov, followed by Dmitrij Jaskin’s first goal as a Capital, and an Alex Ovechkin goal, his twenty-second of the season. All in the first period. We’re terribly spoiled by this shot party team. Bobrovsky was pulled after that first period, and the Capitals waded their way through the second without a goal on Korpisalo, a trend they hoped wouldn’t continue into the third.

Eleven minutes into the third period, Travis Boyd broke the seal, off assists from Ovi and Nic Dowd, and although that was the Capitals’ last goal of the night, it put the cherry on top of a well needed shutout for Braden Holtby, who faced only twenty-eight shots in fifty-nine minutes and forty seconds of play.

Next Week’s Games

  • 11th December: Detroit Red Wings @ Washington Capitals, 7:30pm EST
  • 14th December: Washington Capitals @ Carolina Hurricanes, 7:30pm EST
  • 15th December: Buffalo Sabres @ Washington Capitals, 7:00pm EST

Weather Forecast

Detroit Red Wings

The second of three meetings with the Red Wings this season, the Capitals have won five times in the seven games since the Red Wings’ last visit to Capital One Arena. All five of those victories have been by a minimum of two goals, and both of their losses were by one goal (vs. Anaheim on Dec 2nd) or two goals (vs Vegas on Dec 4th). The Capitals are winning by large margins and losing by closer ones, keeping their goal differential sky high. The Red Wings are also playing roulette with large margins, but those bets work out in their favor much less often.

The Wings, since their last visit to Washington, have lost five games of the eight they’ve played, their three wins coming against the Blues, the Bruins, and the Leafs, two strong teams and the St. Louis Blues. Before coming to Washington, the Wings first have to defend LCA against the Los Angeles Kings. On one hand, I hope they pick up a well needed win to lift their spirits. On the other hand, I hope they pick up a Jack Hughes.

Tyler Bertuzzi is back from his suspension, and though Anthony Mantha (fourteen points in twenty-seven games played) is out due to injury, the Wings’ young skaters are a treat to watch. In particular, Dennis Cholowski, a twenty year old rookie defenseman who’s scored twelve points in the twenty-eight games he’s played so far this season, has been held scoreless since the 26th of November, an oddity thus far this season. Since the Capitals love breaking others’ falls, keep an eye out for a Cholowski point (or even goal!).

Every option feels wrong. I’m sorry, Detroit. You deserved better than this.

Carolina Hurricanes

The Carolina Hurricanes are fifth in the Metropolitan, as of Sunday night, and look as if they might be facing down the Capitals without center Jordan Staal and winger Micheal Ferland, both out due to concussions. Goalie Curtis MacIlhenney, suffering from an unspecified injury, is uncertain for Tuesday’s match against the Maple Leafs, his former team. Speaking of the Maple Leafs, before the Capitals travel to Raleigh, the Hurricanes have two games — one against the Maple Leafs and the second against the Canadiens. Having lost three of their last four (including a four goal loss to the Sharks on the fifth), the Hurricanes seem to be struggling despite a second-to-last strength of schedule so far this season.

The goaltending situation seems to be a nightmare, as a non Canes fan — though Charlie’s assured me that the McIlhenney injury seems more like a day to day concern than something that might merit IR placement, the Canes are left, then, with Petr Mrazek (former Wing, and for a short trip to the Twilight Zone, former Flyer) and Scott Darling, who has woefully underperformed this season but does not deserve a single one of the jokes being made about a potential relapse being the cause. Who will get the start for the Canes seems like a tossup, but Copley will likely get the start for the Capitals.

Keep an eye on Aho (27 points on the season) and Teravainen (20 points) in terms of scoring, and Jaccob Slavin, as always, to put on a masterclass in defending. The return of Fanny Rask’s brother Victor has proven disappointingly average for the Canes, and though the state of goaltending is shaky in North Carolina, this will be a hard fought win — the Canes’ strength is shot quantity, and whichever goalie the Capitals start is going to have to have a hell of a night to get out of Raleigh with the W.

Buffalo Sabres

The Sabres are on fire this year, and the Capitals have the misfortune of meeting them two weeks in a row.

The bad news: Jack Eichel’s team leading thirty-six points would tie Ovechkin for first on the Capitals.

The good news: The Capitals have three players above thirty points (Ovechkin, Backstrom and Carlson) to Buffalo’s two (Eichel and Skinner), and four (Ovechkin, Backstrom, Carlson, and Kuznetsov) to Buffalo’s three (Eichel, Skinner, and Reinhart) over twenty points.

This means the offense is slightly more spread out than it is on the Sabres, even with over ten Capitals shooting at rates far above league average. Eight Capitals are Corsi For positive, compared to six Sabres, but who knows, right? Every game is a toss up with this team.

Let’s see how it goes.

This Week In Review

The Capitals’ fourth line is on fire.

Jaskin, Dowd and Boyd have been together for two games now and at least one of them has been on the scoreboard in both. I’m excited by the level of offense coming out of the fourth line and hope it’s a sign of more to come from Boyd, who scored his first NHL goal this week against the Blue Jackets. Jaskin also broke a goal drought this week, though his was longer than Boyd’s — Jaskin hadn’t scored a goal in thirty games before that same game against Columbus. If that’s what our fourth line looks like all season, we’ve been blessed more than we could have ever dreamed of.

Wilson’s hot streak has unfortunately been interrupted by injury, and he remains out, as this article is being written, having missed both the game against the Coyotes and the game against the Blue Jackets. It’s unlikely, per team reports, that he will be available against the Red Wings on Tuesdays. Oshie remains out with no timetable for return, and Brooks Orpik, who was placed on IR on the 30th of October, approaches the six week mark for the recovery from his arthroscopic knee procedure. There’s been no word from the Caps yet about an Orpik return, so assume (or hope, because that’s cool too) he won’t be back this week.

Concussions have been rough for the Capitals this year, taking out Kuznetsov, Oshie, and Wilson, and those are just the injuries we know about — there have been plenty of vague upper body injuries, and it’s common knowledge that the league’s concussion protocol is easily cheated by players intentionally providing a lower baseline to make the bar easier to clear or players faking good results to get back in the game. The DoPS remains laughably inconsistent, as always, which means that pretty much nothing will be done.

The Capitals, thankfully, despite all these injuries, are looking good. While the seven game win streak is a thing of the past, winning two of three contests this week proves that the Capitals are in high gear and planning to stay there, which is good news for future playoff contention (yep, I said it). The team wants a second Cup. Maybe it’ll happen, and maybe it won’t, but rolling four lines capable of creating chances and finding the back of the net, they have a pretty good chance.

(Picture Credit: NoVa Caps)

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