Washington Re-Capitals: Week Thirteen

A lot of people like to claim the number thirteen is unlucky. There’s even a name for being afraid of the number thirteen: triskadekaphobia. But the Capitals, who went 2-0 this week, proved those people wrong. Thirteen may be unlucky for some, but for others– oh, what’s that? Brooks Orpik is coming back?

I guess it’s time to be afraid of fourteen now instead.

Status Cup-date

Record: 24-10-3 (Home: 12-5-2 / Away: 12-5-1)

Standing: 1st Metropolitan / 3rd Eastern

Goals For: 135

Goals Against: 106

Team Leaders:

  • Goals: Alex Ovechkin (29)
  • Assists: Nicklas Backstrom (33)
  • Points: Alex Ovechkin (45)
  • PIM: Madison Bowey (38)

Game Recap-ital(s)

27th December: Carolina Hurricanes @ Washington Capitals, 7:00pm EST (W, 3-1)

The Hurricanes, despite a strong effort by Sebastian Aho’s first line, fell to the Capitals by two goals, putting the Capitals ahead 2-0 in their season series, with two games to go at the end of March. After a multitude of inexplicable lineup decisions, the Hurricanes folded and put Andrei Svechnikov (who already has ten goals and eighteen points in a largely third line role this season) on the first line with the Terrible Twosome that @charliepotatobug lovingly calls “Ahoväinen”. The Canes rolled into the District of Columbia with two losses in their last three games, barely holding onto a .500 record, and the bright spot is that they didn’t leave that way. The less bright spot is that they were below .500 when they left.

Oops.

After an uneventful (save for the penalties) first period, Chandler Stephenson kicked off the scoring at 3:33 of the second period, telling the Canes to Take Warning. By the end of the second period, they were down by two goals — the power play finally converted, thanks to T.J. Oshie, John Carlson, and the Great Eight himself.

The Caps went into the last intermission satisfied, and didn’t give up the ghost in the third. They did, however, give up Matt Niskanen, who was involved in a face to the boards collision with Carolina’s Clark Bishop and Dearly Departed Former Capital Justin Williams. Niskanen left the ice under his own power, a reassuring sign, and despite allowing Aho his fifteenth of the season, Carlson came up big for Washington in the final minute, scoring an empty netter to seal the win.

Despite a rash of penalties both ways in the first, Washington going one man down on three calls (a tripping call against Nicklas Backstrom, a hooking call against Brett Connolly, and an interference call against T.J. Oshie) and not giving up a single power play goal to Carolina. Despite not converting on their lone power play of the first period, the Capitals were given three opportunities in the second — two interference calls served by Andrei Svechnikov and a hooking call against Brett Pesce, which T.J. Oshie turned into a goal. The Canes got a chance at the man advantage in the last quarter of the third period, when Michal Kempny high sticked an unsuspecting Cane, but didn’t convert.

For all the trouble the special teams units had last week, the power play units converted on one of four opportunities tonight. The second unit has to step up a little more, but the first unit is back in shape, as Oshie proved today. Regardless, after a night of fun and antics, it was only reasonable that the game ended with a Reirden misconduct, served by… Nicklas Backstrom?

29th December: Washington Capitals @ Ottawa Senators, 7:00pm EST (W, 3-2)

And, just like that, the Caps are onward to Ottawa, a three game win streak (including another game against the Senators) under their belts. The Capitals were successful in their lone visit to the Canadien Tire Centre so far this season, shutting out the Senators in their own home to the tune of four goals to none. Their second visit to the CTC, and last of the season, went much the same way, extending a four game losing streak started by the Devils on December 21st and giving a chance to the Blue Jackets (who play the Senators on the 31st of December) to make them lose their way into the new year.

While this match wasn’t the shutout that the last was, there was an unexpected hero for the Capitals. Twenty-four year old rookie Tyler Lewington, who made his debut against Ottawa on the twenty-second, was back to prove himself against the Senators, and prove himself he did, with his first career Gordie Howe hat trick (the Capitals’ first in seven years) in only his second NHL game. Lewington, who played on the third pair, also earned another honor that he split with fellow young defenseman Madison Bowey — they were the first defensive pair in Capitals history to score their first NHL goals on the same night.

Tom Wilson scored seven minutes into the game, off assists from Kuznetsov and Lewington, and four minutes from the end of the frame, Lewington extended the Capitals’ lead to two goals, off assists from Backstrom and Siegenthaler. Imagine your first NHL goal being set up by Nicklas Backstrom. Lewington could hardly believe it either — especially when the moment was capped off by Alex Ovechkin retrieving the puck for him.

Penalty Box Permanent Resident Madison Bowey scored the Capitals’ last goal of the night (and his first of his career) one minute into the second period, getting Tom Wilson on the scoreboard with an assist. In the tradition of Russians doing things for the littlest Capitals, Kuzy brought the puck back to Bowey to celebrate (which lovable party animal Jakub Vrana muscled in on). Three and a half minutes later, Colin White scored Ottawa’s lone goal of the second, and their first of two on the night, but the second period didn’t end well. Both teams racked up a combined seven penalties, including four majors, for a combined total of thirty-four penalty minutes in one period. It all started shortly after White’s goal — Bowey was assessed a major for fighting and a minor for an illegal check to the head, matched by a major and a minor against Brady Tkachuk, his for instigating (two minutes) and fighting (five minutes). Tkachuk also received a ten minute game misconduct that saw him ejected from the game.

Three quarters of the way into the period, Lewington got his chance to avenge the slight against Bowey’s honor — he completed his Gordie Howe Hat Trick (a goal, an assist, and a fight) by dropping the gloves against Zack Smith. The last Capitals defenseman with a Gordie Howe Hat Trick was Kevin Hatcher, on February 10th, 1991. Lewington wouldn’t be born yet for almost three years. Bowey got two thirds of the way there, thanks to the game winner and the fight against Tkachuk, but couldn’t find the assist he’d have needed to match Lewington on the scoresheet. But scoring his first NHL goal must have been reward enough for Bowey, who had waited seventy-eight games to change the zero on his stat line.

Either way, the Capitals are set to face the Predators on the 31st for the last Caps game of 2018 with a four game winning streak in hand and a determined cast of characters hoping to win their way into the new year. As always, the depth is shining bright.

Roster Spot Musical Chairs

  • To NHL: Tyler Lewington (recalled 12/27)

Next Week’s Games

  • 31st December: Nashville Predators @ Washington Capitals, 12:30pm EST
  • 3rd January: Washington Capitals @ St. Louis Blues, 8:00pm EST
  • 4th January: Washington Capitals @ Dallas Stars, 8:00pm EST
  • 6th January: Washington Capitals @ Detroit Red Wings, 5:00pm EST

Weather Forecast

Nashville Predators

The Predators have forty-six points in the standings to the Capitals’ fifty-one, and thanks to a loss against the Rangers on the 29th, find themselves on the outside looking in on the six teams (Tampa Bay [62], Toronto [54], Washington [51], Winnipeg [50], Calgary [50], and Vegas [50]) to have fifty or more points in the standings heading into 2019. The six teams are split evenly between the Eastern Conference and the West, showing a wealth of riches at the top of each conference, but middling returns past that point — by tenth place (the Pittsburgh Penguins), there’s only forty-seven points in the standings. At fifteenth, the Islanders clock in at forty-four. At twentieth, the Rangers have a scant thirty-nine. Every point in the standings matters and this year more than usual, considering how large a number of the bottom ten teams would need near perfect records, an act of God, or both to get into the playoffs.

Nashville is not one of those teams — in the thick of things at eleventh league wide and second in the Central Division, with a +13 goal differential, the Predators are 14-7-0 at home in Bridgestone Arena. Luckily, the Capitals have home field advantage, where the Preds’ results are far more mediocre — they’re 8-8-2 on the road, and the Capitals can take full advantage. On a five game losing streak that shows no signs of rolling to a close despite the return of Arvidsson and P.K. Subban, the Predators have lost seven of their last ten games. While their 114 goals for looks substandard against the Capitals’ 135, it’s important to remember that the Central is weak this year, and succeeding in the Western Conference is a whole different game than the East.

The Preds are in desperate need of a win to stop their freefall, and desperation is a powerful motivator. Will Arvidsson and Subban be enough to chase away the ghost of Filip Forsberg’s absence? Or will the ghost of Martin Erat be the one that prevails?

Either way, the Capitals can take home a win here if they play their cards right — and by playing their cards right, I mean not playing Brooks Orpik.

St. Louis Blues

The St. Louis Blues are a horror show. Handily in the bottom three despite some hefty acquisitions during the offseason that had everyone and their uncle convinced St. Louis would be in the playoffs for the long haul, the Blues are rocking a -20 goal differential and dismal records both at home (where the Capitals will pay them a visit) and away. The Blues have somehow amassed fifteen wins on the season and over a hundred goals for.

There’s no way they beat the Capitals (unless Tom Wilson’s thirst for vengeance against the Blues gets ahead of his new identity as a goalscorer). I’m saying it outright. If the Capitals lose in St. Louis, they look ridiculous. And I’m saying this as someone who has nothing but love and respect for Vladimir Tarasenko, who deserves nothing but joy and success. He’s doing his best. As Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin know well, it’s hard to succeed on an elite level when there’s a rotating cast of AHL-ers around you.

With a game against the New York Rangers before the Capitals roll into town, the Blues have an opportunity to at least recoup some morale before the Capitals make mincemeat out of their hopes and dreams. This effort is complicated by a six to one loss handed to them by the Penguins, but they did kick off their five game homestand (which started on the 27th of December) with a win against Patrik Berglund’s Sabres!

Oh, wait.

Never mind. Just regular Sabres now.

Either way, godspeed, Vova. For his sake, I hope he scores. For the Blues’ sake, I hope they do a very good job in developing Jack Hughes. I don’t know which option is less painful.

Dallas Stars

Wow.

The Dallas Stars have had a hell of a week, and Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, despite Seguin’s past indiscretions with the press, have handled the situation admirably. It’s one thing for your boss to hate you and another thing entirely to have your boss cuss you out to national media. They’re making the best of a bad situation, or at least promoting that image to the media, and that’s the best they can do. The rest of the team should take note, especially because the complaints about Benn and Seguin not carrying the team tell only half the story.

If we’re going by relative Corsi and Fenwick, Benn is having his best defensive season ever. His highest CF% rel before his 5.7 in 38 games this season ever was 3.2 (achieved twice in 2012-13 and 2014-15). The same trend continues with relative Fenwick percentage — his 5.2 in 38 games is his highest since he hit 5.0 in 2012-13. In both categories, he was actually negative more recently than he was close to career highs.

People disparaging Seguin are ignoring the same thing — Seguin’s career high CF% rel was 7.1 in 48 games in the lockout shortened season with the Bruins, which doesn’t count (both because of the lockout and because the 2018-19 Stars are definitely not Chiarelli’s Bruins), but his Real Life Career High (over an 75+ game season) was 5.5 with the Bruins in 2011-12. Seguin has never been above 3.8 with the Stars, and right now, with 5.6 CF% rel in 38 games, he stands to easily shatter that. In term of relative Fenwick (where Seguin’s got an impressive 5.3), he’s doing the best he’s done since leaving the Bruins — his previous high with the Stars is 2.8 over a 72 game season. The decimal point differences between Benn and Seguin’s relative Corsi and Fenwick For numbers shows that it’s not that their shots are being blocked — it’s that their shots aren’t hitting the net.

While their shot selection could be better, it’s also worth noting that while Benn, Seguin and Radulov lead the team in scoring, with each scoring above thirty points, the next highest scorer is the Ghost of Jason Spezza, with only twenty-one points. After that, it’s Miro Heiskanen, with seventeen. After spot eleven on the scoring summary, no Star has more than nine points. After spot sixteen, occupied by one Valeri Nichushkin, no Star has more than four points. Seguin and Benn may be underperforming in terms of shot quality, but the failing is more Jim Nill’s than theirs — they have no depth to back them up, and when Radulov faces injury, Seguin and Benn are essentially hung out to dry, with AHL callups as linemates, because the quality of depth isn’t there. John Klingberg’s disappointing offensive season continues to plod along in the same direction, which doesn’t help matters.

The Stars are trending downwards quickly, and the Capitals stand to take advantage of the freefall — let the car crash itself. Don’t try to help. And when the car’s wrecked, the rest of the league better try and grab Benn, Seguin or Radulov from the wreckage. The Central is a mess this year both ideologically and practically, between the Blues and the Stars.

I don’t know if they’ll pull one over on the Capitals on the ice, but whew, I hope they get better management. Their stars, few of them that there are, deserve it.

Detroit Red Wings

Clocking in at a respectable twenty-fourth place league wide before their game against Florida, the Detroit Red Wings have gone 2-6-2 in their last ten games and do not seem to be changing anything, despite losing all of their last four games, leading up to a match against Florida on the 31st. The Wings are holding steady in the middle of the bottom ten and taking an impressive number of rookie skaters on a field trip through the rigors of a full NHL season. They’re doing their best. Let’s leave them alone.

Dylan Larkin, as always, is a positive — with thirty-eight points in forty games, he’s outscoring everyone on the Stars’ top line, along with Surprise Entry Gustav Nyqvist, who has thirty-three points. The production drops off quickly from there, though not so quickly as the Stars’, but the judgment is the same — this is a team with the depth of a mud puddle.

Dennis Cholowski, Michael Rasmussen, Filip Hronek, and their compatriots in rookiehood are handling the pressure well, and hopefully they continue to. The Wings are likely looking toward next season already, as they approach the halfway mark of the 2018-19 season, and next year, they’ll be expected to help lead a fresh crop of graduates from junior and the Griffins as they grow, develop, and mature as NHL players.

This Week In Review

This was a good week for the Capitals.

Sure, they caught one good team sleeping (to clarify, it’s Carolina, if anyone had any doubts) and pissed on the flaming dumpster in Ottawa, but they came away with four points and that’s more than can be said for other teams. Lewington and Bowey got a chance to distinguish themselves and stepped up to the plate handily, both notching their first NHL goals. The first power play unit returned from wherever they were to convert on a man advantage, and hopefully the second unit will too.

There’s hope to be had, as we approach the midway mark of the NHL season, due on the sixth of January against the Red Wings. More likely than not, Ovechkin will have thirty goals, John Carlson will be knocking on the door of forty points, and Nicklas Backstrom will be collecting more laurels to add to an already impressive pile he’s keeping in his dragon hoard. It’s just a matter of how everyone else handles the five game week.

Jakub Vrana is lingering at twenty points, just two goals from matching his previous career high of thirteen goals — will he do it this week?

Brett Connolly, who’s already amassed more assists than he’s scored since the end of his tenure with Boston during the 2015-16 season, won’t be setting any career highs this week, but could get another step closer to tying his fifteen goal high.

It took Michal Kempny fifty-three games last season to score three goals and seven assists. In thirty-four games so far, he has three goals and eight assists. Can Kempny score one more goal to put together a career offensive season before game forty-one hits?

Andre Burakovsky has one point in the month of December — a goal against Arizona on the sixth. Can he extend that to two points in nine games played, if he starts against the Predators? Or will Andre find himself scratched to start the new year?

Life is a whirlwind of questions and we don’t always have answers. Have a wonderful, prosperous, and joyful end of the year. The Capitals are still Stanley Cup champions.

Life is still good.

(Picture Credit: NBC Sports)

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