Photo by Rocky W. Widner/NHL/Getty Images
The annual west coast trip is at hand, and while it has rarely been “California Dreamin’” for the Caps, it has not been the nightmare it once was.
For the Washington Capitals, Week 10 is the annual trip to the west coast to face the three California teams. A trip that can often look daunting may not carry that same dread this season with the Caps having an excellent road record. Nevertheless, it is always a challenge to cross three time zones to play three games in four nights.
San Jose Sharks (Tuesday/10:30pm ET)
The Caps open their trip to California with a visit to what once was a place where wins were as scarce as could be. After winning their first three games in San Jose after the Sharks began NHL play in the 1991-1992 season, they went more than 20 years and 12 games without a win (0-11-0, with one tie). That run of misfortune ended with a 3-2 shootout win in San Jose on March 22, 2014, a game that was forced to overtime when Chris Brown scored a third period goal, his only one of the 2013-2014 season and one of only two he had with the Caps in 12 games over three seasons). Starting with that game, the Caps have won four of their last six visits to San Jose, alternating two extra time wins with two losses and two wins in their most recent visits to SAP Center.
This season’s edition of the Sharks shook off a poor start (4-10-1) to go 11-2-0 in their last 13 games. That 13-game stretch, which started for the Sharks on November 5th, is the best record in the NHL over that span, their 22 points one better than the Philadelphia Flyers (9-2-3). The Sharks have done more by being consistent and exploiting the margins than by being dominant. And a thin margin it has been. Six of the 11 wins in this run were by one goal (they are 6-0-0 in one-goal decisions), and five of those were settled in extra time, two in shootouts.
With so many one-goal decisions sprinkled over the Sharks’ 11-2-0 run, it is not surprising that the scoring offense and scoring defense have been good, but not extraordinary. San Jose has averaged 3.38 goals per game over these 13 games (not including shootout goals), ninth in the league over that span. Their scoring defense, 2.69 goals per game, ranks 11th in that span. Over the 13 games the Sharks have been uneven on special teams, going 4-for-37 on power plays, (10.8 percent, 27th in the league), while their penalty kill has been very efficient, going 39-for-42 (92.8 percent, best in the league). But here is an odd fact to keep in your pocket for this game. Over their 11-2-0 run that includes two shootout wins, they are the only team to have faced ten or more shots on goal in the shootout without having allowed a goal (10-for-10 in saves). Vancouver is the only other team to have faced more than three shots (seven) without allowing one in that span.
Los Angeles Kings (Wednesday/10:00pm ET)
The Kings are another California team that had to deal with a rocky start, posting a 5-11-1 record in their first 17 games. They have righted the ship somewhat since then, going 6-3-1 in their last ten games. The Kings might owe some of their improvement to a scheduling quirk. Eight of those ten games were played on home ice, where Los Angeles was 6-1-1, the 13 points earned on home ice second in the league Since November 12th when the run of success began (San Jose has 14 points).
What the Kings have not done in this recent uptick is do it with offense. It has been a somewhat mediocre scoring offense (2.70 goals per game) and one that has been inconsistent. Three times in the ten games Los Angeles recorded four or more goals (all in wins) and four times they posted two or fewer goals (1-3-0). That this team would be unremarkable on offense, even in the recent run of success, is not surprising. The Kings have been held to two or fewer goals this season 14 times in 27 games. Only four clubs have posted two or fewer goals more times, and only Detroit has done so more often without posting a win (0-16-1) than have the Kings (1-12-1).
Los Angeles has been more effective on the other side of the puck. In their last ten games they allowed only 23 goals, the 2.30 goals per game ranking fifth best over the period. Only once in those ten games did the Kings allow as many as four goals in regulation, that taking place in a 4-1 loss to the Sharks on Friday. Oddly enough, the only other game in which the Kings allowed four goals in this stretch came against San Jose, a 4-3 overtime loss on November 25th. On the other hand, four times in these last ten games, Los Angeles allowed only a single goal.
On special teams, the Kings over their last ten games resemble the Sharks in their recent run of success – middling power play, excellent penalty kill. Los Angeles is just 4-for-30 (13.3 percent) in their last ten games, 21st in the league over that span in power play efficiency. Even that, however, is an improvement in the power play for a team that goes into the week ranked 29th in the league in converting man advantages (11.8 percent). On the other side, the Kings have a top-ten team in penalty killing over their last ten games (22-for-28/88.0 percent, eighth). This is a huge improvement, or perhaps just a freakish stretch, for a club that is still mired in 26th place in penalty killing as the new week begins (75.6 percent).
Anaheim Ducks (Friday/10:00pm ET)
The Caps wrap up their California trip in Anaheim to face a Ducks club whose fortunes have been a mirror opposite of those of the other two California teams. Whereas the Sharks and Kings have overcome slow starts to enjoy a recent run of success, the Ducks have squandered a good start to retreat back into mediocrity. Anaheim started the season with promise, a 6-2-0 start giving hints that this team might return to the postseason after missing it last year for the first time in seven seasons. Since then, the Ducks are 5-10-4 in their last 19 games.
The Ducks have been all over the place in their results over those 19 games. Seven of those 19 games ended in one-goal decisions, the Ducks losing six of those contests, four of the losses in extra time on their way to a 1-2-4 record in the close ones (the one win also was in extra time). On the other end of the spectrum, Anaheim played nine of their last 19 games to decisions of three or more goals, going 4-5-0 in those games.
The results paint a picture of a team with that could stand some improvement on offense, but one with more serious problems on defense. The scoring offense over the 19 games since October 20th (2.58 goals per game) is tied with the Vegas Golden Knights for 25th in that period. But this is a team that came into this season with questions on offense, and that scoring average is consistent with their season to date (2.63 goals per game/25th).
The defense, however, has been just short of awful. The 67 goals allowed in 19 games since October 20th is fourth-most in the league, and the 3.53 goals per game allowed in that span is third-worst, ahead of only the Red Wings (4.10) and Montreal (3.72). Part of the problem might have its roots at the other end, oddly enough. Anaheim has generated only 557 shots on goal in that 19-game span, fifth-fewest in the league. At the other end, they have allowed 617, 13th most in the league. And, their shot attempts differential at 5-on-5 (minus-96) is third-worst in that period. Then again, this might be a chicken-or-egg “what came first” sort of thing.
Unlike the other two California teams, the Ducks have been uniformly poor on special teams in their last 19 games. Only the Buffalo Sabres have fewer power play goals (four) than the Ducks (six), and Anaheim’s 11.8 percent power play ranks 29th of 31 teams in that span. On the other side, only Detroit and the New York Rangers have allowed more power play goals (18 apiece) than the Ducks (16), and the Ducks’ penalty kill of 73.8 percent is fourth-worst in the league over that period.
- Alex Ovechkin. No surprise, but Alex Ovechkin led the Caps in goals for the month of November (nine) and tied for eighth-most in the league with Buffalo’s Jack Eichel. His four power play goals for the month tied for third-most in the league with Brayden Point, Elias Pettersson, and Patrick Kane.
- Evgeny Kuznetsov. After serving his three-game suspension to start the season, Evgeny Kuznetsov has been on a roll. He finished November leading the team in points for the month (19), lifting him to 14th place in points per game (1.12) for the season among players appearing in at least 20 games.
- Jakub Vrana. Jakub Vrana finished November with eight goals for the month, all of them at even strength. Only three players had more goals at evens – Jean-Gsabriel Pageau (10), Brad Marchand (nine), and Jack Eichel (nine). In doing so, he more than doubled his career goal total for the month of November, boosting that total from seven to 15.
- John Carlson. Even if by his standards this season he tailed off a bit at the end of November (one point in four games), Carlson finished November with 14 points in 14 games, one of five defensemen in the league among 167 to dress for at least ten games who averaged at least a point per game.
- Nick Jensen. Of 17 skaters to dress for at least 10 games in November, Nick Jensen was the only Capital who did not record a point (0-0-0 in 14 games). He carries a 20-game streak without a point into the new month.
- Garnet Hathaway. Although Garnet Hathaway has endeared himself to Caps fans with a rugged style of play (for November, fourth on the team in credited hits, tops in penalty minutes), he has hit a rough patch scoring. He finished November without a goal, the only forward among 11 playing at least ten games in the month to do so, and had a single assist. And, there was that three-game suspension.
- Radko Gudas. It will come eventually, but it has not arrived as yet. Radko Gudas’ first goal as a Capital. He is 0-for-34 shooting in 28 games so far this season, but he is second to Tom Wilson on the club in credited hits (85 to 105 for Wilson) and is third on the club in blocked shots (38).
- Weird General West Coast Trip Fact… In each of the last six seasons, the Caps visited these three cities on their California trip. Their record is 8-8-2 in those games.
- Weird San Jose Facts…The first minor penalty the Caps take against San Jose will be the 200th minor penalty charged to the Caps in the all-time series with the Sharks…The Caps might be due for a shorthanded goal against the Sharks. Only once in 43 games in the series have the Caps done it, and the only time they did was December 10, 1997 when Calle Johansson scored the game’s first goal in a 3-3 tie in San Jose.
- Weird Los Angeles Facts…Los Angeles is one of three teams against which the Caps scored ten or more goals in a game more than once. The Quebec Nordiques (now the Colorado Avalanche) and the Toronto Maple Leafs are the others, both on two occasions. The Caps did it twice against the Kings, once in Washington on December 6, 1987 in a 10-3 win, and again in Los Angeles in a 10-3 win on February 13, 1993…Shot advantages mean little to the Caps in the series against Los Angeles. Nine time in the series the Caps recorded 40 or more shots on goal, and the average shot differential in those games was plus-12.3. And yet, the Caps were just 3-4-0 (two ties) in those nine games.
- Weird Anaheim Facts…Scoring is not a problem in this series. The winner in each of the last four games scored four or more goals, the Ducks winning three of the decisions…Defense is a problem for the Caps in this series; they allowed four or more goals to Anaheim in five of the last seven games played between the clubs…suppressing shots has not mattered for the Caps against Anaheim; nine times in 38 games they allowed the Ducks fewer than 25 shots, and they are just 3-5-1 in those games.
- The win over the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday night pushed the Caps over .500 in standings points earned for the month of November in team history. The Caps now own an overall November record of 252-251-25 (53 ties) for 582 standings points earned in 581 games.
- The five goals scored by the Caps against the Red Wings to end the month was the fifth time in the month that the Caps posted five or more goals in a game. No team did it more often; Boston and Vancouver also did it five times.
- The two empty net goals by Alex Ovechkin to close out the scoring in the 5-2 win over Detroit pushed the Caps into a tie with St. Louis and Carolina for the most empty net goals scored in the month (four) and past Carolina into the lead for most empty netters this season (eight).
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.
- With one game winning goal on this road trip, Ovechkin would record his 50th career game-winning goal in road games.
- Ovechkin’s next hat trick will tie Cy Denneny for ninth place in career hat tricks (Denneny had 25); with two he will tie Maurice Richard (26) for eighth place.
- 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.
- 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 goal this week, T.J. Oshie would break a tie with Calle Johansson and Mike Green for 23rd place on the all-time team list for goals scored (all with 113) and tie Ryan Walter for 22nd place (114).
- Evgeny Kuznetsov needs one goal to tie Johansson, Green, and Oshie for 23rd place on the all-time team goal scoring list.
- With his next shutout, Holtby will break a tie with Olaf Kolzig (35) for most shutouts by a goaltender for the Caps.