The last full week of the regular season lies ahead for the Caps, and in it, they face two old rivals whose playoff dreams must wait until next year.
We are getting to the end of it. The regular season, that is. The penultimate week of the season — the last full week — on the Washington Capitals schedule features for games that reach bank into antiquity, by hockey standards. Four games against two opponents that they have faced off against since the first days of the franchise. In one case literally from the first game the Capitals ever played in the venue where it all began.
New York Rangers (Monday and Wednesday/7:00pm at Madison Square Garden)
October 9, 1974, New York… for the Washington Capitals, that is where it started. And not in a good way. The Caps lost to the Rangers at Madison Square Garden, 6-3, in what would be the first loss in a 37-game road losing streak. On Monday, the Caps will face the Rangers for the 232nd time in their history and 116th game in New York. The Caps can earn their 50th win in franchise history in New York (currently 49-53-4, with nine ties) with a victory in either the Monday or Wednesday contest.
The Rangers come into this two-game set have enjoyed the comforts of home for five of their last six games, and the only “road” contest was against the New York Islanders, about a 30 mile drive from the Garden. The Rangers have become a formidable home team. After a 3-5-2 start on home ice, they are 11-4-1 in their last 16 games at MSG. Their 23 standings points over those 16 games is tied for eighth-most in the league and ranks eighth in points percentage.
New York has built their recent home record on offense. In that 11-4-1 run they averaged 4.25 goals per game, best in the league. Seven times in those 16 games, the Rangers put up five or more goals, including a 9-0 pasting of the Philadelphia Flyers on March 17th and an 8-4 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on April 6th.
That offense has been fueled in large part by a 30.4 percent power play that also ranks first in the league on home ice since the 16-game run started on February 26th. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, power play success has been an indicator of success. New York is 8-1-0 when they scored at least one power play goal in that run, 3-3-1 when they did not.
The problem for the Rangers, regardless of where they play, is that they are out of time. Trailing the Boston Bruins by eight points for fourth place, with four games left in the schedule, and Boston holding two games in hand, the Blueshirts must run the table to have even a remote chance of reaching the postseason. They do have the advantage, such as it is, of facing Boston in the last two games of the season, but unless they sweep the Caps in MSG and get a little help in the meantime, those games will not matter.
Philadelphia Flyers (Friday and Saturday/ 7:00pm at Capital One Arena)
The Caps opened their rivalry with the Flyers on November 9, 1974, in Philadelphia. Having already lost their first five road games by a combined 31-13 margin, things did not look good for a new club facing a team that would go on to win the Stanley Cup in that 1974-1975 season. But the Caps scored the first goal of that contest, Bill Mikkelson doing the honors. But then, things took a turn. The Flyers scored the next five goals and won, 6-2.
The Caps will be facing the Flyers for the 230th time when they open their two-game set to close the week. They have not been all that successful against the Flyers, posting a 92-107-11 (19 ties) record over their first 229 meetings, but they do enjoy a 50-44-4 (13 ties) all-time record against the Orange and Black in Washington.
Philadelphia was a team with playoff expectations when the season began, but the Flyers are limping to the finish, carrying the look of beaten, broken squad that has not won consecutive games in regulation in more than two months and is 11-18-4 since doing so. On the road, consistency has been an issue, as it has overall. Since March 2nd, they have three road wins in regulation and have a record of 7-9-2. They won consecutive road games only once in that span – wins over the Penguins (in a shootout) and the Rangers on April 15th and 22nd, but they have lost three straight games on the road since then, two of them against the out-of-contention New Jersey Devils, their 5-3 loss to the Devils on Thursday officially eliminating the Flyers from playoff contention.
Much has been made of the Flyers goaltending and defense (or lack of it), but the offense has sputtered as well. In their 7-9-2 road record since March 2nd, the Flyers’ 2.44 goals per game ranks just 21st in the league. At 5-on-5, Philadelphia ranks tied for 20th in goals-per-game (1.67) on the road over that span, and their power play efficiency ranks 21st (14.8 percent). At least there is some consistency in their road performance, though not in the best way imaginable.
But there is still that matter of goaltending and defense. Since March 2nd, the Flyers’ are last in the league in scoring defense overall (3.94 goals against per game) and last in scoring defense on the road (4.06). Over that span, the Flyers allowed five or more goals 12 times in 32 games overall and seven times in 18 road games. And the misery has been undiscriminating as far as the goalies are concerned. Although the losses and the poor numbers are not always the fault of the goalies, the Flyers’ pair of Brian Elliott and Carter Hart rank 44th (3.39) and 47th (3.94, dead last), respectively, among 47 goalies with at least 500 minutes logged since March 2nd. It is worse in their save percentages where Elliott ranks 46th (.871) and Hart 47th (.852) among those same 46 goalies. At evens, Elliott (.877), and Hart (.865) rank next to last and last among 48 goalies with ten games played since March 2nd.
Not that any of the defensemen have helped a lot. Since March 2nd, five Flyer defensemen have been on ice for more than 25 even strength goals against. Only 39 defensemen in the entire league are members of that group. Eight of the nine defensemen to dress for the Flyers in that span have negative even-strength goal differentials (Egor Zamula, who played in two games, is plus-1). This is a team that has been a dumpster fire in its own end for two months.
- T.J. Oshie. For the month of April, T.J. Oshie led the Caps in goals (nine in 15 games) and tied for the team lead in points (14, with Nicklas Backstrom). He also tied for the lead in power play goals (five, with Alex Ovechkin) and was tied second in plus-minus (plus-3, with three other Caps).
- Nicklas Backstrom. In addition for tying for the team lead in points for April, Nicklas Backstrom led the team in assists (13), was second in power play points (seven) and won 53.6 percent of his faceoffs.
- Dmitry Orlov. Among defensemen for the Caps in April, Dmitry Orlov led the team in goals (four), was second in points (11), and led the all skaters in plus-minus (plus-10). He was the only defenseman with a game-winning goal in April (April 2nd, in a 2-1 overtime win against New Jersey).
- Honorable Mention… Conor Sheary. In April, Conor Sheary was 5-3-8 and had ten takeaways to no giveaways.
- Zdeno Chara. It was a tough month for Big Z, who did not record a point and was a minus-7 (team-worst) for April.
- Alex Ovechkin. Odd to see him here, given he had six goals and 12 points in 12 games in April, but eight of the 12 points came on power plays, and he was minus-6 (second-worst on the team). His minus-3 goal differential at even strength tied for worst among forwards for the month.
- Goalies. Not so much “cold” as “inconsistent. Ilya Samsonov allowed three or more goals in five of seven appearances in April, but he also had a shutout. Vitek Vanecek allowed three of more goals in four of nine appearances, but three of them came in his last four games. The other game in that four-game run was a shutout.
- The Rangers have won four straight against the Caps at MSG, their longest winning streak on home ice against Washington since they won seven straight from March 5, 2004 through November 7, 2007.
- Of the Flyers 11 wins since March 2nd, six have been in extra time. But their overall record in extra time games is still just 6-4 in that span.
- The Flyers were the 30th team this season to record their first shorthanded goal, that coming in the 5-3 loss to the Devils on Thursday than eliminated them from the playoffs.
Potential Milestones to Reach This Week (or soon):
- Needs one overtime goal to break a tie with Mike Green (currently with eight apiece) and take over second place alone in Caps history (Ovechkin: 24).
- With two empty net goals, Backstrom would tie Mike Ridley (16) for second place on the Caps’ all-time list.
- With three empty net points, Backstrom would hit the 50-empty net point mark in his career.
- With five power play points, Backstrom will reach the 400 power play point mark in his career. He would become the sixth active player in the NHL to reach that mark.
- Ovechkin need one power play point to reach 500 power play points for his career. He would be the second active player to reach that mark (Joe Thornton: 544 power play points).
- Ovechkin needs five power play goals to tie Dave Andreychuk for the all-time lead in power play goals (274).
- Ovechkin needs two game-winning goals overall to tie Phil Esposito for third place all-time in game-winners (118).
- With one goal, Ovechkin would tie Marcel Dionne for fifth-place on the all-time goal scoring list.
- With one game-winning goal on home ice this week, Ovechkin would tie Gordie Howe for third place all-time in game-winning goals scored on home ice (67).
- Kuznetsov needs one shootout goal to become the third Capital with 20 in his career (Ovechkin: 34; Backstrom: 27).
- With one game-winning goal, Kuznetsov would break a tie with Brooks Laich and Kevin Hatcher (all with 24) for 12th place on the Caps’ all-time list.
- Kuznetsov needs only one overtime goal to tie Backstrom and Mike Green for second place all-time on the Caps’ list.
- Kuznetsov needs four even strength points to become the 11th player in team history to reach 300 even strength points for the Caps.
- Needs two game-winning goals to tie Michal Pivonka (27) for tenth place on the Caps’ all-time list.
- Carlson needs one power play point to break a tie with Bengt-Ake Gustafsson for seventh place in franchise history (192 apiece) and two to tie Michal Pivonka for sixth place on that list.
- Carlson needs one power play goal to tie Larry Murphy (31) for sixth place among defensemen in franchise history.
- Carlson needs 15 shots on goal to tie Kevin Hatcher as the all-time shots leader in team history among defensemen (1,863).
- With one game-winning goal, Chara would tie Larry Murphy, Mathieu Schneider, and Dustin Byfuglien for 12th place (36) on the all-time list among defensemen. With two, he would tie Kevin Hatcher for 11th place (37).
- With 12 penalty minutes, Chara would become the 18th defenseman in NHL history with 2,000 penalty minutes.
- Hagelin needs two even strength goals to reach 100 in that category for his career.
- Oshie needs four points to reach 300 points as a Capital. He would be the 26th player in franchise history to reach that total.
- Oshie needs one power play goal to tie Dennis Maruk and Alexander Semine (55 apiece) for ninth place in team history. Two, and he will tie Michal Pivonka (56) for eighth place.
- With one goal, Mantha will have 100 goals for his career.
- With ten penalty minutes, Mantha will have 200 PIMs for his career.
- Orlov needs two points to reach 200 points for his career. He would be the tenth defenseman to reach that mark as a Capital.