Week Ahead Snapshots: Week 1
We’re back with the weekly look at upcoming Washington Capitals games, and this opening week is one that will see some important pieces missing from the lineup. The absences, however, provide an opportunity for others to step in, and we’ll see if those called upon to do so will help the Caps get off to a good start in the new season.
Boston Bruins (Wednesday/7:00 p.m. at Capital One Arena)
The Boston Bruins have been one of the most excellent teams in recent years. In the 15 seasons since 2007-08, the B’s have topped 40 wins 12 times, missing that mark twice due to shortened seasons in 2012-13 (28 wins in 48 games) and 2020-21 (33 wins in 56 games). Only in 2009-2010 Boston played a full slate of 82 games and missed the 40 win mark.They had 39 that season.
Last season, they won 51 games (tied with Tampa Bay for seventh in the league) thanks in large part to defense and goaltending. Their 2.66 goals against per game was fourth-best in the league, and 28.7 shots allowed per game was third-lowest in the league. They also had a physical dimension, averaging 26.67 hits per 60 minutes, third-highest in the league. Boston often strayed from the rules of the game last season, with its 4.20 penalties imposed per 60 minutes the fourth-highest penalty rate in the league, while its net penalties per 60 minutes minus-0.34 were the third-worst score in the league. No team has taken more minor penalties than Boston, the 312 minors they took tied with Nashville for most in the league.
Although not among the league leaders in team scoring offense (3.09 goals per game/15e), they were reasonably balanced with five skaters posting 20 or more goals and nine posting double-digit totals in goal. Of the latter group of double-digit scorers, only Erik Haula will not return to the Bruins this season, after being traded to the New Jersey Devils for Pavel Zacha last July.
Boston faces serious injury issues to start the season with defensemen Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk, and forwards Brad Marchand and Taylor Hall on the board with injuries or rehab from surgery.
It will be the 175e regular season meeting between Cape Town and the Bruins, with Washington posting a 69-76-8 (21 ties) all-time record and a 37-34-4 (12 ties) record at home.
Toronto Maple Leafs (Thursday/7:30 p.m. at Scotiabank Arena)
The puck falls on the Capitals’ road leg of the regular season with the second half of a back-to-back streak to start the season. They will visit the Toronto Maple Leafs in their home opener Thursday night. The Leafs appeared to be on the verge of eliminating the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the playoffs last spring, taking a 3-2 lead in games and a 3-2 lead in the third period of Game 6 at Tampa. But the Lightning scored midway through the third period and then scored 18 minutes into overtime to even the series, winning the first round with a 2-1 win in Game 7. Another disappointment for the Leafs, whose fans have known little else since their last victory Stanley Cup in 1967. It is now the league’s longest non-cutting drought with 54-plus seasons.
Toronto is a largely offensive team of its kind reminiscent of the go-go teams of the 1980s. They finished with an average of 3.80 goals per game last season, the second highest in the league (Florida: 4, 11) and their highest average per game since the end of the 1989-90 season with an average of 4.21 goals per game. Their power play was particularly deadly, converting 27.3% of their chances, the best power play in the league. What could have saved the opponents from further damage from the power play was that Toronto couldn’t deploy it as hard as they would have liked. They averaged 2.82 power-play chances per game, 21st in the league.
With an attack-oriented team, sometimes the defensive side of the puck suffers. Toronto wasn’t what you would call a tight team last season, but they had a decent season. Their 3.07 goals against per game rank 19e in the league last season, when their shots allowed per game (30.6) were a respectable ninth in the league, and their penalty kill of 82.1% ranked eighth. They also allowed just 3,522 5-on-5 shot attempts, which was ninth-fewest in the league.
It will be the 153rd regular season meeting of the Caps and Maple Leafs, with Washington holding a 76-59-7 (10 ties) advantage over Toronto and a 29-35-4 (six ties) record in Toronto.
Montreal Canadiens (Saturday/7:00 p.m. at Capital One Arena)
The Caps cap off the first week of the season by hosting the Montreal Canadiens at Capital One Arena. The Canadiens had what was arguably their worst season in franchise history last year, with the 22 wins they posted being the fewest they’ve recorded in a season since the league went to a 70 season. matches in 1949-1950. Their .335 point percentage was the third-worst in team history, regardless of the number of games played. Only the 1925-26 team (.319) and the 1939-40 team (.260) were worse. It was no coincidence. Montreal ranked at or near the bottom of several statistical categories – scoring offense (2.66 goals per game/27e), defensive scorer (3.87 goals conceded per game/32n/a), numerical superiority (13.7%/31st), shorthanded (75.6%/27e), shots per game (29.8/23rd), shots allowed per game (34.4/30e), first-scoring winning percentage (.533/29e), winning percentage when trailing first (.115/30e), 5-on-5 ice shot attempt percentage (46.9/26e), penalties taken (341/fifth), no penalties (minus-27/29e).
It was about digging a deep hole early, losing his first five games last season and scoring a total of just four goals, and not winning his tenth game of the season until game 50. Sixteen times during of those first 50 games they scored one or no goals. Seven times they allowed six or more goals. They had just two players with at least 20 goals (Cole Caufield: 23 and Nick Suzuki: 21) and just seven in double figures. The Canadians got at least one goal from 11 different defensemen, which would look more impressive if they hadn’t used 14 defensemen last season, including just one in over 70 games (Alexander Romanov with 79). None of the 22 players who skated more than 25 games finished the season with a positive mark.
If there was a silver lining in the Category 5 storm that has been Montreal’s season, it was putting Martin St. Louis behind the Canadiens bench as a replacement for Dominique Ducharme after the Canadiens suffered a dismal 8-30-7 start. St. Louis went 14-19-4 (a 79-point pace in 82 games) from a team with little to play, seeding-wise, while enduring a nine-game losing streak at the end of the season. He’s made them a more energetic and tougher team to play against in the latter half of the season, and if he can get another level of improvement from this year’s squad, Montreal won’t be pushed as hard as they are. he was for long stretches last season. .
It will be the 175e meeting of these two teams, the Caps holding a 77-74-6 (17 draws), 40-34-3 (nine draws) advantage at home.
- Alex Ovechkin. In 17 home openers this season, Ovechkin is 21-11-32, plus-14. He scored at least one goal in 12 of 17 games and points in 14 of them.
- John Carlson. Carlson led the Caps in points in the preseason (1-5-6 in three games).
- Dylan Strom. Strome has scored three goals in four preseason games.
- Connor McMichael. Different season, same song. McMichael played four of six preseason games with ice times decreasing as the games progressed: 3:55 p.m. / 2:30 p.m. / 11:16 a.m. / 8:51 a.m.
- Marcus Johansson. In three preseason games, Johansson collected one assist and one shot on goal.
- Yevgeny Kuznetsov. In three pre-season games, Kuznetsov recorded ten shots on goal but failed to convert any.
- This will only be the 22nd opening night the Caps have played at home, posting a 15-5-1 record in 21 home openers the previous season. They are 9-14-1 with two ties in 26 opening night road games.
- Turnover is one of the realities of life in the NHL, but only two skaters from last year’s opening night against the New York Rangers are out of the organization – Justin Schultz and Daniel Sprong, both now playing for Seattle (and for good measure, Michal Kempny too, who missed opening night last year through injury) . On the other hand, the two guards who dressed on opening night last year are gone – Ilya Samsonov in Toronto and Vitek Vanecek in New Jersey.
- The Caps have two home games this week. If they finish plus-6 in goal differential, they will have as many goals scored as allowed (currently 11,718 goals scored and 11,724 goals conceded).
Potential milestones to achieve this week (or soon):
- 600 career points (he currently has 593)
- 300 career penalty minutes (290)
- 200 career assists (195)
- 200 points as capital (192)
- 200 matches as Capital (198)
- 300 points as capital (296)
- 300 career NHL games (299)
- 600 career NHL games (599)
- 500 career points (496)
- 200 penalty minutes as Capital (199)
- 100 even-strength goals as Capital (99)
- 122 career game-winning goals (121, would break the tie for second place all-time with Gordie Howe)
- 29 career hat tricks (28, would break the three-way tie with Marcel Dionne and Bobby Hull for sixth all-time)
- 159 career multi-goal games (158, would break tie with Brett Hull for second place all-time)
- 400 career multipoint games (397)