Caps Preview: Week 4
After a largely disappointing Western Canada road trip, the Caps are back to playing in a reasonable time zone. They’re 4-2-2 after losses to the Oilers and Canucks and a win over the Flames. This week, they’ll take on the Red Wings, Lightning, and Coyotes–in that order.
Overall, what can we expect? Puck possession has been great thus far, with the exception of the Vancouver game, during which the Caps allowed more than 30 shots for the first time all season. Their 3-2 loss to the Oilers was fluky; the better team didn’t get the win. Their effort against the Flames was rewarded with a 3-1 win, while the Canucks game was simply mediocre.
The Caps’ special teams weren’t at their sharpest. In the past three games, the power play was 2-for-7 (conversion rate 28%), while the penalty kill went 4-for-10. Granted, the refs in Vancouver were atrocious. The Caps’ power play and PK are ranked fourth and 17th respectively, with success rates of 25.9% and 80%. Getting the penalty kill back on track should be one of the Caps’ main goals.
10/29 vs. Detroit
The Red Wings match the Caps’ 4-2-2 record and sit at third place in the Atlantic Division behind the Habs and Lightning respectively. Their last effort, a disappointing 4-2 loss to the Flyers, saw the Red Wings allow three goals in the third period. Despite outshooting the Flyers 37-17 overall, they couldn’t finish the game. The Red Wings’ Corsi is currently the NHL’s fifth-best at 53.9%, barely two places ahead of the Caps’ 53.7%.
The Red Wings’ penalty kill ranks first in the League at 96.2%, having allowed a single power-play goal. Their anemic power play, however, is ranked 27th at 6.7%. They will no doubt be looking to play a disciplined game and stifle the Caps’ offense, particularly Alex Ovechkin, who has mustered two or fewer shots on goal in his past three games.
The return of Pavel Datsyuk means the Caps have an incredibly challenging forward to defend. Don’t anticipate any substantial changes to the pairings, although John Carlson has struggled as of late when paired with Brooks Orpik. Interestingly, Orpik’s 31 hits are second only to Ovechkin’s 33. The Caps will need to play a fast, physical game against the Red Wings, who possess offensive talent among both their forwards and defensemen: Henrik Zetterberg (10 points) and Niklas Kronwall (6 points) are their leading scorers.
11/1 at Tampa
The formidable Lightning boast a 5-3-1 record, good for second in the Atlantic Division. The return of Steven Stamkos has obviously played a large role in their success, as Stamkos has eight points in nine games (6G, 2A.) But the Caps shouldn’t look to shut down only Stamkos. Plenty of teams have made that mistake with the Caps themselves, aiming to contain Ovechkin and subsequently ignoring other offensive threats like Nicklas Backstrom and Troy Brouwer.
The Lightning last played the Minnesota Wild, falling 7-2 in a tough road loss. The Wild came out fast in the first period, scoring four goals to the Lightning’s one. They never let up the pressure, tallying two in the second and a final goal in the third period. The Lightning were outshot by a narrow margin (22 to 19), which isn’t indicative of their impressive Corsi numbers. At 53.8%, they’re sandwiched between the Red Wings and Caps at sixth in the League.
This success has translated to their special teams, which are both in the League’s top ten. Their ninth-ranked power play boasts a success rate of 23.5%, and the penalty kill comes in at sixth (86.2%.) While Stamkos is clearly the Lightning’s greatest asset, they beefed up their blueline during the offseason with the additions of Jason Garrison and Anton Stralman. Like the Red Wings, the Lightning are a fast-paced team with a variety of weapons at their disposal–even without Ryan Callahan and Victor Hedman, who are out with injuries. To ensure success, the Caps need more than ever to keep their game simple and avoid dumping the puck in the offensive zone.
11/2 at Arizona
Having earned a meager seven points, the Coyotes are among the NHL’s worst with a 3-3-1 record. They’re currently competing with the likes of the Oilers for last place in the uber-competitive Pacific Division. This isn’t reflected in their power play, which is third overall (26.7%). Their PK isn’t quite of the same caliber (83.3%) but is ranked 11th in the League.
The Coyotes also aren’t a train wreck as far as puck possession is concerned; with a Corsi of 50.4%, the majority of shot attempts are in their favor. Relatively speaking, this number isn’t good enough–the Coyotes rank 15th in this department. However, they have one of the NHL’s best defensemen in Keith Yandle, whose eight points are good for first on the team. Containing Yandle, who logs significant minutes, will be the Caps’ greatest challenge. Sam Gagner will also be aiming to up his production, with just a single assist thus far. Mikkel Boedker is the ‘Yotes’ leading goal scorer with five tallies to his name. Martin Erat (remember him?) has also been fairly productive, with four points (2G, 2A) thus far.
The Coyotes play three games (against the Lightning, Panthers, and Hurricanes respectively) before facing the Caps Sunday night. They also have yet to record a road win.