Caps Preview: Week 5
With a 4-5-2 record, there are plenty of concerns over the Caps’ ability to perform for the remainder of the season, never mind the playoffs. But we’re also entering the fifth week of an 82-game season, and there’s plenty of reason to believe that the Caps will turn things around with time.
They’ve got three opportunities this week to tighten up their defense and improve goaltending: two home games against Calgary and Carolina and a trip to Chicago (not in that order.) Playing a varied set of opponents will serve as good benchmarks.
11/4 vs. Calgary
Despite an appallingly poor Corsi-for percentage of 43.2%, the Flames have managed to remain afloat in the super-competitive Pacific Division. Their 16 points are good for third among division rivals, beating out the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings. (At the time of writing, the Ducks lead with 20 points, while the Canucks follow with 16. The Flames have eight wins; the Canucks have seven.)
But the Flames are also enjoying a PDO of 103.4, third in the League. They’ll return to reality soon enough–after all, they beat the mighty Habs 6-2 Sunday night. Much of the Flames’ success should be credited to Jonas Hiller, who boasts a .938 save percentage and one shutout in eight games played.
The Flames also have one of the NHL’s best pairings in TJ Brodie and Mark Giordano, who are capable of shutting down the opposition and bringing an offensive punch. They lead the Flames with 12 and 11 points respectively. Young forwards Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan aren’t far behind, with each tallying seven points.
With a mix of offensively talented defensemen and forwards, the Flames can produce goals from a number of players, thus making them a trickier team to defend. Their special teams aren’t particularly threatening, with a power-play success rate of 20% (12th in the League) and penalty kill success rate of 75.7% (24th in the League.) The Caps should always strive to stay out of the box, but facing one of the NHL’s better power plays will allow their PK to rebound from its dismal 78.6% success rate, good for 20th overall.
The teams last met in October, when the Caps won 3-1 and outshot the Flames 30-21. The win was the only bright spot in an otherwise dismal road trip, and with a four-game losing streak looking to be snapped, a victory couldn’t be timed more perfectly.
11/7 @ Chicago
It should go without saying that the Blackhawks are a formidable opponent, despite their fifth-place ranking in the Central Division. (It is the Western Conference, after all.) The Hawks are currently the NHL’s best Corsi team by a significant margin: their Corsi-for comes in at 57%, with second-place Minnesota at 55.8%.
With a roster reminiscent of All-Star games, Blackhawks are aiming to end their two-game losing streak. They lost 3-2 to Toronto, a game that was stolen by James Reimer’s superb goaltending (the Blackhawks outshot the Leafs 47-27.) Their second defeat, in which they fell 1-0 to Winnipeg, was another demonstration of the Blackhawks’ possession prowess. Having outshot the Jets 33-27, the game was their second shutout loss of the season.
With a Tuesday night away game scheduled against the Habs, the Blackhawks will be taking on one of the NHL’s top teams. Their special teams are a mixed bag: the power play is a lackluster 18.4% (17th overall), but the penalty kill is ranked third at 91.9%. Regardless of the opponent, the Caps shouldn’t count on the power play as a major source of offense. This is imperative against the stingy Blackhawks, who will capitalize on the slightest defensive miscue. If the Caps play to their potential, they can definitely stay with–if not beat–the Blackhawks.
11/8 vs. Carolina
The Hurricanes have garnered plenty of headlines this season–nearly all of them negative, and nearly all of them pertaining to their winless October. Their six points are lowest in the League, and they’ve compiled a 2-6-2 record thus far. Yet they beat the Kings 3-2, matching them in shots (32-32.)
Some of the ‘Canes best players have struggled, and this is reflected in the team’s play. Eric Staal and Jeff Skinner (both of whom were injured in October; the latter by a Niskanen hit) have yet to deliver much of an impact. The same can be said of Alex Semin, who was a healthy scratch against the Kings. The three forwards have racked up eight points total, a number that’s been affected by the aforementioned injuries.
Given the Hurricanes’ poor quality of play, it’s hard to imagine that their Corsi-for is 15th in the League at 50.8%. This is tied with the Kings and easily surpasses teams like the Ducks and Sharks–and the injury-decimated Blue Jackets, who the Canes face in a home-and-home before taking on the Caps Saturday night.
On the surface, the game looks like an easy win. The Hurricanes have no singular strength that must be addressed, saved for their eighth-ranked power play (21.9% efficiency.) The penalty kill is 18th overall at 80%, and could allow the Caps to exercise their firepower on the man advantage.
Then again, the same was said when the Caps played the Coyotes. By this point in time, the Caps should have cleaned up their defensive zone play and cut back on turnovers to hopefully earn four of a possible six points by week’s end.