Big test for the Capitals as they begin tough four-game stretch

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The Capitals are off to a good start this season with a respectable 8-3-1 record, good enough to put them third in the Metropolitan Division, but let’s break down this record for a minute. 

Against teams with sub .500 records, the Caps are 8-0. Against teams with winning records, the Caps are winless, posting an 0-3-1 record. After losing to Joel Ward and the Sharks by a landslide (sorry had to do that since they played on Election Day) 3-0 in Washington, the Caps embark on a tough four out of five-game stretch against teams with a winning record (the exception, a road contest against the Hurricanes on Saturday). Let’s take a look at each of the four tough match-ups:

Friday, Nov. 11 at Chicago Blackhawks:

This is a dream Stanley Cup final match-up for a lot of people, and we got to see how good these teams are on the national stage back on New Years Day for the Winter Classic in DC. The Blackhawks are one of the most storied and respected teams in the league, as they’ve been around for 91 years, and were a part of the NHL’s original six. They also had a recent Stanley Cup dynasty, winning three Cups over six seasons (2009-10, 2013, 2014-15). Last season the teams split their two-game series with each club winning on their home ice.

This year’s squad is off to a 10-3-1 start with 21 points, sitting in first place in the Central Division and are one of the hottest teams in the NHL. One big surprise is Artem Anisimov’s start to the season. In his second season in Chicago, he leads the team with eight goals. Anisimov and Patrick Kane both lead the team in points with 17. Kane leads the Hawks in assists with 12 while Duncan Keith is second with 11. Jonathan Toews has 10 points (four goals, six assists). Goaltender Corey Crawford carries a respectable 7-3-1 record with a 1.91 goals-against average and a .939 save percentage.

United Center, also nicknamed the “Madhouse on Madison”, is a tough building to play in. It’s important that the Caps get off to a fast start in this game to take the crowd out of it. Hearing the crowd roaring during the National Anthem should get their blood flowing and get them ready to hit the ice. If you ever go to a game in Chicago, this might be one of the coolest things you’ll see.

Tuesday, Nov. 15 at Columbus Blue Jackets: 

The Blue Jackets are off to a 6-3-1, 14-point start to the season and are just on the outside looking in for the second wild card spot, a point behind the Devils and Red Wings. The Caps won three out of the four meetings last season. Their good start is impressive, despite injuries to David Clarkson (back), Brandon Dubinsky (lower body), Dillon Heatherington (wrist), and Seth Jones (foot).

Center Alexander Wennberg leads the team in assists with 12 and in points with 13. Josh Anderson is the leading goal-scorer with five. The Capitals will have to figure out goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky who is 6-3-0 and carries a 1.81 GAA and a .946 save percentage. And the Capitals also need to make sure they keep the Jackets off the score sheet so they don’t have to hear the cannon being fired.

Wednesday, Nov. 16th vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

This is the night we all circled on our calendars when the schedule came out. On this night not only do the defending Stanley Cup champions come to DC, but it also marks the first time the Caps host the Penguins since getting eliminated by them in the second round of the playoffs.

These teams already met to open the season where the Caps had to watch the Penguins raise their Stanley Cup banner. The Pens won that contest 3-2 in a shootout without their star Sidney Crosby, who was injured with a concussion at the time. Now Crosby returns and we’ll be treated to that heavyweight battle between him and Alex Ovechkin. Sid has played in seven games since his return to the ice and has been on a tear, racking up eight goals which leads the team, two assists and 10 points. He also posted two goals in three of his last five games.

Evgeni Malkin leads the Pens in points with 13, while tallying seven goals and six assists. Phil Kessel leads the team in the assists department with eight. No matter who is in net for Pittsburgh, the Caps have a challenge. Marc-Andre Fleury carries a 6-2-2 record with a .908 save percentage and a 3.07 GAA. Matt Murray, the young 22-year old netminder who the Capitals had trouble solving in the playoffs, has a 3-0-0 record, .957 save percentage and a 1.33 GAA after returning to action last week from a broken hand injury that he suffered in the World Cup of Hockey. The injury sidelined him for the season opener so the Capitals haven’t faced him yet.

The Penguins (9-2-2) are currently tied with the Rangers for first place in the Metro Division with 20 points. Washington sits just three points behind them.

Friday Nov. 18 vs. Detroit Red Wings:

The final game of the four-game stretch finds the Capitals hosting the Red Wings at Verizon Center. The Caps won two out of three games between the teams last season.

These teams faced each other in the 1998 Stanley Cup final where the Red Wings swept the Caps in four games. The 1998 win was Detroit’s second consecutive cup. The Red Wings carry a 7-6-1 record with 15 points and are currently tied for third in the Atlantic Division with the Lightning and tied in the wild card with the Devils. Former Capital Mike Green leads the Red Wings in points with 10 and assists with seven. Thomas Vanek, Darren Helm, Andreas Athanasiou, and Dylan Larkin each lead the team in goals with four. The Red Wings are struggling with their power play. Entering their game tonight against Vancouver, they have converted just three times on 31 chances. The Red Wings, like the Blackhawks, are a NHL original six team with a storied history. They have won 11 Stanley Cups, the most of any NHL franchise based in the United States.

Additional links:
Blackhawks win 7th straight with 2-1 overtime victory over Blues (Chicago Tribune)
Blue Jackets 3, Ducks 2 (OT) | Werenski wins it (The Columbus Dispatch)
Joe Starkey: Is this the best Sidney Crosby yet? (Pittsburgh Post Gazette)
Detroit Red Wings don’t just need a win; they need a win streak (Detroit Free Press)

By Michael Marzzacco

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