The Washington Capitals have won six games straight but are also coming off their bye-week, as they make their final trip to Joe Louis arena, ever. Detroit will call Little Caesars, a new midtown arena, home next season. Puck drop is at 2 PM on CSN.
While no NHL contest is easy, the Red Wings are among the teams struggling the most right now. There’s been a lot of bad news emanating from Hockeytown; here are some points that you need to know ahead of the Capitals contest:
Detroit is last in the Atlantic division; their US professional team sports leading streak of consecutive seasons making the playoffs, which stands at a quarter century, is in peril of being stopped.
The Red Wings have lost four in a row and 2-2-2 prior to that; only the Avalanche have struggled more of late. After today the Red Wings play two more games before their bye-week.
Detroit has been shut out eight times this season, again only Colorado has done this more frequently. By comparison, the Red Wings were blanked only five times in the prior two seasons combined.
Goaltender Jimmy Howard suffered a setback recovering from a sprained knee; in replacement, Petr Mrazek has had moments of strong play but has been inconsistent too. In goal, Mrazek has recorded 12 wins, 15 losses and 6 OTLs, a 3.04 goals against average, and a .901 save percentage.
Detroit is among the NHL teams with the most man games lost; they’ve been an inflictor of losses too; T.J. Oshie, Lars Eller and Andre Burakovsky have been injured playing the Red Wings this season; 8 man games lost after the Red Wings match in November and a minimum of 14 man games will be lost from the Red Wings game last week; projecting forward, Red Wings account for 67% of the Capitals man games lost for the season so far.
First line winger Gustav Nyquist is in the middle of serving a six game suspension for spearing Jared Spurgeon’s face; a reckless play, probably intentional.
Mike Ilitch, the Red Wings owner, recently passed away.
Detroit is a franchise with some very talented players, like star forward Henrik Zetterberg (13 goals, 28 assists, 41 points) and solid winger Andreas Athanasiou, and promising youth Dylan Larkin, but they’re in need of a reboot and they’re about to get one.
Detroit is expected to be in trade deadline selling mode and are actively shopping Thomas Vanek, who’s doing well as the team’s second leading scorer, and Brendan Smith, a 2nd line defender who has missed half the season due to injury; perhaps other players are in play too.
The Red Wing’s power play efficiency is at 11.8%, which is last in the NHL. The Red Wings penalty kill is 80.2% effective, which is ranked 21st in the NHL.
SHOTS FIRED AND SHOTS AGAINST
The Red Wings are near the bottom of the league in shots, averaging 28.4 shots per game, which is ranked 25th in the NHL. They give up 30.8 shots per game, which is ranked 19th in the NHL.
METROPOLITAN DIVISION STANDINGS
The Capitals need to win their first game back from break today against Detroit because they face a rested Rangers team less than 24 hours later at MSG; the latter will be a more difficult contest and we don’t want to “restart” after the bye-week with back-to-back losses.
Coming from a break, it’s a tough ask for the Caps to immediately recapture their fine first period form but it would come in very handy. Detroit has allowed the first goal 35 times including 17 times in the first five minutes of the game.
Unfortunately for the Capitals, they suffered a couple of injuries in their last game against Detroit. Andre Burakovsky is expected to miss a minimum of 13 more games (probably more) with his hand injury. Both Zach Sanford and Jakub Vrana have been recalled from Hershey. Sanford, who scored his first NHL goal, which happened to be the game winning goal, right before break will start in Burakovsky’s spot while Sanford and Vrana are expected to compete for playing time in the games ahead.
Despite not playing games this past week, Nicklas Backstrom is 4th in the NHL in the points race battle, 6 behind Connor McDavid, and Alex Ovechkin is 8th in goals race battle, 5 behind Sidney Crosby. I know both Backstrom and Ovechkin are more focused on winning playoff games than these personal accolades.
Bruce Orpik is tied for the NHL lead in plus minus. Holtby remains top five in goals against average (2nd), save percentage (tied 4th), wins (tied 3rd) and shutouts (tied 1st), but it’s likely Philipp Grubauer in net against the Red Wings today.
Prior to the break, the Capitals powerplay continued to improve. It is 22.2% effective, which is 4th best in the NHL. Their penalty kill has held steady at 84.5% effective, which is 5th best in the NHL.
SHOTS FIRED AND SHOTS AGAINST
Despite the Capitals winning ways, the Capitals are average in shots per game. The Capitals average just 29.7 shots per game, which is ranked 17th best in the NHL. The Caps are 3rd in goals scored this season which means they are very efficient and a mix of creating strong scoring opportunities and fortunate. The Capitals are still one of the NHL’s stingiest teams when giving up shots against. The Capitals give up just 27.9 shots per game, which is ranked 6th in the NHL.
This is the final of three matchups between the Capitals and Red Wings this season with the Caps winning the two prior contests, both at the Verizon Center, 1-0 and 6-3. The last time the Capitals visited the Joe was November 19, 2015 and they came out victorious 2-1. The Caps have won four out of the last six games at the Joe but the series is played tight — all but one game in the Ovi-Backstrom era have been by a margin greater than one goal. The Caps record at the Joe all-time is 15-15-6-3 so this contest will become a tiebreaker of sorts if the Caps lose in regulation or, as we hope, win. While Detroit’s play has been inconsistent, I expect a real fight from the Red Wings today as they’re a side with pride, fighting to keep their playoff streak alive, and the Red Wings already know they play the next day at the Pittsburgh Penguins who’ll have a day of rest. While it won’t be an easy contest, Detroit is ripe if the Caps return from their break ready.
By Tim Foisie