Photo: NBC Sports Chicago
The Washington Capitals host the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday night for the first meeting of the season between the two teams. The two teams split the season set last year with the home team winning each game by a lopsided score. The Capitals beat the Blackhawks 6-2 at Capital One Arena on December 6 and the Blackhawks repaid the favor by blowing the Capitals out 7-1 at United Center on February 17. The game will be shown on NBC Sports Washington starting at 7 PM Eastern.
After missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008 last season, when they finished 12th in the Western Conference with 76 points a year after leading the Western Conference with 109 points, the Blackhawks find themselves three points behind the Dallas Stars for the final wild-card spot in the West. Chicago fired head coach John Quenneville earlier this month after the Blackhawks started 6-6-3 and hired Jeremy Colliton as interim head coach on November 6. Since the coaching change, the Blackhawks are 2-2-2.
Chicago begins a three-game road trip on Wednesday at Capital One Arena. After colliding with the Capitals, the Blackhawks head to Tampa Bay to face the Lightning on Friday night at Amalie Arena. A night later, they are in Sunrise to tangle with the Florida Panthers.
Forward Patrick Kane leads the Blackhawks in scoring for the fourth consecutive season. His 12 goals and 25 points lead the team and are tied for 10th in league scoring. He tallied two assists in the Blackhawks most recent game, a 3-1 win against the Minnesota Wild at home on Sunday. Kane, who just turned 30 years of age, had five consecutive seasons where he averaged at least a point per game end of last season when he posted 27 goals and 76 points after the Blackhawks traded forward Artemi Panarin to the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2017 offseason. Kane found chemistry with Panarin and won the Hart Trophy riding shotgun with the Breadman in 2015-16 but has fallen off a bit since Panarin was shipped.
The Blackhawks rank the ninth-worst or lower in offense, defense, power-play, and penalty kill. Their 2.67 goals per game is the sixth-lowest in the league, their 3.29 goals-against per game average is the ninth-worst, their 14.1% efficiency on the power-play is tied with the Montreal Canadiens for the third-worst, and their 74.6% penalty-killing rate is tied with the Florida Panthers for the sixth-worst.
Goaltender Corey Crawford, who is 5-6-1 with a save percentage of .922, a goals-against average of 2.44, and one shutout this season since returning from a concussion that kept him out for almost 10 months, will likely start against the Capitals. Lifetime against Washington, the 33-year old native of Montreal is 3-4-2 with a save percentage of .884 and a goals-against average of 3.54.
The Capitals open a short two-game homestand against the Blackhawks on Wednesday and play four of their next five games at home. On home ice this season, the Capitals are 5-3-2 in 10 games and have averaged 3.4 goals-per-game.
Center Evgeny Kuznetsov and forward T.J. Oshie will likely miss their third straight games with upper-body injuries (possible concussions) since the Capitals did not practice on Tuesday. Kuznetsov, 26, was hit in the head by Winnipeg Jets forward Brandon Tanev and Oshie, 31, was also hit in the head by Jets defenseman Josh Morrissey in the Jets’ 3-1 win over the Capitals last Wednesday. The team also announced that defenseman Brooks Orpik, who was placed on long-term injured reserve and is eligible to play against the Blackhawks on Wednesday, underwent surgery on his right leg and will miss the next 4-6 weeks.
After the Capitals went 2-2-1 on a five-game homestand earlier this month, the team made up some ground going 3-1-0 on their four-game road trip in four very tough buildings. The team won each of their last two games on the road trip in overtime and dictated play for the most part on their road trip. The team looks to gain some more ground on the Metropolitan Division race, entering Wednesday’s game against Chicago third in the division with 23 points, one behind the New York Rangers for second in the division.
The team boasts five of the top-37 leaders in the league in terms of point-per-game average with forward Tom Wilson tied for 13th with Kane and Boston Bruins forward David Pastrnak (1.25), Kuznetsov for 24th with a 1.17 goals-per-game average, forwards Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin tied for 26th with Carolina Hurricanes forward Sebastian Aho and Edmonton Oilers center Leon Draisaitl (1.15), and defenseman John Carlson in 37th (1.11).
Goaltender Braden Holtby will start Wednesday against Chicago. Holtby, who made 22 saves in relief in the Capitals’ 5-4 overtime win over the Canadiens on Monday, is 6-5-2 with a save percentage of .906, a goals-against average of 3.07, and one shutout this season. In 10 career appearances against Chicago, the 29-year-old is 7-3-0 with a save percentage of .918 and a goals-against average of 2.67.
-Wilson has scored four goals and eight points in his past three games against the Blackhawks; he’s averaging 20:11 minutes per game, 4:12 more per game than his previous single-season high set last year
-The Capitals have won seven consecutive home games against Chicago
-Backstrom, who has recorded 10 points (four goals) in his last nine games, leads the Capitals in assists this season (17) and is tied for ninth in the NHL
A Look Back in Time
The Capitals won their eighth consecutive game against the Blackhawks a couple years ago with a 6-0 victory at Capital One Arena. Center Jay Beagle scored twice, once with a snapshot the slot and the other on a rebound at the goalmouth. Backstrom scored on a nice three-on-two passing play with Ovechkin and Oshie. Forward Brett Connolly buried a loose puck at the left post for a 3-0 lead on the Western Conference leaders at the first intermission. Wilson buried a cross-ice pass from defenseman Nate Schmidt at the goal for a 4-0 lead at the end of the second period. Oshie scored off of a defenseman and past Crawford and Beagle scored in front of the net to finish off the win. Holtby stopped all 24 shots faced for his third shutout in five games.
By Harrison Brown