Photo: NBC Sports Washington
The Washington Capitals host the Calgary Flames for the second and final meeting of the season between the two teams on Friday night. The Capitals defeated the Flames 4-3 in a shootout in Calgary the first time the teams met on October 27. Both teams come back from their respective bye-weeks. Action from Capital One Arena can be seen on NBC Sports Washington beginning at 7 PM.
After missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second time in three seasons and the eighth time in 10 last years, the Flames hold a six-point lead on the San Jose Sharks for first place in the Pacific Division with a game in hand. Entering their bye week, the team won three consecutive games and eight of their last 10 (8-1-1).
Calgary begins a short two-game road trip and a stretch where they play five of the next six games away from Scotiabank Saddledome. After visiting Washington and Raleigh to take on the Carolina Hurricanes over the weekend, the team will enjoy three days off before making a pit stop at home to host the Sharks on Thursday night for a big divisional clash. After that, they will visit the Vancouver Canucks and then come back to the East Coast to continue a four-game road trip.
Forward Johnny Gaudreau’s 29 goals lead the Flames while his 73 points are tied with Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid for third in the NHL. Only Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov (78) and Colorado Avalanche forward Mikko Rantanen (74) have more points than Gaudreau, 25, and McDavid this season. They own an NHL-high five players who average at least a point-per-game this season: Gaudreau (1.43 – fourth in the NHL), center Sean Monahan (1.20), offseason acquisition and forward Elias Lindholm (1.14), forward Matthew Tkachuk (1.12), and leading Norris Trophy candidate as the NHL’s top defenseman Mark Giordano (1.06). Calgary also boasts four of the top five league leaders in terms of plus-minus: Giordano (+29) ranks first, defenseman T.J. Brodie (+28) is good for second, center Mikael Backlund (+27) is third, and Lindholm (+26) ranks fifth.
Calgary’s average of 3.73 goals-per-game ranks second in the NHL only behind the Lightning’s average of 3.92, while their average of 2.80 goals-against per game is seventh in the league. They also allow the fourth-fewest shots-against average per game (28.8), only behind the Hurricanes (27.9), Vegas Golden Knights (28.4), and Sharks (28.5). Their 52.4% winning percentage on faceoffs is currently third in the league behind the Philadelphia Flyers (56.3%) and Toronto Maple Leafs (52.8%).
Goaltender David Rittich, who has enjoyed a breakout year this season earning a 19-4-4 record with a save percentage of .918, a goals-against average of 2.47, and one shutout, will likely start for the Flames against the Capitals, his first career outing against Washington.
The Capitals look to end a seven-game losing streak, their longest since the 2013-14 season. In the last three games, the team has scored 14 goals but has given up 21 in that span. During the losing streak, the Capitals have had tons of defensive breakdowns and have been outscored 36-17 during their losing streak, allowing an average of 5.14 per game. Overall this season, the Capitals have given up an average of 3.22 goals-per-game, tied with the Avalanche for the ninth-most in the league.
Captain Alex Ovechkin, who leads the NHL with 37 goals and the Capitals with 57 points in 50 this season, will serve his mandatory one-game suspension for skipping NHL All-Star Weekend in San Jose last weekend on Friday night against the Flames. In his last two games leading into the All-Star Break, the 33-year-old tallied four goals and five points after getting held off of the scoresheet the previous two games. Since he will not play on Friday night, his career-best 214-game “iron man” streak will come to an end.
The Capitals will begin a season-long six-game homestand on Friday against the Flames. So far this season, the team is 13-8-4 on home ice but is 9-10-3, including a 1-7-2 record in their past 10 games, against Western Conference opponents. The last time the Capitals won a game against a Western Conference team came on December 6 in a 4-2 win at the Arizona Coyotes. Despite owning a rotten record against foes from the West Coast, they are 5-4-1 against the Pacific Division this season. Four of the Capitals’ six games on the homestand are against the Western Conference with only two of those teams occupying playoff spots at the moment (Flames, Avalanche).
The Capitals’ average of 3.36 goals-per-game is the eighth-best in the NHL this season. Defenseman John Carlson leads the team with 39 assists this season. While the Capitals have one of the most deadly offenses in the NHL, the team has some forwards who need to be more consistent down the stretch run, headlined by center Evgeny Kuznetsov, who has tallied five assists in his previous 11 games and had only one 5-on-5 goal in his first 37 games before recording a goal and three points in consecutive outings before the bye-week, and center Lars Eller, who has only six goals and a -14 rating this season, the worst on the team.
Goaltender Braden Holtby, who is 17-12-5 with a save percentage of .905, a goals-against average of 3.11, and two shutouts this season, will likely start against the Flames. While his numbers are not where they should be, a major part of why they are that way is because he has a save percentage of .778 and a goals-against average of 6.75 in his past three outings. Though, he is not the only one to blame for those numbers since the defense in front of him has been giving up a ton of odd-man rushes and quality scoring chances. In eight career games against the Flames, the 29-year old is 4-2-1 with a save percentage of .889 and a goals-against average of 3.07.
-Carlson is now one assist shy of recording at least 40 assists in consecutive seasons for the first time in his career (2017-18: 53 assists) and he could become one of three defensemen to record at least 40 assists in each of the last two seasons (Brent Burns: 55 in 2017-18, 46 this season; Erik Karlsson: 53 in 2017-18, 43 this season); he is on pace for 77 points this season, which would surpass his single-season high set last year (68 points, 15 goals)
-Center Nicklas Backstrom has earned 20 points (7 goals) in 16 career games and has tallied six points in his last seven games against the Flames (10/20/15-10/27/18: 3g, 3a)
-The Capitals have scored 67 goals in the second period this year, the second most in the NHL (Pittsburgh Penguins: 68); every Capital who has played in at least 30 games has recorded a goal in the second period, with Ovechkin leading the team (18)
A Look Back In Time
After the Flames roared out to an early 3-0 lead in the opening 16:22 of the Capitals’ home opener in 2013, defenseman Connor Carrick cut the Calgary lead to two midway through the middle frame, going backhand to forehand on a breakaway and beating goaltender Karri Ramo for his first career NHL goal. Shortly after, the Flames took advantage of a miscue by goaltender Michael Neuvirth from behind the net to restore the three-goal lead. In a span of four minutes in the second period, Ovechkin scored back-to-back goals to get the Capitals within one heading into the third period. Backstrom tied it sniping it from the right dot with 5:51 remaining in regulation. The game would go to overtime, which would not be enough to decide a winner, so a shootout would. Center Mikhail Grabovski opened the shootout, faking a shot and then backhanding it under the crossbar to score. Ovechkin would beat Ramo with another backhand shot, that time past the blocker to secure a 5-4 comeback win. Neuvirth made 27 saves on 28 shots in relief to get the win.
By Harrison Brown