Photo: Norm Hall/Getty Images
Alex Ovechkin continues his quest for 700 goals as the Washington Capitals clash with the Arizona Coyotes for the second and final time this season on Saturday night. The Coyotes took the first meeting by a score of 4-3 in a shootout in Washington on November 11 after blowing a three-goal lead. Before dropping last year’s home game against the Capitals 4-2, the Coyotes had won three straight at home and earned points in six straight (5-0-1) against Washington in the desert. Action from Glendale can be seen on NBC Sports Washington beginning at 10 PM ET.
The Capitals continue a three-game Western Conference road trip in Arizona on Saturday night. They ended a two-game losing streak with a come-from-behind 3-2 victory over the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday to open the trip. The win was the Capitals’ fourth straight on the road and fifth in their last six since dropping back-to-back road games in regulation in December, the lone time that they have done so this season. Overall, the Capitals are a league-best 21-6-1 away from home.
The Capitals seem to have found their stride in Denver after an inconsistent two months where they went 10-9-0. After a four-game winning streak in January, they are 4-4-0. They tightened up defensively against the Avalanche after allowing two early goals. Washington had allowed 33 goals in their previous eight games (an average of 4.13 per game). The win on Thursday extended the Capitals’ lead to five points over the Pittsburgh Penguins for first place in the Metropolitan Division, though the Penguins entered Friday with two games in hand.
After a two-assist outing in Denver, defenseman John Carlson is now up to 54 for the year, which is second in the NHL, and 69 points, which is currently tied with Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews, Florida Panthers forward Jonathan Huberdeau, and Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane for ninth. His +16 rating is tied for 29th and is second on the Capitals behind only defenseman Radko Gudas (+20, tied for 15th). The 30-year-old recorded his fourth multi-point game in six games and his sixth in 10 against the Avalanche. Captain Alex Ovechkin, who is currently riding a three-game pointless streak, remains two goals away from 700 in his NHL career. His 40 goals this season are one behind Matthews and Boston Bruins forward David Pastrnak for the league-lead. Center Evgeny Kuznetsov, who missed Thursday’s game vs. the Avalanche due to an upper-body injury, remains day-to-day and his status for Saturday’s game is unknown but head coach Todd Reirden was hopeful that he will return during the Capitals’ road trip.
The Capitals’ average of 3.54 goals-per-game this season is second in the league behind only the Avalanche and they have scored at least three goals in two straight and nine of their last ten. Their average of 3.02 goals-against per game is currently tied with the Winnipeg Jets for 14th. After scoring four power-play goals in their past three games, including two against the Avalanche, the Capitals rank 12th with a 20.9% efficiency on the man advantage. Their 84% power-play efficiency is tied with the Bruins for third. They are also tied with the Bruins for ninth with an average of 32.1 shots-per-game and are fifth with an average of 29.9 shots-per-game. Their 48.6% faceoff-winning percentage is the seventh-worst in the league.
It is unknown who will start in goal for the Capitals but expect Ilya Samsonov, who is 16-4-1 with a .917 save percentage, a 2.38 goals-against average, and one shutout this season, to start for the first time since getting pulled for the first time in his NHL career during the Capitals’ 5-3 loss to the New York Islanders on Monday when he allowed five goals on 20 shots. He made 32 saves in the Capitals’ 4-3 loss to the Coyotes in D.C. on Veterans Day.
The Coyotes return home from a four-game Eastern Conference road trip, which they went 1-2-1 on after falling 3-2 to the Ottawa Senators on Thursday. They will start a short two-game homestand and a stretch where they play five of their next seven at Gila River Arena. The Coyotes are 13-11-4 at home, where they lost three of their last four (1-1-2) and four of their last six (2-1-3).
Since Vezina Trophy favorite Darcy Kuemper went down with a lower-body injury on December 16, the Coyotes have gone 8-10-5 to fall from first in the Pacific Division to the first wild-card in the Western Conference by just a point. They have dropped two in a row (0-1-1) and are 3-8-4 since a four-game winning streak to open the new year. The Coyotes have been limited to two goals in each of their last two games and in six of nine since they returned from their bye week.
Forward Taylor Hall, who was acquired in a trade with the New Jersey Devils on December 16, leads the Coyotes with 46 points and is tied with center Nick Schmaltz for the team-lead with 32 assists in 55 games this season. The 28-year-old has six goals and 17 points in his last 18 games and has one goal and two points in his last four since a four-game assist streak (where he recorded four) came to an end. Sophomore forward Conor Garland leads the team 19 goals this season but has just one assist in his last four since a four-game point-streak (where he tallied three goals and four points) and three-game goal-scoring streak came to an end. Hall’s -19 rating is tied for the 26th-worst in the NHL and second on the Coyotes this season behind forward Phil Kessel’s -23, which is tied for the eighth-worst. Kessel was a -19 with the Pittsburgh Penguins last season.
The Coyotes’ average of 2.68 goals-against per game is the fifth-lowest in the NHL while their 83.1% penalty-killing efficiency is sixth this season. Their average of 2.70 goals-per-game is the eighth-lowest in the league and the third-lowest among teams that occupy a Stanley Cup Playoff spot (Columbus Blue Jackets – fifth-lowest: 2.60, Dallas Stars – seventh: 2.67). The Coyotes’ 19.1% power-play efficiency is 20th. Their average of 31.4 shots-per-game is slightly below the league average of 31.5 while their average of 32.3 shots-against per game is the eighth-highest. The Coyotes’ 49.2% faceoff-winning percentage is the tenth-worst in the league.
Kuemper, whose .929 save percentage is tied with Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry for fifth in the NHL and 2.17 goals-against average is second (Bruins’ Tuukka Rask: 2.11), is now day-to-day and was evaluated Friday. He could return against the Capitals on Saturday. He is 1-1-0 with a .939 save percentage and a 2.03 goals-against average in two career games against the Capitals. He made 38 saves in his last start against the Capitals a season ago, a 4-1 win in Washington on Veterans Day in 2018. If Kuemper is not ready, the Capitals will get Antti Raanta, who is 11-13-3 with a .915 save percentage, a 2.83 goals-against average, and two shutouts this season, on Saturday. In four career games against the Capitals, the 30-year-old is 2-1-0 with a .908 save percentage and a 2.65 goals-against average. He made 31 saves in the Coyotes’ 4-3 shootout win in Washington in November.
- Ovechkin is aiming to reach the 700-goal mark vs. the Coyotes in his 1,141st career game, which would be the second-fewest games required to reach the milestone in NHL history. Wayne Gretzky (886 games) and Brett Hull (1,157 games) are the only players to record 700 goals in fewer than 1,200 games
- Ovechkin has 23 goals in 27 road games this season, which leads the NHL, while Carlson’s 29 road assists lead the league
- The Capitals are 14-3-4 against Western Conference teams this season
- Forward T.J. Oshie has nine points (four goals) in nine games and is currently on a four-game point streak (three goals, five points)
- Center Lars Eller has eight points in his last eight games (five assists) after a two-assist outing in Colorado
By Harrison Brown