Photo: Bruce Kluckhohn/Getty Images
The Washington Capitals clash with the Minnesota Wild for the first time this season on Sunday night. Before the Wild won by a score of 2-1 at Capital One Arena the last time the two teams met on March 22 last season, the Capitals had won eight straight games against them and have come out of their last five visits to Minnesota with wins. Action from Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul can be seen on NBCSN‘s “Star Sunday” broadcast beginning at 8 PM ET.
The Capitals conclude a short two-game road trip after getting shut down by goaltender Connor Hellebyuck in a 3-0 loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday night despite putting 34 shots on net and carrying the play for the better part of the game. The loss in Winnipeg marked the Capitals’ season-long fourth straight regulation loss on the road, a stretch where they have scored just five goals. Washington had won four straight and five of their previous road games. The Capitals’ 21 road wins this season are tied with the Colorado Avalanche for the most in the NHL.
Prior to their loss to the Jets, the Capitals had won two straight games for the first time since right after the All-Star Break. Though they have won two of their last three, they are also 5-8-1 in their past 14 games and at .500 (13-13-1) since their season-long four-game winning streak came to an end in the first week of December. The Capitals have allowed at least three goals in seven straight games, where they have allowed a total of 22, and in 12 of their last 14, where they have allowed 50. They had scored at least three goals in three of four before getting shutout by the Jets. The Capitals entered play on Saturday three points up on the red-hot Philadelphia Flyers, whom they host on Wednesday, for first place in the Metropolitan Division.
Defenseman John Carlson sits 12th in the NHL this season with 72 points and is second with 57 assists, five behind Edmonton Oilers center Leon Draisaitl for the league lead. The 30-year-old was held off of the scoresheet and posted a -3 rating in both games of the home-and-home series vs. the Jets but had two goals and 10 points in his previous nine games, though he was a -6 during that span. Captain Alex Ovechkin‘s 43 goals this season are third in the NHL behind only Boston Bruins forward David Pastrnak (47) and Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews (45). The 34-year-old has three goals in his past five games.
The Capitals’ average of 3.41 goals-per-game is the fifth-highest in the NHL this season while their average of 3.03 goals-against per game is slightly better than the league average. Their 20% power-play efficiency is a shade worse than the league average but their 84% penalty-killing rate is third behind only the San Jose Sharks (86.1%) and the Edmonton Oilers (84.1%). The Capitals’ average of 32.1 shots-per-game is tied with the Bruins for tenth while their average of 30 shots-against per game is eighth. Their 48.6% faceoff-winning percentage is the sixth-worst.
Goaltender Braden Holtby, who is 23-13-5 with an .897 save percentage and a 3.12 goals-against average this season, will start against the Wild on Sunday night. Before sitting against the Jets on Thursday, the 30-year-old appeared in eight of the Capitals’ last nine games, posting a .902 save percentage during that stretch. In 11 career games against the Wild, Holtby is 8-3-0 with a .922 save percentage, a 2.27 goals-against average, and one shutout. He made 25 saves in his lone start against Minnesota last season, which came in the 2-1 loss last March.
The Wild return home from a two-game road trip and begin a short two-game homestand against the Capitals on Sunday night, the only two home games for them in a span of seven. Before beating the slumping Columbus Blue Jackets 5-4 in their last home game, the Wild had lost three straight home games (0-2-1) by a combined score of 10-4 and four of their previous five in the State of Hockey. The Wild are 18-10-5 at Xcel Energy Center this season.
A three-game winning-streak has propelled the Wild to within one point of the Nashville Predators for the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference, though they have played one more game than the Predators.
After missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in six years last season, the Wild signed forward Mats Zuccarello (who has 14 goals, 34 points, and a -8 rating in 60 games this season) and forward Ryan Hartman (who has nine goals, 19 points, and a +7 rating in 64 games). In the past eight months, the Wild have fired GM Paul Fenton (and replaced him with former Pittsburgh Penguins assistant GM Bill Guerin) and head coach Bruce Boudreau (and replaced him on an interim basis with former Capitals assistant Dean Evason), formerly of the Capitals. They are 5-2-0 since the coaching change and have outscored opponents 12-1 in their past two games. At the NHL Trade Deadline, the Wild dealt forward Jason Zucker to the Penguins in exchange for center Alex Galchenyuk (who has six goals, 21 points, and a -7 rating in 54 games this season and one goal, four points, and an even rating in nine games since the trade), defensive prospect Cale Addison, and a conditional first-round pick.
Forward Kevin Fiala, who has three goals and seven points during a three-game goal- and point-streak and 10 goals and 19 points in his last 13 games, leads the Wild with 47 points this season. His 19 goals this season are tied with forward Eric Staal for second behind only forward Zach Parise (22), who has one goal and four points in his last two. Defenseman Ryan Suter, who has four helpers in his last five games, leads the Wild with 36 assists this season.
The Wild are at the league average in offense with an average of 3.14 goals-per-game but their average of 3.11 goals-against per game is the 11th-lowest. Their 21.2% power-play efficiency is 12th but their 76.6% penalty-killing rate is the fifth-worst. The Wild’s average of 30 shots-per-game is the seventh-lowest in the league but their average of 30.4 shots-against per game is 10th best. Their 48.2% faceoff-winning percentage is the fourth-lowest.
Goaltender Alex Stalock, who is 18-9-4 with a .910 save percentage, a 2.60 goals-against average, and four shutouts this season, has appeared to have taken the starters’ role in Minnesota as he has started the club’s last three games and has started five more games than Devan Dubnyk this season. Expect the 32-year-old to be in the net against the Capitals on Sunday night. He made 40 stops in his lone career appearance against them, a 3-1 loss at Capital One Arena on November 18, 2017.
- The Capitals have won their past five visits to Xcel Energy Center
- Forward Jakub Vrana ranks second among players with at least 15 games this season in the NHL with 1.66 goals per 60 minutes of five-on-five play (Chicago Blackhawks forward Dominik Kubalik: 1.79)
- This season, the Capitals have outscored opponents by 12 goals (108-96) on the road and rank second in the NHL in road goals (Toronto Maple Leafs: 120)
- Ovechkin has 24 goals in 31 road games this season, which leads the NHL, while Carlson’s 31 road assists are tied with Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl for the most in the NHL
- In 68:04 minutes of five-on-five time together, Brenden Dillon and Carlson have recorded a 52.38 shot attempt percentage (77 shot attempts for, 70 against), a 52.87 shots for percentage (77 shots for, 70 against)
By Harrison Brown