Welcome to Capitals Weekly! In this weekly column, I will take a look at the Washington Capitals’ upcoming games and highlight any potential storylines or matchups to watch, all while giving my predictions on how the Caps will do in that span. As always, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section down below.
Point night against the Detroit Red Wings and Arizona Coyotes did not quite happen for the Washington Capitals in the way that I had thought it would, but the Caps did earn three out of four possible points in those two games. Alexander Ovechkin did score in “bunches,” netting 50 percent of the team’s goals in those two games. However, he failed to hit 10 goals on the season by only scoring one goal in each game, one of which was an empty netter.
As predicted, Washington suffered its first regulation loss on the 2021-22 season at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning, ending an eight-game point streak to start the year. I can forgive the loss down in Tampa, and I can even understand the loss against the upstart Wings, but the game against the winless Coyotes can’t happen this early in the season. Yeah, Karel Vejmelka played absolutely phenomenal, making 30 saves on the night, but coming off a loss in which the Capitals gave up a two-goal lead, Washington needed to come out and make a statement against Arizona.
Therefore, I’m going to give the Capitals an overall grade of a “C” on the week. Washington has to learn to protect leads, and pucks in overtime, in order to contend for the Metropolitan Division title, and eventually the Stanley Cup. Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov also have to do more than rely on a John Carlson seeing-eye shot to take down a team that is dead last in the league. With that said, the Caps face a potential trap week, with games against the Florida Panthers, Philadelphia Flyers, and Buffalo Sabres. Here’s a look ahead at what the upcoming week has in store for the Capitals:
A Panther Sized Measuring Stick
Although it is still early in the season, this is where the character of Peter Laviolette’s team will shine through. Are the Capitals a true contender in the East? A bounce-back game in the second half of its two-game Florida road trip will go a long way to prove this Washington team has what it takes to go the distance this season. The Panthers, who are led by Jonathan Huberdeau’s 11 points and Aleksander Barkov’s 10 points, are currently undefeated in regulation, boasting an 8-0-1 record for a league-leading 17 points.
On the backend, Florida has two brick walls that have been manning the crease, as Sergei Bobrovsky and Spencer Knight are putting up insane numbers. Bobrovsky leads the Cats with a 6-0-0 record while posting a .944 save percentage (SV%) and a 1.81 goals-against average (GAA). While Knight is keeping pace with a 2-0-1 record with a .929 SV% and 1.95 GAA. Washington will need to play a defensively sound game to give the team a chance to walk away with two points and, while it may be very early in the season, this game could set the tone for how the rest of November plays out.
Vitek Vaněček Will Earn His First Shoutout
Vitek Vaněček has had quite the 2021-22 season so far with the Capitals. Starting during the Seattle Expansion Draft when he was selected by the Seattle Kraken, only to be traded back a week later. Vaněček has since gone on to post back-to-back losses following a game in which he was pulled during the first intermission after starting the season 2-0-1 in his first three games.
With that said, it’s high time that Vaněček has his breakout game and announces himself on the 2021-22 campaign. Look for him to post his first goose egg against either the Flyers on Saturday or the Sabres on Monday in the Capitals two home games this week.
Tom Wilson Wakes Up
Through nine games on the young season, Tom Wilson has been producing at a steady pace. Already with seven assists, the power forward had contributed to the team in many ways this season.
Scoring, however, has not been one of them. Wilson has yet to find the back of the net this season and needs to start putting a few in if he wants to stay on the top line. That’s not to say he hasn’t been close, as Wilson has had many chances in tight this season. Expect for him to break out in one or two games this week, my guess is with a big momentum-shifting goal against the Panthers.
As I mentioned earlier, this could either be a trap week or a statement week for the Washington Capitals. Expect three hard-fought games, and don’t be surprised if the Caps win, or lose, them all. In my mind, this is the team’s chance to set the tone for a busy November and show the league that the Caps are still one of the perennial contenders in the East. I’m predicting a bounce-back week with the Capitals going 2-0-1, handing Florida its first loss in regulation but losing in a shootout to the Flyers. Vaněček will shut the door on the Sabres, earning his first shoutout on the season and First Star honors in the game.
Agree or disagree with my weekly predictions? Leave your comments and own projections in the comments below!
Born and raised in Michigan, Kyle Knopp started playing hockey when he was 3 years old. Knopp has played, coached, or worked at every level of ice hockey — including three seasons in the Ontario Hockey League and two seasons with the Detroit Red Wings where he was part of the Stanley Cup Championship team in 2008. He covers the Washington Capitals and Detroit Red Wings for The Hockey Writers and is the editor of THW’s Morning Skate newsletter. You can follow him on Twitter @THW_Knopp.