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.
Last week started with back-to-back road games against the Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets, with the Washington Capitals winning in two distinctive ways. In what I called an identity win against the Wings, the Caps played a complete defensive game in front of their rookie goaltender. Although Alex Ovechkin was held without a shot on goal for only the 17th time in his career, the defense was able to stifle a red hot Detroit team as Zach Fucale earned a shutout in his first NHL start.
Ovechkin wouldn’t stay off the scoresheet for long, passing Brett Hull for fourth on the NHL scoring list with his 742nd career goal midway through the first period against the Blue Jackets. Although the Caps would have a 22-second lapse in which Columbus would score two goals to tie the game, Washington was able to tighten up its defense in the third period and close out the game late in regulation.
After a quick trip home to the nation’s capital, where the Caps spoiled Sidney Crosby’s return to the Pittsburgh Penguins lineup with a 6-1 beatdown, they headed out for a four-game West Coast road trip. Although they dropped the first game in a 3-2 overtime battle against the Anaheim Ducks—a game that saw the team come back from two one-goal deficits to earn a point—Washington didn’t mail it in for the second half of the back-to-back like this team has in the past.
It was an extremely busy week for the Capitals, one that saw Washington play five games in seven days. With the team going 4-0-1 and earning nine out of a possible 10 points this past week, it’s hard to give the Caps anything other than an “A” for their weekly grade as they jumped the Carolina Hurricanes for first place in the Metropolitan Divison and are tied with the Florida Panthers for most points in the NHL. With three games on tap this week, and two against teams with losing records, here is what to expect from the Capitals over the next seven days.
Capitals Will Continue to Climb
Look for the Capitals to continue to rack up points as they close out their first West Coast road trip since the 2019-20 season. This weekend will see another set of back-to-back games, this time against the San Jose Sharks and the Seattle Kraken, and with Washington securing points in eight of its last 10 games, I expect the Capitals to earn at least another four points this week. San Jose is the only team on the schedule this week with a current winning record and poses to be the biggest danger to the Capitals on paper. Logan Couture and Timo Meier lead the way for the Sharks with matching six goals and eight assists for 14 points stat lines, with Meier hitting the mark in four fewer games.
The Sharks will be wrapping up a five-game road trip this evening against the St. Louis Blues before returning home on Saturday against the Capitals. While this trip has been rough for San Jose—currently 2-2-0 on the swing—the prior five-game homestand wasn’t much better for the Bay Area team, going 2-2-1 with a shutout loss to the struggling Montreal Canadiens. As long as Washington doesn’t look ahead to its inaugural game in Seattle the following night, I see the Caps winning both of their weekend games on the West Coast.
Another Blank Slate
It would be silly of me to say that I saw Fucale’s shutout coming when he hadn’t even played a game in the NHL. Although a highly touted prospect and steady producer at the AHL and ECHL levels, it would have been almost impossible to predict that Fucale was going to come up big in his first-ever NHL start. In fact, he was the only Washington Capitals netminder in history to record a shutout in his debut game.
With that said, however, this week is ripe with opportunities for another shutout against the Sharks, Kraken, or Canadiens. While Fucale won’t get the nod this weekend with Vitek Vaněček healthy and Ilya Samsonov coming off one of his best performances on the season, the goaltenders have a great chance at putting up goose eggs. The Sharks and Kraken have scored roughly the same amount of goals that the Kings have on the season, while the Canadiens have the second-worst goal differential in the league.
It’s weird to think that Ovechkin is currently in the middle of a “cold streak,” after posting one goal, five points, and only 12 shots over the last five games, including being held completely off the scoresheet in the last two. This was only the third and fourth times he was held without a point in a game this season, and the first time it happened in back-to-back games. How did Ovi respond in the other two follow-up games after he was held off the scoresheet? With a goal and two assists in both.
Look for the Ovechkin to be dialed in over the weekend, as I expect him to have big games in the back-to-backs against the Sharks and Kraken, and back home against the Canadiens. Seattle is currently the only team Washington’s captain has yet to score against, and with three games against weaker opponents before the Caps close out the month with clashes against the Panthers and Hurricanes, I see Ovechkin having a huge week leading up to American Thanksgiving as he continues to chase Wayne Gretzky’s record.
At roughly the 20-percent mark of the 2021-22 NHL season, the Washington Capitals currently sit at the top of the league standings. While a lot of fans and pundits thought the Caps would have a shot at a division title this year, not many people thought they would be cruising along this early. It will be important for this team to keep their winning ways going this week, as the Panthers and Hurricanes loom large on the horizon.
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.