Stat of the Day: Capitals have just three regulation losses since start of December

The Washington Capitals are on quite a run.

After a slow start to the season, the Caps have been virtually unstoppable for two months now, having gone 19-2-3 in 24 games since a 3-0 loss to the Islanders on December 1st to open up the slate of games for the final month of 2016. Washington hasn’t lost in regulation since December 27th, going 12-0-1 over its past 13 contests, the only loss an overtime defeat in last Monday’s 8-7 thriller against Pittsburgh.

Washington, which won the Presidents Trophy last season as the NHL’s best regular season team, has reclaimed the top spot in the league standings with 70 points as of Tuesday, a two-point lead ahead of Metropolitan Division rival Columbus, which holds down second.

The one caveat to this midseason run is the ‘peaking too soon’ argument that gets thrown around when teams play at this level at this time of the year. The run isn’t dissimilar to the level of play Washington was at this time last season en route to finishing with 120 points, which tied the 1972-73 Montreal Canadiens for the eighth-best total in NHL history. The Capitals went on a 32-5-3 run between November 19th and February 22nd of last season, but were bounced in the second round by Pittsburgh in six games.

For this current Capitals roster, it’s now or never, as next year’s team is guaranteed to look much different than this season’s edition. Karl Alzner, T.J. Oshie, Justin Williams, and Danniel Winnik are due to become unrestricted free agents while Andre Burakovsky, Evgeni Kuznetsov, and Dmitry Orlov will be restricted free agents. On top of all that, No. 1 defenseman John Carlson’s deal is up after next season and will be in line for a higher wage than his current $3.97 million salary. While Washington will remain competitive, the roster will look much different come 2017-18.

The team certainly seems to be playing as if that’s the message they’re receiving. As for whether this level can be sustained and Washington can advance to the conference finals for the first time of the Alex Ovechkin era remains to be seen.

 

Alex Ovechkin first of a few stars to reach 1,000 points in coming future

Alex Ovechkin scored his 1,000th career point on Wednesday night in the first period of the Washington Captials 5-2 win over Pittsburgh on a goal that coincided with the 545th tally of his career, which put him past hockey legend Maurice Richard for sole possession of 29th place on the all-time list.

He became the 84th player in NHL history to record 1,000 points in the league.

The milestone, of course is another mark in the amazing career of Ovechkin, who will go down as one of the great goal scorers to ever play the game. He reached 1,000 points in 880 games, one of just 37 players to reach four figures with one team.

Going into the game, Ovechkin was one of five NHLers within 45 points of the milestone. The Russian won the race, with Henrik Sedin the closest to him, at 996. He also beat out Sidney Crosby, who along with Ovechkin has been the face of the league since the two came into the league following the 2004-05 lockout. Crosby stands 17 shy, at 983.

Daniel Sedin (965) and Shane Doan (956) are the others within striking distance. Sedin, whose twin brother is four points shy, might not reach it until next season. Doan, however, might not reach the mark. Doan has just 11 points in 40 games this season, and there’s speculation he might retire at the conclusion of the season.

Ovechkin is the only player to score 1,000 points in a Washington uniform. Few will argue his place as the most important player in franchise history, not to mention the best, as well. He’s one of six active players with 1,000 career points, joining former Capital Jaromir Jagr (remember that?), who is second all-time at 1,893, Joe Thornton (1,367), Jarome Iginla (1,284), Marian Hossa (1,114), and Patrick Marleau (1,055).

As for who follows this group of five (if you include Doan) on the horizon? Well, there’s not much. Henrik Zetterberg (864) is next on the list after Doan, but is unlikely to reach 1,000, at 36 years old and heading into the twilight of his career. Jason Spezza (837), Eric Staal (816), and Evgeni Malkin (804) are the next ones on the list, but all three will need at least a couple of seasons to get to the milestone.

Alex Ovechkin can match Maurice Richard on goal scoring list tonight

With the Washington Capitals visiting the Montreal Canadiens on Monday night, Alex Ovechkin will be visiting the city in which Maurice Richard starred back in the middle of the 20th century, building a resume of work that still makes him among the greatest goal scorers ever.

So why is that relevant?

Well, Ovechkin currently stands at 30th place on the all-time goal scoring list with 543 tallies. Richard, who played from 1943-60 and retired as the all-time leader in goals, sits in 29th at 544. The 31-year-old sniper could tie the legendary Canadien with a goal on Monday night, in the same city – albeit a different barn – that Richard played in.

Above all, this would another feather in the cap of the Russian winger, who in his early 30s with plenty of hockey left in him yet is already widely considered one of the greatest goal scorers ever. Richard, while just 29th on the all-time list, is on the short-list of those whom a case can be made for being the best goal-scorer ever. A place where Ovechkin can be – if he’s not already there.

Since Ovechkin entered the league in 2005, there have been 20 seasons of 50-plus goals. He accounts for seven of them, and is the only player to score 50 times in a season since 2012, something he’s done three times. Only Dany Heatley and Ilya Kovalchuk have multiple 50-goal seasons over that span, the last of which came in 2007-08, when Ovi’s countryman scored 52 goals for the Atlanta Thrashers.

There will be plenty of milestones to come for Ovechkin, barring injury or other unforeseen circumstances. He’ll likely reach 600 career goals next season and is a virtual lock for 700, a mark reached just seven times in NHL history.

But matching the Rocket will be the latest bar cleared in Ovechkin’s legacy.

Bruins Face Canadiens for First Time, Scott Stevens Returns to New Jersey, Brian Elliot Faces Blues

Quite a bit to watch on Saturday night as 12 NHL games are being played, including the first game between Boston and Montreal, Flames goaltender Brian Elliot facing the Blues, who traded him over the offseason. Zach Parise and Scott Stevens will make their returns to New Jersey as the Wild face the Devils; Parise, of course, as a player, and Stevens as an assistant coach to Bruce Boudreau.

Here’s the games being played: Toronto at Chicago, 7; N.Y. Rangers at Washington, 7; Montreal at Boston, 7; Carolina at Philadelphia, 7; Tampa Bay at Ottawa, 7; Colorado at Florida, 7; San Jose at Detroit, 7; Minnesota at New Jersey, 7; Pittsburgh at Nashville, 8; Columbus at Dallas, 8; Vancouver at Los Angeles, 10; St. Louis at Calgary, 10.

Players to Watch

Chicago: Richard Panik; Don’t look now but Panik is leading the Hawks with five goals in five games. Patrick who?

Toronto: James van Reimsdyk; Will not be playing against his brother, Trevor, as its being reported the younger van Reimsdyk will miss 5-6 weeks with an upper-body injury, as it’s being reported by Scott Powers of The Athletic. The two have played each other just once.

N.Y. Rangers: Mike Zibanejad; Off to a nice start with five points in four games.

Washington: Zach Sanford; The rookie expected to play Saturday after being out of the lineup on Thursday. Will face fellow ex-BC big forward Chris Kreider for the first time.

Montreal: Tomas Plekanec; The 33-year-old center seems to like playing the Bruins, his 46 points against the archrival is the most he’s scored against any NHL opponent.

Boston: David Backes; First game in the rivalry. In 11 games against Montreal, he has four goals and eight points.

Carolina: Victor Rask; The Swedish center leads the Hurricanes with five goals in four games. He had 48 last season, up from 33 his rookie season.

Philadelphia: Pierre-Edouard Bellemare; The French centerman is leading the Flyers with a 54 percent faceoff percentage. He’s won 24 of 44 draws.

Tampa Bay: Ben Bishop; The Lightning netminder played 23 games in Ottawa from 2011-13 before being traded to Tampa, where his career has since blossomed. He is 117-53-17 since that deal, with a .921 save percentage and 2.26 GAA. Bishop has twice finished in the top three of the Vezina Trophy voting in a Lightning uniform.

Ottawa: Guy Boucher; Yeah, yeah, I know. He’s a coach. But the Senators first-year bench boss spent three seasons as the head man in Tampa Bay, going 97-79-20. He led the Bolts to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final in 2011, his first season behind the bench.

Colorado: Patrick Wiercioch; The defenseman has four points in four games.

Florida: Jaromir Jagr; Jagr coming off his 750th goal of the season.

San Jose: Brent Burns; The defenseman has points in five consecutive games to begin the season.

Detroit: Thomas Vanek; Still second on the team with six points.

Minnesota: Zach Parise; Still hanging on 299. How fitting would it be to get 300 in New Jersey, where he spent the first seven years of his career?

New Jersey: Cory Schneider; Has a .938 save percentage and 2.00 GAA in four games. Going to need to keep it up; the Devils have six goals in four games.

Pittsburgh: Patric Hornqvist; He has four points in five games, second on the team behind Evgeni Malkin, who has five.

Nashville: James Neal; Played in Pittsburgh from 2011-14, had 89 goals and 184 points in 199 games.

Columbus: Zach Werenski; The rookie leads the Jackets in scoring.

Dallas: Devin Shore; The 22-year-old tied with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin for the team lead with four goals.

Vancouver: Jacob Markstrom; He’s stopped 68 of 73 shots that have come his way in three games.

Los Angeles: Jeff Carter; His 58.8 faceoff percentage ninth in the league.

St. Louis: Jay Bouwmeester; The defenseman played four seasons in Calgary. His 25:52 average time on ice was the highest among the three teams he played for (Florida 2002-09, St. Louis 2013-present).

Calgary: Brian Elliot; Played five seasons in St. Louis, had a 2.01 GAA and .925 save percentage in 181 games.

#HatTrickChallenge

James Neal: Hasn’t found the net in four games. Breaks out against his former team.

Game of the Night

Montreal at Boston: It’s never a dull one when these two teams face each other.

Lock to Win

Minnesota: Zach Parise gets his 300th goal against the team that drafted him and the Wild continue to roll.

 

 

Thoughts Are Mine Only: Alex Radulov Breaks Four-Year Scoring Drought

These thoughts are my own only. Just in case you were wondering.

The title is self explanatory. Just meaningless thoughts you probably could care less about, plus some links, stats, observations, and whatever else gets thrown in there. It’ll be worth your while. Or maybe it won’t be. Only way you know is if you check it out.

*First career goal by Matthew Tkachuk, the sixth overall pick in this past June’s draft by the Flames. The son of former NHLer Keith Tkachuk, he’ll be 19 in December. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

*The throwback Pittsburgh white sweaters combined with the classic red trademark sweaters for Montreal. Pure jersey porn at the Bell Centre on Tuesday night.

*Montoya’s save percentage through three games: .962.

*Alexander Radulov’s 48th goal in the NHL came on Tuesday. It came 1,654 days after No. 47. The gap between No. 44 and 45 was 1,462 games.

*Huge loss for the Coyotes if Mike Smith is out for extended time. He hasn’t been a world beater by any stretch since his 2011-12 campaign that ended with a Western Conference final appearance, almost winning a Vezina Trophy. A shoddy defensive team but one that dazzles with the puck, Arizona needs a 2012-like Smith in order to fulfill expectations some hold of them being a ‘surprise team’; not unlike how Seymon Varlomov was for Colorado in 2013-14, or Price for the Canadiens in 2014-15.

*Taylor Hall was the best player on the ice for the Devils on Tuesday night, their first win of the season.

*Marian Hossa got his 500th goal in Chicago’s win over Philadelphia. He’s got five years left on his deal, so there should be plenty more.

*Another great hockey information website gone too soon. General Fanager has shut down, as website founder Tom Poraszka was hired by the expansion Las Vegas franchise.

*Non-hockey thought: As soon as the Cubs seem like they’re ahead, they fall behind. Dodgers won, 6-0, to go ahead 2-0 on Tuesday. Still say they win the Pennant, but there’s that small part of me that says they screw it up.

Links

Remember that time there was massive college hockey power in Maine? Of course you do. Well, they might just be back.

You get confused by the way supplemental discipline is handed out in the NHL? No need to worry, Matt Larkin of The Hockey News has you covered.

The talk out there is that hockey is becoming a young man’s game.

Finally gave a listen to Bob McKenzie’s new podcast, aptly name the ‘Bobcast’. It’s good. Even throws in some life tips towards the end.

Canadiens Celebrate Home Opener No. 99

It’s the first big Tuesday night in the NHL, and one of the headliners will be the Montreal Canadiens opening up the Bell Centre against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the 99th opener for the Habs. It will also be the home debut for big ticket defenseman Shea Weber, acquired from Nashville over the summer.

Here’s the slate of games for Tuesday; Colorado at Washington, 7; Anaheim at New Jersey, 7; San Jose at N.Y. Islanders, 7; Pittsburgh at Montreal, 7:30; Florida at Tampa Bay, 7:30; Arizona at Ottawa, 7:30; Dallas at Nashville, 8; Los Angeles at Minnesota, 8; Philadelphia at Chicago, 8:30; Buffalo at Calgary, 9; Carolina at Edmonton, 9; St. Louis at Vancouver, 10.

Players to Watch

Colorado: Gabriel Landeskog; The Avs captain has nine points in seven games against the Captials, the second-highest output against a team that has been in the Eastern Conference the entirety of his career. He has 10 points in seven games against Ottawa.

Washington: Evgeny Kuznetsov; The Capitals pivot has yet to record a point through two games. Tuesday’s matchup against Colorado would seem like a setup for a breakout for Washington’s leading scorer last season. In two games against the Avalanche last year, he had a 1-3–4 line. Against 28 games against Western Conference opponents last season, he had 36 points.

Anaheim: Ryan Getzlaf; Has landed 17 shots but has just one goal, coming off a season in which he buried just 7.3 percent of his chances. They have to go in at some point, don’t they?

New Jersey: Kyle Palmieri; Had a 30-goal season in 2015-16, his first year in New Jersey following five seasons in Anaheim. The Ducks would gladly take him back.

San Jose: Brent Burns; He’s got six points in three games. Looks like a man on a mission.

N.Y. Islanders: Cal Clutterbuck; Three points through three games to begin the season.

Pittsburgh: Chris Kunitz; Passed Mike Bullard for 15th place on the Penguins all-time points list with his 361st career point on Monday night. Next up is Greg Malone, at 364. Within striking distance: Mark Recchi (385) and Ron Schock (404). Needs a few seasons for Mario Lemieux’s 1,723.

Montreal: Al Montoya; Carey Price still isn’t ready to return to the ice. Thankfully, Montoya has been pretty good, with 65 saves on 69 shots through two games.

Florida: Jon Marchessault; The 26-year-old is filling in nicely for the injured Jonathan Huberdeau, with two goals and four points through two games.

Tampa Bay: Alex Killorn; He has 11 points in 16 games against the Panthers, the most points against any opponent for the 27-year-old forward.

Arizona: Oliver Ekman-Larsson; Played a yeoman-like 31:46 in the Coyotes opener.

Ottawa: Erik Karlsson; Facing Ekman-Larsson, he makes up half of the showdown between go-to Swedish defensemen.

Dallas: Kari Lehtonen; Will get his first start of the season after making 12 saves on 13 shots in relief of Antti Niemi on Saturday.

Nashville: Mike Fisher; The newly-elected captain has played 19:23 while scoring two points, taking a team-high 44 faceoffs, winning 26.

Los Angeles: Tyler Toffoli; Has put eight shots on net, but just one goal to show for it.

Minnesota: Zach Parise; His next goal will be No. 300 for his career. He ranks 18th among active players.

Philadelphia: Claude Giroux; The only player left over from the Flyers 2010 Stanley Cup run who remains on the Philly varsity.

Chicago: Richard Panik; His four goals in three games are two off the pace he totaled in 30 games for the Hawks.

Buffalo: Ryan O’Reilly; Has 40 points in 55 games against the two Alberta franchises, coming off a monstrous four-point performance against Edmonton on Sunday.

Calgary: Johnny Gaudreau; No goals on nine shots, he’s snakebit.

Carolina: Sebastian Aho; The Finnish phenom has points in each of his first two NHL games.

Edmonton: Cam Talbot; The Oilers netminder has stopped just 86 of the 99 shots he’s faced.

St. Louis: Jake Allen; Needs a shutout to tie Brent Johnson for fifth on the Blues all-time shutout list. A shutout after that matches the 13-shutout output by Roman Turek, who played 121 games from 1999-2001. Lurking in the distance was Glenn Hall, whose 16 shutouts stood as a club record for 42 years until Jaroslav Halak recorded his 17th of 20 shutouts he had in a Blues uniform in October 2013. Brian Elliot, who is the franchise leader at 25, became the standard bearer in March 2015.

Vancouver: Alex Edler; The defenseman is averaging 25:20 through two games. His 24:27 ice-time per game last season was a career-high.

#HatTrickChallenge

Kyle Okposo: The big winger had a great debut on a Sunday, with a goal and assist in the Sabres 6-2 win over Edmonton. He puts up three against a Flames defense corps that looks suspect yet again.

Game of the Night

Pittsburgh at Montreal: It’s the defending Stanley Cup champions visiting the franchise with the most. You can count on the bleu, blanc et rogue reminding them of that at some point during the night. Opening night at the Bell Centre is always a spectacle.

Lock to Win

St. Louis: The Blues jump out to a 4-0 start against a Vancouver team who is out to a 2-0 start, but hasn’t faced a team as good as St. Louis and will be playing its backup goaltender.

Links

Craig Custance looks into Doug Armstrong’s penchant for scooping up first-round picks that didn’t work out for other franchises.

Shea Weber set to introduce himself to the Montreal faithful.

Zach Parise, closing in on his 300th career goal, touches upon his unique relationship with Wild assistant Scott Stevens. Parise’s early days in New Jersey (he was drafted by the Devils with the 17th pick of the 2003 draft, played there until 2012) intersected with the final days of Stevens’ years with the Devils, where he played 13 of his 22 seasons in his Hall of Fame career.

Blues forward Jaden Schwartz, originally expected to miss a month, could return earlier than initially expected. Matt Murray could be close to returning for the Penguins.

With Ryan Miller unavailable, the Canucks have called upon University of British Columbia netminder Matt Hewitt as an emergency backup for Tuesday’s game against St. Louis.

The Avalanche feed off the energy from new coach Jared Bednar and captain Gabriel Landeskog.

 

Stat of the Day: Braden Holtby 3rd Fastest to 150 Wins

There seems to be little debate to the claim that Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price is the best in the world at his position.

But Braden Holtby, he of the Washington Capitals, might have something to say about that.

With Price out of commission last season, Holtby took the Vezina Trophy holding the crease for Washington, which won the Presidents Trophy with 120 points. Had he not been on such a loaded Capitals club, he could’ve very well taken the Hart Trophy as league MVP, as Price did in 2015.

Holtby is out to another blazing start in his defense of the Vezina, stopping 52 of 55 shots for the Caps, who are 1-0-1 going into Tuesday’s matchup with Colorado. And with his first win of the season on Saturday against the Islanders, a 2-1 victory, he became the latest netminder to join the 150-win club.

You’re probably saying, “Who cares?” right now, and for good reason. The 27-year-old is the 116th netminder to reach the milestone, and is time zones away from Martin Brodeur’s record of 691 victories. He’s one of 24 active players to win 150 games.

Here’s the hook – Holtby needed just 246 games to reach that mark, the third-fastest dash to the milestone. Only Ken Dryden and Andy Moog reached that mark quicker, in 241 and 245 games, respectively.

It’s the latest instance of just how good Holtby is, something that has come to light over the past couple seasons.

Going back to his breakout in the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs as a 22-year-old, in which backstopped the Caps to a first-round knockout of the then-defending champion Boston Bruins before taking the top-seeded Rangers to Game 7, Holtby has led the league in wins, with 136. He’s tied with Roberto Luongo for sixth in save percentage among goalies with 200 games played going back to the start of the 2012-13 season, trailing only Cory Schneider, Tuukka Rask, Corey Crawford, Ben Bishop, and Henrik Lundqvist in that category. He’s ninth (2.39) in GAA, and trails on Marc-Andre Fleury with 20 shutouts.