In the aftermath of last night’s 3-1 win over the Calgary Flames, the most immediate concern for the Capitals has to be the health of center Nicklas Backstrom. After fueling the Washington attack with three assists, Backstrom was the recipient of a blatant elbow to the head from Calgary’s Rene Bourque midway through the third period.
Backstrom stayed on the ice for the ensuing power play, but skated just two shifts after that. He was still being evaluated after the contest. The Caps will hold an optional practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex today, so there us a chance that Backstrom will take his option and not skate today. Washington hits the road tomorrow, heading for San Jose where it will play on Saturday.
As for Bourque, he’ll be having a hearing with The Man to answer for his actions today.
The Capitals are now 16 games into Dale Hunter’s tenure as the team’s bench boss. Clearly, the team is playing with more structure and more passion than it was a month and a half ago. Sixteen games is roughly one-fifth of a regular season.
As for the results, the Caps are 9-6-1 in those
15 16 games. That translates into a 104-point pace 97-point pace over a full season, which in turn translates to a likely playoff berth. The Caps have scored 2.75 goals per game under Hunter; if they maintained that figure from the start of the season until now, they’d rank 13th in the league in scoring. As it is, they rank ninth in average goals per game at 2.97 because they were rattling off better than three goals per game in the 22 games in which former coach Bruce Boudreau was behind the bench.
Defensively, the Caps have limited foes to an average of just 2.25 goals per game under Hunter, more than a full goal less than they had given up per game under Boudreau (3.27). If they had maintained that 2.25 figure from the start of the season until now, the Caps would rank fifth in the NHL in goals against. As it is, Washington ranks 20th with an average of 2.84 goals against per game on the season.
The Capitals have surrendered two or fewer goals in 11 of 16 games (68.8%) under Hunter. In their fabled final 50 games of last season when they underwent a mid-season identity change/defensive transformation, the Capitals allowed two or fewer goals in 35 of those last 50 (70%) regular season contests.
Finally, the Caps are 14-5-1 at home and 7-10-1 on the road this season. Between now and the NHL’s All-Star break later this month, Washington will play five times at home and five times on the road. In their last four home games, the Capitals have owned the lead for 207:59 of the 240 minutes of hockey they’ve played. Washington has won six of its last seven on home ice.
For their next trick, the Caps will try to translate that sort of success to the road. Washington is 3-3-1 on the road since Hunter took over, but the Capitals have owned the lead for a grand total of just 30:39 of the 425 minutes of hockey they’ve played in those games.