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Ducks at Capitals PREVIEW: Mr. Steel Goes To Washington

Anaheim visits DC hoping to string together road wins

NHL: Washington Capitals at Anaheim Ducks Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Game 22

Date: Monday November 18th, 2019

Time: 4:00 PM Pacific

Location: Capital One Arena, Washington D.C.

TV: Prime Ticket,

Radio: AM 830

Your Enemy: Japers’ Rink

After dropping the final five games of their seven-game homestand, the Anaheim Ducks arrived in St. Louis hoping to rebound in the first game of a four-game road trip. The Ducks rode a standout performance from their number one center to a surprising 4-1 win over the defending Cup champions. Derek Grant’s hat-trick was proof that when the top of your lineup shows up, you can win games you probably shouldn’t.

Despite being doubled up on shot attempts and high-danger chances by St. Louis, Anaheim was able to take an early lead in the first period and ride that out for the last 50+ minutes of game time. It’s hard to know exactly what to take away from a game where the scoreboard and the underlying numbers tell such remarkably different stories. But at the end of the day what really matters most is the points. Banking two standing points against a conference opponent on the road is always a positive, and for a team with lots of young guys who are still getting accustomed to the emotional ups and downs of the NHL, these are the kinds of games that can pay off later on down the line.

The Ducks now find themselves in the nation’s capital ready to take on the league leading Washington Capitals. The Ducks are 4-4-2 over their last 10 games (including the aforementioned 1-3-2 skid in their last six games) and have managed to waste two separate three goal “outbursts”. The Capitals, on the other hand, enter Monday night’s game with an 8-1-1 record in their last ten games (including one regulation loss in their last 15) and have scored 2 goals or less only four times all season long.

Alex Ovechkin finds himself tied for third in goals, three off league leader David Pastrnak, while teammate John Carlsson is tied for third in the league in points and the only defenseman in the top 15. First in goals and third in goals per game, the Capitals offense is providing the kind of high-end production that covers for the fact that the goaltending situation seems to be its most fluid in recent memory. While 22 year-old Ilya Samsonov (.912) has a higher save percentage than longtime Washington backstop Braden Holtby (.904), head coach Todd Reirden seems reluctant to lean too heavily on the youngster, giving Holtby (15) twice as many starts as Samsonov (7). At 30 years old and with more than 400 starts over 10 seasons, there is no way to know if Holtby is in a slump or if the end of the Vezina winner’s prime has come.

If Washington’s offense can continue to score at such a prolific rate, they may be able to put off confronting that question until this summer, but should the goals start to dry up, there will be more than a few tough decisions for head coach Todd Reirden to make.

Keys to the Game

1. Goaltending – Not to put too fine a point on it, but the Anaheim Ducks defense is in dire straits these days. With both members of the team’s top pair out indefinitely, head coach Dallas Eakins has been trying to cobble together a respectable unit with a mix of unproven youngsters and underwhelming veterans, and Cam Fowler. The early returns have been, well, not particularly comforting. The Ducks have given up four-plus goals in three of the four games they’ve played without Hampus Lindholm, and in six of 10 without Josh Manson. Given that Anaheim has one of the better goaltending duos in the league, those numbers are quite distressing. With the team in front of them being younger and less inexperienced than in years past (two factors that lead to more mistakes than average and therefore more opportunities for opponents than usual) both goalies have faced far more shots than normal of late. Mix that with a dip in form for the normally stellar John Gibson, and you have a recipe for disaster. Gibson looked significantly closer to his old self against St. Louis and should have the net again for tonight’s tilt against Washington. Anaheim will be hoping Saturday’s game was a sign of things to come and not an anomaly.

2. Penalty Killing – The Capitals are ninth in the league in power play percentage (23.3%), but tied for fourth in total power play goals (17). I have said it before and I will continue to say it until I die: for my money, the closest we will ever come to seeing something that feels as close to a lock as Kareem’s Skyhook is Ovechkin’s one-timer from the left face off dot on the power play. I have seen that shot stopped or miss more times than I’ve seen it score and yet I will always assume its going in until it doesn’t.

Anaheim has relied on the bottom half of its roster this season to eat the majority of the minutes on the penalty kill. That has, to this point, led to largely middling results (80.3%, 18th in the league) despite the Ducks being tied for second in the league with four short-handed goals. Anaheim is going to need to either stay out of the box (stop laughing!) or they’re going to need to be better on the kill if they’re going to survive a game against a powerplay with Ovechkin, John Carlson, and Nicklas Backstrom. One of those is far more likely than the other, though that doesn’t say much either way. Set the bar low enough and you might just make it over.

Players to Watch

After a brief demotion to the San Diego Gulls and a talking to from Eakins and Bob Murray about simplifying his game, Max Jones has responded with a point in three of his last four games. Jones’ recently found form has come with a lot less stick handling and far more interplay with his teammates, Saturday’s give-and-go that set up Ryan Getzlaf’s opening tally being a prime example.

Fast, strong, and skilled, Max Jones has all the tools necessary to be an impact player in today’s NHL. It will ultimately be a matter of his ability to continue to improve, mostly between the ears, and become a consistent and reliable player for coach Dallas Eakins. Playing on a line with fellow San Diego alums Sam Steel and Troy Terry seems to have helped Jones find his groove and fill a familiar role while on the ice as the main forechecker.

However, Eakins has not been shy about rejiggering lines in the middle of games, and Jones’ ability to play up and down the lineup could help him carve out a meaningful role on this team going forward a a do-it-all superstar. Ultimately, his play will decide whether or not that comes to fruition, but the ability and the opportunity are certainly there for him.

Third in the league in both total points and assists, and trailing the same two players in both categories, John Carlson seems well on his way to securing his third consecutive 50 assist season. Further cementing that time-honored truism that NHL defensemen don’t enter their primes until they reach… 28?

Aging curve busting not with-standing, John Carlson has become one of the premier point producing defensemen in the NHL over the last few seasons. With 28 and 30 powerplay assists over the last two seasons respectively, should Anaheim find themselves on the business end of the Capitals’ powerplay tonight, Carlson will undoubtedly be a major reason why. The emergence of Evgeny Kuznetsov as a secondary goal scoring threat on the power play has created even more opportunities for the Capitals special teams as opposing penalty kills are forced to stretch themselves as thin as possible to try and contain Washington’s array of offensive weapons.

Unsurprisingly, this has been far from effective and has allowed him to pick defenses apart with slick passing and smooth skating. Should the Ducks continue to take penalties like they’re limited edition POP dolls, John Carlson will be front and center on Southern California TV’s this evening. Even if he isn’t producing points, it’ll be hard not to notice him making plays all night throughout the 25 minutes of ice time he should see.