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Prax-Day Notebook

March 27, 2014

Gold Rush – One last note on the Caps’ terrific trip to California last week. You’ve probably seen elsewhere that the Caps and the Chicago Blackhawks are the only two of 16 NHL clubs to return home with as many as five points from a trip in which they faced all three of the circuit’s Golden State teams. That’s true; the Hawks and Caps both finished their respective California trips with 2-0-1 marks.


But for the Capitals, this was an historically good trip.


The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim came into the NHL in 1993-94, so that was the first season that a team could go out that way and take on all three teams from California on the same trip. The Capitals made their first trip to take on all three California teams in 1995-96. It didn’t go that well, but until last week, none of them did.


From 1995-96 through 2008-09, Washington made six trips out west in which they faced Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Jose on the same journey. They won exactly one of those 18 games, and they won that game on the last of those six trips. It was a 6-4 win over the Ducks in Anaheim on Nov. 19, 2008.


Until last week, Washington was a combined 1-13-4 in those six trips that included all three California clubs. The Capitals were outscored by a combined total of 66-43 in those 18 games.


Good Omens – When Evgeny Kuznetsov scored to pull the Caps even with the Kings at 4-4 late in the third period of Tuesday’s game at Verizon Center, he became the seventh Caps player to score his first NHL goal this season.


Kuznetsov follows Connor Carrick, Tom Wilson, Michael Latta, Nate Schmidt, Julien Brouillette and Chris Brown on that list of Caps rookies to score their first NHL goals for the Capitals this season. Washington won each of the first six games in which one of its freshmen scored for the first time in the NHL; Tuesday’s shootout loss to Los Angeles is the lone blemish for the Caps in those games (6-0-1).


Long Road – Only twice all season were the Capitals away from the District for as much as a week. Even with the new NHL schedule that results in every team visiting every city at least once every season, the Caps managed to keep many of their trips short and concise.


Perhaps to an extreme.


Washington made single-game trips to play games against Western Conference foes in Chicago, Dallas and Minnesota and it will make another this weekend when it visits Nashville. The Caps are 0-3 on such trips this season.


They also flew all the way to Phoenix (the day after playing a home night game at Verizon Center), just to play a pair of back-to-backs in Phoenix and Denver and then fly all the way back home. They went 0-1-1 on that trip.


On the other hand, they had a four-game trip to Western Canada that spanned eight days in October, and the Caps were 2-2 on that journey. Their other long trip was the just completed California trip in which they were 2-0-1.


To recap, the Caps are 4-2-1 on the road against Western Conference foes when games are part of a longer trip (more than two games, and at least half a week in length). They’re 0-4-1 in shorter trips against Western foes, with two more such games still ahead (March 30 at Nashville and April 8 at St. Louis).


Power Source – Washington’s power play has been a significant source of the team’s offense since the start of the 2012-13 season. Since the Caps’ return from the NHL’s Olympic break, it has been even more so.


The Caps played 59 games prior to the Olympic break, and they scored 163 goals during those contests. Of those, 62.3% came in five-on-five play and 27.6% were scored on the power play.


In the 14 games since the break, Washington has compiled a 7-4-3 record against some fairly stiff competition. The Capitals have scored 40 goals in those 14 games, and just 55% of them have been scored in five-on-five play while 40% have been scored on the power play.


Alex Ovechkin has scored seven of the team’s last 16 power play goals and Troy Brouwer has scored five. Joel Ward, Nicklas Backstrom, Brooks Laich and Mike Green each have one.


Since the Olympic break, the Capitals have scored two or more five-on-five goals in seven of 14 games. They have scored two or more power play goals in six of 14 games.


The Right Stuff – As the Capitals’ forward lines are currently constituted, only the “Gang Green” trio of Jason Chimera, Eric Fehr and Ward features three players who have each recorded at least 10 goals this season. 


Two of Washington’s current lines feature only one such player. Ovechkin is the only player on his line (with Marcus Johansson and Jay Beagle) with 10 or more goals and Dustin Penner is the only skater on his unit (with Brown and Wilson) who has cracked double digits this season.


Ovechkin has more goals (48) than all four of Washington’s current centers have combined to score (28) and he has more than all of the Caps’ current group of left wingers (36), too.


Fellow right-wingers Ward and Brouwer have combined for 43 goals, which is also more than the pivots and port-siders have mustered. Washington’s current group of right wings has 94 goals this season.


On the backline, the Caps have used 14 different defensemen in 2013-14. They’ve deployed eight left-handed blueliners for a total of 218 man-games and six right-handed rearguards for a total of 220 man-games. (Righty Steve Oleksy played the left side one night in Dallas, back on Oct. 5, to account for the disparity.)


Washington’s left-handed defensemen have accounted for 10 goals and 29 assists for 39 points. That’s just a shade more than leading blueline scorer (and righty defenseman) Mike Green has posted all by himself in 65 games: nine goals and 27 assists for 36 points.


The Caps’ group of right-handed defensemen has totaled 22 goals and 61 assists for 83 points in those 220 games.


Although he has not dressed for a game since Jan. 4, Steve Oleksy still ranks fourth among all Caps defensemen in scoring with 10 points (two goals, eight assists) in 33 games.