Suddenly it's a great fall/winter to be a Washington, D.C. sports fan. OK, maybe not of the NBA's disappointing Wizards, but the NFL's Redskins are in first place in the NFC East and the NHL's Capitals are the hottest team in the NHL on a five-game winning streak and atop the Metropolitan Division. And at Bovada, the Capitals have become favorites to win the Stanley Cup at +650, just surpassing Dallas (+700).
If I asked you who the Capitals' leading scorer is, you'd no doubt say Alex Ovechkin. And you would be wrong. He does lead the club with 12 goals, but center Evgeny Kuznetsov is tops on the club with 26 points as well as with a plus-minus rating of plus-14 (tied for NHL lead). The 23-year-old has had three multipoint games in his past five. He had only 37 total points last year, his first full season in the NHL.
The Capitals have outscored their opponents 21-10 in the last five games and they are 17-5-1, which is a pace for about 125 points (not happening). Washington has scored 10 power-play goals in the past nine games, with five coming in the last two alone, and seven of those goals have been from the second unit. Overall, the Capitals' power play is ranked third in the league (26.8 percent), behind the Bruins and Stars.
Braden Holtby is now one of the NHL's five best goalies and was named the league's Second Star for last week. Holtby, who has won his last seven starts, had a 1.75 goals-against average and a .945 save percentage in the four games last week. Holtby, who hadn't earned any such NHL honors since March 2011, leads the league with 15 wins and a 1.95 GAA.
Washington puts that winning streak on the line Thursday night against the Metropolitan Division-leading Montreal Canadiens. Speaking of the Habs...
Hopefully you didn't put any money down before the season on Montreal goalie Carey Price to repeat as the Hart or Vezina Trophy winner because that's not happening now. Price, who missed nine games earlier this season, re-aggravated a lower-body injury and now will be out at least six weeks, although he won't need surgery. That six-week timeline would end Jan. 11, or 18 games. Price thus will miss the Jan. 1 Winter Classic at Gillette Stadium against the Boston Bruins. GM Marc Bergevin says he has no plans to trade for a goaltender and will ride Mike Condon. The rookie is 8-2-3 with a 2.19 GAA and .916 save percentage; he went 5-2-2 with a 2.39 GAA and .903 save percentage when Price was first sidelined. Condon's backup is now prospect Zachary Fucale, who was recalled from the AHL on Monday when the team sent goalie Dustin Tokarski down. Remember, the Habs are without one of their best forwards, Brendan Gallagher, for the next five weeks or so due to fractured fingers.
Rangers winger Derek Stepan will miss 4-6 weeks due to broken ribs suffered on a hit by Boston's Matt Beleskey on Friday. The Rangers thought it was dirty, but Beleskey wasn't penalized and the league didn't discipline him. Still, expect retaliation when the teams play next. Stepan has six goals and six assists while averaging 16:47 of ice-time per game. Last season, Stepan ranked third on the team with 55 points in 68 games.
The Lightning's Tyler Johnson missed Saturday's game with an undisclosed injury but should play on the team's upcoming road trip. He missed a few games earlier in November with an upper-body injury. Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said what kept Johnson out this time was not a recurrence of the previous injury. Johnson has 11 points in 21 games.
Former Calder Trophy favorite and No. 1 overall pick Connor McDavid is reportedly ahead of schedule in his rehab from a broken collarbone, but there's still no clear timetable for this return. Did you see the Cowboys' Tony Romo re-injure his collarbone on Thanksgiving? Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli did and that worried him the same thing could happen to McDavid if he's rushed back. Don't expect him until sometime in mid-January at the earliest.
Games To Watch
Minnesota at Chicago, Tuesday: The Hawks are -140 for this Central Division showdown and all eyes will be on NHL leading scorer and Hart Trophy favorite (with Dallas' Jamie Benn) Patrick Kane of the Blackhawks. Kane's first-period goal Saturday against the Kings set the record for most consecutive games with a point by an American-born player at 19. Kane has 11 goals and 20 assists during the streak, which began Oct. 17 against the Blue Jackets. The last player with at least a point in 20 straight games was Pittsburgh's Canadian-born Sidney Crosby in 2010 when he had one in 25 in a row. The NHL record is held by Wayne Gretzky, naturally, who had a 51-game streak at the start of the 1983-84 season. Gretzky had 61 goals and 92 assists during his streak. Those numbers are absurd in the modern NHL. Chicago lost in Minnesota 5-4 on Oct. 30. Kane had an assist. The Wild have lost to the Blackhawks in the playoffs each of the past three seasons, including the past two in the second round. But the Wild are 9-6-1 in the past 16 regular-season meetings.
Tampa Bay at Anaheim, Wednesday: Johnson could be back for this game as the Bolts start their three-game challenge through California. These teams met Nov. 21 in Tampa, and the Lightning played perhaps their best game of the season in a 5-0 rout. Steven Stamkos had two goals and an assist and Ben Bishop made 30 saves. Bishop is 5-0-1 in his career against the Ducks. Anaheim star winger Corey Perry has now failed to score a goal in 10 games vs. Tampa Bay. The disappointing Ducks just can't put together a winning streak, but Ryan Kesler essentially guaranteed his team would make the playoffs. Kesler is one reason why this team is 29th in the league in scoring as he has only three goals entering the week.
Pittsburgh at Los Angeles, Saturday: The NHL would love it if this were a Stanley Cup Finals matchup this summer between the league's biggest star and the No. 2 media market team. It appears that Pens star Crosby is starting to wake up. He has only five goals and 10 assists but extended his point streak to five games Saturday with an assist against the Oilers. Fellow star Evgeni Malkin also is heating up as he has seven goals and three assists in his past six games. The Kings are 9-1-0 this season when scoring three goals or more and 4-7-1 when scoring two or fewer. The Kings were unable to score last season in losing both games to Pittsburgh.
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