Sunday, March 26, 2017

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 24

The Washington Capitals swept three games in Week 24, each of the games presenting their own challenges.  In winning the week, the Caps returned to a pattern that was missing in recent weeks.  They won for a second straight week, the first time they put together consecutive winning weeks since Weeks 17 and 18.  Let’s look at how they did it.

Record: 3-0-0

Three home games, three wins.  In accomplishing that feat, the Caps set a franchise record for home wins in a season.  When they beat the Arizona Coyotes, 4-1, on Saturday night, it was their 31st home win of the season.  That snapped a tie with the 1985-1986 and 2009-2010 clubs that had 30 home wins apiece.  It also happened to be their seventh perfect week of the season.

It was by no means an easy week to navigate.  Their first opponent for the week – the Calgary Flames – came to Verizon Center with a 12-1-0 record in the 13 games leading up to that contest.  The Columbus Blue Jackets were the team nipping at the Caps’ heels in the standings for weeks, a team that had a franchise record 47 wins and 100 points when they arrived in Washington.  The Arizona Coyotes were the club with nothing at stake and nothing to lose.  This Caps team finished the week as the fifth-winningest team in club history, their 49th win to end the week breaking a tie with the 2010-2011 Caps (48-23-11) and the 1983-1984 Caps (48-27-5).  The two points they earned against the Blue Jackets  in the middle game of the week broke their tie with the 1999-2000 team that finished with 102 points.

Offense: 3.00/game (season: 3.19 /game; rank: 2nd)

Even slipping a bit relative to their season average, the Caps finished the week with only the Pittsburgh Penguins averaging more goals per game than Washington.  They did it in different ways.  Against Calgary, the Caps beat a goaltender – Brian Elliott – who won 11 straight decisions and had not lost a game in regulation time in more than a month.  In beating Sergei Bobrovsky and the Columbus Blue Jackets, it came down to T.J. Oshie reprising his role as trick shot artist extraordinaire from his Sochi Olympics days.  Then, the Caps overcame their frustration in dominating the Arizona Coyotes in shot attempts, but finding themselves unable to solve goalie Mike Smith but once until late in the Saturday game.

Individually, seven players shared the nine goals, Alex Ovechkin and Daniel Winnik each getting a pair.  For Ovechkin, the two goals allowed him to finish the week with 30 goals for the 12th consecutive season, one of three players (Mike Gartner and Wayne Gretzky being the others) to start their careers with 12 consecutive seasons with at least 30 goals.  For Winnik, it was the second time this season and third as a Capital that he had a two-goal game (his first of the game being the game-winner), that coming against the Coyotes to end the week.  He scored his goals three minutes apart late in the third period, the shortest amount of time to score two goals in any of the six games he did it in his career.

Twelve different players recorded points with Nicklas Backstrom (1-3-4) and Kevin Shattenkirk (0-4-4) leading the way.  Brooks Orpik had an assist to break an eight-game streak without a point.  T.J. Oshie’s goal against Calgary in the first game of the week made it 30 on the season, the first time in his career he reached the 30-goal mark.  Among players appearing in 30 or more games this season, Oshie is seventh in goals per game (0.49).  Jay Beagle had an assist in the third win of the week, against the Coyotes.  In 82 career games in which Beagle recorded a point for the Caps, the team’s record is 67-8-7, and they are 31-2-5 in the 38 games he recorded a point on home ice.

Defense: 1.33/game (season: 2.14 /game; rank: 1st)

The Caps faced the good, the bad, and the “meh” in terms of opponents’ offenses for the week.  Calgary is a middle of the road team (ended the week 16th in scoring offense), Columbus is a very good offensive team (fifth), while Arizona is challenged in the offensive end (27th).  Still, holding three opponents to a total of four goals speaks to good defense from the net out.  The skaters limited chances for opponents, finishing the week by allowing just 51.52 shot attempts per 60 5-on-5 minutes, fewer than their fifth-ranked figure for the season (53.24; numbers from 

It was a case of the Caps taking advantage of possession-challenged teams, Calgary ranking 19th at week’s end in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 on the road, Columbus ranking 21st, and Arizona ranking last in Corsi-for on the road.  For the week, the Caps won the 5-on-5 battle with a 59.60 Corsi-for percentage at fives and a shots for share of 59.15 percent (numbers from, largely by limiting opponents’ opportunities to generate any offense.

Goaltending: 1.30 / .956 (season:  2.03 / .926 / 11 shutouts)

Braden Holtby got all the minutes in Week 24, and he was more than up to the task.  He stopped 86 of 90 shots over the three games and by the end of the week was second among all goalies in wins (39, Sergei Bobrovsky has 40), third in goals against average (2.01, behind Jimmy Howard and Bobrovsky), seventh in save percentage (.927), and first in shutouts (eight).  By period, he was excellent in the first periods of games (25-for-26/.962), sublime in the second period (23-for-23/1.000), and very good in the third (35-for-38/.921).  He also stopped all three shots he saw in overtime against Columbus and denied the Blue Jackets on all three shot attempts he faced in the Gimmick.  When he beat Columbus in the middle game of the week, it extended an amazing streak.  He has not lost in regulation to an Eastern Conference team in the 2017 portion of the season, not since dropping a 4-3 decision to the New York Islanders on December 27th.  Since then, Holtby is 17-0-2, 1.63, .939, with four shutouts against Eastern Conference teams.

Power Play: 3-for-10 / 30.0 percent (season:  21.8 percent; rank: 7th)

It was a good, solid week on the power play for the Caps.  The were 2-for-3 against the Calgary Flames, the first time the Caps recorded two power play goals in a game in six weeks, since doing it in a 5-0 win over the Carolina Hurricanes on February 7th.  When they went 1-for-4 against Arizona to end the week, it was the first time since Week 18 that they had a week of 30 percent or better on the power play.

The Caps certainly felt the presence of Kevin Shattenkirk on the man advantage.  He did not have a goal, but he did have four shots on goal and had the primary assist on both power play goals against Calgary.  Alex Ovechkin led the Caps in shots on goal on the power play for the week (six) and scored a pair of goals. T.J. Oshie was the player shooting in a bit of bad luck, getting four shots on goal without anything to show for it.  He did have a power play assist for the week, though, getting the secondary helper on Nicklas Backstrom’s power play goal (on his only power play shot on goal for the week) against Calgary.

Penalty Killing: 7-for-7 / 100.0 percent (season: 84.2 percent; rank: 7th)

Few chances, no goals.  That’s the way you draw it up.  When the Caps allowed the Flames a single power play chance, it was the third straight game that Washington limited an opponent to a single power play chance.  As it was, the seven shorthanded situations faced were the fewest faced by the Caps in 19 weeks with three or more games played this season.  It was the second time in four weeks and the fifth time this season that the Caps killed all the shorthanded situations they faced in a week.   It was also an efficient penalty kill, allowing only ten shots on goal in 14:00 of shorthanded ice time.  It was a particularly efficient penalty kill against Columbus, who managed a single shot on goal in four power play minutes.

Faceoffs: 81-173 / 46.8 percent (season: 50.0 percent; rank: 13th)

It was not a good week in the faceoff circle for the Caps.  They were below 50 percent in all three games and under 50 percent in both the offensive and defensive zones for the week.  It was not as if they were facing the best of the best in that particular skill, either.  None of the three teams they faced outranked them in the team faceoff rankings.

Individually, it was a good week for Jay Beagle, who outperformed his already highly-ranked faceoff winning percentage, winning 61.8 percent of his draws to finish the week ranked seventh among 145 skaters taking at least 250 draws this season (57.1 percent).  Evgeny Kuznetsov took the most draws this week (42) but won only 13 (31.0 percent).  He finished the week ranked 135th among that same group of 145 skatrers with 43.2 percent.  T.J. Oshie was the other Caps taking more than ten draws finishing over 50 percent (7-for-143/53.8 percent), while Lars Eller finished under 50 percent in that group for the Caps (16-for-34/47.2 percent).

Goals by Period:

The week had a certain common quality about it.  Slow starts and busy finishes.  Only three goals were scored in first periods for the week (two by the Caps, against Calgary and Arizona), while the Caps and their opponents combined for eight of the 13 total goals for the week in the third period, the Caps holding a 5-3 edge.  The Caps did maintain a positive goal differential in each period for the week.  It allowed the Caps to finish the week with the best goal differential in first periods this season (plus-41 to plus-32 for Columbus) and finish in a tie with Pittsburgh for the best goal differential in third periods (plus-32).  Washington finished the week as one of four teams with positive goal differentials in all three regulation periods and overtime (Columbus, the New York Rangers, and the Edmonton Oilers are the others).

In the end…

It was a good week.  Any week with three wins in three tries qualifies.  The Caps had superior possession numbers, but their offense did not track cleanly with that level of dominance, especially given they held a slim 5-4 edge in 5-on-5 goals despite a Corsi-for north of 55 percent.  But looking at the particulars, there were those dominant underlying numbers at 5-on-5, there were the good special teams results, there was the excellent goaltending from Braden Holtby, there was the find secondary scoring from the likes of Daniel Winnik, and there was the record-setting home win on Saturday.  There was not a lot not to like for Week 24. 

The three game sweep at home for the week was an especially welcome result, given that the Caps now embark on a five-game road trip over eight days, taking them through three time zones.  It might be just the sort of change in routine that the Caps need to keep their focus fresh as they head into the last few games of the regular season. 

Three Stars of the Week:
  • First Star: Braden Holtby (3-0-0, 1.30, .956)
  • Second Star: Kevin Shattenkirk (0-4-4, plus-3, 12 shots, 20 shot attempts, four hits, four blocked shots, 20:35 ice time per game)
  • Third Star: Nicklas Backstrom (1-3-4, even, 1-2-3 on power plays, one game-winning goal)

Saturday, March 25, 2017

A TWO-Point Night -- Game 74: Washington Capitals 4 - Arizona Coyotes 1

If the Washington Capitals were going to make franchise history, they did it in what was one of the stranger games of the 2016-2017 season.  The Caps beat the Arizona Coyotes, 4-1, but the score was closer than it looked, even as the possession numbers looked like more of a blowout.

The Caps had the look of a team that would make short work of the Coyotes, out-attempting them 10-5 in the first 8:30.  At 8:31, Alex Ovechkin scored on the power play on the team’s 11th shot attempt when Nicklas Backstrom, at the goal line to the left of goalie Mike Smith, took a feed from Marcus Johansson, then threaded a pass through to Ovechkin, who wristed the puck past Smith on the far side to make it 1-0.

The Caps dominated possession after that, but they could not find that second goal over the next 40 minutes.  It would be the Coyotes, hanging around for those 40 minutes, who would tie the game in the latter half of the third period.  It was a superb play by Anthony Duclair, who poked the puck off the stick of Andre Burakovsky in the Arizona end, chased the puck down in the neutral zone, skated in ahead of the pack, and got a shot on goal.  Braden Holtby made the initial stop, but Peter Holland followed it up and stuffed the puck in before Holtby could reorient himself.  After more than 50 minutes of dominance, the Caps let the Coyotes back into the game with the tying goal at 12:29.

The goal seemed to wake the Caps from their slumber, though.  A Jordan Martinook shot from the hash marks was muffled by John Carlson in front, and the loose puck was scooped up by Dmitry Orlov.  Fending off Jamie McGinn as he exited the defensive zone, Orlov reached the red line and eased the puck to Daniel Winnik on his right.  Winnik darted into the right wing circle and snapped a shot over Smith’s left shoulder on the near side to make it 2-1 at the 15:21 mark.

Less than half a minute later, the Caps had insurance.  Connor Murphy had the puck get lost in his skates as he was backing to his own blue line, and Marcus Johansson hounded him enough to give up the puck along the left wing wall.  Kevin Shattenkirk found it and threw it across, trying to find Evgeny Kuznetsov cutting to the net.  The puck sailed through and off the right wing wall with enough force to give Justin Williams a free look.  Williams did not waste it.  He one-timed it off the bar at the back of the net to give the Caps a 3-1 lead at 15:53 of the period.

Winnik sealed things late.  With Smith on the bench for a sixth attacker with less than two minutes left, Jay Beagle chipped a loose puck from the left wing circle in his own end past Alex Goligoski to Winnik exiting the zone.  Winnik worked his way between Murphy and McGinn and skated in on the empty net.  With McGinn draped on his back, Winnik one-handed the puck in as he was being hauled to the ice.  The empty netter at 18:21 sealed the 4-1 win.

Other stuff…

-- The Capitals set a franchise record with the win, their 31st home win of the season.  It snapped a tie with 1985-1986 and 2009-2010 clubs that had 30 home wins apiece.

-- Alex Ovechkin scored his 30th goal of the season on a power play in the first period.  In doing so, he joined Mike Gartner and Wayne Gretzky as the only players in NHL history to record 30 goals in each of their first 12 seasons in the NHL.  He’s going to have a bit of a challenge to get the most consecutive seasons to start a career with 30-goal seasons.  Gartner did it in his first 15 seasons.

-- The Caps had a 28-8 advantage in shot attempts in the first period, 12-3 in shots on goal.  It took Arizona more than 27 minutes to record ten shot attempts.  By the end of 40 minutes, that shot attempt advantage was 56-27, Caps.

-- Daniel Winnik scored exactly three minutes apart for his second two-goal game this season and his third as a Capital.  The two goals in three minutes was the shortest amount of time Winnik took to score two goals in any of his six career two-goal games.

-- Evgeny Kuznetsov had an odd game.  He had seven shot attempts (three on goal) in the first 23:30 of the game and none in the 36:30 thereafter.  He also lost all ten of the faceoffs he took and was one of just three Caps under 50 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (47.06).

-- Kevin Shattenkirk had his second two-assist game in his last three contests.  He has eight points (all assists) in 11 games as a Capital.  He also had eight shot attempts (tied for team lead with Alex Ovechkin) four shots on goal (tied for team lead with Ovechkin and Winnik) and was plus-3 (tied for team lead with Marcus Johansson).

-- The plus-3 was Johansson’s third such game this season and first since November 16th in a 7-1 win over Pittsburgh.

-- Jay Beagle won 13 of 18 faceoffs.  The rest of the team went 11-for-37 (29.7 percent).  Beagle also had an assist.  It was also the 82nd game of his career with the Caps that he recorded a point.  Washington is 67-8-7 in those games, 31-2-6 on home ice.

-- Braden Holtby stopped 28 of 29 shots.  It was the 16th time in 35 appearances on home ice this season in which he allowed one or no goals.  Overall he is 26-6-2, 1.74, .933, with seven shutouts on home ice.  He is first in the league in home wins, first in goals against on home ice, second in save percentage (Sergei Bobrovsky: .941), and first in shutouts on home ice.

-- You would think, looking at the gross numbers, that the Caps dominated, and to an extent they did.  However, at one point they held a 56-28 advantage in total shot attempts, but at game’s end, that advantage was 69-46.  At one point, they held a 37-14 (72.55 percent Corsi-for) advantage in 5-on-5 shot attempts, but at the end that advantage was 48-36 (57.14 percent; numbers from

In the end…

It came all too easy for the Caps early in terms of being able to dominate play.  But for the play of Coyote goalie Mike Smith, this game would have been over before the last strains of the National Anthem echoed away.  But they left the Coyotes hang around and hang around, and finally a misplay turned into a goal, and the Coyotes might have thought, “hey, we’re still in this.”  The Caps have far too much skill and experience than the young Arizona squad, and they converted opportunities late.  But this was a reminder that they will face goalies down the road who can steal games, and they will do so against teams that can skate with them.  They need to bear down harder than they did for stretches of this game when they seemed a little too satisfied with taking shots from long distance and not making Smith’s night harder to bear. 

Friday, March 24, 2017

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 74: Arizona Coyotes at Washington Capitals, March 25th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals close their three-game home stand looking for a sweep when the Arizona Coyotes come to town on Saturday night. The Caps come into this game having won four of five overall and have point in all five contests (4-0-1). Arizona, which had been making progress with a three-game winning streak earlier this month (tying their longest of the season), have fallen back again with a 1-3-1 record in their last five games.

Offense has been hit or miss for the Coyotes for a while now. In their last 11 games they scored four or more four times, and they were held to one or no goals five times, while posting a record of 5-4-2. The lack of scoring shows up in the individual point totals, too. Tobias Rieder leads the club with seven points in those 11 games (2-5-7). That is not especially surprising, given he is the third-leading scorer for the season (16-18-34). But the thing is, he hasn’t done much scoring, either in the last 11 games or the season for that matter, on the road. He has a goal and an assist in five road games in this 11-game stretch (although his overall scoring in March has been his best month to date) and is just 6-8-14 in 36 road games (sixth on the club in road points). Rieder is 1-2-3, plus-3, in four career games against the Caps.

Brendan Perlini and Radim Vrbata lead the Coyotes in goals in this 11-game span (three apiece). Vrbata appeared in his 1,000th NHL game on March 9th, a 3-2 overtime loss to the Ottawa Senators. He has moved around in doing it, playing for six franchises in his career, including two tours with the Coyotes, for whom he has played in 502 of his 1,008 career games. In this, his first year in his second tour with the Coyotes after two years in Vancouver, he has had a personal comeback of sorts.   His goal scoring is up (from 13 last season to 18 this year), as are his assists (from 14 to 34) and his points (from 27 to 52). With a late-season push he could challenge his career high in points (63 in 2014-2014 with the Canucks). Vrbata is 7-5-12, minus-7, in 18 career games against Washington.

Perlini is at the other end of the experience scale, a 12th overall draft pick in 2014 by Arizona and in his rookie season with the Coyotes. His 13 goals (in just 49 games) is tied for 11th among rookies. He has had a bit of a rough time lately as far as goal scoring goes. After potting single goals in three straight games, he is now six games and counting without one; without a point, in fact. This will be his first game against the Caps.

Then there are the goalies. Arizona has employed four of them so far this season – Mike Smith, Louis Domingue, Justin Peters, and Marek Langhamer. Of the quartet, Mike Smith has had the most work (50 appearances) and has the best numbers. He is the only one of the four with a goals against average under 3.00 (2.94) and the only one with a save percentage over .905 (.914). He also happens to be the only one to pitch at least one shutout this season (three). He was in the net eight times over the Coyotes’ but has little to show for it or perhaps deserves a bit better fate than he has had. He is 2-4-2, 2.99, .920 in those games, that save percentage perhaps deserving more success than he had. One manifestation of the lack of offensive support he has had this season is that he has a record of 6-21-4 in 31 games in which he allowed three or more goals this season. Smith is 2-7-1, 3.72, .879 with one shutout in 11 career appearances against the Caps. That save percentage against Washington is the worst he has against any opponent he has faced.

1.  Arizona has ten players at minus-10 or worse, Oliver Ekman Larsson being at the bottom of the heap with a minus-24. Only two of 287 defensemen in the league to have dressed this season – Damon Severson of New Jersey (minus-27) and Tyson Barrie of Colorado (minus-29) – are worse.

2.  The Coyotes are the only team in the NHL with two players in the top ten in credited hits. Luke Schenn is second (252), and Connor Murphy is ninth (170).

3.  Who scores first hardly seems to matter concerning Arizona. They have the second-worst winning percentage when scoring first (.486/18-14-5) and the third-worst winning percentage when scored upon first (9-24-4/.243). If not for Colorado threatening to finish the season with the fewest wins in a season since the 2004-2005 lockout, Arizona would have the worst record in the league.

4.  Arizona doesn’t blow anybody out. Their four wins by three or more games is tied for fewest in the league (with, who else, Colorado). They’ve lost 20 such games, second-most in the league (the Avalanche have 25).

5.  No surprise here…Arizona is the worst possession team in the league. Adjusted for score, zone, and venue, they have a Corsi-for at 5-on-5 of 45.77, well south of 29th-place Vancouver (47.10; numbers from

1.  In their five-game points streak, the Caps are 3-for-14 on the power play (21.4 percent) and 10-for-12 killing penalties 83.3 percent).

2.  The Caps have 40 or more shots on goal in three of their last five games, all of them on home ice. All but one of their instances of 40 or more shots have come at home this season (they had 41 in a 3-2 Gimmick loss to Pittsburgh on Opening Night).

3.  All six defensemen who appeared in more than 20 games this season for the Caps are better than plus-10. Only one Capital defenseman who has appeared in at least ten games is a “minus” player – Kevin Shattenkirk (minus-1).

4.  Milestone watch…If Daniel Winnik gets a goal, he will be the 11th player this season to reach double digits in goals for the Caps. If Justin Williams gets a power play point, he gets to ten, giving the Caps six players with at least ten power play points this season. Lars Eller and Andre Burakovsky could reach the 100-shot mark for the season; Burakovsky needs three, while Eller needs two. If Jay Beagle gets the game-winning goal, he would be the fourth Capital to register at least five game-winners this season.

5.  The Caps are making progress on the penalty front in one respect. They are up to having the fifth worst penalty differential at 5-on-5 (minus-28). At one point this season they were worst (numbers from

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Arizona: Shane Doan

Only 14 players in NHL history – and only two active players – have appeared in more games in the NHL than Shane Doan. His 1,536 games played trails only Jarome Iginla (1,545) and Jaromir Jagr (1,702) among active players. He is fourth in the history of the league in games played with one team, trailing only Alex Delvecchio (1,549), Nicklas Lidstrom (1,564), and Gordie Howe (1,687), all of whom did it for the Detroit Red Wings. Doan, who actually got his start with the original Winnipeg Jets incarnation of the franchise (their last year in Canada) is now in his 21st and perhaps last season (his contract expires after this season). He is hardly the player he was ten years ago, but who would expect him to be? Still, he is on a pace to finish with fewer goals (seven) than he had in any full season since he finished the 1998-1999 season with six goals. He is on a 28-point pace, which would be his fewest since he had 22 points in that same 1998-1999 season.   At the moment, he has one goal and nine points in his last 19 games and two goals and 15 points in his last 36 games.  Doan, who is currently day-to-day with a lower body injury (but could return against the Caps)  is 8-8-16, plus-3, in 26 career games against the Caps.

Washington:  Andre Burakovsky

Andre Burakovsky has become, if not a primary scorer for the Capitals, than something more than a secondary scorer.  That was never more evident than when he missed 15 games with an injured hand, over which the Caps went just 7-6-2 and averaged just 2.47 goals per game.  Compare that to the Caps with Burakovsky in the lineup, where they are 39-10-6 and average 3.40 goals per game in the 55 games in which he has played (he also missed three games in December).  It isn’t that the Caps are particularly successful when he scores on his own (6-1-3 in ten games in which he scored a goal), but in the 23 games in which he recorded a point, Washington is 18-2-3.  Over his last 17 games, straddling that injury absence, he has only one set of consecutive games without a point and is 6-10-16, plus-15 (and does not have a “minus” game in the group).  The odd thing about his scoring is the relative lack of it at Verizon Center this season.  He is 2-12-14 in 30 home games, while going 9-8-17 in 25 games on the road.  In four career games against Arizona, Burakovsky is 0-1-1, minus-3.

In the end…

Yes, this could be another of those “trap” games for the Capitals.  It is their getaway game before embarking on a five-game road trip through three time zones over nine days.  And taking a team like the Coyotes lightly, even if it is their fourth game in their own five-game road trip, is a recipe for disappointment and would make the road trip that is coming one with more pressure than it should have.  Put them on the mat, stand on their throats, get the two points, and head off on your journey.

Capitals 5 – Coyotes 1

A TWO-Point Night -- Game 73: Washington Capitals 2 - Columbus Blue Jackets 1 (OT/Gimmick)

The Washington Capitals fought through a lot of frustration on Thursday night, launching more than 30 shots over their first two periods without a goal and falling behind the Columbus Blue Jackets in the third period before tying the game with a third period strike and squeezing out a 2-1 win in the Gimmick to extend their lead in the Metropolitan Division over the Blue Jackets.

After neither team could score in the first 40 minutes, Columbus got on the board in the first minute of the third period. From a scramble in front of the Washington net, Brandon Dubinsky chipped a shot past a diving Braden Holtby and off the far post. The puck caromed out to the edge of the right wing faceoff circle where Seth Jones pounced on it and snapped a shot past Holtby, who could not recover in time to defend the shot. Columbus had the 1-0 lead 41 seconds into the period.

Six minutes later, the Caps finally got a goal of their own. They had 31 shots on goalie Sergei Bobrovsky over the first two periods without success, but they finally found the back of the net on a play that started with Justin Williams keeping the puck in the offensive zone, spinning around defenseman Zach Werenski and sliding the puck down the left wing wall to Marcus Johansson in the corner. Johansson fed the puck back out to Dmitry Orlov at the top of the offensive zone, and Orlov blasted a shot that beat Bobrosvky over his glove and into the top corner of the net to make it a 1-1 game, 6:39 into the period.

That did it for the scoring in regulation, and after neither team could score on any of their three shots in overtime, things were settled in the freestyle competition. T.J. Oshie opened the last portion of the contest by snapping a shot through the legs of Bobrovsky. It would be the only score either team would have, and when Holtby stopped Alexander Wennberg’s weak backhand attempt in the third round, the Caps had the 2-1 win.

Other stuff…

-- The Caps won just their second game of the season in the trick shot phase, their first since a 4-3 win over the Carolina Hurricanes on December 16th.

-- The win left the Caps’ two points ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who lost in the Gimmick to the Ottawa Senators, 2-1, and extended their lead over the Columbus Blue Jackets to three points in the Metropolitan Division.  It seems a certainty that two of these three teams -- three of the four top teams in the league standings -- will face one another in the first round of the postseason.  Thanks, Gary.

-- Alex Ovechkin just can’t find the back of the net for trying. He had eight shots on goal and 17 shot attempts for the game. He has one goal on 26 shots on goal in his last three games.

-- Every Capital recorded a shot on goal Except Justin Williams, whod did contribute an assist.

-- Matt Niskanen had six of his shot blocked.  That matched the entire total of Columbus shots blocked by the Caps.

-- Another piece of evidence of how much the ice was tilted in the Caps’ favor.  There were only 13 faceoffs taken in the Caps’ end of the ice, while there were 34 faceoffs taken in the Columbus end.

-- Good thing, too.  The Caps were just 4-for-13 in defensive zone draws (30.8 percent).

-- Odd fact…the Caps have won each of their last three games in which they scored just one goal in regulation.  In addition to this win, they won a 2-1 overtime decision against Philadelphia on March 4th, and they won a 1-0 decision over the New Jersey Devils on March 2nd.

-- Stopping 29 of 30 shots in goal, Braden Holtby is now 4-0-1 in his last five appearances with a 1.96 goals against average and a .932 save percentage.

-- Nothing, not shots, not faceoffs, and certainly not goals, illustrate the possession advantage the Caps had more than shot attempts at 5-on-5.  The Caps had a 74-35 edge in that department (67.89 percent).  It contributed to a 37-20 advantage in shots on goal at fives (64.9 percent; numbers from

In the end…

This could have been the kind of game that would haunt the Caps for the rest of the regular season.  They dominated territory for long stretches of the game, and almost succumbed to a freakish goal off a goal mouth pileup.  But on “Russian Heritage Night,” a night that featured a Russian former Hart Trophy winner pitted against a Russian former Vezina Trophy winner, it was an unheralded Russian to score his first goal in almost three weeks to get the Caps even, and then an American who achieved near legendary status in the Sochi Olympics with his trick shot prowess to beat the heralded Russian netminder that hearkened back to those days in Russia three years ago.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 73: Columbus Blue Jackets at Washington Capitals, March 23rd

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

More than 150 years ago, America went through a bit of nastiness that is often referred to in places below the Mason-Dixon Line as “The War of Northern Aggression.” It seems fitting that a hockey team representing a city in which many of the “blue jackets” worn by the northern aggressors were manufactured should be invading Verizon Center on Thursday night in what will be a pivotal battle in the war to finish atop the Metropolitan Division standings and perhaps in the war to capture the Presidents Trophy as the team that finishes at the top of the NHL league standings for the season.

And so it is that the Columbus Blue Jackets will face the Washington Capitals on Thursday night in what could be a game that will leave one or the other on top of the division and league standings at the final horn. Columbus will have played the previous night against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and a win in that game would tie them with the Caps in standings points going into the Thursday night matchup (edit: Columbus was defeated by the Maple Leafs, 5-2).

The Blue Jackets are the team that just won’t go away. One might have written off their 16-game winning streak that ended in Washington on January 5th as one of those things that happens, that the team would then fall back to earth. But Columbus is 20-13-2 since their big winning streak (still a 98-point pace). They come into this game winners of seven of their last eight games and have not lost consecutive games in six weeks (an overtime loss to Pittsburgh and a loss to New Jersey on February 3rd and 4th).

Over those 35 games since their big winning streak, the Blue Jackets have taken a collegial approach to scoring. Five players – Brandon Dubinsky, Cam Atkinson, Seth Jones, Zach Werenski, and Alexander Wennberg – all have 20 or more points in that span. Three – Atkinson, Nick Foligno, and Boone Jenner – have ten or more goals.

Cam Atkinson, the only player who shows up on both lists, is the team’s leading goal scorer over the last 35 games with 15. Three of them are game-winners, two of them in overtime. It is part of what has become a career year all around for the six-year veteran. Atkinson already has career highs in goals (33), assists (27), and points (60); and he is at the moment a career-best plus 14. His ten power play goals on the season almost equal his total in 159 games over the preceding two seasons (11). His 15.6 shooting percentage is another career high at the moment, and he is averaging more ice time than in any of his previous five seasons (18:10). He is that rare player who has been more dangerous on the road than at home, at least when it comes to goal scoring. Of his 33 goals this season, 19 have come on the road (in 35 games) to 14 at home (in 36 contests). Atkinson is 8-5-13, plus-3, in 16 career games against Washington.

Brandon Dubinsky, who hardly needs an introduction to Caps fans from his years with the New York Rangers, leads the team in points over this 35-game stretch (8-15-23). It has been quite a change from his first 34 games of the season, over which he was just 3-12-15. Long known as an ornery player with a talent for getting under the skin of more talented players, Dubinsky seems to be returning to those roots. He is on a pace to finish with more penalty minutes than he has had in any of the last two seasons, and with a big night or two could finish with his first 100-minute season of penalties since 2011-2012 (110 in 77 games with the Rangers). When Dubinsky does get on the score sheet he, like good secondary scorers, makes it count. Columbus is 25-3-3 in games in which he recorded a point so far this season. He is also equally efficient on the road as at home, going 6-13-19 in 34 road games and 5-14-19 in 35 home games. Dubinsky is 6-13-19, plus-2 in 32 career games against the Caps.

Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky has come back to earth…well, closer to earth…since he went 15-0-1, 1.68, .939 from November 25th through January 3rd. Starting with his loss to the Caps on January 5th, he is 14-8-2, 2.20, .927 with three shutouts in 24 games. It is not bad, by any means, but that GAA is 10th among 50 goalies playing at least 500 minutes in that span, and his save percentage is sixth. Those numbers are more in line with his season numbers on the road (16-5-4, 2.26, .920, three shutouts), which are quite different than those he has at home (23-8-0, 1.88, .939, three shutouts). He is on another lengthy success streak, going 9-1-1, 1.45, .954, with three shutouts in his last 11 appearances. Bobrovsky is 6-6-3, 3.16, .899 against the Caps in 16 career appearances.

1.  Since their 16-game winning streak ended, Columbus is 12th in the league in goal differential (plus-12), fourth-best among Eastern Conference teams currently qualifying for the playoffs, behind the Caps (plus-50), Pittsburgh (plus-28), and Boston (plus-17).

2.  One noticeable problem area for Columbus since the winning streak ended is their power play. During the streak, their 28.2 percent power play was second in the league (Calgary was 33.3 percent over that same period). Since then, it is just 12.9 percent, third worst in the league over that span.

3.  The Blue Jacket penalty kill, on the other hand, has actually improved since the streak. After going 79.6 percent in 16 straight wins (19th in the league during that period), Columbus is at 84.3 percent in the 35 games since (fourth).

4.  The before and after with respect to the end of the streak has one entirely expected component. During the streak the Blue Jackets shot 12.1 percent as a team, second-best in the league (Minnesota was 12.3 percent over the same period). Since the streak, Columbus is shooting 9.2 percent, 15th in the league over that span.

5.  Columbus is not an especially effective possession team at a high level. They rank just 14th overall in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 this season (50.26 percent). But adjusted for score, zone and venue, they rank fifth overall (51.34 percent; numbers from

1.  California looms large in the recent fortunes of the Caps, but if you hold that trip harmless as another in a long history of unproductive trips to California, the Caps aren’t doing badly. If you take that three-game road trip out of their last 11 games overall, the Caps are 6-2-0, averaging 2.88 goals per game, allowing 1.88 goals per game, and have a special teams index of a whopping 119.2 (26.9 percent power play, 92.3 percent penalty kill). Moral? more games in California.

2.  In those eight games, the Caps have had a dominating 268-214 edge in shots on goal overall (SF% of 55.6) and have recorded shots in three of their last five games not played in California (okay, all of them were at Verizon Center).

3.  The Caps have allowed opponents a single power play opportunity in each of their last three games.

4.  Washington is tied for the league lead in first period goals scored this season through Tuesday’s games (74)…with Columbus. The edge the Caps have is that they have allowed the fewest goals in the league in the first period (34), six fewer than the second-place team…Columbus.

5.  The Capitals have the third-best adjusted Corsi-for (score, zone, and venue) in the league at 52.66 percent, behind only Boston (55.07 percent) and Los Angeles (53.66 percent; numbers from

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Columbus: Seth Jones

Since November 29th, when the Columbus Blue Jackets started their 16-game winning streak, Seth Jones is tied for tenth in the league among defensemen in scoring (7-26-33, the same scoring line as Kevin Shattenkirk it turns out). He is one of five defensemen over that span to record two overtime game-winning goals. Over those 51 games he is the team’s leader among defensemen in goals (seven), assists (26), points (33), and ice time (23:14 per game). He is the only Blue Jacket defenseman this season to average more than a minute per game on both the power play and the penalty kill. Jones, who was taken with the fifth overall pick in the 2013 entry draft by the Nashville Predators, is fifth among all players taken in that draft in scoring (122 career points) and well ahead of the second leading scorer from that draft among defensemen (Rasmus Ristolainen with 109 points). Even though he has played just 106 games for Columbus in his career, he is tied for ninth in career goals by a defenseman (12, with Nikita Nikitin), 11th in assists (47), and 11th in points (59). Among Blue Jacket defensemen having played at least 100 games for the franchise, Jones ranks third in plus-minus (plus-7). He is 1-3-4, even, in six career games against the Caps.

Washington: Justin Williams

Although the Caps seem to be righting themselves after that sluggish return from the February break, one player seems to have been left behind a bit. In 16 games since returning from that break, Justin Williams is 2-5-7, minus-1. Those two goals are as many as Tom Wilson and Daniel Winnik have (a pair of fourth liners), and as many as Jakub Vrana has (in just nine games). It is not that Williams has been gun-shy; he is averaging a little over two shots on goal per game. But he is shooting just 5.9 percent in those 16 games compared to 13.4 percent for the season. For the Caps, his production matters. Washington is 16-1-1 in games this season in which Williams scored a goal and have not lost any of the ten games on home ice in which he scored a goal. Williams is 9-13-22, plus-12, in 31 career games against Columbus.

In the end…

To continue the Civil War analogy, think of this game as the equivalent of the Second Battle of Manassas. In the First Battle of Manassas, early in the conflict, the Union thought the Confederates would be easy pickings. They were wrong, as the Confederates dominated the battle and sent the Union forces into a disorganized retreat. Columbus came to the First Battle of Verizon Center on a 16-game winning streak last January and was feeling pretty good about themselves. That ended smartly, the Caps posting a pair of first period goals and winning, going away, by a 5-0 margin to end the streak.

Given the way these teams have dominated first periods this season, the Second Battle of Verizon Center will be one to watch early. Which team do we think will dominate?   Well, at the Second Battle of Manassas, the Union didn’t fare any better than in the first battle. Back to the north where you came from, damn Yankees…

Capitals 5 – Blue Jackets 2

A TWO-Point Night -- Game 72: Washington Capitals 4 - Calgary Flames 2

It was a big night for the top line as the Washington Capitals defeated the Calgary Flames, 4-2, at Verizon Center. It was the second line that got the Caps off and running, though, early in the first period. Johnny Gaudreau was trying to weave his way through the neutral zone with the puck, but when he tried to spin away from Lars Eller, Andre Burakovsky picked his pocket and headed the other way. Circling into the offensive end to his right, Burakovsky found Evgeny Kuznetsov cutting to the net. Kuznetsov pulled the puck to his backhand and with goalie Brian Elliott faked to the ice, he flipped the puck into the open net 6:47 into the game to give the Caps a 1-0 lead.

Just over three minutes later, Calgary tied the game when Sean Monahan took a cross-ice feed from Gaudreau and snapped a shot past Braden Holtby’s right shoulder at the 10:06 mark. That would be how the teams went to the first intermission.

Late in the second period the Caps took the lead for good. Nicklas Backstrom took a feed from Dmitry Orlov at the right wing wall and circled out around the top of the right wing faceoff circle. He then threaded a pass through a maze of Flames to Alex Ovechkin low in the left wing circle. Ovechkin wasted no time getting the puck to the low slot where T.J. Oshie redirected it past Elliott, and it was 2-1, 15:51 into the period.

In the dying moments of the second period, the Caps struck again. With Dougie Hamilton in the penalty box on a tripping call, Kevin Shattenkirk launched a drive from the right point on the power play with ten seconds left in the period that Elliott blockered into the Olympia corner. Alex Ovechkin collected the puck and whipped it in front. The puck caromed out to Shattenkirk, who stepped up and fired a shot that trickled through Elliott and crawled over the goal line with 2.9 seconds left in the period to make it 3-1.

Calgary got back to within a goal late in the third period, courtesy of former Cap Troy Brouwer, who cut to the net on a Flames rush and converted a nice Deryk Engelland pass through the legs of Holtby, making it 3-2 with 4:56 left in the contest.

The Caps sealed it on another power play less than two minutes later. Shattenkirk faked a one-timer off a feed from Nicklas Backstrom and slid the puck to Ovechkin in the left wing circle. Ovechkin settled the puck and fired a shot that beat Elliott on the far side at the 19:09 mark to give the Caps their final 4-2 margin.

Other stuff…

-- Nicklas Backstrom recorded three assists, the third time in four games he had three or more helpers. He is now tied for the league lead in assists (57) with Edmonton’s Connor McDavid and is fifth in overall scoring (78 points).

-- Alex Ovechkin had a goal and two assists, giving him his fourth three-point game of the season and his fifth two-assist game.

-- T.J. Oshie’s goal was his 30th of the season, the first time in his nine-year career he hit the 30-goal mark.

-- Braden Holtby played in his 300th game as a Capital last night.  He became the 154th goaltender in NHL history to reach the 300-game mark and the second Capital to do it.  Olaf Kolzig played in 719 NHL games, 711 of them as a Capital.  Holby won his 186th game last night, tying Ron Tugnutt for 95th place in all-time wins among NHL goalies.  He is 21st among active goalies in wins, two behind Brian Elliott, the goalie he bested last night.

-- Andre Burakovsky had an assist last night, giving him points in both games since his return from injury.  He seems to be picking up where he left off.  With the assist last night he is 6-10-16, plus-15, in his last 16 games.

-- After a four-game slump without a point, Evgeny Kuznetsov might be warming up at the right time.  His goal makes him 2-1-3 in his last five games, and his three shots on goal against the Flames equaled his total over his preceding three games and was the most he had since he had three in the 4-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks on March 9th.

-- Kevin Shattenkirk was credited with his first goal as a Capital.  We say that because on the replay, it sure looked as if Backstrom nudged the puck the last couple of inches before it crossed the goal line.  In any case, it was Shattenkirk’s first two-point game as a Capital, as he also recorded an assist.

-- Ovechkin had 11 shots on goal, the first time he did it since he recorded 15 shots on goal in a 1-0 loss to the Detroit Red Wings on November 10th, 2015.  It was the 23rd time in his career he recorded 11 of more shots in a game.  That total is more than the next seven players in the league have since he came into the league in 2005-2006 (22).

-- The Caps went 2-for-3 on the power play, the first time they recorded two power play goals in a game since they had a pair in three chances in a 5-0 win over the Carolina Hurricanes on February 7th.

-- The Caps won the battle of the underlying numbers, recording 55 shot attempts at 5-on-5 to 49 for the Flames (52.88 percent Corsi-for) and a 35-25 advantage in shots on goal.  Still, the Flames held the Caps even in goals at two apiece (numbers from

In the end…

This was the sort of game that could have bitten the Caps in the backside, playing against an opponent with whom they do not have a particularly intense rivalry and with a division rival in spitting distance in the standings coming to town on Thursday.  That they did not fall into that trap speaks well of their attention to detail, especially given the fact that the Flames were 13-1-1 in their previous 15 games coming into this one and had not lost a game in regulation on the road since dropping a 4-3 decision at Madison Square Garden to the New York Rangers on February 5th.  That’s all history now, though, as the Caps must prepare for the Columbus Blue Jackets, coming to town on Thursday. With two points separating three teams in the Metropolitan Division, there is barely time to take a breath before the next challenge presents itself.

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 72: Calgary Flames at Washington Capitals, March 21st

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals return home on Tuesday night trying to maintain their razor-thin edge at the top of the league standings when they host the resurgent Calgary Flames. The Flames, stuck at .500 as recently as January 24th (24-24-3) after a 5-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens, are 17-3-1 in their last 21 games. They have climbed from fourth in the Pacific Division and eighth in the Western Conference on January 24th to third in the Pacific Division, just one point behind the Anaheim Ducks for second place, and fifth in the Western Conference.

Since that loss to Montreal on January 24th, the Flames have the most standings points earned of any team in the league (35). They have built their 17-3-1 record since then on a stingy defense that allowed just 46 goals, their 2.19 goals allowed per game average being lowest in the league. And that stingy defense starts with goalie Brian Elliott, who leads the league in wins since January 24th (15), is second in goals against average (1.88 to Jake Allen’s 1.81 with St. Louis), and is third in save percentage (.935, behind Allen at .938 and Anaheim’s Jonathan Bernier at .936).

Elliott will be coming into this game on a roll that could only be explained in a way Caps fans would understand as “Holtbyesque.” He has won 11 straight decisions and is 12-0-1 in his last 13 appearances, over which he has a GAA of 1.67 and a save percentage of .942. Only twice in that span of 13 games has Elliott allowed more than two goals, five on 28 shots in a 6-5 win over the Nashville Predators on February 21st and three on 35 shots in a 4-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on March 13th. He does, as one might expect, have a weakness on the road this season, going 10-7-3, 2.82, .897, although he has won his last four road decisions, including a 3-0 whitewashing of the Winnipeg Jets in his last road game on March 11th. Elliott is 6-4-0, 3.24, .887 in 12 career appearances against the Caps, those GAA and save percentage numbers being his worst against any team in the NHL.

On the offensive side of the puck the Flames have not been quite as impressive at the team level (11th in goals scored since January 24th), but Johnny Gaudreau has. In the Flames’ 17-3-1 run since then, Gaudreau is 6-17-23, plus-14, leading the team in assists and points. Gaudreau, the smallest skater in the league to dress for a game this season (157 pounds, officially), has put together an impressive resume since being taken in the fourth round (104th overall) in the 2011 entry draft. IN that draft class, Gaudreau ranks ninth in goals (71, tied with Columbus’ Boone Jenner), seventh in assists (124, tied with Florida’s Jonathan Huberdeau), and seventh in points (195). The odd part of his numbers this season is that his scoring line is precisely the same on the road as it is at home (8-18-26), although he has been slightly more productive on the road, where he has that scoring line in 29 games compared to 33 home contests. Gaudreau is 0-2-2, minus-2, in five career games against Washington.

Micheal Ferland is the answer to a trivia question. “In the Flames’ 17-3-1 run, who leads the team in goals?” Bet you would have gone a long while before coming up with “Micheal Ferland.” A fifth round draft pick of the Flames in 2010, Ferland is in his second full season and third overall with Calgary. His 14 goals and 21 points in 67 games are career highs. He has done it without getting a ton of ice time. Only three times in 67 games this season has he topped 15 minutes in ice time, and none of those times on the road. In fact, among 18 Calgary skaters appearing in at least 30 games this season, Ferland is averaging the least amount of ice time per game (11:20). What he has been is efficient with the time he has had, best among those 18 skaters in shooting percentage (15.1 percent). Ferland, who is listed a "day-to-day" with an illness, is 0-0-0, minus-3, in three career games against the Capitals.

1.  If there is one thing Calgary has not been particularly adept at in their 17-3-1 run, it is getting and converting power play opportunities. Okay, that’s two things, but the Flames have had just 54 power play opportunities since January 24th when they started this run (sixth fewest) and their 16.7 percent conversion rate ranks 21st.

2.  Their penalty killing has been better, but not extraordinary. Over those same last 21 games, the Flames killed 83.9 percent of the shorthanded situations they faced, sixth in the league in that span. Their skill has been in avoiding those situation. With 56 shorthanded situations in their last 21 games, they have had fewer than all but three teams since January 24th (Sane Jose (54), Chicago (54), and Edmonton (49).

3.  Calgary also has put that 17-3-1 record together without managing to put a lot of shots on goal. With 630 shots on goal in that span, they rank 29th (Detroit has 585 shots on goal).

4.  Calgary has had a certain scoring balance in their 17-3-1 run. Nine different players are in double digits in points; 17 different players have goals. They spread the ice time around, too. Only two forwards have averaged more than 20 minutes per game (T.J. Brodie with 23:47 and Mark Giordano with 23:26), while no forward has averaged that much (Gaudreau averaged 18:05).

5.  The Flames have been a middle of the road team in terms of possession on their long run of success. They rank 15th in SAT percentage over that span (50.30), although their SAT percentage in close situations is ranked much higher (sixth at 51.98; numbers from

1.  Nicklas Backstrom has been a monster at home, his point total (45) being head and shoulders above his teammates (Alex Ovechkin is next with 34 points).

2.  T.J. Oshie is another player who really likes home cooking. He has 16 goals on 58 shots, the 27.6 percent shooting percentage being best on the team at Verizon Center and best in the league in home shooting efficiency among players with at least 25 shots recorded on home ice.

3.  Washington has 28 wins on home ice and 15 different players with game winning goals. Alex Ovechkin leads with six.

4.  No player has taken more minor penalties on home ice this year than…Brett Connolly (thought I was going to say “Tom Wilson,” didn’t you?). He has taken 13 minors in 28 home games this season.

5.  The Caps are eighth in the league in SAT percentage at home this season (51.59) but just 11th in close situations (51.71).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Calgary: Mark Giordano

Over the last five seasons, Mark Giordano is sixth in goals among defensemen (62), tied for eighth in game-winning goals (11, with Roman Josi, Duncan Keith, Dougie Hamilton, and Justin Faulk), tied for 18th in assists (138, with Shea Weber), and is tied for 12th among defensemen in total points (200, with Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Ryan Suter). His 24:29 in average ice time in those five years ranks 12th among all defensemen. He keeps pretty good company. So why doesn’t he get more attention? Maybe it’s a Calgary thing. His numbers are a bit off this season (12-22-34 in 72 games versus 21-35-56 in 82 games last year), but in one respect they are not. His plus-23 is the best of his career and is tied for ninth in the league this season (with Dennis Seidenberg). He has had only two “minus” games in his last 21 contests. His scoring matters to Calgary’s success, the Flames going 9-1-1 in the 11 games in which he has goals this season and going 20-5-1 in 26 games in which he has a point. For this game, watch his ice time. In games in which he skated more than 25 minutes this season, the Flames are just 12-8-4. Giordano is 2-3-5, minus-2, in nine career games against Washington, the team against which he has the fewest appearances in his career (tied with nine games against Philadelphia).

Washington: Dmitry Orlov

Which Capital has the best plus-minus on home ice this season?  Which Capital defenseman leads the blueliners in goals scored on home ice?  Which defenseman leads the Capitals defense in penalty minutes at Verizon Center.  If you said “Dmitry Orlov” to all three, you win (okay, so he’s tied in goals on home ice with John Carlson).  Orlov is plas-21 in 36 home games, has five goals, and has been charged with 23 minutes in penalties.  In fact, Orlov is second among Capitals defensemen in goals scored at home since he came into the league in 2011-2012 (17, trailing John Carlson’s 33), and he has four game-winning goals, second only to Carlson’s seven in that span of seasons.  This season he has points in 14 home games in which the Caps are 13-1-0, and the Caps are 4-0-0 in home games in which he scored a goal.  Orlov is looking for his first point in his career against Calgary, going 0-0-0, plus-2, in four games overall against the Flames.

In the end…

This is pretty much a trap game for the Caps. One, they don’t play Calgary often enough to spin up a healthy hate. Two, it’s easy to overlook the Flames because of their recent history, missing the postseason in six of seven years entering this season. Third, the Columbus Blue Jackets are looming on the horizon, visiting Verizon Center on Thursday. If you look at their underlying numbers, you might conclude that the Flames have out-performed their production. Their possession numbers are uneven, as are their special teams, and their offense doesn’t generate much in the way of chances. What they have done is get excellent goaltending from Brian Ellott, the league’s third star for last week.  But Brian Elliott has not fared well against the Caps in his career, and unless the Caps do enough to beat themselves (not impossible; it is a trap game), he will not improve his numbers in this game.

Capitals 4 – Flames 2

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 23

Week 23 had it all, a sad end to a road trip, a solid win over a team they might meet down the road, a tough loss after giving up a lead, and finally a good win after a second straight game surrendering a lead.  For the Washington Capitals, it was a busy week indeed.

Record: 2-1-1

Week 23 was the eighth four-game week of the season for the Capitals and the sixth in which they posted a winning record.  When they beat the Tampa Bay Lightning in the last game of the week, the Caps hit the 100-point mark for the tenth time in team history and for the third season in a row, the third time in franchise history that the Caps posted three consecutive 100-point seasons.  The closed the week with points earned in their last three games after opening the week with a 5-2 loss in Anaheim against the Ducks to close their annual California trip.  The three consecutive games with points was the first time the Caps did that since Games 62-64 to close February and open March.  When they beat the Minnesota Wild, 4-2, last Tuesday, it was their 45th win of the season, the 11th time in team history that the Caps hit that win mark.

Offense: 3.00/game (season: 3.20 /game; rank: 3rd)

It was an uneven week in the offensive end with the Caps alternating poor outcomes and good ones.  On average it was a pretty good week, although still a bit below the season scoring average to date.  The Caps still finished the week as one of six teams averaging more than three goals per game, and they did finish the week with a pair of games with four or more goals after going six straight games with two or fewer.

T.J. Oshie led the Caps in goal scoring for the week, getting all of them in the 5-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning to finish the week.  It was the second hat trick of the season for the Caps and the first on the road this season (Alex Ovechkin had a hat trick on November 23rd in a 4-3 win over the St. Louis Blues).  Oshie added an assist against the Lightning to make it five games this season in which a Capital recorded four or more points.  Oshie joined Nicklas Backstrom in having done it twice.  Evgeny Kuznetsov has the other instance. 

Backstrom had a three-assist game against Minnesota and a four-assist night against Tampa Bay on his way to an eight-point week (all assists).  He became the 11th player in the league to record four or more assists in a game this season and became just the second player in the league this season with four games with three or more assists (Tyler Seguin is the other).  John Carlson was the other multiple goal scorer for the Caps in Week 23 (two) and led the defense with four points.

The best news on offense might have been from a player who registered only a single point.  Andre Burakovsky returned to the lineup after missing 15 games with a hand injury, over which the Caps went just 7-6-2.  He had an assist and seven shots on goal in 15 minutes of ice time against the Lightning.

Defense: 3.00/game (season: 2.17 /game; rank: 1st)

The Caps had a good week holding down shot attempts.  In each of the four games they held their opponent to less than one shot attempt per 5-on-5 minute.  Overall they held the four opponents to 50.16 shot attempts per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 (numbers from  It helped hold the shots down, none of the four opponents managing to get as many as 25 shots on goal at 5-on-5, although two opponents did outshoot the Caps at fives.  It just so happened that those two opponents were Anaheim and Nashville, the sources of the losses this week.  As it is, this team is still in a position to record the lowest average shots allowed per game in franchise history since the 2004-2005 lockout.  This club is allowing 27.7 shots per game; the 2007-2008 squad allowed 27.5 shots per game.

Goaltending: 2.99 / .897 (season:  2.06 / .925 / 11 shutouts)

Braden Holtby played all the minutes in goal in Week 23.  It was not an especially good one for him, and it is part of a longer run of sluggish play from Holtby.  In his last six appearances, he is 2-3-1, 3.51, .875.  This week, Holtby strugged at even strength with a save percentage of just .904, 18th among 26 goalies facing at least 50 even strength shots. 

It was a case of declining save percentages as games went on for Holtby.  His first period save percentage for the week was an excellent .947 (36-for-38).  That dropped to .909 in the second periods of games (40-for-44) and to .848 in the third period (28-for-33).  He allowed one goal on two shots faced in the overtime loss to Nashville. 

As it is, Holtby allowed more goals in his last six games (19) than he did over his previous 11 contests (18).  Still, the Caps remain the only team in the league with two goalies having faced at least 400 shots with a save percentage of .925 or better.  Both Holtby and Philipp Grubauer have save percentages of .925 for the season.

Power Play: 3-for-13 / 23.1 percent (season:  21.4 percent; rank: 8th)

Consistency is a good thing, and the power play is no exception.  The Caps recorded three power play goals for the week, one in each game.  Now, if the opportunities were as consistent.  The Caps had five power play chances in each of the first two games of the week, at Anaheim and at home against Minnesota.  They were successful once in each game, John Carlson against the Ducks and Evgeny Kuznetsov against the Wild.

In the second half of the week, Washington was held to a total of three chances in two games, failing to connect on their only opportunity in their 2-1 overtime loss to Nashville and getting a pair of chances against Tampa Bay to close the week, T.J. Oshie finding the back of the net on the Caps’ first opportunity on Saturday night. 

Getting five chances in a game is a comparative rarity for the Caps this season, Week 23 seeing the 12th and 13th times this season the Caps had as many or more.  Getting volume such as that is no guarantee of success, though.  Washington is 7-4-2 in games this season in which they had five or more power play chances.  Their chances came with a fair amount of pressure, getting 22 shots on goal in 19:40 of power play time, but that included a failure to get any shots on goal in their 2:00 of power play time against the Predators.

Penalty Killing: 12-for-15 / 80.0 percent (season: 83.7 percent; rank: 8th)

A less-than-typical effort killing penalties held the Caps to barely 80 percent on the other side of special teams and only allowed them to break even on special teams goals for the week.  The seven shorthanded situations they faced against the Wild in the second game of the week was the second-most situations faced this season (they were shorthanded nine times in a 6-2 win over the New Jersey Devils on New Year’s Eve).  They were almost as frequent in shorthanded situations in the opening game of the week, skating five times a man short and once two men short, the Ducks converting just after their 5-on-3 power play expired.

The Caps did better in the second half of the week, facing a total of two power plays (one each) against Nashville and Tampa Bay, although they did allow the Lightning to convert on their only chance in the 5-3 Caps win.  For the week, the Caps allowed three goals on 21 shots in 20:16 of shorthanded ice time.  Not a poor week, but not a great one, either.

Faceoffs: 118-249 / 47.4 percent (season: 50.1 percent; rank: 13th)

It was not an especially good week in the faceoff circle.  The Caps were over 50 percent only against Tampa Bay, although that game was not without incident as a result of a lapse in one faceoff moment.  Jay Beagle lost a faceoff to Brayden Point with under two minutes left in a 4-2 game, and the draw went back to Nikita Kucherov, who slammed home a shot to make it 4-3. 

The Beagle lost draw late against the Lightning was part of a week in which the Caps were under 50 percent in the defensive end (40-86/46.5 percent).  They were equally weak in the neutral zone (30-68/44.1 percent), where they were under 50 percent in all four games.  Washington did manage to finish one over 50 percent in the offensive end (48-95/50.5 percent) but almost gave that up with a 7-for-21 performance in the offensive end against Nashville.

The big four – Nicklas Backstrom, Lars Eller, Jay Beagle, and Evgeny Kuznetsov – were a combined under 50 percent in all three zones for the week and overall (46.1 percent).  Of the four, only Beagle finished the week over 50 percent (32-58/55.2 percent).

Goals by Period:

In a week with a total goal differential of even, the fact that the Caps were mostly that by period is no surprise.  Also no surprise, the Caps won the first periods overall by a 4-2 margin.  That made them plus-40 for the season in first period goal differential.  It would have been better but for an uncharacteristic two goals allowed – after taking a 2-0 lead, to boot – against Tampa Bay in the last game of the week.  Those two goals left the Caps with 33 goals allowed in the first periods of games this season, fewest in the league.

They held their own in the third period with five goals scored and five allowed to finish the week plus-30 in third period goal differential.   Those five goals allowed were a problem, the difference between finishing the week with the second-fewest number of third period goals allowed and finishing tied for fifth.

The second period continues to be a problem.  Washington finished just minus-1 for the week, but that is also where they are for the season.  Teams have been able to erode first period advantages for the Caps in the middle period, a matter that needs to be addressed in the last few weeks of the season.

In the end…

There are two good things that can be said about Week 23.  One, the California trip is in the rear-view mirror.  The Caps were outscored on the trip by a 13-6 margin, including the 5-2 loss to Anaheim in the first game of the week to end the trip.  The second thing is that the Caps managed to start and end the week atop the league standings.  However,  their margin was shaved by a point down to two points over the Columbus Blue Jackets, a team that just doesn’t want to go away.  Pittsburgh and Chicago lurk just one point behind Columbus, three points behind the Caps.

Nevertheless, the Caps became the first team to clinch a spot in the playoffs with their win over Tampa Bay to close the week, the 27th time in 43 seasons of team history the Caps will head to the postseason.  That might be the best news to come out of Week 23.

Three Stars of the Week:
  • First Star: Nicklas Backstrom (0-8-8, plus-2, three power play assists, nine shots on goal, 18 shot attempts)
  • Second Star: T.J. Oshie (3-1-4, plus-3, hat trick (first in regular season as a Capital), seven shots on goal, 16 shot attempts, 6-for-9 on faceoffs)
  • Third Star: John Carlson (2-2-4, minus-1, 13 shots on goal, 28 shot attempts, 22:56 average ice time)