Friday, October 21, 2016

A TWO-Point Night -- Game 4: Washington Capitals 4 - Florida Panthers 2

When the horn sounded at the end of last night’s contest between the Washington Capitals and the Florida Panthers, a Panther hit a milestone, but it was the Capitals skating off with the 4-2 win and two points.

The Caps started the scoring mid-way through the first period. Nate Schmidt skated the length of the ice and down the left wing wall to the corner to the right of goalie Roberto Luongo. Ducking under defenseman Aaron Ekblad, Schmidt sent the puck to the front of the net where it rattled around and ended up on the stick of Justin Williams. The first attempt by Williams hit Luongo’s pad and popped up in front of him. Williams got another whack at it and banked it off the post and behind Luongo to make it 1-0 at the 8:25 mark.

Less than two minutes later the Caps doubled their lead. Evgeny Kuznetsov started and ended the play. It began with Kuznetsov feeding Alex Ovechkin on the left wing heading into the Florida zone. Ovechkin tried to send the puck to T.J. Oshie, but the pass was broken up. Matt Niskanen stepped up and fired the loose puck at the Panther net, and before Luongo could glove the shot down, Kuznetsov skated through and redirected the puck down and past Luongo to give the Caps a two-goal lead 10:21 into the period.

Florida struck back on a goal by Mike Matheson three minutes later, and the teams went off at the end of the first period with the Caps holding a 2-1 lead. Fourteen minutes into the second period, the Panthers tied the game when a familiar face reached a career milestone. Having been stifled once already by goalie Braden Holtby, Jaromir Jagr found the back of the net for the 750th goal of his career. On a power play, Jagr backhanded the puck down the right wing wall to Jon Marchessault, who sent the puck deep to Aleksander Barkov below the goal line to the left of Holtby. Barkov sent the puck back out to Jagr skating down the slot, and Jagr one-timed it past Holtby to become just the third player in NHL history with 750 or more goals, joining Wayne Gretzky (894) and Gordie Howe (801).

The teams opened the third period tied at two apiece, but the Caps regained the lead in the eighth minute. T.J. Oshie tried to feed Alex Ovechkin at the right wing hash mark, but Ovechkin had his stick lifted before he could get off a shot. The puck slid out to Karl Alzner, who fed Matt Niskanen for a one-timer. On the way through, the puck was redirected by Ovechkin past Luongo’s left pad, and it was 3-2, Caps, at the 7:33 mark.

Marcus Johansson closed the scoring with less than two minutes left in regulation. Nicklas Backstrom chipped the puck off the right wing wall and down the ice where Jason Demers gave chase. Demers glanced back to see who was in pursuit, and it was just enough to allow the puck to escape his control. Johansson pounced on the loose puck, cut to the middle past Demers, and snapped the puck past Luongo with 1:20 remaining for the final margin in the Caps’ 4-2 win.

Other stuff…

-- Balanced scoring for the Caps was the key on offense. Three Caps recorded their first goals of the season: Justin Williams, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Marcus Johansson. Alex Ovechkin’s second goal of the season made it four goals from four different players. Seven different players recorded a total of eight points (Matt Niskanen had two assists).

-- Niskanen’s two-point game was his first on the road since he had a two-assist night against the Columbus Blue Jackets last January 19th, a 6-3 Caps win.

-- Four of the Caps’ defensemen did not record a shot on goal (Brooks Orpik, Karl Alzner, Nate Schmidt, and Dmitry Orlov). Niskanen and John Carlson had one apiece.

-- Washington was awarded just one power play, failing to convert on two shots. On the other side, they killed three of four Panther power plays, but that makes three games in four in which the Caps allowed a power play goal.  They are 26th in penalty killing (72.7 percent).

-- The Caps were just 24-for-55 in the faceoff circle (43.6 percent). If not for Lars Eller’s 9-for-13 performance, it would have looked a lot worse.

-- Florida out-attempted the Caps, 57-45, although the Caps outshot the Panthers at even-strength, 27-21.

-- Odd fact… seven of the 18 skaters recorded 22 shifts, including five of the 12 forwards.

-- Among goalies appearing in more than one game to date, Braden Holtby is third in save percentage (.938), trailing Montreal’s Al Montoya ((.962) and Boston’s Tuukka Rask (.947).

-- Home scoring? Washington was credited with only four takeaways, while the Panthers were credited with 16.

-- Four games, four times the Caps have not yielded a goal after the second intermission (four third periods and an overtime).  Washington is the only team left in the league that has not yielded a third period goal.

In the end…

Punch in, punch out.  Another solid, workmanlike performance by the Caps.  Balanced scoring, defending the Panther’s speed, opportunistic offense, solid goaltending (except for that throw-it-from-the-wall goal by Mike Matheson).  Before anyone thinks this was a less-than-dominating performance by the Caps, remember that this is a team that made the postseason last year and took the season series from the Caps.  It is good that the Caps are banking these points now, before they head to western Canada next week.  They get a chance to bank a couple more against the Rangers on Saturday.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 4: Capitals at Panthers, October 20th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

After sweeping their short two-game home stand, the Washington Capitals go on the road to try to win their first game away from Verizon Center this season and their third in a row overall when they visit the Florida Panthers on Thursday night.

The Caps and Panthers are similar in different ways.  Both have 2-0-1 records, but while the Caps recorded their two wins after opening the season with a Gimmick loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Panthers lost in the trick shot competition to the Tampa Bay Lightning after winning their first two games.  Both teams have a plus-3 goal differential, but while the Caps have done it with defense and goaltending (not allowing two goals in any game and four in all), the Panthers have had a little more of an offensive emphasis (three or more goals twice, nine in all).  Washington special teams have been good and bad, but it was a case of the “good” finally showing up in Game 3, when they had two power play goals in five chances and shut out the Colorado Avalanche on three opportunities.  The Panthers have been good and bad on a consistent basis.  Their power play (“bad”) has yet to record a goal, while the penalty kill (“good”0 has yet to allow a power play goal.

Florida does bring balance in goal scoring into this game.  Four players account for eight of the nine Panther goals, each of them with two in the early going.  And it is a young group.  Colton Sceviour is the oldest of the quartet at age 27, and he is in his first season with the Panthers after spending five seasons with the Dallas Stars.  His history has been as a modest secondary scorer (28 goals in 170 career games before this season), last year being the first in which he cracked double-digits (11 in 71 games).  What his goal scoring has been is timely.  One was a shorthanded goal in the Panthers’ 4-3 trick shot loss to Tampa Bay on Tuesday, and the other was the game-winning goal in Florida’s 4-1 win over Detroit last Saturday.  In five career games against the Caps, Sceviour is 1-1-2, even.

Jonathan Marchessault is the next oldest member of the two-goal brigade (25), and he is with his third NHL team in his four-season career (Columbus and Tampa Bay were his previous stops).  Sticking with an NHL team has been the struggle, evidenced by his appearing in just 49 games over three seasons prior to this one, 45 of those games last year with the Lightning.  With eight goals in those 49 games prior to this season, it remains a question if he can keep up what scoring pace he has shown so far (we’re guessing he won’t), but he was a goal scorer in junior and the AHL (despite not having been drafted by an NHL club), recording 98 goals in 254 games with the Quebec Remparts in the QMJHL and 45 goals in 150 games with three teams in the AHL.  He is 0-1-1, even, in three career games against the Caps.

Vincent Trocheck’s early production should come as no surprise.  In his first two seasons with the Panthers, he recorded just 12 goals in 70 games.  Last year, though, he finished tied for third on the club with 25 goals in 76 contests.  He was also tied for second in game-winning goals for the Panthers last season (4), a year he closed with a rush, scoring four goals in his last five games of the regular season and six in his last ten games.  In those last ten games he was 6-6-12.  He seems not to have cooled off, and given he is 2-2-4, plus-1, in four career games against the Caps, he might not be cooling off on Thursday night, either.

Aleksander Barkov is the youngest of the group (21) and perhaps of whom the most is expected.  The second overall draft pick in 2013 took the express train the NHL, and his progress has been persistent and impressive.  He had eight goals in 54 games in his rookie season, 16 in 71 games in his sophomore campaign, and a team-leading 28 goals last season.  He is well-seasoned for a 21 year old, embarking on his fourth NHL season and having represented Finland in international tournaments in each of the last three years, including the just-completed World Cup.  He is not just a wonder at the offensive end of the ice, either.  He received votes for the Selke Trophy as the league’s top defensive forward, finishing sixth in the voting last season.  Barkov is 2-1-3, plus-5, in seven career games against Washington.

1.  Jaromir Jagr is the oldest skater in the league, by a lot.  He is 1,699 days older than Arizona’s Shane Doan.  His first game in the NHL (against the Caps…naturally) was on October 5, 1990.  How long ago is that?  It was four days after the first Walmart opened in the northeastern United States (in York, Pennsylvania).

2.  Jagr is the active leader in NHL games played with 1,632.  How many is that?  The entire likely defensive squad for the Caps (John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Matt Niskanen, Nate Schmidt, Dmitry Orlov, and Brooks Orpik) has a combined 1,605 games in a Capitals jersey.

3.  271 skaters who have dressed for games this season (of 593) and had not yet been born when Jagr took the ice for the first time in the NHL.

4.  Jagr is the active leader in career points with 1,869.  He could have sat out every season since 2005-2006 and still have an almost 100-point lead on the second place player.  He would have 1,432 points to 1,346 to Joe Thornton.

5.  If Jagr is getting old(er), he didn’t show it at the end of last season.  In his last 25 regular season games last year he went consecutive games without a point just once and finished 10-16-26, plus-10 in those 25 games.

1.  Jaromir Jagr is the active leader in career power play goals among active players, but he could yield that top spot to Alex Ovechkin this season.  Ovechkin, with 196, is just 13 behind Jagr (209).

2.  Ovechkin and Jagr are tied among active players for the top spot in career hat tricks (15).

3.  Ovechkin has only Jagr and Jarome Iginla ahead of him among active goal scorers (Ovechkin has 525).  Among players whose career began in the same year or later than Ovechkin  (2005-2006), the next leading active goal scorer is Anaheim’s Corey Perry (331).

4.  Ovechkin has only Jagr and Iginla ahead of him in total shots on goal among active players.  Among players entering the league in 2005-2006 or later, Ovechkin has 4,241 shots on goal to Jeff Carter’s 2,698.

5.  There are seven active players who have been on the ice for more goals-for than Alex Ovechkin.  All of them started their careers before 1998 (Ovechkin started his career in 2005-2006).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Florida: Roberto Luongo

Isn’t this guy supposed to be old and washed up? He is 37 years old, for heaven’s sake.  He is not showing many signs of age.   Since returning to Florida for his second tour with the Panthers late in the 2013-2014 season, he is 71-45-19, 2.34, .922, with seven shutouts.  That includes a 2-0-0 record so far this season and only two goals allowed on 46 shots faced (.957).  He is, by far, the leader among active goaltenders in games played (928 to Henrik Lundqvist’s 687), wins (438 to Lundqvist’s 375), and shutouts (72 to Lundqvist’s 59).  And age has done little to affect his consistency.  He has not allowed more than three goals in consecutive games since March 2013, a streak of 187 games.  In 36 career games against the Caps, Luongo is 20-10-0, 2.29, .926, with two shutouts.

Washington: Justin Williams

No Capital has fewer shots on goal so far than Justin Williams – one in three games.  This is not a cause for concern as much as it is an observation.  And, based on last year’s results, it hardly seems to matter.  The Caps were 50-17-6 in games in which Williams recorded at least one shot last year, 6-1-2 in games in which he did not. Higher frequency did not seem to matter, either.  Washington was 25-11-2 when Williams had three or more shots on goal, 21-7-6 when he did not.  It suggests that at worst, the absence of Williams’ shooting activity is not a liability for the club.  The more flattering interpretation would be that he can contribute in other ways than shooting the puck for the Caps to be successful.  We will go with that one.  Williams is 15-16-31, plus-12, in 50 career games against Florida.

In the end…

This will be a good test for the Caps.  Florida has to be considered a playoff favorite off their 47-26-9 record last season and the bevy of good young players with more experience on their resumes.  What this game might come down to, though, is a familiar battle and whether Alex Ovechkin can solve Roberto Luongo a time or two.  Well, so long as the Caps can find a way to keep Jaromir Jagr in his rocking chair.

Capitals 3 – Panthers 2

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Nats are Who?

So, Kornheiser says the Nats are the Caps. The Washington Nationals baseball team is the collection of “choking dogs (his term)” that are the Washington Capitals Really?  Washington is a low bar for the postseason, to be sure, but in that pond, the hockey team is the big fish…by miles (with apologies to the fans of the local soccer team).  Imagine if the Caps had reached the postseason five times in their last 23 seasons.  Oh, that’s the Redskins.  The Burgundy and Gold have one playoff win in their last 16 seasons (and really, how many Redskin fans are bragging about that win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers being a classic?).

Or how about a team that has reached the postseason seven times in the last 28 seasons, a team that cleared .500 only seven times in that span?  There are your Washington Bullets/Wizards.  And not once in those 28 seasons does that franchise have so much as a division championship.  The last one of those the franchise had was when the Bullets won the Atlantic Division crown in 1978-1979 on their way to their only NBA championship (kudos to them…at least they have one; the Caps are waiting on their first one).

Then there are the Nats.  There are those three trips to the postseason of which Kornheiser speaks.  The franchise has reached the playoffs only four times in 48 seasons (it would have been five, but the 1994 season was cut short due to a labor-management dispute with the Montreal Expos having the best record in the National League).  The franchise went 30 straight years without reaching the postseason until the Nats did it in 2012.

Meanwhile, the Capitals have reached the postseason 26 times in the last 33 seasons, including eight of the last nine.  The other three teams – Redskins, Wizards, and Nats have reached the playoffs a combined nine times over the last nine seasons (three apiece).  The Caps’ playoff troubles have been discussed far and wide, but they have won five playoff rounds over the last nine seasons.  The other three teams have won a combined two series (both by the Wizards; the Redskins have not won a postseason game).  And, the Caps are the only team in Washington among the four major pro sports to have played for a championship in the last 24 years.

Kornheiser remarked about the Nationals, “Look, they’re the Caps now.  Okay, the Washington Nationals are the Washington Capitals. They choke. They just cannot win any of these series.”  Let’s leave aside the fact that against a very good Los Angeles Dodger team, the Nats were missing arguably their second best starting pitcher and starting catcher, both of them all-stars.  Repeat the old clich├ęs about guys stepping up, or that there are no excuses in the playoffs, but lose two players in the two most important positions on the field, and your chances of a deep playoff run start to approach zero. 

But the larger point has to do with this claim that “the Nats are the Caps.”  Hardly.  In a championship-starved community, success has been hard to come by for its pro-sports teams (again, apologies to the fans of the United soccer team…theirs is a history to take some pride in).  But the Nats are not the Caps.  The Nats – not to mention the Redskins and the Wizards – aspire to be the Caps in these parts.  We think we speak for most Caps fans when we tell Kornheiser in a manner a New Yorker would appreciate…. #@$% you, pal

Photo: clydeorama 

A TWO-Point Night -- Game 3: Washington Capitals 3 - Colorado Avalanche 0

The Washington Capitals recorded standings points in each of their first two games of the season, but it hardly looked as if it was a team with all of its cylinders firing.  In their third game of the young season, the Caps looked more like the team that won the NHL’s Presidents Trophy last season as they defeated the Colorado Avalanche at Verizon Center, 3-0, on Tuesday night.

The first order of business was to try to get the power play back on track after going 0-for-8 in the first two games.  They did just that late in the first period.  After going without a goal on their first power play of the evening, the Caps scored in familiar fashion.  T.J. Oshie lost control of the puck in the high slot, but it skid to Marcus Johansson at the edge of the right wing faceoff circle.  Johansson sent the puck out to Dmitry Orlov at the top of the offensive zone, and Orlov fed Alex Ovechkin for a one-timer from the left wing circle.  Ovechkin’s drive eluded goalie Semyon Varlamov low on the short side, and the Caps had a 1-0 lead 15:44 into the game.

Mid-way through the second period, Oshie doubled the lead on another power play.  Nicklas Backstrom controlled the puck behind the Colorado net.  He worked it around the wall to Johansson at the right wing boards, and Johansson threaded a pass to Oshie between the hash marks.  Oshie sent the puck back down to Backstom, who immediately returned it to Oshie for a one-timer that beat Varlamov on the stick side at the 11:32 mark.

Oshie closed the scoring at even strength in the third period.  The Capitals attacked with speed and numbers, Ovechkin carrying the puck into the offensive zone on the left side with Oshie and John Carlson joining him.  Ovechkin cut to the middle with Oshie driving to the net.  Ovechkin wristed a shot at the Avalanche net that Varlamov knocked down, but Oshie was quick on the rebound and stuffed it past Varlamov to make it 3-0 with 6:25 left in the contest. 

All that remained was to preserve the shutout for Philipp Grubauer, starting in goal in relief of Braden Holtby.  Grubauer was tested infrequently in the contest, but he stopped all 18 shots he saw to earn his first career NHL shutout as the Caps skated off with their 3-0 win.

Other stuff…

-- Braden Holtby was honored before the game with a ceremony marking his winning the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender last season.  He was the third Capital to win the award, joining Jim Carey (1996) and Olaf Kolzig (2000).

-- The Caps ripped 11 shots on goal in just 6:54 of ice time on five power plays.  They had seven of those power play shots on goal in the first period.  The Avalanche had a total of six shots on goal in the first period.

-- Washington had seven players record power play shots: Alex Ovechkin, Dmitry Orlov, Nicklas Backstrom, Andre Burakovsky, John Carlson, T.J. Oshie, and Evgeny Kuznetsov.

-- The Caps’ second power play goal was the product of a skirmish between Jarome Iginla for the Avalanche and Tom Wilson for the Caps.  After a shot went off the rink to stop play, Iginla skated around the Caps’ net and found Wilson on the other side.  The players got up in one another’s faces, and the gloves came off.  There was some close-quarter punching, but it did not last long.  Iginla received and instigator and a ten-minute misconduct in addition to a fighting major for his trouble, while Wilson received just the fighting major.

-- Fun fact… The Caps outshot the Avalanche, 40-18, last night.  The plus-22 in shot differential is the most the Caps have had since they had a plus-28 margin last April 1st in a 4-2 win over…wait for it… the Colorado Avalanche (47-19). 

-- The Caps had balanced shooting.  Seven of the 18 skaters had at least three shots on goal, led by T.J. Oshie (6).  Daniel Winnik and Justin Williams were the only skaters not to record a shot on goal.

-- Oshie’s two goals made it three straight games to start the season in which a Capital recorded two or more goals.  That makes six out of their last seven regular season games dating back to last season that the Caps had at least one player with two or more goals.  They are as follows:
  • April 5: Alex Ovechkin (two goals in a 4-3 overtime loss to the New York Islanders.
  • April 7: Marcus Johansson (two goals in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins)
  • April 9: Ovechkin (hat trick in a 5-1 win over the St. Louis Blues)
  • April 10: none (Caps shut out by the Anaheim Ducks in the regular season finale)
  • October 13: Andre Burakovsky (two goals in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Penguins)
  • October 15: Daniel Winnik (two goals in a 2-1 win over the Islanders)
  • October 18: T.J. Oshie (two goals in a 3-0 win over the Colorado Avalanche)

-- Tom Wilson has fights in two of his three games to date.  But neither of them, not his bout with Pittsburgh’s Tom Sestito nor his fight last night with Jarome Iginla, could be said to be started on Wilson’s initiative.  Both came with the Caps holding 1-0 leads and looked like players on the team behind trying to light a fire.  Can’t say it worked for either team.  The Penguins did get the tying goal, but not until the second period (Wilson and Sestito fought mid-way through the first period).  Last night, Iginla was given an additional two minutes for instigating, and the Caps scored 12 seconds into the ensuing power play.

-- Nicklas Backstrom was 13-for-17 in the faceoff circle (76.5 percent).  He schooled Nathan MacKinnon in the finer arts of taking draws, winning eight of 10.

-- The last time the Caps allowed fewer than 18 shots in a shutout was November 26, 2010 in a 6-0 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning.  Semyon Varlamov, who was the victim of the shutout last night, pitched the shutout for the Caps that evening on 17 shots faced.

In the end…

Solid.  Just a solid effort.  In a way it looked like a weeknight game, but one that might have been played in January, when the team would have its game legs solidly under them and would be in sync in most respects.  It was not flashy, but it was in its own way dominating.  True, the Avs were coming off a game the previous evening in Pittsburgh, but part of being a successful team is taking advantage of an opponent in that situation, and the Caps did precisely that.  Not much to find wanting in that sort of effort.

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 3: Avalanche at Capitals, October 18th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

After splitting their first two games of the season against Metropolitan Division foes, the Washington Capitals host their first non-division opponent of the season when the Colorado Avalanche visit Verizon Center on Tuesday.  The Avs will come to town having played the night before in Pittsburgh against the Penguins after taking a wild 6-5 win over the Dallas Stars in Colorado’s home opener on Saturday night.

The Caps, with their 1-0-1 record, have just four goals scored in two games to date, two players – Andre Burakovsky in the opener in Pittsburgh and Daniel Winnik in the home opener against the New York Islanders – each with two-goal games.

In their season opener, the Avalanche were led by center Joe Colborne, who recorded his first career hat trick, two of his goals coming on power plays seven minutes apart in the first period, and the other giving the Avs a three goal lead in the second period before they hung on for dear life at the end against the Stars.  Colborne is a former 16th overall draft pick of the Boston Bruins (2008 draft).  At the time, then Bruin General Manager Peter Chiarelli said of him, "This kid can really fire the puck…He's a good skater…very smart, with offensive acumen.  He's a big, strong focused kid."  Less than three years later, though, he was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs with a 2011 first and a 2012 second round draft pick for defenseman Tomas Kaberle, never having played a game for the Bruins.  He barely made a ripple with the Maple Leafs, appearing in just 16 games over three seasons with one goal and five assists.  He was traded to the Calgary Flames just before the start of the 2013-2014 season to his hometown Calgary Flames for a fourth round draft pick.  He made more of an impression in Calgary, posting 37 goals and 100 points in 217 games over three seasons.  However, after the 2015-2016 season, he was not tendered a qualifying offer by the Flames and signed with the Avalanche on the first day of the unrestricted free agent signing period last July.  Colborne is 0-2-2, even, in five career games against the Caps.

There is a Capitals connection to Colborne, going back to the trade between the Bruins and the Maple Leafs in 2011.  The second round pick traded with Colborne to the Maple Leafs ended up taking a trip of its own.  Let’s follow along.  This pick was a conditional pick to start with, the condition being that the Bruins reach the Stanley Cup finals in 2011. They did, and the condition was exercised.  Toronto took the pick and traded it to Colorado for John-Michael Liles in June 2011.  A year later, Colorado sent this pick and their first round pick to the Caps for goalie Semyon Varlamov.  A week later, the Caps sent this pick and Cody Eakin to the Dallas Stars for center Mike Ribeiro.  What became of the pick?  The Stars took Mike Winther, who played for four different teams in Canadian juniors and last year played for the University of Calgary.  Such is the life of an NHL draft pick.

Back to the game at hand.  The Avs had two other players in their opener against the Stars score goals on their only shots of the game.  Nathan MacKinnon was one of those players.  MacKinnon, now in his fourth NHL season, has not quite yet fulfilled the potential that a number one overall draft pick (2013 draft) might have been expected to have.  He’s been good – 60 goals and 155 points in 219 career games – but he has been outnumbered, so to speak, but the sixth-overall pick, Sean Monahan, who is 81-79-160 in 240 games for the Calgary Flames.  However, he and Monahan are the only players over the last four seasons (including this one to date) with at least 50 goals and 150 points at the age of 21 or younger.  MacKinnon certainly has room to grow.  He has not lacked for production against the Caps in his young career, though.  MacKinnon is 2-3-5, plus-1, in five career games against Washington. 

Defenseman Tyson Barrie was the other Avalanche to record a goal on his only shot in the win over Dallas.  The harmless looking shot flipped at the Dallas net from the right point clicked off the left toe of defenseman Stephen Johns’ skate and behind goalie Kari Lehtonen for what would be the game-winning goal.  Game winning goals are no stranger to Barrie, who has 12 game winners among his 41 career NHL goals.  Barrie is one of those offensive defensemen who slip through the cracks in the discussion of the upper echelon of that specie of blueliner.   Over the last five seasons, including this one, Barrie is one of ten defensemen with at least 40 goals and at least 100 assists.  The list looks like an all-star roster.  Perhaps more impressive, Barrie is the youngest defenseman on that list, nine days younger than Oliver Ekman-Larsson.  He is 1-1-2, minus-4, in four career games against Washington.

1.  Joe Colborne is the tenth Colorado player to record a hat trick in the post-2004-2005 lockout era.  By contract, seven Capitals have done it.  The difference is that the Caps have 17 hat tricks among those seven players (Alex Ovechkin leads with seven), while Colorado has 15 hat trick among their ten players (Milan Hejduk leads with three).

2.  Colorado is going to be looking to break a streak this season.  They won 39 games in each of the past two seasons, failing to reach the postseason in each instance, after winning 52 games in 2013-2014.

3.  Jared Bednar won his first game as head coach in the NHL last Saturday.  He is the seventh head coach in Avalanche history and has a connection to the Caps.  He was head coach for the affiliate South Carolina Stingrays for two seasons, going to the postseason both times and winning the Kelly Cup as ECHL champion in 2009.

4.  Colorado had trouble keeping other teams off their goaltenders last season.  Only the Ottawa Senators (32.8) and Vancouver Canucks (32.5) allowed more shots on goal per game than the Avalanche (32.3).

5.  The Avalanche was the worst possession team last year at 5-on-5, and it really was not all that close.  Their 44.20 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5 was almost two full percentage points worse than the New Jersey Devils (46.17).  They had the third-fewest shot attempts per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 (50.14) and the most shot attempts against (63.30; numbers from

1.  On Saturday night, Daniel Winnik became the 17th Capital since the 2004-2005 lockout to record at least two two-goal games on home ice at Verizon Center (his other two-goal game was in a 4-1 win over the Nashville Predators last March 18th).  He has a way to go to catch Alex Ovechkin for the top spot.  Ovechkin has 48 such games.

2.  Keep telling yourself it’s early, but the Caps have the worst special teams index (power play plus penalty killing percentages) in the league: 50.0.

3.  John Carlson is second in the league among defensemen in shots on goal with 11 in two games.  Calgary’s Dougie Hamilton has 13 in three games.

4.  So far this season, 28 defensemen have recorded goals.  None of them play for the Capitals.  There are 55 players identified as centers who have scored goals.  None of them play for the Caps.  In fact, only the New Jersey Devils and Los Angeles Kings have scored fewer goal (three apiece) than the Caps (four).  It’s early.

5.  The Caps are fifth in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (54.29 percent; numbers from  Of the top five teams, only the New York Rangers have suffered a loss in regulation time.  As a group, the Cap, Rangers, Tampa Bay, Vancouver, and Florida are 8-1-1.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Colorado: Semyon Varlamov

Five goals on 28 shots was Semyon Varlamov’s line in the Avalanche’s opener against Dallas on Saturday.  But hey, a win is a win, right?  It is not as if it was a performance against the grain, either.  Starting his sixth season with the Avalanche, Varlamov is 2-4-0, 3.92, .893 in his first game of the season.  Ah, but in his second game of the season to date, he is 4-1-0, 1.41, .954, with one shutout.  It does not seem quite as if Varlamov played his last game for the Caps back in 2011, but he has appeared in 266 games for Colorado and has 134 wins for the Avs, both second-best in franchise history (Patrick Roy had 262 wins in 478 games).  Over his career with the Avalanche, which started with the 2011-2012 season, only Ryan Miller (107) and Mike Smith (106) have more losses than Varlamov (104).  The odd part of that trio is that they have similar numbers of games played (Varlamov: 266, Smith: 258, Miller: 257), goals against average (Varlamov: 2.65, Smith: 2.64, Miller: 2.63), and save percentages (Varlamov: .917, Smith: .916, Miller: .916).  He has a career record of 2-2-0, 1.78, .956 against the Caps.

Washington: Alex Ovechkin

Alex Ovechkin opened the 2016-2017 season by going without a goal in his first two games.  This is cause for, if not panic, then concern among some regions of Capitals Nation.  Here is a fun fact.  The last time he opened a season without a goal in his first two games was in the abbreviated 2012-2013 season.  In fact, he didn’t record his first goal until Game 5 that season.  He ended up scoring 32 goals in his last 44 games.  That is a 60-goal pace over an entire 82-game season.  But, when a goal scorer is on the far side of 30, there will be attention paid to whether a slip in production is the start of the inevitable.  Of some concern is that he has only three shots at 5-on-5 in almost 27 minutes of ice time against Pittsburgh and the New York Islanders, teams against which he came into the season with a combined 59 (in 87 games) of his 525 career goals.  Colorado is learning a new system off a year in which they were not defensively solid.  It is a team against which Ovechkin could jump-start his 2016-2017 season.  He is 5-4-9, minus-1, in 12 career games against the Avalanche.

In the end…

Colorado is a team made to order for a team looking to break out of an offensive slump.  They are not a great defensive team to start with, and they will be coming to Washington the day after having to endure the Penguins’s team speed and firepower in Pittsburgh.  But Colorado is a speedy team in their own right, and if the Caps let them hang around and get a goal early, it could be the start of a rough night that will leave fans in an ornery mood.  So which will it be…Avs served up on a cracker, or the Avs skating rings around the Capitals’ defense?  You’ve read this space often enough to know the answer.  Dinner is served…

Capitals 4 – Avalanche 2

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 1

The Washington Capitals dropped the puck on their 2016-2017 season this week, and it was something of a mixed bag.  A win and a loss, some fine 5-on-5 play, less than fine play from special teams, performances you expect from some players, and performances from some players Caps fans will hope improves before too long. 

Record: 1-0-1

The season opened with a loss to a bitter rival who ended the Caps’ season last spring, and it was a chance to watch as that opponent raised their Stanley Cup championship banner.  The 3-2 Gimmick loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins was the Caps’ third straight regular season loss to the Pens dating back to last season, the second straight extra-time loss.  The loss broke a modest two-game winning streak in road openers (wins in Boston in 2014-2015 and in Calgary last season).

The home portion of the season got off to a better start with the Caps taking down the New York Islanders, 2-1, on Saturday.  It was the Caps second straight win in a home opener, the fourth straight home opener in which they earned points, their 3-0-1 record marred only by a 2-1 Gimmick loss to the Montreal Canadiens in 2014-2015.  The Caps’ 1-0-1 record to close Week 1 tied them with the Philadelphia Flyers for second place in the Metropolitan Division, one point behind the 2-0-0 Penguins. They were one of nine teams in the Eastern Conference to finish Week 1 without a loss in regulation.

Offense:  2.00/game (season: 2.00 /game; rank: T-24th)

Week 1 was an odd one in the offensive end of the week.  Two games, two goals in each, both goals in each game scored by the same player.  In the season opener, Andre Burakovsky potted both goals for the Caps, the second time in his three-year career he scored the first goal of the season for the Caps (he scored the Caps’ only goal in the 2-1 trick shot loss to Montreal to open the 2014-2015 season).  Both goals came off feeds from Nicklas Backstrom, the third time in four years Backstrom had a multi-assist game in the Caps’ season opener.

In the second game of the week it was fourth-liner Daniel Winnik getting the two-goal game for Washington.  Neither could be considered “fourth-liner” luck.  One came on a mid-air redirection of a shot from John Carlson; the other was the product of settling a bouncing puck in the neutral zone, turning Islander defenseman Travis Hamoinic inside out as he cut to the middle, deking goalie Thomas Greiss to the ice, and tucking the puck behind Greiss’ right pad for the score.  Those were first-liner quality goals.

What the Caps did not get was a point from the top line of Evgeny Kuznetsob, Alex Ovechkin, and T.J. Oshie.  The trio combined for 14 shots on goal for the week.  And their performance resulted in a bit of an odd time on ice outcome.  A certain pecking order unfolded, expected in one way, unexpected in another.  At even strength, Jay Beagle averaged 8:25, pretty much what one would expect from a fourth line center.  After that, things got a bit odd.  Lars Eller, the third-line center, led the team in average even strength ice time (16:22), and second line center Nicklas Backstrom was next at 15:08.  Top line center Evgeny Kuznetsov averaged just 14:38.  The differences were a bit more on the expected side in terms of shifts (Backstrom: 50; Kuznetsov: 47; Eller: 40; Beagle: 31).

Defense: 3.00/game (season: 2.33 /game; rank: 2nd)

Defense is in no small part keeping opponents’ opportunities to a minimum, and the Caps did a good job of that, given that they were facing two of the top centers in the game in the first two games.  Against Pittsburgh, with Sidney Crosby out of the lineup but Evgeni Malkin dressing, the Caps held the Pens to 30 shots on goal in 65 minutes, not bad against a club that led the league in shots on goal last season (33.2).  Malkin did have one of Pittsburgh’s goals, off a Caps turnover, but he was held to three shots. 

Against the Islanders, the Caps held the visitors to 22 shots on goal, only two of them from John Tavares.  The only goal the Islanders managed in those 22 shots was one off the stick of Ryan Strome that banked in behind goalie Braden Holtby off the left skate of defenseman Brooks Orpik.

On a shot attempts basis, the Caps had a good week.  At 5-on-5 they out-attempted the Penguins and Islanders by a 95-80 margin, their 54.29 percent Corsi-for ending the week seventh-best in the league (numbers from

Goaltending: 1.45 /.942 (season: 1.45 / .942)

Braden Holtby got both starts in Week 1, and he looked every bit the Vezina Trophy-winning goalie he was last season. It was not a case of making acrobatic, SportsCenter highlight reel saves.  It was just a matter of playing the position efficiently with position, anticipation, and angles.  It was not the saves, but rather the goals that reflected just how good a week Holtby had.  Patric Hornqvist redirected a Kris Letang shot, and Evgeni Malkin scored when he got behind the Caps defense after a turnover that left all of the Caps skaters heading the other way in the Caps’ 3-2 Gimmick loss to the Penguins.  Against the Islanders, the only goal allowed by Holtby was a redirect of the skate of teammate Brooks Orpik.  Can’t say there were any softies in there.  Holtby was also strong late.  He had a first period save percentage of .947 in the first periods for the week and a .889 save percentage in the second periods of those games.  But in the third period he was 13-for-13 for the week and turned aside both shots he saw in overtime against Pittsburgh.

If there was one area of concern, though, it was in that freestyle competition against Pittsburgh.  Holtby allowed three goals on four shots and has the worst save percentage of any of the six goaltenders having so far participated in the Gimmick.

Power Play: 0-for-8 / 0.0 percent (season: 0.0 percent; rank: T-24th)

Blech… The best you can say about the power play on Week 1 is that it could have been worse.  For instance, in three games the Chicago Blackhawks do not have a goal on 20 man advantage shots on goal.  The Caps went 0-for-9 in two games in coming up empty on eight power plays.  There was a certain “handedness” to the power play, but not one that Caps fans would find unusual.  Alex Ovechkin had three of the nine shots on goal; John Carlson had four, giving the Caps a shots profile that emphasized the top and left sides of the power play.  What they did not get was anything from the middle of the 1-3-1.  Andre Burakovsky and Dmitry Orlov had the other shots, meaning that T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams, who combined for more than 15 minutes on the power play, did not get a shot on goal from the middle.  Maybe chalk this one up to early season discombobulation, although last year the Caps were 2-for-9 in their first two games on the power play.

Penalty Killing: 2-for-4 / 50.0 percent (season: 50.0 percent; rank: T-27th)

The special teams were no better on the other side of the ledger.  The best that could be said here was that the Caps were not forced to skate shorthanded very much, just four such situations for the week, two in each game.  And even though the Caps were just 2-for-4 for the week, both of the goals were redirections, one by Pittsburgh’s Patrick Hornqvist from the high slot and the other a Ryan Strome shot off the skate of defenseman Brooks Orpik in the Islander game.  They were not the product of whiz-bang offensive playmaking, but they were the sort of opportunistic goals that teams get – and need to have – in close games.  And, both of the goals, if you include where the puck struck Orpik, were scored from the middle, where the Caps failed on their own power plays.

Faceoffs: 68-for-125 / 54.4 percent (season: 54.4% / rank: 11th)

Washington dominated Pittsburgh in the faceoff circle, 41 to 28, then roughly split their draws with the Isles, 27 to 29.  But the aggregate numbers are better than they look in detail.  The plus-11 in wins and losses for the week is dominated by the Caps’ performance in the neutral zone, where they were 21-for-31 (67.7 percent).  They were one over .500 in the offensive zone (26-for-50), and they were one under in the defensive zone (21-for-44).

Individually, Nicklas Backstrom had a good week overall, going 23-for-38 (60.5 percent) and was very good in the offensive (53.3 percent) and defensive (84.6 percent) zones.  Evgeny Kuznetsov took the second heist number of draws for the week (33) and finished under 50 percent (42.4), but he rehabilitated that number by breaking even in both the offensive and defensive zones.

Goals by Period:

The Caps won the first and third periods for the week, going plus-1 in both overall.  They were one under for the second period, but they finished games well, blanking the Penguins and Islanders in the third period and overtime.  The Caps scored first in both games, and if this is a trend they can establish with some regularity, they should be fine in the longer run.

In the end…

It is a measure of just how good the Caps were last season when they earned three points in two games, did not lose in regulation, and averaging 1.5 points per game is barely better than what they averaged per game last season (1.46).  Sure… two games, small population of games, etc.  The Caps showed what depth, defense, and down-roster production can do for a team, a welcome contribution in light of the difficulties the top line experienced in Week 1.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Daniel Winnik (2-0-2, GWG)
  • Second Star: Andre Burakovsky (2-0-2)
  • Third Star: Braden Holtby (1-0-1, 1.45, .942)

Friday, October 14, 2016

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 2: The Home Opener, Islanders at Capitals, October 15th

 The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals raise the curtain on the home portion of their 2016-2017 season on Saturday night when they host the New York Islanders at Verizon Center.  Both teams will be looking to post their first win of the new season, both having lost their season openers to perhaps their most bitter rivals.  The Caps dropped a 3-2 decision in the trick shot competition against the Pittsburgh Penguins, while the Islanders lost to the New York Rangers, 5-3, in a game that featured a wild third period with each team scoring three goals.

New York comes into this contest with several new faces.  One is Dennis Seidenberg, a defenseman with more than 750 regular season games of experience, now in his 14th NHL season and his sixth team.  For the seven season preceding this one, Seidenberg skated with the Boston Bruins, often with Zdeno Chara as his partner.  He joins Johnny Boychuk as the thirtysomethings on the blueline on a squad that is otherwise in their mid-twenties.  Seidenberg, who was bought out by the Bruins over the summer and who turned 35 in July, was once one of the more durable defensemen in the league, but recent years have been plagued by injuries.  He lost 56 games (44 in the regular season and 12 in the playoffs) to a knee injury in 2013-2014, and he had two absences to injury last season – 14 games in November for back surgery and five more in April to a lower body injury.  He is 1-11-12, minus-10 in 37 career games against Washington.

Another of the new faces is Andrew Ladd, although his face would be familiar to Caps fans from his years with the Carolina Hurricanes and the Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets.  Ladd is another member of the 700 Club, having played in 770 games in his career over 12 seasons.  Ladd has been a reliable and consistent, if not flashy goal scorer over his entire career.  Only once in the last six seasons did he fail to hit the 20-goal mark, and he still managed 18 in 48 games of the abbreviated 2012-2013 season.  Last season, split between the Jets and the Chicago Blackhawks, Ladd scored 25 goals, a total higher than in any season since 2011-2012 (28).  Ladd faces the Caps with his fourth NHL team and is 14-19-33, plus-13 in 42 games overall.

Another new face at the other end of the experience scale is left winger Anthony Beauvillier.  The 28th overall pick of the 2015 draft was something of a surprise coming out of training camp on the parent roster, perhaps especially so given his size (5’11”/170 pounds).  His diminutive stature has not been an impediment to his scoring goals though, at least not in junior hockey./  Over the last two seasons with the Shawinigan Cataractes, Beauvillier had 82 goals in 114 regular season games, and he had another 23 goals in 28 postseason games.

1.  Last year, goaltender Jaroslav Halak followed up an iffy first game out (three goals on 22 shots in a 6-3 win over the San Jose Sharks) with a 37-save shutout in his second game (a 4-0 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets).  He allowed four goals on 38 shots in the 5-3 loss to the New York Rangers in the Islanders’ opener.  Let’s hope this second game thing doesn’t become a trend.

2.  The Islanders’ top line had an interesting look it its opener.  John Tavares centering that line – a given.  Andrew Ladd on one wing – solid scorer.  On the other side…Jason Chimera.  That’s right, the Ice Cheetah opened the season on the top line and did have a shot on goal (Ladd had four, Tavares three, but the line did not record a point).

3. Last season, Nick Leddy became just the third Islander defenseman since the 2005-2005 lockout to record 40 points in a season.  Mark Streit did it three times, and Tom Poti did it once.  Odd thing about those five instances of defensemen scoring 40 points.  Only one of them was a year when the player finished with a positive plus-minus (Mark Streit was plus-5 with his 16-40-56 season in 2008-2009).

4.  Whether it is a case of turnover or just John Tavares’ talent, he is the Islanders’ active roster leader in goals scored with the franchise with 207.  No other Islander on the squad has more than 93 – Josh Bailey, and that in 47 more career games than Tavares (558 to 511).

5.  Jaroslav Halak is within striking distance of playing in his 100the NHL game (he has appeared in 96 games to date for the Isles).  When he gets to 100, he will take over the franchise top spot in goals against average (it is currently 2.40; Glenn Resch is next at 2.56). He will also take over the top spot in save percentage, absent a collapse (currently .915 to Evgeni Nabokov’s .910).  He is already in the top-ten in wins (56) and will tie Nabokov for eighth place if he wins on Saturday.

1. There have been 452 skaters dressing for games through Thursday’s games.  Only ten of them have a shooting percentage of 100 percent.  Andre Burakovsky is one of them.  He and Montreal’s Brendan Gallagher are the only two to have done it on two shots.

2.   Caps defensemen accounted for 15 shots on goal in the 3-2 Gimmick loss to Pittsburgh in the opener.  John Carlson had five of them, the 30th time in his career he recorded five or more shots on goal in a game.  Not that he has been especially efficient in those games.  Carlson is 5-for-170 (2.9 percent) in those 30 games.

3.  The safest bet you can make about a Caps home opener is that Alex Ovechkin will be on the score sheet.  In 11 home openers to date, Ovechkin has points in 11 of them (he was blanked by Montreal in the 2014 home opener).  He has goals in eight of those games, and his scoring line in home openers is 13-7-20, plus-11.  The Caps are 9-1-1 in those games.

4.  Braden Holtby, on the other hand, has not been lights out, so to speak, in home openers.  Quite the contrary.  In four home openers he has allowed 11 goal;s on 98 shots in just under 200 minutes.  That works out to a 3.30 goals against average and a .888 save percentage. He is 1-1-1 with one no-decision in those openers.

5.  From 2001 through 2011, the Caps won ten straight home openers, but since then have alternated wins and losses (2-1-1).  They are trying to win consecutive home openers for the first time since 2010 and 2011.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New York: Jason Chimera

Jason Chimera was given a chance on opening night to play with more talented forwards than he might have seen on a regular basis in the past.  Skating with John Tavares and Andrew Ladd could, if it continues, give Chimera a chance to break a curious pattern in recent years.  Over his last five seasons he record 20 goals, three, 15, seven, and then 20 goals again last season.  Getting off to good starts has been important in the productive seasons in that stretch.  He had three goals in his first two games and four in the first five of the 2011-2012 seaosn when he had 20 goals, five in his first 13 games of the 2013-2014 season when he had 15 goals, and three in his first six games last season when he hit the 20 goal mark for the second time in his career.  Chimera is 1-2-3, plus-2 in five career games against Washington.

Washington: Tom Wilson

It was not an auspicious start to the new season for Tom Wilson.  He skated just 5:31 in ice time, did not have a shot of goal or a shot attempt.  He did have three hits and a fighting major, but this is a season in which Wilson has nothing left to prove as far as his ability to apply a physical game is concerned.  He could be in a Catch-22 situation in which he is getting fourth line minutes that do not give him much opportunity to produce more in the offensive end of the rink, but he is has to produce more to be promoted into more offensively responsible roles.  Wilson is 1-3-4, plus-1 in 12 career games against the Islanders.  He has more career points against the Islanders than he has against any other team except the Columbus Blue Jackets (five points).

In the end…

For the Islanders, there is a “future is now” quality about their roster retooling, even though they have just the 18th-oldest team in the league.  Dennis Seidenberg and Andrew Ladd both have Stanley Cups on their resumes (Ladd with the 2006 Carolina Hurricanes and 2010 Chicago Blackhawks, Seidenberg with the 2011 Boston Bruins).  For the Caps, it is an opportunity to welcome their fans back to hockey in friendly confines on one level.  On another it is a chance to establish their home dominance out of the gate and get some players they need to contribute off and running.

Capitals 4 – Islanders 1

A ONE-Point Night -- Game 1: Penguins 3 - Capitals 2 (OT/Gimmick)

On Thursday night, the Washington Capitals began their 2016-2017 season where their 2015-2016 season ended, and it ended in much the same way as that season ending game ended, on the short end of an extra-time decision.

This time it was Phil Kessel shoving the dagger into the Caps with a goal in the trick shot phase of the competition.  Before that, the teams played a game that looked at times more like a postseason contest than one to open the season.  Andre Burakovsky got the Caps off and running in the first minute when he took a pass from Nicklas Backstrom at the Penguin blue line, split two defenders, and buried a snap shot past goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.

The Penguins took the lead in the second period on a power play goal by Patric Hornqvist, a deflection of a Kris Letang drive that caromed off the post tp the right of goalie Braden Holtby, and a tally by Evgeni Malkin late in the period off a turnover at the Caps’ blue line.

Burakovsky and Backstrom teamed up a second time to tie the game six minutes into the third period when Backstrom took a pass at the Penguin blue line, curled into the offensive zone, and dropped a pass for Burakovsky, who wired the puck past Fleury.

Neither team could score in the extra session, leaving things to be settled in the freestyle competition.  T.J. Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom goals were matched by Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang.  Phil Kessel scored in top of the fourth round, and when Alex Ovechkin failed to get the equalizer in the bottom of the frame, the Caps skated off the ice in Pittsburgh disappointed once more.

Other stuff…

-- The Caps had 41 shots on goal.  They did not hit the 40-shot mark in a game last season until Game 26 against the Detroit Red Wings (another Gimmick outcome, that one a 3-2 win).

-- Washington finished the game with 68 total shot attempts to 48 for the Pens.  Alex Ovechkin had 12 of those shot attempts, five of them on goal.

-- Andre Burakovsky might not have had as big a night as rookie Auston Matthews had in his debut in Toronto the previous evening, but he did score goals on his only two shots of the contest. It is the second time in three seasons he recorded the Caps’ first goal of the season.  He did it on Opening Night of the 2014-2015 season against the Montreal Canadiens.

-- The Caps finished strong, shot-wise, putting 21 shots on goal in the third period and overtime to ten for the Penguins.

-- Zach Sanford skated 14:48 in his NHL debut, recording one shot on goal and a hit, and he won all three faceoffs he took, two of them from Evgeni Malkin.

-- Nicklas Backstrom did what Nicklas Backstrom does, assisting on both Capitals goals.  It was his 117th multi-assist game in his career (a franchise best), his tenth against the Penguins, tying Mike Ridley for most in Caps history against Pittsburgh.

-- Burakovsky became the 27th player in Caps history to record a multi-goal game against the Penguins.

-- Want to concern yourself over something early?  Tom Wilson skated just 5:31 (only three of his 11 shifts lasted more than 40 seconds), did not record a shot attempt, and had a fighting major penalty.

-- Karl Alzner had three shots on goal.  He had just six games with three or more shots on goal last season, and his first one didn’t come until New Year’s Eve, in Game 37.

-- Braden Holtby’s record sank to 5-7-2 against Pittsburgh.  And again, he suffered from a lack of run support.  This was his fourth loss to the Pens having allowed three or fewer goals.  Oddly, though, it was the sixth loss (first in extra time) in which he faced 30 or fewer shots (he faced 20 in this game).  He is 1-5-1 against the Pens when facing 30 or fewer shots (including games in which he had less than a full game of ice time).

In the end…

Hey, the Pens got shutout on Opening Night last season and won the Stanley Cup.  Then again, they fired their coach a couple of months later.  The point is, don’t make too much of this.  The Caps played very well, even with Sidney Crosby missing from action.  The second line of Nicklas Backstrom, Marcus Johansson, and Andre Burakovsky was very good.  The top line of Evgeny Kuznetsov, Alex Ovechkin, and T.J. Oshie had a combined nine shots on goal.  Braden Holtby was, for the most part, sharp.  This is a team that is going to be fun to watch.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 1: Opening Night, Capitals at Penguins, October 13th

The Peerless Prognosticator is BACK ON THE AIR!!!

“Hope is a waking dream.”
-- Aristotle

Thirty teams head into the 2015-2016 season this week with eyes wide open in a waking dream of clutching the Stanley Cup next June.  For the Washington Capitals and their fans it has been a dream unfulfilled for 42 years, but with Thursday night’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins to open their 2015-2016 season, the dream is renewed once more.

The Caps will have a painfully close look at what fulfillment of that dream looks like when the Penguins raise the banner in celebration of winning the fourth Stanley Cup in their history last spring.  That Cup came at the expense of the Capitals, who the Penguins defeated in six games in the Eastern Conference semifinals on the same ice sheet on which this season will begin.

The Capitals are largely, but not entirely, unchanged from the team that lost to the Penguins in overtime of Game 6 of their playoff series last spring.  Gone from the roster for that game are forwards Jason Chimera (to the New York Islanders), Michael Latta (to the Los Angeles Kings), and Mike Richards (currently an unsigned, unrestricted free agent); and defenseman Mike Weber (a late-season acquisition who failed to stick with the St. Louis Blues after being offered a professional try out).  Those losses represent 25 of the 248 goals scored by the Caps in the regular season last year, but only one of the 29 goals scored by the Caps in the playoffs (that by Chimera).

Newcomers include forwards Lars Eller, Brett Connolly, and rookie Zach Sanford.  Eller is the key acquisition filling the third line center hole that was a source of occupant turnover and inconsistency last season.  Eller was 13-13-26, minus-13 for the Montreal Canadiens and brings with him a career per-82 game average of 14-15-29, minus-6.  There is no mystery to hisrole.  Eller is to fill on a steady and consistent basis that third line center position.   He had a fine preseason for the Caps, going 2-2-4, plus-1 in five games.

Brett Connolly’s role is less well defined, but perhaps no less important.  He could play on the right side on any of the four forward lines if called upon, although it would appear likely that he would open the season on the third or fourth line.  He is coming off a season in which he appeared in more games (71) than any of his other four NHL seasons and one in which he posted a career high in points (25).  Connolly did not record a point in five preseason games for the Caps.

Sanford is the second rookie in the last three seasons to make the Cap’s Opening Night roster straight out of amateur hockey.  Andre Burakovsky graduated from the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League to the Caps in 2014-2015, and Sanford make the jump from the Boston College Eagles of the NCAA for the last two seasons to the Caps to start this season.  Sanford had two goals and an assist in five preseason games.

1.  Pittsburgh is has never lost a home opener in a season following a Stanley Cup win.  They opened their 1991-1992 and 1992-1993 seasons with ties, both against the Philadelphia Flyers, and won their 2009-2010 home opener against the New York Rangers.

2.  The Penguins lost only one player who appeared in at least 40 games for the club last season.  Defenseman Ben Lovejoy, who appeared in 66 regular season and 24 postseason games, signed as an unrestricted free agent with the New Jersey Devils last July. 

3.  Pittsburgh did not lose consecutive games in the regular season after January 15th.  After that point, the Penguins went 28-10-1.  They were 14-2-0 in their last 16 regular season games.

4.  It would not surprise you to know that Sidney Crosby led the Penguins in regular season scoring against the Caps last season (1-3-4 in five games).  However, you might be surprised to know that the two Penguins tying Crosby for the team lead in points against the Caps were Matt Cullen (3-1-4 in five games) and Tom Kuhnhackl (1-3-4 in three games).  Cullen led the team in goals against the Caps.

5.  Pittsburgh enters the season having finished second in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 last season (52.72 percent to Los Angeles’ 56.37; numbers from  Only five of 24 skaters with at least 250 5-on-5 minutes finished under 50 percent for the regular season; one of them (Kevin Porter) did not skate in the postseason, and another (Rob Scuderi) did not finish the season with the team).

1.  This will be the first time that the Caps opened a season against the Penguins since they dropped a 7-4 decision at home to the Pens to open the 1990-1991 season.  It has been 30 years since the Caps opened a season in Pittsburgh, losing to the Penguins by a 5-4 margin to open the 1986-1987 season.

2.  When Braden Holtby appeared in 66 games last season he became just the second goalie in Caps history to appear in 65 or more games in two or more seasons (Olaf Kolzig did it four times).  He is the first to do it in consecutive seasons for the Caps since Kolzig appeared in 71 games in 2001-2002 and 66 games in 2002-2003.

3.  The Caps did not win consecutive games in regulation time after March 2nd.  They went 9-6-4 over that final stretch.

4.  Washington had balanced scoring against the Penguins last season.  Four Caps had four points: T.J. Oshie (3-1-4), Andre Burakovsky (2-2-4), John Carlson (1-3-4), and Nicklas Backstrom (1-3-4).  Alex Ovechkin did not have a point against Pittsburgh in five games, the first time in his career he failed to record a point against Pittsburgh in a season.  It was the first time he did not record a goal against the Penguins since 2006-2007.

5.  The Caps finished the season in the middle of the pack, possession-wise.  Their 51.04 Corsi-for at 5-on-5 was 14th in the league, a hair lower than their 51.36 Corsi-for in 2014-2015 (numbers from  It still represents quite an improvement from the Dale Hunter/Adam Oates era in which the Caps failed to clear the 50 percent bar in three straight years.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Pittsburgh: Nick Bonino

When last we saw Nick Bonino, he was sticking the dagger in the Caps’ 2015-2016 season, scoring the game-winning, series-clinching, vomit-in-the-mouth-inducting goal to wrap up a series in which he went 2-3-5, plus-5 in six games.  It really wasn’t much of a fluke, at least in the context of the 2016 playoffs.  His four goals for the tournament tied a career best (four in 2014 with the Anaheim Ducks), while his 18 points in 24 games more than doubled his career best (eight points in that same 2014 postseason with the Ducks).  For the moment, it is his versatility and the ability to use him in a variety of roles that will be tested, depending on whether Sidney Crosby will be available for the opener against the Caps.  Bonino is 2-2-4, minus-5 in 11 career regular season games against Washington.

Washington: Evgeny Kuznetsov

When last we saw Evgeny Kuznetsov, he was having a nightmare of a postseason and a series against the Penguins.  He finished the 2016 postseason with just one goal and one assist in 12 games, with a minus-4 for good measure.  He was 0-for-19 shooting in six games against Pittsburgh (1-for-39 for the playoffs).  It was quite a turnaround from his star-turn in his first exposure to playoff hockey in 2015, when scored five goals and had seven points in 14 games, one of the goals being the series-clincher against the New York Islanders in the first round.  Getting off to a good start would help dilute the bad taste of last spring.  Kuznetsov is 2-3-5, minus 2 in 11 career games against Pittsburgh.

In the end…

Pittsburgh will not be immune to the distractions and hoopla that goes with raising the Stanley Cup banner.  But neither is it likely to be a significant distraction; they are a tested, veteran team.  The Caps will not be immune to thinking about “what if” as that banner goes up and highlights of last season are played on the video screen.  But neither is it likely to be a significant disruption to the business at hand.  In a rivalry that has had a lot of twists and turns over the years, this will be one more in that history.

Capitals 4 – Penguins 2