Sunday, February 26, 2017

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 20

For the Washington Capitals, Week 20 was as close to a “crisis” week as they have faced this season.  Opening the week with the second of a back-to-back set of games, ending it with another set of back-to-backs, and in between seeing a few big pieces in the lineup forced out of the lineup with injuries.  And still, they split the week.  Step back and take the long view.  It could have been worse.


Record: 2-2-0

For the second straight week, the Caps played .500 in standings points earned, the first time they had consecutive non-winning weeks since Weeks 7-8, when they went 2-3-1 overall.  It was an odd week in that the Caps split two one-goal decisions and split two three-goal decisions.  Both of the losses for the week came in what were the second of back-to-back sets of games, opening the week with a loss to the New York Rangers after losing in a Gimmick to the Detroit Red Wings the previous day, then closing the week with a loss to the Nashville Predators an evening after beating the Edmonton Oilers.  In both instances, the Caps started a game less than 24 hours after the start of the previous day’s game.

Since the bye week, the Caps have played five games in eight days, going 2-2-1 in those games.  And, with their second consecutive weekend of back-to-back games, they have played three back-to-backs on weekends in February.  It makes that 8-2-1 record for the month look quite nice in the broader context.


Offense: 2.25/game (season: 3.31/game; rank: 2nd)

The Caps faced three of the top 14 scoring defenses in the league in Week 20, and it showed.  It might hav showed more than it should have, since the Caps managed a total of five goals against the New York Rangers, Edmonton Oilers, and Nashville Predators.  Part of the problem was the Caps missing Andre Burakovsky, T.J. Oshie, and Matt Niskanen, who have combined for 39 goals this season, for the last two games of the week (Burakovsky has been out since February 9th).

When the Caps scored two goals in their 2-1 win over Edmonton, their only home game of the week, it brought to an end an 11-game streak with five or more goals on home ice that tied a league record set by the 1970-1971 Boston Bruins.  As it was, Evgeny Kuznetsov led the Caps with three goals for the week.  Tom Wilson added a pair, giving him goals in consecutive games for the first time since Games 42 and 43 last season when he had goals against the Ottawa Senators and the Vancouver Canucks in consecutive wins.  Kuznetsov (3-1-4) and Justin Williams (1-3-4) led the team in points for the week.

Defense: 2.25/game (season: 2.10/game; rank: 1st)

For ten periods, it looked like great week for the Caps on the defensive side of the puck.  To that point they allowed just four goals, but it was a little deceptive, too.  In the first three games of the week the Caps allowed a total of 95 shots on goal – 30 or more in each of them.  It was the first time the Caps allowed 30 or more shots on goal in three straight games since Game 23-25 in Early December, all three of which went to extra time.  It was the first time this season it happened to the Caps with all three games ending in regulation.  And, ominously, the Caps allowed 14 or more shots in three of the nine periods, one in each game.  All of them occurred in the first periods of the games against the Rangers, Flyers, and Oilers.

When the Caps allowed “only” nine shots on goal in the opening period against the Nashville Predators, it might have looked as if the Caps were going to weather the storm of shots faced.  But when Nashville scored on their first shot on goal of the second period, the dam burst.  Missing defensemen Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen for a second straight game, Washington allowed only nine shots on goal in that second period, but the Predators scored on three of them on their way to a 5-2 win.  Oddly enough, the Caps held the Predators under ten shots in all three periods of that game and just 26 in all.

For the week, the Caps found themselves underwater in Corsi-for at 5-on-5, finishing at 47.88 percent (numbers from Corsica.hockey).  Their only 50-plus game of the week came against the Rangers (52.08 percent).  And as for those first period shots, the Caps allowed almost of the week’s total (58 of 120) in the first frame of the four games.

Goaltending: 2.03 / .933 (season: 2.01 / .928 / 10 shutouts)

Week 20 was an up-and-down week for goaltending – Braden Holtby up and Philipp Grubauer down.  In fairness to Grubauer, he had one bad period in six, that being the second period against Nashville when he allowed three goals on nine shots.  In his other five periods of play he stopped 43 of 46 shots.  He probably deserved a better fate than taking both losses for the week.  He has become a bit of a bad luck goalie of late, the two losses this week making him 2-4-0 in his last six appearances, despite having a 2.36 goals against average and a .926 save percentage.

Then there was Braden Holtby.  He won both of his starts for the week, stopping 63 of 65 shots (.969 save percentage).  The wins extended his streak of games without a loss in regulation to 20 appearances, over which he is 16-0-2 (two no-decisions), 1.84, .931, with four shutouts.  IN the 2017 portion of the season to date, Holtby leads all NHL goalies in wins (16), is second in goals against average (1.89 to Anaheim’s John Gibson with 1.76), is second in save percentage (.929 to Gibson’s .941), and is tied for the top spot in shutouts (four, with Gibson and Carter Hutton of the St. Louis Blues).

Between HOltby and Grubauer, their first period numbers were splendid, especially given the heavy shot load. Grubauer stopped 27 of 28 first period shots, while Holtby stopped all 30 first period shots he saw for a combined save percentage of .983.  Compare that to the second period save percentage of .833 in the second, and you could see where the strength and weakness of the week took place in net.

Power Play: 2-for-7 / 28.6 percent (season: 21.8 percent; rank: 5th)

The good part of the week on the power play was converting almost 30 percent of their chances.  The bad part for the Caps was getting only seven power play opportunities in four games.  That is their low in seven four-game weeks this season.  It was not an especially efficient week, the Caps registering just eight shots in 12:52 of power play time.  Alex Ovechkin had three of those and converted on one of them. Evgeny Kuznetsov recorded the other power play goal on the only power play shot on goal he had for the week.  What the Caps did not get was a shot on goal on the power play from a defenseman.


Penalty Killing: 6-for-8 / 75.0 percent (season: 83.8 percent; rank: 7th)

As far as the penalty killing was concerned, the low frequency was a good thing.  The eight shorthanded situations was the first time this season in seven four-game weeks that the Caps faced fewer than ten shorthanded situations.  And it appeared quantity matter.  Half of the power plays the Caps allowed came in the week’s final game, that against Nashville, who also happened to score both power play goals for the week.  It was the first time this season that the Caps allowed more than one power play goal in a road game.  Washington was good, if not great, at holding opponents back from the net.  They allowed 10 shots on goal in 12:43 of shorthanded ice time.


Faceoffs: 101-for-219 / 46.1 percent (season: 49.7 percent; rank: 16th)

It was not a very good week in the circle, but it was not quite as bad as it looks.  Almost all of the deficit was a product of a week in which the Caps were just 32-for-80 in the neutral zone (40.0 percent).  Their combined effort in the offensive (46.2 percent) and defensive (52.8 percent) zones was one draw under 50 percent (49.6 percent).  At the individual level, it was Jay Beagle leading the way among Caps with at least ten draws taken.  Beagle finished the week 29-for-50 (58.0 percent).  None of the other three Caps taking at least ten draws reached the 50 percent mark.  Nicklas Backstrom finished at 46.0 percent for the week, Lars Eller finished at 35.6 percent, and Evgeny Kuznetsov finished at 45.8 percent.

Goals by Period:


Week 20 looked a lot like the season for the Caps to date when it came to goals by period.  They had good first periods, they had iffy second periods (and one bad one), and they held their own in the third.  They increased their first period goal differential for the season to a league-best plus-40, but their minus-3 differential in the middle period for the week dropped their goal differential in the second period to even for the season.  The third periods were interesting in that the Caps allowed a game-winning goal in a tie game (against the Rangers) and scored a game winning goal of their own in a tie game (against Edmonton).

In the end…

Even with injuries and an uncompromising schedule, the Caps broke even for Week 20.  There are just some weeks that have to be endured, and this was one of them.  As it is, the Caps still have the fewest man-games lost this season, but the impact of having Andre Burakovsky, T.J. Oshie, Matt Niskanen, and Brooks Orpik out of the lineup simultaneously for half the of the week had its effects.  The longer any combination of these players is out, the more those effects might be felt.  But that is why we said in the prognosto for the Nashville game, “That makes this week…as much an opportunity as a challenge, an opportunity to put some steel in the spine of the club that they will need when the playoffs come around in a couple of months.”   The Caps have six weeks and a day to forge that steel and get guys healthy.

Three Stars of the Week:
  • First Star: Braden Holtby (2-0-0, 1.00, .969)
  • Second Star: Evgeny Kuznetsov (3-1-4, minus-1, 1 GWG)
  • Third Star: Justin Williams (1-3-4, even, GWG)

Saturday, February 25, 2017

A TWO-Point Night -- Game 61: Nashville Predators 5 - Washington Capitals 2

We have said from time to time that in an 82-game season, there are 20 games a team will win, no matter what, there are 20 that they will lose, no matter what, and it is what the team does with the rest of the games that is the difference between a successful season and an unsuccessful one.  Well, there was little doubt after the first few minutes that the Washington Capitals were going to experience one of those “lose no matter what” kinds of games.  The Caps scored early, then saw the Nashville Predators put up four straight goals on their way to a 5-2 win over the Caps on Saturday evening.

Tom Wilson put the Caps on top in the second minute of the contest.  Daniel Winnik picked up a loose puck at his own blue line and skated it down the left side.  At the Nashvill blue line he left if for Jay Beagle trailing the play.  Beagle took a couple of steps in, and then from the top of the left wing circle fed the puck to the front of the Predator net where Wilson was arriving ahead of defenseman Matt Irwin.  Wilson redirected the puck past goalie Juuse Saros, and it was 1-0, Caps, 1:12 into the game.

That would be the high point of the contest for the Caps.  Nashville could not find the equalizer in the first period, but they found it early in the second.  Roman Josi tied the game less than two minutes into the period when he one-timed a feed from Filip Forsberg past goalie Philipp Grubauer.  Then the roof fell in on the Caps.  Forsberg dialed his own number, one-timing a pass from Viktor Arvidsson from the right wing circle past Grubauer’s right shoulder, off the far post, and in at the 8:54 mark to make it 2-1.

Three minutes later the Preds were on the board again, this time on a power play.  Taking a cross-ice pass from P.K. Subban, Ryan Ellis sent a slap pass to the front of the net where Mike Fisher redirected it past Grubauer, and it was 3-1, Nashville, 11:57 into the period. 

Josi extended the lead mid-way through the third period on a power play goal, his second of the game, and the competitive portion of the contest was all but over.  Evgeny Kuznetsov did add a goal, taking a pass from John Carlson as he came off the bench.  Snaking his way into the right wing faceoff circle, he snapped a shot that beat Saros off the far post and in at the 17:03 mark to make it 4-2.  Arvidsson added an empty net goal for the final tally of the evening, and the Caps split their back-to-back weekend with a 5-2 loss.

Other stuff…

-- One just wonders what the object of the exercise is with the bye week.  The Caps played back-to-back games on the first weekend of February and had back-to-back games in each of the last two weekends, including this one.  The Caps went 3-2-1 in the six games, sweeping the first BtB, losing both in the second (one a Gimmick loss), and split this weekend.

-- Alex Ovechkin is either bored, ill, tired, or injured.  What he does not seem to be at the moment is fully engaged.  He was held without a shot on goal for the second time in three games and for the third time in seven contests.  It was his second consecutive road game without a shot on goal.  Taking a pair of minor penalties did not help the cause, either.

-- Jay Beagle had a point, and the Caps lost.  That does not happen often.  The Caps are 19-2-1 this season and  65-7-7 in games over his career in which Beagle recorded a point.

-- The Caps had 26 shots on goal…John Carlson had 10 of them.  He is just the fifth defenseman in Caps history to record ten shots in a game.  Kevin Hatcher (four times), Scott Stevens, Al Iafrate, and Mike Green are the others.  Green was the last to do it, recording ten shots in a 3-2 Gimmick loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on March 24, 2009.  The odd thing about it is that the Caps are just 2-4-1 with one tie in the eight games in which a defenseman recorded ten or more shots.

-- Four Caps did not have a shot attempt: Brett Connolly, Riley Barber, Daniel Winnik, and Nate Schmidt. 

-- Barber had a blank line on the score sheet in 7:52 of ice time; Schmidt’s was blank in 18:14 of ice time save for two takeaways.  Zach Sanford’s was blank in 9:36 except for one shot attempt that was blocked

-- Philipp Grubauer allowed four goals for the first time since he allowed four in Carolina against the Hurricanes in a 5-1 loss last November 12th.

-- Only nine Caps recorded shots on goal, the re-engineered top line of Ovechkin, Connolly, and Nicklas Backstrom had just two, both by Backstrom.

-- Washington had only one power play chance, that being unsuccessful.  The Caps are 4-3-1 in the eight games this season in which they had one or no power play chances.

-- Nashville had two power play goals in four chances, the first time this season that the Caps allowed two power play goals on the road.

In the end…

Since the bye week ended, the Caps have played five games in eight days.  Today, that and the spate of injuries they suffered recently caught up with them.  Two days off before they take the ice against the Rangers in New York might look better than that whole bye week at the moment.  In that context, it is hard to get bent out of shape about this loss, especially since they were an overturned Alex Ovechkin goal and a missed open net from making a game of this in the third period.  It was a game to just set aside and forget, and just get rested and ready for the next one.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 61: Washington Capitals at Nashville Predators, February 25th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals complete their back-to-back weekend on Saturday with a visit to Nashville to meet the Predators. A late-February trip to Music City would not normally register high on the interest meter for the regular season, but this game might be different. The Caps will be trying to deny a young Predator the opportunity to tie a long-standing and only once-tied individual record in the NHL. And it happens that the young Predator in question happened to be a former first-round pick of the Caps and was a key piece of one of the most infamous trades in team history.

By now, the diligent Caps fan knows that the object of this part of the discussion is Filip Forsberg, taken by the Caps with the 11th overall pick of the 2012 draft. Less than a year later he was traded to Nashville for Martin Erat and Michael Latta. Erat played parts of two seasons with the Caps before he was traded to the Phoenix (now Arizona) Coyotes with John Mitchell for Chris Brown, Rostislav Klesla, and a fourth-round draft pick (that fourth round pick was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes with Jack Hillen for Tim Gleason). Klesla was traded with Michal Neuvirth to Buffalo for Jaroslav Halak, who played 12 games with the Caps before he was traded to the New York Islanders for a fourth round draft pick that was later parlayed into a third-round pick that was used to select Nathan Walker. Brown was traded in 2016 to the New York Rangers for Ryan Bourque. Latta played in 113 games over three seasons with the Caps before heading off to Los Angeles as a free agent (he is now in the Chicago Blackhawks system). So in the end, Forsberg went to Nashville, and the Caps ended up with…Ryan Bourque and Nathan Walker.

Forsberg would be of special interest in this game only for the aforementioned history. But this game is, or rather could be, special. Last Tuesday, he recorded a hat trick in a 6-5 overtime loss to the Calgary Flames. On Thursday night he recorded another hat trick, this one in a 4-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche. Should Forsberg bring the hats raining down in Nashville on Saturday, he would become the third player in NHL history to record hat tricks in three consecutive games. Joe Malone did it twice in the 1917-1918 season, and Mike Bossy did it in 1980-1981 (no, none of the games were against the Caps). Forsberg’s goal-splosion of sorts can be viewed as either unexpected (even with the six goals he ranks tied for 23rd in the league with 22) or the cork popping from the pent-up pressure (he had one goal in his previous 11 games). In four career games against the Caps, Forsberg is 4-2-6, plus-1).

The Predators have dressed 35 skaters this season, a high number for this point in the schedule. Looked at another way, only four skaters have appeared in all 60 games to date for Nashville. The one that might have Caps fans asking, “who?” is defenseman Mattias Ekholm. Think of him as Nashville’s version of Karl Alzner, but with a little more edge in his game. He is about the same size, bears a passing resemblance to the Caps defenseman, and has put up somewhat better offensive statistics (19-62-82, plus-24 in his 287 NHL games). What he has is more penalty minutes, almost 50 more (134) than Alzner had at a similar point in his career (87 in his first 287 games). Ekholm had a modest two-game point streak broken in the win over Colorado on Thursday night. He is 2-2-4, even, in five career games against the Capitals.

It is hard to figure out just what the Predators have in goalie Pekka Rinne these days. Is he, at age 34, starting that long slow descent through the latter stages of his career, or is he just a guy in a slump? Whatever the case, he is 4-3-0, 3.08, .893 with one shutout over his last nine appearances, and he has been pulled twice from games. He has been much more effective on home ice this season, even if he has not been any more efficient. That is to say, he does have a 15-5-4 record on home ice, compared to 8-10-2 on the road, and he does have a 2.31 goals against average on home ice, compared to 2.71 on the road. However, his home ice save percentage of .917 in barely distinguishable from the .915 save percentage he has on the road. The big difference is in the shots he faces – only 27.7 per 60 minutes on home ice versus 32.0 shots per 60 minutes on the road. He has faced the Caps only three times in his career with a 2-1-0, 2.68, .911 record.


1.  Nashville has never been a consistently explosive offensive team, but this year’s edition has the third-highest scoring offense in franchise history (2.85 goals per game). It also has the third-best power play in team history (18.8 percent) and the second-highest shots on goal per game average (31.7).

2.  Scoring in the first period is a challenge for this team. In 60 games they have scored 37 goals, one fewer than they scored in the entire abbreviated 48-game season of 2012-2013. Only four teams in the league have scored fewer first period goals than the Predators this season.

3.  Winning close games has been a challenge, too. Their 10-6-9 record in one-goal games is the fifth-worst winning percentage (.400) in the league.

4.  Nashville has been stomping people in the middle period. No team has more second period goals this season (75), and they have a plus-28 goal differential, best in the league.

5.  Adjusted for score, zone, and venue, Nashville is sixth in the league in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (51.39 percent; numbers from Corsica.hockey). It is largely a product of their offensive pressure; the Predators rank seventh in shot attempts per 60 minutes at fives (59.96).

1.  Once you account for the trick shot phase of the game, there is almost no difference between this year’s Caps and last year’s, record-wise.  Through 60 games this season, the Caps are 40-12-2 in games not settled with the Gimmick.  Last year, they were 42-11-3 in non-Gimmick games through the 60-game mark.

2.  Through 60 games, this year and last, the 2016-2017 team is slightly better on offense, scoring 200 goals (3.33 per game) compared to 197 goals at this point last season (3.28).  It is defense where this year’s team shines compared to last year, shaving a quarter-goal per game off their goals allowed (2.05 this year, 2.30 last year).

3.  Special teams are comparable through 60 games this year and last.  The 2016-2017 special teams index (power play plus penalty kill rates) of 106.4 (21.9 pp/84.5 PK) is just a shade off last year’s 107.5 (23.3 PP/84.2 PK).

4.  Starting with their 7-3 win in St. Louis on January 19th against the Blues, the Caps have alternated wins and losses in regulation on the road (4-3-0).  They will be looking to end that pattern after having beaten the Flyers in Philadelphia, 4-1, in their last road game.

5.  Only one team this season has given up more than three goals in a road game less frequently than the Caps.  Washington suffered that result just five times so far this season (0-4-1); the San Jose Sharks have four such instances (0-3-1).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Nashville: Viktor Arvidsson

The Predators are 6-5-2 over their last 13 games. Not a great record, to be sure, although they do have 43 goals scored over that span (3.31 per game). Viktor Arvidsson has had a hand in more of them than any skater (8-4-12) and is tied for the team lead in goals over that span (with Filip Forsberg). Arvidsson might be the least known productive player out of the 2014 draft. The fourth round/112th over pick from that draft is ninth in games played (120), ninth in goals scored (27), tied for eighth in points (57), and is tied for fifth in plus-minus (plus-7). This has been a breakout year for him. Playing in his first full NHL season (he played in 56 games last season and six the previous year), Arvidsson is 19-22-41, plus-15, in 58 games played and is tied for the league lead in shorthanded goals (three). He does have quite a disparity in home and road splits, though – 12-12-24, plus-15 in 31 home games and 7-10-17, even in 27 road contests. He does not have a point and is minus-2 in three career games against Washington.

Washington: Daniel Winnik

Calling a forward group “The Best Fourth Line in the NHL” might be damning with faint praise, given the responsibility of a fourth line generally.  Whether the Caps have that best fourth line might be a subject of debate, but it is hardly faint praise to put Jay Beagle, Tom Wilson, and Daniel Winnik in that discussion.  It is a group that contributes.  It is a trio that as a trio has been on ice for fewer 5-on-5 goals against (six) and has a lower goals-against per 60 minutes at fives (1.14) than any forward group in the NHL with at least 250 5-on-5 minutes played together (numbers from Corsica.hockey).  

 The three have different roles.  Beagle is something of the energy guy who runs at high RPMs when he is on the ice.  Wilson is the one with the physical edge.  Daniel Winnik might be the glue that binds the three.  Only four times this season has Winnik been a “minus” player and never worse than minus-1.  The Caps are 5-0-2 in games in which he recorded a goal, and they are 12-0-3 in games in which he recorded a point.  He does not have quite the ice time, or the offensive numbers to go with it, that he had earlier in his career with the Anaheim Ducks, but he fills solid, reliable minutes that strengthens what in previous years has been a weakness of the club – the bottom six forwards, particularly its fourth line.  Winnik is 7-4-11, plus-4, in 26 career games against Nashville.

In the end…

These are the times that try the Capitals’ depth, but it tests how well players play in their lanes, too.  It is tempting to try to do more in the absence of key cogs like T.J. Oshie, Andre Burakovsky, Matt Niskanen, and Brooks Orpik, but the object isn’t to fill their roles as much as it is to do a better job of filling the role you are asked to play.  Coaches will try to shelter the replacements like Riley Barber, Aaron Ness, or Zach Sanford through matchups and shift management, but the regulars have to raise their game within the construct of their respective roles, too.  That makes this week – and this game – as much an opportunity as a challenge, an opportunity to put some steel in the spine of the club that they will need when the playoffs come around in a couple of months.

Capitals 3 – Predators 2

A TWO-Point Night -- Game 60: Washington Capitals 2 - Edmonton Oilers 1

The Washington Capitals made it 13 straight wins on home ice on Friday night, defeating the Edmonton Oilers, 2-1, at Verizon Center.  The Caps did not, however, extend their streak of consecutive games on home ice with five or more goals.  That streak ended at 11 games, tied with the 1970-1971 Boston Bruins for longest in league history.

Tom Wilson got the Caps off to a good start mid-way through the first period.  The scoring play started with a long pass from Taylor Chorney sent diagonally up ice from inside his own blue line that was redirected by Wilson to Dmitry Orlov at the Oiler blue line.  Orlov kicked the puck ahead with his skate and from the left wing wall found Wilson curling in behind him.  Taking Orlov’s feed, Wilson stepped up and let fly with a shot that beat goalie Cam Talbot to the far side and ricocheted off the post and in at the 12:22 mark.

That would be how the teams went to the first intermission, but the Oilers tied the game in the first minute of the second period.  Leon Draisaitl took advantage of Justin Williams and Evgeny Kunzetsov both getting sticks on a loose puck in the Capitals’ end, neither of them able to control it.  Draisaitl scooped up the loose puck, walked into the high slot, and snapped a shot past the blocker of goalie Braden Holtby to make it 1-1, 35 seconds into the period.

Neither team could get the advantage over the rest of the second period, but Justin Williams broke through early in the third.  Karl Alzner got to a loose puck along the right wing wall in the offensive zone just before Patrick Maroon and nudged it around the corner wall.  Jay Beagle took control and wearing defender Brandon Davidson like a stole, sent a no-look pass out to the right wing circle where Williams was waiting.  Williams’ one-timer beat Talbot cleanly over his right shoulder on the far side, and it was 2-1, 5:48 into the period. 

The Caps’ defense clamped down from there, and Braden Holtby turned away all the shots that got through to preserve the 2-1 win.

Other stuff…

-- Edmonton started fast with a 16-shot first period, but the Caps held them to a total of 15 shots over the last 40 minutes.

-- With this performance, Braden Holtby is now 16-0-2 (two no-decisions), 1.84, .931, with four shutouts in his last 20 appearances.

-- Tom Wilson’s goal was his second in five games after scoring just two in his previous 48 games.

-- Justin Williams snapped a six-game streak without a goal with his tally.  It was his third game-winner of the season.

-- This was the 78th time in his career that Jay Beagle registered a point.  The Caps are 65-6-7 in those games.

-- The Caps “held” Connor McDavid to one point, a secondary assist, and just one shot on goal.  Consider that a victory.  McDavid had been 4-14-18 in his previous 12 road games.  The kid knows how to put on a show.

-- With both Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik out on defense, Taylor Chorney logged his longest ice times of the season (18:37), and Dmitry Orlov logged his longest ice time in a game settled in regulation (24:24), just five seconds off his season high for any game.

-- Riley Barber made his NHL debut, his first line on the score sheet showing two shots on goal and a hit in 13 shifts covering 9:56 of ice time.

-- In one sense, the game’s outcome was not a reflection of its pace.  The teams combined for just 44 faceoffs in 60 minutes, the Caps winning 28 of them.  Only four Caps took draws, and only Evgeny Kuznetsov (4-for-8) was as low as 50 percent in winning percentage.

-- This game was a victory of the grinders.  Fourth-liners Daniel Winnik and Jay Beagle…both plus-2, as was defenseman Taylor Chorney.

In the end…

This game was an example of making a dish with the ingredients you have, if not the ones you want.  When the playoffs begin, chances are that the Caps are not going to want Riley Barber, Aaron Ness, or Taylor Chorney in the starting lineup.  But Andre Burakovsky, Matt Niskanen, and Brooks Orpik are injured and unavailable for the moment, and the “ingredients” the Caps had on hand for this game were just fine for the purpose.  It forced the Caps to play a more moderated game, stifling the Oilers after a first period that might have been a bit too free-wheeling for the Caps’ liking under these circumstances.  That is another sign of a mature team, not trying to force a round peg into a square hole, trying to play run-and-gun with a team who would love nothing else and doing so without the right parts to compete at that pace.  It is a lesson the Oilers are still learning; it is one that Caps fans hope the team will be mindful of as the stakes start to increase.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 60: Edmonton Oilers at Washington Capitals, February 24th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

If it’s a weekend, the Washington Capitals must be playing back-to-back games. For the second straight weekend and the third one this month, the Caps get a set of back-to-back games, starting with a visit from the Edmonton Oilers on Friday night.

Washington will be looking to extend its home winning streak to 13 games and its points streak to 15 contests. They will also be looking to extend their streak of home wins scoring five or more goals to 12 consecutive games, which would break a tie with the 1970-1971 Boston Bruins for the most such consecutive games in NHL history.

It will not be as easy as it seems, given the opponent, for these are not your older brother’s defense-challenged Oilers, not even last year’s 27th-ranked scoring defense. This year’s edition of the Oilers has shaved almost a half goal per game off their goals allowed total, from 2.95 per game last season to 2.54 this year, ranked 7th in the league.

Edmonton comes to Verizon Center with a 5-2-0 record over their last seven games, outscoring opponents by a 20-18 margin (not including the shootout goal they scored in a 1-0 win over Montreal to start this run).Connor McDavid, as you might expect, has had his fingerprints all over the score sheet in those seven games with a hand in eight of the 20 goals (2-6-8). In his two seasons in the league, only Patrick Kane (1.17) and Sidney Crosby (1.14) have more points per game than McDavid (1.09). Only Erik Karlsson (0.77) has more assists than McDavid (0.75). If he continues to score at the pace he has so far this season, he could finish the year trailing only Sidney Crosby among active players who scored at least 140 points in their first two seasons without having reached their 21st birthday (Crosby had 222 points in his first two seasons; McDavid is on a pace for 139). In two career games against the Caps, he is 1-3-4, minus-1).

While McDavid leads the team in points over this recent 5-2-0 run, he doesn’t lead the club in goals. That honor is held, surprisingly enough, by defenseman Oscar Klefbom, who has three (3-3-6). The fourth-year player from Karlstad, Sweden, has already set career highs in goals (11) and points (26), and he is just three assists shy of tying his career best in assists (18). What he has done to ramp up his offensive production is increase his shot frequency – a lot. Two seasons ago he recorded a career high 98 shots on goal in 60 games. Through 61 games this season he already has 156 shots on goal. Only five defensemen in the league have more shots on goal, and of that group, only Brent Burns (27 goals on 242 shots) has more goals than Klefbom (11 goals on 156 shots). What Klefbom does not have is a career goal against the Caps. He is 0-2-2, minus-4, in four career games against Washington.

There is a familiar face among those posting good offensive numbers over the last seven games for the Oilers. Center Mark Letestu (1-4-5 in the last seven games) spent parts of his first three seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins before moving on to Columbus and then to Edmonton last season. He has carved out a niche for himself as a reliable contributor as a bottom-six forward. In seven full NHL seasons he recorded double digits in goals and assists in six, and at least 25 points in each of them (including this season with 11-17-28), except for the 2014-2015 season (7-6-13) in which he was limited to 54 games by a groin injury. Letestu is 2-2-4, minus-3, in 13 career games against the Caps.


1.  This is the first time in ten years that the Oilers have an average under 30 shots allowed per game (29.9). They had 29.7 shots allowed per game in 2006-2007. It is the only season since the 2004-2005 lockout that they have averaged more than 30 shots on goal per game (31.0; they averaged 29.8 shots on goal per game in 2005-2006).

2.  This is the first season since the 2004-2005 lockout that the Oilers’ power play on the road is over 20 percent (22.8). Their 2011-2012 team was at 19.5 percent.

3.  On the other side of special teams on the road, this is the second-worst squad in road penalty killing (78.7 percent). Only the 2010-2011 team was worse (73.4 percent).

4.  On the good side of penalty killing, they don’t have to do it much. Their 9:24 in penalty minutes per game this season is the second lowest since the 2004-2005 lockout. The 2014-2015 team averaged 8:15 in penalty time.

5.  Edmonton is a decent, though not great possession team. Adjusted for score, zone, and venue (by Corsica.hockey), their 59.75 Corsi-for at 5-on-5 is 12th in the league.


1.  Comparing the Caps on the basis of their post-2004-2005 lockout team numbers, this team has the second-lowest shots allowed per game (28.0). The 2007-2008 team allowed 27.5 shots per game.

2.  Only two teams in this period have had better home penalty killing than this year’s team (85.1 percent). The 2010-2011 team (86.0 percent) and last year’s team (87.3 percent) were better.

3.  This is the least-penalized team in the current era for the Caps (8:48 average penalty minutes per game). Last year’s team averaged 9:10 in penalty minutes per game.

4.  Even though this club is on a pace to match the franchise record in wins (56, set last season), it isn’t as adept at winning when scoring first as you might thing. The 2016-2017 Caps have the third-best winning percentage when scoring first (.810) in this era. The 2014-2015 team (.860) and last year’s team (.895) were better.

5.  The Caps have the fourth-lowest shot attempts per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 on home ice (52.94; numbers from Corsica.hockey).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Edmonton: Cam Talbot

One could argue that the Edmonton Oilers have been looking for decent (not elite, just decent) goaltending since the 2004-2005 lockout. Until this season, 21 goalies recorded a season with at least 1,000 minute for the Oilers. Of that group, Dwayne Roloson had the best goals against average in a season (2.43 in 2005-2006), Devan Dubnyk had the best save percentage (.920 in 2012-2013), and Roloson and Mathieu Garon had the most shutouts in a season (four – Roloson in 2006-2007 and Garon in 2007-2008). So far this season, Cam Talbot has topped them all in 3,200 minutes of ice time – a 2.36 GAA, a .921 save percentage, and five shutouts. Unsurprisingly, he also tops all of them in wins, too, with 31. It is quite an improvement on Talbot’s first season in Edmonton after arriving in trade in June 2015 from the New York Rangers (21-27-5, 2.55, .917, three shutouts). And he seems to thrive on volume, too. In 20 games in which he faced 30 or more shots he has a record of 15-1-4, all four extra time losses coming in the Gimmick. He is 2-2-0, 2.25, .927 in five career appearances against the Caps.

Washington: Dmitry Orlov

With Matt Niskanen – one of the team’s two right-handed defensemen – injured and on day-to-day status, the question becomes who will take over responsibility for manning the team’s second unit power play from the top of the offensive zone? Dmitry Orlov logged 1:47 in power play time in the 4-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday night from which Niskanen departed. Orlov does get a surprising amount of power play ice time as it is (averaging 1:24 in power play ice time so far this season, the most he has averaged in any of his five seasons). He also has six power play points this season (1-5-6) more than his total in his previous four seasons (0-5-5). How he performs is not going to be the determinant in whether the Caps can keep up their blistering pace of the last two months, but a good effort in Niskanen’s absence won’t hurt. Orlov is 1-0-1, minus-3, in three career games against Edmonton.

In the end…

Edmonton is the kind of team that can expose a team’s weaknesses if left to run a game at a pace of their choosing, which is to say, “up-tempo.” Being smart with the puck, especially at both blue lines, preventing quick transitions, forcing Edmonton to play a harder 200-foot game can grind them down. You know, the stuff a veteran team like the Caps should be able to manage. And hey, why not a new record, too?

Capitals 5 – Oilers 2

A TWO-Point Night -- Game 59: Washington Capitals 4 - Philadelphia Flyers 1

The Washington Capitals snapped a two-game losing streak on Wednesday night, defeating the Philadelphia Flyers, 4-1, at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. With the win, the Caps became the first team in the NHL to reach the 40-win mark.

Nicklas Backstrom opened the scoring for the Caps in the game’s seventh minute. T. J. Oshie was able to peel the puck off the right wing wall and away from two Flyers to Backstrom skating into the right wing circle. Then, using defenseman Radko Gudas as a screen, Backstrom snapped a shot past goalie Michal Neuvirth, off the crossbar, and in to make it 1-0.

Ten minutes later, the Caps worked the puck around the perimeter of the Flyer zone to Evgeny Kuznetsov on the right side. Kuznetsov stepped up and wristed a shot from the faceoff dot over Neuvirth’s left shoulder and in on a the short side to make it 2-0 at the 16:28 mark.

The Flyers halved the lead early in the second period when Brayden Schenn redirected a Brandon Manning drive from the left point past goalie Braden Holtby. The Caps restored their two-goal lead when Kuznetsov got his second goal of the game late in the period. Taylor Chorney smartly moved the puck up to Justin Williams exiting the Capitals’ zone. Skating the puck down the right side and into the Flyers’ end, Williams sent the puck across to Kuznetsov for a one-timer that appeared to surprise Neuvirth, sailing past him at the 17:59 mark to make it 3-1.

Oshie capped the scoring in the third period. Alex Ovechkin started the scoring sequence by picking up a loose puck in the neutral zone and sending it across to Nicklas Backstrom in front of the players benches. Backstrom skated the puck into the Flyers end and fed Ovechkin cutting to the net. Pulling the puck to his backhand, Ovechkin tried to sneak the puck around Neuvirth but was foiled. Oshie followed up and stuffed the puck in to make it 4-1 at the 14:43 mark.

Other stuff…

-- All three members of the top line – Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and T.J. Oshie – finished with multi-point games. It was Backstrom’s 16th multi-point game of the season and the 14th for Oshie and Ovechkin.

-- Justin Williams also had a multi-point game.  His assist on Evgeny Kuznetsov’s first goal of game was his 400th career assist in the NHL.  He added another assist on Kuznetsov’s second goal for good measure.

-- In allowing just one goal on 34 shots, Braden Holtby’s goals against average for the season dipped under 2.00, and his save percentage climbed to .927.  There are three goalies in the league who have played more than 750 minutes, have a GAA under 2.00, and have a save percentage better than .925.  The Caps have two of them – Holtby (1.99/.927) and Philipp Grubauer (1.98/.932).  Detroit’s Jimmy Howard is the other (1.96/.934).

-- Evgeny Kuznetsov had his second two-goal game of the season, the first coming in a 5-2 win over the New Jersey Devils on January 26th.  In the 2017 portion of the season, Kuznetsov is now 11-17-28, plus-15, in 24 games.  Only four players in the league have more points than Kuznetsov since January 1st.

-- One of those players is Nicklas Backstrom who, with his two-point night, is leading the league in scoring since January 1st (9-24-33, plus-13, in 24 games).

-- With his two point night, Alex Ovechkin is tied for sixth in the league in scoring since January 1st (10-16-26, plus-9), and his 16 assists is tied for tenth in that span.

-- Taylor Chorney recorded an assist in his first game since January 26th.  That point is the first one Chorney recorded in a road win this season.

-- The Caps were a dismal 22-for-65 on faceoffs (33.8 percent).  No Capital taking a faceoff managed as much as 50 percent, and only Evgeny Kuznetsov (no, that’s not a typo) was over 40 percent (5-for-12/41.6 percent).

-- The Flyers rode three waves – to start the game, mid-way through the second period, and over the last ten minutes of the contest – to a 54-46 edge in shot attempts at 5-on-5 (numbers from Corsica.hockey).  The second line of Kuznetsov, Williams, and Marcus Johansson took it in the teeth, going a minus-12 in shots attempts at fives.

-- John Carlson wins the all-you-can-eat buffet coupon.  In 27:37 of ice time, he had an assist, was plus-2, led the team with five shots on goal, had nine total shot attempts, a hit, two giveaways, a takeaway, and two blocked shots.

In the end…

It was not the sort of game the Caps were playing before the bye week, but there was a sense of things coming together after the layoff.  Faceoffs and possession were an issue in this game, but of more immediate concern is the injury to Matt Niskanen that limited him to just over ten minutes of ice time for the game.  His “lower body injury” will be re-evaluated on Thursday.  It is the latest in a series of incidents that has tested the Caps’ depth and could necessitate the call-up of recently acquired Tom Gilbert as the Caps head into a set of back-to-back games this weekend.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 59: Washington Capitals at Philadelphia Flyers, February 22nd

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals take to the ice on Wednesday night to do something they have not had to do in almost two months and to avoid something that hasn’t happened in more than 11 weeks – break a two game losing streak and avoid having it climb to three.

They will seek to get back on the winning track in one of the most inhospitable venues for visitors in the NHL against a desperate team. Beating the Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo is never easy, but the Caps will be facing a club that has to climb over three teams ahead of it to become playoff-eligible.

The Caps are coming off a pair of one-goal losses since their bye week ended, a 3-2 Gimmick loss to the Detroit Red Wings and a 2-1 loss to the New York Rangers. Those losses mean that by the time you read this (if by “the time,” it is after 11:00 on Tuesday night), the Caps might no longer be the top team in the NHL standings. Washington leads the Eastern Conference by a healthy margin (five points over the Pittsburgh Penguins), but they have a one-point lead over the Minnesota Wild for the top spot in the league rankings. The Wild host the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday night and could take over the top spot with a win.

Meanwhile, the Flyers have been doing a long slow bleed out of their season. Back on December 14th they were 19-10-3, carrying a ten-game winning streak, and just two points out of the top spot in the Metropolitan Division and the Eastern Conference standings. Since then, however, Philadelphia is 9-14-4, just one win in regulation on home ice this month (2-2-1 overall), and has sunk to sixth place in the Metropolitan Division and 11th place in the Eastern Conference.

Philadelphia’s problems over the last 27 games come down to two. They can’t score, and they can’t keep their opponent from scoring. Theirs is a whopping goal differential of minus-1.22 goals per game over that stretch on a 1.74 goals-for per game and a 2.96 goals-against per game. The goals-against problem isn’t that they are allowing opponents unfettered access to their net; the Flyers are allowing just 27.7 shots per game in that stretch. Nor is their penalty killing all that bad, going 80.2 percent in that stretch.

Goaltending is another matter. Steve Mason (3.08 GAA/.892 SV), Michal Neuvirth (2.30/.909), and Anthony Stolarz (2.62/.904) have not exactly been a brick wall in front of the Flyer net over the last two months. In fact, neither the Flyers’ regular goaltenders – Mason and Neuvirth – have a save percentage as high as .900 this season (although Mason’s is .89991). Neuvirth appears to be the preferred choice for the moment, since he has had the call in each of the Flyers’ last four games, in three of which he allowed two or fewer goals (there was that six goals on 25 shots stinker against Edmonton last Thursday. The former Capital has two career appearances against his old team with a record of 1-0-0, 2.44, .914.

Twelve players in the NHL have a plus-minus of minus-20 or worse. The Flyers have four of them. Say what you will about plus-minus, but as they say, “that ain’t good.” A trio of forwards are at minus-20: Claude Giroux, Brayden Schenn, and Wayne Simmonds. It is no coincidence, perhaps, that this trio also comprise the only trio of forwards in the league on one team with 20 or more power play points apiece. The Flyers are one of two teams in the league (Dallas is the other) with two players with ten or more power play goals, Schenn (14, leading the league) and Simmonds (12) doing it for Philadelphia.

Schenn, now in his sixth season in Philadelphia after spending his first two in Los Angeles with the Kings, has seen that power play goal total increase over each of his last five seasons from two in 2012-2013 to the career-high 14 he takes into this game. However, his even-strength goal scoring has fallen off a cliff. After hitting double digits in even strength goals in each of the last three seasons (15 last year, one off his career high), he has only four in 56 games so far this season and only one in his last 27 games. He also appears to be one of those players of whom it might be said, the less seen of him, the better. In 22 games this season in which he logged 17:57 or more of ice time, the Flyers are 5-14-3. They are 22-9-3 in his other 34 games. Schenn is 3-5-8, minus-4, in 21 career games against Washington.

Over the last four seasons, including this one, Wayne Simmonds has scored more goals (114) in fewer games (297) than Phil Kessel (109/304) and has more goals overall that Brad Marchand (111) or Jeff Carter (108), testimony to his durability and performance. He is also ornery. In those four seasons he is the only NHL player with at least 100 goals and at least 400 penalty minutes (405). This season, he is on a pace to finish with a career-high 35 goals, although he has some way to go to catch his career high in penalty minutes. He is on a pace for 120 PIMS, and his career high in that area is 147 set last year. Simmonds has goals in four of his last five games and eight of his last 15 contests. He is 5-8-13, minus-4, in 26 career games against the Caps.


1.  Those 47 goals scored by the Flyers in this 9-14-4 slide that began in mid-December is fewer than any team in the league over that span.

2.  If the game is close, it could favor the Flyers. Of their 28 wins this season, 17 are of the one-goal variety, second-most in the league (Chicago has 20). Then again, almost half of the Flyers’ games this season (29 of 59) were one-goal decisions (17-5-7).

3.  If you are thinking it’s a blowout, take the Caps. The Flyers’ 2-7 record in such games is the worst winning percentage in the league (.143).

4.  The first period could tell the tale. Only Colorado and Vancouver have scored fewer first period goals (30 and 28, respectively) than the Flyers (31), and the Flyers have a minus-18 goal differential in the first period, second-worst in the league (Colorado is minus-31).

5.  One has to think goaltending is really sinking what could be a decent season for the Flyers, if you take the view that possession numbers matter. Philadelphia ranks fifth overall in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (51.56 percent). Then again, in Corsi-for adjusted for score, zone, and venue, they rank just 19th (49.70 percent; numbers from Corsica.hockey).

1.  Of the Caps’ last ten losses, nine have come by one goal, five in extra time, four of them in the trick shot competition.

2.  Lollygaggers! Eleven of the Caps’ 12 losses in regulation this season have come in games played at or under two hours and thirty minutes. In games taking longer than 2:30, the Caps are 22-1-6. Motto: more faceoffs, longer commercial breaks.

3.  More is not necessarily good – or bad – when it comes to special teams. The Caps are 4-2-2 in eight games this season when they have five or more power play opportunities, but they are 10-2-0 when allowing five or more power play chances. Oddly enough, the Caps have not played a game this season in which they had both five or more power play chances and allowed five or more.

4.  The Caps are the only team in the league to have allowed fewer than 50 total goals in each regulation period this season.

5.  Washington is now third in the league in Corsi-for at 5-on-5, adjusted for score, zone, and venue (53.00 percent; numbers from Corsica.hockey).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Philadelphia: Claude Giroux

The last of the “Minus-20 Trio” of forwards, Claude Giroux is having, for him, a lackluster season. But it is not as if this has not been going on for a while, either. In 2012-2013, he was a point a game player (48 points in the abbreviated 48 game schedule). The following season he was 28-58-86, plus-7, in 82 games. Since then, however, his goals, assists, points, and plus-minus have declined in each year. He was 25-48-73/minus-3 in 2014-2015, 22-45-67/minus-8 last season, and he is on a pace to finish 17-42-59/minus-28 this season. His even strength goal scoring is in particular decline, on a pace to finish with just ten even strength goals. If that holds, it would be Giroux’ lowest total for a full season since he had eight even strength goals in the 2009-2010 season. Trouble is, for the Flyers it matters. The Flyers have not lost a game this season on those rare occurrences he does score an even strength goal (5-0-0), unlike those instances when he registers on the power play (2-2-1). Giroux is 16-16-32, minus-1, in 31 career games against the Capitals.

Washington: Alex Ovechkin

Since he came into the league in 2005-2006, Alex Ovechkin has played in Philadelphia 21 times. He has goals in 14 of those games. No player has had more games with a goal in Philadelphia over that span than Ovechkin. He has 17 goals over those 14 games, but in one of those odd little twists, the Caps are just 5-3-6 in those games. But before you think what Ovechkin does doesn’t matter, the Caps are 2-4-1 in the games in which he did not score a goal (odd that in 21 games in which Ovechkin played in Philadelphia in his career to date, the Caps are 7-7-7). What is suggests is that Ovechkin is a necessary, but an insufficient ingredient to success for the Caps in Philly. Other players – the secondary scorers or the support group or whatever you want to call it – matter. Cheerless is in the corner rolling his eyes as if to say, “ok, now tell us something we don’t know.” Ovechkin is 31-18-49, even, in 43 career games against the Flyers.

In the end…

Caps fans will remember a night back in early November 2013. They stormed into Wells Fargo Center and lit up the Flyers for seven goals in the first 45 minutes of the game. Then something happened. Maybe it was nothing, maybe it was something, but before the game reached its 46th minute, the Flyers (or more precisely, goalie Ray Emery) lost their minds and took 29 minutes in penalties, including Emery’s leaving the crease to pummel Caps goalie Braden Holtby in what amounted to an assault of a bystander as another fight was going on (Tom Wilson and Wayne Simmonds, later to be followed by Alexander Urbom and Brayden Schenn, and then Steve Oleksy and Vincent Lecavalier). Since that fracas, the Caps are 0-3-2 in Philadelphia, including a 3-2 Gimmick loss back on December 21st, and have been outscored in hockey goals by a 19-12 margin in the five games. The last time the Caps had a winless streak longer than five games in Philadelphia, they went 16 games (15 losses and one tie) and almost nine full years (January 1998 – November 2006) without a win up there. It won’t come to that.

Capitals 5 – Flyers 2


Sunday, February 19, 2017

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 19

Week 19 was one of sun and fun for the Washington Capitals, who took advantage of their league-sanctioned bye week to bask in the glow of their top spot in the league standings.  And when it was over, the Caps did play a game.  It made for a non-winning week, but a non-losing one as well, taken from a certain point of view.


Record: 0-0-1

When last we saw the Caps, they were 39-11-6, nine points clear of their closest pursuer in the Metropolitan Division, the Columbus Blue Jackets, who ended Week 18 with a 35-14-5 record.  The Caps were also six points ahead of the Minnesota Wild for the top spot in the league rankings, the Wild with a 36-12-6 record.

When Week 19 ended, the Caps suffered a 3-2 trick shot loss to the Detroit Red Wings, bringing their streak of winning weeks to an end at six, over which time they went 18-2-1.  The rest of the league had yet to catch up with the Caps, though.  Pittsburgh leap-frogged the Blue Jackets into second place in the Metro, but their 80 points on a 36-13-8 record was still five points behind the Caps.  The Wild went 3-1-0 for the week, but they were still a point behind the Caps in the league standings with 84 points, the Caps holding a game in hand.


Offense: 2.00/game (season: 3.39/game; rank: 2nd)

The Caps ended the week where they started it, behind only the Penguins in scoring offense.  The two goals they scored against the Detroit Red Wings was just the 20th time this season that the Caps were held to two or fewer goals.  They have a record of 4-10-6 in those games, five of the extra-time losses coming in the freestyle competition.  The two goals also broke a streak of four straight games in which the Caps scored five or more goals. It was an odd occurrence for a club that has scored more goals in the 2017 portion of the season than any other team, their 4.41 goals per game almost a full goal per game more than the Minnesota Wild (3.64).

Defense: 2.00/game (season: 2.09/game; rank: 1st)

For the 35th time this season, the Caps held an opponent to two or fewer goals in the hockey portion of the game.  The odd part in the 3-2 Gimmick loss to Detroit was that they did not win.  The Caps are 29-1-5 in games when they hold an opponent to two or fewer goals.  Five of those extra-time losses are in the Gimmick.

Making it doubly strange was that the Caps held the Red Wings to fewer than 25 shots and still lost.  Washington is now 16-2-1 in the 19 games in which they held their opponent to fewer than 25 shots on goal.

Goaltending: 1.85 / .913 (season: 2.00 / .927 / 10 shutouts)

Braden Holtby had a solid effort in the 3-2 loss to the Red Wings, but the loss did end his personal streak of 14 winning decisions.  Nevertheless, Holtby did finish the week fourth in the league in wins (29) despite ranking only 12th in minutes played (2,593).  The Caps remain the only team in the league with a tandem of goaltenders each with at least 750 minutes of ice time and a save percentage of .925 or better.

Power Play: 0-for-5 / 0.0 percent (season: 21.5%; rank: 8th)

The Caps failed to take advantage of that rare occurrence when they get five or more power play opportunities.  The five they enjoyed against the Red Wings was just the eighth time in 57 games this season that the Caps had that many man advantages.  It was the fourth time they failed to convert any of their opportunities.  The oh-fer also broke a streak of three games with power play goals, over which they went 4-for-7.  The Caps are still 18-for-60 (30.0 percent) on the power play since January 1st.


Penalty Killing: 1-for-2 / 50.0 percent (season: 84.2 percent; rank: 5th)

The Caps are holding their opponents to fewer chances – the two power play the Red Wings had making it three straight games allowing an opponent just two power plays – but it was the second time in three games the Caps allowed a power play goal.  Still, they are 14-for-16 killing penalties over their last six games, the 87.5 percent penalty kill being something that would be a plus if sustained.


Faceoffs: 33-for-73 / 45.2 percent (season: 50.0 percednt; rank: 16th)

It was not so much that the Caps won just 45 percent of their draws against Detroit, but how they got there.  Jay Beagle, who started the week seventh in the league in faceoff winning percentage (57.5 percent; minimum: 500 draws) went 7-for-20 against the Red Wings and dropped back to eighth in the rankings (56.9 percent).

Goals by Period:


The Caps started and finished the week with the fewest goals allowed in the first period, but they did allow one to the Red Wings.  It did not eat much into their first period goal differential, which remains best in the league (plus-37), that differential being greater than the total number of first period goals scored by six teams).

In the end…

The league’s bye-week experiment seems to be one for which the main outcome has been teams losing upon their return to action.  The Caps’ 3-2 Gimmick loss to the Red Wings might be considered a victory of sorts, teams combining for a record of 3-12-4 (0-8-4 in February) in their first game back after the bye.  As always, the trick will be keeping “one” from becoming “two.”  Losses, that is.  The Caps have done a very good job of precisely that, avoiding consecutive losses in their last 23 games.  Week 19 might have been a welcome week off for the players, but it did interrupt momentum, and a loss of any kind is not what either players, coaches, or fans expect or settle for.  But in the grander scheme of things, it was not the worst of all possible outcomes.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 58: Washington Capitals at New York Rangers, February 19th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

After a week without hockey, the Washington Capitals get to play two games in less than 24 hours, following up their 3-2 Gimmick loss in Detroit to the Red Wings on Saturday afternoon with a 12:30 start in New York against the Rangers on Sunday.  This will be the Caps’ first visit to Manhattan this season, having dropped a 4-2 decision to the Blueshirts at Verizon Center in the teams’ only meeting so far this season on October 22nd.

New York has made themselves relevant in the Metropolitan Division race again, putting together a six-game winning streak before dropping their last game, a 4-2 loss to the New York Islanders on Thursday.  They have inched to within four points of the Columbus Blue Jackets for third place and are five behind the Pittsburgh Penguins in the division.

It has become a cliché to say that the Rangers will go only so far as goaltender Henrik Lundqvist will carry them.  Lundqvist stopped 32 of 34 shots against the Columbus Blue Jackets on February 11th in a 4-2 win to become just the 12th goaltender in NHL history to win 400 games in his career.  Of those 12 netminders, Lundqvist is the only one to record all of his wins with one franchise.  The win comes in a season that has the ominous look of the beginning of, if not the winter, than at least the autumn of his career.  His 2.69 goals against average is the highest of his 12-year career, and his .911 save percentage is the lowest in his career.  It comes off a 2015-2016 season in which no goalie in the league saw as many shots as did Lundqvist (1,944) and in which no goalie made more saves (1,788).  No goalie has had more seasons with 3,500 minutes or more in total ice time than Lundqvist since he came into the league (eight).  He has been much better of late, going 8-2-0 in his last 11 appearances (one no-decision), with a 2.11 goals against average and a .934 save percentage with one shutout.  In 33 career appearances against Washington, Lundqvist is 20-9-4, 2.63, .907, with four shutouts.

J.T. Miller just gets better and better.  At least that is what his year-to-year numbers say.  Now in his fifth season, Miller has improved each season in games played (from 26 in his rookie season to 82 last season and all 57 games this season), goals (from two in his rookie year to 18 – a 26-goal pace – this season), assists (from two to a career-high 28 this season), plus-minus (from minus-7 his rookie season to plus-19 so far this season).  The three shorthanded goals he has this season (tied for the league lead) are the first three of his career.  In the Rangers’ recent 6-1-0 run, he has had a hand in ten of the Rangers’ 23 goals (2-8-10).  He’s been a good-luck charm this season, the Rangers going 29-5-0 in games in which he recorded a point.  Miller is 2-1-3, minus-4, in 15 career games against the Caps.

Seven Defensemen have appeared in more than one game for the Rangers this season.  All of them have at least one goal.  None have more goals than Nick Holden.  Holden, an undrafted free agent originally signed by the Columbus Blue Jackets, came to the Rangers ion June 2016 from Colorado for a fourth-round draft pick in 2017.  The nine goals he has this season is one off his career high, recorded in 54 games with the Avalanche in 2013-2014.  He is one of the unknown commodities on the blue line in the league, averaging as many goals per game over the last four seasons as Duncan Keith and Mark Streit and more than Alex Pietrangelo and Nick Leddy.  However, his goal in the Rangers’ last game against the Islanders was his first goal in 17 games.  In six career games against the Capitals, Holden is 1-0-1, minus-2.


1.  Since being shut out by the Philadelphia Flyers, 2-0, on January 25th, the Rangers have scored four goals in each of their last five straight games at Madison Square Garden (4-1-0).

2.  New York has won four straight on home ice, but not because they limited opponents’ shots on goal.  Calgary (32 shots on goal), Anaheim (44), Nashville (37), and Colorado (34) averaged 36.8 shots on goal.

3.  Caps fans will be concerned if there is any 4-on-4 time in this game.  The Rangers are tied for the league lead in goals at 4-on-4 (six), while the Caps have yet to score in that situation this season.

4.  Only two teams in the league have fewer penalty minutes per game than the Rangers (6:58) – Chicago (6:43) and Carolina (6:15).

5.  The Rangers are not an especially formidable possession team on home ice.  They rank 23rd in the league in home Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (48.87 percent; numbers from Corsica.hockey).

1.  Getting power plays on the road is an infrequent occurrence for the Caps, relative to the rest of the league.  Only three teams have had fewer power play chances than the Caps (77) – St. Louis (74), Columbus (73), and the New York Islanders (71 – and only two teams have spent less time on the power play than the Caps (123:46) – Columbus (114:24) and the Islanders (110:56).

2.  The two goals the Caps allowed in the Gimmick on Saturday made it nine goals against on the road in the freestyle competition this season.  No team has allowed more shootout goals in road games.

3.  The Caps have four of the league’s top seven scorers since the calendar rolled over to 2017,  Since January 1st, Nicklas Backstrom leads the league in points (31), Evgeny Kuznetsov is tied for fourth (25, with Mark Scheifele), T.J. Oshie is sixth (24), and Alex Ovechkin is seventh (23, tied with Connor McDavid and Nazem Kadri).

4.  The Caps are one of four teams in the league to shoot over ten percent on the road (10.1).  The others are Columbus (10.5 percent), Minnesota (10.7 percent), and the Rangers (11.5 percent).

5.  Washington has the third-best save percentage of shot attempts at 5-on-5 in the league in road games (.963).  Only the Rangers (.964) and Minnesota (.966) are better (numbers from Corsica.hockey).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New York: Michael Grabner

Michael Grabner has worn the number “40” at each of his four stops in the NHL – Vancouver, the Islanders, Toronto, and the Rangers.  This season he is trying to match his goal total to that jersey number.  With 26 goals in 56 games, Grabner is on a pace to finish with 38 goals.  And, he has been coming on stronger of late on home ice.  After going 17 games with just one goal at Madison Square Garden, his has goals in four of his last five contests on home ice and points in all five (5-2-7).  The odd part is that he has goals in just nine of 30 home games he has played this season (12 of his 26 goals).  The Rangers are 8-1-0 in those games, though.  Grabner is 2-3-5, plus-1, in 20 career games against the Capitals.

Washington:  Evgeny Kuznetsov

It is a measure of how deep the Caps are and how talented Evgeny Kuznetsov is that a second line center should be in the top-five in scoring since January 1st.  In 22 games in the new year, Kuznetsov is 9-16-25, plus-15 (a 34-60-94, plus-56 pace), and he is tied with Nicklas Backstrom for the most even strength points in the league since January 1st (21).  The Caps are 13-1-1 in the 15 games in which he recorded points in the new year, 7-1-0 in the games in which he recorded a goal.  He has been doing it with considerable efficiency, too.  He has not logged more than 20 minutes of ice time in a game since December 3rd and hasn’t skate more than 19 minutes in a game in this calendar year and is averaging just 15:54 per game.  Kuznetsov is 2-6-8, plus-4, in 10 career games against the Rangers.

In the end…

The Caps are 19-2-2 since the last time they lost consecutive games, back in Games 33-34 in late December.  They have not lost consecutive games on the same road trip since Games 14-15 back in mid-November.  This is a team that can take care of business on the road and put losses behind them.  The Caps take a 10-11-2 record at Madison Square Garden since the 2004-2005 lockout into this contest but are 10-6-1 in their last 17 visits to MSG, including wins in their last two games there.  If we had a Magic 8-Ball, it might say, “signs point to a win.”

Capitals 4 – Rangers 2