Thursday, January 16, 2020

A TWO-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 48: Capitals 5 - Devils 3

The Washington Capitals exacted a measure of revenge for a poor effort against the New Jersey Devils last weekend, jumping on the Devils with the help of an Alex Ovechkin hat trick and a 32-save effort from rookie goaltender Ilya Samsonov in a 5-2 win at Capital One Arena on Thursday night.

First Period

The Caps had early pressure that put the Devils on their heels, and they appeared to get the game’s first goal from Carl Hagelin in the fourth minute, but there was a lengthy review of whether Michal Kempny kept the puck in the offensive zone before Hagelin scored.  It was determined that the puck came outside the zone, rendering the play offside and negating the goal.

The Devils got the first power play chance of the evening when Tom Wilson was sent off for interference at the 10:42 mark of the period.  The Caps killed that one off, and then they went on a power play of their own 10:39 into the period when Travis Zajac was whistled for tripping at 13:39.  The Caps went to a 5-on-3 when John Hayden was sent to the box on a holding call at 15:12.

It took the Caps five seconds to covert the first half of the power play, Alex Ovechkin one-timing a pass from John Carlson over goalie Louis Domingue’s right shoulder and off the crossbar to make it 1-0, 15:17 into the period.  The Caps had an excellent chance at the end of the 5-on-4 with some nifty passing in deep, but a lay-up was denied when a centering pass was blocked in front of Domingue.

Ovechkin lit the lamp a second time in the last minute of the period.  Nicklas Backstrom won a faceoff to the right of Domingue, Ovechkin cut through the circle to collect the puck, and he snapped it past Domingue’s left pad to make it 2-0 with 51.9 seconds left in the period.  That would be how the period ended.

-- Alex Ovechkin was high-sticked by Miles Wood in the sixth minute of the period and went off with a bloodied mouth.

-- Ovechkin’s two goals gave him 30 on the season, making him the second player in NHL history to record 30 or more goals in each of his first 15 seasons.  Mike Gartner is the other.

-- Despite sitting for two minutes with a penalty, Tom Wilson skated the most shifts for the Caps in the period (nine).

-- Washington led in shots on goal, 15-9, through 20 minutes.  They also led in shot attempts, 25-11.

Second Period

The Devils opened the period with Cory Schneider in goal, replacing Domingue, and he was welcomed rudely.  Carl Hagelin took a feed from Lars Eller between the hashmarks and ripped a shot past Schneider’s right pad to make it 3-0 just 16 seconds into the period.

New Jersey got one back less than a minute later when Nico Hischier backhanded the puck from behind the net to the low slot, and Wayne Simmonds reached out to redirect it past goalie Ilya Samsonov at the 1:08 mark to make it 3-1, Caps.

Washington went shorthanded 3:16 into the period when Richard Panik went off for hooking.  He Caps killed the penalty without incident, and play continued.

Panik went off a second time, this time for cross-checking, 13:56 into the period to put the Devils on their third power play of the evening.  That power play was rubbed out when Sami Vatanen was hit with a double-minor for high-sticking Lars Eller 14:36 into the period.  The Caps were unable to convert, and the teams skated out the rest of the period with no further scoring, the Caps taking a 3-1 lead into the second intermission.

-- The Caps had a 15-13 edge in shots on goal in the second period, but New Jersey had the advantage in shot attempts, 28-20.

-- Through two periods, Nic Dowd won eight of nine faceoffs.

-- Jakub Vrana had only ten shifts, total, through two periods and 9:40 in ice time.

Third Period

The Caps got an early power play when Will Butcher was sent to the penalty box for holding Evgeny Kuznetsov at the 2:11 mark.  It would be the Devils who scored, though, Blake Coleman getting the shorthanded goal on a breakaway 3:34 into the period.  It would be the only scoring on that power play for the Caps.

Jakub Vrana restored the two goal lead in the seventh minute when Cory Schneider could not make a clean save on a shot, and Pavel Zacha could not clear the puck out of danger from the top of the crease, leaving Vrana to clean up the loose puck from between the hashmarks and send it under Schneider’s pads at the 6:42 mark to make it 4-2.

Washington went shorthanded 8:06 into the period, Nicklas Backstrom to the box for hooking.  The Caps killed off the penalty to preserve the two-goal lead.  There were some jitters shortly thereafter when Michal Kempny was charged with a double-minor high-sticking penalty, but video review determined that Kempny swatted the puck into Nikita Gusev’s face; he did not hit him with his stick, and the call was reversed.

Alex Ovechkin completed the hat trick 15:42 into the period, finishing a great piece of work by Tom Wilson.  Curling out of the corner to the right of Schneider, Wilson drew several Devils to him, then sent a no-look backhand pass to the low slot that Ovechkin batted in from the weak side before Schneider could even flinch.  That would end the scoring in the Caps revenge win, 5-2.

Other Stuff…

-- When Ovechkin scored his second goal of the game in the first period, it was his 140th career multi-goal game, fourth-most all time.  His third goal gave him 25 career hat tricks, tying Cy Denneny for ninth-place all-time.

-- Ovechkin’s first goal was his 118th career first goal of the game, breaking a tie for fifth place all-time with Joe Sakic and one behind Teemu Selanne for fourth-place all time.

-- Blake Coleman’s shorthanded goal was the third shorthanded goal the Caps allowed in four games (the others to Philadelphia and the Devils, both in losses).

-- John Carlson had a pair of assists.  He has 22 points in his last 21 games (5-17-22).  It was his 101st career multi-point game, drawing him to within one of Scott Stevens (102) for most among defensemen in Caps history.

-- Ilya Samsonov stopped 32 of 34 shots, bringing his record in his last ten appearances to 9-0-0 (one no-decision), 1.66, .939, with one shutout.

-- The Caps finished with a 38-34 shots on goal edge and a 66-60 advantage in shot attempts.

-- The Caps won 40 of 68 faceoffs (58.8 percent).  The 40 faceoff wins tied their season high (November 1st versus Buffalo); the 58.8 winning percentage was their second-best of the season (67.3 percent versus Boston on November 16th).

-- Tom Wilson led the team with six shots on goal; Ovechkin led with 11 shot attempts.

-- Nicklas Backstrom had a pair of assists giving him 241 career multi-point games.  That ties Dave Taylor for 73rd place all time in the NHL.

--  Radko Gudas was a very quiet plus-3, the only Cap to finish better than plus-1 for the evening.

In the end…

You mess with the bull, you get the horns.  The Caps restored a sense of order after losing to the Devils, 5-1, in what might have been their worst game of the season last weekend.  The Devils did not play as badly as the final score suggested, but the Caps had Alex Ovechkin and Ilya Samsonov, which was too much for the young Devils.  The Caps now have a chance to end the pre-All-Star game/bye break with a winning streak when they face the New York Islanders on Saturday, and with a win they can carry the league’s best record into their week-long break.  It would not be a bad way to earn some time off.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 48: Devils at Capitals, January 16th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Winter is the season of reruns on television (you kids who only do streaming might not understand), and so it is with hockey in January.  The Washington Capitals, who in the space of 20 games will have faced the Columbus Blue Jackets three times, the Carolina Hurricanes three times, the Tampa Bay Lightning twice, the San Jose Sharks twice, and the Boston Bruins twice, will face the New Jersey Devils for the third time in that span on Thursday night at Capital One Arena, making it 15 games among six teams over that 20-game span that the Caps faced more than once. 

Then and Now…

Thursday will mark the 217th meeting of the Capitals and Devils in their all-time regular season series.  Washington is 112-76-15 (13 ties) to date against New Jersey and 65-30-8 (six ties) on home ice.  Since 2005-2006, the Caps are 30-17-11 against the Devils, 16-7-7 on home ice.

Active Leaders vs. Opponent…

Noteworthy Opponents…

If there is a power forward who compares to the Capitals’ Tom Wilson, one might look to the career arc of Devils forward Wayne Simmonds.  A player who would earn a reputation as a tough-as-nails, heart-and-soul player, Simmonds combined an improving scoring touch with an ornery nature over his first nine seasons with the Los Angeles Kings and Philadelphia Flyers.  In those nine seasons he posted 202 goals and 901 penalty minutes in 687 games, topping 25 goals in a season five times and 100 penalty minutes five times.  But the wear and tear of his style of play was taking a toll, and in 2017-2018, his tenth season, it became a burden that he toughed out to miss just seven games

It did affect his production with the Flyers, though, his goal total dropping from 31 in 2016-2017 to 24 and his point total dropping from 54 to 46.  The following season, he became a trading deadline asset and was sent to the Nashville Predators for forward Ryan Hartman and a conditional fourth round pick in 2020 Entry Draft. Simmonds’ stay in Nashville did not go well.  He had a goal and a pair of assists in 17 games to close the regular season and dressed for only two postseason games, going without a point in less than 15 total minutes of ice time.  He signed a one-year/$5 million contract with the Devils last summer, and while he has been more productive than he was with Nashville, his numbers are far off his early career production (4-14-18, minus-12, in 46 games).  When he takes the ice against the Caps on Thursday, it will be two months to the day since his last goal (November 16th in a 4-3 overtime win over Montreal).  In 27 games since, Simmonds is 0-9-9, minus-5.  Odd Simmonds fact… the Devils are 1-7-3 in the 11 games he skated 16:38 or more this season.  He is 9-11-20, plus-1, in 35 career games against the Caps.

Forward Blake Coleman is an example of the simple benefits of putting one foot in front of the other.  He was a third round pick (75th overall) by the Devils in the 2011 Entry Draft and spent his next four years skating for the Miami University RedHawks in the NCAA.  From there it was 66 games over two seasons with the Albany Devils in the AHL, the second season of which was split with the parent club in New Jersey.  In four seasons with the Devils, Coleman’s goal scoring has improved from one in 23 games in 2016-2017 to 13 two years ago to 22 last season; and with 18 goals in 46 games this season he is on pace to set another career high (32).  Coleman has been a remarkably consistent performer between home and road in his career.  He has 27 goals in 114 career home games, 27 goals in 112 career road games.  He has 17 assists at home, 18 on the road.  He has 263 shots on home ice, 265 on the road.  He shoots 10.3 percent at home, 10.2 percent on the road.  He has four shorthanded goals in home games, four on the road.  

What distinguishes Coleman’s game this year is scoring in multiples.  He has more multi-goal games (four) than the rest of the Devils squad combined (three).  He started the season with a multi-goal game, two goals in a 5-4 Gimmick loss in the Devils’ season opener, and he has a multiple goal effort in his last game, a hat trick in a 7-4 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs.  The hat trick against the Leafs extended a productive run for Coleman, who has nine goals in his last 13 games, including one in each of his two meetings against the Caps in that span.  Coleman is 3-1-4, minus-1, in ten career games against Washington.

Nico Hischier has been what one envisions in a top overall draft pick.  Taken by the Devils with the first pick of the 2017 Entry Draft, Hischier is at the top of his draft class in games played (192), goals (49, tied with Elias Pettersson), assists (78), points (127), and even penalty minutes (60).  What has been noteworthy about his early career to date is its consistency on a per-game basis.  As a rookie two seasons ago he averaged 0.24 goals, 0.39 assists, and 0.63 points per game.  Last season those averages were 0.25-0.43-0.68.  Through 41 games this season, he is averaging 0.29-0.39-0.66 per game.

As one might expect of a cornerstone player such as Hischier, his production matters.  New Jersey is 7-2-2 in the 11 games in which he recorded a goal so far this season, including a win in his only multi-goal game this season in the Devils’ 5-1 win over the Caps last Saturday.  New Jersey is 10-7-5 in the 22 games in which he recorded at least one point.  Having him log larger volumes of minutes has mattered, too.  In the 15 games in which he skated 17:18 or less, the Devils are 3-11-1; but in the 26 games in which he skated more than that amount, they are 12-9-5.  In eight career games against the Caps, Hischier is 4-4-8, minus-1.

1.  The Devils do not have much of a finishing kick on the road.  In 23 road games, they have 16 third period goals.  Only San Jose (14) and Detroit (12) have fewer.

2.  On the other hand, the Devils can be stingy late in games on the road.  Their 19 third period goals allowed is fewer than all but three teams: the New York Islanders (17), Dallas Stars (17), and Colorado Avalanche (16).

3.  New Jersey does not score much on the road at 5-on-4. Their seven goals in that strength situation on the road are fewer than every other team except Detroit (five).

4.  The Devils can get lit up on the road.  In 23 road games to date they allowed six or more goals five times, tied with Philadelphia for most in the league.

5.  If the Devils win or lose in extra time, they will become the fifth team to record at least 200 standings points against the Capitals since the Caps came into the league.  Philadelphia (258), Pittsburgh (243), New York Rangers (225), and New York Islanders (221) are the others.

1.  The home special teams are a Jekyll and Hyde thing for the Caps.  Their net penalty kill (accounting for shorthanded goals scored) is 89.2 percent on home ice, fourth-best in the league.  On the other hand, their net power play (accounting for shorthanded goals allowed) is 15.3 percent, 23rd in the league.

2.  Only three teams have allowed fewer goals in the third period on home ice than the Caps (18): Carolina (15), St. Louis (11), and Columbus (11).

3.  Washington is one of four teams that have not lost a game in regulation on home ice when scoring first.  Dallas, Toronto, and St. Louis are the others.

4.  The Caps have more wins on home ice when allowing the first goal (seven) than any other team in the league.

5.  Washington has spent 131:04 shorthanded on home ice in 23 home games.  Only Boston among Eastern Conference teams has been shorthanded for more time, 140:17 in 26 home games.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New Jersey: Damon Severson

Only two New Jersey defensemen have dressed for all 46 games this season.  Damon Severson is one of them.  Severson leads the team in minutes per game (22:21).  He is tied for the team lead among defensemen in even strength goals (five, with P.K. Subban).  He leads all Devil defensemen in takeaways (21).  He is one of only two New Jersey defensemen with an empty net goal this season (Subban is the other).  He is tied for the team lead in hits among defensemen (58, with Subban).  Severson has climbed into the top-ten in franchise history in goals scored by defensemen (34/tenth), assists (114/tenth), and points (148/tenth).  He just does not seem to command a lot of attention. 

He might have deserved more attention lately, having gone 2-7-9, even, in his last 13 games, including a three-point game (1-2-3) in a 7-1 win in Chicago over the Blackhawks on December 23rd.  He has been especially productive on the road of late, that outburst against Chicago being the start of a six-game run on the road in which he is 2-4-6, plus-5.  It is part of a season-long tilt toward road games in terms of production.  Severson is 4-6-10, even, in 23 road games, but just 1-5-6, minus-12 in 23 home games.  Keeping Severson off the score sheet would be wise, as is the case with defensemen supplying second level scoring support.  The Devils are 3-1-1 in the five games in which he has goals this season, 6-4-2 in the dozen games in which he has points.  In 19 career games against Washington, Severson is 2-4-6, minus-13.

Washington: Alex Ovechkin

In Alex Ovechkin’s remarkable career he averages fewer goals per game against the New Jersey Devils (0.47) than he does against any other Eastern Conference team.  Part of the relative lack of goal scoring is that he has only three career power play goals against New Jersey, fewest among all Eastern Conference opponents.  Another factor has been his shot volumes, which the Devils have been able to minimize over his career.  Ovechkin averages only 3.67 shots per game over the 55 career games he has played against New Jersey, second lowest average against an opponent over his career (he averages 3.65 shots per game in 20 games against Vancouver).  On the other hand, his career plus-28 against New Jersey is at least ten ratings points better than his plus-minus against any other team (plus-18 against Ottawa).

What Ovechkin has done more recently against New Jersey, though, is score in bunches.  In his last 18 games against the Devils dating back to October 2015, he is 9-12-21, plus-7.  Of the ten games in which he had points, he had multi-point games in nine of them.  Ovechkin is 26-34-60, plus-28, in 55 career games against New Jersey.

In the end…

The Caps suffered their most lopsided loss on home ice when they lost to the Devils, 5-1, last weekend.  It was the first time that the Caps lost a game by four or more goals on home ice since dropping a 4-0 decision to St. Louis back on March 26, 2016.  One would think that the Caps would be motivated to make amends, send a message, return the favor, or just stomp the Devils for their insolence.  That the Devils have allowed 14 goals in their last three road games suggests this could happen (the one goal they allowed the Caps was sandwiched between six goals allowed to the Rangers and seven to the Maple Leafs).  The Caps will be trying to shake off some home ice problems in the offensive end of the ice, having scored only three goals in their last two games at Capital One Arena after posting 11 in their previous two home games.  What was good for the goose last weekend will be good for the gander on Thursday.

Capitals 5 – Devils 1

Sunday, January 12, 2020

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 47: Hurricanes at Capitals, January 13th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Didn’t we just do this?  Well, yes.  For the third time since December 28th, the Washington Capitals will skate against the Carolina Hurricanes.  It will be the first time in those three meetings and the first since October 5th that the Caps played host to Carolina, the Caps losing to the ‘Canes, 3-2, in overtime.  Washington will be looking to build off their last meeting, a 4-3 win in Carolina, to earn a season split in what will be the last meeting of the teams this season, unless they should meet for a second consecutive year in the playoffs.

Then and Now…

This will be the 178th meeting of these two teams in the all-time series.  The Caps will be looking for their 100th win over the Hurricanes in both their Hartford Whaler and Carolina Hurricane incarnations, the Caps currently with a 99-55-9 (14 ties) record overall and 53-26-5 (four ties) at home.  Since 2005-2006, the Caps are 46-27-8 against Carolina, 24-12-5 on home ice.

Active Leaders vs. Opponent…

Noteworthy Opponents…

Carolina has not exactly lit up the scoreboard since the start of the new year.  They have a total of 14 goals in five games, a total shared by 11 players.  Three skaters have two goals so far in 2020.  Teuvo Teravainen is not a surprise as one of them, and Warren Foegele is just a bit more surprising.  The third skater with a pair of goals might not get a lot of attention, though.  Lucas Wallmark has two goals since the calendar turned over, and he already has equaled his career best of ten goals set last season.  He was taken in the same 2014 Entry Draft as Foegle, although he was selected in the fourth round (97th overall), while Foegele was taken by the Hurricanes in the third round (67th overall).  It was part of a very productive 2014 draft for Carolina, who also took defenseman Haydn Fleury, seventh overall, in the first round.  Those three players have dressed for a combined total of 380 games to date, Wallmark leading them with 145 career games played so far.

Wallmark’s 2020 production so far extends a span of games in which he has picked up his goal-scoring pace.  In his first 33 games this season he had just four goals, but he has six in his last 12 games.  He has been very efficient in doing it, too, posting those six goals on just 23 shots, a 26.1 shooting percentage.  His goal-scoring has not be especially influential on results, the Hurricanes just 6-4-0 in the ten games in which he scored a goal.  Odder still is the lack of team success with his increased offensive engagement.  In 18 games in which he recorded two or more shots on goal, Carolina is 7-9-2.  Wallmark is 1-0-1, minus-6, in nine career games against Washington.

Three rookies through Saturday’s games had at least ten goals and at least 25 points.  Raise your hand if you names Martin Necas among them (Buffalo’s Victor Olofsson and Chicago’s Dominik Kubalik are the others).  Necas was taken with the 12th overall pick by the Hurricanes in the 2017 Entry Draft and has slightly outperformed his draft slot to date, ranking eighth in goals scored (11) and ninth in points (27).  This year is more of “the third time is the charm” for Necas, who played in one game for Carolina in 2017-2018 and seven games last season, but still qualifies as a “rookie” under the league’s qualification thresholds for games played and age. 

Necas has been hot of late, going 4-5-9, plus-3, in his last ten games, an output that includes a four-point game (2-2-4) in an 8-6 loss to Toronto on December 23rd.  His has been the value of supplemental scoring for the Hurricanes so far, that two-goal game against the Maple Leafs being the only time Carolina lost so far when Necas scored a goal (8-1-0).  They are 13-7-1 in the 21 games in which he has a point.  In three career games against the Caps, Necas is 1-1-2, even.

He is not likely to get the start on Monday, but a few words about goalie James Reimer.  On Saturday he became the fifth goalie in team history to pitch a shutout when facing 40 or more shots (Cam Ward was the only one of the five to do it more than once – four times).  He stopped all 41 shots he faced in Carolina’s 2-0 win over the Los Angeles Kings.  He has been effective in an associate role (“backup” does not seem to completely convey his role), especially of late.  In his first seven appearances for the Hurricanes this season he stopped just 182 of 202 shots (a .901 save percentage) while posting a 2-4-0 (one no-decision) record.  In his last 11 appearances, though, he stopped 292 of 315 shots (.927 save percentage) and posted a record of 8-2-0 (one no-decision).  He has been more or less the designated road goalie for the club, 14 of his 18 appearances to date coming in road games.  In 12 career games against Washington, Reimer is 5-4-2 (one no-decision), 2.37, .930, with one shutout.

1.  Carolina has the best net penalty kill (accounting for shorthanded goals scored) on the road this season: 89.4 percent.

2.  Among Eastern Conference teams, only Toronto has scored more first period goals on the road this season (30) than Carolina (23, tied with Boston and Tampa Bay).

3.  The Hurricanes have only one road win this season when trailing after the first period (1-6-0).  They also have only one win when trailing after two periods on the road (1-5-0).

4.  Carolina’s winning percentage when scoring first in road games (.900/9-1-0) is second only to Washington (.917/11-1-0).

5. The Hurricanes have an odd shots fact.  In eight road games in which they allowed fewer than 30 shots on goal, their record is just 2-5-1.

1.  It is difficult to keep the Caps from at least getting shots to the net at home.  In 22 home games they have been held under 30 shots only four times.  The Caps are 3-1-0 in those games.

2.  An indicator this game could be a success for the Caps?  Goals allowed in the first period.  In nine games in which the Caps blanked an opponent on home ice in the first period, they are 6-1-2.

3.  Only four teams have allowed fewer third period goals on home ice than the Caps (18): Pittsburgh (16), Carolina (15), St. Louis (11), and Columbus (11).

4.  The Caps have six goals scored at 6-on-5 on home ice this season but only three goals scored at 5-on-6.

5.  Washington takes a lot of penalties on home ice, their 3.93 penalties taken per 60 minutes ranking fourth in the league.  But they draw a lot, too, the 3.84 penalties drawn per 60 minutes on home ice leaving them with a net of minus-0.09 penalties per 60 minutes at home.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Carolina: Justin Williams

Well, he’s back.  But will Justin Williams dress for the first time this season when the Hurricanes visit Washington?  Hard to say.  Williams re-signed with the Hurricanes last week, a one-year deal over the rest of the season that carries a base salary of $700,000 aand the potential to earn another $1.3 million in bonuses.  But if it seems Williams has been a Hurricane forever, it just seems that way.  One might think he ranks higher on the franchise all-time lists than he does.  For instance, with 429 games played as a Hurricane, Williams ranks 27th (that’s five fewer than former Caps player and assistant coach Dean Evason, who played in 434 games for Carolina).  His 120 goals rank 14th on the franchise list, while his 305 points rank 16th.  He has 36 career power play goals for the club, which ranks 16th, while his 19 game-winning goals is tied for 12th.

Williams, who is returning to the ice after taking a break to start the season, will be counted on to add some middle-six punch to the forward lines and some veteran influence on a lineup that includes nine skaters who have dressed this season of age 25 or younger.  As it is, Williams will be the oldest member of the team by seven years over Jordan Staal, next in line among active Hurricanes, among skaters.  Williams is 15-25-40, plus-9, in 51 career games against Washington.

Washington: Dmitry Orlov

John Carlson started the season on fire in the offensive end for the Caps, and he has barely cooled.  But since Thanksgiving, Dmitry Orlov has had his contributions as well.  Orlov is tied for second in goals among Caps defensemen (two, with Radko Gudas) since Thanksgiving, both of them being game-winners.  His 13 points over that stretch trail only Carlson, and his plus-10 is tops on the team in that span.  He has done it averaging more than 22 minutes per game, second only to Carlson’s 24:16, and no defenseman has logged as many even strength minutes as Orlov in that period (390).

The Caps have been beneficiaries of Orlov’s production this season, going 14-5-0 when he recorded at least one point, and they are 14-5-3 in the 22 games in which he logged 22:30 or more in ice time. Only once in his last 20 games since Thanksgiving has he gone consecutive games without a point, and only three times did he skate less than 20 minutes.  Orlov is 4-7-11, plus-11 (that plus-minus rating tied for best against any single opponent with Ottawa) in 26 career games against Carolina.

In the end…

We are past the Caps being able to intimidate the Hurricanes, who can counter the Caps depth of skill with speed and dedication to heavy forechecking pressure.  The Caps have not been able to find a consistent way to counter this resistance, and they might have to find a way to do just that if the Caps are not only to win this game but find a way past Carolina in the postseason, should they meet.  It means the stars have to step up and not just generate chances, but convert them when they have the opportunity.  There are no mysteries here, but the veteran edge still goes to Washington.

Capitals 4 – Hurricanes 3

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 15

It would not be a stretch to say that Week 15 for the Washington Capitals was their worst week of the season.  No, it was not a losing week, but not for lack of effort.  They rallied from two goals down in the last minute of their first game of the week to tie the San Jose Sharks before winning in overtime, beat up on a weak Ottawa Senators team, and then lost to a pair of division rivals as a result of weak efforts and anemic offense.  The mid-winter grind appears to have struck the Caps.

Record: 2-2-0

It has been said that it is not how you start, but how you finish.  The Caps started the week well enough with a pair of wins, but they did it against teams that finished the week in the bottom third in the league in standings points, San Jose with 46 points (24th) and Ottawa with 39 (29th).  The two losses to end the week, to Philadelphia and New Jersey, extended a poor record of late against Metropolitan Division opponents. 

Those losses brought the Caps’ record to 3-7-0 against division rivals over their last ten contests, 1-3-0 on home ice, the lone win coming in overtime on December 27th against Columbus.  The Caps have not beaten a Metropolitan Division rival on home ice in regulation since they beat the New York Rangers, 5-2, on October 18th.  The Caps closed the week out of the top spot in the league standings for the first time since December 3rd, when they were second to the Boston Bruins by tiebreakers (even in standings points with Boston, but with the Bruins having a better points percentage).  The Caps ended the week with the same number of points (65) and same points percentage (.707) as Boston and St. Louis, but both the Bruins and the Blues have more wins in regulation, the next tiebreaker.

Offense: 3.50/game (season: 3.50/5th)

In some respects, the Caps were the Caps that fans have seen all season on offense, while in other respects there were gaps in Week 15.  There were Jakub Vrana and T.J. Oshie, two vital elements of the Caps’ attack, posting four and three goals, respectively for the week, accounting for half of the Caps’ total.  Lars Eller, who has been quite productive of late in a variety of ways, scoring a pair of goals, and Alex Ovechkin getting a pair of goals of his own to tie Teemu Selanne for 11th place on the all-time NHL goal scoring list (684 goals apiece).  Nicklas Backstrom, Radko Gudas, and Nic Dowd rounded out the goal scorers. 

Missing, however, were Tom Wilson and Evgeny Kuznetsov among the forwards.  Wilson has been in a dry spell of late, his current streak of games without a goal up to five.   He has one goal in his last 11 games and two in his last 15.  Kuznetsov has been more streaky.  He is without a goal in four games after posting four in three games.  Before that he had one goal in 12 games.

There was balance in the points, though.  Of the 18 skaters to dress in Week 15, 16 of them had points, and the distribution was what was noticeable.  Vrana led the team with five points, but three players had four (Oshie, Backstrom, and John Carlson), while another four players had three points (Eller, Wilson, Kuznetsov, and Michal Kempny).  Garnet Hathaway and Nick Jensen were the only players to be blanked on the score sheet for the week.  For Jensen, the drought is severe.  He is now up to 38 consecutive games without a point.  Hathaway’s dry spell is not as severe, but he is up to six games without a point.

Defense: 3.25/game (season: 2.96/12th)

The Caps held all four opponents in Week 15 to fewer than 30 shots, extending an impressive amount of stinginess when it comes to allowing shots.  Washington has allowed fewer than 30 shots in 12 of their last 13 games through Week 15, the only club to top that threshold being the Carolina Hurricanes, who logged 41 shots on goal in a 4-3 loss to the Caps on January 3rd. Since Thanksgiving, no team in the league has been stingier than the Caps in allowing shots, their 27.4 shots allowed per game being fewest in the league over that span.

Washington was not quite as impressive on the defensive side of 5-on-5 shot attempts, but were decent nonetheless.  They allowed 176 shot attempts at fives, fifth fewest among the ten teams to play in four games this week.  It is part of an extended good run in this area for the Caps, whose 815 shot attempts at fives overall are the third-fewest in the league since Thanksgiving.  It has helped contribute to a plus-110 shot attempt differential over that period, the sixth-best differential in the league.

Goaltending: 2.75 / .893 (season: 2.76 / .906)

There is a fair amount to unpack in this category in Week 15.  First, there is the continued fine play on the part of Ilya Samsonov, who stopped 26 of 27 shots in his lone appearance for the week, beating Ottawa, 6-1.  It brought his record over his last eight appearances to 7-0-0 (one no-decision), 1.83, .932.  He finished the week second in the league among rookie goaltenders in wins with 12 (New Jersey’s MacKenzie Blackwood has (14), second in goals against average with 2.24 (Florida’s Chris Driedger has a 2.16 GAA), and fifth in save percentage (.921).

Then there was Braden Holtby, who had a real “donut” of a week.  He stopped 31 of 34 first period shots in three games for a respectable .912 save percentage.  He was perfect in his three third periods, stopping all 17 shots he faced.  But oh, those second periods.  He allowed at least one goal in each of the three second periods he played and stopped only 16 of 23 shots (.696 save percentage).  Not every goal is the goalie’s fault, but, like pitchers in baseball with earned run average, it is his goals against average and save percentage that gets the record, and he is the one who records the wins and the losses.  Whether it is his play, the play of the team in front of him, or a combination of the two, Holtby is in a dark place at the moment.  In his last ten appearances, he is 3-7-0, 3.59, .870, and he has allowed a shorthanded goal in two straight games and three of his last five contests.  Since Thanksgiving, 40 goalies have logged at least 500 minutes.  Of that group, Holtby ranks 34th in goals against average (3.27) and dead last in save percentage (.882).

Power Play: 1-for-12/8.3 percent (season: 21.0 percent/12th)

Week 15 was another in a continuing series of struggling weeks for the Caps, ending the week 8-for-56 in their last six weeks covering 18 games.  Worse, in Week 15 the Caps had a net power play of -8.3 percent, their one power play goal offset by two shorthanded goals allowed.  They were the only team in the league to allow two shorthanded goals this week and the only team to finish in negative territory in net power play.  The Caps changed things up a bit by spreading the power play time out as the week wore on.  When the week ended, seven forwards averaged more than two minutes per game in power play ice time, Jakub Vrana (2:19 per game) and Lars Eller (2:16) being somewhat new to this level of participation.

It was a lackluster power play at the next level as well.  The Caps managed only 14 shots on goal in 21:28 of power play ice time, Alex Ovechkin accounting for five of them, Jakub Vrana for another three (and the only goal).  Put it all together, and that 8-for-56 power play (14.3 percent) is the second-worst power play in the league (Columbus: 12.5 percent).

Penalty Killing: 6-for-8/75.0 percent (season: 83.8 percent/4th)

The Caps matched their penalty killing performance in Week 14 with a 6-for-8 week.  In the glass-half-full category, the Caps had only those eight shorthanded situations to face in four games.  On the other hand, the four teams they faced in Week 15 were among the worst power play teams in the league, ranking 19th (Philadelphia), 25th (San Jose), 30th (New Jersey), and 31st (Ottawa) at week’s end.

But back to the first hand, the good part.  The Caps did allow San Jose two power play goals on their first two chances in the first game of the week, but here is the really good part.  The Caps not only shutout opponents on the power play the rest of the week (6-for-6), but they shut them out on shots.  San Jose did not record one on either of their last two power play chances in the opening game of the week, and the Caps ran the table in the other three games, denying any of the three opponents so much as a single shot on goal in eight shorthanded minutes of play.  If there was one thing in this week to build on, the penalty kill to finish the week might have been it.

Faceoffs: 99-for-228/43.4 percent (season: 48.9 percent/22nd)

The Caps just are not a very good faceoff team.  They are inconsistent at best.  In four games this week they were over 50 percent only against San Jose (31-for-58/53.4 percent) and under 45 percent in the other three games.  They lost all three zones for the week, topping 45 percent only in the offensive end (40-for-88/45.5 percent).  Since Thanksgiving, the Caps have the fifth-worst faceoff performance in the league (47.2 percent) and second-worst in the new year (42.3 percent).  Faceoff woes might be contributing to poor power play performance.  Their 34.8 percent wins on power plays in the first five games of the new year is worst in the league, and that’s too much time chasing down pucks when they could be setting up their attack.

Individually, Nicklas Backstrom (32-for-60/53.3 percent) and Lars Eller (22-for-41/53.7 percent) were the only Caps taking at least ten draws to finish over 50 percent for the week.  No Capital, regardless of the number of draws taken, finished at 50 percent or better in the defensive zone.

Goals by Period:

Week 15 was a week in which the Caps suffered from poor starts, posting a negative goal differential in both the first and second periods of games.  Their third periods look better for the furious last-minute comeback against San Jose in which they scored a pair of goals, a comeback that qualifies as historic

The two first period goals the Caps scored for the week are the first two goals they have recorded in the opening periods of the new year to date, tied with Columbus for fewest in the league.  And even that paltry production has not helped.  The Caps have yet to take a lead into the first intermission through five games in January.  The Caps have not held a lead at the first intermission since they took a 2-1 lead after 20 minutes in their 6-3 win over New Jersey on December 20th.  They have not taken a lead into the first intermission on home ice since Thanksgiving, a streak that is now at ten home games.


The Caps continue to be better in most respects than last year’s team at a similar point in the schedule, but the differences are narrowing.  The best thing that might be said is that this club is not merely better than last year’s in terms of wins, but it is only the third team in franchise history to post 30 or more wins in their first 46 games.  The 206-2017 club had 31 wins in 46 games, while the 2015-2016 team had 35 wins it its first 46 games.

The flip side of that is that even with the recent mediocre record, this year’s Caps team has the third-fewest losses in regulation through 46 games (11) in team history, the 2016-2017 team having nine and the 2015-2016 team having eight.  The differential statistics – goals for and against, shots for and against, and 5-on-5 shot attempts for and against – continue to favor this year’s team significantly.  One would think, or at least hope, that a club as skilled as this will shake off the doldrums if the underlying numbers such as these continue to point in a positive direction.

In the end…

Overall, it was quite a disappointing week.  The Caps were fortunate, if not outright lucky, to get out of it with a .500 record.  Coming back from two goals down in the last minute of a game is not a formula one can count on, and while the win over Ottawa and the loss to Philadelphia (a superb home team) could be in the category of “expected,” the loss to the Devils to end the week was arguably the Caps worst game – effort-wise and performance-wise – of the season.  The Caps have much work to do…get the power play untracked, have better starts to games, improve their performance on home ice, get Braden Holtby back on his game.  With three division rivals on the schedule in Week 16, their last action before their bye/All-Star Game break, sooner rather than later for those improvements is the prescription.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Jakub Vrana (4-1-5, plus-1, 14 shots on goal, 18 shot attempts, first power play goal of the season, reached 20 goals for second consecutive season)
  • Second Star: Radko Gudas (1-1-2, plus-3 (tied for team lead), one game-winning goal, 12 shots on goal (led all defensemen), 12 hits (led all defensemen))
  • Third Star: Ilya Samsonov (1-0-0, 1.00, .963)

Captain rates the week…

One pupper

Friday, January 10, 2020

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 46: Devils at Capitals, January 11th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals return home on Saturday night to open a three-game home stand, their longest in almost two months, hosting the New Jersey Devils at Capital One Arena in the first of two meetings between these teams in Washington in less than a week.  The Caps will be looking to extend their home record in 2020 to a perfect 3-0-0, while the Devils will be trying to avoid seeing a losing streak grow to four games.

Then and Now…

Washington and New Jersey will meet for the 216th time in the regular season on Saturday night.  The Caps have an overall record of 112-75-15 (13 ties) against the Devils overall, 65-29-8 (six ties) on home ice.  Since 2005-2006, the Capitals are 30-16-11 overall and 16-6-7 at home against the Devils.

Active Leaders vs. Opponent…

Noteworthy Opponents…

The path to stardom is often neither straight, nor smooth, even for top overall draft picks.  That is the lesson being learned by Jack Hughes, the first overall pick in last summer’s draft by the Devils.  He is one of three members of his draft class to dress for NHL games this season and is tied with Kaapo Kakko, the number two overall pick by the New York Rangers, for most points (16).  Kirby Dach (11 points), taken third overall by the Chicago Blackhawks, rounds out the trio from the 2019 draft class to play in the NHL this season.

Hughes started his rookie season slowly, going without a point in his first six game before breaking out with a run of points in six of eight games and going 4-5-9 in that stretch.  However, the end of that streak started another one.  Hughes went the next 18 games without a goal, posting four assists along the way before ending the drought with a goal in Chicago against the Blackhawks on December 23rd.  It was one of two goals and an assist that Hughes would post in four games before sustaining an upper-body injury against Boston on New Year’s Eve that has kept him out of the lineup since.  Reports are that his injury is not believed to be overly serious, and he will be re-evaluated for Saturday’s game against the Caps.  Hughes’ only appearance against the Caps to date was in the Devils’ 6-3 loss to Washington on December 20th.  He did not record a point or a shot on goal in 16 minutes of ice time.

At the other end of the draft spectrum was Nikita Gusev, taken by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the seventh round of the 2012 draft, whose rights were traded to the Vegas Golden Knights in June 2017, and who was subsequently traded to the Devils in July 2019 for a 2020 third round draft pick and a 2021 second round draft pick.  Gusev is in his first NHL season, but at age 27 cannot be considered a “rookie” under NHL rules (26 years of age is the age cutoff point).  He spent the last seven seasons in the KHL for three teams (Amur Khabarovsk, Yugra Khanty-Mansiysk, and SKA Saint Petersburg) before coming to North America this season.  He leads all Devils’ “first-year” players in goals (seven), assists (18), and points (25), his 25 points ranking third among all “first-year” players in the NHL.

Gusev started slowly on the road for the Devils, posting just two points (both goals) in his first nine road contests.  Since then, though, he has points in seven of 11 road games and is 1-10-11, plus-1, in those games.  He takes a four-game road points streak into this game (1-5-6).  He had a pair of assists in the loss to the Caps in December in what is his only appearance against Washington to date.

Ken Daneyko and Scott Stevens.  That is the answer to a trivia question, “how many defensemen have played in more games for the Devils than Andy Greene?”  Greene, who has played in 909 games for the club, almost certainly will not catch Daneyko (1,283 games), but he could overtake Stevens for second place (956 games) next season, if he is re-signed to a new contract.  He will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season when his current contract, a five-year/$25 million deal, expires. Greene is not what one would consider an “offensive” defenseman, but by sheer longevity he is among the franchise leaders among defensemen in goals (47/fifth), assists (193/fifth), points (240/fifth), power play goals (15/seventh), shorthanded goals (two/tied for fourth), and game-winning goals (11/fourth).  He has done this despite never having reached double digits in goals in any of his 14 seasons with the Devils (he has a high of eight in 2013-2014 and has none in 39 games this season) and topping 30 points only twice in those 14 seasons (37 in 2009-2010 and 32 in 2013-2014).

This season, Greene’s offense has dried up almost completely.  He opened the season without a point in his first five games but then posted four points (all assists) over his next three contests.  Since then, Greene has one point (an assist) in his last 31 games.  Odd Greene Fact… the Devils have not won a game this season in which Greene skated less than 19 minutes (0-9-2).  Greene is 3-6-9, minus-19, in 45 career games against Washington.

1.  The Devils do not lack for effort on the road in terms of getting shots on goal.  Six times in their last 13 road games they posted 35 or more shots and averaged 36.2 shots on goal over those 13 games (most in the league).  On the other hand, they have allowed 35.3 shots per game in that span (fourth most in the league).

2. What the Devils have not done with all that shooting is score goals.  In those last 13 road games, New Jersey scored 36 goals on 470 shots (7.7 percent). 

3.  The Devils have been adept penalty killers on the road lately.  In their last 13 road games, their 88.7 percent penalty kill is second in the league, while their net penalty kill (accounting for shorthanded goals scored) of 94.3 percent also ranks second.

4.  What has cause the Devils problems over those last 13 road games is getting dominated earl y (outscored 20-11 in the first periods of those games) and unable to generate offense late (nine third period goals, fifth fewest in the league over that span).

5.  Another problem area in those 13 road games has been penalties.  Their net penalties (penalties taken to penalties drawn) per 60 minutes of mimus-0.84 is third-worst in the league over that span.

1.  Tuesday’s 6-1 win against Ottawa was the first time this season that the Caps failed to draw a penalty on home ice.  It was the first time it occurred since January 13, 2017, when the Caps failed to draw a penalty in a 6-0 win over the Chicago Blackhawks.

2.  The Caps have had issues getting going early in games on home ice of late.  The two first period goals scored in the 4-3 loss to the New York Islanders on New Year’s Eve are the only two first period goals the Caps have scored in their last eight games on home ice.

3.  Washington has had no such issues late in games on home ice.  In ten of their last 14 home games they scored at least two goals in the third period, 23 goals in all.

4.  The Caps have shut teams down late in home games of late, for the most part.  In their last 17 home games, the Caps allowed a total of ten goals, three of them in a 5-2 loss to Columbus on December 9th.

5.  Only two teams in the league have scored fewer goals at 5-on-4 on home ice than the Caps (nine): the New York Islanders (eight) and Ottawa Senators (six).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New Jersey: MacKenzie Blackwood

If you are a hockey fan, you have to echo what the Devils Twitter feed on MSG said… “MacKenzie Blackwood, man. Gotta love this dude.”  

For those of you not aware, Blackwood took a shot from the New York Islanders’ Ryan Pulock right on the chin of his mask with less than a minute left in the second period of Tuesday’s game between the teams.  He lost a few teeth and was bleeding from the mouth, but he strapped his mask back in place, finished the period (making a superb save on an attempted wrap-around shot by Casey Cizikas with a dozen seconds left in the period), and then played the third period in the Devils’ 4-3 overtime loss to the Isles.  It was not bad enough that he was already feeling under the weather going into that game.  He has since spent some time with the dentist, but he was back in the lineup for New Jersey’s 6-3 loss to the New York Rangers on Thursday.

It is part of a rough start to the new year for the rookie netminder.  He won his first decision of the new year, stopping 29 shots in a 2-1 win against the Islanders on Long Island.  However, he is winless in his last three appearances (0-2-1) stopping only 86 of 99 shots (.869 save percentage) in addition to his injury and significant dental repair.  Nevertheless, he leads all rookie goalies in appearances (34), starts (31), and wins (14).  He ranks in the middle of the pack among 19 rookie goalies to dress this season in goals against average (2.97/seventh) and save percentage (.905/tenth).  Blackwood has been something of a road warrior for the Devils.  Not so much as the Caps’ Ilya Samsonov, perhaps, but his 9-5-0, 2.96, .913 record on the road is impressive, given the Devils’ place in the standings.  Blackwood is 0-3-0, 3.94, .867 in three career appearances against the Caps.

Washington: Brendan Leipsic

When Brendan Leipsic recorded an assist on a Nic Dowd goal last Sunday against the San Jose Sharks, he and Dowd became the 13th and 14 players for the Caps to reach double digits in points this season.  For Leipsic, it might be a bit disappointing that he has ten points in 45 games with the Caps this season when he had 18 points for the Los Angeles Kings in 45 games last season.  Then again, his role has changed.  With the Kings last season, a team in something of a rebuild mode, he averaged more than 14 minutes per game, eighth among forwards dressing for at least half the Kings’ games (and more than Carl Hagelin did in 22 games for the Kings, it might be worth pointing out).  He averaged 1:36 in power play ice time, something he does not do for the Caps (22 seconds per game so far this season). 

Slotted more, and what appears more consistently, in a fourth line role, his numbers are off from last season in a number of other categories on a per-game basis: penalty minutes (0.49 last season/0.13 per game this season), shots on goal (1.24 last season/0.96 this season), blocked shots (0.56 last season/0.29 this season), hits (1.00 last season/0.89 this season), and takeaways (0.27 last season/0/16 this season).  But this could be as much a factor of his ice time as much as performance during those minutes.  Points and ice time have been hard to come by for Leipsic since Thanksgiving.  In 19 games since the holiday he has two assists and is plus-4, averaging just 9:26 per game.  Perhaps surprisingly for a player with as feisty a reputation as he has, Leipsic has only two penalty minutes in those 19 games.  In three career games against New Jersey, he is 1-1-2, even.

In the end…

This is not a game that the Caps should lose.  New Jersey has allowed 15 goals in their last three games while scoring only eight of their own.  They are 2-for-24 on the power play over their last eight road games (8.3 percent) and gave those goals back with a pair of shorthanded goals against to post a net power play of 0.0 percent over those eight games.  Their penalty kill has been good on the road, going 41-for-43 (95.3 percent) in 11 road games, but then they gave up a pair of power plays in Madison Square Garden to the Rangers in their last road contest.

On the other hand, the Caps have been underwhelming at home so far, their points percentage on home ice tied with the Islanders for fifth best in the league (.714).  The Caps have been able to beat up on weak defensive teams on home ice (six goals against Ottawa, five against San Jose, five against Anaheim, all in their last 11 games at home), and the Devils qualify as a team that has defensive issues.  This game might have its moments, but the Caps should extend their home winning streak to three games.

Capitals 4 – Devils 2

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 45: Capitals at Flyers, January 8th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals head north on Wednesday night to visit the Philadelphia Flyers in a Metropolitan Matchup featuring teams that will be playing the back half of back-to-back games.  The Caps will head on the road one night after hosting the Ottawa Senators, while the Flyers return home to host the Caps after a visit to Carolina to face the Hurricanes.

Then and Now…

The Capitals and Flyers will meet for the 221st time in their regular season series.  Washington has an 87-103-11 (19 ties) record against the Flyers, 38-62-7 (six ties) in Philadelphia.  Since 2005-2006, the Caps are 30-16-11 against the Flyers, 14-9-7 on the road.  The Caps won the first meeting in the four-game season series against the Flyers, winning a 2-1 Gimmick decision in Philadelphia on November 13th.

Active Leaders vs. Opponent…

Noteworthy Opponents…

Sean Couturier once had the reputation as a defense-first forward whose offensive contributions, while welcome, were not the centerpiece of his game.  Then, two years ago, he exploded, more than doubling his previous year’s point total, going 31-45-76 in 2017-2018 after going 14-20-34 in 2016-2017.  It was the first time in his career he topped 40 points.  And, to prove that was not a fluke, he poste 76 points again last season (33-43-76).  This season, though, his scoring pace has lagged a bit.  Through 42 games he is 12-22-34, putting him on a pace to finish 23-43-63 – good by his early career standards, but not as impressive as the last two seasons.  He has been very consistent of late, though.  Since he posted consecutive games without a point in late November, he has not had consecutive games without a point hi his last 20 games and is 6-13-19 over that span.  In 30 career games against the Caps, Couturier is 6-13-19, plus-7.

Most analysts reviewing the Matt Niskanen-for-Radko Gudas that sent Niskanen to Philadelphia thought the Caps might have gotten the better part of the deal, Gudas’ underlying numbers being better recently, and Niskanen’s performance last season perhaps signaling a decline.  However, while the jury remains out on who might have won that trade, Niskanen has contributed some pop from the blue line for the Flyers that was not there for the Caps last season.  His five goals is tied with Shayne Gostisbehere for second on the club among defensemen, and his 12 assists and 17 points place him alone in second behind Ivan Provorov.  Niskanen’s goals-assists-points per game (0.12-0.29-0.41) resemble more Niskanen’s production two years ago in Washington (0.10-0.32-0.43) than is does last year’s (0.10-0.21-0.31).  He has hit a bit of a dry spell lately.  After posting a two-point game against Buffalo on December 19th, Niskanen is 0-1-1, minus-6, in his last six games.  He is 1-5-6, plus-8, in 13 career games against Washington.

If you are going to beat Carter Hart in Philadelphia, bring a lunch.  It’s going to be a long day.  Hart has started 14 games in goal for the Flyers in Philadelphia this season and boasts an 11-1-2 record.  He has hardly been a passenger in the effort.  Nine times in 14 games he posted save percentages over .940.  Only once in those 14 games did he post a save percentage under .900, stopping 12 of 15 shots (.800) in a 4-1 loss to Dallas on October 19th, his only regulation loss on home ice this season.  The question for this game is whether it his home record or his most recent performance that will emerge.  In his last four appearances, all on the road, he is 0-3-0 (one no-decision), 5.23, .830.  Hart is 0-1-1, 2.43, .925 in two career appearances against the Caps.

1.  The Flyers have employed 39 goaltenders against the Caps in the all-time series.  None, save one, has as many as ten wins.  The exception is Ron Hextall, who was 25-13 (six ties) against the Caps in 44 games.

2.  Still on goalies… No Flyer netminder has ever posted more than one career shutout against the Caps while a Flyer.  Nine have done it once: Hextall, Dominic Roussel, Ilya Bryzgalov, Darren Jensen, Joh Vanbiesbrouck, Bernie Parent, Brian Buocher, Tommy Soderstrom, and Bob Froese.

3.  Hextall was the epitome of the “Broad Street Bully: Goalie Edition.”  In 44 career regular season games against the Caps, he had 44 penalty minutes.

4.  The Flyers have been successful at home this season in no small part to their scoring balance.  Eight different skaters have at least 12 points, but none of them have as many as 20 (Sean Couturier and Travis Konecny have 19).

5.  The defense has been especially valuable to the Flyers on home ice.  As a group, they have combined for 17 goals in 19 home games (seven on power plays), and none of the defensemen carry a minus rating.

1.  An illustration of how much turnover and how frequent it occurs in the NHL… The current roster of Caps skaters has a total of 79 goals against the Flyers as members of the Caps.  Of that total, 52 of them are shared by Alex Ovechkin (34) and Nicklas Backstrom (18).  No other Capital has more than five goals against the Flyers with the club (T.J. Oshie, Tom Wilson, and Dmitry Orlov).

2.  The Caps have scored multiple power play goals 22 times in Philadelphia.  They have not been especially successful in doing it, going 10-9-1 (two ties).

3.  Washington will want to avoid allowing two or more power play goals to the Flyers.  In 27 games in which they allowed two or more power play goals in Philadelphia, the Caps are 3-22-1 (1 tie).

4. Keeping the Flyers from getting off quickly could be important.  Since 2005-2006, the Caps are 10-2-4 in 16 games in Philadelphia when blanking the Flyers in the first period.

5.  In 220 games between these teams and all the animosity and orneriness displayed over more than 40 years battling one another, only one player for either team has ever been assessed a match penalty.  The Caps’ Craig Berube was tagged with an intent-to-injure penalty in the waning moments of a 5-3 loss to the Flyers in Philadelphia on February 13, 1995.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Philadelphia: Travis Konecny

There are names among the Flyers that Caps fans will instantly recognize – veteran Claude Giroux, former Cap Matt Niskanen, the latest Great Masked Hope in goal, Carter Hart.  But how many, when they hear the name “Travis Konecny,” think…”oh yeah, he’s a Flyer, too?”  But there he is, a 22-year old with his Flyer future spread out before him, but already in his fourth NHL season.  What he has become, in his young career to date, is a player of almost spooky consistency.  He followed up a solid rookie season (11-17-28 in 70 games) by going 24-23-47 in 81 games in his sophomore season, and they going 24-25-49 in 82 games last season.  In 39 games played this season he is 12-24-36 (team leader in points), his goal scoring on pace to finish with, yes, 24 goals once more.

Konecny has been potent on home ice thus far for the Flyers this season, his 8-11-19 scoring line matching that of Sean Couturier to tie for the team lead in goals and points on home ice for the orange and black.  As a player on whom the club depends for scoring punch, his contributions matter.  The Flayers are 11-1-0 on home ice in games in which he recorded at least one point, and they are 2-1-4 in those games he did not.  What he is also getting this season is more power play responsibility.  After averaging a little over a minute and a half per game in his first three seasons, he is averaging 2:47 per game on the power play so far this season.  Konecny is 2-0-2, minus-1, in 12 career games against the Caps.

Washington: Nicklas Backstrom

It would be fair to say that the NHL party started for Nicklas Backstrom on the Wells Fargo Center ice sheet.  Backstrom was a rookie learning the ropes in the NHL in the fall of 2007, and he was putting together some decent numbers.  In his first 21 games he was 1-8-9, earning single points in nine games, and averaging a little under 16 minutes a game, but playing as much wing as center.  Then, the Caps made a coaching change at Thanksgiving, replacing Glen Hanlon with Bruce Boudreau. 

The first game under the new coach was against the Flyers in Philadelphia.  It did not take long for Backstrom to show the new coach what he had in the rookie center.  Backstrom got the primary assist on a Mike Green power play goal in the third minute of the first period to open the scoring.  After Chris Clark gave the Caps a 2-0 lead early in the second period, the Caps struck again in the 15th minute, Donald Brashear getting the goal and Backstrom contributing the secondary assist to give him his first career multi-point game.  The Flyers came back, though, with three unanswered goals to tie the game late in regulation.  With just under two minutes gone in the overtime session, it was Backstrom who would end it with an assist from Alex Ovechkin, a pair that would define – and continue to define – Caps hockey for more than a decade.  For Backstrom, it was his first three-point game of a total that has reached 80 in his career, fifth-most among all players since he entered the league.  And starting with that rookie season, only one player in the league has scored more points against the Flyers in Philadelphia than the 33 posted by Backstrom.  Sidney Crosby has 34.  Backstrom is 18-35-53, plus-14, in 46 games overall in his career against the Flyers.

In the end…

Do not let the Flyers’ recent sluggishness distract; there is no more formidable team in the league on home ice than the Flyers this season.  Even when they lose, they make it difficult.  Among their six losses at Wells Fargo Center, four were in extra time, and another was a two-goal loss that featured a late empty net power play goal in Arizona’s 3-1 win over the Flyers in early December.  It would not be a surprise to see these teams go once more to extra time to settle this one, but in the end, the result will be the same. 

Capitals 2 – Flyers 1