Thursday, October 17, 2019

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 9: Rangers at Capitals, October 18th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals conclude their three-game home stand on Friday night when the New York Rangers come to town in a Metropolitan Division matchup.  The Caps will be out to end the home stand on a winning note after splitting their first two games, while the Rangers will be playing the back half of a back-to-back set of road games, arriving in DC after visiting the New Jersey Devils on Thursday night.

The Rangers have finally embraced the “R” word – “rebuild.”  It was a long time in coming.  After reaching the Stanley Cup final in 2013-2014, they lost in the conference final the following season and won only one series over the next two postseasons.  It all came crashing down in 2017-2018, when the Rangers went 34-39-9, finished last in the Metropolitan Division and missed the postseason after a string of seven straight and 11 of 12 seasons making the playoffs.  It was almost as bad last season, the Rangers finishing seventh in the division, out of the postseason, with a 32-36-14 record.

And now, the Rangers are going with youth.  Of the 19 skaters to dress for the Blueshirts over three games, ten are 25 years old or younger.  Their youngest player is last summer’s second overall draft pick, right winger Kaapo Kakko, at the moment the Rangers’ only player born in the 21st century (February 13, 2001).  He is expected to inject some high-octane offense into the Ranger lineup, based on his recent history – 22 goals in 45 games with TPS in the Finnish Elite League, 18 goals in 43 games of international play last year.  It took Kakko three games to get his first NHL goal, the only Ranger goal last Saturday in a 4-1 loss to the Edmonton Oilers.  It won’t be his last one, if history is an indication.  This will be Kakko’s first appearance against the Caps.

Five of the seven defensemen to dress for the Rangers so far are 25 or younger, but not all of them are unknown quantities.  Jacob Trouba (25 years old) spent six seasons with the Winnipeg Jets before he was traded to the Rangers last June for Neal Pionk and a first round draft pick.  A month later he signed a seven-year/$56 million contract that runs through the 2025-2026 season.  He is the defenseman around which the Rangers expect to build a blue line.  It seems a solid investment, based on performance.  He departed Winnipeg as the third leading goal scorer among defensemen in franchise history (42) and third in total points (179).  Trouba is tenth in his freshman class of 2013-2014 in goals among defensemen (42) and sixth in that class in points (179).  He started quickly with his new team, going 1-2-3 on Opening Night in his first game as a Ranger, a 6-4 win over his former club, the Winnipeg Jets.  In seven career games against Washington, Trouba is 0-1-1, minus-1.

On rebuilding teams, there is often a changing of the guard, and it is happening in goal for the Rangers.  Henrik Lundqvist, an all but certain Hall of Famer, is now the third oldest goalie in the league (only Ryan Miller and Craig Anderson are older).  At the other end, number one goalie in waiting at the moment Alexandar Georgiev is the fifth youngest goalie to dress so far this season.  The 37-year old Lundqvist, who put together seven straight seasons of save percentages over .920 from 2009-2010 through 2015-2016, Has not been over .915 in any of the last four seasons, including two games to start this season.  Last season, Lundqvist became the 11th goalie in league history to log more than 50,000 career minutes in goal (50,340), and sometime this season he will become the eighth goalie in league history to face at least 25,000 shots (he is 200 short).  Lundqvist is 21-12-7, 2.77, .906, with four shutouts in his career against the Caps.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the tenure spectrum, Georgiev is in his third season with the Rangers.  An undrafted goalie, he won a spot with the Rangers after the club invited him to development camp in 2017.  His career numbers are decent, if unspectacular for a backup: 19-17-5, 2.92, .916, with two shutouts in 44 career games.  One set of numbers from last year, though, was telling.  He got 30 starts for the Rangers and 33 appearances overall.  It would not be the biggest surprise if he at least matched those numbers this year.  Georgiev is 0-2-1, 4.06, .875 in three career appearances against Washington.

1.  The Rangers are the second straight team that the Caps are catching playing the back half of a back-to-back set of games.

2.  New York will be the last of the 31 teams to play their fourth game of the season when they face the New Jersey Devils on Thursday night.

3.  An odd lineup management for the Rangers so far is having dressed seven defensemen for each of their first three games.  Six of them have points; only Adam Fox is without one.

4.  It’s early, especially for the Rangers, but only Tampa Bay has a better shooting percentage among Eastern Conference teams (14.9) than the Rangers (13.3).

5.  Despite having played only three games through Wednesday night, the Rangers have the second-worst shot attempts differential at 5-on-5 in the league (minus47); only the Islanders are worse (minus-64 in six games).

1.  The Caps dodged a bullet when they beat Toronto on Wednesday night.  They avoided going winless at home in their first four games for the first time since opening the 1982-1983 home portion of the season 0-3 with one tie.  The last and only time they lost their first four games on home ice was in 1975-1976, their second season and a year in which they finished 11-59-10 overall and won only six home games all season.

2.  Through Wednesday’s games, John Carlson was the only defenseman ranked in the top-ten in points (third with 14).  He had three goals and 11 assists, while the other six defensemen to dress for the Caps so far had a total of one goal (Dmitry Orlov) and seven assists.

3.  Orlov has been skating in some bad luck (or was making or was witness to some glaring errors).  His on-ice shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 was 54.27, but he was a team-worst minus-6 among all skaters.

4.   The Caps have dressed 20 skaters so far this season.  Only five are “plus” players through Wednesday’s games.  Nic Dowd (plus-1 in five games) and Garnet Hathaway (plus-2 in eight games) are the only forwards.

5.  The Caps had shot attempts-for percentages at 5-on-5 over 50 percent in each of their first four games (58.56 percent overall).  They have not been over 50 percent in any of their last four games (45.91 percent overall).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New York: Artemi Panarin

In the Rangers’ rush to get younger, one should not lose sight of the fact that their big free agent acquisition – left winger Artemi Panarin – will only turn 28 years old at the end of this month.  He is there to score goals.  Over his first four seasons, his 116 goals (with Chicago and Columbus) was more goals scored than any Ranger had over the last five seasons (Chris Kreider had 114 over those five seasons).  Panarin’s goal production should be a given, based on his first four seasons, over which he posted 30, 31, 27, and 28 goals last season.  But his setting up teammates should not be underrated, either.  His 204 assists over four seasons coming into this one was tied for 11th (with Evgeny Kuznetsov) in the league, and he was one of only five wingers among the top dozen in that category.  Panarin goes into tonight’s game against New Jersey with goals in two of his first three games as a Ranger, and he is 5-4-9, plus-4, in 12 career games against the Capitals.

Washington: Evgeny Kuznetsov

After spending the first three games of the season on suspension, Evgeny Kuznetsov has points in each of the five games for which he has dressed so far (3-3-6).  But the Caps are 2-2-1 in those games.  Part of the problem is his personal shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5.  When he is on ice, the Caps are at 37.50 percent, his being the second worst such number on the club (Nic Dowd is at 30.77 percent).  He has been on ice for six goals against in five games, sixth-most among the 13 forwards to have dressed so far, despite his playing three fewer games than each of the forwards on ice for more goals against.  He is hardly alone in having night-and-day issues in the ends (Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom lead all forwards in points but have the worst plus-minus numbers in that group), but he is part of a problem that needs correcting.  Hockey is a 60-minute game, but it is also a 200-foot game, and even if Kuznetsov is not going to be on short lists for a Selke Trophy as top defensive forward, he – and the Caps in general – need to display better balance than they have so far, especially considering that the Caps are under 50 percent in shot attempts-for percentage in each of the last four games.  Kuznetsov is 6-13-19, plus-7, in 20 career games against the Rangers.

In the end…

The Caps are getting a young Ranger team coming off a game the previous night against another divisional rival.  The usual factors would seem to apply here.  Pressure early, frustrate the younger opponent, don’t let them get too confident in themselves.  One thing to look for here will be how the Caps defend the Rangers.  Washington has yet to hold an opponent under three goals in four games on home ice so far.  This game should break the string.

Capitals 4 – Rangers 2

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 8: Maple Leafs at Capitals, October 16th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals try once more to earn their first home win of the season on Wednesday night when they host the Toronto Maple Leafs at Capital One Arena.  Toronto will come to Washington looking to shake off a shaky start of their own, going 3-2-1 as they go into a Tuesday night matchup with the Minnesota Wild before heading to DC.

Fulfilling expectations early, the Maple Leafs have not had much of a problem putting the puck in the net.  Their 4.00 goals per game is tied for fourth in the league in scoring offense.  They have already recorded five goals in three games, tied for the league lead through Monday’s games.

Auston Matthews has six of those goals, one-fourth of the club’s total to date.  Matthews is hardly a stranger to fast starts.  Remember than in his rookie season he scored four goals in his first NHL game (that the Leafs lost that game in overtime to the Ottawa Senators is less remembered).  He had 12 goals in his first 17 games in his sophomore season, and last season he was burning out red lights with 10 goals in his first six games.  Matthews has been a streaky sort over his three-plus year career.  The 22 multi-goal games he has posted in his career to date ranks second to Alex Ovechkin over the same span (25).  He already has two multi-goal games this season and has goals in four of the six games in which he played.  And, in what might be a bit odd for a player in a position usually thought of more as a playmaking role, Matthews ranks third in the league (and first among centers) in shots on goal through Monday (29, trailing Ovechkin (30) and Kyle Connor (31)).  Matthews is 3-5-8, plus-2, in eight career games against the Capitals.

Morgan Reilly has emerged as one of the leading offensive defensemen in the league.  Through Monday’s games, only two defensemen in the league posted more points than Rielly (129) – Brent Burns (155) and John Carlson (149).  Last season, Rielly was the only defenseman to post at least 20 goals (20) and at least 70 Points (72).  Now in his seventh season in the NHL, all with Toronto, Rielly has been a solid offensive contributor from the blue line since his rookie season.  He has never finished a season with fewer than 25 points, and three times he finished with more than 35, including each of the last two seasons.  His production has seen a march up the franchise rankings among defensemen, too.  Rielly is currently tied for 14th place on the all-time list of Maple Leaf defensemen in goals (51), 10th in assists (197), ninth in points (248), and 16th in games played (476).  He started this season with five points (all assists) in his first three games, but he is without a point in three games through Monday.  Rielly is 1-10-11, minus-2, in 18 career games against Washington.

Frederik Andersen is not asked to be the broad shoulders on which the Maple Leaf fortunes rest on most nights.  If he avoids allowing the bad goal and plays solidly otherwise, the Leafs have enough offense to be successful more often than not.  However, Andersen has been an uncommonly consistent goalie.  Starting in 2015-2016, his last year with the Anaheim Ducks before arriving in Toronto, Andersen has season save percentages of .919, .918, .918, and .917 last season.  In three seasons with Anaheim, his overall save percentage was .917; it is .918 in four seasons with Toronto.  Andersen’s numbers so far look worse than they probably are, owing to a small population of games played.  He has allowed three or fewer goals in four of the five games in which he played, with a .920 save percentage in those games.  But nestled in there was a horror show against Tampa Bay in which he allowed seven goals on 28 shots in 46 minutes in a 7-3 loss, dropping his overall save percentage through Monday to .886.  Andersen is 5-2-1, 2.82, .913, with two shutouts in eight career appearances against the Caps.

1.  Toronto has already dressed 21 skaters so far.  Twelve of them have recorded goals; 20 of them have recorded points.  Defenseman Martin Marincin, who has appeared in only two games, is the only Maple Leaf skater without a point through Monday.

2.  The Maple Leafs have trailed after the second intermission only once so far this season, as have the Caps.  Toronto and Washington both lost in regulation in those instances.

3.  Toronto has lost both one-goal decision they played so far, a Gimmick loss to Montreal and a regulation loss to St. Louis, both at home.  Three of their other four decisions through Monday were decided by three or more goals.

4.  Toronto is tied for the Eastern Conference lead in 5-on-5 goals scored (16, with Pittsburgh).  Only the New Jersey Devils have allowed more 5-on-5 goals in the East (18) than the Leafs (17).

5.  The Maple Leafs have the second-best shot attempts differential at 5-on-5 in the league (plus-49, to Florida’s plus-50).

1.  Of all the teams who have led after two periods in more than two games, the Caps have the worst record (2-1-2/.400).

2.  The Caps and the St. Louis Blues are the only teams (through Monday) to have allowed multiple overtime goals, each with two.

3.  The Caps already have 11 players with at least one power play point this season.  They had only 13 all of last season.

4.  T.J. Oshie is shooting 30.8 percent in the young season (four goals on 13 shots).  No other Capital is at 20 percent or better.

5.  Alex Ovechkin has 16 missed shots through seven games.  There are 569 skaters in the NHL to have dressed without recording that many shots on goal through Monday.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Toronto: Rasmus Sandin

Morgan Rielly piles up the points.  Codi Ceci and Tyson Barrie are the new guys with the new guy buzz.  Jake Muzzin is new guy one year removed.  But who is the fifth defenseman to play in every game for the Leafs so far, Rasmus Sandin.  He sounds like a cross between the Buffalo Sabres’ number one overall draft pick last year (Rasmus Dahlin) and one of the all-time greats for the Leafs, Mats Sundin.  Sandin was the 29th overall pick of the 2018 Entry Draft by the Leafs who played last season with the Toronto Marlies affiliate in the AHL.  Sandin was the 13th defenseman taken in the 2018 draft, but he is one of only six defensemen taken in that draft to have dressed for an NHL game.  He recorded a point in his first NHL contest, an assist in a 5-3 win over the Ottawa Senators on Opening Night.  He went four games without a point before recording an assist in Toronto’s 5-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday.  So far, he has been on ice for only two goals against, fewest among the five defensemen to dress for all six games through Monday.  You will not get to see him, though.  The Leafs sent Sandin to the Marlies on Monday, a classic case of considering whether limited ice time in the NHL or a bigger role in the AHL is best for a young player.

Washington: Carl Hagelin

In our previous prognosto, we pondered a struggling Capital, Richard Panik.  Well, here is another one.  Carl Hagelin is looking for his first point of the new season.  If you go back to last season, including regular and postseason games, he has one point (an assist in Game 7 of the first round of the playoffs) in his last 15 games.  He does not have a goal in that span, despite having recorded 29 shots on goal.  Hagelin has never been a particularly efficient shooter; he has a 7.9 shooting percentage over 553 games of a nine-year career.  However, with age that percentage has dropped.  In 207 games over the last four season, his shooting percentage is 5.1 on 409 shots on goal.  The odd part of his game to date is that the lack of personal scoring has not been accompanied by a poor plus-minus rating.  Hagelin was even in each of his first six games before going minus-1 against Colorado on Monday.  Hagelin is 4-6-10, minus-4, in 29 career games against Toronto.

In the end…

This week the Caps entered a part of their schedule in which they were facing up-tempo, offense-oriented teams.  It did not go well against the Colorado Avalanche, allowing three goals on the Avs’ first three shots of the game and allowing four first period goals before dropping a 6-3 decision.  Toronto poses some of the same problems – speed, skill, depth among the forwards, a pressure attitude.  The Caps did seem to take a firmer grasp of things later in the game against Colorado when they started throwing their weight around.  It is something that the Caps have been able to do against Toronto with some success, holding the Leafs to two or fewer goals in five of their last seven meetings.  It will be a contest of wills and styles when these teams meet on Wednesday.  If the Caps can remember the lessons of the last 40 minutes against Colorado, things should work out well.

Capitals 4 – Maple Leafs 2

Monday, October 14, 2019

A NO-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 7: Avalanche 6 - Capitals 3

The Washington Capitals hosted the Colorado Avalanche in a late afternoon Columbus Day matchup at Capital One Arena.  The Caps were looking to earn their first home win of the season against a team taking the road for the first time this season.  Colorado got out to a quick lead and held off a late Washington push to skate off with a 6-3 win.

First Period

Colorado opened the scoring less than four minutes into the game when Erik Johnson let fly with a low shot from the left point that snuck under the pads of Braden Holtby.  Former Capital Andre Burakovsky was credited with the secondary assist on the goal.

The Avs doubled their lead barely two minutes later, Nikita Zadovov taking a feed from Mikko Rantanen in the middle of the ice, pulled the puck to his forehand as he was turning, and wired a shot past Holtby’s glove at the 6:00 mark.

Colorado scored their third goal on their third shot less than two minutes later, Nazem Kadri sending a last past Holtby’s glove at the 7:54 mark.  That would end Holtby’s night in favor of Ilya Samsonov.

The change in goal did not have the intended effect, the Avs adding their lead with a power play goal before the 10-minute mark, Rantanen beating Samsonov on (yes…) the glove side from the right wing circle at the 9:25 mark.

-- How bad was it?  COL 4 – Caps 0… COL 1-3 on power play – Caps 0-0… COL 10 SOG – Caps 4 SOG… COL 21 shot attempts – Caps 14 shot attempts… COL 14-for-24 on faceoffs (58.3 percent)… COL 10 skaters with “plus” rating – Caps 13 skaters with “minus” rating

-- Alex Ovechkin (2), Lars Eller, and Radko Gudas had the only shots on goal for the Caps.

-- The Caps had 11 skaters without a shot attempt

Second Period

The period started in sloppy fashion with both teams taking a pair of penalties by the time the period was barely five minutes old.  The second for each team was part of a coincidental set of penalties that put the teams 4-on-4.  On the 4-on-4, Alex Ovechkin forced a turnover, and Lars Eller picked up the loose puck.  Skating down the middle, he flashed as if he would cut across the slot and then lifted a forehand over goalie Philipp Grubauer’s blocker to make it 4-1, 6:56 into the period.

The Caps started throwing their size around, and late in the period they took another bite out of the Colorado lead.  From the right wing wall, Evgeny Kuznetsov slid the puck to Dmitry Orlov above the circles.  Orlov moved the puck low to T.J. Oshie between the hash marks.  Oshie skated across the slot and slid a backhand under the right pad of Grubauer to make it 4-2 at the 15:28 mark.

-- The Caps out-shot the Avalanche, 16-7, in the period and out-attempted them, 26-19.

-- Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson led the team with three shots on goal apiece through two periods; Ovechkin led in shot attempts with six.

-- Lars Eller was 9-for-11 on faceoffs through two periods (81.8 percent).

Third Period

The momentum the Caps built over the second period was washed away in the fifth minute when Ilya Samsonov mishandled the puck behind his own net, Matt Nieto taking advantage of the error to swat the puck past a lunging Samsonov 4:24 into the period to make it 5-2.

The Caps found it difficult to restore the momentum, but they made things interesting late.  Alex Ovechkin fired a one timer from the top of the zone that struck a Colorado defender’s stick and bounced through the pads of Grubauer at the 17:39 mark.  Just 15 seconds later, John Carlson got the Caps within one when he snapped the puck from a difficult angle to Grubauer’s right over his left shoulder and under the crossbar to make it a one-goal game.

But wait!  Colorado challenged the goal for the play being offside, and the replay clearly showed that an attempted dump-in that was blocked by an Avalanche defender did not cross the blue line before T.J. Oshie circled into the offensive zone.  The goal was taken off the board, and the score remained 5-3.

Nathan MacKinnon added an empty net goal with 39.2 seconds left, and the Caps dropped their third straight game on home ice to open the season, 6-3.

Other stuff…

-- Evgeny Kuznetsov’s assist on the T.J. Oshie goal in the second period gave him points in each of the four games in which he appeared so far this season.

-- Defenseman Tyler Lewington skated only one shift in the second period.

-- The Caps saw a five-game winning streak against the Avalanche in Washington come to an end.

-- Alex Ovechkin’ goal made it three straight games with at least one, four in all. 

-- With a goal and an assist, Ovechkin extended his own team record for multi-point games to 345 in his career.

-- Lars Eller finished the game 12-for-16 (75 percent) on faceoffs.

-- John Carlson was minus-3.  The last time he finished with that rating or worse was November 1, 2018, when he was minus-4 in a 6-4 loss in Montreal to the Canadiens.  The last time he was minus-3 or worse on home ice was October 14, 2014, when he was minus-4 in a 6-5 Gimmick loss to the San Jose Sharks.

-- Tyler Lewington had a rough night.  Twelve shifts, 8:39 in ice time, 17 penalty minutes, no shot attempts (the only Capital not to have one), and minus-2.

-- Ditto for Richard Panik, who skated only 7:28 (team low) and had only two shifts in the third period, none in the last 13 minutes.

-- As a result of the quirky scoring manner of the NHL, the loss for this game goes to Ilya Samsonov, who allowed the fourth goal to the Avs, despite Braden Holtby allowing three goals on three shots in 7:54 of ice time.

In the end…

The Caps let the Avalanche dictate pace early, and the Avs put the Caps back on their heels as a result.  By the time that Washington figured out they could throw their weight around, the hole was far too deep from which to dig.  And with the loss, the Caps lost their third straight game on home ice to open the season.  It is the first time that the Caps have been winless in three games to open the home portion of their schedule since 1983-1984, when the Caps lost to the New York Islanders, Pittsburgh Penguins, and the Quebec Nordiques to open the home ice schedule.  The Nordiques, you might recall, moved to Colorado in 1994-1995 and became the Colorado Avalanche.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 7: Avalanche at Capitals, October 14th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

We have an abbreviated holiday version of the prognosto as the Washington Capitals return home on Monday for a 5:00 Columbus Day faceoff against the Colorado Avalanche at Capital One Arena.Here are some morsels to impress your friends and confound your adversaries:

1.  The Caps have a 44-31-1 record (with nine ties) in 85 games played against the Quebec Nordiques/Colorado Avalanche all-time. 

2.  The only overtime loss that the Caps suffered in this series came on October 17, 2000, when Peter Forsberg scored 2:37 into the extra session in Washington for a 4-3 Avs win.

3.  Since the Nordiques moved from Quebec to Colorado and became the Avalanche for the 1994-1995 season, Peter Bondra is the all-time leader in goals scored against Colorado (10).  If Alex Ovechkin gets a hat trick, he will tie Bondra for the top spot.

4.  Bondra, Ovechkin, and Evgeny Kuznetsov are the all-time points leaders against the Colorado incarnation of the franchise with 14 points apiece.

5.  Tom Wilson does not play well with others wearing a big swirly “A” on their jersey.  He is the all-time leader in penalty minutes against Colorado with 38 penalty minutes in just 12 games played.

6.  Olaf Kolzig and Braden Holtby are tied for the all-time lead in wins against Colorado with five apiece. Kolzig lost to the Avs six times in regulation and once in extra time (all this despite a career .932 save percentage against the Avalanche).  Holtby has only one career loss in regulation to Colorado.

7.  Although the special teams chances, power play and penalty kill, are almost identical all-time against the Avs (121 and 120, respectively), the Caps have been very good against Colorado on both sides of special teams – 23.1 percent on the power play and 85.0 percent on the penalty kill.

8.  The Caps have a rather high percentage of empty net goals scored to games played against Colorado.  In 33 games played against the Avalanche, Washington has seven empty net goals in the series.

9.  In the 15 games played between the teams since 2009-2010, for which the NHL has shot attempt data, the Caps are plus-100 in shot attempt differential at 5-on-5 and have a shot attempts-for percante at fives of 53.74.  This despite being 50 percent or better only seven times in the 15 games.

10.  The Caps take a five-game winning streak on home ice against Colorado into this game.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Colorado: Andre Burakovsky

Now in his sixth NHL season, Andre Burakovsky is in his first year as a member of the Colorado Avalanche after five seasons skating for the Caps.  With a 2-2-4 scoring line through four games he has more goals and points at this point than any season since his rookie season in 2014-2015, when he was 2-3-5 through his first four games.  The two goals he has in four games is an improvement over the past two seasons in which he failed to record a single goal in his first four games.  He has points in three of four games and is coming off a goal/assist game for his first multi-point game since February 9th, when he has a pair of assists in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Florida Panthers while with the Caps.  His goal against Arizona in the 3-2 win was the overtime game-winner.  Both of his goals to date have been game-winners.  This will be Burakovsky’s first game against his former team.

Washington: Richard Panik

It has not been an easy introduction to the Caps for winger Richard Panik.  Signed in the off-season to a four-year/$11 million contract, Panik is looking for his first point as a Capital.  He is not a big scorer, but he is averaging 14.8 goals per 82 games over his career.  To date, he has only four shots on goal in six games, and in no game yet has he recorded more than one.  He started the season with a healthy dose of ice time, getting more than 14 minutes in each of his first three games.  That has been pared back, though, getting less than 13 minutes in each of his last three contests and averaging 12:00 per game.  He looked to be coming out of his slump against Dallas on Saturday but seemed to be suffering more from bad luck than lackluster effort.  In 13 career games against Colorado, Panik is 5-3-8, plus-6.

In the end…

This game begins a stretch for the Caps that poses different challenges from those they faced to open the season.  St. Louis, Dallas, Nashville, all of them very structured, very accomplished defensive teams (at least in last year’s scoring defense rankings).  Colorado today and Toronto on Wednesday are more up-tempo clubs that apply maximum pressure in the offensive zone, using speed and depth of skill to overwhelm opponents when things are going right.  The Caps played a fine all-around game against Dallas on Saturday after a disappointing effort against Nashville preceding it.  Washington will need to be even better, especially in the defensive end, to overcome the frisky Avalanche.

Capitals 5 – Avalanche 3

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 2

For the Washington Capitals, Week 2 opened with a shaky effort on home ice, got more unsteady on the road, but closed on a hopeful note in a difficult place.  When all was said and done, the Caps had one of every decision – a win, a loss, and an extra time loss.  Here is how it happened.

Record: 1-1-1

If you are looking for a silver lining in this week, it might be that the results were better than expected.  Last season, the Caps went 0-2-2 in four games against the Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators, two overtime losses against the Stars and two games against the Predators that made one think of the saber-toothed tiger of the Predator logo feasting on docile prey, outscoring the Caps 13-5 in their two games.  The 4-1 win in Dallas over the Stars to close the week was especially encouraging.  Washington had not won a game in regulation in Dallas since October 17, 1995.  How long ago was that?  There are 165 players to have dressed so far this season in the NHL who were not yet born on that date.

Offense: 4.00/game (season: 3.17/17th)

It would be hard to find much fault with the offense in Week 2.  The scoring was balanced – seven different Caps among 19 skaters to dress had goals in the three games, 14 had points, 16 recorded at least one shot on goal.  Even more impressive, the Caps did it against teams that finished second (Dallas Stars) and fourth (Nashville Predators) in scoring defense last season.  Want even more impressive?  When the Caps scored four goals in Dallas against the Stars, it was the first time in 15 home games, dating back to last February 19th, that the Stars allowed more than three goals on home ice.  And, the team was efficient, scoring 12 goals on 83 shots overall (14.5 percent).

On an individual level, Alex Ovechkin led the team with three goals in the three games, bringing his total to four for the season (tied for sixth in the league) and his career total to 662, six short of Luc Robitaille for 12th place all time.  John Carlson led the team for the week in assists (five) and points (seven), and was a team-best plus-3.  His ten points for the season were tied for third in the league at week’s end and led all defensemen.  He also had the Caps’ only game-winning goal for the week, becoming the tenth defenseman in the league to record at least one this season.

Three other Caps tied for second behind Carlson in overall scoring with four points apiece – Nicklas Backstrom, Tom Wilson, and Ovechkin.  In his first week back after opening the season on a three-game suspension, Evgeny Kuznetsov went 2-1-3.

Defense: 3.67/game (season: 2.83/12th)

The defense was decent-bad-good over the three games, from beginning to end of the week.  They held Dallas to 26 shots on goal to open the week in Washington and to 25 shots on goal in Dallas to close the week.  In between was another matter.  Nashville jumped on the Caps for 13 first period shots to set a tone, and the 16 shots on goal they posted in the third period was indicative of the dominance that earned them a 4-1 win of the period on their way to a come-from-behind 6-5 win.  They had 38 shots on goal for the game.

There was an ominous turn as the week wore on, too.  The Caps held Dallas to 22 shot attempts at 5-on-5 and were plus-18 in shot attempt differential at fives, the fourth straight game to open the season on the plus side of that ledger.  But the Caps gave up 43 shot attempts at 5-on-5 to Nashville and were minus-15 for the game.  That carried over into the last game of the week, in Dallas, where the Caps allowed 33 shot attempts at 5-on-5, the second highest allowed in six games, and they were minus-7 in differential.

Goaltending: 3.71 / .876 (season: 2.80 / .897)

A glass half full/glass half empty week in net for the Caps.  The half empty part is the part that had better fill up soon.  Braden Holtby got the nod in the first two games of the week, and even if you subscribe to the notion (with which we concur) that no goaltender’s numbers, good or bad, are entirely a product of his play, Holtby had a disappointing week.  In the two games he stopped only 54 of 64 shots overall (a .844 save percentage) and was 36 for 45 in saves on even strength shots (.833), fourth-worst among 56 goalies to dress in Week 2 across the league.  October has never really been Holtby’s month to shine.  He has a fine 26-17-5 win-loss record over his career of Octobers, but his 2.71 goals against, .908 save percentage, and seven shorthanded goals allowed (most of any month) have not been impressive.  But those numbers look better than his numbers so far this season.  But, it’s early.

It’s early in Ilya Samsonov’s career, too.  And a fine start it has had.  Samsonov got the call for the game in Dallas to end the week, and he was impressive in his second career start in a place that has been unkind to the Caps.  He allowed a single goal, becoming the first Capital ever to allow less than two goals in a complete game in Dallas since the Stars moved there in 1993.  He became the first rookie Capital goalie to win his first two starts since Michal Neuvirth did it in 2009 (Holtby won his first two appearances, but the first was in a relief role).

Power Play: 3-for-14/21.4 percent (season: 20.0 percent/T-18th)

Better than Week 1, but not where it might be with this skill level.  Still, the power play did show signs of health as the week wore on.  The Caps were 0-for-5 against Dallas to start the week, a streak of futility that reached six when they failed on their first power play chance against Nashville.  However, the Capitals scored on two of their next three man advantage opportunities against the Predators in the 6-5 loss, the one on which they failed being an abbreviated 17 second chance to end the game.  After going 1-for-5 against the Stars on Saturday, the Caps closed the week 3-for-8 after starting it 0-for-6.

The Caps still have some work to do in applying pressure, insofar as it means getting pucks to the net.  The Caps managed 17 shots on goal with a man advantage in 17:22 of power play ice time.

Penalty Killing: 13-for-14/92.9 percent (season: 85.7 percent/9th)

Another glass-half-full/glass-half-empty week.  Yes, the Caps were very effective in killing penalties, their 13-for-14 week allowing them to jump into the top ten in penalty killing.  The 92.9 percent kill rate was better than any of the 14 weeks last season in which the Caps faced ten or more shorthanded situations.

On the other hand, there were those 14 shorthanded situations in three games.  It was the third-most faced by any team in Week 2, and both teams ahead of them – Dallas (20) and Carolina (18) played four games.  Compare that to the seven shorthanded situations the Caps faced in Week 1, and one gets the feeling the Caps might have lost another standings point (or two) had their penalty killing been less effective.

What the Caps did very well in Week 3 was suppress power play shots on goal against.  In 25:10 of shorthanded ice time, the Caps allowed their three opponents a total of 13 shots on goal.

Faceoffs: 108-for-206 / 52.4 percent (season: 52.3 percent/7th)

Week 2 was almost identical to Week 1 in the circle, the Caps following the 52.3 percent week with a 52.4 percent week.  It was a somewhat high-volume week, given that three games were played, and the opportunities were spread around rather liberally.  Twelve Caps took at least one draw, and six took more than ten.  Nic Dowd had the best week among the ten-plus group, winning more than 64 percent of his faceoffs.  Nicklas Backstrom was the only member of that group to finish under 50 percent.

The individual performances led to fine overall efforts in the ends.  Washington was over 55 percent in both the offensive and defensive ends, more than offsetting an under 45 percent performance in the neutral zone for the week.

Goals by Period:

It sticks out like a sore thumb – third period goals allowed.  Seven in three games.  At least one goal allowed in the third period in all three games.  Those third period collapses in the first two games of the week cost the Caps three standings points, the extra point they would have earned against Dallas to start the week and two points outright in the four-goals-against collapse against Nashville in the middle game of the week.  As a result, the Caps have not allowed the most third period goals (they are tied for third most allowed), but when coupled with overtime goals allowed, no team has allowed more goals after 40 minutes than the Caps (11 in the third period and overtime, tied with Los Angeles).


The record is not much different, but how the Caps are getting there this season bears little resemblance to last year through two weeks.  Goals scored and allowed are down, not really a surprise, even this early, given the alterations in personnel among the bottom six from more offensively oriented players to more two-way players.  Shots and shot attempts have changed rather radically, and for the better in both categories.  The power play is off, and the penalty kill is better, leaving the total special teams index both last year and this well into the positive territory (111.8 last season, 109.7 this season).

Grittership categories look off so far this season, but the hits, blocked shots, and takeaways drop offs could very well be the result of better team defense that limits opponents’ possession opportunities.

In the end…

That the Caps got a win in Dallas, a place where they had only one other regulation win in their history there, was a good way to end the week.  But two blown third period leads, especially the four-goals allowed collapse in Nashville, were opportunities squandered.  This is a team that is integrating quite a few new parts, either added late last season or over the summer, that effect both the forward and defensive groups.  And perhaps those getting to know you pains have opened up holes that Braden Holtby has been unable to close frequently enough.  How the Caps improve on that will be something to watch in Week 3 when the Caps take on teams of a more run-and-gun bent.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: John Carlson (2-5-7, plus-2, three power play points, one game-winning goal, 25:57 in average ice time)
  • Second Star: Ilya Samsonov (1-0-0, 1.00, .960, first goalie in Caps history to allow fewer than two goals in a complete game in Dallas)
  • Third Star: Tom Wilson (2-2-4, even, one power play goal, one shorthanded goal)

Captain rates the week…

Two puppers

Friday, October 11, 2019

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 6: Capitals at Stars, October 12th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals bring the week to an end on Saturday night when they visit the Lone Star State to face the Dallas Stars in a rematch of Tuesday’s matchup that the Caps lost in overtime, 4-3.  You can take a look at the prognosto for that one for some information to impress your friends and confound your adversaries, but here are some more tidbits on which you can snack:

1.  This will be the Capitals’ 20th visit to Dallas since the Stars moved there from Minnesota for the 1993-1994 season.  Washington has a 5-12-2 record in Big D, which might stand for “Big Disappointment.”

2.  All five wins by the Caps in Dallas were of the one-goal variety, four of them in overtime.

3.  The first, last, and only win in regulation the Caps have had in Dallas came on October 17, 1995.  You might remember that as the date on which a French woman Jeanne Calment reached the confirmed age of 120 years and 238 days, making her the oldest person ever recorded.   Then again, you might remember that Mike Eagles and Mark Tinordi scored goals to wipe out a 2-0 Dallas lead, Stefan Ustorf scored to give the Caps a lead, and after Dallas tied the game one more time, Dale Hunter scored the game-winning goal in the third period.  Jim Carey (remember him?) was the winning goaltender.

4.  Each of the last three games played by these teams in Dallas ended in overtime.  The Caps won in January 2017 on a Jay Beagle goal 19 seconds into the extra frame, and then they won in December 2017 on an Andre Burakovsky goal in overtime.  Both games ended by 4-3 scores.  Dallas won the last meeting, in overtime, last January on a Tyler Seguin goal in extra time.

5.  Tyler Seguin scored the overtime, game-winning goal in each of the last two games between these teams.  No player has more overtime game-winners in team history against the Caps than Seguin (two).

6.  These teams and overtime… Each of the last three regular season games and five of the last seven overall, regardless of venue, were settled in overtime.

7.  These teams also like “4-3” games.  Eight of the last 18 games played by these teams finished with that score (five in extra time).  The Caps won four, and the Stars won four.

8.  Going into this season, what two Capitals were the all-time leaders in goals and points against the Stars in Dallas? If one of your answers was “Alex Ovechkin,” well good for you, even if it was not a very original guess.  The other?   Andre Burakovsky.  Both Ovechkin and Burakovsky were 2-5-7 in Dallas.  Burakovsky’s feat might be more impressive, having done it in only five games (not to mention having an overtime game-winning goal).  Ovechkin did it over nine games.

9.  Five wins in Dallas, five different goaltenders.  Jim Carey, Craig Billington, Jose Theodore, Braden Holtby, and Philipp Grubauer.  Theodore is the only one to win in his only appearance for the Caps in Dallas against the Stars.  He and Grubauer are the only ones to do it in their only start (Grubauer had two appearances in Dallas).

10.  No goalie was frustrated more in Dallas than Olaf Kolzig.  In six appearances (five starts), he was 0-5-0, 3.07, .859, but he does have the only point scored by a goalie in Dallas, an assist on the Caps’ only goal in a 4-1 loss in January 2006.  In his five starts, the Caps scored only four goals and were shut out twice.  Not much to work with there.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Dallas: Tyler Seguin

Tyler Seguin isn’t bad enough scoring the game-winning overtime goal against the Caps in Washington on Tuesday night.  He is the active leader among Stars in scoring against the Caps in Dallas with five goals and eight points in six games played in Big D.  Three of the goals are power play strikes, two of the goals are game-winners, one in overtime.  He has been especially painful to the Caps in another respect.  Overall, he has five game-winning goals in 24 career games against the Caps, the most he has against any opponent except the Winnipeg Jets (eight in 36 games).  He has five career power play goals against Washington.  Only against the Jets does he have more (13).

Washington: Tom Wilson

Three players in Caps history through last season appeared in 10 or more games against the Dallas incarnation of the Stars franchise and not recorded a point.  Two – Brendan Witt and Joe Reekie – are retired defensemen.  The other is Tom Wilson, who had no points in 11 career games against the Stars at the end of last season.  He broke that drought with his first point of the season (an assist) on Tuesday night.  It is a change from last season for Wilson who, after opening the season on suspension, had points in nine of his first ten games (8-6-14), four of them multi-point games, and did not go consecutive games without a point until December.  With the forward lines settling out upon the return of Evgeny Kuznetsov from his own suspension to open the season, perhaps Wilson’s production (which improved with a shorthanded goal on Thursday against Nashville) will pick up.

In the end…

This game will end a difficult start to the new season for the Caps.  The five teams against whom the Caps opened the season were among the best scoring defenses last season: St. Louis (fifth), the New York Islanders (first), Carolina (eighth), Nashville (fourth), and Dallas (second).  Things change in a hurry for the Caps, who will face the more offense-inclined Colorado Avalanche and Toronto Maple Leafs when they leave Dallas.  But, first things first.  And given the history of these teams, the score should be apparent.  Just with a different ending than Tuesday night.

Capitals 4 – Stars 3

Thursday, October 10, 2019

A NO-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 5: Predators 6 - Capitals 5

The Washington Capitals took to the road on Thursday night when they visited Nashville to face the Predators.  The Caps were coming off their second straight overtime loss on home ice when they lost to the Dallas Stars on Tuesday night, while the Preds were coming off a 5-2 smackdown of the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday.  Nashville has been a house of horrors for the Caps in recent years, and this game would prove no exception, giving up a third period lead and collapsing late in a 6-5 loss.

First Period

The early pace was intense, Nashville holding the early edge in shots and shot attempts.  The Caps slowly tilted the ice the other way and took a lead as a result of excellent pressure around the Nashville net.  John Carlson worked the puck around a couple of defenders on the right side before sliding the puck across the slot to Garnet Hathaway to goalie Pekka Rinne’s right.  Hathaway received the puck on his backhand and, without a clean path for a shot, sent the puck back into the middle where Lars Eller had a slam dunk from the top of the crease at the 9:17 mark.

Nashville tied the game less than 90 seconds later when he got free behind the Caps defense and roofed a backhand over the glove of goalie Braden Holtby and under the crossbar to make it 1-1, 10:39 into the period.

The teams exchanged power plays after the mid-point of the period, the Caps failing to convert a Craig Smith tripping call and Nashville failing to make good on a Radko Gudas tripping call.  The Caps did have a shorthanded chance on the Nashville power play, but Carl Hagelin could not convert a Lars Eller feed.  Nashville got another power play chance when Evgeny Kuznetsov went off on a slashing call with 2:07 left in the period, but the Caps killed that off to go to the first intermission tied, 1-1.

-- The Caps did not get their first shot attempt of the period until the 2:31 mark, a Radko Gudas miss, while their first shot on goal was recorded by Evgeny Kuznetsov 5:01 into the period.

-- Eight minutes into the period, Braden Holtby robbed Matt Duchene at the left post, and then he got his pad down to keep Duchene from tucking the loose puck inside the near post.

-- Lars Eller was the only Capital with two shots on goal for the period; Radko Gudas led the Caps with three shot attempts (one on goal, two misses)

-- The Caps had nine shots on goal and 15 attempts for the period, trailing the Preds in both categories (13 shots/20 attempts)

Second Period

Washington got an early opportunity with a man advantage when Colton Sissons high-sticked Jonas Siegenthaler.  The Caps converted, John Carlson feeding a pass to Alex Ovechkin for a one-timer from The Office that beat Rinne through the pads 4:46 into the period.

Nashville tied the game when Ryan Johansen corralled a pass from Viktor Arvidsson and swatted a bouncing puck past Holtby at the 7:37 mark.

The goal seemed to give the Preds a jolt, their level of pressure increasing and pinning the Caps in their own end.  The attack forced a Caps penalty in front of the net, Grnet Hathaway going off for interference 11:03 into the period.  It was the Caps who converted, though.  Tom Wilson carried the puck through the neutral zone with Chandler Stephenson on a 2-on-1 break.  Wilson skated down the left side, looked off Rinne as if he was going to pass to Stephenson, and snapped the puck high over Rinne’s glove on the far side to make it 3-2 at the 12:28 mark.  The Caps closed out the remainder of the Predator power play with no damage done.

Alex Ovechkin drew a Nashville penalty with some slick stick work to get around to Predator defenders, the second one – Roman Josi – tripping Ovechkin.  The Captain made them pay with the 32,904th one timer of his career (or so it seems) sailing past Rinne at the 17:36 mark to make it 4-2.  That would be how the teams went to the second intermission.

-- Ovechkin had two shot attempts, two shots on goal, and two goals for the game through two periods.

-- Nick Jensen and Chandler Stephenson were the only Caps without a shot attempt through 40 minutes.  Jensen did have two blocked shots from the blue line to lead the team through two, and Stephenson had an assist on the Wilson goal and was plus-1.

-- Lars Eller led the Caps with three shots on goal through two periods.  Carl Hagelin led the team with four attempts.

-- Nashville had a 22-16 edge in shots through two periods and a 41-31 advantage in shot attempts.

-- Jakub Vrana had only nine shifts through two periods, tied with Brendan Leipsic for fewest for the Caps through 40 minutes.

Third Period

Nashville halved the lead just over five minutes into the period off a goal mouth scramble on a power play, Ryan Johansen stuffing the puck under Holtby just before Holtby was pushed into the net.  Just 70 seconds later, it was tied, the Caps suffering the effects of not being able to clear the puck from their own zone against the top Nashville line.  Filip Forsberg worked his way into a shooting position at the edge of the left wing circle, but dialed a pass to Matt Duchene, who snapped the puck past Holtby inside the near post to make it 4-4, 6:13 into the period.

T.J. Oshie put the Caps back in front.  Off a turnover at the Nashville blue line, Dmitry Orlov skated the puck thorugh the left side to the high slot and opened his stick as if to shoot.  Instead, he slid the puck to Oshie on his right, who buried a shot on the long side of Rinne to make it 5-4, 10:090 into the period.

Nashville tied it yet again late in the period.  From below the goal line to Holtby’s left, Colton Sissons sent the puck to the crease.  Carl Hagelin tried to tie up Nick Bonino but did not get enough of his stick to prevent Bonino from flicking the puck off the near post, off Holtby, and into the net at the 15:20 mark.

The Predators took their first lead of the game less than a minute later.  Mattias Ekholm scored for the Preds with an assist from Calle Jarnkrok.  It would be the last lead change, the Preds holding off the Caps in the last minute when Washington had an extra skater and a power play for a 6-on-4 advantage.  It would be a 6-5 final.

Other stuff…

-- Nicklas Backstrom played in his 900th career game, the fifth player in Caps history to do so.  He joined Alex Ovechkin (1,089), Calle Johansson (983, Peter Bondra (961), and Kelly Miller (940) in the “900 Club.”

-- Alex Ovechkin’s second period goal was his first career point against Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne.  That might be quite as big a deal as it sounds, since this was only the seventh appearance Rinne has made against the Capitals in his career.

-- That power play goal by Ovechkin moved him past Luc Robitaille for fourth place in career power play goals.

-- Ovechkin’s second goal made it 133 career multi-goal games and counting.

-- Ovechkin recorded his 21st career multi-power play goal game tonight.  That ties Luc Robitaille and Brendan Shanahan for sixth since 1970-1980 (edit: corrected for ranking).

-- Tom Wilson’s shorthanded goal was the Caps’ first of the season, in Game 5  The Caps did not score their first shorthanded goal last season until Game 25, also by Tom Wilson, in a 6-3 win over the New Jersey Devils on November 30th.

-- With six goals allowed, it makes 24 goals allowed by the Caps in Nashville in their last four visits.

-- The four goals allowed in the third period doubled the Caps total for the young season, bringing the total to eight in five games.

-- The losing streak is now three (0-2-1).  The Caps did not have a three-game losing streak last season until Games 38-40 (0-2-1).

-- Braden Holtby allowed six goals on 38 shots.  He is generally a slow starter, but his save percentage in four starts is .868.

In the end…

In five games, the Caps have been outscored in the third period, 8-2.  They are the only team in the league (pending later Thursday results) to have lost more than one game when leading after two periods, their loss total in those situations now at three (two in overtime).  The Caps are just a mess in their own end, from the goaltender on out.  And that just cannot continue.  No team in the NHL can outscore their own poor defense.  The Caps are no exception.

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 5: Capitals at Predators, October 10th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals head back on the road on Thursday with a visit to Nashville to face the Predators.  The Capitals have hardly whistled a happy tune in Music City over the years.  Washington goes into this game on a three-game losing streak in Nashville over which they were outscored, 18-7.

Nashville will be bringing to a close a season opening four game home stand with this game.  The Preds opened the season with a 5-2 win over the Minnesota Wild, lost to the Detroit Red Wings, 5-3, and beat the San Jose Sharks, 5-2, on Tuesday night.  Although the record through three games is the same as last season’s (2-1-0), Nashville has displayed more offense (13 goals) than they did in their first three contests last season (seven goals and suffering a shutout at the hands of the Calgary Flames). 

Last season was a bit of a disappointment in the offensive end of the ice for the Predators, if only because their big guns lost significant chunks of the season.  Viktor Arvidsson led the team with 34 goals despite dressing for only 58 games.  He missed 21 games to a broken thumb and three more to a lower body injury.   Even with the absences, Arvidsson set a career high for goals, topping the 31 he recorded for Nashville in 2016-2017.  Being efficient helped.  His 17.4 percent shooting was a career high and was 18th among 370 skaters recording at least 100 shots last season; and, his 25 goals in the 2019 portion of last season was second in the league only to Leon Draisaitl of the Edmonton Oilers (29).  Those 34 goals also made him only the second player in franchise history to record multiple 30-goal seasons; he is one of only seven players in Predators history to do it at least once.  Arvidsson is 6-3-9, plus-4, in nine career games against the Caps. 

Shea Weber, who played for 11 seasons in Nashville before he was traded to the Montreal Canadiens in June 2016, holds just about every individual record for defensemen for the Predators.  Roman Josi is second on most of those lists: goals (95 to Weber’s 166), assists (256 to Weber’s 277), points (351 to Weber’s 443), even strength goals (63 to Weber’s 81), total minutes (13,974 to Weber’s 18,332).  His ability to climb the franchise rankings has been due in no small part to his consistency.  He is one of only four defensemen in the league to record at least ten goals in each of the last six seasons (Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Mark Giordano, and Victor Hedman are the others) and one of only three to record ten goals and at least 25 assists in each of the last six seasons (Giordano and Hedman being the others).  One can drill down into that consistency a bit further.  His shooting percentage in each of the last five seasons was 5.5 percent.  Josi is 5-6-11, plus-3, in 13 career games against Washington.

Pekka Rinne is not the oldest goaltender in the league, but it is a small group in front of him.  Rinne will turn 37 years old in the first week of November.  Only Mike Smith in Edmonton, Henrik Lundqvist with the New York Rangers, and Craig Anderson in Ottawa are older.  Rinne led the league in appearances by a goalie in 2011-2012 (73), but since then his workload has diminished, especially in the last four seasons in which his appearances went from 66 in 2015-2016 to 61 the following season, 59 in 2017-2018, and 56 last season.  Still, he is fifth among active goalies in career games played (625), fourth in wins (343), fourth in goals against average (2.38), fifth in save percentage (.919), and third in shutouts (55).  He is a four-time Vezina Trophy finalist, winning in 2017-2018.  Age did not seem to affect him down the stretch of the regular season last year over which he went 11-4-1, 2.23, .927, with one shutout, a record that has spilled over into his start this season in which he is 2-0-0 and has stopped 55 of 59 shots (.932).  If there is a blot on his record, it is that in eight postseason appearances, he and the Preds failed to advance past the first round six times.  They did get to the second round once (last season) and the Stanley Cup final (in 2016-2017).  Rinne is 5-1-0, 2.50, .910 in six career appearances against the Capitals.

1.  Roman Josi and the departed P.K. Subban (now of the New Jersey Devils) have identical career numbers for Nashville in the following: goals per game (0.17), assists per game (0.45), and points per game (0.62).  Both are best among defensemen in those categories who played at least 50 games for the Predators.

2.  Nashville has never seemed to have much in the way of a power play.  Since the franchise came into the league in the 1998-1999 season, their power play ranks 27th (16.4 percent) of 30 teams, not including the recent expansion Vegas Golden Knights.

3.  Not much of a surprise that Matt Duchene, acquired over the summer, leads the Preds in scoring so far with six points in three games.  However, he is still waiting on his first goal as a Predator; all of his points came by way of assists.

4.  Nashville already has goals from four of its defensemen through three games: Roman Josi (two), Ryan Ellis, Dante Fabbro, and Mattias Ekholm.

5.  It is early, but Nashville has struggled with shot attempt differential at 5-on-5.  Their 36.08 percent at fives ranks only 25th in the league.  By way of comparison, they rank 11th overall (52.44 percent).

1.  The Caps are 5-8-1, with one tie, in 15 visits to Nashville, and only three of the wins came in regulation.  Washington is 1-5-1 in their last seven visits to Bridgestone Arena.

2.  Another from the “it’s early” file… the Caps lead the league in shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 through Tuesday (58.56 percent).

3.  Every Caps defenseman who has dressed for all four games so far has at least one point, five in all: John Carlson (1-4-5), Radko Gudas (0-2-2), Dmitry Orlov (1-0-1), Jonas Siegenthaler (0-1-1), and Nick Jensen (0-1-1).  Carlson is tied for the league lead in points among defensemen through Tuesday with Morgan Rielly, Dougie Hamilton, and Rasmus Dahlin.

4.  Through Tuesday, only San Jose and Toronto had more power play chances (17 apiece) than the Caps (16).

5.  Through four games, the Caps have four first period goals, four second period goals…and one third period goal.  Nicklas Backstrom’s late goal to tie Dallas in the third period allowed the Caps to avoid being the fourth team without a third period goal so far (Arizona, Minnesota, and Boston).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Nashville: Filip Forsberg

If there is one name that burns like salt in an open wound with Caps fans, it would be “Filip Forsberg.”  Even now, more than seven years after he was drafted by the Caps, more than six years after he was traded to the Predators for Martin Erat and Michael Latta, you can almost feel the spasms of Caps fans when Forsberg’s name is mentioned.

You would think by now that the memories would have faded.  Forsberg will play his 399th NHL game, all with the Predators, when he takes the ice on Thursday night. He is already fourth in team history in career goals (148), tenth in assists (161), fifth in points (309), second in game-winning goals (28), fifth in power play goals (38, tied with Craig Smith), and sixth in shorthanded goals (six, tied with Tom Fitzgerald).  He is another player whose production last season, while impressive, was cut short by absences.  Forsberg had 28 goals in just 64 games last season, missing 17 games in mid-season to an upper body injury and another game in March to the same reason. 

Those missed games almost certainly cost him a 30-goal season which would have made him the first player in Nashville history to record three seasons of 30 or more goals (he had 33 in 2015-2016 and 31 in 2016-2017). In fact, his missing 15 games in 2017-2018, when he finished with 26 goals, might have kept him from being a four-time 30-goal player.  As it is, Forsberg is one of ten players in the league to record more than 25 goals in each of the last five seasons, and he has the most career seasons in Nashville with more than 25 goals scored (five).  He is off to a fast start this season with three goals in three games, and he is second to Matt Duchene in points (3-1-4).  Forsberg is 6-5-11, in nine career games against Washington.

Washington: Alex Ovechkin

The shots are there; he leads the league with 20 shots on goal through Tuesday.  But for Alex Ovechkin they have not found the back of the net with regularity.  Ovechkin has one goal on those 20 shots, that one coming on his first shot on goal of the season in the Caps’ 3-2 overtime win over St. Louis in the season opener.  Yes, it’s early, but he had goals in each of his first three games last season (a total of four), eight goals (including a three-goal and a four-goal game) in his first four contests in 2017-2018, goals in each of his first five games in 2015-2016, five goals in his first four games in 2014-2015, and five goals in his first four games in 2013-2014.  He is acquainted with fast starts.

Based on his history, one would not think Nashville will be the place to break out of the early-season slump.  Ovechkin has four goals in ten visits to Nashville and has only four points in his last seven visits there.  Two of his goals were of the power play variety, scored in consecutive visits in 2015 and 2016. 

Ovechkin, whose goal against St. Louis brought his career total to 500 games having scored at least one goal (13th all-time in goal-games), has been scoring goals in fits and starts dating back to last season.  He has six goals in his last 19 regular season games dating back to last March (on 91 shots; 6.6 percent), but he had two two-goal games in that mix.  Ovechkin is 10-5-15, minus-9, in 19 career games against Nashville.

In the end…

Based on history, this might be the most difficult week of the season for the Caps.  They haven’t had much success against the Dallas Stars, and they already lost in overtime the first of two games they will play against the Stars this week.  They go to Nashville on Thursday, where their last three visits ended in shellackings – 5-2 in 2017, 6-3 in 2018, and 7-2 last season.  It might be Music City, but for the Caps in recent years (one regulation win in more than a decade), the soundtrack has been the best blues mix the town can scare up.  Time to turn that around.

Capitals 4 – Predators 3