Sunday, January 21, 2018

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 16

For the Washington Capitals, it was going to happen sooner or later.  And frankly, one could see this coming, since we saw this movie at about this time last season.  It was not a romantic comedy, nor was it a thriller.  It was not a buddy movie, nor was it a sci-fi drama.  It was…well, we’re not quite sure.  Well, maybe we’re sure we do not want to see any further sequel.

Record: 0-1-1

It was the first losing week for the Caps since Week 3 and their first winless week this season.  It was only two games, which mitigates the result to a degree, but the part that causes discomfort is that it is precisely the result the Caps had coming out of the break last season – an extra time loss in their first game back and a close, if somewhat listless, loss the following night.  Last season it was a 3-2 Gimmick loss to the Detroit Red Wings followed by a 2-1 loss to the New York Rangers.  This time it was a 4-3 overtime loss to the New Jersey Devils and a 3-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens.  The good part of that, for you silver lining, glass-half-full crowd, is that the Caps followed up last year’s two-game losing streak coming out of the break with five wins in their next six games.

Better still is that despite the two losses in Week 16, the Caps finished the week at the top of the Metropolitan Division.  They did slip below the streaking Boston Bruins who, on a 12-0-4 streak, have inched ahead of the Caps in the Eastern Conference standings by two points.

Offense: 2.50 /game (season: 3.02 /game, rank: 11th)

Alex Ovechkin finished tied for fourth on the team in shots on goal (three, with Jay Beagle…yeah, Jay Beagle), which says as much as anything about the week the Caps had on offense.  John Carlson (ten shots) had as many as the next two Caps combined (Brett Connolly and Matt Niskanen with five apiece). Oh, and none of Ovechkin’s shots on goal came at even strength.  Tough week.

As for the actual scoring, Connolly had a pair of goals against the Devils, that pair leading the team for the week.  Carlson, Dmitry Orlov, and Lars Eller had the other three of the five the Caps had.  Eller has become quite the goal scorer of late.  He had a four-game goal scoring streak stopped in the overtime loss to the Devils to open the week, but his last minute goal to get the Caps close against Montreal was his fifth goal in six games, his sixth in nine contests.

Connolly was one of three Caps with two-point weeks, Orlov (1-1-2) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (0-2-2) being the others.  They were among 12 Caps with at least one point for the week.  It was only two games, but four defensemen had points for the Caps: Orlov, Niskanen, Carlson, and Brook Orpik).  Only the rookies – Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos – were blueliners held off the score sheet.

What the Caps did not get much of, and it was reflected in the scoring, was shots.  They managed just 45 shots in the two games.  They did rebound from a sluggish performance in New Jersey – 19 shots and 44 shot attempts – to a more robust one against the Canadiens (26 shots, 61 shot attempts), but it was not a strong week overall.

Defense: 3.50 / game (season: 2.83 /game, rank: 16th)

Well, the Caps were consistent in the defensive end.  They allowed New Jersey 66 shot attempts in the 4-3 overtime loss to start the week, and they allowed the Montreal Canadiens 67 shot attempts in the 3-2 loss to close it.  What they could not do consistently was keep the big guys on the other side from doing the most damage.  Taylor Hall had a goal (the game-winning overtime goal) and an assist among the four goals the Devils scored in the first game this week, and then Max Pacioretty had a pair of goals (including, as it turned out, the game-winning empty net goal) and an assist to figure in all of the Montreal scoring in the second game of the week.  That Pacioretty performance was noteworthy for two things.  First, it was the first time this season he recorded a multi-goal game. Second, he became the 15th player this season to record multiple-goal games against the Caps.

Individually, one wonders what is up with Nicklas Backstrom.  He was minus-3 for the week, worst on the club, and he is minus-4 over his last four games, three of them ending on the minus-side of the ledger.  One might wonder if this is guilt by association, since Alex Ovechkin and Devante Smith-Pelly, with whom Backstrom has spent much time on the first line lately, were each minus-2 for the week.  But then again, Tom Wilson (not Smith-Pelly) was on the right side of the top line against the Canadiens, and Backstrom was still minus-2.  The best that might be said here is that something just isn’t working quite the way it should on the top line in terms of keeping opponents silent.  And, even the best defensive forwards (a group that would include Backstrom) get scored on.

Goaltending: 3.05 / .895 (season: 2.66 / .916 / 1 shutout)

If Week 14 was saved by goaltending, Week 15 was not.  On the other hand, the goaltending was called upon to do a lot of saving, at least in terms of trying to deny opponents rushing in on breakaways.  The first New Jersey goal…long pass to Drew Stafford for a breakaway.  Third Devils goal…long floater pass to Miles Wood for a breakaway.  Game-winning goal…Taylor Hall chips the puck past Evgeny Kuznetsov at the players bench…skates in on a, yup, breakaway.  That’s half of the goals scored against a goaltender this week, Braden Holtby being the victim of all of them.  That is in no small part why Holtby finished the week with a .875 save percentage.

Philipp Grubauer wasn’t victimized as much by leaky defense, but his 32-save effort didn’t get enough goal support to give him a win.  It was the latest in a running dark comedy that is his season.  In seven games he started, finished, and allowed two or fewer goals, his record is now 3-3-1.  He has a save percentage of .959 in those seven games, not to mention his only shutout…in a loss (by Gimmick).  He deserves better.

Power Play: 1-for-8 / 12.5 percent (season: 19.2 percent, rank: 16th)

The Caps did get a power play goal this week, but it was the lack of one in five chances against New Jersey that might have kept the Caps from avoiding a losing week.  It was the eighth time this season that the Caps had five or more power plays in a game and the first time that they failed to convert on any of their frequent chances. It also happened to be just their second loss in such instances (6-1-1).

The Devils are a decent, but not elite penalty killing team (ranked 12th when they played the Caps), and the Caps aspire to elite power play status.  Going 0-for-5 with just five shots on goal in ten minutes of power play time, even with the rust that might have accumulated with six days off, was disappointing. 

Overall, the Caps went 1-for-11 shooting on the man advantage, John Carlson (four) and Ovechkin (three) leading the team in shots.  That is an indicator of the Caps getting little in the way of rebounds or chances in tight with T.J. Oshie getting just one shot on goal and Evgeny Kuznetsov two (Dmitry Orlov had the other).

Penalty Killing: 6-for-7 / 85.7 percent (season: 79.4 percent, rank: 19th)

If the Caps kill six of every seven shorthanded situations they face, they will do well.  So in that sense it was a good week for the penalty killers.  And, the Caps allowed the Devils and Canadiens only ten shots on goal in 12:16 of shorthanded ice time.  Few opportunities, a diminished number of shots, efficient goaltending (.900 save percentage).  The trouble is, the Caps were 23-8-2 this season coming into Week 16 when allowing an opponent four or fewer power play chances.  They lost in overtime to New Jersey (three chances) and Montreal (four). The penalty killers had a decent week with little to show for it.

Faceoffs: 58-for-118 / 49.2 percent (season: 51.0 percent, rank: 12th)

The usual suspects did the usual things in the faceoff circle.  But perhaps not in the usual ways, or at least in consistent ways.  Nicklas Backstrom (51.4 percent), Lars Eller (56.3 percent), and Jay Beagle (52.4 percent) had good weeks; Evgeny Kuznetsov (42.1 percent) had a challenging week.  Those four players, who each had ten or more draws taken for the week, were a combined 51.4 percent (56-for-109). 

But things were not quite as good as all that.  They were 25-for-43 on neutral zone faceoffs (58.1 percent), but in the ends they were less efficient.  The foursome was 17-for-34 in the offensive zone (50.0 percent), a number depressed by Lars Eller going 0-for-6 in the offensive zone against New Jersey.  It was worse in the defensive zone, where the quartet was just 14-for-32 (43.8 percent).  Nicklas Backstrom had the difficulties here, going just 2-for-9 (22.2 percent).

Goals by Period:

Second periods have been the Caps’ problem all season, and it was the case in Week 16.  It is not that the Caps were dominated in the middle period of Week 16, allowing three goals while scoring a pair over the two games.  But the order matters.  The Caps allowed a pair of second period goals to New Jersey after going to the first intermission tied, falling behind by a 3-1 margin and forcing them to scramble to secure a single standings point.  They allowed Montreal to open the scoring in the second game of the week with a power play goal seven minutes into the second period of a scoreless game.

In both instances the Caps came back, but the NHL is a league in which teams win from being ahead much more often than from catching up. 

In the end…

Earlier in the week, we wrote about the need to “beware the bye” as the Caps were coming out of their six-day hiatus.  And sure enough, just enough rust had accumulated to slow the club coming out of the break.  They now have 35 games remaining in the regular season.  Last year they went 23-10-2 in their last 35 games.  Few would predict that this club repeats that run.  In fact, just going “.500” in standings points (35 points in 35 games) would give the Caps 95 points, a number that was enough for the Toronto Maple Leafs to capture the second wild-card spot in the postseason last year. 

Something in-between the 48 points the Caps earned last season and the 35 that could be enough to make the postseason appears where the Caps are headed.  But to get there they need to change direction.  They need put the break behind them, quickly.  They need to win.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Philipp Grubauer (0-1-0, 2.08, .920)
  • Second Star: Brett Connolly (2-0-2, even, five shots on goal)
  • Third Star: Lars Eller (1-0-1, plus-1, 56.3 percent on faceoffs)

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 48: Flyers at Capitals, January 21st

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals play their third game in four days on Sunday afternoon when they host the Philadelphia Flyers in a Sunday afternoon tilt.  The Caps will be looking to halt a two-game losing streak on their post-bye schedule, while the Flyers will be looking to extend a successful run of late, having won seven of their last nine games.

What the Flyers will be looking to exploit is a somewhat leaky Capitals defense that has allowed three or more goals in six of their last seven games.  Given that the Flyers have scored five or more goals in four of their last nine contests, it will be a challenge for the Caps.

Sean Couturier leads the Flyers in goals (nine) and points (13) in the Flyers’ 7-2-0 run of late.  Couturier has found his goal scoring touch in a big way this season, having already obliterated his career high in goals scored (15 in 2014-2015) with 26 this season, tied for fourth in the league.  And when he scores, the Flyers are successful, going 13-3-5 in the 21 games in which he scored a goal.  In this current run of success for the Orange and Black, three of his goals were game-winners, one of them in overtime.  He has three multi-goal games in his last six contests and points in nine of his last 11 games (10-5-15).  One noteworthy number he has is his 20 even strength goals, twice as many as the Flyer with the next highest total (Claude Giroux with ten).  Couturier is 6-5-11, plus-4, in 22 career games against the Caps.

Speaking of Giroux, he is second on the club in points in their 7-2-0 run of late.  He did it by spreading the good cheer around, 11 of his 12 points in that run coming on assists.  Giroux is having a rebirth of sorts, his 14 goals this season already tying his total for all of last season and his 55 points just three shy of last year’s total of 58.  Giroux topping 50 points is nothing new, though.  This is the seventh time in the last eight seasons he had done so, the only time he fell short being in the abbreviated 2012-2013 season when he had 48 points in 48 games.  The odd thing about Giroux this season, though, is the Flyers’ lack of success when he gets heavy minutes.  Philadelphia is just 6-9-4 when Giroux skated more than 21 minutes.  In 34 career games against Washington, he is 18-18-36, plus-3.

Last season, Ivan Provorov finished fourth among rookie defensemen in scoring with 30 points.  He is on a pace to top that this season with 23 points in 46 games.  His nine goals (he scored his ninth yesterday in the Flyers’ 3-1 win over the New Jersey Devils) is already well clear of last year’s total of six goals.  In the Flyers’ 7-2-0 run he is 4-4-8 to lead the Flyers’ blue line in goals and points.  With 52 career points in his second season, he is already just the ninth Flyer defenseman in franchise history to record more than 50 points in his first two seasons, and he is just the sixth defenseman in Flyer history to post 15 goals over his first two seasons.  In five career games against the Caps, Provorov is 0-1-1, plus-2.

1.  Little things…the Flyers are the best team in the league in taking draws, winning 52.9 percent of the faceoffs they have taken.

2.  The Flyers might just as soon be on the road insofar as their power play is concerned.  At 23.4 percent, it is the fourth-best power play on the road in the league and more than five percentage points better than their power play at home (18.1 percent).

3.  Only three teams have fewer wins when leading after the first period than the Flyers (seven wins).  Then again, only the Vancouver Canucks (eight) and the Buffalo Sabres (eight) have taken fewer leads to the first intermission than the Flyers (nine/7-0-2).

4.  Scoring first is usually a good indicator of success, but not for Philadelphia, which ranks 24th in winning percentage when scoring first (.650/13-4-3).

5.  Getting out of the gate quickly has been an issue for the Flyers.  Only four teams have fewer first period goals than Philadelphia (33).

1.  No team in the NHL has spent less time with a 5-on-3 man advantage than the Caps this season.  Their total is just 20 seconds on one such opportunity.

2.  The third period of games have not been kind to the Caps in one respect.  Only three teams have a worse time differential between power plays and shorthanded situations (minus-26:44).

3.  Scoring first matters to the Caps.  They have the fifth-best winning percentage when scoring first in games (.809/17-2-2).

4.  Only three teams have a better winning percentage in one-goal games than Washington (.650/13-3-4).

5.  So the Caps get out-shot a lot.  Thirty times in 47 games, in fact.  Their 17 wins in those games is third-most in the league, trailing only Colorado (18) and Nashville (19).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Philadelphia: Wayne Simmonds

In the long arc of history for the Philadelphia Flyers, Wayne Simmonds might not get as much attention as he should.  With 179 goals as a Flyer, he ranks 17th in club history.  He among the most reliably productive goal scorers in the league, having topped 25 goals in five of the last six seasons preceding this one, the only time he missed being the abbreviated 2012-2013 season in which he scored 15 goals in 45 games. He has been on a run of late with five goals in his last nine games.  And when he scores, it is all but certain the Flyers win.  They are 13-0-1 in the 14 games in which he recorded a goal so far this season.  In fact, Philadelphia has lost just one game in regulation this season in which Simmonds recorded a point (they are 17-1-4).  The key might be to try to get him off his game and off the ice.  The Flyers are just 4-5-3 in the 12 games in which he logged penalty minutes.  Simmonds is 6-9-15, minus-3, in 29 career games against the Caps.

Washington: Evgeny Kuznetsov

If Evgeny Kuznetsov records a point on Sunday, it would tie his longest points streak of the season at four games.  And since the Caps are 19-5-3 when Kuznetsov records a point, his contribution is certainly welcome.  Although his goal scoring is off a bit lately, he is averaging more goals per game (0.28) than in any of his previous four seasons.  That recent goal scoring is something to take notice of, though.  He has just three in his last 18 contests.  The good thing here is that eight of his 13 goals this season have been scored on home ice.  Kuznetsov is slowly working his way up the all-time points list for the Caps, too.  His next point will break a tie with Gaetan Duchesne for 34th place on the all-time list, both with 225 career points with the Caps.  Doing it against the Flyers might be a good bet.  Philadelphia is one of seven teams against which Kuznetsov has at least ten career points (2-8-10).  However, he is also a minus-4 in his 13 career games against the Flyers, the worst plus-minus number he has against any team.

In the end…

Oddly enough, last season the Caps broke a two-game losing streak coming out of the bye week with a win over the Flyers.  It was a game for the top-sixers, Kuznetsov getting a pair of goals, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie getting the others, and Backstrom, Oshie, Kuznetsov, Alex Ovechkin, and Justin Williams recording multi-point games.  Sounds like a formula that could work again against a team playing its second game in 24 hours.

Capitals 4 – Flyers 1

Friday, January 19, 2018

A ONE-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 46: Devils 4 - Capitals 3 (OT)

The Washington Capitals managed to earn one point against the New Jersey Devils on Thursday night in their first game out of the bye week, but could not capture the second standings point in dropping a 4-3 overtime decision to the Devils in Newark.

The teams traded goals in the first period four minutes apart, New Jersey opening the scoring on a Drew Stafford breakaway at the 8:01 mark. Brett Connolly tied the game when a T.J. Oshie shot from the left point caromed off a Devils defender across the top of the crease and onto Connolly’s stick. Connolly wasted no time whipping the puck past goalie Keith Kinkaid to make it 1-1 at the 12:10 mark.

The Devils went out to a two-goal lead in the second period. Andy Greene followed up a shot that deflected off a Capitals defender and wristed a shot under the left arm of goalie Braden Holtby 3:33 into the period. Miles Wood made it 3-1 mid-way through the period when, after a faceoff win in the defensive zone, he took a lob pass from Sami Vatanen and broke in alone on Holtby, sneaking a shot through his pads that crawled over the goal line at the 10:55 mark.

Dmitry Orov got the Caps within a goal just 14 seconds later. A shot by Jay Beagle was kicked out by Kinkaid to the far boards where Orlov was filling in. His shot from long range beat Kinkaid to make it 3-2 at the 11:09 mark.

The Devils were less than five minutes from sealing the deal when the Caps struck to tie it. Brett Connolly got his second of the game, taking advantage of an opportunity after the Caps worked the puck in deep. Evgeny Kuznetsov skated the puck below the goal line, and just before he took it behind the net sent it in front to Connolly waiting between the hash marks. His shot beat Kinkaid cleanly, and the game was tied at the 16:12 mark.

That left it to be decided in overtime, and it did not take long. Taylor Hall chipped the puck past Evgeny Kuznetsov at the players bench, took off on his own behind the defense, and flipped it over Holtby’s left shoulder to give the Devils the 4-3 win just 34 seconds into the extra session.

Other stuff…

-- The Caps also lost an extra time game coming out of last year’s bye week, that one being a 3-2 Gimmick loss to the Detroit Red Wings in Detroit.

-- The Caps had just 19 shots on goal, Brett Connolly leading the team with four.  No other Caps had more than two.

-- Connolly had his first multi-goal game since he recorded a pair in with the Tampa Bay Lightning in a 6-3 win over the New York Rangers on December 1, 2014.

-- Nicklas Backstrom won 13 of 20 faceoffs.  The rest of the team won 13 of 32 draws (40.6 percent), and Chandler Stephenson was the only other Cap to finish over 50 percent.  He won his only faceoff.

-- Alex Ovechkin and Devante Smith-Pelly led the team with four hits apiece.  That’s nice, but is this a statistic you want two thirds of your first line leading in?  The Ovechkin, Backstrom, DSP line combined for four shots on goal.

-- New Jersey led in shot attempts, 56-44.  The Caps had only seven blocked shots, which seems an oddly low number.

-- Alex Chiasson, Tom Wilson, and Brooks Orpik had points (all assists).  That’s the sort of secondary support one likes.  Would have been nicer if accompanied by primary scoring.

-- Wilson had his first fighting major in more than a month (December 16th), and his first in more than two months in a road game (November 7th), but don’t blame him.  It wasn’t his fault he finished his check and delivered a clean hit on Brian Gibbons, only to have Brian Boyle step in to object.

-- This was just the third loss for the Caps this season in a game settled in the five minute overtime.  They are 6-3 in the five minute session this season.

-- This was the fourth straight game and 24th in 34 games in which Stephenson did not record a shot on goal. 

In the end…

A thoroughly “meh” game for the Caps.  They got a point, which is what they did in their first game back from the bye last season (a 3-2 Gimmick loss in Detroit to the Red Wings).  This was a game they probably should have lost in regulation, so the point they earned is welcome.  However, just like last year, they have to lace up their skates for a second game in two nights.  Last year it was in New York to face the Rangers.  This time, it is at home against the Montreal Canadiens.  Let’s hope this year’s result is better than last year’s.  They lost to the Rangers, 2-1.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 46: Capitals at Devils, January 18th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals return from their bye week on Thursday night when they visit the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center in Newark. The Caps will be looking to sustain the momentum they built steadily and persistently since they got off to a sluggish 5-6-1 start to the season. As the Caps take up their schedule once more, Caps fans might keep in mind that since November 1st, the Caps have the best record, not in the division, not in the conference, not in the Eastern time zone, not among teams with red jerseys, but in the entire league (23-8-2/48 points), two points ahead of the Nashville Predators (21-7-4/46 points).

Meanwhile, the Devils have been trying to recapture the magic that propelled them to a 22-9-5 start to the season before they stumbled into a six-game losing streak (0-3-3, one of those losses in regulation at the hands of the Caps, 5-2, on December 30th) that ended on Tuesday night with a 4-1 win over the New York Islanders in Brooklyn.

Even with that win over the Islanders, the Devils have had, well, a Devil of a time keeping pucks out of their own net. In their 1-3-3 run of late, they allowed 25 goals (3.57 per game). And that brings us to the question, “what’s wrong with Cory Schneider?” In that seven-game stretch, Schneider took five starts in goal and posted an 0-3-2, 4.13, .868 record. Of 48 goaltenders appearing in at least 100 minutes since that stretch of games started on December 29th, Schneider’s goals-against average ranks 43rd, and his save percentage ranks 45th. It is a stunning reversal of fortune for Schneider, who from December 12 through December 27th went 6-0-1, 1.83, .937. In that span he did not allow more than three goals in any game and only allowed as many as three twice. Compare that to his 0-3-2 record of late, one in which he has not allowed fewer than four goals in any game and did not have a save percentage as high as .900 in any of them. Schneider was scratched in the game against the Islanders on Tuesday due to illness (Keith Kinkaid got the start and the win), so it is not clear whether he will get the call against the Caps. In 14 appearances against Washington, Schneider is 3-8-2 (one no-decision), 2.50, .912, with one shutout.

Taylor Hall is the only Devil averaging a point or more per game (4-5-9) in their 1-3-3 slide. It is part of a season-long run of productive play that puts Hall in position to reach some career-high numbers. With 16 goals in 41 games, he is on a pace to finish with 31 goals, which would top the 27 goals he posted with the Edmonton Oilers in 2011-2012 and in 2013-2014. He is on a pace to finish with 57 assists, which would best his 53 helpers in 2013-2014. And his 88-point pace would be the second time he hit the 80-point plateau, having hit that mark exactly in 2013-2014. He has been putting up points in bunches lately, going 11-17-28, plus-5, over his last 25 games. Over that span he has ten multi-point games, while his 14 such games this season ranks tied for ninth-most overall. Hall is on five-game points streak going into Thursday, and he has goals in four of those five games. Hall is 2-1-3, minus-4, in 1o career games against the Caps.

Six rookies have hit the 30-point mark this season. With his next point, Jesper Bratt will join that group. As it is, Bratt is the Devils’ second-leading overall point-getter this season, behind Hall (11-18-29). Those 29 points put him on a pace to finish with 56 points this season, which would put him in the top-five rookie scorers in franchise history, trailing only Scott Gomez (70 points in 1999-2000), Kevin Todd (63 points in 1991-1992), Barry Beck (60 points with the Colorado Rockies in 1977-1978), and Paul Gardner (59 points with the Rockies in 1976-1977). He has been more consistent with the passage of time as well. Over his last 22 games since November 20th, he has not gone more than two consecutive games without a point and is 6-10-16, plus-2 over that span. He has yet to record a point in either of his appearances this season against the Caps, his only career appearances to date.

1.  Special teams have a certain “Jekyll and Hyde” quality to them in the Devils’ 1-3-3 slide. The power play has been very efficient, going 7-for-26 over those seven games (26.9 percent). The penalty kill, however, is a meager 14-for-20 (70.0) percent, all but wiping out the advantage the power play provided (the Devils have scored and allowed a shorthanded goal over those seven games).

2.  Only the Nashville Predators have recorded fewer shots on goal on home ice this season (611 in 20 home games) than the Devils (630 in 21 home games). Only the Vancouver Canucks (29.0), Minnesota Wild (29.7), and Detroit Red Wings (29.5) average fewer than New Jersey (30.0).

3.  Scoring, possession, or something else, but the Devils have fewer blocked shots on home ice this season (258) than any team in the league except Buffalo (248).

4.  Only seven teams in the league have faceoff winning percentages under 50 percent on home ice. New Jersey is one of them, their 47.0 win rate being second lowest in the league (Colorado: 46.7 percent).

5.  New Jersey is not an especially efficient possession team on home ice. Their shot attempts-for percentage of 48.88 percent overall ranks 21st, but in tied situations they are at 47.32 percent (26th) and when behind are at 51.53 percent (28th).

1.  As noted, the Caps have the best record in the league since November 1st. Darned if we can figure out how they’ve done it. Not with special teams, their power play at 18.8 percent over that span (16th) and their penalty kill at 80.4 percent (19th).

2.  They’re not doing it by making goalies work, either. Their 951 shots on goal in 33 games is the fifth-lowest shot total overall over that span.

3.  They haven’t done it by avoiding the penalty box. In those 33 games the Caps have 301 penalty minutes, eighth-most in the league since November 1st.

4.  They haven’t done it by dominating possession, either. They rank 22nd in shot attempts-for percentage overall (48.23), although they are ranked 14th in SAT when behind in games (53.73 percent).

5.  What they do have is scoring balance. In those 33 games, 20 players have points, and 11 players have hit double digits, led by Alex Ovechkin (18-16-34). Eighteen different skaters have goals. Ten different players have power play points, while eight have at least one power play goal. Even the game-winning goals are spread around. The 21 game-winning goals are spread among 15 different players (the Caps have two Gimmick wins to account for the other victories), and five overtime goals are spread among four players.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New Jersey: Andy Greene

When Andy Greene takes the ice on Thursday night, he will do so for the 750th time as a New Jersey Devil, the 11th player in franchise history to hit that mark in games played. He will be the fourth defenseman to do it, joining Ken Daneyko, Scott Stevens, and Scott Niedermayer, which wouldn’t be a bad top-three on an all-time Devils lineup. Greene has not assembled such a career as a dominating defenseman in the offensive end, although he does rank sixth in franchise history in goals scored by a defenseman (41) and sixth in points (206), themselves perhaps a tribute to his longevity. Nor has he been an intimidating presence in the defensive end, trending to the smaller side as a defenseman (5’11/190). He has done it by being durable (he had a run of five seasons in six in which he played in every game, one that ended in 2015-2016) and smart. It has given coaches the confidence to put him on the ice for almost 22 minutes per game over his career. But while his offensive production has always been modest, the streak he has without a goal is a bit of a burden. That streak is 26 games, and counting, although he does have five assists over those 26 games, not an unusually low pace for Greene. In 38 career games against the Caps, he is 2-6-8, minus-14.

Washington: Nicklas Backstrom

Nicklas Backstrom is just a hat trick away from 200 goals for his career. Unfortunately for Backstrom and Caps fans, three goals is his total over his last dozen games, which is actually something of an uptick in his scoring pace. He had just three goals in his first 27 games, a span that featured a 21-game streak without a goal, but he has six tallies in his last 17 contests. His overall production has been rather impressive over those 17 games with a scoring line of 6-11-17, plus-7, that features a 17.6 percent shooting percentage. That Backstrom is productive matters. The Caps are 7-1-1 in the nine games in which he scored a goal this season, and they are 19-3-1 in the 23 games in which he recorded a point. Helpers are Backstrom’s stock in trade, though, and he is reaching a threshold he could conceivably reach in this game. If he has a pair of assists he would have 570 for his career, which would tie him for 100th place on the all-time list with Frank Mahovlich and Shane Doan. Three, and he is clear into the top-100. Backstrom does have seven multi-assist games this season and recorded three in the Caps’ 5-2 win over the Devils on the Prudential Center ice sheet on October 13th. He bears watching. Backstrom is 8-25-33, plus-18, in 40 career games against the Devils.

In the end…

Last year, the schedule after the bye was not kind to the Caps. The momentum they generated before their break ground to a halt after it.  That makes prognostifying a challenge. But the Caps were a team on the rise before the break, and the Devils have been on a slide in the last three weeks. We think the Caps will have learned something from last year…

…unless they haven’t.

Capitals 3 – Devils 2

Sunday, January 14, 2018

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

After a one-game Week 14, the Washington Capitals returned to a heavier workload in Week 15.  The four games on the schedule were the last they would play before their league-mandated bye week.  All in all, it was not a bad week from which to go into the break.  But there is much to wonder about this team as they head into that break.

Record: 3-1-0

Week 15 made it 12 straight weeks without a sub-.500 week in terms of standings points earned.  Over that time, the Caps are 24-10-2, a 114-point pace over a full season.  It is not the pace the Tampa Bay Lightning are on (121 points), but it is quite impressive, given where many folks (us included) thought the Caps would be by this point of the season (generally fighting for a playoff spot).  It was the fourth time in the last eight weeks that the Caps had a three-win week.

The loss on the week’s record was noteworthy for its ending a pair of impressive streaks of their own.  The 3-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes ended a ten-game home winning streak and a five-game overall winning streak, both of which are highs for the Caps this season.

Still, the Caps ended the week having put more space between themselves and the rest of the Metropolitan Division.  At the start of the week, the Caps had a two-point lead on the New Jersey Devils, who were heading into a bye-week of their own.  By week’s end, the Caps had opened up a seven-point lead on the mostly idle Devils (they lost to the New York Islanders in a Gimmick in their only game of the week), and they had a six-point lead on the new second-place team in the division, the Columbus Blue Jackets.  When the Caps finished play for the week on Friday night, they had the biggest lead any team has had in the division this season.

Offense: 3.00 /game (season: 3.04 /game, rank: 11th)

The goal grouping for the Caps was rather tight in Week 15.  Only seven players shared in the 12 goals scored over four games, and three players had eight of them – Brett Connolly, Alex Ovechkin, and Lars Eller.  If you are thinking Ovechkin led the group, you would be mistaken.  Eller had a goal in each of the four games of the week for a total of four (Ovechkin and Connolly had two apiece).  Eller had an uncommon week in another respect.  He had 11 shots on goal in four games, a significant number for a player who came into the week with just 75 shots on goal in 40 previous games.

The Caps had 13 skaters share in the points for the week, the group led by Ovechkin (2-4-6).  The four assists are particularly interesting in that they extended a run in which he has seven helpers in his last six games.  That brought him to within two assists of 500 for his career.  A player who did reach a milestone was John Carlson, who recorded his 300th NHL point when he set up Alex Ovechkin for a goal in the Caps’ 4-3 win over Carolina to end the week.

There was another noteworthy goal of the week.  Jay Beagle scored the game-winning goal in the Caps’ 4-3 win over the Carolina Hurricanes to end the week with just 1.3 seconds left in regulation time.  And as Caps fans know, when Jay Beagle scores a goal, the Caps win.  They are now 39-1-5 in the 45 career games in which Beagle scored a goal.  The Caps are a perfect 5-0-0 this year in games Beagle had a goal. 

Defense: 2.50 / game (season: 2.80 /game, rank: 15th)

Too many shots.  The Caps dodged a bullet this week, allowing the four opponents a total of 144 shots, an average of 36.0 per game.  It extended the streak of games allowing 30 or more shots to five, and the Caps have now allowed 30 or more shots in seven of their last eight games, averaging 35.0 shots allowed per game.  Moreover, the Caps have been outshot in 11 of their last 13 games and allowed as many shots as they took in one other.  Over the four games this week, the Caps allowed shots on goal in bunches.  In the 12 regulation periods they allowed ten or more in eight, and the allowed a whopping 15 or more in four periods.

If there was an odd part of this it was in the Caps finishing the week with a shots-for percentage at 5-on-5 of 49.04, higher than one might think would be the case with the shots tipped toward the opponents as much as they were. 

The Caps also had their challenges holding leads.  Five times in Week 15 they took a lead, and three times they lost it.  When one also accounts for the fact that the fifth lead was taken with only 1.3 seconds left in the last game of the week, it was not a good week for holding leads.  The defense was saved for the week by…

Goaltending: 2.23 / .937 (season: 2.64 / .917 / 1 shutout)

The goaltenders had a fine week.  Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer split the work, each getting two games, Holtby finishing with a little less than two minutes more of ice time.  Holtby had a solid week with a .924 save percentage off of 61 saves on 66 shots faced.  It would have been better had the Caps not been sloppy on a power play against Carolina in the third game of the week, allowing Jordan Staal to gobble up a turnover and score on a breakaway.  What was a bit concerning, though, was the manner in which his save percentages progressed, period to period.  He stopped all 17 first period shots he faced in his two games, but he was 29 for 32 (.906) in the second periods of games and 13-for-15 (.867) in the third periods of the two games.  He stopped both overtime shots he faced in the Caps’ 4-3 win over St. Louis to open the week.

Philiipp Grubauer had a superb week in the face of a heavy shot load.  He stopped 73 of 77 shots (.948 save percentage) and, in the reverse of Holtby’s week, saw his save percentages improve over the periods.  He stopped 22 of 24 first period shots (.917), 21 of 22 second period shots (.955), and 30 of 31 third period shots (.968).  His week served as further evidence that he has returned to last season’s form after a slow start to this season.  In his last seven appearances through Week 15, he is 4-0-2, 1.33, .957, with one shutout.  Since he embarked on this fine run of appearances back on November 24th, Grubauer leads all 54 goaltenders with at least 250 minutes played in goals against average (1.33) and save percentage (.957).

Power Play: 3-for-13/ 23.1 percent (season: 19.6 percent, rank: 13th)

Three goals on 13 chances is a decent week.  Only twice this season have the Caps recorded more power play goals in a week (four in Week 7, five in Week 2).  Not that there weren’t a couple of curious wrinkles.  Yes, Alex Ovechkin had one of the power play goals, but there were Brett Connolly and Lars Eller getting one apiece as well, Eller’s being his first man advantage goal of the season.

Ovechkin had two assists on the power play for the week, allowing him to figure in the scoring for each of the three goals.  He was one of six Caps to record power play points for the week, John Carlson adding a pair of assists, Nicklas Backstrom with an assist, and Jakub Vrana with a helper in addition to the goal scorers.

The Caps were effective on the man advantage with their three goals on 13 chances, but they were not particularly efficient in terms of putting goals on net on the power play.  In 22:24 of power play ice time for the week they managed 16 shots on goal.  Ovechkin led the team with five power play shots.  In the unusual, Brett Connolly had three to finish next in line, making the most of his 8:02 of total ice time for the week. 

The disappoint part of the power play in an overall sense was allowing a shorthanded goal to Carolina in the third game of the week.  It was the sixth shorthanded goal allowed by the Caps this season, tied for fifth-most in the league.

Penalty Killing: 7-for-11 / 63.6 percent (season: 79.1 percent, rank: 23rd)

Half the goals allowed by the Caps in Week 15 came on special teams.  There was the aforementioned shorthanded goal, and there were the four power play goals allowed.  It was the most power play goals surrendered in any week since the Caps allowed four on 15 chances in Week 7.  Only in Week 2, when they allowed six power play goals on 17 chances, have the Caps allowed more in a single week this season. 

Here again, too many shots.  Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer stopped 17 of 21 shots, and while the .810 save percentage leaves a lot of room for improvement, those 21 shots on goal were allowed in just 14:58 of shorthanded ice time.  Carolina was especially effective getting shots to the net on their power play, scoring two power play goals on 14 shots on goal in just 7:22 of man advantage ice time in their two games against the Caps this week.

Faceoffs: 118-for-238 / 49.6 percent (season: 51.1 percent, rank: 11th)

For a team that finished the week one draw under 50 percent, there was a fair amount going on in the circle.  Not least of it was Jay Beagle getting (for him) smoked on offensive zone draws, finishing with just five wins on 15 o-zone faceoffs.  It was part of a weak week overall on offensive zone draws, the team winning just 37 of 88 faceoffs (42.0 percent).

As bad as the Caps were in the offensive end, they were that good in the defensive end, winning 44 of 76 faceoffs (57.9 percent).  In fact, no Capitals taking more than one defensive draw for the week finished under 50 percent.  Lars Eller added another dimension to a fine week by winning 12 of 18 defensive zone faceoffs (66.7 percent).

All in all, four of the five Caps taking at least ten draws overall for the week finished at 50 percent or better: Nicklas Backstrom (33-for-66/50.0 percent), Eller (24-for-46/52.2 percent), T.J. Oshie (9-for-14/64.3 percent), and Beagle (27-for-51/52.9 percent).  Only Evgeny Kuznetsov in that group was under 50 percent (22-for-29/44.9 percent).

Goals by Period:

On the offensive side of the ledger, the Caps expressed a measure of balance in the way they scored goals across the periods.  The odd part about the Caps scoring four first period goals is that the Caps surrendered the game’s first goal in three of the four games for the week. Scoring first only in the 4-3 overtime win over St. Louis to open the week.

It was the third period on the defensive side that posed a problem for the Caps in Week 15.  Against St. Louis they allowed a third period goal to tie the game and send it to overtime.  They allowed the game-winner and an empty net goal to Carolina in a 3-1 loss.  They allowed one the following night to the Hurricanes to take a 3-2 lead before coming back to tie, and then to win the game late.

In the end…

The Caps were more than the sum of their parts in Week 15.  Their special teams had their adventures, they allowed too many chances late in games that turned into leads for the opponents, and they allowed far too many shots, even if you subscribe to the “shot quality” theory of defense.  And if you go back above and look at their league rankings in a variety of statistical categories, you might be left asking yourself, “how is it that the Caps have the third-best record in the league?” 

If you look at the week as half-full, instead of half-empty, there was the 5-on-5 goal differential, the Caps doubling up on opponents by an 8-4 margin.  But even there, the Caps’ 5-on-5 goals for/against ratio of 1.17 for the season overall is just seventh in the league, and their possession numbers are, well, not good, just 22nd in shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 (48.38).  Plainly put, they are doing it with efficiency of dubious sustainability.  Their shooting plus save percentage at 5-on-5 (1023) is second in the league.

Now they get a week (actually, five full days) off before they resume their schedule against New Jersey next Thursday.  Even with that, the Caps are in the midst of a very light part of the season schedule.  From the end of their 4-3 win over Carolina until they face the Philadelphia Flyers on the last day of the month, the Caps will play only four games over an 18-day period.  That is an opportunity for a lot of rust to accumulate, and it will be something to watch for going forward.  But the Caps did pad their division lead with a good week in Week 15, a reason why even mid-season games have meaning.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Lars Eller (4-0-4, plus-4, goals in all four games, GWG goal, 11 shots on goal, 19 shot attempts, 52.2 percent faceoffs)
  • Second Star: Philipp Grubauer (2-0-0, 2.00, .948)
  • Third Star: Alex Ovechkin (2-4-6, minus-1, 1 power play goal, 12 shots on goal, 35 shot attempts)

Saturday, January 13, 2018

A TWO-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 45: Capitals 4 - Hurricanes 3

Hockey is a 60-minute game, and the Washington Capitals used all but 1.3 seconds of it to squeeze out a 4-3 win against the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh on Friday night.

Long before the thrilling finish, the Hurricanes opened the scoring with Jordan Staal finishing a tic-tac-toe passing play on a power play.  It was Sebastian Aho to Justin Williams at the goal line and then out into the slot to Staal for a one-timer while falling to the seat of his pants to make it 1-0 just 3:20 into the game.

Lars Eller tied it for the Caps four minutes later on a power play.  It was an amazing sequence, a pile of bodies fighting for control of the puck at the top of the Carolina crease for more than ten seconds before Eller found a hole and worked the puck through goalie Cam Ward’s pads at the 7:25 mark.

The teams exchanged goals in the second period, Alex Ovechkin doing the honors for the Caps, one-timing a feed from John Carlson past Ward’s glove on the far side as a Caps power play was expiring just 28 seconds into the period.

Aho tied the game for Carolina mid-way through the period on another Hurricane power play, one-timing a feed from Justin Faulk through a maze of bodies past goalie Philipp Grubauer 8:50 into the period.

Jeff Skinner gave Carolina their second lead of the game less than two minutes into the third period. Taking a pass from Lee Stempniak at his own blue line, Skinner weaved his way down ice, gained the offensive zone, curled between defensemen John Carlson and Brooks Orpik, and whistled a shot off the post on the near side to Grubauer’s right and in at the 1:49 mark to make it 3-2.

Washington tied the game with less than five minutes left.  T.J. Oshie hounded Haydn Fleury into a giveaway from below his own goal line, Fleury trying to send the puck up the middle of the ice.  The errant pass made it only as far as Connolly’s stick, and happily accepted the gift, snapping a shot past Ward at the 16:52 mark.

That set up the wild finish.  With the clock winding down, Ovechkin barreled down the left side, but he lost the puck at the top of the left wing circle.  Nicklas Backstrom beat Brook McGinn to the loose puck, and with the clock approaching 0:00, he flung it toward Jay Beagle closing on the net.  Beagle took one swipe at it, then another.  It was the second – one he did not catch fully – that snuck past the pad of Ward with just 1.3 seconds left to give the Caps the 4-3 win as they head into their bye week on the schedule.

Other stuff…

-- John Carlson’s assist on Alex Ovechkin’s goal was Carlson’s 300th point in the NHL.  He is the 24th player in Capitals history to reach that mark

-- Jay Beagle’s game-winning goal extended a remarkable career streak.  The Caps are 39-1-5 in games that Beagle recorded a goal in his career.

-- Lars Eller extended his goal-scoring streak to four games.  It was his tenth goal against the Hurricanes in his career.  He has more against Carolina than against any other team he has faced in the NHL.

-- The two power play goals allowed was the first time the Caps allowed multiple power play goals in a game since the Boston Bruins scored a pair in five chances in 5-3 Caps win in Boston on December 14th.

-- Alex Ovechkin added two assists to his goal, giving him his seventh game with three or more points this season.  That ties hime with Nathan MacKinnon and Blake Wheeler for second-most in the league, one behind John Tavares.  It extended his all-time lead in such games in Caps history, his 97 such games topping the list.

-- The 39 shots allowed tied the second-most allowed by the Caps in a regulation game this season.  They allowed 40 to the Edmonton Oilers in a 5-2 win on October 28th.

-- Even with the 39 shots allowed, the Caps had the edge in shot attempts overall, 62-59.

-- Eight different Caps recorded points, Ovechkin with the only multi-point game.

-- Chandler Stephenson and Christian Djoos did not record a shot attempt.  That means they were without an attempt in both games of the back-to-back with Carolina.

-- With 36 saves in 39 shots faced in this game, Philipp Grubauer is 4-0-2, 1.33, .957, with one shutout in his last seven appearances.

In the end…

It is nice to go into the bye with a win.  It was the Caps' tenth road win of the season.  Better still, the Caps go into the break six points clear of the Columbus Blue Jackets at the top of the Metropolitan Division with a game in hand.  New Jersey lurks, seven points back with four games in hand on the Caps, but they have lost five in a row (0-3-2), and the surprise portion of their season might be coming to an end.  Every other team in the division is now at least ten points behind the Caps, and no team in the Metro has more wins in their last ten games than Washington (6-2-2).

It is a good place to be.  Now, if only Jay Beagle could score more goals after the break.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

A NO-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 44: Hurricanes 3 - Capitals 1

The Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes opened their home-and-home, back-to-back set of games this week in Washington, the Capitals having their ten-game home winning streak come to an end by a 3-1 score.

First Period

There was no scoring in the period, the teams splitting 20 shots on goal evenly at 10 apiece.  Despite the Caps enjoying the period’s only power play, the Hurricanes had a 25-21 advantage in shot attempts overall.  Brett Connolly had four shots on goal for the Caps, while Justin Williams had four for Carolina.  Devante Smith-Pelly led Washington with four credited hits 

Second Period

It was starting to look a bit like that scoreless tie the Caps and Rangers played a couple of weeks ago until the Caps got a power play mid-way through the period.  Unfortunately, it was Carolina who took advantage of a sloppy play by John Carlson from just inside the offensive blue line.  Carlson fumbled a pass, and then when he retrieved the puck, he sent a lazy pass across in the direction of Alex Ovechkin.  Jordan Staal, who has been in the league long enough to anticipate that sort of thing, pounced on the opportunity and headed off on a breakaway, beating goalie Braden Holtby to give the Canes a 1-0 lead 11:33 into the period.

Less than five minutes later, the game was tied.  From the left wing wall, T.J. Oshie laid out a pass to Lars Eller between the tops of the faceoff circles.  Eller one-timed a shot through the pads of goalie Scott Darling, and it was 1-1 at the 16:05 mark.  That would be how the teams went to the second intermission.

Carolina had a 15-8 edge in shots on goal for the period and a 27-22 advantage in shot attempts.

Third Period

The teams spent the first ten minutes of the period waiting for the other to make a mistake, and for the second time on the evening, it would be the Caps making it.  With Tom Wilson about to go off on a penalty, the Hurricanes maintained possession of the puck, and play continued.  Gaining control of the offensive zone, a shot pinballed off two Caps in front of Holtby.  The referee did not deem it “possession” that would have stopped play to send Wilson to the penalty box, and Victor Rask jumped on the loose puck and rifled a shot from the left wing faceoff circle past Holtby’s blocker before he could cover the near post.  Carolina had a 2-1 lead at the 10:54 mark.

Sebastien Aho clinched things for the visitors, potting an empty-net goal from the Caps’ blue line with 1:29 left.

Other stuff…

-- Carolina’s shorthanded goal was the sixth allowed by the Caps this season, tied for fifth-most in the league.  Washington has a record of 3-3-0 in those games.

-- This was the first home loss for the Caps in exactly seven weeks, since they dropped a 5-2 decision to the Los Angeles Kings on November 30th.

-- The one goal for the Caps was the fewest they had on home ice since losing to the Calgary Flames, 4-1, on November 20th.

-- Alex Ovechkin leading the team in shots on goal is no surprise (he had five), but Jay Beagle being next in line (four, along with Brett Connolly) is an eye-brow raiser.  Those three players accounted for almost half (13) of the Caps’ shot total (28).

-- It was an odd game, ice time-wise.  Not often a forward leads the team in ice time, but Ovechkin had 22:40.  John Carlson, who often leads the club in ice time, had 22:21.

-- Chandler Stephenson and Christian Djoos both finished with no shot attempts.  That isn’t all that surprising for young guys.  More surprising was Nicklas Backstrom not having any.  And, he finished a minus-3.  So did Ovechkin.  Rough night.

-- At one point in this game, the Caps were 11-for-32 on faceoffs.  They came back to finish 27-for-55.

-- Brooks Orpik was a “four-square” player…four credited hits, four blocked shots.

-- This was the first time that Braden Holtby lost a game while saving at least 90 percent of the shots he faced (31 of 33/.939) since he stopped 28 of 29 shots in a 2-0 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on October 17th.

-- Dmitry Orlov got shots off; he just couldn’t find a way to get them past a defender.  All four of his shot attempts were blocked.

In the end…

There wasn’t any suspense or mystery about this one as to why the Caps lost.  They played like they had a collective case of the flu.  Washed out, sluggish, and wheezing at the end.  In an 82-game season, much as fans don’t like it or perhaps understand it, it will happen.  The trick here is not to let it become consecutive games with the players as a group low on the effort meter.  The best thing one could say about this game is that while Carolina can be a frustrating team to play against, the Caps did it to themselves with mistakes and a lack of energy to apply a finish to plays.  If they show up in a friskier state of mind on Friday, the results should be more pleasant for Caps fans.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Games 44/45: Capitals vs. Hurricanes, January 11th/12th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Over their next 34 games, the Washington Capitals will play four home-and-home series, all of them against Metropolitan Division rivals.  Two of those series will be back-to-back sets of games.  The first home-and-home/back-to-back set takes place this Thursday and Friday when the Caps host Carolina at Capital One Arena, and then head south to Raleigh to meet the Hurricanes at PNC Arena.

The double dip for the Caps will be the last games that the team plays before their bye week.  The hiatus might be coming at a bad time for the club, which is looking to add an 11th consecutive win at home and their sixth and seventh consecutive wins over all in the two-game set.

On the other side, the Hurricanes’ momentum forged out of a stretch when they won seven of eight games has slammed to a halt, Carolina having lost four of their last five contests (1-3-1, the extra time loss coming against the Caps on January 2nd)).  It is in the goals allowed where the ‘Canes have had problems.  In their lone win in this five-game run, Cam Ward pitched a shutout for Carolina in Pittsburgh, stopping all 21 Penguin shots he faced.  However, in the four losses, the Hurricanes allowed a total of 20 goals.

The goals allowed shines a light on the goaltending for Carolina.  There is not much to add to what we said about Cam Ward last week before the Hurricanes visited Washington.   But given the back-to-back nature of these games, it is entirely possible that the Caps will get their first look at Scott Darling this season in one of the games.  To say Darling has been a disappointment might be an understatement.  The netminder was traded by the Chicago Blackhawks to Carolina for a third round draft pick last April.  He then signed a four-year/$16.6 million deal with the Hurricanes days later.  It is a deal with (according to a modified no-trade clause that allows Darling to submit a 15-team trade list to the team.  This is not a deal for a backup goaltender.

However, of 59 goalies having logged at least 500 minutes this season, Darling ranks 43rd in goals against average (2.97) and 54th in save percentage (.893).  He has had an even harder time lately.  In his last dozen appearances dating back to November 22nd, Darling is 2-7-2 (one no-decision), 3.44, .875.  If you were wondering which of the games he would get, should he get one, it would be in Carolina on Friday.  Darling has not won a road game since November 18th.  Since then, he is 0-5-2 (one no-decision), 3.76, .864 on the road.  In three career appearances against Washington, Darling is 0-1-0 (two no-decisions), 4.10, .828.

Ten different players share the 15 goals that Carolina has on this five-game slump.  Four of them have contributed more than one goal.  We covered Sebastian Aho (three goals) and Teuvo Teravainen (two) in last week’s prognosto.  The other multi-goal contribotors over the last five games are centers Elias Lindholm and Victor Rask.  

Lindholm, a former fifth-overall pick (2013 entry draft), is on a pace to set a career high in goal scored over a season, surpassing the 17 he posted in 2014-2015, his second year in the league.  He is doing it with improvement in his shooting efficiency, which currently stands at a career high of 14.8 percent.  One odd fact about Lindholm is that his goal scoring does not seem to matter much as a driver of wins.  He has single goals in 12 games this season, over which the Hurricanes have a record of 6-4-2. They are 13-11-6 in the 30 games in which he did not light the lamp.  Helping others seems to matter more.  Carolina is 8-1-2 in the 11 games in which he recorded an assist.  And more Lindholm is not necessarily a good thing, either.  Carolina is 4-7-3 in the 14 games in which he skated more than 19 minutes.  He is 3-4-7, minus-2, in 16 career games against the Caps.

Victor Rask is having a strange year.  With 10 goals in 40 games, he is on a pace to challenge his career high in goals for a season (21, set in 2015-2016).  But he has almost no chance to get close to his career high in points (48 in that same 2015-2016 season).  Why?  He has only three assists in 40 games (two of them on power plays), none in his last 20 contests.  It is an odd development, given that in his first three seasons his assist totals climbed from 22 to 27 to 29 last season.  And for odd facts, according to the Carolina media guide, his biggest game day habit is a nap (shouldn’t it be for all of us), and the celebrity he would most like to meet is Justin Bieber.  Okay, then.  Rask is 3-4-7, even, in 13 career games against Washington.

1.  Carolina’s attitude on the road might be summed in three words: “what the heck?”  As in, what the heck, let’s just shoot.  No team in the league has more shots on goal in road games than the Hurricanes (788 in 24 road contests/32.8 per game).

2.  Only 57 times this season have the Hurricanes been shorthanded in 24 road games.  Only Columbus (56 times in 22 road games) and Ottawa (53 times in 19 road games) have been shorthanded less frequently on the road.

3.  Carolina’s shot attempt differential at 5-on-5 on the road is impressive.  Their plus-149 (1,187 for/1,038 against) leads the league.  It is why they are a league-best 53.35 percent on the road in shot attempts-for percentage.

4.  Carolina has out-shot opponents overall 31 times in 42 games this season, yet their record in such games is just 16-9-6, those 15 total losses trailing only Buffalo (16) for most in the league in such games.  And no team has fewer wins when being out-shot than Carolina (3, tied with the Sabres).

5.  The Hurricanes’ winning percentage in one-goal decisions (.348/8-7-8) is fourth-worst in the league, trailing Detroit, Philadelphia, and Buffalo, three other teams on the outside looking in on playoff eligibility.

1.  Washington has played in eight back-to-back sets of games so far this season.  They won the first and lost the second in their first four instances before sweeping a BtB against Tampa Bay and at Toronto on late November.  In their last three instances they lost the first game (twice in extra time) while winning the second twice and losing in regulation once.  They have not been swept in regulation in a back-to-back yet this season.

2.  The Caps’ .706 winning percentage in one-goal decisions (12-2-3) is third-best in the league, trailing Toronto (.722/13-2-3) and Vegas (.737/14-3-2).

3.  Only Boston has taken more major penalties on home ice this season (10 times) than the Caps (eight, tied with Florida).

4.  The Caps have 60 even strength goals on home ice this season, fourth-best in the league, trailing the New York Rangers (61), Dallas Stars (62), and Vegas Golden Knights (62).

5.  The Caps have been consistent in one respect.  Their winning percentage when scoring first (.809/17-2-2) and when scored upon first (.455/10-11-1) are both ranked fourth in the league.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Carolina: Jordan Staal

It only seems as if Jordan Staal has been in the NHL forever.  One of four Staal brothers to play in the NHL (Eric, Marc, and Jared being the others, although if you blinked you would have missed those two games Jared played for Carolina in 2012-2013), Jordan will not turn 30 years old until next September.  He is the youngest active player in the league to have at least 800 games on his resume (he has 806).  Always thought of in terms of his defensive play (he has received votes for the Selke Trophy at the league’s top defensive forward in nine of his previous 11 seasons, finishing as high as third in 2009-2010 with Pittsburgh), he also has averaged just over 20 goals per 82 games over his career.  He comes into this game fifth on the team in scoring (25 points) and tied with Teuvo Teravainen for fourth in goals (11).  Staal has points in his last three contests and is 4-4-8, plus-1, in his last dozen contests.  In 42 career games against the Caps, Staal is 10-7-17, minus-5.

Washington: Braden Holtby

Since 2005-2006, 50 NHL goaltenders have logged at least 2,500 minutes on home ice.  Only three netminders have a better goals against average than Braden Holtby (.215): Tuukka Rask (2.10), Jonathan Quick (2.12), and John Gibson (2.13).  Only Gibson has a better save percentage on home ice (.928) than Holtby (.927).  And, Holtby is tenth on that list in shutouts (21) despite playing at least 38 fewer games (177 on home ice) than any of the goalies ahead of him (Jaroslav Halak, with 27 shutouts in 215 games on home ice).

Holtby also comes into this series among the hottest goalies in the league.  Since he allowed six goals in a 6-3 loss to the Nashville Predators on November 14th, he is 14-4-0 (the 14 wins leading the league in that span), although his other numbers are not quite up to those we might have expected from him in recent years – a 2.68 goals against average (19th among 42 goalies with at least 500 minutes over that span) and a save percentage of .916 (also 19th).  What is more, his even strength save percentage of .920 is 18th in that group of goalies.  What he has been consistent in a “you know what you get” in his performance.  Fifteen times in those 18 games he allowed 2 or 3 goals.  One of the instances in which he did not was against Carolina in the 5-4 Caps overtime win on January 2nd.  Holtby is 12-4-0, 1.85, .943, with two shutouts in 16 career games against the Hurricanes.

In the end…

This is less a “statement” series as it is a “put a team in its place” series, from the Caps’ perspective.  Washington is 11 points clear of the Hurricanes in the Metropolitan Division, and they can deal Carolina what could be, if not a mortal blow to their playoff hopes if they sweep the two games, then certainly a crippling one.  True, Carolina is only one point behind Pittsburgh for the last playoff spot in the East and hold two games in hand on the Penguins through Tuesday’s games.  However, they have only 16 regulation and overtime wins, tied for 11th in the conference (with Florida and Montreal through Tuesday’s games), meaning tie-breakers will be a challenge if it comes to that.

If the Caps have added incentive, it would be to go into the bye week with a good feeling about themselves and what they accomplished over their first 45 games.  They could hit that mark with a 29-13-3 record that would be just one win off last year’s 30-9-6 record at the 45-game point.  All-in-all, not a bad place to be.

Thursday: Capitals 4 – Hurricanes 2
Friday: Capitals 3 – Hurricanes 2