Monday, December 10, 2018

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 30: Red Wings at Capitals, December 11th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals return to Capital One Arena after a successful road trip to host the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday night.  The Caps went 2-1-0 on their just completed three-game road swing to improve their road record to 9-5-1.  Washington will be looking for their ninth win on home ice this season when they take on Detroit.

As for the Red Wings, they would have to qualify as one of the league’s surprise teams, despite resting in sixth place in the Atlantic Division.  Their 13-13-4 record does not diminish their improvement much (but we will get to that).  After starting the season with a ghastly 1-7-2 record after ten games, Detroit is 12-6-2 in their last 20 games and 6-2-0 in their last eight road games after opening the season with five road losses (0-4-1).

The Red Wings are a team well-removed from the glory days of 25 straight playoff appearances and four Stanley Cups.  Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, and Nicklas Lidstrom are gone.  The new generation of Red Wings centers, in a manner of speaking, on youngsters such as Dylan Larkin.  The 15th overall pick of the 2014 entry draft is now in his fourth season with Detroit and has become the player the club leans on most heavily for offensive production.  His 11 goals is tied for the team lead, while his 28 points lead all Red Wing skaters.  Those numbers put the young center roughly on a pace toward last season’s 16-47-63 in 82 games.  He has been hot of late, posting three straight two-point games (1-5-6 overall) going into Monday night’s contest with Los Angeles.  He has been a consistent contributor this season so far, not going more than two games without a point through 30 games played.  Those 30 games point to his durability, Larkin having missed only four games in three-plus seasons.  In 10 career games against Washington, Larkin is 1-4-5, plus-2.

Another of the young guard in whom Detroit is putting a measure of trust is forward Andreas Athanasiou.  The 24-year old was signed to a two-year contract extension last July that will pay him a total of $6 million and allowed the parties to avoid arbitration.  He, like Larkin, is in his fourth season with the club and is tied with Larkin for the team lead in goals (11) through Sunday.  With seven assists to go with his goal total, Athanasiou seems to be a good bet to eclipse his career-high of 33 points set last season.  The odd part of his contributions so far are their relationship to wins, or the lack of them.  Athanasiou has goals in nine games this season, but the Red Wings are only 5-4-0 in those games (5-8-4 when he did not record a goal).  Detroit is only 6-5-1 when he recorded a point, 4-7-3 when he did not.  The Wings are 3-1-0 in the four games he missed earlier this season.  He is 4-1-5, minus-1, in seven career games against the Caps.

The youngest defenseman on the roster is one for whom big things might be expected.  In what was a defense-heavy top of the 2016 draft, Dennis Cholowski was the eighth blueliner picked, that with the 20th overall pick by Detroit.  It took him a few years to reach the big time, but he broke through this season, and he is making his presence felt.  His four goals ranks third among all rookie defensemen, and he is tied for third among rookie defensemen in points (12).  No rookie defenseman has more power play points than Cholowski through Sunday (seven), and he is one of only six rookie defensemen with a game-winning goal.  As is the case with many rookies, though, even very good ones, there are slumps and pauses.  Going into Monday’s game against Los Angeles, Cholowski carries his longest streak without a point this season – six games – and his minutes have been pared back, to an average of 16:40 over those six games after averaging 19:38 over his first 22 games.  He went without a point in the Red Wings’ 3-1 loss to the Caps on November 23rd, his only career appearance against Washington. 

1.  About that improvement over their poor start.  After going 1-7-2 to start the season, Detroit went 9-2-0 in their next 11 games.  However, starting with their 3-1 loss to the Caps on November 23rd, Detroit is 3-4-2 going into Monday nights’ game against the Los Angeles Kings.

2.  Gustav Nyquist leads the Red Wings for December in quite a few categories: goals (four, with Frans Nielsen), assists (five, with Larkin), points (nine), and plus/minus (plus-5).

3.  Only two teams allow more shots on goal per game than the Red Wings (34.1): Anaheim (35.4) and Ottawa (38.3).

4.  Nobody blows out Detroit.  Well, almost nobody.  The Red Wings have lost only two games this season by three or more goals, fewest such losses in the league (tied with Calgary), and they came in consecutive games back in October, an 8-2 loss in Boston to the Bruins and a 7-3 loss in Montreal against the Canadiens.

5.  Since those back-to-back losses allowing a total of 15 goals, Detroit has allowed more than three goals in regulation four times in 24 games and only one of those games on the road (a 5-4 overtime win over Toronto last Thursday).

1.  The Caps are running well behind last season in one respect.  They have five wins by one goal so far this season, on a pace for 14 such wins.  They had 20 one-goal wins last season.

2.  In the Eastern Conference, only Tampa Bay has a better winning percentage when opponents score first (.667) than the Caps (.471 on an 8-6-3 record).

3.  The Caps are the most efficient shooters in the league with a 12.2 shooting percentage as a team.

4.  Only Tampa Bay has more 5-on-3 goals this season (four) than the Caps (three, tied with Florida and Boston).

5.  Washington has more 5-on-6 goals scored (seven) than any team in the East except Philadelphia (eight).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Detroit: Mike Green

On a team in which four rookie defensemen have dressed this season, Mike Green is now a mentor more than the Young Gun he was with the Capitals.  He is one of four defensemen with the club age 33 or older (he is 33) who will, among their other duties, be asked to shepherd the likes of Dennis Cholowski and, to a lesser extent perhaps (owing to their limited number of games played), Filip Hronek, Joe Hicketts, and Libor Sulak.  Not that Green is merely a graybeard imparting advice.  Of 165 defensemen to have dressed for at least 20 games through Sunday, Green ranked tenth in points per game played (0.76 on 16 points in 21 games).  It is his best points per game since he recorded 76 points in 75 games (1.01 per game) with Washington in 2009-2010, the latter of two consecutive seasons in which he was a Norris Trophy finalist.  Not bad for a player who missed the last nine games last season to a neck injury and the first nine games this season to illness.  And beware when Green does record a point.  Detroit is 9-2-1 in the 12 games in which he had at least one, 3-5-1 in the nine games in which he was held without a point.  Green is still looking for his first goal against his old club; he has one assist and is minus-7 in eight games against the Caps.

Washington: Dmitry Orlov

After a sluggish start to the season, Dmitry Orlov is starting to put things together in the offensive end of the ice.  He was 0-2-2, minus-8, over his first 16 games despite getting almost 23 minutes in ice time per night.  He broke out of his slump in a big way with two goals and an assist against the Minnesota Wild on November 13th.  Starting with that game, Orlov is 2-7-9, plus-4, over his last 13 games with a bit less ice time (22:29 per game).  He still has some climbing to do, though; his minus-4 is still worst among defensemen.  Even there, improvement is evident.  Orlov was a “minus” player in nine of his first 16 games, but he has been one only four times in his last 13 games.  What he might not yet be, though, is a dependable minutes eater.  The Caps are 1-3-1 in games in which Orlov skated more than 24 minutes this season, 16-6-2 in games in which he skated 24 minutes or less.  Orlov is 1-2-3, plus-1, in 12 career games against Detroit.

In the end…

It would be way too easy to take the Red Wings lightly.  They won only 63 games over the past two seasons; this is a team that once won 62 games in a single season not all that long ago (ok, 1995-1996).  The last time they won fewer games in consecutive seasons was 1989-1990/1990-1991 when they won 62 games, and a young left winger scored 46 goals over the two seasons – Gerard Gallant, now the coach of the Vegas Golden Knights.  Detroit can score; they have four or more goals in five of their last seven games.  Their problem recently has been keeping pucks out of the net (3.86 per game over their last seven games).  It could make for something of a shootout at Capital One on Tuesday.

Capitals 5 – Red Wings 3

Sunday, December 09, 2018

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 10

There are two good things that can be said about Week 10 for the Washington Capitals.  First, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.  Second, how the Caps finished allowed them to keep the top spot in the Metropolitan Division at week’s end.

Record: 2-2-0

The seven-game winning streak that the Caps brought into Week 10 ended on Sunday in particularly ugly fashion.  Fourteen minutes into the second period, the Caps had a 5-1 lead on the Anaheim Ducks.  The Ducks scored in the 15th minute, the first of what would be five unanswered goals over less than 21 minutes to pin a 6-5 loss on the Caps at Capital One Arena.

Two nights later, the Caps returned to the scene of their greatest triumph in team history, T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, where they won Game 5 of last spring’s Stanley Cup final and the first Stanley Cup in team history.  History did not repeat itself, the Caps dropping a 5-3 decision and losing forward Tom Wilson to a concussion, the victim of an outside-the-rules hit by Ryan Reaves.

It might have made for an ugly week, but the Caps clawed out a 4-2 win in Arizona, their first win in regulation in the desert since 2006, when the Caps took a 6-1 decision, and Alex Ovechkin scored what is known simply as, “The Goal.” 

Washington closed out the week in fine fashion with another win over a playoff foe vanquished last spring, a 4-0 shutout of the Columbus Blue Jackets that widened their division lead to three points through Week 10.

Offense: 4.00/game (season: 3.62/game, rank: 3rd)

One thing that the Caps have not had much trouble with lately is scoring goals.  They scored four or more goals in three of the four games in Week 10, bring their total to eight games with four or more goals in their last ten contests.  As one would expect, that number matters.  The Caps are 14-2-2 when they score four or more goals.

The Caps spread things around smartly in the four games.  Twelve players shared in the 16 goals scored, led by Alex Ovechkin and Jakub Vrana with three apiece.  Ovechkin’s three goals propelled him into the top spot in the goal scoring rankings through ten weeks (22).  For Vrana, though, it might have been a statement week.  He had his first two-goal game of the season in the loss to Vegas, the second multi-goal game of his career.  The three goals for the week gave him nine for the season and put him on a 25-goal pace.  All nine of his goals so far have been at even strength, second on the team to Ovechkin (15).

Sixteen different skaters recorded points for the week, and things were spread out here, too.  Three skaters finished with five points apiece in the four games – Ovechkin, Brett Connolly, and Evgeny Kuznetsov.  Connolly has been hot in a quiet sort of way lately.  He finished the week with a four-game points streak and is 2-5-7 in his last seven games.  While he is a bit behind his goal scoring pace of the past two seasons in which he finished with 15 goals, his 18 points to date put him on a pace to clear with ease his career high (27 last season).

Defense: 3.25/game (season: 3.07/game, rank: 19th)

None of the seven teams playing four games in Week 10 allowed fewer shots on goal than the Caps (110).  They allowed fewer than 30 shots in all four games, tying their longest such streak of the season, Games 16-19 in mid-November, when they allowed a total of 100 shots over four games.  The odd thing about those four games is that the Caps also had a 2-2-0 record.

It made for a good week in the underlying numbers, the Caps finishing with a shot attempts-for percentage of 53.22, although there was an odd inversion there.  Usually, that number is higher in situations in which a team is behind, owing to an increased tendency to open things up to erase a deficit.  Not so with the Caps in Week 10.  It was only in situations in which they were behind that they finished under 50 percent (47.62).

That the Caps lost their games when allowing six goals to Anaheim and five to Vegas should not be surprising.  Washington had not been a team that can outscore its defensive lapses.  Through ten weeks they are 1-7-3 when allowing four or more goals, and the lone win came in overtime (5-4 over Montreal on November 19th).

Goaltending: 3.04 / .890 / 1 SO (season: 2.88 / .909 / 2 SO)

As one would expect in a week when the four games split into two losses and two wins, the goaltending followed along those lines.  Braden Holtby got the call in the first two games of the week and was not sharp.  Over the two games he was uniformly sluggish in all three periods, posting save percentages of .875 in the first periods, .895 in the second periods, and .647 in the third periods of the losses to Anaheim and Vegas.

Holtby gave way to Pheonix Copley in the third game of the week against the Arizona Coyotes, and Copley was on his game.  He turned away 27 of 29 shots, but what made the performance noteworthy in the week’s context was stopping all ten third period shots he faced (Holtby stopped on 11 of 17 third period shots over the first two games of the week).  Copley continues to impress in a backup role.  Since allowing six goals on 36 shots in his first appearance this season , a 6-0 loss to the New Jersey Devils on October 11th, he is 6-1-1, 2.57, .913, solid numbers for a goalie in his first permanent tour as a backup netminder.

The night off worked for Holtby, who returned to the net against the Columbus Blue Jackets and pitched a 28-save shutout in a 4-0 win.  It was Holtby’s second shutout of the season, his first since Opening Night against the Boston Bruins, after not recording a single shutout in last year’s regular season.  The shutout was the 34th of Holtby’s career, bringing him within one of the franchise record held by Olaf Kolzig (35).

Power Play:  1-for-13/7.7 percent (season: 25.3 percent, rank: 7th)

The power play struggled mightily in Week 10, making one wonder what this week might have been had the power play even closely resembled what it was in the early part of the season.  The 1-for-13 week was the Caps’ worst performance of the season in what tied for their highest volume of power play chances for a single week (13 in Week 6).

It might have been the worst performance of the Caps’ power play over a single week in several seasons.  The 1-for-13 for the week was bad enough, but it was a well-deserved result.  The Caps managed only ten power play shots on goal in a whopping 26:18 of power play ice time.  The strangest thing about the power play, though, might be that it has been nine games since Alex Ovechkin recorded a power play goal (November 19th against Montreal).  Tom Wilson had the only power play goal of the week, that coming against Anaheim, on  what was his only power play shot on goal for the week.  It bears noticing that with T.J. Oshie and Tom Wilson out at the end of the week with injuries, two right-handed shot players in the middle of the 1-3-1 power play are not available.

Penalty Killing: 11-for-15 / 73.3 percent (season: 77.6 percent, rank: 21st)

After two weeks in which the Caps killed 20 of 21 shorthanded situations (95.2 percent), the Caps reverted to earlier season form.  That is not a good thing.  But here was the week in microcosm.  The Caps were awful killing penalties in the first two games (5-for-9) but perfect in the last two games (6-for-6).

And, it was not as if the Caps didn’t get a lot of work shorthanded.  They spent 26:01 down a man for the week and allowed 24 total shots on goal, half of those to the Vegas Golden Knights in the 5-3 loss in the second game of the week.  If there was an odd result this week it is that neither the Caps nor the Arizona Coyotes registered a power play shot on goal in the Caps’ 4-2 win.

Faceoffs: 108-for-237 / 45.6 percent (season: 48.2 percent, rank: 24th)

It was not a great week for the Caps in the circle, not a terrible one, either.  In other words, rather typical.  What was disappointing was being under 50 percent for the week in all three zones – 45.5 percent in the offensive zone, 48.6 percent in the defensive zone, and 43.2 percent in the neutral zone.  Onlyi the 56.5 percent effort against Anaheim (35-for-62) saved the week to any extent.

Of the four skaters to take at least ten draws for the week, only Lars Eller was at 50 percent, and that is precisely where he finished on 23-for-46.  Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov finished under 50 percent in all three zones, not necessarily a surprising result for Kuznetsov, but it was for Backstrom.

Goals by Period:

Another case of not being how you start, but how you finish.  In the first two games of the week, the Caps finished horribly, allowing a total of seven goals in the third periods of the two games while scoring only one of their own.  It was not surprising that the results were losses.  The other two games were a different story, the Caps shutting out both Arizona and Columbus in the third periods of those games while scoring three goals of their own in the two wins.  That was the difference between a mediocre week and a perfect one when one considers that over the first 40 minutes of games for the week, the Caps outscored the four opponents by an aggregate 12-6 margin.

Year over Year:

The Caps are slightly ahead of their 2017-2018 pace. Squeezing out points in extra time three times this season versus only once at this point last season.  Scoring is up more than 19 percent compared to this time last season, while scoring defense is roughly the same.  Shots taken and allowed show good movement, up in the former and down in the latter from last year.

Despite the recent struggles on the power play, the Caps are still ahead of last year’s conversion rate, but the penalty kill has slipped a bit from last year’s unimpressive level of penalty kills.

The grittership numbers are, as they have been for much of the season, a mixed bag.  Faceoffs are down, still, while the shot attempts at 5-on-5 have tilted a bit more in the Caps favor.  Hits are down, but blocked shots are up, indicating a mixed bag on possession as both are indicators with the opponent having the puck.  Penalties are down quite a bit, a good thing for a team that struggles with the penalty kill as much as the Caps do.

In the end…

The glass-half-full interpretation of the week might be that the Caps made something of it after a ghastly start, blowing a four-goal lead in the second half of their game against Anaheim and unable to grab a win in the desert against Vegas.  They did beat an Arizona team that has been quite an annoyance in recent years, winning for the first time in regulation there in more than a decade.  Then, they took advantage of a singularly uninspiring effort by Columbus to keep the Blue Jackets' cannon silent.  It was not a good week, but not a bad one, either, and they remain atop the division.  That is something on which to build.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Alex Ovechkin (3-2-5, plus-2, 18 shots on goal, 32 shot attempts, finished week on 11-game points streak, three-game goal streak)
  • Second Star: Jakub Vrana (3-1-4, plus-3, 8 SOG)
  • Third Star: Evgeny Kuznetsov (1-4-5, plus-5, 8 SOG)

Friday, December 07, 2018

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 29: Capitals at Blue Jackets, December 8th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals wrap up their three-game road trip on Saturday night with a visit to Columbus, Ohio.  Columbus… “Cowtown”… “The Discovery City”… home of THE Ohio State University (as if there are any impostors).  And also home of the Columbus Blue Jackets, who are fast on the heels of the Caps in the race to win the Metropolitan Division this season.  Washington enters the contest with 35 standings points, one ahead of the Jackets, who have one more win in regulation and overtime (16) than do the Caps (15).  Both teams have played 28 games.

These teams do seem welded at the hip in other respects, too.  For instance, both teams broke two-game losing streaks on Thursday night with wins on the road. The Caps beat the Arizona Coyotes, 4-2, while Columbus knocked off the Philadelphia Flyers, 4-3, in overtime.  Both clubs avoided suffering a third straight loss for the first time this season.

There is something else these two teams share that is a bit surprising, a bottom-third-in-the-league scoring defense.  Washington is 21st in the league through Thursday’s games (3.18 goals allowed per game), while the Blue Jackets are 25th at 3.36 goals allowed per game.  That ranking and number start with goaltending, and that focuses attention on Sergei Bobrovsky.  It has not been one of the nine-year veteran’s best seasons.  His 3.04 goals against average in 20 appearances is his career worst to date, topping the 3.02 mark he had with Philadelphia in 29 appearances in 2011-2012, his second season in the league.  His .901 save percentage is not his worst to date, but he can see the bottom of the well from where he is (.899 in that same 2011-2012 season). 

Bobrovsky is without a shutout this season, and while it is still early, he has never finished any of his previous six seasons in Columbus without one.  He has been relentlessly streaky this season.  After alternating losses and wins in his first four appearances, he went on a three-game losing streak, which became four losses in five games, then had a four-game winning streak, a loss, and then another three-game winning streak.  He followed that with a two-game losing streak, the second of which might have been the most ghastly performance by a goalie this season – eight goals allowed on 26 shots in 46 minutes of a 9-6 loss to the Calgary Flames last Tuesday.  He did beat the Flyers in the overtime win on Thursday, so there might be another streak in the offing that would not be good news for Caps fans.  On the other hand, he has a save percentage of .848 over his last five games.  Bobrovsky is 8-10-4, 2.93, .904 in 23 career games against Washington.

Cam Atkinson is among the hotter goal scorers in the league these days.  He has 13 goals in his last dozen games since November 10th, tied with Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine over that span for most in the league.  He scored goals in nine of those 13 games and has a pair of hat tricks to show for it as well, one in a 4-1 win over the Hurricanes in Carolina on November 17th, the other in the 9-6 loss to Calgary last Tuesday.  Atkinson, with 19 goals this season, is already within five of the total he had last year (24) and is more than half way to his career high (35) set two years ago.  His next goal will give him 20, his sixth straight season with 20 or more goals.  He would join Alex Ovechkin as the only players to have done six times in six seasons, although there are a number of players who are likely to reach that mark later this season.  Watch Atkinson’s ice time.  In six games this season when he skated more than 20 minutes, Columbus is 1-3-2.  He is 9-7-16, plus-3, in 22 career games against the Capitals.

Columbus spreads their blue line scoring around.  Every one of the six defensemen to dress for more than ten games this season has a goal.  At the top of that list are Seth Jones and Zach Werenski with five apiece.  Each of them also have 11 assists and 16 points.  But whereas Jones has two game-winning goals, one of those in overtime, and is a plus-3 this season, Werenski has no game-winners and is a minus-7.  Werenski has been a trigger man on the Blue Jackets’ power play, his seven assists on the man advantage more than double the total of the other eight defensemen to dress this season (three).  He also has the only power play goal scored by a Columbus defenseman this season.  However, he has been on the ice for 41 of the 94 goals scored against Columbus this season, far more than any other defenseman (Ryan Murray: 34).  He’s had a particularly tough time of late, going minus-5 over his last three games, although he did record his 100th career point in the 9-6 loss to Calgary.  Werenski is 2-2-4, even, in 10 career games against the Caps.

1.  Columbus is one of three teams this season to score seven or more goals in three games (Calgary and Tampa Bay are the others).  They did it in a 7-4 win St. Louis on October 25th, in a 7-3 win over Florida on November 15th, and in a 7-5 win at Detroit on November 26th.  They also happen to be the only team in the league to have allowed eight or more goals more than once, losing an 8-2 decision at Tampa on October 13th and dropping that 9-6 decision to Calgary on December 4th.

2.  The Blue Jackets have the second-worst power play on home ice in the league (12.8 percent).  Only Arizona (12.5 percent) is worse.  Their five power play goals on home ice is fewest in the league.

3.  Columbus’ home penalty kill is almost as bad as its home power play – third-worst in the league (72.2 percent).  Only Calgary (72.1 percent) and Detroit (69.2 percent) are worse.

4.  Columbus is one of three teams with a perfect record when leading after two periods (10-0-0).  Vegas (11-0-0) and Toronto (15-0-0) are the others.

5.  The Blue Jackets do a good job of playing within the rules.  They have been charged with 96 penalties this season.  Only three teams have been hit with fewer penalties: Carolina (92), Pittsburgh (91), and Toronto (77).

1.  Of the 23 Columbus goaltenders to have dressed against Washington in the all-time series, only one of them ever pitched a shutout against the Caps.  Steve Mason did it twice, both times by 3-0 scores, a 26-save effort on November 29, 2009 and a 45-save blanking on January 9, 2009.

2.  Washington is 4-1-2 in their last seven visits to Columbus in the regular season (7-1-2 counting playoffs), but that loss in regulation was in their most recent regular season trip to Ohio, a 5-1 loss last February 26th.

3.  If John Carlson gets one point in this game, he will tie Adam Oates for 18th place in points in Caps history.  Carlson has 362 points.

4.  Only Colorado has lost fewer games in regulation when trailing after two periods (two) than the Caps (three).  Then again the Caps have won only one such game.  The seven games they trailed after 40 minutes is second-fewest in the league (Dallas: 6).

5.  Washington has more wins when outshot by opponent (10) than they have total games outshooting opponents (nine).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Columbus: Artemi Panarin

With seven goals in 27 games, Artemi Panarin is on a pace for 21 goals this season.  That would be the lowest goal total of his four-year career (he had 27 with Columbus last season).  But don’t get the idea that Panarin is slumping.  He’s more moving things around.  He has 24 assists to go with those seven goals, almost half way to his career high (55 last season), and his 31 points put him on a pace to finish with a career-high 93 points. 

The odd part of his production so far is that so little of it has come on power plays.  Last season he was 7-14-21 on power plays in 82 games.  So far this season, he is 1-4-5 despite leading the team in power play ice time per game (3:12).  He goes into this game with two assist in each of his last two games and three of his last five contests.  He would appear to be the straw that stirs the drink for the Blue Jackets, Columbus is 6-0-0 in games in which Panarin has goals this season, 13-2-1 in games in which he recorded a point.  On the other hand, the Blue Jackets are 2-8-1 when Panarin failed to record a point and 9-10-2 when he did not score a goal.  He is 3-4-7, plus-3, in nine career games against Washington.

Washington: Nic Dowd

One could reasonably say that when the Caps signed center Nic Dowd to a one-year/$650,000 contract on July 1st, it was to replace the outgoing Jay Beagle, who would sign a four-year/$12 million deal with the Vancouver Canucks.  The Caps got a player of similar size, the same right-handed shot, only cheaper and more than four years younger.  But while Beagle grew into a substantial contributor for being largely a fourth line player (38 goals in 279 games over his last four seasons in Washington), Dowd’s numbers were quite a bit more modest.  In two full NHL seasons split between the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver, he had just nine goals in 126 games. 

Dowd opened the season with promise, though, scoring a goal on Opening Night.  Then again, who didn’t?  The Caps ran up a 7-0 win over the Boston Bruins on banner-raising night.  Dowd followed that up by going without a goal in his next 16 games with only one assist on his ledger.  Dowd got an assist in the Caps’ 3-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings on November 23rd, though, and it started him off on a nice run of late.  Over his last seven games, starting with that win against Detroit, Dowd is 3-2-5, plus-3, despite averaging only 10:32 in ice time per game.  With four goals in 24 games overall, he seems a decent bet to push past his career high in goals – six in 70 games with Los Angeles in 2016-2017.  He will be facing Columbus for the fourth time in his career and will be looking for his first point.

In the end…

It is perhaps a bit early for a “statement” game, but both teams might be looking to send a message.  For the Caps, who lost the first game of this season's series, 2-1, in Washington on November 9th, this is where the Stanley Cup journey began in earnest last spring after dropping the first two games of their opening round series against the Blue Jackets in Washington.  But for Lars Eller’s game-winning goal in the second overtime of Game 3 that set everything to come after in motion, this would be probably just another mid-December game on the schedule.  They want to remind Columbus of their place in the pecking order of things.

For Columbus, the message is a bit more complex.  They have had to deal with the despair that comes from the knowledge that they had that opening series on their racket with two wins and then two games to play on the ice sheet these teams will occupy on Saturday night.  It is a new season, and these teams have already met once, but memories linger.  In the here and now, Columbus might want to send a message that they deserve to hang with the champions on the merits of their talent and will, that being a point behind the Caps is no fluke, despite the lack of marquee names on the roster.

This contest that pits two very similar teams in terms of recent history makes this a rivalry that is becoming one of the more interesting divisional rivalries between cities that one would not necessarily associate with such things.  But hey, it’s hockey.

Capitals 4 – Blue Jackets 2

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 28: Capitals at Coyotes, December 6th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals continue their road trek on Thursday night when they visit the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena in Glendale, Arizona.  The Caps go into this contest having lost their last two games, their first instance of consecutive losses since they lost to the Columbus Blue Jackets and these Coyotes in Games 15 and 16 in November.

Since Arizona inflicted that second straight loss on the Caps, a 4-1 win at Capital One Arena on Veterans Day, they are 5-4-1, but just 2-3-1 on home ice.  The Coyotes have had a tough time scoring over that ten-game stretch with only 23 goals scored.  The silver lining there is that they have spread the scoring around, 11 skaters sharing the 23 goals.  Clayton Keller and Lawson Crouse share the lead in that department with three goals apiece over the last ten games.

Keller, taken by the Coyotes with the seventh overall pick in the 2016 entry draft, the young center is putting together a sophomore season that looks a lot like his rookie season last year.  With almost a third of the Coyotes’ schedule complete, Keller has eight goals, just over a third of the way to his 23 goals recorded last season. 

The difference is in scoring at strength.  Last season, Keller scored six goals on power plays, while this season he has yet to hit the back of the net on a man advantage.  The odd part of it is that Keller is averaging more ice time per game on power plays (3:43) than he did last season (3:01).  On the other hand, he is averaging fewer shots per game on power plays so far this season (0.46 per game) than he did last year (0.77).  He does have seven power play assists, though, a number half way to the 14 he posted last season.  Keller is 2-2-4, plus-3, in three career games against Washington.

Crouse is another youngster taken high in the draft, but one following a different path than Keller.  Taken with the 11th overall pick in the 2015 entry draft by the Florida Panthers, the left winger was traded barely a year later with Dave Bolland to the Coyotes for a third round pick in the 2017 draft and a second round pick in the 2018 draft.  He dressed for 72 games in 2016-2017, posting five goals and 12 points.  He followed that up, however, with a season of only 11 games with one goal, his only point recorded last season. 

Crouse did record 15 goals and 32 points for the AHL Tucson Roadrunners last year, perhaps a necessary developmental step.  He started slowly this season with only two goals in his first 15 games, but he does have those three in his last ten contests.  Crouse has two games this season in which he logged 12 or more penalty minutes.  Only Brad Marchand and Antoine Roussel have more (three apiece).  One of those instances happened to involve a fracas with Roussel in a 4-1 win over Vancouver on October 25th, earning a roughing and misconduct penalty, while Roussel was hit with a double-roughing minor and a misconduct.  Crouse is 0-1-1, even, in two career games against the Caps.

Goaltending has been a revolving door since the Coyotes face the Caps last month.  Four goalies have appeared in those games – Antti Raanta, Darcy Kuemper, Hunter Miska, and Adin Hill.  All but Miska started at least one game in that stretch.  Hill has started each of the last three games for the Coyotes and has been quite efficient, stopping 79 of 81 shots (.975 save percentage).  He has only five NHL games under his belt this season, all of them since November 25th, and what a start he has had. 

Hill’s first two appearances were in relief of Raanta.  He stopped the only shot he faced in a 6-1 loss to the Calgary Flames, but after replacing Raanta after two periods with the Coyotes down, 3-1, against the Minnesota Wild, he stopped all five third period shots he faced while the Coyotes came back with three goals to give Hill his first win of the season.  He followed up that appearance with a 29-save shutout of the Nashville Predators in Nashville, giving him 35 saves on the first 35 shots he faced in 2018-2019.  He extended his shutout streak to 41 shots and 117:23 before allowing his first goal of the season, 1:26 into the second period of the Coyotes’ 6-1 win over the St. Louis Blues last Saturday.  In five appearances covering 215:46 of ice time to date, Hill has stopped 85 of 87 shots.  “Hot” does not describe his start adequately.  If he gets the call, it will be his first appearance against the Caps.

1.  No team kills penalties like the Coyotes.  Not only do they have the league’s top penalty kill (90.0 percent), they have more shorthanded goals scored (11, most in the league) than power play goals allowed (eight, fewest in the league).  Their plus-3 goal differential makes Arizona the only team in the league with a positive goal differential, shorthanded goals scored to power play goals allowed.  The next best teams are the Vegas Golden Knights and San Jose Sharks, each with a minus-8.  Three times this season, Arizona scored two shorthanded goals in a single game.  The rest of the league has a total of five such games, no team with more than one.

2.  Arizona really does spread the scoring around.  Through 26 games, 19 skaters have at least one goal, but none with more than eight (Keller).  Nine skaters have game-winning goals, Keller the only one with more than one (four).  However, Michael Grabner has the only overtime game-winner for the Coyotes.  He is out indefinitely with an eye injury.

3.  Arizona is the only team left in the league without a major penalty charged.  Only two of their 104 penalties taken were not minors (including bench minors); two misconducts on their ledger.

4.  The Coyotes do a good job of protecting the puck, or they get generous scoring.  Only three teams have been charged with fewer giveaways than Arizona (199) – Colorado (189), Minnesota (157), and St. Louis (156).  Not that they are especially adept at takeaways; they have the fifth-fewest in the league (149).

5.  Here is a strange number that might reflect the degree to which Arizona takes their foot off the pedal in games: 131.  The Coyotes are plus-131 in shot attempt differential when behind at 5-on-5 (fifth-best in the league), minus-131 in shot differential when ahead at fives (third-worst in the league).

1.  The Caps have allowed nine goals in the third period of the last three games, and the trend is worse – two goals allowed to the New Jersey Devils, three allowed to the Anaheim Ducks, and four in their last contest against the Vegas Golden Knights.

2.  Winning faceoffs at even strength is not the Caps’ thing.  They rank next to last in even strength faceoffs won (612).  Only the New York Islanders have fewer wins (576).

3.  No team in the Eastern Conference has been shorthanded more often than the Capitals.  They are tied with the Tampa Bay Lightning with 101 shorthanded situations faced through Tuesday’s games.  In the entire league, only Vancouver has allowed more power play goals (28) than the Caps (24, tied with Ottawa).

4.  Having lost their last two games while taking a lead into the third period, the Caps are now tied with Winnipeg for most losses in regulation when leading after two periods this season (three).  On the other hand, the Caps have 12 wins when leading after two periods, fifth-most in the league.  The 15 leads they have taken into the third periods of games is third-most in the league, behind only Nashville (16) and Tampa Bay (17).

5.  Seven defensemen have dressed for ten or more games for the Caps this season.  All of them have points, and five of them have goals (Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos being the exceptions).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Arizona: Nick Schmaltz

Nick Schmaltz was a 20th-overall draft pick of the Chicago Blackhawks in 2014.  After spending two years with the University of North Dakota after being drafted, he moved up to his first professional assignment, splitting time between the Rockford Ice Hogs in the AHL and the Blackhawks, for whom he played 61 games in his 2016-2017 rookie season.  Schmaltz had decent numbers as a rookie (6-22-28, plus-10) and followed that up with an even better sophomore season (21-31-52, plus-1, in 78 games).  However, the Blackhawks stumbled out of the gate this season, and Schmaltz was not contributing enough to arrest that slide.  Combine that with the Blackhawks’ propensity for trading former first round picks, and Schmaltz was a candidate for relocation.

Schmaltz was traded to the Coyotes for forwards Dylan Strome and Brendan Perlini on November 25th.  He seems to like his new home.  After being held without a point in his debut with the Coyotes on November 27th against Minnesota, he has points in each of his last three games (2-3-5), two of those being multi-point games.  His five points represent having a piece of almost half the goals scored by Arizona in that span (11).  In four games with the Coyotes, Schmaltz is almost half way to the total points he had in 23 games with the Blackhawks this season (11) before his trade to Arizona.  In four career games against Washington, he is 1-1-2, minus-1.

Washington: Madison Bowey

The evolution of an NHL defenseman might be slower than that for any other position.  While forwards can have a considerable impact on outcomes early in their careers, defensemen simply have too many things to develop – positioning, skating, stick management, when to step up, when to sit back, spacing, -- and that is before getting to the offensive end of the ice.  Madison Bowey has not yet made a lot of progress in the offensive end of the ice, but he is learning the ways, skills, and techniques he needs in the defensive end of the ice.  While he does get third pair minutes, averaging a bit more than 13 minutes per game, only three times in 19 games has he finished as a “minus” player, and only once in a loss.  Bowey is still looking for that first NHL after 70 games this year and last, but he has points in five of his last 11 games after going without one in his first eight games this season.  He is also getting more shots to the net, recording 12 shots on goal in those 11 games after posting just five shots on goal in his first eight games this season.  In two career games against Arizona, Bowey has one assist.

In the end…

The trick to managing a schedule is to avoid the long losing streaks.  The Caps have lost consecutive games in regulation for the third time this season.  There has not yet been a three-game losing streak of any kind.  The Coyotes, however, are an ornery bunch when playing the Caps.  Washington has never won three straight games against this franchise dating all the way back to January 1984, when they were the original Winnipeg Jets.  The Caps have lost six of their last seven meetings in Arizona (1-4-2), including the last three games played there (0-2-1).  Washington has not won a game in regulation in Arizona since a 6-1 win in January 2016.  Caps fans remember that game for something else that was “simply sensational”…

The Caps’ frustration, both over the last two games in which they coughed up leads late and in their visits to Arizona, makes this contest quite a chore for a club still dealing with absences of Brooks Orpik and T.J. Oshie, and perhaps now without Tom Wilson, injured in Tuesday’s game against the Vegas Golden Knights.  Dig deep and pull up a win.

Capitals 3 – Coyotes 2

Monday, December 03, 2018

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 27: Capitals at Golden Knights, December 4th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

It might be a good thing that the Washington Capitals are heading on the road – far away – to start this week’s schedule.  After surrendering five unanswered goals in a span of 20:14 over the second and third periods, ultimately losing a 6-5 decision to the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday, taking a trip to Las Vegas isn’t the worst thing for the Caps.

That is what lies in store for the Caps as they visit T-Mobile Arena to face the Vegas Golden Knights for the first time since winning the Stanley Cup on that ice sheet last June.  The Caps, who had a seven-game winning streak snapped in the loss to Anaheim, will be looking for their first regular season win, ever, against the Golden Knights on their rink after dropping their only regular season meeting in Las Vegas last season.

Vegas, like the Caps, will enter this game on a loss after putting together a lengthy winning streak.  The Golden Kinghts lost to the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday, 2-1, in the last game of a three-game road trip, after putting together a five game winning streak.

What Vegas lacks in top-end goal scoring, they have in balance this season.  Three skaters share the team lead with ten goals apiece.  Not surprisingly, Max Pacioretty is among them.  Pacioretty, who was traded to Vegas by the Montreal Canadiens for Nick Suzuki, Tomas Tatar and Vegas' 2nd round pick in 2019 Entry Draft, had a sluggish start with his new team, recording only two goals in his first 16 games.  It was not a case of being shy about shooting the puck, not with 44 shots on goal in those 16 games.  It suggested more “slump” than something more structural.  And so it was.  In his last eight games, Pacioretty has eight goals on just 22 shots, the same shooting frequency (2.75 shots per game) that he had in his slow start.  Odd Pacioretty fact – he is the only player to wear jersey number “67” for two franchises, Montreal and Vegas.  He is 5-11-16, minus-3, in 29 career games against Washington.

Jonathan Marchessault is another of the skaters with ten goals going into this contest.  Since becoming a full-time NHL-er in 2016-2017 with the Florida Panthers, Marchessault has been a player who could push the 30-goal mark per season.  He had 30 in 75 games in his last season with the Panthers, and last season (his first with Vegas) he had 27 goals in 77 games.  The ten goals he has in 28 games this season puts him on a pace for 29 goals this season.  He has been in a bit of a drought of late, though.  Marchessault is without a goal in his last seven games, his longest streak of games without a goal this season.  Odd Marchessault fact – The 27-year old Marchessault was undrafted as an amateur and is now in his fifth NHL organization.  He was signed to his first pro contract in June 2011 by the Connecticut Whale, the AHL affiliate of the New York Rangers.  After one season with the Whale, he was signed by the Columbus Blue Jackets.  He played two games with the Blue Jackets before moving on to the Tampa Bay Lightning, where he played in parts of two seasons.  Then it was his breakout season with the Florida Panthers before landing in Vegas last season.  Marchessault is 0-5-5, even, in nine career games against the Caps.

Cody Eakin rounds out the trio of ten-goal scorers for Vegas.  Caps fans will remember Eakin as a third-round pick by Washington in the 2009 entry draft.  Eakin made his way up the Caps’ development ladder, eventually appearing in 30 games for the club in 2011-2012 (4-4-8, plus-2).  After that season he was traded to the Dallas Stars with a second-round draft pick for center Mike Ribeiro.  Eakin spent five seasons with the Stars before being selected by Vegas in the 2017 expansion draft.  Eakin is already within a goal of last year’s total with the Golden Knights (11 in 80 games) and is more than half-way to his career high of 19 goals in 78 games with the Stars in 2014-2015.  He has been a bit streaky in his goals scoring, opening the season with three goals in four games before a seven-game drought.  He followed that up with five goals in seven games before a four-game streak without a goal.  He had a pair of goals against Chicago on November 27th but is without one in his last two games.  Odd Eakin Fact – sometime soon, Eakin will become the 14th player of the 2009 draft class to dress for 500 games (he has 484) and the second Capital to do so.  Neither player is with the Caps any longer (Marcus Johansson is the other).  In 11 career games against the Caps, Eakin is 2-3-5, plus-1.

1. Vegas is four games behind their record after 28 games last year (18-9-1) with a 14-13-1 record.

2.  The Golden Knights are struggling with their home power play.  It ranks only 25th in the league through Sunday (15.2 percent).  What will be something to watch for is that the Knights do not yet have a game on home ice in which they recorded more than one power play goal at home.  They do, however, have power play goals in each of their last two home games.

3.  In one respect, Vegas will pit a strength against a Capital strength.  The second periods of games have been good to the Caps this season, but if they are to add to that, it might not come via the power play.  Vegas has the largest time differential on special teams in the Western Conference in the second periods of games this season (plus-18:26).

4.  Conversely, Vegas has the fourth-worst special teams time differential in the league in the third periods of games this season (minus-10:42).

5.  If Vegas leads after two periods…bad news for the Caps.  The Golden Knights are one of three teams with a perfect record when leading after 40 minutes (11-0-0).  Toronto (14-0-0) and Columbus (9-0-0) are the others.

1.  The Caps have 12 wins when leading after two period this season.  That is tied for fourth-most in the league.  Unfortunately, they missed a chance to tie Tampa Bay for third place on Sunday.  Toronto and Nashville are tied at the top with 14 such wins apiece.

2.  The 6-5 loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday was just the second one-goal loss in regulation for the Caps this season (5-2-3).

3.  High shot volumes have not mattered to the Caps.  They are 6-5-3 when recording 30 or more shots, 9-3-0 when recording fewer than 30 shots.

4.  Conversely, the Caps are 11-4-3 when allowing 30 or more shots, 4-4-0 when allowing fewer than 30 shots on goal.

5.  The Caps have the fourth-worst special teams time differential in the league (minus-22:48).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Vegas: Nate Schmidt

Nate Schmidt had a disappointing start to the season.  It actually started on September 2nd, when he was suspended for 20 games for violating terms of the NHL/NHLPA Performance Enhancing Substances Program.  He took his medicine, so to speak, and returned to action on November 18th in typical good humor…

Unfortunately for Schmidt and the Golden Knights, his performance has been underwhelming since his return.  He goes into Tuesday’s game against his old team with a single assist in eight games despite averaging almost 22 minutes of ice time per game.  Schmidt did not have an especially hot start last season, going 1-3-4 in his first eight games, but he did finish 5-31-36, plus-19 in 76 games, and the Golden Knights went 24-6-0 in games in which he recorded at least one point.  It recommended him to a key role this season, suspension or no suspension.  Schmidt has almost 300 regular season games on his resume and is entering his chronological prime (he turned 27 last summer).  His contributions were an important ingredient in Vegas’ historic inaugural season last year.  If the Golden Knights are to come close to replicating that feat, Schmidt’s numbers will have to improve.  He is 0-1-1, plus-1, in two games against his former club.

Washington: Lars Eller

Lars Eller, the hero of the Stanley Cup final for the Washington Capitals last season, has taken on a bit of a different role this season.  He is something of a cross between “Jack-of-all-trades” and “Mr. Fix-it.”  He has seen his ice time jump by almost two minutes per game, partly due to filling in during the injury absence of Evgeny Kuznetsov (who missed six games with a concussion), and more responsibility on special teams, where his penalty killing ice time is up almost half a minute a game (from 1:48 to 2:12), and his power play ice time is up by 50 seconds a game (from 1:11 to 1:51).  He has been shooting in some bad luck in the first third of the season, his 7.7 shooting percentage (four goals on 52 shots) his worst of his career.  It has not affected his playmaking, his 10 assists already half way to the 20 he had in 81 games last season.  Eller getting on the score sheet is generally a good thing.  The Caps are 7-1-2 in ten games in which he recorded a point so far this season, 4-1-0 when it happens on the road.  Eller does not have a point in three career games against Vegas and is minus-2.

In the end…

This game is a measuring stick for a veteran team.  Going on the road after enduring as gut-wrenching a loss as the Caps had on Sunday requires that such a loss not be included in the baggage brought along.  This is the third time this season that the Caps went on the road following a loss to wrap up a home stand.  The first time, the Caps dropped a Gimmick decision to the Florida Panthers, and then went to Vancouver and knuckled the Canucks, 5-2.  The second time, the Caps lost to the Arizona Coyotes, and then went off and thrashed the Minnesota Wild, 5-2.  We see a pattern here.

Capitals 4 – Vegas 2

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 9

The Washington Capitals had a relatively light week of work in Week 9, but it was an interesting one nonetheless with goals, breakaway saves, hat tricks, and a bit more suspense than Caps fans might have liked waiting on yet another Department of Player Safety ruling on a Tom Wilson hit.  At the end of the week, the Caps were streaking, fans weren’t freaking, and we were all peeking at the standings that had the Caps at the top of the Metropolitan Division and six points out of the conference lead with two games in hand on the leader.

Record: 2-0-0

A five-game winning streak that the Caps had to open the week became seven with wins over the New York Islanders and the New Jersey Devils.    The pair of three-goal wins made it five straight multi-goal wins for the Caps after starting this winning streak with a pair of overtime wins.  The seven-game winning streak on which the Caps found themselves to end the week was their longest since a nine-game streak from December 31, 2016 through January 15, 2017.  And, after a slow start to the month that saw the Caps go 3-4-1 in their first eight games of the month, the Caps closed with a rush to finish the month with a 10-4-1 record, tying the team record for wins in November, set originally in 1985-1986 (10-3 with one tie) and tied in 2010-2011 (10-2-2).

Offense: 5.00/game (season: 3.56/game, rank: 5th)

The Caps continued to scorch the scoreboard.  Four goals against the Islanders and six against the Devils made it three games in a row with four or more goals and five of six contests with four or more goals.  The top line did the damage in the goal-scoring department, Tom Wilson and Nicklas Backstrom recording three goals apiece, and Alex Ovechkin getting a pair.  Wilson had goals in both games in Week 9, extending his goal streak to five games, the longest of his career.  Since returning from his suspension to open the season, Wilson has goals in six and points in eight of nine games played.

Backstrom recorded his second career hat trick in the 6-3 win over the New Jersey Devils, his first one coming back in on December 13, 2014 in a 4-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning.  That one was a natural hat trick, Backstrom scoring the game’s first three goals on the way to the win.  Backstrom added an assist against the Devils for his 21st career game with four or more points.  Since he came into the league in 2007-2008, only two players have more such games – Sidney Crosby (23) and teammate Alex Ovechkin (22). 

Ovechkin had goals in both games to extend his goal streak to four games.  He has goals in six of his last seven games (seven goals) and has a seven-game points streak.  Ovechkin has yet to go consecutive games without a point this season.  In adding two assists to his scoring line against the Devils he recorded his ninth multi-point game this season, tied with John Carlson for the team lead.  His 329 career multi-point games are second most since he came into the league, trailing only Sidney Crosby (341).

Defense: 2.00/game (season: 3.04/game, rank: T-16th)

It was a bit of an odd week on the defensive side of the puck.  The Caps held both the Islanders and the Devils under ten shots in the first period of their respective games, 17 shots in all.  Things got a bit out of hand in the final 40 minutes of both games, though, the Caps allowing double digit shots in each of those four periods, 27 total second period shots on goal and  25 third period shots.  It was not as if the Caps sprinted out to big first period leads, Washington tied with the Islanders, 1-1, after one period in the first game of the week and holding a slim 1-0 lead after one period against the Devils.  The odd week extended to shot attempts.  Overall, the Caps’ shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 (44.10) might be cause for some concern.  However, the numbers look a lot more respectable in tied situations (53.19 percent) and close situations (47.27 percent).   It is when the Caps were ahead that the numbers looked bad (41.82 percent), not unexpected given that the Caps would win two games by rather wide margins.  And, the Caps trailed for only 2:14 for the week, so their shot attempts-for percentage when trailing was of no particular relevance.

The defensive focus, however, really came down to a single play this week.  That came late in the second period of the Caps’ game against the Devils on Friday when the Devils were trying to get the equalizer in a 2-1 game.  Brett Seney skated up and through the faceoff circle to the right of Caps goalie Braden Holtby with defenseman Michal Kempny trailing him.  Seney sent the puck back below the goal line and continued backing out of the faceoff circle.  After releasing the puck, he was struck by Tom Wilson, sending him face-first to the ice.  Seney was slow to get up, and Wilson was tagged with a match penalty. 

The call was significant for two reasons.  First, it comes a short time since Wilson returned from a 20-game suspension (subsequently reduced to 14 games, although he missed 16 games in all).  Second, a match penalty requires that the player be withheld from competition until the Commissioner rules on supplemental discipline.  A second lengthy suspension was on the table.  As it turned out, the video evidence indicated that the hit, while late, did not target the head, nor did it appear deliberate (a criterion for assessing a match penalty).  And, Seney returned to finish the game.  The Department of Player Safety decided that supplemental discipline was not warranted, but it does seem to indicate that every Wilson hit for the foreseeable future will get considerable scrutiny.

Goaltending: 2.00 / .942 (season: 2.86 / .911 / 1 SO)

If Braden Holtby isn’t the best goaltender in the league after Week 9, he is on a short list for consideration.   Week 9 was a superb week for Holtby, stopping 65 of 69 shots faced overall, and still his numbers got worse over his recent results.  In his last eight appearances starting on November 7th, Holtby is 6-2-0, 1.70, .950.  Of 38 goalies over that span of time with at least 250 minutes played, Holtby is second in goals against average (Curtis McElhinney is at 1.39) and second in save percentage (McElhinney is at .961).  Of 42 goalies over that same span facing at least 100 shots at even strength, Holby’s .968 save percentage is best in the league.

Holtby was consistent throughout the week, posting save percentages of .920 or better in each of the three periods of play in aggregate, even though he was 7-for-8 in saves in the first period against the Islanders and 8-for-10 in the third period against the Devils.

Power Play:  2-for-6/33.3 percent (season: 28.2 percent, rank: 5th)

The power play did not get a lot of opportunities to produce, but it did a credible job with the opportunities with which it was presented.  That the Caps recorded a power play goal in each game this week made for a November in which they recorded a power play goal in nine of 15 games. 

Even with the low frequency of opportunities, the Caps did manage to spread the shots around.  Eight Caps shared the 12 power play shots on goal for the week, Ovechkin and Wilson leading with three apiece.  Wilson and Backstrom recorded the two goals.

The Caps were efficient at applying pressure with a man advantage, recording 12 shots on goal in 8:17 of power play ice time.  What might have inflated the results for the week was that the Caps scored one of their power play goals (against the Devils) at 5-on-3, the Caps’ third 5-on-3 power play goal of the season.  Only Tampa Bay has more (four).

Penalty Killing: 9-for-9 / 100.0 percent (season: 78.3 percent, rank: 20th)

The centerpiece of performance during the Caps’ recent run of good luck has been the penalty kill.  The 9-for-9 week in Week 9 extended a run in which the Caps are 22-for-23 (95.7 percent in their seven-game winning streak).  It was perhaps the best week for the penalty killers going back to last season.  The Caps allowed only 10 shots on goal in 19:04 of shorthanded ice time, and they managed to kill off a major penalty assessed to Tom Wilson in the Caps’ 6-3 win over the Devils to close the week.  As it is, while the 78.3 percent penalty killing mark is not impressive on its own, it is the highest number with which the Caps finished a week in penalty killing so far this season.  It is a piece of the puzzle that is trending up at the moment.

Faceoffs: 47-for-104 / 45.2 percent (season: 48.6 percent, rank: 22nd)

It was an uneven week for the Caps in the circle.  The overall numbers were not impressive, but if one looks at them in a certain way, they might not have been as bad as appearances.  It was in the offensive end where the Caps struggled, an odd outcome considering the team scored ten goals in two games.  Nevertheless, as a team the Caps had only 10 wins in 30 offensive zone draws for the week (33.3 percent).  What made it odd was that it was Evgeny Kuznetsov who was the only Capital taking more than one offensive zone faceoff who won as many as 50 percent of his faceoffs (3-for-6). 

The Caps did salvage something of the week by going 50 percent in both the defensive (19-for-38) and neutral (18-for-26) zones.  On the other hand, that the Caps took eight more defensive zone draws than faceoffs in the offensive end suggested a bit of a tilt in the wrong direction.

Among the individuals taking at least ten draws, only Nic Dowd finished the week at 50 percent or better overall (8-for-15/53.3 percent).  Nicklas Backstrom (16-for-35/45.7 percvent) and Kuznetsov (16-for-37/43.2 percent) were underwater for the week.

Goals by Period:

Second periods have been good to the Caps this season, but in Week 9 it was the third period in which the Caps dominated, outscoring the Islanders and Devils by a 6-2 margin.  That was inflated some by the two empty net goals against New Jersey in the 6-3 win to end the week, but the scoreboard makes no distinction between goals scored into an empty net and those scored past a goaltender.

As for the other two periods, the Caps won the week by a goal in each, which resulted in an odd outcome.  After nine weeks, the Caps have a plus-12 goal differential in the second period, but they are even in both the first and third periods.

Year over Year:

The first and most important thing coming out of Week 9 in the year-to-year comparison is that the Caps are ahead of last year’s record with one more win and four more points than they had after the 25-game mark last season.  A lot of the difference is the improvement in goal scoring this season, the Caps a plus-17 in goals scored over the 25-game mark last year. 

The goals-scored difference is explained, in part, by the Caps’ better power play so far this season, a plus-5 in goals scored despite having fewer opportunities.  It covers up a penalty kill that is, so far, essentially unchanged from last season, which is to say, underwhelming overall (but, as we saw above, trending upward).

In the grittership area, the Caps continue to project the image of a quality over quantity shooting team with their under-50 percent shot attempts at 5-on-5 this season, just as they were at this point last year.  In other respects in this area – hits, blocked shots, penalties – this year’s club is running behind last years as far as volume goes.

In the end…

On November 25th last season, when the Caps played their 25th game of the season, they were 14-10-1 and were fourth in the Metropolitan Division, three points behind the New Jersey Devils and sixth in the Eastern Conference, five points behind the Tampa Bay Lightning.  That the Caps are first and fourth, respectively, in those standings speaks to a measure of improvement in performance.

It is what is to come, perhaps, that will be difficult to match in terms of keeping up with last year’s performance.  Starting with Game 26 on the schedule last season, the Caps went 13-3-2 over their next 18 games.  The Caps embark on their next 25 games on a roll, though, and it would not be surprising to see them challenge that record from last year.  Winning streaks make folks hopeful in that way.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Nicklas Backstrom (3-4-7, plus-5, 1-1-2 on power play, 1 GWG, second career hat trick, passed Peter Bondra for second place in all-time team points list)
  • Second Star: Braden Holtby (2-0-0, .942)
  • Third Star: Alex Ovechkin (2-2-4, plus-4, 7 SOG, 11 shot attempts; passed Joe Sakic and Jarome Iginla for 15th place on all-time goal scoring list)