Sunday, October 14, 2018

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

Week 2 for the Washington Capitals featured a return match with their finalist foe from last spring, a matchup against a team they have dominated in recent years, and a chance to measure themselves against this year’s “it” team.  It was a muddled result, but a familiar one.

Record: 1-2-0

Last season, the Washington Capitals followed up a winning Week 1 with a below-.500 Week 2.  And so it was again to start the 2018-2019 season.  A 1-0-1 week was followed up with a week that started well, went south, and then went sideways.  Consider, though, that the Week 2 opponents finished fifth (Vegas), 15th (New Jersey), and seventh (Toronto) in the league standings last year.  Combine that with the Week 1 opponents, who finished fourth (Boston) and tenth (Pittsburgh), and it was a stout lineup of opponents to start the season.  When you then add that everyone is coming for the defending champs, a 2-2-1 record through five games is not the worst of all worlds.

Offense: 2.33/game (season: 4.00/game, rank: T-7th)

The Caps started Week 2 where they left off in Week 1, threatening to burn out the goal lamp from overuse.  The five goals they scored against the Vegas Golden Knights in the first game of the week was the third straight game in which they scored five or more goals and the fourth straight regular season game doing so, dating back to Game 82 last season.  The Caps had not scored five or more goals in four consecutive regular season games since they did it in sweeping a four-game home stand in early February 2017, shutting out Los Angeles and Carolina by identical 5-0 scores, beating Detroit, 6-3, and wrapping up that home stand with a 6-4 win over the Anaheim Ducks.

On an individual level, Evgeny Kuznetsov continued his torrid start.  He followed up a 2-1-3, plus-1 effort in Week 1 by going 2-4-6, plus-1, in Week 2.  In his last 82 games he is 31-54-85.  Alex Ovechkin was the other Capitals with two goals in Week 2, bringing his total to four in five games.  It isn’t quite like last year’s nine goals in five games start, but it does resemble the five-game goal streak (one in each game) with which he started the 2015-2016 season, the last one in which he posted 50 goals.

John Carlson had a pair of assists and finished the week third among defensemen in scoring (2-4-6). Nicklas Backstrom went 1-2-3 for the week to join the other three among the top-30 point-getters in the league through Week 2.

Defense: 4.00/game (season: 3.80/game, rank: T-24th)

Looking at the three opponents in Week 2, if the Caps were going to allow something north of 35 shots on goal and six goals to an opponent, one might have thought Toronto or Vegas were the likely culprits, not the New Jersey Devils.  But the Caps allowed 36 shots on goal in the 6-0 loss to the Devils in the middle game of the week.  The odd part of that result was that so few shot attempts were blocked by the Caps, just eight of 62 attempts, and only two of them by defensemen (one each by Brooks Orpik and John Carlson).  The Caps actually did a creditable job in holding down attempts by one of the most prolific offenses in the league, holding the Toronto Maple Leafs to only 57 shot attempts and only 28 of those on goal.

Overall, though, it was a difficult week for the Caps in holding back opponents’ possession numbers.  Washington had a shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 of just 43.40, 24th in the league for the week.  They were simply awful in tied-game situations, ranking dead last at 36.07 percent.

Goaltending: 4.04/.874 (season: 3.81/.882/1 SO)

Well, there have been better weeks.  Braden Holtby won his fifth consecutive game against the Vegas Golden Knights to start the week (that streak including the last four games of the Stanley Cup final last spring) and stopped 29 of 31 shots in the process.  That performance might be less impressive than it looks, given that the Knights scored only two goals in each of their first three games to start the season, and as of the end of Week 2 had yet to score more than that number in any of their six games.

Pheonix Copley got his first start with the Caps in the middle game of the week, breaking a streak of 274 straight games started by either Holtby or Philipp Grubauer in goal for the Caps, dating back to February 15, 2015, when Justin Peters stopped 30 of 33 shots in a 5-3 win over the Anaheim Ducks.  Copley’s debut was not as successful as hoped.  He did not get a lot of help, facing 13 shots in the first period against the Devils and allowing two goals by Kyle Palmieri.  He ended the night having faced 36 shots, six of which got through in the 6-0 loss.

Holtby was not bad in his start against Toronto to end the week, and his week might have looked a lot better but for a late sequence in which the Caps rained pucks on the Toronto net, but were unable to solve Frederik Andersen, and then the Maple Leafs put the game away on a pretty tic-tac-toe scoring play with less than two minutes left in a 4-2 win.  Holtby has not been an especially consistent starter in his career.  From 2012-2013 through last season, he had a record in the Caps’ first five games of the year of 11-8-2, 2.66, .908, with one shutout.  Through five games this season, he is 2-1-1, 3.26, .896.  Slump or slow start?  The next couple of weeks will do much to sort that out.

Power Play:  3-for-11/27.3 percent (season:  36.8 percent, rank: 4th)

If your power play clicks at better than 25 percent for the week, and you go down for the season, it’s a good power play.  The week’s power play was the Oreo version, two sweet cookies (2-for-4 against Vegas to start the week, 1-for-3 against Toronto to end it), surrounding a nutritionally suspect filling (0-for-4 against New Jersey in the middle game).  That game against New Jersey was especially unsatisfying.  In 6:12 of power play ice time, the Caps managed only two shots on goal (Alex Ovechkin, Brett Connolly).  In the other two games the Caps had three goals on nine shots in 10:44, eight of those shots from Ovechkin (3), Kuznetsov (3), Carlson (1), and Nicklas Backstrom (1).  It was an encouraging result in a way, since all three opponents finished in the top ten in penalty killing last season.  As it was, the seven power play goals scored by the Caps in the season to date is topped only by the Toronto Maple Leafs, who have eight and have scored at least one in each of their games to date.

Penalty Killing: 8-for-10 / 80.0 percent (season: 77.8 percent, rank: 17th)

This was rough terrain for the Caps in Week 2.  As they did on the penalty kill, all three opponents for the week finished in the top ten power play efficiency last season.  The Caps were, for the most part, efficient in handling shorthanded situations.  The allowed only 11 shots on goal in 15:43 of shorthanded ice time, two of those shots getting through for goals.  It would be the penalty kill that did not kill that did in the Caps in the last game of the week.  Josh Leivo, an unlikely source of power play success for the Toronto Maple Leafs, potted a man advantage goal in the third period to break a 2-2 tie and propel the Leafs to the 4-2 win to put the Caps under .500 for the week.

Faceoffs: 85-for-183 / 46.4% percent (season: 43.8 percent, rank: 30th)

The Caps finished the week under 50 percent in the circle, but it was not as bad as all that.  As a group they were at 50.0 percent in the offensive zone and one under 50.0 percent in the defensive zone.  It was in the neutral zone where they took it in the teeth, going only 40.7 percent.  On the other hand, only Toronto was been successful on draws last season, winning 51.8 percent of their faceoffs (sixth), compared to 48.9 percent for Vegas (22nd) and 47.0 percent for New Jersey (30th).

Individually, it was a case of Evgeny Kuznetsov dragging down the group.  Five Caps took at least ten draws for the week, and only Kuznetsov was under 50 percent.  By a lot.  He won only 15 of 48 draws (31.3 percent), although that number was dragged down by his performance in the neutral zone (3-for-17/17.6 percent).

At the other end, Nicklas Backstrom was over 50 percent in all three zones and 55.1 percent overall for the week.  Nic Dowd was tops overall at 55.2 percent on 29 faceoffs.

Goals by Period:

The Caps did not finish games well in Week 2, their goals allowed by period deteriorating from two in the first periods to four in the second periods to six in the third periods of games.  It did not help that despite being consistent on offense in spreading the goals out, it was a light-scoring week.  Allowing almost as many third period goals (six) as the offense tallied all week (seven) is not conducive to a successful week.

In the end…

The Caps opened the season with five teams that qualified for the postseason last year, four of them having finished with more than 100 points, and one of them their opponent in the Stanley Cup final.  It was not an easy way to start the season.  That said, it was a disappointing week in one respect.  The New Jersey Devils are a team that the Caps have dominated in recent years (13-0-2 in 15 meetings preceding the loss this week), but could muster only a lackluster performance against them.  Against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Caps’ offense was uninspired against Toronto, a team that allowed three of more goals in four straight games going into the game to end the week.  However, 2-2-1 through this five-game thicket is not the worst of starts, especially when missing their top line right winger (Tom Wilson, to suspension) and breaking in a new backup goalie.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Evgeny Kuznetsov (2-4-6, plus-1, 2-1-3 power play scoring, 4 takeaways (led team))
  • Second Star: Alex Ovechkin (2-2-4, plus-1, passed Bobby Hull for 17th place on all-time goal scoring list, 11 hits (led forwards))
  • Third Star: Nicklas Backstrom (1-2-3, even, 55.1 faceoff winning percentage, 1 GWG, 1-2-3 on power play)

Friday, October 12, 2018

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 5: Maple Leafs at Capitals, October 13th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals return home on Saturday night, hoping to shake off the putrid aroma of their visit to Newark on Thursday when they fell to the New Jersey Devils, 6-0.  The Devils, a plucky group, don’t scare many folks offensively (even if they do lead the NHL in scoring offense at 5.50 goals per game), yet they abused the Caps for those six goals, the most they scored in a game since they clubbed the Vegas Golden Knights, 8-3, last March 14th. 

Saturday’s opponent, on the other hand, will put the fear of God in their foes.  The Toronto Maple Leafs are second in the league in scoring offense through Thursday’s games (5.00 goals per game), and they happen to have the only four players in the league with at least ten points.  Auston Matthews is tied for the league lead (12 points) with teammate Morgan Rielly, and he leads the league with an astounding nine goals in only five games (that is a 148-goal pace, which would be a record).  How hot is Matthews?  He is the only player since 2005-2006 to record at least ten shots on goal and a shooting percentage over 50 percent (52.9 percent on 9-for-17 shooting so far).  But here is a statistic that amazes.  He has taken four power play shots this season, and he scored on all of them.  Yes, 4-for-4.  Matthews is so hot that he might not be able to melt tungsten (melting point: 6192 degrees Fahrenheit), but he could soften it.  And, he has been an equal opportunity abuser of opponents in his brief career to date.  Despite a resume with only 149 games in two-plus seasons, Matthews has scored at least one goal against 27 of the other 30 teams in the league (Calgary, Philadelphia, and St. Louis have blanked him so far).  In five career games against the Caps, he is 1-3-4, even.

As for Morgan Rielly, he gets far less attention than Matthews and certainly a lot less than one might expect for a fifth-overall draft pick (2012).  However, the sixth-year defenseman had an awakening last season, almost doubling his career-best assist total (46, compared to 27 in 2016-2017) and setting a career high in points (52, tied for 15th among defensemen last season).  He leads all defensemen in scoring so far (12 points, six ahead of Washington’s John Carlson and Ottawa’s Thomas Chabot), and his nine assists lead all of the league’s skaters regardless of position.  Six of those assists have come on power plays, also a league high.  Rielly is 1-6-7, minus-5, in 15 career games against Washington.

One rung down on the scoring list for Toronto two players are tied with ten points apiece.  Mitch Marner looks as if he might be blown over in a light breeze, but his slight build is hardly an impediment to his production.  He went 19-42-61 in his rookie season two years ago and 22-47-69 last season (while playing in all 82 games).  What is noteworthy about that is that Marner is one of two players in the history of the franchise to record at least 60 points in each of his first two NHL seasons (Matthews is the other; source:  He is well on his way to a third 60-point season, if not a good deal more.  Marner is 2-3-5, minus-4, in six career games against the Caps.

The three precocious youngsters (average age is under 23) almost make one forget about the big free agent prize who is the fourth Leaf with at least ten points in the early going.  John Tavares, who signed a seven-year/$77 million deal to play in his hometown (he was born in Mississauga, just outside Toronto), has those ten points, but nine of them came in the last three games (5-4-9), including a hat trick in a 7-6 win over the Chicago Blackhawks last Sunday.  His 6-4-10 start is quite a bit hotter than it was last season when he went without a point in six of his first seven games with the New York Islanders.  The 15 goals Tavares has in 34 career games against the Caps is topped only by the 18 he has against the Philadelphia Flyers (in 42 games) and the 22 goals he has against the Carolina Hurricanes (in 34 games).  Overall, he is 15-15-30 in those 34 career games against Washington.

1.  Toronto wraps up its four game road trip with this game.  Frankly, they might want to stay on the road.  The Maple Leafs have scored 19 goals in the first three games of the trip.  No team in the league has that many goals overall through Thursday (the Caps and Blackhawks have 18 apiece).

2.  What Toronto taketh, they giveth away.  No team has allowed more goals than the Maple Leafes (20, tied with Ottawa).

3.  As goal-happy as the Maple Leafs are, their goal scoring is quite concentrated.  Seven players account for their 25 goals (Matthews and Tavares account for 15 by themselves).  Ten teams have more players with at least one goal, including the Caps (eight).

4.  The Leafs can be sloppy with the puck.  Only Los Angeles has more charged giveaways (56) than Toronto (53).  On the other hand, they take it away, too.  Their 47 takeaways are second-most in the league (Carolina has 49 through Thursday).  But, they do block shots.  Toronto’s 83 blocked shots tops the league.

5.  Toronto is a somewhat indifferent team when it comes to possession; their 50.49 shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 ranks only 14th.  However, they do play with more urgency when behind.  Their SAT percentage at 5-on-5 of 65.71 is third-highest in the league (source:

1.  The Caps go into this game with a 2-1-1 record.  That’s the same record they had through four games last season.  And in fact, their shots totals, for and against, look better this time around (123 for, 133 against) than they did at this time last season (99/147).

2.  Fo’ Fo’ Fo’… Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and John Carlson each have four power play points, and they account for five of the six Capitals power play goals (Alex Ovechkin has the other).

3.  The Caps are an efficient bunch.  Six of the 20 skaters to dress so far are shooting at 20 percent or better: T.J. Oshie (44.4 percent), Carlson (28.6), Kuznetsov (25.0), Ovechkin (23.5), Nic Dowd (20.0), and Brooks Orpik (20.0).

4.  The Caps have a productive offense, but one might wonder how much more productive they might be if they could grab possession more assertively in the offensive zone.  To wit, the Caps are last in the league in offensive zone faceoff winning percentage (39.8).

5.  Teams tend to play with more urgency when trailing, and this is often reflected in shot attempt numbers.  But, the Caps are 27th of 30 teams in shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 (44.95) when trailing.  Note, we said “of 30 teams.”  New Jersey does not register on this metric because they did not trail at any point in their first two games.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Toronto: Frederik Andersen

The Maple Leafs are going to be a fun group to watch.  The scoreboard at Scotiabank Arena might better be replaced by a pinball machine.  But that cuts two ways, too.  Frederik Andersen is the guy at the other end of the ice watching those skaters wreak havoc on opposing goalies, but he’s the guy who has to deal with the chances such a wide open approach to offense affords opponents.  It is early, but he has been challenged.  Fifty goalies dressed for games through Thursday, and his 3.28 goals against average ranked 32nd of that group, while his .893 save percentage ranked 30th.  Andersen also has to fend off a barrage of pucks on a night to night basis.  Since arriving in Toronto from the Anaheim Ducks in 2016-2017, no goalie in the league has faced more shots on goal (4,385), almost 200 more than Cam Talbot (4,210) and almost 500 more than third-place Sergei Bobrovsky (3,909).  No goaltender in that span has had more games facing 40 or more shots on goal than Andersen (22).  Toronto might score a ton of goals this season, but it isn’t doing their netminder any favors, and it might be that the Leafs go far only if Andersen can keep enough fingers in the dike to keep from having a flood of goals against wash over them.  In five career games against the Caps, Andersen is 3-1-1, 2.88, .909, with two shutouts.

Washington: Lars Eller

Who is last on the Capitals in plus-minus so far this season?  Who is last among forwards in shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 when trailing in games?  Which forward has been on ice for most total goals against so far?  The answer to all three questions is “Lars Eller.”  He was last seen scoring the game-winning, series-clinching, Cup-winning goal for the Caps last June, so a slow start is not necessarily surprising, and it carries with it a “so what” nature to it.  You score the Cup-clinching goal, you get free drinks for life and a lot of slack for an iffy start.  Nevertheless, Eller is counted on as part of that “deep down the middle” logic behind successful teams.  The good news is, Eller didn’t exactly produce fireworks to open last season, either.  He did not score a goal until his tenth game of the season (he has one this season) and was 0-3-3, minus-3 over his first nine games.  If he is going to breakout, it might be against this team.  Eller is 7-10-17, plus-3, in 34 games against Toronto, that point total being the most he has against any team in the NHL.

In the end…

The Caps had an offensive hiccup against the Devils, getting blanked after scoring 18 goals in their first three games.  It is on the other side of the puck where concerns lie.  It is only four games, but Washington has alternated stinginess with generosity – no goals allowed to Boston, followed by seven Penguins goals, and then just two against Vegas, followed by six allowed to the Devils.  If the pattern holds, the Caps will be stingy in this one.  However, that might not be the way to bet, and it certainly is not a pattern the Caps want to follow for very long.  They were successful last year when paying attention to the details of defensive structure.  It is not a new idea, but it is one with which they need to become reacquainted if they are to beat this team and be successful moving forward.

Capitals 4 – Maple Leafs 3

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 4: Capitals at Devils, October 11th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals might have had a light schedule in the early going of their 2018-2019 season – they will play only their third game of the season on Wednesday night against the Vegas Golden Knights – but it does not compare with the schedule of their next opponent, the New Jersey Devils.  When the Devils host the Caps on Thursday, Day 9 on the 2018-2019 season calendar, it will be only the Devils’ second game of the season.  Since defeating the Edmonton Oilers in their season/home opener, the Devils have been limited to practice and waiting.

It is not the best way, perhaps, to build early season momentum, but the Devils do have the advantage of starting their season with a five-game home stand, the longest home stand on their schedule this season.  The Devils reached the postseason last year after a five-year absence.  But despite failing in the first round of the playoffs to the Tampa Bay Lightning, it is a team that seemed content merely to tinker around the margins of their roster.  Gone are late-season acquisitions Pat Maroon (to St. Louis as a free agent) and Michael Grabner (to Arizona as a free agent), while in are… well, there do not appear to be much in the area of upgrades.

The stand-pat approach to the roster will put some pressure on second-year player Nico Hischier to take the next big leap in his development.  The first overall pick in the 2017 Entry Draft had a superb rookie season, finishing with 20 goals (tied for seventh among all rookies), 32 assists (fifth), 52 points (tied for sixth), 19 even strength goals (tied for third), and averaging 16:19 in ice time per game (sixth among rookie forwards).  He is the only rookie in franchise history to record at least 20 goals and at least 30 assists, while going at least plus-10 in his rookie season.  And, he did not succumb to a problem many rookies face – hitting a wall over the long season.  He appeared in all 82 games (the only Devil to do so) and finished a respectable 7-4-11, plus-5, in his last 15 games of the season.  Hischier was 1-1-2, minus-1, in four games against the Caps as a rookie.

Only three defensemen in team history have appeared in more games for the club than Andy Greene (789): Ken Daneyko (1,283), Scott Stevens (956), and Scoot Niedermayer (892).  That’s Devils royalty, all three having played on all three Devils’ Cup-winning teams (1995, 2000, 2003).  Greene has had no such team success, and he has toiled in near anonymity.  Since he came into the league in 2006-2007, he has been dependable, those 789 games played ranking 22nd among defensemen over that period, and he is one of only six defensemen in club history to record at least 200 points.   The 2017-2018 season was the third consecutive season in which Greene finished with 13 points.  It is down a notch or two from his most productive years (from 2009-2010 through 2014-2015 he averaged 28 points per 82 games), but as the oldest defenseman on the roster (we will turn 36 before the end of this month) his role might be as much leadership as it is production these days.  Greene is 3-6-9, minus-17, in 40 career games against Washington.

The 2004 Entry Draft was an odd one for goaltenders.  Four netminders were taken in the first 26 picks.  It was a mixed bag.  Neither Al Montoya (taken sixth overall by the New York Rangers), nor Marek Schwarz (picked 17th by the St. Louis Blues) put together much of a resume in the NHL.  Devan Dubnyk (taken 14th by the Edmonton Oilers) became a very good goalie, but not until his sixth season and his fourth team in the NHL (Minnesota, where he finished third in the Vezina Trophy voting and fourth in the Hart Trophy voting in 2015).  Cory Schneider was the fourth goalie taken in that draft, a selection of the Vancouver Canucks.  After a solid apprenticeship (85-45-12, 2.30, .921, with 12 shutouts in 137 AHL games, he played well for the Canucks in a limited role (55-26-8, 2.20, .927, with nine shutouts in 98 games), but he ended up getting stuck behind Roberto Luongo, although he did push Luongo quite hard for the top spot, eventually getting 30 of 48 starts in his last season in Vancouver in 2012-2013.  Since being traded to New Jersey in June 2013 for a first round draft pick, his numbers have been steadily slipping.  He posted a 1.97 goals against average in 45 games in 2013-2014, but his GAA has gone up every year since, cresting at 2.93 last season.  His save percentage in that first season with the Devils was .921, but after two more seasons over .920 it sank to .908 two years ago and .907 last season. 

Part of the problem for Schneider last season might have been a hip injury.  He had off-season hip surgery and did not dress for the Devils’ season opener.  He remains on injured reserve, leaving the number one duties for the time being to Keith Kinkaid.  It was a bit of a surprise to see Kinkaid get 41 games last season, but he did not wilt under the workload.  However, neither did he shine.  His 2.77 goals against average and .913 save percentage were squarely in the range of his career numbers in four seasons preceding last year (2.68/.912 in 69 games).  If Schneider cannot come back soon and come back better than he has been the last few seasons, the Devils reaching the postseason a second straight year would be in jeopardy.  Kinkaid is 2-3-0, 3.95, .864 in five career appearances against the Caps.

1.  From 2014-2015 through last season, only seven players in the league among more than 1,300 to have dressed had a worse plus-minus than Devils defenseman Damon Severson (minus-60).

2.  It might seem odd, but in 43 seasons coming into this one, the Devils have only one 50-win season.  That came in 2008-2009 (51-27-4), and they were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs in seven games by the Carolina Panthers.

3.  Last year’s magic number for New Jersey was “four.”  Thirty times they scored four or more goals, and not once did they lose in regulation (28-0-2).

4.  There was quite a drop-off in points from Taylor Hall (93) to Nico Hischier (52), but on the other hand, after Hall the Devils were quite balanced.  There were 14 skaters with at least 20 points and 21 skaters finished last season in double digits in points.

5. New Jersey was one of only six teams last season to have more takeaways than giveaways.  Their takeaway-to-giveaway ratio (1.04) was fifth-best in the league.

1.  The Caps bring a 15-game points streak against the Devils into this game.  Washington is 13-0-2 over that stretch.  They have outscored New Jersey, 54-27, have outshot the Devils by a 426-382 margin, have converted 10 of 50 power play chances (20.0 percent), and have killed off 41 or 45 shorthanded situations (91.1 percent).

2.  When the Caps allowed four goals to the Devils last January 18th in a 4-3 overtime loss, it was the first time that the Caps allowed more than two goals to the Devils in New Jersey since they allowed three goals in a 3-2 overtime loss on January 25, 2013.  The odd thing about the nine straight games in which the Caps allowed two or fewer goals in New Jersey was that they lost two of the games, both in regulation.

3.  Only the Florida Panthers and the Tampa Bay Lighting average more shots on goal per game, for and against (72.0 per game combined for both) than the Caps (69.5).

4.  The Caps are averaging 13:00 in penalty minutes per game, third highest in the league. Yes, only two games in. Yes, a matter than needs to be addressed.

5.  Washington hasn’t improved its shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5, but it's early.  They finished last season ranked 24th (47.98); they are ranked 23rd as of Wednesday afternoon, before their evening game against Vegas (45.55).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New Jersey: Taylor Hall

You are the reigning Hart Trophy winner.  You set career highs in goals (39), assists (54), points (93), plus-minus (plus-14), even strength goals (25), power play goals (13, tying his best), and were named to the first team All-Star team at season’s end.  For the first time in nine seasons in the NHL, you reached the postseason.  What is next for Taylor Hall?  Well, for starters, if he has another big year in 2018-2019 (41 goals), he would become the 25th player in team history to score 100 goals with the club. With 79 points he would jump into the top-30 in points in franchise history.  Not bad for a player entering only his fourth season with the club.  He led the club in just about every offensive category last season (goals, assists, points, plus-minus, power play goals, power play points, game winning goals, overtime goals, shots on goal, and shootout shot attempts).  Under a literal interpretation of the Hart citation (player most valuable to his team) it is hard to argue with the selection.  Hall is 3-2-5, minus-3, in 11 career games against Washington.

Washington: Michal Kempny

After suffering a concussion at the hands (elbow, shoulder) of St. Louis’ Robert Bortuzzo in the preseason (Bortuzzo was suspended two preseason games and the regular season opener), Michal Kempny is expected to make his season debut for the Capitals against the Vegas Golden Knights on Wednesday.  If last season was an indicator, it matters.  As we wrote in the preview for Kempny a short time back regarding his addition to the blue line in a trade with Chicago: 
“Kempny ended up being the solution to more than one problem.  The Caps were not getting it done, or at least not looking like a likely deep-run playoff team with two rookie defensemen (Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey) getting regular turns in the lineup.  Whether they were paired together, or they were partnered with John Carlson (Djoos) and Brooks Orpik (Bowey), it wasn’t working at a high enough level.  They had one solid pair – Matt Niskanen and Dmitry Orlov – and two that just didn’t seem to click.
 Enter Kempny.  Pairing him with John Carlson on the second pair allowed head coach Barry Trotz to pair a conventional offensive defenseman in Christian Djoos with a conventional defensive defenseman in Brooks Orpik.  Uncertainty about the blue line’s ability to stand up when the pressure was greatest melted away.”

Kempny does not, and is not likely to have numbers that will impress the casual fan.  But he plays a complementary role quite well, as was the case last year with John Carlson.  Give that the Caps were at the extremes in their first two games – holding Boston without a goal before surrendering seven to Pittsburgh, the stability Kempny demonstrated he can provide would be a welcome contribution to defensive consistency.  In four career games against the Devils, Kempny is 1-1-2, plus-4.

In the end…

This is one odd game.  The Caps are coming into it playing their second straight back-to-back after five full days off since their last one.  New Jersey has had one game so far and might be expected to have accumulated some rust after having four full days off of their own.  Dmitrij Jaskin, claimed off waivers from the St. Louis Blues by the Caps, could see his first action with the club, if he didn’t already against Vegas on Wednesday.  It is entirely possible that Pheonix Copley will get his first turn in goal for the Caps, the first time a goalie other than Braden Holtby or Philipp Grubauer started a game for the Caps since Justin Peters stopped 30 of 33 shots in a 5-3 win over the Anaheim Ducks on February 15, 2015.  New Jersey is trying to get by in the early going with their backup netminder while their number one is on the mend from surgery.  One would have a devil of a time (wink wink) figuring out just how this game might unfold.  OK, not really…

Capitals 5 – Devils 2

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 3: Golden Knights at Capitals, October 10th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals have had five full days off since their back-to-back opening to the 2018-2019 season, beating the Boston Bruins last Wednesday, 7-0, and falling in overtime to the Pittsburgh Penguins in overtime, 7-6, on Thursday.  And now they get to go the Wednesday-Thursday, home-away, back-to-back thing all over again.

The front end of that back-to-back will see the Caps hosting the Vegas Golden Knights in the teams’ first meeting since June 7th, when the Caps danced the Stanley Cup around T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.  It is a new season, and the teams are headed in opposite directions in the early going.  While the Caps have that dominating win and an overtime loss in which they came back from two goals down in the third period to secure a standings point, Vegas was rocked by the Philadelphia Flyers in their home opener, 5-2, eked out a Gimmick loss in Minnesota when they scored late in the third period to force extra time, and then dropped a 4-2 decision in Buffalo to the Sabres on Monday.

That Vegas got that standings point in Minnesota was the product of a late 6-on-5 flurry with their goalie pulled, Max Pacioretty one-timing a feed from Jonathan Marchessault with 1:31 left in regulation to force overtime.  Pacioretty was one of the players caught up in a flurry of housecleaning by the Montreal Canadiens over the summer.  It took the Habs until September to pull the trigger, but they sent the left winger to the Golden Knights for forward Tomas Tatar, Nick Suzuki, and a second round pick in the 2019 Entry Draft.  He brings a solid resume to the desert – 226 goals and 448 points in 626 regular season games before this season, which include among them five 30-goal seasons.  He has been something of an all-or-some kind of player, though.  In addition to his five 30-goal seasons, Pacioretty had five seasons in which he scored 17 or fewer goals, that 17-goal season coming last year.  Vegas is hoping for something more.  In 28 career games against Washington, Pacioretty is 5-11-16, minus-2.

The trouble with scoring 43 goals in 82 games when you scored a total of 18 goals in 183 games over three years preceding that season is that there is the lingering sense that the player has something left to prove, that his big season was not an outlier.  That is the situation William Karlsson faces in his second season in Las Vegas.  Almost as amazing as his 43 goals for the Golden Knight was his finishing plus-49 for the season.  Not only did that lead the league by a wide margin (teammate Jonathan Marchessault was plus-36), it was the second highest plus-minus since the 2005-2006 season (Washington’s Jeff Schultz was plus-50 in 2009-2010).  He has yet to light the lamp this season, but that might not be a sign of significance, and not just because it has been only three games.  Last season, Karlsson was without a goal in his first six games before he went on a tear in which he had 13 goals in his next 16 games.  He is 1-3-4, minus-2, in 12 career games against the Caps.

The season is but three games old for the Golden Knights, but there is no clearer example of “then and now” than goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.  Last season, Fleury opened the season over his first three games by going 3-0-0 (T-1st in wins), 1.32 (seventh), .963 (sixth; minimum: 60 minutes played).  Three games into this season he is 1-2-0, 3.93 (28th), .841 (28th; minimum: 60 minutes played).  He lasted barely 30 minutes in Vegas’ season opener, allowing all five goals on 16 shots in a 5-2 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers.  He was much better in his next outing, stopping 29 of 30 shots in regulation and overtime, and all three trick shots in a 2-1 Gimmick win over the Minnesota Wild.  He could not maintain that level of performance in his third appearance, though, allowing four goals on 17 shots in a 4-2 loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Monday.  He has allowed four or more goals twice in three games after allowing four or more only five times in 46 appearances last season.  Fleury is 22-12-2, 2.54, .914, with four shutouts in 38 career appearances against the Capitals.

1.  Vegas has two goals scored in each of their first three games this season.  Last season, they opened with two goals scored in each of their first two games, but they did not score that few a number again until Game 12, when they dropped a 2-1 decision in Boston to the Bruins.

2.  Last season, Vegas had 20 players record double digits in points.

3.  Of returning Golden Knights, seven had career years scoring goals last season: William Karlsson (43), Erik Haula (29), Colin Miller (10), Ryan Carpenter (9), Brayden McNabb (5), Tomas Nosek (7), and Shea Theodore (6).  Of that group, only Haula has a goal (one) so far this season.

4.  As of Tuesday afternoon, Vegas is one of nine teams yet to score a power play goal so far this season, and they get off to bad starts. They have only one first period goal so far, while allowing four.

5.  You would think that Vegas will turn things around in short order if they can maintain one set of numbers.  The Golden Knights rank fifth in shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 (60.32) and are second in that statistic in close situations (63.08).

1.  Washington has the best goal differential in the Eastern Conference as of Tuesday afternoon (plus-6).  In the West, only Colorado is as good, and only Dallas is better (plus-7).

2.  In the first three games the Caps played against Vegas last season (two regular season and Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final), all of them losses, Washington was outscored 13-7.  In the last four games the teams played, swept by the Caps, Washington outscored Vegas, 16-8.

3.  The Caps have dressed the same 18 skaters for their first two games.  Of that number, 15 already have points this season.

4.  It is early, but Alex Ovechkin does not lead the team in shots on goal.  At least not outright.  He, Brett Connolly, and Evgeny Kuznetsov have eight shots on goal apiece.

5.  There have been 584 skaters to dress in the NHL so far this season.  Eight of them scored a goal on the only shot on goal they recorded to date.  One of them is Caps defenseman Brooks Orpik.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Vegas: Jonathan Marchessault

Jonathan Marchessault scored 27 goals last season in 77 regular season games.  He added eight goals in 20 postseason games.  None of those goals were scored against the Caps, not in the two regular season games in which he played, nor the five postseason games in which he played.  What Marchessault was last season for Vegas was consistent.  After an October in which he had three goals in eight games, he ranged between four and six goals per month over the next six months.  And, he was reasonably consistent across venues, scoring 15 of his 27 goals in 38 home games and 12 of them in 39 road games.  However, while he was not far off the 30-goal season that established him as a player to watch with the Florida Panthers in 2016-2017, there was a significant year-to-year difference in his performance.  The 30 goals he recorded with Florida two seasons ago were the result of 193 shots on goal, a 15.5 shooting percentage, 12th among 172 skaters with at least 150 shots on goal.  Last season with Vegas he had 27 goals on 268 shots, an 10.1 shooting percentage, 103rd among 197 players with at least 150 shots on goal.  Marchessault is looking for his first career goal against the Caps.  He is 0-5-5, even in eight games against Washington.

Washington: John Carlson

John Carlson has not let his big contract get in the way of a fine start to the season.  And he has picked up where he left off last season.  Carlson led all defensemen in points last season (68), was tied for eight in goals (15), was tied for third in assists (53), was second in power play points (32).  That led to an eight-year/$64 million contract signed in the offseason.  Through two games this season, Carlson is 2-2-4, with two power play points.  Those four points are tied for fourth among defensemen, despite having played one fewer game than the three defensemen ahead of him on Tuesday afternoon.  Those two power play points are tied for second in that group, and his 26:04 in average ice time ranks fifth.  He is one of only three defensemen in the league to average more than three minutes per game in both power play and penalty killing (Victor Hedman and Alex Edler being the others).  Carlson is looking for his first regular season career point against Vegas after being blanked in two games last season.

In the end…

The “sophomore slump” phenomenon is one generally attributed to players who slump after a successful rookie season.  The 1-2-0 start for Vegas and their struggles in both scoring offense and scoring defense make one wonder if it isn’t something to which this team will succumb this season after an historic inaugural season.  Much depends on whether all of those career years among the skaters last season are replicable, or if they were just one-offs.  And, will Max Pacioretty fill the scoring shoes of James Neal, departed for Calgary in the offseason?

Compared to the Golden Knights, the Caps are a much better known commodity in terms of their likely performance.  They had good years among many skaters last year, but it wasn’t one dominated by career years.  But the Caps do have to find a happy medium in the defensive end of the ice between the stinginess shown the Boston Bruins in the 7-0 season opening shutout and the generosity bestowed upon the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 7-6 overtime loss last Thursday.  Teams with different sets of issues makes for an interesting matchup, even if the stakes are not quite as high as they were when they last met.

Capitals 5 – Golden Knights 3

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 1

The Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals opened the defense of their championship with an uneven Week 1 of the regular season.  The banner-raising Opening Night was everything a Caps fan could hope for, from seeing the first championship banner in team history hoisted to the rafters to a thoroughly dominating 7-0 win over the Boston Bruins.  While the offense still shined in Game 2 against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the defense blew a gasket in allowing seven goals in a 7-6 overtime loss.

Record: 1-0-1

For the third straight season, the Caps opened the regular season with points in their first two games (2-0-0 last season, 1-0-1 in 2016-2017), defeating the Boston Bruins in the season opener on Wednesday night, 7-0, and then dropping a 7-6 overtime decision to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday.  The win in the opener against Boston was the fifth straight season opener in which the Caps earned at least one point (3-0-2) and the sixth straight home opener in which they earned at least one point (5-0-1).

The road opener extended a string of good luck for the Caps as well, despite the overtime loss, earning a point for the fifth straight time in a road opener (3-0-2).

Offense: 6.50/game (season: 6.50/game, rank: 1st)

The Capitals did not lack for offense in Week 1.  The 13 goals scored by the Caps in the two games was a replay of last season’s first two games in which they recorded 10 goals in their first two contests.  The difference this year was that the good times were spread more evenly.  Last season, Alex Ovechkin had seven of the team’s 10 goals in Games 1 and two, and three other Caps had a goal apiece.  This time around, T.J. Oshie led the Caps with three goals, three other Caps had two, and eight Capitals in all had at least one goal.

In the two games in Week 1, 18 skaters dressed, and 15 of them recorded points.  Six of them had at least two points including defenseman Brooks Orpik, whose goal against Pittsburgh to close the week ended a 182 game streak of regular season games without a goal dating back to February 26, 2016, when he had a goal in a 3-2 win over the Minnesota Wild.  An example of how much turnover can take place in a short amount of time, only nine skaters from that night (including Orpik) are still with the club.

Defense: 3.50/game (season: 3.50/game, rank: T-20th)

It was all or nothing in Week 1, or more accurately, nothing or all.  The Caps held the Boston Bruins to 25 shots in the opener.  Last season they held opponents to 25 or fewer shots ten times, but only twice in their first 27 games, so this might have been taken as a good sign.

The sign was apparently drawn in pencil, because the Caps gave up 41 shots on goal to the Penguins in their 7-6 overtime loss to close the week.  The 16-shot increase in shots allowed, game to game, was the largest game to game increase in shots allowed since the Caps allowed 15 shots to the New Jersey Devils and then 31 shots to the Philadelphia Flyers (plus-16 in shots allowed) in Games 63 and 64 of the 2016-2017 season.

The Caps started poorly in one area that plagued them most of last season.  They were on the wrong side of the shot attempts at 5-on-5.  Washington was a minus-4 against the Bruins in the opener, although that was more the product of having a lead almost from the opening puck drop.  They were minus-5 when ahead, which the Caps were for all but 24 seconds in the contest.

Against Pittsburgh it was a different story.  The Caps were underwater with the game tied (minus-8), when they were in close situations (minus-10), and when they were behind (minus-5).  They managed to break even when ahead and were minus-13 for the game.

Goaltending: 3.46 / .894 / 1 SO (season: 3.46 / .894 / 1 SO)

Braden Holtby got the nod in both games of Week 1, and he started pretty much where he left off last spring.  His 25-save shutout against Boston in the opener was his first regular season shutout since he pitched a 24-save shutout in beating the New York Rangers on April 5, 2017.  The shutout snapped a personal string of 55 regular season appearances without a shutout.  It was his 33rd career blanking, drawing him to within two shutouts of Olaf Kolzig for most in franchise history.

That run lasted one shot against Pittsburgh. Penguin defenseman Jamie Oleksiak scored on the first shot of the game, the Penguins' third, and their seventh.  Holtby ended up allowing seven goals on 41 shots in the 7-6 overtime loss.  It was the first time in Holtby’s career that he allowed as many as seven goals in a game.

Power Play: 4-8 / 50.0 percent (season: 50.0 percent, rank: T-1st)

It took the Capitals two seconds on their first power play of the season to convert the opportunity.  Yes, it was one of those bouncing pucks that a goaltender just cannot get a handle on, but Evgeny Kuznetsov was right there to pounce on the opportunity.

And then for good measure the Caps converted on their second power play of the season, this one in a more conventional way with Alex Ovechkin one-timing a pass from the top of the left wing circle.

The Caps ended up punishing the Bruin penalty killers for four power play goals on six opportunities, those four goals coming on ten shots in 7:34 of power play ice time.  The Caps were so dominant with the man advantage that by the time they used it to build a large lead, every skater finished the game having logged some power play time.

It was a much quieter power play in the second game of the week.  The Caps enjoyed only two power plays against Pittsburgh, no power play time after the 6:13 mark of the second period.  And, they managed only two shots over the four minutes of those two man advantages (Ovechkin, John Carlson). 

Penalty Killing: 6-8 / 75.0 percent (season: 75.0 percent, rank: T-21st)

The penalty kill was a mirror image of the power play in Week 1.  Against Boston the Caps found themselves shorthanded only twice, killing both and allowing only two shots on goal over the four minutes of shorthanded ice time.  Neither of the shots came from the dangerous David Pastrnak or Brad Marchand, each of whom had 2:03 of the Bruins four minutes of power play ice time.

It was a different story against the Penguins.  Washington was disciplined early, putting themselves a man down once in the first period (the Penguins scored on a power play goal by Jake Guentzel) and once in the second period with no damage done.  Then, the wheels came off.  Brett Connolly took a penalty 39 seconds into the period, and that was followed by penalties taken by Madison Bowey at 3:53 and by Jakub Vrana at 8:40.  The Caps killed those penalties off, but their luck ran out in overtime.  Evgeny Kuznetsov took a hooking penalty 19 seconds into the extra frame.  Just 61 seconds later, Kris Letang made the Caps pay, blunting a comeback from a two-goal deficit in the third period.

One of the more noteworthy items for the week was Kuznetsov taking a regular turn killing penalties.  His 3:49 in shorthanded ice time for the week almost equaled his entire total for last season (4:35).

Faceoffs: 52-130 / 40.0 percent (season: 40.0 percent, rank: 30th)

It was an awful week in the circle for the Caps.  Boston has been an adept group in this phase of the game for some time, but the Caps losing 41 of 60 draws was unusual.  The 31.7 percent winning percentage was their worst since they won just 27.6 percent of their draws (16-for-58) in a 4-3 win over the St. Louis Blues on April 8, 2014.  The Caps were especially unsuccessful in the offensive zone, winning only six of 25 faceoffs (24.0 percent).  Only Brett Connolly and Andre Burakovsky were over 50 percent for the game, both players winning the only draw they took.

That performance almost made the 33-for-70 performance against Pittsburgh a dominating one.  The Caps did a better job in the offensive zone against the Penguins, but not much, going 9-for-23 (39.1 percent).  They did win the defensive zone (10-for-17/58.8 percent) the only zone they won in the two games for the week.

Individually, none of the four players taking at least ten draws for the week were as successful as 45 percent of the time.  Nicklas Backstrom was 18-for-41 (43.9 percent), but his performance was mitigated in part by a 9-for-12 (75.0 percent) performance in the defensive zone.  Lars Eller was 43.5 percent on a 10-for-23 week, but he did manage to win half of his eight offensive zone draws.

Goals by Period:

The Capitals were not only frequent in their scoring in Week 1, they spread things around nicely among the periods.  Their five first period goals ranks first in the league through Week 1, as do their five goals in the second period.  Even their three third-period goals ranks in a tie for fifth place in the league.

Here too, though, the two games were quite different, in this case the scoring early in periods.  The Caps opened Banner Night against Boston with two goals before the first period was two minutes old.  However, against the Penguins the Caps allowed a goal in the first two minutes of the first and second periods, as well as the overtime game-winner, and in the third period they allowed a goal less than three minutes into the period.

In the end…

The Caps had an eventful Week 1, what with the distractions of a banner-raising ceremony in the season opener and having to go on the road the next night to face their most bitter rival, rested and ready for their own season opener.  Getting three of four points out of that scenario is hardly the worst outcome, especially since the Caps fought back from a two-goal deficit in the third period to earn a standings point in Pittsburgh. 

The trick now will be maintaining an edge with a long layoff until they take the ice again on Wednesday against the Vegas Golden Knights, and then in another back half of a back-to-back in New Jersey against the Devils.  It is part of a stern test in which four of the first five teams that the Caps will face to open the season recorded more than 100 standings points last season, and the fifth – New Jersey – had 97 points.   So far, though, the Caps have done nicely to start the season.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: T.J. Oshie (3-2-5, plus-3, 1 PPG, 1 GWG, 6 hits, 3 blocked shots
  • Second Star: Nicklas Backstrom (0-4-4, plus-3, 2 PPA, 4 takeaways, no giveaways)
  • Third Star: John Carlson (2-2-4, plus-4, 1 PPG, 1 PPA, 5 blocked shots, 26:04 average ice time)

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 2: Capitals at Penguins, October 4th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals open the road portion of their season on Thursday night when they visit PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh to face the Penguins their season opener.  When last seen on this ice sheet, the Capitals were celebrating Evgeny Kuznetsov’s game-winning, series-clinching, demon-slaying overtime goal to send the Capitals to the Eastern Conference final last spring and the Pens to drown their sorrows in pickled herring.

As the teams take their first steps on this season’s journey, both are in familiar territory.  Both are thought to be contenders for a Metropolitan Division crown (the Caps have won it the past three seasons, while the Penguins finished second in those seasons).  Both will be threats to top the 100-point mark (both teams have done so the past three seasons).  Each will be eyeing the other warily in anticipation of yet another second round matchup next spring (they have met there in each of the last three postseasons).

But for now, the theme might be the unfamiliar.  The Caps take the ice in this contest as the defending Stanley Cup champion, the first time they can say that in their history, while the Penguins are starting a season without that “defending Stanley Cup champion” label, having lost their last playoff series, the first time they lost a playoff series since the New York Rangers ended their season in the first round of the 2015 playoffs.

If Pittsburgh does not return virtually its entire lineup from last season, as did the Caps, they return the essentials.  They return their top nine point-getters from last season, a group that contributed 199 of the team’s 270 goals scored last season.  Evgeni Malkin led all Penguins with 42 goals and 98 points, most in both categories since he had 50 goals and 109 points in 2011-2012.  Last season was also Malkin’s most efficient from a goal-scoring standpoint, converting a career high 17.6 percent of his shots on goal.  His success last season was due, in part, to durability he has not displayed in recent seasons.  He dressed for 78 games, more than any season since he appeared in all 82 games of the 2008-2009 season.  On the other side, he has been known to be chippy from time to time, and his 87 penalty minutes were more than he had in any season since 2009-2010, when he had 100 PIMs in 67 games.  Malkin is 18-39-57, even, in 40 career games against Washington.

Thirteen seasons, thirteen times averaging at least a point per game.  Sidney Crosby is the only player in the league to have averaged at least a point per game in every season since 2005-2006 (Malkin is second with 11 seasons, and Alex Ovechkin is third with ten).  However, it might be time to at least whisper, “is Crosby slowing down?”  Over his first nine seasons he ranged from 1.26 to 1.68 points per game and averaged 1.40 points per game over the period.  However, over the last four seasons his points per game ranged from 1.06 to 1.19 and averaged 1.11.  

“Slowing down” as it applies to Crosby is a relative thing and needs to be looked at in the context of the high performance standard he has set for more than a decade.  Over the last four seasons, only 12 players (including Crosby) have had at least one season averaging 1.11 points per game (Malkin, Nikita Kucherov, and Connor McDavid did it twice).  It is not an easy feat.  His slipping just a touch showed up in the postseason recognition, too.  He finished fifth in the voting at center for the NHL All-Star team, his lowest finish in a season in which he appeared in 50 or more games since 2007-2008, when he finished fifth.  He finished 17th in the Hart Trophy voting, his lowest finish in a 50-plus game season since that same 2007-2008 season when he finished 17th.  Crosby is 20-43-63, minus-2, in 45 career games against Washington.

Over a six-year period, defenseman Kris Letang finished in the top-ten in Norris Trophy voting as the league’s top defenseman five times and was a finalist once.  The only time he did not receive votes, in 2013-2014, he played in only 37 games due to injury and a heart ailment.  In each of the last two seasons, though, Letang has received no votes for the Norris, a product of his appearing in only 41 games in 2016-2017, but last year receiving no votes despite playing in 79 games, the most in a season since he dressed for all 82 games in 2010-2011.  He does have quite a resume, though.  Since he became a full-time player in 2007-2008, he ranks 11th in goals scored by a defenseman (94) and is ninth in points (435).  But his presence was an important ingredient to Penguin success last year.  Pittsburgh was 20-4-4 in games in which Letang skated more than 26 minutes.  In 34 career games against the Caps, Letang is 5-10-15, minus-23.  Yes… minus-23.

1.  This will be the third time that the Penguins opened the home portion of their season against Washington.  They are 2-0, winning a 5-4 decision to open the 1986-1987 season and taking a 3-2 Gimmick decision to open the 2016-2017 season.

2.  If Crosby gets three points in this game, he will tie Jaromir Jagr on the Penguins’ all-time scoring list against the Capitals.  Mario Lemieux tops the list with 101 career points against the Capitals.

3.  Pittsburgh had the second best home power play last season at 26.7 percent, finishing within rounding error of the top-ranked New Jersey Devils.

4.  The Penguins were a successful team when pulling the goalie last year.  The nine goals they scored at 6-on-5 were second most in the league.  Philadelphia had ten.

5.  Pittsburgh had shooting issues on home ice.  Their 7.3 percent shooting percentage at 5-on-5 ranked 22nd in the league (source:

1.  Alex Ovechkin has scored more goals against the Penguins than any player in the league since he came into the league in 2005-2006, and it isn’t close.  Ovechkin has 33 career goals against Pittsburgh, while second-place Mike Knuble has 24.

2.  It would make sense, given the last item, that Nicklas Backstrom has more assists against the Penguins than any other player since 2005-2006.  He does, and that’s not close, either.  His 40 assists, accumulated since he came into the league in 2007-2008, are nine more than Claude Giroux.

3.  If Ovechkin was to record three power play points, he would tie Mike Gartner as the team’s all-time leader in power play points against the Penguins (27).

4.  Washington did not lack for power play chances against Pittsburgh last season.  No team in the league had more chances (18).  But they converted only two; only four teams had a worse success rate against the Penguins than the Caps (11.1 percent).

5.  The Caps were just about as unsuccessful killing penalties against the Pens last season.  There was the problem of too many shorthanded situations faced (19, more than any other team), and killing only 13 of them, the 68.4 percent penalty killing 20th among teams facing the Penguins.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Pittsburgh: Matt Murray

For a guy with two Stanley Cups, this guy seems to have something to prove.  No goalie in his first three seasons appeared in more postseason games than Murray (44), but that really is not the issue, at least entirely.  After winning Cups in his first two  seasons, he made Marc-Andre Fleury expendable and eventually available in the expansion draft, where he was taken by the Vegas Golden Knights.  His third season did not follow the script, though.  He missed seven games in two different chunks to injury, and he was absent for six games for family reasons, dressing for a total of 49 games in the regular season.  He was not especially effective, his .907 save percentage ranking 37th of 45 goalies with at least 1,500 minutes of ice time, and his 2.92 goals against average ranking 31sdt in that group.  He was hardly better in the postseason, his .908 save percentage ranking 11th of 20 goalies with at least 100 minutes, and his 2.43 goals against average ranking eighth.  Perhaps with less misfortune than he endured last season he will rebound to reach the elite level expected of him.  It is hard to see how the Penguins go deep in the spring without him approaching that level.  Murray is 4-4-0, 3.66, .882 in eight appearances against the Capitals.

Washington: Braden Holtby

The schedule makers did the Caps no favors giving them a back-to-back set of games to open the season.  That they will have six days off before taking the ice for Game 3 on the schedule suggests that Braden Holtby will get the call in Pittsburgh after starting on Opening Night.  It might be worth noting that while Holtby did start consecutive games once last season, he did not finish consecutive games.  He was pulled 21 minutes into a 3-1 loss to the New York Islanders after allowing three goals on 12 shots on December 11th, and then he followed that up the next night with a 22-save effort in a 5-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche.  He has not started and finished back-to-back games since he stopped 22 shots in a 4-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche on February 6, 2016, followed by a 33-save gem in a 3-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers.  Holtby is 8-9-2, 2.90, .911, with two shutouts in 20 career appearances against the Penguins.

In the end…

Opening Night was emotion on steroids for the Capitals.  The red carpet, the crowd, the banner raising.  One wonders what the Caps will have in the tank on a night following such a scene.  It will be something of an odd season opener for the Penguins in that for the first time in three seasons they do not have a banner raising of their own.  This might be a game played on raw dislike for one another, the Pens wanting to send a message that the Caps can count on being “one-and-done” as far as championships go, and the Caps, well…because  it’s the Penguins.  It is always interesting between these teams, and this should be no different.

Capitals 3 – Penguins 2