Friday, March 23, 2018

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 75: Capitals at Canadiens, March 24th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals. Fresh off a somewhat lackluster 1-0 win over the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday night, head off for their last visit to Canada for the regular season when they make their only visit to Bell Centre this season on Saturday night to face the Montreal Canadiens.

Washington is looking to complete its seven-game schedule of games in Canada on an up-note, facing the Canadiens with a 3-2-1 record in games played in Canadian cities so far this season.  On the other side, Montreal might be quietly hoping the clock would tick faster on this season.  The Canadiens have lost four in a row (0-4-0) going into Friday night’s game against the Buffalo Sabres and are just 1-7-2 in their last ten contests going into Friday night’s game.  It is the worst record in the league since March 3rd, when the Canadiens embarked on that slide, except for the Detroit Red Wings (1-8-1).

Seems the Habs have had two general problems in that ten-game span.  First, they can’t score (18 goals scored).  Second, they can’t keep the other guys from scoring (38 goals allowed).

With respect to the former, Montreal really misses Max Pacioretty, who suffered a knee injury in what was the last Canadien win before the ten-game slump, a 6-3 win over the New York Islanders on March 2nd.  That injury was expected to keep Pacioretty out 4-6 weeks.  Since then, the goal scoring has come from few sources and fewer with any consistency.  Brendan Gallagher and Artturi Lehkonen lead the club with four goals apiece over that span, going into Friday’s game against Buffalo. 

Gallagher is one of those annoying players, always stirring things up and getting in opponents’ faces, that 30 other fan bases hate but would love to have on their team.  He has already surpassed his career high in goals, the 26 he has at the moment two more than the 24 he recorded in the 2014-2015 season and a far cry better than the ten he had in 64 games last season, a season cut down by 18 games when he broke a finger blocking a shot of teammate Shea Weber.  But his contributions almost highlight how thin Montreal's scoring is this season.  Gallagher has scored goals in 24 games this season (he has two two-goal games), but Montreal is just 11-11-2 in those games.  That the Habs are 19-15-3 in games in which Gallagher has a point this season speaks to the virtues of spreading things around.  He is 4-2-6, minus-3, in the ten-game skid, and he is 2-1-3, minus-6, in 13 career games against the Capitals.

Lehkonen is a less-known commodity to Caps fans.  A second-round pick of the Canadiens in the 2013 entry draft, he is in his sophomore season with Montreal.  He had a respectable rookie campaign last season, going 18-10-28, minus-1, in 73 games.  Those 18 goals tied for ninth place in last year’s rookie class (with Tampa Bay’s Brayden Point), and his 27 career goals rank 17th in his 2013 draft class (by way of comparison, the Caps’ Andre Burakovsky ranks sixth in that class with 47 goals).  His production is off quite a bit this season, having recorded only half as many goals (nine) as last season.  That is a product of a drop in shooting efficiency.  His shots on goal, last year to this, are roughly equivalent (158 last season, 149 so far this season), but his shooting percentage has dropped from 11.4 percent to 6.0 percent.  It is the thing that has come back in his last ten games, though, his four goals scored on just 27 shots (14.8 percent).  Lehkonen is 1-1-2, minus-2, in five career games against Washington.

Karl Alzner was never a prolific contributor on offense when he was manning the blue line for nine years as a Washington Capital.  But even by his standards he is in a slump.  He does not have a point in the 1-7-2 slump in which his team finds itself.  In fact, he is without a point in his last 15 contests (before Friday’s game against Buffalo), two – both assists – in his last 26 games.  He has one goal this season, that on January 7th in a 5-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks, leaving him without one in his last 32 games.  Still, he averaging 20:07 of ice time a game (fourth among defensemen on the club).  The ice time is interesting in that in games in which he skated more than 22 minutes this season, Montreal is 7-3-3, hardly a surprising outcome for a defensive defenseman who might be on ice more in the later stages of games to protect a lead.  The flip side of that is the Canadiens being 6-17-2 in the 25 games he skated less than 19 minutes.  Alzner is without a point and is minus-1 in the two games he faced his old team this season.

1.  Think the Canadiens don’t miss Shea Weber on the back line?  His season ended on December 16th.  He suffered a tendon injury in his foot requiring surgery and will not return until next season.  In this 1-7-2 slide, no Canadien defenseman has scored a goal.  That’s no goals on 85 shots as a group.  They have ten assists among eight defensemen to dress in that span.

2.  Small wonder that Montreal is 1-7-2 over their last ten games.  Only the Dallas Stars have been shorthanded more frequently (36 times to 35 for the Canadiens), and Montreal has the worst penalty kill in that span (21-for-35/60.0 percent).  The 14 power play goals allowed over that span is more than the Caps (not the best penalty killing team themselves) have allowed over their last 23 games (13).

3.  It probably says something that Montreal has 20 more hits (309) than any other team over this ten-game span.  They’re frustrated, they spend too much time without the puck, they get generous scoring.  They spread it around, too.  There are 12 skaters with at least ten hits over that span. This is not a happy group that plays well with others.

4.  You get the feeling they just might wish the season was over.  In this ten-game stretch, only the Calgary Flames are shooting to a lower percentage of success (5.4 to 6.2 for Montreal), and the Habs’ 45.8 percent winning percentage on draws is fourth-worst in that span.

5.  And if the Canadiens get behind, their possession numbers slump.  Over these last ten games, their 47.25 percent shot attempts-for when trailing is third-worst in the league (Edmonton: 47.21; Columbus: 41.18)

1.  The Caps have a shot attempt differential on the road at 5-on-5 of minus-225, the worst in the league (New York Islanders are minus-210).

2.  Washington has won three of their last four road games after a four-game road losing streak.  The run pulled them up in the road points rankings, now one of 14 teams averaging more than one standings point per game on the road.

3.  The Caps will try to take advantage of that weak Montreal penalty kill to improve relatively weak road power play numbers.  The Caps are just 1-for-13 (7.7 percent) over their last six road games and 3-for-26 (11.5 percent) over their last 12 games away from Washington.

4.  Alex Ovechkin has 21 goals on the road this season, more than the next two Caps combined (T.J. Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom with ten apiece).

5.  The Caps are one of four teams with more than 400 penalty minutes on the road this season.  Their 424 PIMs is exceeded only by Florida (453), Nashville (458), and Calgary (475).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Montreal: Carey Price

The last three seasons have not been kind to goaltender Carey Price.  Two seasons ago, he appeared in only 12 games, missing the Canadiens’ last 59 games of the season with a knee injury.  After appearing in 62 games last season and posting respectable numbers (2.23 goals against average, .923 save percentage), he has appeared in 44 games this season and posted the worst numbers of his career – a 3.03 goals against average (previous worst: 2.83 in 2008-2009) and a .903 save percentage (previous worst: .905 in 2008-2009).  And most recently, he missed 13 games with a concussion, returning just last Wednesday against the Pittsburgh Penguins, allowing five goals on 39 shots in a 5-3 loss.  His absence for 13 games was merely a hiccup in what has been a thoroughly forgettable 2018 portion of the season.  He did win two of his first three games of the new year, but since then is a ghastly (for him) 2-9-4, 3.28, .887 in 15 appearances.  And, high shot volumes have not agreed with him, at least in terms of outcomes.  When facing 30 or more shots this season, Price has a 2.70 goals against average and a .922 save percentage, both respectable numbers in that high-volume environment.  But his win-loss record in those games is 8-13-4.  He has not been able to steal many games backstopping a struggling offense.  In 22 career appearances against the Caps, Price is 6-12-4, 3.17, .895, with one shutout.

Washington: Brett Connolly

That Brett Connolly scored the only goal against the Red Wings in the Caps’ 1-0 win in Detroit on Thursday should not be surprising (although if he missed the net on a 2-on-0 break with Jakub Vrana on his wing, he could have just kept skating all the way to Zug Island).  Connolly has eight goals on the road in just 31 road games, the fourth highest total on the team (trailing Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie with ten apiece, and Alex Ovechkin with 21).  His shooting percentage on the road is of the “c’mon, you’re putting me on” category (8-for-27/29.6 percent, the best road shooting percentage of any player in the league with at least 20 shots on goal).  If anything, he’s been even pickier this year over last overall in terms of shots, but with similar results.  Last year he played in 66 games, and this year he has appeared in 63 games so far.  Both years – 15 goals.  But whereas he recorded 15 goals last year on 81 shots (18.5 percent shooting, then a career best), so far this season he has 15 goals on just 64 shots (23.4 percent, a new career best).  If the Caps really do have a “quality over quantity” philosophy about shooting, Connolly is the poster boy.  He is 2-1-3, minus-1, in 15 career games against Montreal.

In the end…

The Caps have made Bell Centre their own in recent years.  Washington has earned standings points in 14 straight games in Montreal, dating back to November 2009, posting a record of 12-0-2, and they have won their last four visits to Montreal.  One would have to think that if Montreal is going to scare up any inspiration to maximize their effort, it would be to end that streak.  But this is a team that has found it hard to win on home ice against anyone lately.  The Canadiens are just 3-2-3 in their last eight games at home and have been shut out twice.  This is precisely the sort of team that the Caps need to grind on early to take the fight out of them and the crowd out of the game. 

Capitals 4 – Canadiens 2

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 74: Capitals at Red Wings, March 22nd

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals embark on their longest remaining road trip of the season over the next five days, and that starts with a visit to Little Caesars Arena in Detroit to face the Red Wings on Thursday night.

The Caps stretched their lead in the Metropolitan Division to four points on Tuesday night with a 4-3 win over the Dallas Stars, although that margin could be halved again pending the results of the Pittsburgh Penguins game against the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday night.  It makes every game and every point important as the Caps head into these last few weeks of the regular season.

For the Red Wings, the competitive portion of the season ended some time ago.  They staved off elimination from the postseason when they beat the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night, 5-4, in a Gimmick.  But the Caps could formally eliminate Detroit from the postseason with a win of any kind on Thursday.

The Red Wings have struggled all season, or at least since mid-December, when they won consecutive games in regulation for the last time through Tuesday.  When they beat the New York Islanders in Brooklyn, 6-3, on December 19th for a second consecutive win in regulation, they had a record of 13-13-7, they were fifth in the Atlantic Division and six points behind the New York Islanders for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.  Since then, the Wings are 13-22-4 and are on the brink of elimination.  Worse, after clawing their way back to .500 in standings points (26-26-10) on February 25th, they lost ten in a row (0-9-1) before beating the Flyers in their most recent game.

Scoring has been a season-long issue for the Red Wings, who finished action on Tuesday with the 28th-ranked scoring offense in the league (2.52 goals per game).  Which brings us to Dylan Larkin.  Here we have a player who is an embodiment of the Wings’ problems this season.  With 53 points to lead the club, he has had a hand in almost 30 percent of all the goals scored by Detroit this season.  But until he went 2-1-3 against the Flyers on Tuesday night, he went 17 games without a goal and had just seven points in all (all assists), a period over which the Red Wings went 3-12-2.  That long goal streak might be looked at in the context of this being a disappointing year, goal scoring-wise, continuing a trend in dropping year-to-year production.  After recording 23 goals in 80 games in his 2015-2016 rookie season, Larkin had 17 in 80 games last season, and his 11 goals in 73 games so far this season puts him on a pace to finish with 12 this season.  This has been a brutal season for Larkin in terms of shooting efficiency, his 11 goals on 207 shots translating to a career-low 5.3 shooting percentage.  He is 1-4-5, plus-3, in eight career games against Washington.

Anthony Mantha leads the club in goals so far this season (23) and serves as something of a counterpoint to Larkin.  Both were first round draft picks, Mantha taken with the 20th overall pick in 2013, a year before Larkin was taken with the 15th overall pick in 2014.  However, in the context of their respective development, where Larkin has displayed something of a regression from his rookie season, Mantha has shown steady improvement over the same three seasons.  After hist first season in 2015-2016 in which he played in only ten games with two goals and three points, he skated in 60 games last season to a 17-19-36 scoring line.  Through 71 games this season, he has career highs in goals (23), assists (19, tied with last season’s total), and points (42).  But it is another indicator of how thin the Red Wings’ scoring is that in the 20 games in which Mantha has goals this season, Detroit is just 9-8-3.  He has been in a scoring slump of late, going without a goal in his last seven games and just one assist in that span.  He is 1-2-3, even, in five career games against the Capitals.

Jimmy Howard is now, well…for the moment, the man between the pipes for the Red Wings.  Since Petr Mrazek was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers on February 19th, Howard has 12 appearances over the last 15 games, 11 of them starts.  He has not been especially impressive, though, going 3-7-2, 3.08, .903.  He has faced 31.85 shots per 60 minutes in that span, though, a considerable but not unduly heavy volume.  Still, Howard is a Red Wing who is managing to inch his way up the all-time franchise statistical ladder – third all-time in games played among goalies (455), 3rd in wins (218), fourth in shutouts (23), second in save percentage (.915; minimum 100 games played), seventh in goals against average (2.49).  However, he will also turn 34 years old next week, and this raises an issue with respect to this club.  Howard was drafted in 2003.  In all the time since, the only other goalie drafted by the Wings to appear in more than three NHL games for the club is Petr Mrazek, who is now in Philadelphia.  Howard does have one more year on his contract (with a $5,291,667cap hit), so the club might be interested in these last few games of this season to see what they have in current backup Jared Coreau.

1.  This might end up being a game of two teams who don’t get shots to the net.  While the Caps are last in the league in shots on goal per game (28.9), the Red Wings are not much better, their 30.2 shots per game ranking 27th.

2.  Only Edmonton has had fewer power play chances on home ice this season (95) than Detroit (104).

3.  Detroit can hold a lead.  The Red Wings are 20-0-4/.833 when leading after two periods, one of eight teams in the league without a loss in regulation when leading after 40 minutes.  However, they can’t make up ground.  When trailing after 40 minutes they have one win, fewest in the league, and their 1-30-5 record in such instances is the worst winning percentage in the league (.028).

4.  Only two teams have fewer wins when out-shooting opponents than Detroit (10): the Islanders (eight) and Vancouver (seven).  Then again, they don’t out-shoot opponents often, just 29 times in 73 games.

5.  The Red Wings don’t win close games.  Their record of 10-10-12 in such games is tied for worst winning percentage in the league (.313, with Buffalo).

1.  The Caps have struggled on the road of late, going 4-6-1 in their last 11 games away from Capital One Arena.  One reason is an anemic power play that is 3-for-23 (13.0 percent) over those 11 games.

2.  The Caps have been “out-opportunitied” on the power play 24 times in 36 road games this season. Has it mattered?  To a point.  The Caps are 12-9-3 when opponents have more power play chances in Caps road games, 4-6-2 when opponents don’t have the opportunity advantage.

3.  No player in the league has more shorthanded faceoff wins this season than Jay Beagle (121).  How’s that for finding a fact in the back of the closet?

4.  Plus-minus might not be the best measure of, well, anything anymore, but it can’t be good for a playoff contender that the best plus-minus player on the road this season for the Caps now plays in Columbus (Taylor Chorney, plus-5).  OK, so Alex Ovechkin and Matt Niskanen are tied with him but that means they are tied for 100th in the league in that measure.

5.  When John Carlson takes the ice against Detroit, he will become the 19th Capital (and eighth defenseman) to appear in 600 games for the team, tying Bobby Gould for 18th place and one behind Scott Stevens for 17th place in franchise history.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Detroit: Niklas Kronwall

In a franchise history of defensemen that includes Nicklas Lidstrom, Red Kelly, and Chris Chelios, it might be easy to overlook a Niklas Kronwall.  However, Kronwall is among the longest-serving defensemen in Red Wings history and among their most productive.  Now in his 14th season, all with Detroit after being taken by the Wings in the first round (29th overall) in the 2000 entry draft, only Lidstrom and Marcel Pronovost have played more seasons in Detroit and more games for the Red Wings (1,564 and 983, respectively) than Kronwall (865).  He occupies similarly high rankings in other statistical categories among franchise defensemen: goals (79/6th), assists (319/3rd), points (398/4th), game-winning goals (14/T-2nd), power play goals (33/3rd), shooting percentage (6.7/6th among defensemen with at least 250 games played).  Kronwall is the old man on the blue line squad now, although he is still skating more than 18 minutes a game, is tied with Mike Green for the power play scoring lead among defensemen (13 points), second to Green in overall scoring 17 points), and has two of the three power play goals scored by Detroit defensemen this season.  His production has been sporadic of late, though.  Kronwall is 1-4-5, minus-11, in his last 20 games, and he does not have an even strength goal since November 22nd, his only one of the season.  He is 1-6-7, minus-7, in 20 career games against the Caps.

Washington: Barry Trotz

Now, it’s a matter of tuning and preparing.  The Caps are in the last sprint to the finish, and there might be a temptation to look ahead or cut corners in eager anticipation of the playoffs that begin next month.  But success in the second season might be as much making sure things are done the right way and that corners are not cut.  And that is up to head coach Barry Trotz and his staff.  Complicating the matter is the goaltending situation and how that is to be handled.  Braden Holtby’s struggles and Philipp Grubauer’s consistency in the last couple of months has raised the question of whether a change in number one netminder might be warranted.  After all, the story goes, a tandem didn’t hurt the Pittsburgh Penguins last season when Marc-Andre Fleury started 15 games, and Matt Murray got the call in ten others.  This might be the most important issue the coaching staff will have to address over the last few weeks of the season, and how it is handled might be the prelude to a successful run in the playoffs or another in a long history of early flameouts.

In the end…

This is not the same Detroit Red Wings team that beat the Washington Capitals, 5-4, in overtime last February 11th.  In 19 games since they scored five goals in a game (not including Gimmicks) only once and have scored more than three goals just twice in that span.  And, it is a team that has allowed four or more goals in nine of its last ten games.  That is a really bad combination, one that the Caps must take advantage of early and often.  It might be “Little Caesars Arena” in which the game is played, but the Caps should make this a “pizza night” from a competitor.

Capitals 5 – Red Wings 2

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

A TWO-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 73: Capitals 4 - Stars 3

The Washington Capitals took the ice on Tuesday night with the aim of holding on to their slim lead in the Metropolitan Division.  To do that, they would have to beat the Dallas Stars, a team they had not defeated on home ice since November 2006.  That streak ended on this evening as the Caps scored a tie-breaking goal late to beat the Stars, 4-3.

First Period

The teams almost got out of the first period scoreless, but with Nicklas Backstrom in the penalty box, Tyler Seguin scored the game’s first goal.  Taking a pass in the left wing circle from Alexander Radulov, Seguin had an open lane in front of him.  He had time to step up and pick a hole, which he found, snapping a shot over goalie Braden Holtby’s left pad and under his catching glove on the far side to make it 1-0, 16:04 into the game.  That would be all the scoring in the opening 20 minutes.

Second Period

The Caps had to kill off one power play that carried over into the second period, and then they had to kill another less than a minute after the first one expired.  They managed to keep Dallas from increasing their lead, and the penalty kills seemed to give the Caps a lift.  And sure enough, just after the second power play expired, Lars Eller cut across the crease to pick up a rebound, dropping off the puck for T.J. Oshie camped in front.  Oshie snapped the puck past goalie Kari Lehtonen’s glove on the short side, and it was tied, 1-1, 4:07 into the period.

And barely a minute after the Oshie tally, the Caps took their first lead of the contest.  A loose puck slid up the wall to Matt Niskanen at the right point.  Niskanen wasted no time sending a shot toward the Dallas net.  On the way through, the puck was deflected up by Dallas’ Greg Pateryn, and while Brett Connolly waved a high stick at the tumbling puck as it sailed by, he appeared to miss it.  So did Lehtonen, who could not adjust to the puck’s new trajectory, and Niskanen had a goal at the 5:32 mark.

The goals just kept coming after that.  Radulov got the Stars even again when he redirected a John Klingberg shot down and past Holtby’s glove 11:48 into the period.  Less than two minutes later, though, the Caps regained the lead on a power play.  T.J. Oshie won a faceoff to the left of Lehtonen.  The puck came back to John Carlson, who relayed it to Alex Ovechkin at the top of the left wing circle.  One one-timer later, and it was 3-2, 13:41 into the period.

Dallas tied the game again late in the period when Jamie Benn took advantage of a Lars Eller turnover in the neutral zone, scooped up the loose puck, muscled his way past Dmitry Orlov, and snapped a point-blank shot past Holtby’s blocker at the 18:15 mark to close the second period scoring.

Third Period

The frantic back-and-forth of the second period gave way to a bit slower pace in the third, but John Carlson broke through for the Caps late in the frame with the teams skating 4-on-4.  Lars Eller served up a pass on a plate that Carlson blasted past Lehtonen from the right wing circle at the 15:01 mark to make it 4-3.  It would be the difference as the Caps skated off with their fifth win in six games overall and their fifth straight win on home ice.

Other stuff…

-- When Tyler Seguin scored a power play goal in the first period it made five power play goals on 11 shots over three games against goalie Braden Holtby.

-- The teams combined for only 17 shot attempts in the first period (Dallas led in attempts, 9-8; Washington had the shots on goal advantage, 5-4).

-- The second period was a different story.  Both teams surpassed the combined shot attempt total in the first period, Dallas with 27 attempts and the Caps with 21.  Washington held a 16-13 edge in shots on goal.

-- The Caps broke a six-game home losing streak against the Stars, last having beaten them in Washington, 4-3, on November 30, 2006.  Until tonight, that was the last win in regulation they had anywhere against Dallas (they had two wins in Dallas in extra time in that span).

-- John Carlson had a goal and an assist, the goal being his 15th, inching him to within one of the league lead among defensemen (Calgary’s Dougie Hamilton has 16).  His two points allowed him to keep pace with John Klingberg atop the league points standings among defensemen (61 apiece), Klingberg recording two assists for Dallas.

-- Alex Ovechkin’s goal was his 44th of the season and 602nd career goal, passing Jari Kurri for 19th on the all-time list.  He added two assists for his tenth game this season with three of more points, tied with Connor McDavid for third-most in the league.  He also now has 81 points the ninth time in his career he topped the 80-point mark.

-- T.J. Oshie’s goal was his 16th of the season, but more important for the Caps at the moment, it was his fourth in four games after suffering a 19-game streak without one.

-- Tom Wilson recorded six shots on goal, tying his season high (January 9th versus Vancouver).

-- Holtby recovered nicely from the power play goal allowed in the first period.  The other two goals he allowed was a deflection and a breakaway off a turnover.  It won’t show up in his save percentage (24-for-27/.889), but he was solid.

-- Jay Beagle didn’t have a shot on goal, but he did have 13 faceoff wins on 17 draws taken (76.5 percent).  In his last six games, he is 55-for-75 (73.3 percent).

In the end…

It was not perfect, but for the result.  And frankly, against this team, which seems to have really had the Caps’ number over the last decade, that was more than enough.  The Caps concentrated their production (only five players had points, four of them with multi-point nights), but the energy was spread around well, evidenced by Wilson’s high shot total, John Carlson having six shot attempts, Lars Eller with four, and so on.  It was the right way to kick off a generous portion of the schedule, especially since the Caps now go on the road.  They might be facing weaker teams in Detroit, Montreal, and the New York Rangers, but winning on the road is never easy.  With that ahead of the Caps, this win against a frustrating opponent made for a satisfying evening.

Monday, March 19, 2018

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 73: Stars at Capitals, March 20th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals will try to shake off one of their less-inspired efforts of the season, a 6-3 loss in Philadelphia to the Flyers on Sunday, when they return to Capital One Arena on Tuesday to face the Dallas Stars. The Caps saw a four-game winning streak stopped in South Philly, but they carry a five-game home winning streak into this contest against Dallas.

The Stars, long a nemesis of the Caps, have fallen on hard times recently. Their loss in Winnipeg to the Jets on Sunday was their fifth straight loss (0-3-2), and they have not won consecutive games since they put together a five-game winning streak in early February. Since that streak, the Stars are 5-8-4 and are a tie-break out of a playoff spot in the West (tied with Los Angeles in points with 84, but the Kings have a game in hand as of Monday morning).

Crippling the Stars over their 17-game slide has been an inability to score goals. Their 34 goals and 2.00 goals-per-game scoring offense ranks last in the league over that span. Tyler Seguin has more than a quarter of the goal output over those 17 games (nine), and his 18 points overall mean that his name has been included in the scoring of more than half the Stars’ goals in this run. For Seguin, it is more of the same in what has been a personally-fulfilling season, but one in which his success seems not to have rubbed off on his teammates. He has already posted a career high 38 goals, but his 31 assists are, for the moment, his lowest for a full season since his rookie year in 2010-2011, when he had 11 assists in 74 games (he had 16 assists in the abbreviated 48-game 2012-2013 season). On a team that has John Kingberg (52 assists, tops among NHL defensemen), Jamie Benn (40), and Alexander Radulov (38), Seguin’s set-up production might not be critical, but given the Stars’ offensive woes of late, and contributions would be helpful to their cause. Seguin is 8-5-13, plus-3, in 20 career games against Washington.

Who is Remi Elie? Good question. If his name had come up as a “Daily Double” answer on “Jeopardy!,” the correct question would be, “which Dallas Star playing in the last 17 games is the only one that is a ‘plus’ on the plus-minus ledger?” Elie is a former second-round draft pick, taken 40th overall by the Stars in the 2013 entry draft. After spending two more seasons in the Ontario Hockey League in Canadian junior, he graduated to the Texas Stars of the AHL, where he went 15-30-45, minus-8, in 117 games over two seasons. His second year in the AHL was split with time served with the parent club, Elie getting 18 games of experience last season (1-6-7, plus-5). Elie has appeared in more games this season than any other Stars rookie (65), and despite averaging just over ten minutes per game, he does have 14 points, almost as many as the other four rookies to dress for the Stars this season combined (Gemel Smith, Dillon Heatherington, Julius Honka, and Jason Dickinson have combined for 16 points). Elie is without a point and is minus-1 in two career games against the Caps.

It seems like only yesterday that goalie Kari Lehtonen was going his best trying to plug the dike against the Caps on behalf of his Atlanta Thrashers. But Lehtonen is now in his ninth season with the Stars, and he has climbed into second place in the all-time list of games played by Dallas goaltenders, his 437 games played with Dallas trailing only Marty Turco (509). His 213 career wins for the Stars is second only to Turco’s 262 wins, and his .912 save percentage is best of any of the dozen Minnesota North Star/Dallas Star goaltenders having appeared in at least 100 games for the franchise. Lehtonen has taken a back seat to Ben Bishop this season, appearing in only 29 games so far to Bishop’s 53. Their statistics are comparable, Lehtonen with a 2.46 GAA and .913 save percentage, while Bishop is 2.49/.916. After stumbling out of the gate this season with a pair of losses and giving up six goals on 32 shots in those two games, Lehtonen went 11-3-1, 1.94, .931, with one shutout over 19 appearances. But since he pitched an 18-save shutout of the Los Angeles Kings on February 22nd, Lehtonen is 1-5-2, 3.28, .889 in eight appearances. He should get the nod in goal for this game owing to Bishop being sidelined for two weeks or more with a lower body injury, but he might have gotten it anyway, given his superior record against the Caps – 18-6-3, 2.61, .921, with two shutouts – compared to that of Bishop against Washington (2-6-2, 3.46, .888).

1.  Dallas’ inability to score has not hampered their defense much. The 489 shots on goal allowed over their 5-8-4 slide is the third-fewest total of shots on goal over that span. However, that number should be considered in concert with the fact that Dallas has been credited with the seventh-highest number of blocked shots (278) and the fifth-highest number of hits (455), generally measures reflecting the other team having the puck.

2.  One thing Dallas would like to correct is their tendency to wear a path to the penalty box. Ove those 17 games, no team has been shorthanded more than the Stars (62 times, tied with Boston, also over 17 games). Eight Stars have at least ten minutes in penalties in that span, led by Antoine Roussel (29).

3.  Dallas’ 24 even strength goals over their last 17 games is the fewest in the league over that period (St. Louis has 28 goals in 15 games).

4.  What Dallas has not had is offensive contributions from the defense lately. Stephen Johns has the only goal scored by a Stars defenseman in the last 17 games, and John Klingberg is the only defenseman with more than three points (0-7-7). That Johns goal is the only one on 142 shots on goal by seven Dallas defensemen over those 17 games.

5.  If Dallas scores on a power play, it will be either Tyler Seguin or Jamie Benn. Seguin (four) and Benn (three) have seven of the Stars’ 10 power play goals over the 17 games.

1.  Evgeny Kuznetsov will be missed for as long as he is out, but he might be missed more at home. He leads the Caps in points on home ice (42 in 36 games), is tied for the team lead in assists (28, with John Carlson), and his 14 goals at Capital One Arena rank second (Alex Ovechkin: 22). His four game-winning goals at COA lead the club.

2.  Whatever defensive problems that the Caps have had this season, they appear not to have been a product of home ice advantage. Only four teams have allowed fewer goals on home ice this season than the Caps (87): Columbus (86), Colorado (86), Nashville (86), and Minnesota (80).

3.  The Caps do shoot efficiently at home. Their 11.1 percent shooting on home ice is third best in the league (Winnipeg is 12.1 percent, as is Colorado). The thing is, though, the Caps have the third fewest shots on goal on home ice in the league, too (1,077). Only Vancouver (1.057) and Detroit (1,018) have fewer.

4.  Washington has one shorthanded goal on home ice this season. Only Colorado has failed to record one.

5.  Jay Beagle is third in the league in faceoff winning percentage among the 103 skaters taking at least 300 draws (61.7). Only three of those faceoffs were on power plays (1-for-3/33.3 percent). Only two players among those 103 skaters have taken fewer power play draws: Kyle Brodziak (0-for-1) and Nate Thompson (2-for-2).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Dallas: Jason Spezza

In June 2001, Tom Brady had yet to win a Super Bowl. Bryce Harper was eight years old, and no doubt had great hair. Michael Jordan had yet to play his first game for the Washington Wizards. Tiger Woods had not yet been introduced to Elin Nordegren. And Jason Spezza was taken second overall by the Ottawa Senators in the NHL entry draft. Almost 17 years later, it is possible that the end is in sight for Spezza. He has one year remaining on his current contract with the Stars, which should allow him to reach a number of personal milestones that he will not hit this season. He is within 17 games of 1,000 for his career. He needs 13 points to reach 900. He could get the seven assists he needs to jump into the top 100 in career assists in the NHL (he has 564; Steve Larmer had 571).

But based on this season, one wonders just how much he has left. Through 72 games, Spezza is 7-18-25, minus-13. The goals are fewer than half his total last season (15 in 68 games)) and down precipitously from the 33 he had in 2015-2016. His 25 points are half what he had last year (50) and barely a third of what he had two seasons ago (63). His average ice time (13:04) is his lowest since his rookie season with the Senators in 2002-2003 (12:40 in just 33 games). His shooting percentage (5.4) is the worst of his career. Time waits for no one, not even for great players. And Spezza had a great run in mid-career, one of only eight players over the first six seasons coming out of the 2004-2005 lockout to record at least 175 goals and at least 250 assists. The others read like a Who’s Who of NHL stars – Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jarome Iginla, Daniel Sedin, Martin St. Louis, and Henrik Zetterberg. But he has slowed. Spezza has one point (an assist) in his last 19 games. In 38 career games against the Caps, Spezza is 13-23-36, minus-1.

Washington: Matt Niskanen

In ten NHL seasons before this one, defenseman Matt Niskanen had not gone a full season without recording at least one power play point. He does not have one this season. Part of the issue is his power play ice time. In his first three seasons with the club he averaged more than a minute of power play ice time per game with a high of 2:24 per game in 2015-2016. This season, however, his power play time has been pared back to 33 seconds per game. He has more hits credited on the power play in 32:33 of total man advantage ice time (three) than he has shots on goal (two). The durability of John Carlson manning the center point on the top unit (3:42 in power play ice time per game through all 72 games) and the emergence of Dmitry Orlov in getting man advantage minutes (1:08 per game in 72 games) has relegated Niskanen to an under-understudy role. More so lately; Niskanen has a total of 3:28 in power play ice time over his last ten games, and 2:39 of that came in last Friday’s win over the New York Islanders, a game in which the Caps had eight power plays. The flip side of that, though, is that his even strength scoring is as good as or better than last year’s pace. Last season he was 4-25-29 at evens in 78 games, while through just 58 games this season he is 5-20-25. His production this season has a certain home lopsidedness to it, going 5-13-18, plus-20 at home and 0-8-8, plus-5 on the road. A former first round draft pick of the Stars (28th overall in 2005), Niskanen is 0-5-5, minus-1, in 11 career games against his old club.

In the end…

The game against Dallas kicks off a six-game stretch for the Caps in which they will face five teams (they get the New York Rangers twice), all of which are out of the playoff mix as of Monday morning. Only Dallas among those teams is closer than nine points to a playoff berth (they are tied with the Los Angeles Kings for the second wild card in the West, but the Kings own the tie-breaker at the moment). It is a time that the Caps need to take advantage of despite injuries to Evgeny Kuznetsov and Brooks Orpik.

Making hay while the sun shines on this part of the schedule will likely determine the Capitals first round playoff seeding, since their last four games – at Pittsburgh and St. Louis before wrapping up the regular season hosting Nashville and New Jersey – turn a bit darker. Getting off to a good start against a team that normally gives them fits, even at home (1-5-1 in Washington since the 2004-2005 dark season, the last five games all losses in regulation), would be welcome indeed.

Capitals 3 – Stars 2

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 24

Country music legend Merle Haggard once wrote about “California on my mind.”  Well, for the Washington Capitals, Week 24 was California “off” their minds, and it showed.  It made for the sort of week the Caps haven’t seen in quite a while.

Record: 3-0-0

Week 24 was the first week in quite a while in which the Caps played more than one game to a perfect record.  They went 3-0-0, the first time they were perfect with that many games played since they went 3-0-0 in Week 10 back in early December.

Making it better, the Caps put an up and coming team in its place, and then they turned their attention to a divisional opponent against which they had two opportunities to drive a spike into their fading playoff hopes, opportunities the Caps took advantage of in a big way.

Washington hosted the Winnipeg Jets to open the week, a team that beat the Caps in overtime four weeks earlier, a win that propelled the Jets to a 9-3-0 record in their next dozen games before visiting Washington.  The Caps caught the Jets in the fifth of a six-game road trip, and it might have been a factor in returning the favor in a 3-2 overtime win of their own. 

They followed that win with a back-to-back/home-and-home set of wins against the New York Islanders in which they outscored the Isles, 13-6, in their biggest two-game offensive explosion of the season.  The sweep left the Islanders 12 points out of a playoff spot by week’s end and enabled the Caps to maintain a two-point lead over the Pittsburgh Penguins at the top of the Metropolitan Division.

Offense: 5.33 /game (season: 3.08 /game, rank: 10th)

It is hard to jump very much in the team statistical rankings this late in the season, but a 16-goal week for the Caps pushed them up two spots in scoring offense, from 12th to 10th in the league.  Only San Jose scored more goals in Week 24 (21), but they needed four games to do it.  The Caps led the league in goals per game for the week (5.33). 

Not that they did it by shooting the puck, though.  The Caps had 96 shots on goal for the week, ranking 21st overall.  What they were was efficient.  Six players had shooting percentages of 20 percent or better for the week, led by Lars Eller, who had two goals (one an empty-netter) on three shots for the week (66.7 percent).

It was T.J. Oshie, though, who led the team in goals for the week with three.  It was a welcome turn for the right winger, who snapped a 19-game streak without a goal when he potted a pair in the Caps’ 7-3 win over the Islanders on Thursday.  He added another for good measure in the 6-3 win over the Isles the next night. 

The good and the bad might have been wrapped up in Evgeny Kuznetsov, though.  He led the Caps in scoring for the week with seven points, and his only goal was the game-winner in overtime against the Jets to open the week.  However, he went out with an upper-body injury in the last game of the week, the second against the Islanders when he was slashed by Thomas Hickey as he was breaking to the net, and then he was tripped by goalie Jaroslav Halak’s stick, causing him to slam awkwardly into the end boards, apparently injuring his left arm.  He is out for the time being, considered day-to-day.

On the milestone side, Tom Wilson assisted on a first period goal in the Caps’ 7-3 win in Brooklyn against the Islanders on Thursday.  It was his 100th career point in the NHL, the 78th player in Capitals history to hit triple digits with the club.

Defense: 2.67 / game (season: 2.92 /game, rank: T-16th)

It might not sound particularly impressive, but the Caps allowing three or fewer goals in all three games for the week extended their streak of such games to five, the longest such streak they have had since stringing together 14 such games (Games 27-40) that constituted the entire December schedule.  Perhaps not coincidentally, the Caps were 10-2-2 in those games, while they are 4-1-0 in this five-game stretch.

It was an uneven week in shots allowed, though.  In the two home games, the 3-2 win over the Jets and the second game against the Islanders, the Caps permitted only 53 shots on goal.  In the middle game of the week, against the Islanders in Brooklyn, the home team recorded 38 shots on goal.

It was not a product of shot attempts allowed, the Caps finishing seventh among 20 teams playing three games this week in 5-on-5 shot attempts allowed.  But their shot attempt differential at fives (minus-25) was third-worst among those 20 teams.  The Caps give appearances of being a team that in trying to be so selective in the offensive end are putting pressure on their defense to be better than its talent might allow.

Goaltending: 2.61 / .912 (season: 2.76 / .913 / 2 shutouts)

The goalie “reset” continued to start Week 24, Philipp Grubauer getting the nod against the Winnipeg Jets and the first of the back-to-back games against the Islanders.  He was solid in the two wins, if not spectacular.  Grubauer struggled a bit early in games, allowing three goals on 20 first period shots faced (.850 save percentage).  But he was perfect in the second periods of games (24 for 24) and allowed only one goal in each of the third periods of games, stopping 20 of 22 shots in all (.909; he did not face a shot in overtime against Winnipeg).  The two wins extended a considerable run of fine play for Grubauer, who is now 11-3-2, 1.68, .944, with two shutouts in his last 21 appearances.

Braden Holtby returned to the lineup after sitting for four games as part of his “reset.”  He got the call in the second of the back-to-back games against the Islanders to close the week, and the results might be characterized as “mixed.”  He faced only four first period shots, stopping all of them as the Caps took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission.  Then, he allowed just one goal on nine shots in the second period as the Caps took a 3-1 lead.  That he allowed two goals on 12 shots in the third period might look worse than it was, since the goals game in the latter half of the period with the Caps holding a 5-1 lead.  And, there is the matter of their being a certain amount of rust that could have accumulated in his absence.  But he does win at home.  The win over the Islanders lifted his home win-loss record to 19-6-2.

Power Play: 5-for-13 / 38.5 percent (season: 22.9 percent, rank: 4th)

Three games, three games with power play goals.  And the Caps ended the weed with a flourish, scoring three power play goals in eight chances against the Islanders in the 6-3 win to end the week, the second time this season they recorded three power play goals and the first time since they did it in a 5-2 win over the New Jersey Devils back on October 13th in the fifth game of the season.

It was something of an unusual week individually.  Nicklas Backstrom led the team with a pair of power play goals, and Alex Chiasson had one of the others.  T.J. Oshie had one, his first since he recorded one against the Philadelphia Flyers on January 31st.  Alex Ovechkin provided some normalcy with a power play goal of his own to round out the goal scoring.  Backstrom and Kuznetsov led the team in power play points with three apiece.

As a team, the Caps were very efficient with the man advantage.  They pounded Winnipeg for 12 shots on goal with a goal to show for it on the power play on their way to scoring five goals on 22 shots in just 19:25 in power play ice time.  But a thank you to the New York Islanders, who had something of a meltdown in the second of the back-to-back games, giving the Caps eight power play chances, the most the Caps have had in any game this season (they had six on four different occasions).

Penalty Killing: 8-for-11/ 72.7 percent (season: 79.4 percent, rank: 20th)

As good as the power play was, the penalty kill gave a lot of it back.  It would have been a lot better if the penalty killers could just have ended their week after the game in Brooklyn against the Islanders on Thursday.  Over the first two games of the week, the Caps went 6-for-6.  Philipp Grubauer fulfilled his role as being the “best penalty killer,” stopping all 13 power play shots he faced in 11:17 of shorthanded ice time.

Then there was the game against the Islanders to end the week.  All three of the Islander goals came on power plays, but two of those came late with the Caps holding a comfortable lead.  Still, three goals on nine shots in 7:44 in shorthanded ice time did not reflect well on the penalty killers or on goalie Braden Holtby.  This is, or remains, something of an issue with Holtby who, among 51 goalies facing 100 or more shots while shorthanded, ranks 31st in save percentage (.868).

Faceoffs: 100-for-197 / 50.8 percent (season: 50.3 percent, rank: 13th)

It was something of a typical week in the circle for the Caps.  They finished a couple of wins over 50 percent, and their top faceoff players had a typically split week. 

Where the Caps did well was in the defensive end, where they went 45-for-79 (57.0 percent).  It was in the offensive end in which they struggled, going 25-for-59 for the week (42.4 percent).  That the Caps took 20 more defensive zone draws than they took in the offensive zone was significant, but that was a product of the middle game in the week.  Against the Islanders in Brooklyn, the Caps took 29 defensive zone draws, winning 14 (48.3 percent), while taking only 11 faceoffs in the offensive end, where they won five (45.5 percent).

Individually, Nicklas Backstrom (27-for-49/55.1 percent) and Jay Beagle (25-for-36/69.4 percent) were the stars in the circle.  Lars Eller (17-for-38/44.7 percent) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (16-for-43/37.2 percent) had a more difficult time of it.

Goals by Period:

Consistency was the word to describe the week for the Caps in Week 24, at least as far as scoring goals was concerned.  The Caps finished the week recording a total of five goals in each of the three regulation periods, adding an overtime goal for good measure.  The five first period goals allowed the Caps to take leads into the first intermission in both games against the Islanders and finish the week still one of just two teams in the league without a loss when leading after the first period (St. Louis is the other).  The Caps have the best winning percentage in such games (24-0-1/.960).

That the Caps allowed four third period goals is eyecatching, but might be tempered by the fact that the Caps took multiple-goal leads into the third period in both games against the Islanders.  Still, the Caps ended the week with a minus-3 goal differential in the third periods of games this season, and this will be something that bears watching down the stretch.

In the end…

Following up a rough start to the California trip in Week 23, but ending it with a win might have been just the thing that the Caps needed to set them off and running down the stretch as the season heads into its last few weeks.  The injury to Evgeny Kuznetsov casts a shadow over the club as they head to Philadelphia to start Week 25, but this is a club that, if not playing at the top of their game, is taking care of business at home and against weaker opponents.  Week 24 was both, a welcome result after putting California behind them.

And in that, we’ll let Merle have the last word (with some light adjustments)…

Well I’m a homesick bat couldn’t be no sicker
I’m proud to say that I’m a puck picker
That state and we just don’t agree.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Evgeny Kuznetsov (1-6-7, plus-2, OT/GWG, 0-3-3 on power play, 8 shots, 9 shot attempts)
  • Second Star: Nicklas Backstrom (2-4-6, plus-4, 2-1-3 on power play, 12 shots on goal, 15 shot attempts, 55.1 percent on faceoffs)
  • Third Star: Tom Wilson (0-2-2, plus-1, four penalties drawn, 100th career point)

Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 72: Capitals at Flyers, March 18th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals return to the ice on Sunday, to a venue in which they played perhaps their worst game of the season.  Games between the Caps and the Philadelphia Flyers are never mundane affairs, and for one of the teams to steamroll the other is a source of glee for the players, coaches, and fans of that team.  Such was the case on October 14th, when the Caps, fresh of a 5-2 win over the New Jersey Devils the previous night, were pounded into the pavement by the Flyers At Wells Fargo Center, 8-2.

That was then, and this is now.  And now, the skates might be on the other feet, so to speak.  Washington goes into this game winners of four straight, their longest winning streak since the won five games in a row (Games 39-43) in late December and early January.  On the other side the Flyers, who on February 26th won a sixth game in a row, earned a point in their 12th straight game, and occupied first place in the Metropolitan Division, have lost seven of eight games (1-6-1) in March going into their game Saturday night against Carolina and are just four points ahead of Florida, the ninth-place team in the Eastern Conference, on Saturday morning.

The Flyers clearly missed Wayne Simmonds in this difficult stretch.  Simmonds was injured in a 7-4 win over the New York Rangers on February 18th, perhaps in a fight with Anthony DeAngelo, sustaining an upper-body injury that cost him seven games.  He returned to the lineup on March 7th, by which time the Flyers had lost three in a row on their 1-6-1 run of late.  His return to the lineup has not changed Philadelphia’s fortunes, perhaps a product of his having only a goal and an assist (and a team-worst minus-7) in five games since coming back.  His improvement in production matters to the Flyers.  He is one of three 20-goal scorers (21) for the club, and he leads the team with 11 power play goals this season.  He is the only Flyer with both a power play goal and a shorthanded goal this season, and he is third on the club with four game-winning goals.  In 31 career games against the Caps, Simmonds is 6-10-16, minus-1, and he has three career game-winning goals against the Caps, one of five teams against which he has three game-winners.

There is a certain “canary in a coal mine” quality about defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere.  When he records a point, they generally win (22-8-6); when he doesn’t, they don’t (11-16-4).  And lately, he hasn’t.  Playing in all eight games of this 1-6-1 stretch, Gostisbehere has a goal and an assist (oddly enough, both in losses), and he is tied with Simmonds for the worst plus-minus in this stretch (minus-7).  The goal he recorded in a 5-3 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday broke a 19-game streak without one.  That goal having been scored on a power play, Gostisbehere is still without an even strength goal in his last 20 games, since recording one in a 4-3 loss to the New Jersey Devils on February 1st.  His dry spell of late slammed to a halt the momentum he built in having the most productive season of his career to date, points-wise (52, eclipsing the 46 he had in his rookie season in 2015-2016).  In ten career games against Washington, Gostisbehere is 0-6-6, plus-2.

If the Flyers thought they would solve their goalie injury situation with their trade with the Detroit Red Wings for Petr Mrazek last month, another think might be appropriate.  Oh, there was early hope and joy when Mrazek won his first three decisions and stopped 75 of 82 shots (.915 save percentage).  But since then, he is 1-5-1, 4.04, .863 going into Saturday’s game.  And if Mrazek was “Plan C” after injuries to Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth, there might not be a “Plan D.”  Alex Lyon, who relieved Mrazek on Thursday, is reported to be the starter against Carolina on Saturday.   Whatever promise he has for the future, he has little experience at the moment.  In this, his rookie season, he has seven appearances (only three complete games) and has a record of 2-2-0, 2.57, .912.  Mrazek is 2-3-2, 2.43, .921, with one shutout in seven career appearances against the Caps, while Lyon stopped all five shots he faced over eight minutes of work in a 5-3 loss to the Caps on January 31st, his only action against Washington.

1.  Special teams have let the Flyers down in this 1-6-1 run.  Their special teams index number – 85.7 – is a product of a weak power play (14.3 percent) and an inefficient penalty kill (71.4 percent). 

2.  Another odd special teams number: 49:34.  That is Philadelphia’s power play ice time over those eight games.  Only Boston had more (54:32).  Perhaps this is another indicator of weak power play results.  The Flyers are skating off entire power plays without success.  Think of it this way.  The Flyers had 28 power play chances in that span, meaning their average power play lasted 1:43, a large chunk of the usual two-minute power play.

3.  The Flyers have just 14 even strength goals in those eight games.  Only four teams have fewer: Vegas (13 in eight games), Edmonton (11 in seven games), Buffalo (10 in six games), and Vancouver (eight in seven games).

4.  One might get the feeling that the Flyers are skating in a bit of bad luck.  Their shot attempt numbers are not as bad as their record over the last eight games as of Saturday morning.  Their shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 (50.63) ranks eighth overall in that span, 12th in close situations (50.93).

5.  The Flyers are something of a top-heavy team in scoring.  They are tied with Pittsburgh and the Islanders for most players with 65 or more points (three).  The Flyers include: Claude Giroux (83), Jakub Voracek (75), and Sean Couturier (65).

1.  The Caps have won two road games in a row, a 2-0 decision in San Jose against the Sharks last Saturday and a 7-3 win in Brooklyn over the New York Islanders on Thursday.  That matches the longest road winning streak for the Caps this season, achieved on two other occasions, and the first time they put together consecutive road wins in regulation.

2.  The 7-3 win in Brooklyn against the Islanders on Thursday was the highest scoring road game for the Caps this season (highest scoring game, road or home) and largest goal differential on the road (plus-4)

3.  The Capitals are the only team in the NHL to have recorded fewer than 1,000 shots on goal on the road this season.  They have 973, 31 fewer than the Arizona Coyotes through games of Friday.

4.  The Caps haver 403 penalty minutes on the road this season.  Three teams have more: Florida (419), Nashville (454), and Calgary (461).

5.  If the Caps win in Philadelphia, don’t be surprised if they get an empty net goal to tack on.  In 16 road wins this season, the Caps have seven empty net goals from six different players.  Alex Ovechkin is the only Cap with two road empty netters.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Philadelphia: Claude Giroux

Claude Giroux is in his 11th season in the NHL, all with the Philadelphia Flyers.  His longevity (tied for fourth in franchise history in seasons played), durability (he missed a total of nine games over the last nine seasons), and talent has enabled him to occupy a high rank in a number of franchise statistical categories.  Giroux is ninth all-time in Flyers history in games played (727), 13th in goals (206), fourth in assists (452), sixth in points (658), 15th in even strength goals (131), 13th in power play goals (70), 13th in game-winning goals (33), and eighth in shots on goal (1,868).  He has had a renaissance of sorts, his 26 goals through 71 games being his highest goal total since he finished the 2013-2014 season with 28 goals in 82 games, tying a career high he set in 2011-2012.  He has done his best to help the Flyers out of their recent doldrums.  He takes an eight-game points streak into the contest against Carolina on Saturday, and he has points in 16 of his last 18 games, going 11-14-25, plus-9 over that span.  Giroux has been especially lethal on home ice this season, going 16-30-46, plus-19 in 36 games at Wells Fargo Center.  He has an interesting symmetry in his career against the Caps, going 18-18-36 in 36 games with a plus-3.

Washington: Alex Chiasson

When Alex Chiasson scored a goal and posted a pair of assists against the New York Islanders in the Caps’ 6-3 win on Friday night, it was his first three-point game since he had a goal and two assists for the Calgary Flames in an 8-3 win over the Anaheim Ducks on December 4, 2016.  Of more relevance to his contributions as a Capital, it was the 11th game this season in which he posted at least one point.  Those games are an example of second- and third-level scoring in a team’s success.  The Caps are 8-1-2 in those 11 games, 6-1-0 in the seven games in which he scored a goal.  His energetic contributions in other areas of offense also parallel Capitals success.  For example, in the 13 games in which he had at least two shots on goal, the Caps are 10-2-1.  He has been something of a good-luck charm generally this season, the Caps holding a 32-17-5 record in the 54 games he has played, 9-6-2 when he was out of the lineup.  In 12 career games against the Flyers, Chiasson is 1-1-2, minus-3.

In the end…

In this last game of the season series between the clubs (the Caps are 1-1-1 in the first three games), the Caps get the Flyers almost where they should want them.  Setting the fact this game is being played in Philadelphia aside, the Caps will be facing the Flyers as the home team plays a second game in less than 24 hours and their third in four days.  Then there is that record the Flyers have as they head into the first of their back-to-back this evening in Carolina against the Hurricanes (1-6-1).  The Flyers still have goaltending issues, the goalie for whom they traded dropping off in performance and a rookie with scant experience backing him up.  This is a game a veteran team with a purpose should take command of early, to take the fans out of the game (and turn them hostile to the home team, if possible), and win going away before they, well, go away.

Capitals 4 – Flyers 2

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Games 70/71: Capitals vs. Islanders, March 15/16

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals return to intra-divisional play on Thursday night when they open a back-to-back, home-and-home set against the New York Islanders in Brooklyn before wrapping up the set in Washington on Friday.

The Capitals will be looking to stretch their winning streak to three games, the first time since their five-game streak to close 2017 and open 2018.  This is the fourth time they carried consecutive wins into a game since that streak without having reached a third consecutive win.

The Isles, who have been idle since Sunday, are seeing their playoff hopes sink into something resembling more an atoll, as in “the Islanders have no chance…atoll” of reaching the postseason.  No chance would be a bit strong, since the Isles do remain eight points out of the second wild card spot and three teams to pass.  But at this time of year, making up such a margin is difficult. 

Things have not been made easier for the Islanders having to endure an eight-game losing streak (0-4-4) before they snapped it on Sunday with a 5-2 win in Calgary against the Flames.  It was a tough run for New York, who spent seven of those nine games on the road and have not played consecutive games on home ice in a month (and won’t until this series is over, after which they have a five-game home stand).

Offense has become an issue for the Islanders, who until they exploded for five goals against Calgary had scored more than three goals in 12 consecutive games.  As it is, including the win over Calgary, the Islanders have been outscored by a 36-31 margin over their last 13 games over which they have a record of 3-6-4, two of those wins coming via shutout.

Over those 13 games, Jordan Eberle has managed to maintain a productive level of output.  His five goals lead the club over that span.  In his first season in Brooklyn after spending his first seven NHL seasons in Edmonton, his 24 goals this season are third on the team, one of three Islanders with at least 20 goals this season (Anders Lee (33) and John Tavares (31) are the others).  Eberle is among the more consistent and reliable goal scorers in the NHL, having hit the 20-goal mark in each of his last six full NHL seasons (not including the abbreviated 2012-2013 season in which he had 16 in 48 games).  Eberle does it in the context of gentlemanly play.  He has just 137 career penalty minutes in 575 games (by way of comparison, Tom Wilson has 164 penalty minutes this season in 65 games) and has received votes for the Lady Byng Trophy five times in the last six seasons.  This season, Eberle has also been consistent in home and road situations with 24 points in 31 road games (11-13-24) and 24 points in 37 road games (13-11-24).  Eberle is 1-3-4, minus-3, in 11 career games against Washington.

Nick Leddy has established himself as a durable, productive defenseman.  Over the last five seasons, including this one, only five defensemen have played in more games than Leddy (391): Karl Alzner (398), Keith Yandle (397, Drew Doughty (394), Brent Seabrook (393), and Ryan Suter (393).  He has 194 points over that span, putting him in position to be the 22nd defenseman in that span to hit 200 points overall.  His 151 goals puts him among the top-20 in that statistic.  This season, Leddy is a top-20 performer in goals (10/T-12th) and points (40/T-18th).  Although his ten goals leads Islander defensemen this season, how he got there is a bit odd.  Leddy scored six goals in the Islanders’ first 22 games this season, the last being an overtime game-winner in a 5-4 win over Philadelphia on November 24th.  Then, he went 30 games without a goal before finding the back of the net in a 4-3 win over Columbus on February 3rd.  Starting with that game, Leddy has four goals in his last 17 games, although he did manage to go a dozen straight without one in that span, a streak stopped when he scored against Calgary on Sunday.  On the other hand, Leddy is minus-30, the second worst plus-minus among 293 defensemen to dress in the NHL this season.  Leddy is 1-5-6, minus-2, in 19 career games against the Caps.

So, who is it going to be in goal?  Jaroslav Halak hasn’t been the answer.  His .908 save percentage ranks 25th among 37 goalies with at least 1,500 minutes played this season.  And, since shutting out the New York Rangers, stopping all 50 shots he faced in a 3-0 win on February 15th, he is 0-4-2, 3.67, .870 in six appearances.  Thomas Greiss has not been a very effective backup, either, his 11-7-2 record being more the product of goal support than his own performance (3.84/.891).  What is more, his season cleaves into two neat halves of 12 appearances apiece.  In his first dozen games he was 8-2-2, 3.34, .903.  In his last dozen appearances he is 3-5-0, 4.41, .879 with one shutout and four no-decisions, although his last outing was a 45-save shutout of the Carolina Hurricanes back on February 16th.  He hasn’t played since then, out of the lineup with a leg injury suffered in the win over the Hurricanes.

That leaves Christopher Gibson, who had been playing with Bridgeport in the AHL until Greiss’ injury.  Gibson has three appearances, all of them this month, and he has yet to lose a decision in regulation (1-0-2).  He lost in overtime to the Pittsburgh Penguins, 3-2, stopping 47 of 50 shots, on March 3rd.  He followed that with a Gimmick loss to the Edmonton Oilers, allowing only one goal on 36 shots before succumbing in the freestyle phase.  That he would allow the game-winner to Sidney Crosby against the Pens and the shootout winner to Connor McDavid against Edmonton hardly seems fair, or his fault.  In his last outing he got his first win this season, stopping 50 of 52 shots in the 5-2 win over Calgary on Sunday.  It was the first time a rookie Islander goalie recorded 50 or more saves since Billy Smith made 55 saves in a 5-3 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on November 22, 1972, in the Islanders’ inaugural season.  Gibson has faced the Caps once, stopping 29 of 32 shots in 4-3 overtime win on April 5th last season.

1.  Only two teams in the league have more bench minor penalties than the Islanders (11): Colorado (12) and Ottawa (14).

2.  The Islanders have a worse winning percentage in one-goal games (.414/12-7-10) than they do in any other kind of decision (.467/7-8 in two-goal games and .440/11-14 in decisions of three or more goals).

3.  Only Vegas (154), Toronto (158), and Tampa Bay (168) have more 5-on-5 goals scored than the Islanders (153). Then again, no team has allowed more 5-on-5 goals than the Isles (159, tied with Ottawa).

4.  The Islanders are a team that can get off to fast starts – their 63 first period goals rank tied for seventh in the league.   Trouble is, other teams get fast starts, too. The Islanders have allowed 70 first period goals, third-most in the league. The second period is even worse, goals allowed-wise. The 88 goals New York allowed in the second periods of games is second-most in the league (Ottawa: 89).

5.  Outshooting opponents is not the Islanders’ thing, and even when they do it, they are not successful. Only Anaheim has outshot opponents less often (20 times) than the Islanders (22 times), and New York’s seven wins when doing so is tied for fewest wins in the league (with Vancouver).

1.  This will be the Capitals’ 13th and next to last back-to-back set of games of the regular season. It is the second back-to-back set played against a single opponent. They split a pair of decisions against the Carolina Hurricanes in Games 44 and 45 on January 11-12, losing the first game, 3-1, at home, and then winning by a 4-3 margin in Carolina.

2.  Washington swept only one of their first 12 back-to-backs, beating Tampa Bay at home, 3-1, in Game 24 on November 24th, and then going to Toronto and knocking off the Maple Leafs, 4-2, in Game 25 the following night.

3.  The Caps lost both ends of a back-to-back twice this season. The first came in Games 36-37 in mid-December when they lost at Arizona in overtime, 3-2, and then dropped a 3-0 decision to Vegas. The second time came in January in Games 46-47 when Washington lost to New Jersey, 4-3, in overtime in Newark, and then they lost to Montreal at home the following night, 3-2.

4.  The Caps are 6-3-3 in the opening game of back-to-backs this season, 5-7-0 in the back half of those sets.

5.  Washington is 5-4-0 at home in back-to-back sets, 6-6-3 in road games in those sets. The Caps have not had both ends of a back-to-back at home this season; they had one in which both games were played on the road, that being in their first one in Games 5-6 back in October. They won in New Jersey against the Devils, 5-2, and then they were pasted by the Flyers in Philadelphia, 8-2.

Here is the complete history to date of the first dozen Caps back-to-back games (from; click for a larger image):

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New York: Mathew Barzal

In this year’s rookie class, no skater is close to Mathew Barzal in the points race.  With 69 points in 69 games, he is 14 points clear of Vancouver’s Brock Boeser (likely out for the season with an injured back), and he is the only rookie having appeared in more than five games this season averaging at least one point per game (Boeser is next at 0.89 points per game).  And while he has a bit of an issue of consistency, he has not showed signs of slowing down.  Consider his last 17 games.  He has points in only eight of those contests, but he also has five multi-point games in that stretch, including a five-point (all assists) night in a 7-6 overtime win over the Detroit Red Wings on February 9th.  Perhaps uncommonly for a rookie, his production has not been weighted to either home or road bias.  He is 8-27-35 in 32 home games and 10-24-34 in 37 road games this season.  He is not off to a great start in March, though.  After four straight months with at least 12 points, Barzan has only two points in five games in March.  Then again, there is that whole scoring-points-in-bunches” thing lurking.  In three career games against the Caps, Barzal is 0-1-1, plus-1.

Washington: Chandler Stephenson

There was a fair amount of attention and trepidation last fall as the season dawned as to whether the Washington Capitals could be successful with a pair of rookie defensemen – Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos – getting significant minutes. Less attention was paid to the fact that the Caps lost a very productive fourth liner in Daniel Winnik without a clear cut candidate to replace him on a checking line. The Caps might have come around to a solution to that matter in Chandler Stephenson. Before this season, Stephenson dressed in just 13 games over two seasons, spending most of the last four years skating with the Hershey Bears. However, he has managed to work his way into getting a sweater on a regular basis this season, and it has paid off in terms of his being a player to watch going forward.

Despite playing in just 55 of the Caps’ 69 games this season, Stephenson is tied for 34th in points in his rookie class (16). His plus-11 is tied for fifth among rookies, and only four rookies having recorded at least 25 shots have a better shooting percentage than he does (17.8). It is that last statistic that is, well, odd. So far this season, 74 rookies have appeared in at least 25 games. Of that group, Stephenson has fewer shots on goal per game (0.51) than any of that group save for Colorado’s Anton Lindholm, who happens to be a defenseman (0.47). One might expect that this will be a part of his game that is expressed later in his development. But one thing he did just fine against Winnipeg the other night was break up a potential scoring chance for the Jets late in overtime that led to the Caps’ final rush and Evgeny Kuznetsov’s game-winning breakaway goal. That kind of hustle will always find a place in the lineup. Stephenson has three assists and is plus-4 in two career games against the Islanders.

In the end…

By the time the Capitals take the ice on Thursday night to open this back-to-back set with the Islanders, they could find themselves once more looking up in the standings at the Pittsburgh Penguins, who visit the Rangers in New York on Wednesday night. It makes these games against a weaker opponent important to win. Eight points behind the second wild card spot with 13 games to play gives the Islanders faint hope at best, and less and less to play for with each passing game. Tack on the fact that the Isles are losers of eight of their last nine decisions, and the Caps have to jump on them and stand on their throats. Doing it on consecutive nights in the NHL is not an easy task, but this is the part of the remaining schedule that gives the Caps a bit of a break. They need to take advantage of it.

Thursday: Capitals 4 – Islanders 3
Friday: Capitals 5 – Islanders 2