The Washington Capitals finish up their second two-game mini road trip in two weeks with a visit to Denver to face the Colorado Avalanche. The Avalanche broke out of the gate this season as if they were shot out of a gun (mixing racing and shooting metaphors), starting the season by losing their first game to Detroit, then running off five straight wins. Since then, however, the Avs are 9-16-1 and have settled into 13th place in the Western Conference.
…23rd in winning percentage when scoring first, 21st when leading after one period; 26th when leading after two…
…dead last in 5-on-5 play…
Meanwhile, here is how the teams stack up against one another:
(click pic for larger image)
Colorado has been up and down, but not making much headway in either direction. They ended November by starting a three-game winning streak, followed up by a three-game losing streak, a win, and a loss. This team has not yet figured out if they stink or they have a chance to make the post season.
2. One of the things the Avalanche have not yet figured out after 32 games is which of their goaltenders is going to be their number one netminder. Oh, sure, Semyon Varlamov has 24 appearances, and Jean-Sebastien Giguere has only 10. But while Varlamov is ranked 39th among 44 goaltenders in goals-against average (3.14), Giguere is ranked sixth (1.95). While Varlamov is ranked in a tie for 38th in save percentage (.896), Giguere is ranked in a tie for 12th (.923).
3. Only one team in the league has fewer goals at 5-on-5 than Colorado’s 47 (Los Angeles: 40). Not much mystery why Colorado is 30th in 5-on-5 play. Curiously enough, though, only two teams have more goals at 4-on-4 than the five goals Colorado has (Philadelphia: 6; Washington: 7).
4. More evidence that Colorado has problems at even strength…Paul Stastny has six even strength goals so far this season. That is ranked in a tie for 78th place in the league among all skaters.
5. Colorado is a team that lacks a finishing kick. In the first period of games this season they are “even” (goals scored less goals allowed). In the second period they are a minus-14; in the third they are minus-5.
2. That 4-for-6 power play result against Toronto on December 9th is looking like an aberration. Starting with an 0-for-4 performance against New Jersey on November 11th, the Caps are 7-for-62 (11.3 percent), and that includes the 4-for-6 effort against the Maple Leafs.
3. It is early to think of such things, but the Caps rank fourth in the East in regulation-plus-overtime wins (15). That is the second tie-breaker, after number of games played/points percentage.
4. Nicklas Backstrom has scored goals in consecutive games three times this season. Jason Chimera has done it twice, as have Troy Brouwer and Brooks Laich. Even Marcus Johansson and Dennis Wideman have had goals in consecutive games this season. Alex Ovechkin?...nope. He has chance to remedy that on Saturday.
5. With his win on Thursday in which he stopped all 26 shots he faced, Michal Neuvrith allowed fewer than four goals in consecutive appearances for the first time this season. That is not a misprint, and that was made possible by his allowing one goal on 12 shots in only 20 minutes of work against the Flyers on Tuesday. Here is what is killing him – the Caps have allowed 20 power play goals in 30 games; Neuvirth has allowed 11 in 12 appearances.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Colorado: Semyon Varlamov
It is entirely likely that Varlamov will sit this one out. Why? Well, he’s been pretty much awful in his last four games: 1-3-0, 4.63, .850. And, on top of that, only two goaltenders have a worse save percentage defending against power plays than Varlamov among goalies with at least 15 appearances (Steve Mason, Curtis Sanford…which means, “Columbus”). To be charitable, he has been streaky. He has two three-game winning streaks sandwiched around a streak in which he was 0-6-1. He has seven wins in which he allowed two or fewer goals; he has five games in which he allowed five or more goals.
Washington: Marcus Johansson
Marcus Johansson started the season as if he might grab the second line center position by the throat. He had five goals in his first eight games, three of them game-winners. Since then, however, he has one goal in his last 21 games, none in his last 16 (0-7-7, minus-5). What is curious about his scoring over those last 16 games is that his assists have come in pairs – three times he had consecutive games with an assist. He had one in the game against Winnipeg on Thursday, so… Still, it would be nice to see him light the lamp on his own.
1. Spoil the Home Cookin’. Colorado has won its last four home games and has done so against some rather stiff competition – St. Louis, Detroit, and San Jose in addition to New Jersey. And in the last three – the ones against the Blues, Red Wings, and Sharks – the Avalanche came from behind to win. In the last three road games the Caps have allowed only one third-period goal. Get a lead, keep a lead.
2. Pound the Power Play Pucks at the Net. Colorado has allowed power play goals in six of their last seven games (23-for-31; 74.2 percent penalty killing). The Caps have gone without a power play in seven of their last nine games. This opponent presents an opportunity to reverse that trend, provided they actually get pucks to the net.
3. Keep the kids in their place. Matt Duchene, Ryan O’Reilly, and Gabriel Landeskog all have yet to reach their 21st birthdays. The three have combined for 23 of Colorado’s 81 goals so far this season. But they have stumbled of late. Landeskog has hit a wall of sorts in his inaugural season (no goals in his last 17 games); Duchene has two in his last 11 contests. O’Reilly seems to be emerging from a slump in which he went without a goal in 12 straight; he has five in his last eight games. Don’t let the kids get all frisky.
In the end, this game might turn on the degree to which the Caps can keep Colorado off their power play. The Avs are three for their last four opportunities with the man advantage and have the second best power play in the league despite their comparative lack of success at home. The Caps have been pretty good when minimizing opportunities for the opposition on the power play. In the last 12 games in which the Caps limited an opponent to four or fewer man advantage situations, they did not allow a power play goal (29-for-29 in those games). If the Caps can manage their shorthanded situations to four or fewer, the Avs would not appear to have the 5-on-5 game to come out with a win.
Caps 4 – Avalanche 2