Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 15: Capitals at Rangers, February 17th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

In a 48-game season played in fewer than 100 days, you take your lulls where you get them.  The Washington Capitals get theirs with only one game to be played in the week following their 4-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday.  That game will be played tomorrow in New York against the Rangers, the team that eliminated the Caps from the Stanley Cup playoffs last May.

This is the first rematch of these two teams since the Caps lost Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on this same Madison Square Garden sheet of ice.  Both teams stumbled out of the gate to begin this season relative to expectations.  The Caps had that awful 2-8-1 start before peeling off three wins in a row this past week.  The Rangers – on many prognosticators’ short list of Stanley Cup contenders – played the January portion of their schedule to a 3-4-0 record.  However, they have turned things around in February with a 4-1-1 record so far this month.

For all the hype over the trade for Rick Nash last July, coming a year after the well-hyped signing of Brad Richards as a free agent, this last six-game February run has been led by the relatively less renowned Carl Hagelin.  The second-year winger from Sweden by way of the University of Michigan started the month with an assist and the game-winning goal in a 3-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, and he is 4-2-6 over his last three games to leave him 5-3-8, plus-4 for the month.

Speaking of Nash, he has not yet been the goal scorer that folks might have envisioned when he was obtained.  He has only three goals in 13 games (a 19-goal pace over 82 games), but he is tied with Brad Richards for the team lead in assists with eight, and he is tied with Marian Gaborik for the team lead in points with 11. He will come into this game with his offense heating up, going 1-3-4, plus-4 over his last three games.

Marc Staal is not going to be anyone’s idea of an offensive defenseman, but at 1-7-8 for the season he has already surpassed his assist and point totals from last year when he played in 46 games.  That is the product of his leading the Rangers in assists so far this month (five).

Here is how the teams compare, numbers-wise:

1.  Your odd Ranger number for this game: 1.  The Rangers have lost only one game outside the Atlantic Division so far, a 3-1 loss to the Boston Bruins in their season opener.  The Blueshirts are 2-4-1 in the Atlantic Division, 5-1-0 outside of their division.

2.  The Rangers have goals from 11 different players in their 4-1-1 February, points from 14 different players.

3.  If the Caps have had trouble allowing goals in the second period of games this season, the Rangers have had trouble scoring them.  With only nine goals scored, only Nashville has scored fewer goals in the middle frame than have the Rangers.

4.  The Rangers are another of those teams that have happy endings in games at which they lead at intermissions.  They are 5-0-1 when leading after 20 minutes, and they are 5-0-0 when leading at the second intermission.  Then again, they are 1-4-0 when trailing at the first intermission and 1-5-0 when trailing after 40 minutes.

5.  Here is an odd juxtaposition of numbers.  The Rangers are third in the league in hits, but they also have taken the third fewest number of minor penalties.

1.  Only three teams have fewer major penalties taken than the Caps so far.  Matt Hendricks has four of the five taken so far; John Erskine has the other one. 

2.  In this three-game winning streak for the Caps, the line of Eric Fehr (3-2-5, plus-4), Joel Ward (1-4-5, plus-4), and Mathieu Perreault (1-4-5, plus-4) lead the team in scoring.  Fehr and Troy Brouwer (four goals) account for almost half of the 15 goals scored by the Caps in their streak.

3.  Of 330 players having scored at least one goal so far this season, Nicklas Backstrom is tied for 313th in shooting percentage (3.6 percent), and John Carlson is tied for 319th (3.0 percent).  Jason Chimera would qualify but for the fact he does not yet have a goal on 27 shots so far.  For Chimera the Rangers might be the team to break out against; he had three goals in the seven-game playoff series against them last spring. 

4.  Mike Ribeiro is tied for the scoring lead on special teams with ten points.  He has had a hand in ten of the 13 power play goals the Caps have so far this season.

5.  Eight different defensemen have recorded points for the Caps so far this season.  The flip side of that is that only five Caps defenseman have played in at least ten games (including Mike Green, who is questionable for this game).  Two of those defensemen might be considered of the unexpected variety – Jeff Schultz (12 games) and Tomas Kundratek (13).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New York: Brian Boyle

Two seasons ago Brian Boyle set a career high in goals scored with 21. Last year he dropped by almost half, down to 11 goals.  This year he has yet to light the lamp in ten games.  His problem has been getting shots.  Two years ago he averaged 2.66 shots per game.  Last year it was 2.01.  Through ten games this season he is down to 1.3 shots per game.  If there is a team against which he might reverse the trend Washington might be that team.  He has five goals in 13 career games against the Caps, just two fewer than Rick Nash or Marian Gaborik.

Washington:  Tom Poti

If Mike Green is unable to go on Sunday, Tom Poti would seem the likely candidate to take his place in the lineup.  Poti has not played since February 5th, having sat out the last four games.  In the five games in which he has played this season the Caps are 0-5-0.  Poti, however, was on ice for only six of the 18 even strength goals scored against the Caps in those four games, despite logging an average of 15:36 in even strength ice time in those games.  In what might be a make-shift defense for this one, Poti’s experience could be important.


1.  Be Better Than Even.  Only the New York Islanders have allowed more goals at 5-on-5 this season than the Caps.  Even in this three-game winning streak they have allowed eight even strength goals (although they have scored 11 themselves).  The Caps need to whittle down that goals against at even strength even more.  The Rangers will be a challenge, since they are tied for seventh in the league in even strength goals.

2.  Discipline.  The Caps are 4-2-0 when allowing three or fewer power plays, 1-6-1 when they do not.  Their penalty killing is just not efficient enough to successfully deal with high volumes of shorthanded situations.  Even though the Rangers are borderline inept so far on the power play (tied for 25th in home power play this season), the Caps need to stay out of the box.

3.  Strong Down the Middle.  Capitals centers – Mike Ribeiro, Nicklas Backstrom, Mathieu Perreault – have combined for 10 assists in the three-game winning streak.  The strength down the middle and success are not likely to be mere coincidence.

In the end, the Caps have to be better in this game than they have been in any of the three wins on this streak so far.  Neither Florida nor Tampa Bay have especially stout defenses, and neither exhibit the sort of 200-foot pressure that the Rangers can apply.  Compounding the Caps’ challenge is the fact that Ranger goalie Henrik Lundqvist seems to be getting into a rhythm.  In his last three appearances he is 3-0-0, 1.62, .946. He has not allowed a power play goal in that span, which flies in the face of the Caps’ 4-for-6 performance with the man advantage over their last three games.  That could very well be the fault line on which this game is decided.

Capitals 3 – Rangers 2

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