The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
A short season with a jury-rigged schedule makes for some odd occurrences, and one of the odder ones we will see this season starts on Thursday Night when the Washington Capitals host the first half of a home-and-home set against the New Jersey Devils. Oh, this is not your usual home-and-home, when one team hosts a game, then heads to the opponent’s rink to finish the set. This is a my-home-and-my-home series in which the Capitals will host both games, the game on Thursday night and the game on Saturday afternoon.
But maybe the Devils will be playing a pair of “home” games after all. Seems as though there are those who think that Washington and the Devil have a certain familiarity with one another. Certainly one elected official seems to think so…
"It's harder and harder trying to do the Lord's work in the city of Satan." So said Senator John McCain (allegedly) during a 2008 campaing swing in Georgia.
There is that whole “Exorcist” thing with the stairs in Georgetown. You know, at the end of M Street, where the priest fell to his death in the 1973 movie.
Then there is the map thing, the pentagram that is made by Dupont and Logan Circles to the north, K Street and Pennsylvania Avenue to the west, K Street and New York Avenue to the east, and the White House at the southern point.
There is that big building over on the Virginia side of the river with five sides to it, and what some see as the image of Lucifer in the street design around the U.S. Capitol.
Makes one wish the Founders kept the Nation’s Capital in Philadelphia… but then we’d be Flyer fans, and that’s a whole Devil worship sort of thing all its own.
Meanwhile, there are a couple of games to be played here. And for the Caps it represents the start of a rough stretch of games. Why? Well, the Caps will have a three-game stretch in which they will face teams currently in the top-eight in the East. And those games have not been kind to the Caps so far. They are 0-8-1 against top-eight teams and 5-1-0 against the also rans in the East. If the Caps extend that losing streak with losses in these next three games, well, development camp is only five months away.
On the other side, the Devils have a 5-1-1 record against teams outside the top-eight in the East. One of those wins came at the expense of the Caps, a 3-2 overtime win in New Jersey on January 25th. For the Caps it was a well-earned point in that they rallied from a two-goal deficit with less than eight minutes left in regulation to tie the contest before losing on an Ilya Kovalchuk goal in the extra session.
Here is how the two teams compare in their tale of the tape…
1. Although New Jersey has a very good 9-3-4 record, they have struggled recently in putting the puck in the net. Only once in their last six games have they scored more than three goals. They are 3-2-1 in those games and have split 30 goals with their opponents.
2. David Clarkson has 40 goals in his last 93 games. By way of comparison, Ilya Kovalchuk has 42 goals over his last 93 games. One would not normally think of the Devils having two players who are averaging more than 35 goals per 82 games over the last season-plus.
3. Only five teams have scored fewer goals at 5-on-5 than New Jersey. That might be a good omen for the Caps, who are in the bottom-five in scoring defense. But on the other hand, only Vancouver has allowed fewer goals at 5-on-5. Scoring on these guys at even strength is no picnic.
4. Despite New Jersey’s record, they are one of nine teams that have not yet won a game when trailing after the second period. The thing is, though, it does not happen often. The Devils have trailed only four times at the second intermission, and they are 0-3-1 in those games.
5. Martin Brodeur has a 2.29 goals-against average, 15th in the league among qualifying goaltenders. Sounds pretty good. But his .912 save percentage ranks him only in a tie for 20th. Why the disconnect? Brodeur is facing only 23.8 shots per 60 minutes.
1. Only the Detroit Red Wings have allowed more power play goals against than the Capitals. The Caps have allowed power play goals in nine games to date and have a record of 0-8-1 in those games. In games in which the Caps have been outscored on special teams they have a record of 0-7-0.
2. Among goalies playing in at least five games so far, 30 have save percentages at even strength higher than Braden Holtby’s .902.
3. The Caps are 5-2-3 in their last five meetings against the Devils. Both regulation losses came by 5-0 scores, and four of the Caps’ five wins have come by three or more goals.
4. You might reflexively think that Alex Ovechkin has been the most successful goal scorer for the Caps against the Devils. But if there is a player lurking who actually has a better record than Ovechkin on a goals-per-game basis, it is Jason Chimera. He has a career mark of 0.43 goals/game in 14 career games against New Jersey to Ovechkin’s 0.37 in 27 career games.
5. The 5-9-1 start for the Caps ties their worst 15-game start since the 2004-2005 lockout. They were 5-9-1 to start the 2007-2008 season. You might remember that as a season in which they made the playoffs for the first time since that lockout.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
New Jersey: Patrik Elias
Patrik Elias must be one of the most underrated players of his generation. Among active players he ranks 13th in goals scored, 11th in even strength goals scored, tied for 18th in power play goals scored, tied for 17th in shorthanded goals scored, 5th in game-winning goals, 10th in assists, ninth in points, and third in plus-minus. As he approaches his 37th birthday (April 13th) he is on pace to set a career best in points-per-game for a season (1.19) and is on an 82-game pace to finish plus-52. He already has four three-point games this season (by way of comparison the Caps, as a team, have only two – Mike Ribeiro and Mathieu Perreault). He has been a thorn in the side of the Caps through the years with a 20-32-52, plus-2 scoring line in 53 career games. Seven of those 20 goals are game-winners.
Washington: Mathieu Perreault
Mathieu Perreault has five points in his last four games, his most prolific stretch of games since going 4-2-6, plus-4, in three games from January 22nd through January 31st last season. He has alternated multi-point games against Florida and Tampa Bay with no-point outings in games against Florida and the New York Rangers. Perreault’s issue has rarely been whether he has the talent to cobble together such games or such streaks, but whether he can make consistent contributions. On a team that is starved for scoring among top-six forwards those contributions take on greater importance. Last season he had 10 goals in 30 home games; to date his only goal this season came at Verizon Center. The Caps certainly could use some of that home cooking, although Perreault is only 1-2-3, plus-2, in six career games against the Devils.
1. Score first. New Jersey certainly has been a front runner so far this season, even by NHL standards. The Devils are 8-1-2 when scoring first. Only Montreal and Pittsburgh have more wins when scoring the game’s first goal. Getting that first goal allows the Devils to dictate tempo and style, and for a team that still remembers how to play a suffocating style on defense (no team has allowed fewer first period goals), getting that first one takes on even more importance.
2. Volume, volume, volume. Only four teams have allowed fewer shots on goal per game than New Jersey (26.7 per game). In wins the Devils have allowed only 23.8 shots per game. New Jersey has allowed 30 or more shots in a game only five times this season. They are 0-2-3 in those games. Shoot…the…puck.
3. Russia vs. Russia. Alex Ovechkin and Ilya Kovalchuk each have five goals on the season, and unexpectedly low number for both wingers. The difference in the first meeting between these teams was that their Russian scored a goal (the game-winner in overtime), and the Caps’ Russian did not. Ovechkin has three goals in five wins, two in ten losses. He is still the straw that stirs the drink and needs to be heard from in this game.
In the end…
The Caps are slipping away slowly in the standings. They are six points out of eighth place in the East, six out of first in the Southeast Division. They still have those seven teams to climb over to get to eighth place in the conference and all four teams in the Southeast to leap to get a top-three seed. And the schedule does not provide for the Caps playing non-playoff eligible teams over their last 33 games. They have to demonstrate some ability to beat a playoff caliber team if they are to make any headway in the standings. This game starts a three-game stretch is which they can do just that.
Capitals 2 – Devils 1