Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 31: Capitals at Rangers, March 24th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Start spreading the news
They’re playing today
They want to be a part of it
New York, New York

This old power play
It’s longing to stray
Right through the very heart of it
New York, New York

They’re gonna shake up that old city
That doesn't sleep
Tryin’ to be king of the hill
Top of the heap

Those ol’ Southeast blues
They are melting away
They’re gonna make a brand new start of it
At M.S.G.

If they can make it there
They’ll make it everywhere
It's time to beat
New York, New York

New York, New York
They’re gonna shake up that old city
That doesn't sleep
To find they’re king of the hill
Top of the list
Head of the heap
King of the hill

These ol’ Southeast blues
They have all melted away
They are ‘bout to make a brand new start of it
Right there in old New York
And you bet baby
If they can make it there
You know, they’re gonna make it just about everywhere
Come on, come through
In old New York, New York

And here they are in what Frank Sinatra called "The City that Doesn't Sleep."  The Washington Capitals have earned for themselves an opportunity.  They play the New York Rangers on Sunday evening with the chance, if other things fall into place by midnight, of finding themselves in ninth place, one point out of the top-eight in the Eastern Conference and only three points out of the Southeast Division lead.  That is what a 4-2-0 record over their last six games – three of those wins coming on the road – has done.

The team they face this evening is the mirror image of the Caps over their own last six games.  With a 2-4-0 record in those contests, the Rangers have been unable to get a toehold on a playoff spot.  They currently sit in ninth place, one place below Carolina by virtue of having fewer wins in regulation and overtime (the clubs have identical 15-13-2 records).

Defense has not been the problem for the Blueshirts.  While allowing what might seem a decent, if not extraordinary 15 goals in those six games (2.50 per game), two of those goals allowed were of the empty-net variety.  Take those out of the mix and the Rangers allowed a meager 2.17 goals per game.

On the other hand, offense has deserted the Rangers over those last six games.  They have scored only seven goals, and failed to add an eighth when Marian Gaborik failed on a penalty shot attempt in a 3-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets (a game that featured one of the empty net goals against) on March 14th.  They have been shutout once and were held to one goal (apart from the skills competition) in four other games.  The only time they managed more than one goal scored in this stretch, they did so against backup goaltender Johan Hedberg in a 3-2 win over the New Jersey Devils.

Derek Stepan might not have been the Ranger you would have guessed to do so, but yes, he is the only Ranger with multiple goals scored in the last six games.  Not Rick Nash…he has one goal in this six-game run (his only goal over his last seven contests).  Not Marian Gaborik, who has but one goal in the Rangers 2-4-0 run (his only goal over his last eight games).  Not Ryan Callahan – one goal over his last six games.  Callahan has, however, been doing what he can to contribute on offense.  He is the Rangers’ leading scorer over their last six games (1-3-4).

Here is how the two teams match up, numbers-wise...

1.  The Rangers are skating in rare company.  With only one player in double digits in goals scored (Nash: 10), they join only Tampa Bay (1) and Ottawa (0) having so few double-digit goal scorers.

2.  With as few goals as the Rangers score, it should not be surprising that only three teams have more one-goal wins.  What is surprising is that the Rangers have five wins by three or more goals, as many as Boston and more than Ottawa and New Jersey (four apiece).

3.  No team has scored fewer power play goals overall than the Rangers (13, tied with three other teams), and no team at all has scored as few at 5-on-4 (10).  If they are going to score one, though, home is where they will do it – nine of their 13 power play goals have come at Madison Square Garden

4.  For a team with as feisty a reputation as the Rangers have (fourth in the league in hits, for example), they are well-behaved in this respect – only two teams (Anaheim and Calgary) have had fewer minor penalties called on them this season.

5.  The Rangers have allowed the fourth fewest number of 5-on-5 goals this season.  Only Chicago, Ottawa, and Montreal have allowed fewer.

1.  The 4-2-0 record for the Caps over their last six games has, in fact, been a relatively difficult part of the schedule for the Caps.  It represents the first six games of an 11-game stretch in which the Caps have nine road games.

2.  With the sweep of the back-to-back games in Winnipeg, the Caps are on a two-game road winning streak.  Modest as that sounds, it is the first time this season that the Caps won consecutive road games in regulation time. 

3.  Only two teams – Tampa Bay (46) and Pittsburgh (43) – have scored more third period goals than the Caps (35) this season.

4.  With 69 shorthanded situations faced on the road, the Caps are topped only by Philadelphia (70), Pittsburgh (71), and Buffalo (79).

5.  Only one Capital has an even strength goal, a power play goal, a shorthanded goal, a game-winning goal, and an overtime goal (OK, some of that came on the same goal, but still)… Eric Fehr.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New York: Henrik Lundqvist

Henrik Lundqvist has been something of hockey’s version of The Iron Horse in New York (look up “Lou Gehrig,” hockey fans), having recorded five straight years of more than 4,000 minutes of ice time before finishing with just under 3,800 minutes last season.  He is among the league leaders in minutes played this season (seventh with 1,539 minutes).  Here is the thing about big minute goalies, though.  Those top-seven goalies in ice time, including Lundqvist, have a combined record of 87-80-21.  Not necessarily what one might expect from goalies who are being leaned on heavily by their respective teams.  And with the Rangers’ playoff hopes hanging precariously, Lundqvist is going to be leaned on that much more down the stretch.  Lundqvist has a career record against the Caps of 14-7-2, 2.70, .904, with three shutouts.  That includes a 27-save effort in a 2-1 Rangers win in Washington on February 17th.

Washington: Marcus Johansson

Do you know who leads the Caps in points over the last five games?  Well, yeah… Alex Ovechkin.  But do you know who is tied with Ovechkin?  Marcus Johansson.  After going 1-1-2 over his first dozen games this season, Johansson is 3-4-7 over his last five contests.  It is the most prolific five-game stretch of games in Johansson’s brief career.  It could not have come at a better time.  After recording 46 points in his sophomore season last year, much was expected of Johansson this season.  A late start to this season and then a 12-game absence due to an “upper-body injury” put the kibosh on any hot start for Johansson.  But now, he is providing that second level of scoring the Caps are going to need going into the home stretch.  The trick will be to see if he can continue to provide it.  He is 1-4-5, minus-3, in eight career games against the Rangers.


1.  Fight fire with fire.  The Rangers no doubt will treat this as a statement game, evidence of taking seriously the desperate nature of their situation.  Feeding off the home crowd, they will no doubt be in a hitting mood.  The Caps cannot be timid and accepting of that attitude, or else the whole game will be played in their end of the ice, and that will not end well.  Hit back…just do it in the rules.

2.  Don’t make it easy.  If a team happens to be good in one area, you don’t want to make it easier for them be being sloppy where they aren’t so good.  The Rangers are rather challenged on the power play (23rd in home power play efficiency).  The Caps are 19-for-22 on the penalty kill over their last seven games.  Don’t make it easy for the Rangers by going soft on the penalty kill now.

3.  Finishing kick.  The Caps have that third-ranked third period scoring total.  Only three teams have allowed fewer third period goals than the Rangers.  Win the period, win the game. 

In the end, the Caps put themselves in position to contend for a playoff spot with their sweep in Winnipeg.  But a loss here could undo much of that work.  The Caps could find themselves a point out of eighth place by night’s end, or they could be five points out with 16 games to play and right where they have been finishing weeks for the last month.  By winning the two games in Winnipeg, the Caps do not have a “must win” label attached to this contest.  However, it could set the table for them for the last third of the season.  Win, and they are in it.  Lose, and well… what ground will they have made up this week?

Capitals 3 – Rangers 2

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