The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
Well here we are. The last road game of the season. The regular season. On Saturday, with four games left in the regular season, the Washington Capitals will visit the Montreal Canadiens. By the time the Caps take the ice, they could find themselves hanging on to a playoff spot by the thinnest of threads. The Rangers demolished Buffalo last night to move to 50 points, the same total the Caps hold at the moment.
Meanwhile, the Winnipeg Jets, two points behind the Caps as we write this, will have played on Saturday afternoon, hosting the New York Islanders. If they win, they will trail Washington as the Caps take the ice only by a tiebreaker, the Caps having played one fewer game with the same number of points.
The last time the Capitals played a final road game of the season with this much at stake was in 2008. Coincidentally, that last road game – against the Florida Panthers – came with four games left in the season. It was March 29, 2008, and the Caps were on the outside looking in, two points behind the Boston Bruins for eighth place in the Eastern Conference and four points behind Carolina in the Southeast Division.
The Caps, then as now, were on quite a run. They had won three in a row and were 11-4-0 in their previous 14 games. It looked a lot like the current team, one that just had an eight-game winning streak stopped, but one that is still 12-2-1 in their last 15 games.
The Caps ground out a 3-0 win that night in 2008, led by a couple of familiar faces. Mike Green scored his 18th goal of the season after Viktor Kozlov gave the Caps a 1-0 second period lead, and Alex Ovechkin put the icing on the cake with his 62nd goal of the season midway through the third period. Fast forward to now and there is Mike Green with seven goals in his last 11 games, and there is Alex Ovechkin with 18 goals in his last 17 games.
The Capitals could use some of that lightning striking twice as they face the Montreal Canadiens. Montreal lost to the Caps, 3-2, back on April 9th, and since then they have run into a rut. Just as bad as their 2-3-0 record has been since that game, it is the way they lost games. Sandwiched between wins in Buffalo and against Tampa Bay, Montreal lost three games by a combined score of 18-8. In all three games coach Michel Therrien pulled his starting goaltender:
- In their 5-1 loss to Toronto, Carey Price lasted 10:25 and allowed three goals on four shots before being relieved by Peter Budaj.
- In their 7-3 loss to Philadelphia, Price lasted two periods, but he allowed six goals on 29 shots. Budaj mopped up in the third period.
- Then, in their 6-4 loss to Pittsburgh, it was Budaj’s turn to be shelled early, allowing three goals on nine shots in the first period, giving way to Price for the final 40 minutes.
Over those three losses, Montreal’s goaltending statistics went like this:
Here is how the teams compare overall…
1. Since the teams last met, Max Pacioretty leads the team in overall scoring (1-5-6) and assists, while Alex Galyenchuk leads in goals (four).
2. In those five games, the Montreal power play, which had but one opportunity against the Caps (unsuccessful), has gone 5-for-27 (18.5 percent). The penalty kill is 16-for-22 (72.7 percent) and has allowed at least one goal in four straight games.
3. Over the five games, Montreal scored first in two of them and won. In the other three – all losses – the Canadiens not only fell behind, the fell behind big. Toronto opened up a 3-0 lead before coasting to a 5-1 win. Philadelphia scored twice before Montreal got on the board and let the Canadiens tie the game before pulling away to a 7-3 win. Against Pittsburgh, Montreal fell behind 4-0 before falling, 6-4.
4. Montreal enjoyed a large advantage in shots on goal, outshooting opponents by a 177-139 margin over the five games. However, 27 shots of that 38 shot margin game in the Canadiens’ 5-1 win over Buffalo, outshooting the Sabres, 42-15.
5. The Canadiens have not played well with others over the five games. Five different players have ten or more penalty minutes in the five games (P.K. Subban: 25; Ryan White: 15, plus a five-game suspension for a head shot on the Flyers’ Kent Huskins; Lars Eller: 15; Brandon Prust: 14; and Brendan Gallagher: 10). When Rene Bourque is only tied for seventh on the club in penalty minutes over the five games, that should be proof enough that Montreal has been busy.
1. The Caps have played four games since last facing the Canadiens. In that time, Mike Ribeiro leads the club in total scoring (1-5-6) and in assists. Troy Brouwer has four goals in those five games to lead the club.
2. Special teams for the Caps have been pretty special over these four games. The power play was 5-for-18 in those four games (27.8 percent). Mewanwhile, the power play is 10-for-11 (90.9 percent).
3. The Caps’ problem, if there was one in going 3-1-0 in these four games, was lack of finish. The Caps did well enough early, scoring 12 of their 15 goals in the four games over the first and second periods. But of the 10 goals they allowed in the four games, nine of them came in the second and third periods.
4. The Caps have had issues with shots on goal allowed all season. Only Edmonton and Buffalo have allowed more than the 32.1 per game allowed by Washington. But in the last four games this problem has become more pronounced – 152 total shots on goal against. The Caps were out shot on a per-game basis, 38-31.
5. The Caps are in the middle of the pack when it comes to shorthanded situations faced (148, tied for 17th fewest). But they are on a bit of a run of stinginess lately. In 11 of their last 13 games they faced three or fewer such situations. They are 9-2-0 in those games.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Montreal: Alex Galchenyuk
Alex Galchenyuk – last June’s third overall pick in the entry draft – likes his home cooking. In 23 home games played he has scored six of his nine goals on the season. Overall he is 6-11-17 at home against 3-4-7 on the road (21 games). He is plus-9 at home, plus-2 on the road. He has points in his last five games, going 4-2-6, plus-1 overall. That includes a pair of assists against the Caps in their meeting on April 9th, his only career meeting against the Caps. And it is not as if he is doing it with a lot of ice time; he has averaged about ten and a half minutes of ice time in those five home games.
Washington: Karl Alzner
Karl Alzner is in a place in which neither he nor Capitals fans are accustomed to seeing him. Over the last seven games played by the Caps, Alzner has been on ice for 10 of the 17 goals scored against and is a minus-7. He is minus-10 over his last 13 games overall. For a player being counted on as perhaps being the shutdown defenseman for the Caps, these are not happy numbers. Defensive defensemen have slumps every bit as much as scoring forwards, and this is likely one of those instances. Still, it would be better – a lot better – for the Caps if this slump was short-lived.
Hey, the Caps won here last time, so we’ll go with the same keys we wrote of for that visit.
In the end, when you stand at the edge of the cliff with your back to the chasm below, you have to fight yourself off the edge. That is where the Caps find themselves. They control their own destiny. If they win four games, they are in the playoffs, no matter what Winnipeg or the Rangers do. Winning four games would not seem likely, but getting a win in their last road game would go a long way toward getting to that playoff goal.
Capitals 3 – Canadiens 2