The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The new (sort of) Washington Capitals return home tonight, fresh off a 2-0-1 road trip, poised to make their final assault on the summit of the Southeast Division. By night’s end – if the Capitals win and Winnipeg loses in Montreal in regulation time – Washington will sit atop the Southeast Division for the first time this season.
But first things first. The Islanders return to Washington just nine days after beating the Capitals at Verizon Center, 3-2, on March 26th. Since then, New York is 3-1-0 and are poised themselves to jump into a playoff spot. If they should avoid a loss in regulation time tonight, they would do no worse than leap-frog the idle New York Rangers into eighth place in the Eastern Conference.
In their last four games, the Islanders outscored their opponents by an 11-8, in addition to their 3-1-0 record. Their power play, among the best in the league so far this season (21.7 percent), has slipped a bit, going 2-for-12 (16.7 percent) in those games. The penalty kill has been effective, if only because it has not been used. The Islander faced only six shorthanded situations over those four games, killing off four of them (66.7 percent).
As you might expect, John Tavares – the league’s second leading goal scorer – is tied for the team lead in goals over the last four games with three. What you might not expect is that Colin McDonald is the player with whom Tavares is tied in goals. McDonald has almost doubled his goal output over these four games, jumping from four to seven goals on the season. He has only eight goals in his 41-game NHL career, so one could say that at least for the moment, McDonald is hot.
It probably is not all that surprising, either, that Mark Streit is the overall point leader for the Isles in the last four games and all of those points coming on assists. He is tied for 16th among all defensemen in assists with 15. Less fortunately, he is tied for 269th of 272 defensemen this season in plus-minus with his minus-15 mark.
Here is how the teams compare in their numbers overall…
1. Odd fact in the Islanders 3-1-0 run since last facing Washington. When they scored in the third period, they won. When they didn’t, they didn’t. Of course, that game in which the Islanders did not score in the third period happened to be one in which they did not score at all, a 2-0 loss to Pittsburgh last Saturday.
2. First period scoring has been better of late for the Isles (three first period goals in their last two games), but it remains that only six teams have fewer first period goals this season than the Islanders. They do seem to make up for it in the second period, though. Only three teams have scored more middle period goals than New York.
3. The Islanders do a good job of squeaking out wins. They have the sixth best winning percentage in the league in one-goal decisions, and only Anaheim and Pittsburgh have fewer one-goal losses in regulation time.
4. The Isles play nice, too. With 9.7 minutes per game in penalties, the Islanders have the second fewest average minutes in the league. Only the New York Rangers have fewer average penalty minutes.
5. Where the Islanders do struggle is defending at 5-on-5. Only Florida and Calgary, in whose company no team wants to be, have allowed more goals at 5-on-5.
1. Washington is dead last in the league in allowing goals in 5-on-3 shorthanded situations. Six goals allowed in 36 games. They’re not so great at 5-on-4 shorthanded situations, either. Only Buffalo has allowed more goals than the Caps in such situations.
2. The Caps have a 25.4 percent home power play, fifth best in the league. They have had 55 power play opportunities at home…fifth lowest.
3. Six teams have recorded fewer shots on goal per game than the Caps. Pity… the Caps still have the fourth best winning percentage in the league when they outshoot their opponents.
4. Only Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, and Los Angeles have more third period goals scored this season than the Caps, and only nine teams have allowed fewer third period goals. They have the fifth best third period goal differential in the league (plus-10).
5. Home cookin’? Only seven teams have fewer goals scored at home this season than the Caps.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
New York: Evgeni Nabokov
If the Islanders are going to creep into the playoffs, Evgeni Nabokov is going to have to be sharp in goal. Lately, he has been just that. In his last five games Nabokov is 4-1-0, 1.59, .941, with one shutout. He was rested in favor of Kevin Poulin in the Isles’ last game, which was the second of a back to back. He will be rested. Just what the Caps need. Nabokov is 12-1-2, 2.17, .924, with two shutouts in 15 career appearances against Washington, including a 20-save effort in a 3-2 win over the Caps on March 26th.
Washington: Martin Erat
Well, who else? The Caps made one deal on deadline day, and Erat was the prize. He will fill a hole on left wing, either on the first or second line. Erat is a study in stick-to-it determination. A seventh-round pick of the Nashville Predators in 1999, Erat spent two more years in Canadian junior before jumping to the Predators in the 2001-2002 season. In 10 seasons since, coming into this one, he has not been flashy. In his last eight seasons he has not recorded as many as 25 goals, but he has not had fewer than 16, either. He has not had a 60-point season, but he has not had one with fewer than 49. He is the engine that just keeps chugging along. And the Caps certainly need some more chugging along on the left side.
What keys? This is a huge opportunity, the Caps first chance this season to jump into the top eight, to take the lead in the Southeast. The rest is just noise.
Capitals 3 – Islanders 1