The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The last time that the Colorado Avalanche paid a visit to Washington D.C., the Federal government was open, HBO was in town, and the Caps were in the midst of what would be an eight-game losing streak. It was December 11, 2010, when the Avs came to town, and the visitors skated away with a 3-2 win that sent the Caps to their fifth straight loss in that streak.
But if you want to know where this series is a bit strange, here is a tidbit. The last time a Capital currently with the club scored a goal against the Avalanche was way back on December 15, 2009 (yes, these teams play infrequently). It was a 6-1 win for the Capitals in Denver, and Nicklas Backstrom scored the sixth goal for the Caps on a power play late in the contest. Including that game, the Caps scored nine goals over three games with the Avs (the 2009 game being the only win). Tomas Fleischmann and Mike Knuble had two goals apiece; while David Steckel, Matt Bradley, Alexander Semin, and Matt Hendricks each had a goal, in addition to Backstrom’s.
Oh, how things change.
The biggest change for the Avalanche this season might be behind their bench. Patrick Roy takes over for Joe Sacco, who posted a 130-134-30 record over four seasons. Roy brings no previous NHL coaching experience to his new job, either as a head coach or an assistant, but he did spend eight seasons as head coach and general manager of the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. In those eight seasons he posted a 349-159-37 regular record and took the Remparts to the playoffs in each of those eight seasons.
Perhaps it is fitting that the former Canadian junior coach leads this team, and not just because he won two Stanley Cups in seven-plus seasons with the Avalanche. If you look at what is arguably the “core” for this team, it is very young. Matt Duchene, Ryan O’Reilly, Nathan MacKinnon, and captain Gabriel Landeskog are all 22 or younger. Semyon Varlamov, the former Capital manning the number one goalie spot for Colorado, is still only 25 years old.
Here is how the numbers shake out from last season for the two teams…
1. Four wins is four wins, but are the Avalanche doing it with mirrors? They have allowed only three goals through four games, shutting out mighty Boston on Thursday, but they are allowing 32.5 shots per game. Only seven teams are allowing more, and those teams have 12 combined wins in 29 combined games, through Thursday’s contests. And, speaking of that core of players, Landeskog and MacKinnon have brutal Corsi/on-ice numbers at 5-on-5 (numbers: behindthenet.ca). So, too, do PA Parenteau and Alex Tanguay, two primarily offensive players.
2. Semyon Varlamov has won three games with a goals against average of 1.00 (tied for fourth among goalies) and a save percentage of .967 (fourth). He’s been here before, though, in his first-three game segments:
- 2008-2009: 2-0-0 (one no decision), 1.63, .943
- 2011-2012: 2-1-0, 1.30, .960, one shutout
- 2012-2013: 2-1-0, 1.68, .948, one shutout
His “game four” record over his career is a bit more pedestrian. He has a 4-1-0 record in those games, but he also has an unremarkable 2.69 goals against average and a .906 save percentage. Much discussion in the early going centers on his being watched over by new goalie coach François Allaire, who mentored Roy and Varlamov’s teammate, Jean-Sebastien Giguere, but the question remains, has he turned a corner, or will he return to form?
3. Here is one way Colorado achieved their 4-0-0 record, reflected in a number: 2:37. That is the total amount of time the Avalanche have spent trailing in games so far this season, all of it in their 2-1 win over Toronto last Tuesday. They are one of two teams yet to allow a first period goal (Pittsburgh is the other). They play very well from in front.
4. Colorado has spread things around on offense. Eight players share the 13 goals scored to date (Parenteau leads with three), and 16 skaters have points (four players with four points). Not a single skater is in “minus” territory (Landeskog is “even”).
5. The 2009 draft class was good to Colorado. Two of the top four point scorers from that class are Avs – Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly.
1. Marcus Johansson’s next point will be his 100th. He is fifth among players in that 2009 draft class in career points (Duchene, O’Reilly, John Tavares, and Evander Kane).
2. Speaking of points, a two-point night would get John Carlson to 100. Of defensemen breaking into the league in the 2009-2010 season, Carlson would become the sixth defenseman of that class to reach 100 points (P.K. Subban, Tyler Myers, Erik Karlsson, Michael Del Zotto, and Cody Franson being the others).
3. Let’s say Jason Chimera has a three-point game. Let’s just say… if he does, he will reach 100 points as a Capital. He’s already way ahead of last year on one respect. He scored his first goal of the season against Carolina on Thursday. Last season he did not record his first goal of the year until his 28th game.
4. The Caps are third on the power play, sixth in faceoff winning percentage, ninth in shots on goal per game. They are tied for 23rd in ratio of goals for to goals against at 5-on-5, tied for 21st in shots allowed per game, only three teams have allowed more first period goals, and only Edmonton (0-3-0) has a worse record than the Caps when scoring first (0-2-0).
5. The Caps have held leads on four separate occasions in four games. On average they have held it nine minutes. Three times they held it for less than four minutes.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Colorado: Nathan MacKinnon
The first overall pick in the 2013 entry draft has not disappointed. He is third among rookies in points despite his being only 11th among rookie forwards in average ice time. What might be his strangest statistic in the early going is that he has been on ice for each of the three goals allowed by the Avalanche, the only Colorado player of whom that could be said. The thing to watch for, in addition to MacKinnon’s early tendency to be in the vicinity when goals are scored on the Avs, is that he has not yet recorded his first NHL goal. After the Caps allowed Elias Lindholm to get his in Carolina’s win on Thursday, this could be a good week for 2013 draft picks at the Caps’ expense.
Washington: Brooks Laich
Brooks Laich is the second line left wing. He has not been on the ice for any of the 11 goals scored by the Caps. Not the stuff of a scoring line winger. He has been on for three even strength goals against. That is not “third line” bad (Jason Chimera, Joel Ward, and Eric Fehr have been on ice for at least six even strength goals against), but it is a bit disturbing. The odd point about his offense is that Laich is usually a fast starter. This is the longest he has gone without a point to start the season since 2006-2007 when he went his first 16 games without a point. Since then, over his past six seasons coming into this one he was 8-10-18 in his first four game segments.
1. Pace. Colorado is a speedy team. If the Caps allow them to gather speed through the neutral zone, they are going to be in for a world of hurt. And here is how that plays out. Six teams have a ratio of goals scored to goals against at 5-on-5 of 2.00:1 or better. Those teams have a combined record of 18-2-2. Colorado is one of those teams. Seven teams have a ratio of 0.50:1 or worse. Those teams, Washington among them, have a combined record of 8-22-1. It is hard to think of this as coincidence (all numbers and records through Thursday games).
2. Patience. The Caps are the mature team, now. Colorado are the young whippersnappers. With that maturity, one hopes that the Caps understand that the game is 60 minutes, and it is their depth and experience that could suit them well while the Avs might be running around like puppies in search of snausages early. That requires discipline and playing the game to their tempo for longer stretches than the Avalanche play to theirs.
3. Pressure. One looks at the defensemen dressing for the Avalanche through four games, and it does not look like an impressive group. Andre Benoit, who leads the club in average ice time with more than 22 minutes a game, had just 41 games of NHL experience coming into this season at age 29. Jan Hejda, a 35-year old in his eighth season, is a serviceable type, but he is getting almost 22 minutes a night. Cory Sarich, also 35 years old, missed 79 games in the six seasons leading up to this one, including 20 games in each of the past two seasons. Nate Guenin had 32 games of experience over parts of six seasons with four teams before landing in Colorado this season. Tyson Barrie is another Avs defenseman with little to show for experience – 42 games in parts of two seasons with Colorado before this season. Only Erik Johnson appears to have a solid pedigree, but even he – a first overall draft pick in 2006 – is not the defensemen folks might have envisioned when he was drafted. This is the soft underbelly of the club that the Caps need to probe and pressure to keep those speedy forwards from working their magic.
In the end…
This is going to be a game of contrasting styles – old versus young, deliberate versus sprightly, technical versus mercurial. The decision might not hinge on Colorado trying to impose its will on the Caps, especially early, but how the Caps deal with that. And that is where pace, patience, and pressure will matter for the Caps as they try to get out of their early-season funk, especially at even strength. If anything, it will be entertaining, perhaps even behind the bench…
Capitals 4 – Avalanche 3