The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
“Okay, campers, rise and shine, and don't forget your booties 'cause it's cooooold out there today.”
It's coooold out there every day. What is this, Miami Beach?
“Not hardly. And you know, you can expect hazardous travel later today with that, you know, that, uh, that blizzard thing.”
That blizzard - thing. That blizzard - thing. Oh, well, here's the report! The National Weather Service is calling for a “big blizzard thing!”
“Yessss, they are. But you know, there's another reason why today is especially exciting.”
“Especially cold, okay, but the big question on everybody's lips...”
On their chapped lips...
“On their chapped lips, right: Do ya think Phil is gonna come out and see his shadow?”
“That's right, woodchuck-chuckers - it's...”
[in unison] “GROUNDHOG DAY!”
Yeah, yeah, yeah…every funny guys. Seems Fearless and Cheerless are channeling their inner “Groundhog Day” when it comes to the Washington Capitals at the moment. And well they should be. The Capitals come into Monday night’s game against the Edmonton Oilers with a 1-4-0 record and looking a lot like last season’s club that went 1-3-1 in their first five games.
Are there parallels? Well, yes…
- Goals scored/game: 2012-2013: 2.20 / 2013-2014: 2.40
- Goals allowed/game: 2012-2013: 3.80 / 2013-2014: 4.00
However, there are differences…
- Power play: 2012-2013: 17.4 percent / 2013-2014: 31.6 percent
- Penalty kill: 2012-2013: 69.2 percent / 2013-2014: 79.0 percent
- Even strength goals for/goals against: 2012-2013: 7-11 / 2013-2014: 6-15
However you slice it, the Caps are right back where they were at this time last season, stuck in a hole looking up at a lot of teams.
They are looking at their early-season doppelganger in Monday’s opponent, the Edmonton Oilers. Through five games, both teams…
-- have a goals scored/goals allowed average worse than minus-1.00 goals per game
-- are under…way under an even strength goals scored to goals allowed ratio of 1.00:1
-- have power plays of 25.0 percent or better
-- have penalty kills lower than 80 percent
-- have identical goals allowed/goals scored at home (Washington) and on the road (Edmonton)
-- have a single win, that coming in a shootout at home after falling behind, 3-0
The big difference between these teams is that the Caps reached the post-season in each of the six seasons, while the Oilers have not played a playoff game since losing Game 7 to the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2006 Stanley Cup finals. In their seven seasons since, coming into this year, the Oilers have a record of 214-268-59, which they have parlayed into five straight top-ten draft positions, three of them becoming number one overall picks.
Those five picks were, in order: Magnus Paajarvi, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov, and Darnell Nurse. Paajarvi was since traded to the St. Louis Blues with a second round pick for left winger David Perron. Nurse, the seventh overall pick in last summer’s entry draft, was returned in the Oilers’ last week of training camp to the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in the Ontario Hockey League. The other three – Hall, Nugent-Hopkins, and Yakupov – are with the club and make up what might be considered the Oilers’ forward core.
It has been an uneven start for this trio. Hall has been right there, at least on offense so far, going 1-4-5 in five games. But he also has been on ice for nine goals against. That is not quite as bad as Nugent-Hopkins, who has been on ice for ten goals against in only three games. At least he has a bit of an excuse. He came back more quickly than expected from offseason shoulder surgery that was expected to keep him out the first month. He has three points in his three games to date. Then there is Yakupov. He has yet to record a point in four games and was a healthy scratch in Edmonton’s last game, against Toronto, after getting only 13 minutes in his previous game, against Montreal. Not quite the start that might have been envisioned for a player who led all rookies in goals scored last season (17), including six in his last three regular season games.
Here is how the two teams compare in their numbers to date…
1. Talk about your hockey lifers. Dallas Eakins, in his first year as head coach of the Oilers, spent ten seasons in the NHL, playing in 120 games with eight different teams. That does not include more than 600 games spent in the AHL with nine different teams. And then he started working his way up through the coaching ranks. A year with the Toronto Marlies in the AHL as an assistant, then two years with the Toronto Maple Leafs as an assistant, and then four years with the Marlies as head coach where he posted a record of 157-114-41 and a trip to the Calder Cup finals in 2012. Now, he gets his chance at an NHL gig with the Oilers. Just don’t expect him to spring for the donuts.
2. Edmonton ranks last in the league in goals against. They do not come by this ranking accidentally. The Oilers have yet to hold an opponent to fewer than four goals in a game. Of the 15 periods of regulation hockey they have played so far, the Oilers allowed at least one goal in 14 of them. They have allowed six goals in both of their road games so far.
3. Edmonton does a lousy job holding leads. They have scored first in four of their five games thus far and have a record of 0-3-1 when doing so. Despite scoring first in four games, they have not held a lead at the first intermission in any of their five games, and they have held a lead after 40 minutes only once. The one game they allowed the first goal, they won.
4. Five games in, and the Oilers have already allowed three shorthanded goals. They allowed only one shorthanded goal all of last season.
5. Two straight games the Caps have allowed an opponent to score their first NHL goal – Elias Lindholm for Carolina and Nathan MacKinnon for Colorado. Next up…Will Acton. The undrafted rookie from Edina, MN, is only getting eight minutes and change a night in ice time and has an assist. But hey, it’s the Caps.
1. The Caps are averaging 34.0 shots per game, fifth in the league. They are averaging 2.40 goals per game, 21st in the league. Either they are due for a change in luck, or their shot selection stinks.
2. Only seven of 13 Capital forwards appearing to date have recorded a point through five games, and only five have scored a goal. In three home games, Alex Ovechkin has as many goals (three) as the rest of the forwards combined (Nicklas Backstrom, Jason Chimera, Eric Fehr).
3. No defenseman taking the ice Monday night has scored a goal this season (Connor Carrick is in Hershey). Only three of them have even strength points, and Mike Green is not one of them (John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Steve Oleksy).
4. The Caps have been consistent. When outshooting their opponents, they are 0-2-0. When outshot, they are 0-2-0. Bank on the Caps if they have the same number of shots on goal as Edmonton (1-0-0).
5. These are teams that play one another infrequently, to say the least. In the last ten seasons the Caps and Oilers met only eight times. Washington is 4-4-0 over those eight games, 3-1-0 at home.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Edmonton: Boyd Gordon
In seven seasons with the Washington Capitals, Boyd Gordon spent a total of 59 minutes on the power play, averaging about ten seconds per contest on the man advantage. In five games with the Edmonton Oilers he is averaging almost two minutes a game on the power play. It is not among the leaders among forwards for the Oilers (eighth), but it is a lot more than he had in Washington. It has allowed him to do something he never accomplished with the Caps – score a power play goal. That came in the Oilers’ season opener in Winnipeg. Not that Gordon has forsaken what got him here. He leads all Oiler forwards in shorthanded ice time and has been on ice for only seven goals against (on this team, that’s “Selke” worthy). His three goals is tied for the team lead (he had four in 48 games with Phoenix last season). Only once in his career has he reached the three-goal mark in fewer than 20 games into the season. He is 0-1-1 in one career appearance against the Caps.
Washington: Troy Brouwer
“It’s looking at yourself and wanting to win. It’s about wanting to work hard, wanting to help your teammates out, wanting to win. That’s all it comes down to. Our talent level’s there, our effort’s not. It’s concentration, it’s work ethic, it’s focus, it’s a lot of things. It starts in practice and it continues over into warmups, we shoot high on our goalie sometimes when we shouldn’t be and then we’re sloppy during the game and then we wonder why we are sloppy and can’t make the breakout passes. We’ve got to be better, all around.”
So said Troy Brouwer after Saturday's game against Colorado. Five games, seven shots on goal, no points, minus-2. That is Troy Brouwer’s line so far this season. Hey, we all have bad days, bad weeks, bad months (hey, Congress!). But the problem having been identified, it is now a matter of finding a solution.
1. Out of the blocks. Edmonton has allowed nine goals in the first period over five games this season. No team has allowed more. The Caps have only three goals scored in the first period through five games. Only Boston and Buffalo have scored fewer. The Caps spend too much time playing catch-up, and we saw how that worked against a speedy team like Colorado on Saturday. Edmonton is cut from the same cloth.
2. Second City. At some point, the second line will score. Really. They will. But until they do, the Caps are a one-line, power play only kind of team that is easier to defend. When they do – and they will, really – the Caps will be harder to defend. If there is a team the second line can get well against, this is the one…really…honest.
3. Opportunity knocks. The Caps had six power play opportunities in their opener against the Chicago Blackhawks. They have had 13 in four games since. Having the league’s third-best power play isn’t much use when it isn’t in use.
In the end…
“…some of our play last night was excellent and the score was not indicative of that… obviously we’re doing a lot of good things. Our D is doing a lot of good things.”
-- Adam Oates, after Saturday's loss to Colorado
Yeah, well, that’s all well and good, but the road to hell – and early rounds of golf in the spring – are paved with good intentions. The Caps have displayed a disturbing tendency to start slow, both in games and – in the last two seasons – to open the year. This is not like last season, when a 2-8-1 start meant the Caps needed a furious finish (25-10-2) to make the playoffs. There are 77 games left. But that is not reason for delay, either. Only Pittsburgh is over .500 in the Metro Division, and the Caps need to start taking advantage of other teams’ misfortune. There is no better time than the present.
Capitals 5 – Oilers 2