The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
One in a row! The Washington Capitals became the 27th team in the NHL this season to win a hockey game without the benefit of trick shots when they defeated the Edmonton Oilers, 4-2, on Monday night. Now, they get a chance to face another team with only one win in the hockey portion of hockey games when the New York Rangers come to town to face the Caps in the third game of Washington’s five-game home stand on Wednesday.
Well, before you win three for that “winning streak,” you have to win two, and that means besting the Rangers, who have found the adjustment from John Tortorella to Alain Vigneault behind the Ranger bench difficult, to say the least.
The adjustment has been most difficult, it seems, in a place most unexpected – in goal. Then again, that might not be a function of the coach. Maybe it is just coincidence, but the changes in goaltender equipment (shaving length off their leg pads, for example) and the reduction in the footprint of the goal has coincided with some fluffy numbers for Henrik Lundqvist.
He has been pulled from one game, gave up four or more goals in two others, and that’s just in four starts (he has five appearances). Overall he is 1-3-0, but worse is his goals against average (4.21, 44th among 46 qualifying goaltenders) and save percentage (.887, 36th among those same goalies). He has been worse early in games, sporting a .875 save percentage in the first period of games, .851 in the second period. In 12 periods of play Lundqvist has allowed goals in nine of them.
What it means is that the Rangers are, uncharacteristically, dead last in the NHL in scoring defense (5.00 goals/game). Not that their offense has been much, if any, better. Only two teams – Philadelphia and Buffalo – have a worse scoring offense than the Rangers (1.80/game).
Making it worse is that the Rangers have had to do this living out of suitcases, so to speak. New York will be visiting Washington for the sixth game of a nine-game road trip to start the season. New York to Phoenix to Los Angeles to San Jose to Anaheim (what, they couldn’t at least schedule Los Angeles and Anaheim next to one another?) to St. Louis to Washington. That is a shade over 5,400 miles. They ARE their own spin off of “Airport 24/7: Miami” on Travel Channel.
Here is how the teams compare in their respective numbers to date:
1. You think the Caps have even-strength issues? The Rangers have four even-strength goals in five games, and Brad Richards has three of them. You would probably go through a lot of names until you guessed that Derek Dorsett has the other one.
2. Another point, so to speak, about the Rangers at even strength. Their defensemen have combined for one even strength point – an assist for Anton Stralman. Marc Staal has a power play goal, Ryan McDonagh has a shorthanded goal.
3. The Rangers have yet to play a one-goal game. All four of their losses have been by at least two goals, and no team has more losses by three or more goals (three).
4. If the Rangers are trailing, they are losing. Three times they trailed at the end of 20 minutes, three times they lost. Four times they trailed at the second intermission, four times they lost.
5. The Rangers tend to lose discipline late. Only two teams – Los Angeles and Philadelphia – have spent more times shorthanded in the third period than the ten times the Rangers have found themselves short in five games.
1. Mike Green does not have a goal through six games. This might not sound like much, he being a defenseman and all, but it is the first time he has gone this long without a goal to start the season since the 2010-2011 season, a seven-game streak that is the longest of his career.
2. In the “you do what you have to do” file, you might expect that Troy Brouwer, Alex Ovechkin, and Tom Wilson would lead the Caps’ forwards in hits. Would you have expected Martin Erat to be fourth?
3. The Caps have been awarded as many power play opportunities in the third period of games (11) as they have in the first and second periods combined. They are 2-for-5 in the first period, 3-for-6 in the second, and 3-for-11 in the third. On the other side, the Caps are 7-for-8 killing penalties in the first period of games, 6-for-9 in the second period, and 5-for-5 in the third.
4. It is one thing to lead your team in shots, but Alex Ovechkin has almost as many shots on goal (42) as the next four Capitals combined (47, divided among Brooks Laich, Mike Green, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mikhail Grabovski).
5. Braden Holtby has a post-season history against the Rangers well known to Caps fans: 6-8, 2.05, .925, and one shutout in two seven-game series. His career regular season record against New York looks a lot the same: 2-2-1, 1.93, .942.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
New York: Jesper Fast
Elias Lindholm, Nathan MacKinnon, Will Acton. Three games, three players getting their first NHL goal against the Capitals. Tell us who is up next, Peerless? Well, it’s Jesper Fast. With Rick Nash on the shelf with a concussion suffered last week against San Jose, the 2010 sixth round pick has had an opportunity to make an impression with the big club. It has been something of a whirlwind tour for the 21-year old. A year ago at this time he was skating for HV71-Jönköping in the Swedish Elite League (now the Swedish Hockey League) where he led the club in goals with 18. It was the culmination of progressively higher goal totals over his four years at the elite league level, a feat he also achieved when he played for HV71-Jönköping/Junior, finishing with 23 goals in 37 games in 2009-2010. That Fast might score a goal in this game would not necessarily be surprising, just annoying.
Washington: Nate Schmidt
The Capitals are not especially deep on the left side of their defense. After Karl Alzner, it’s something of a crap shoot. Jack Hillen…injured. John Erskine..hurt. Alexander Urbom…new. Dmitry Orlov…pink eye. Of such things opportunities are born, and one has presented itself for Nate Schmidt. At this time last season Schmidt was starting his last season as a defenseman with the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers, one in which he would be named a second-team All-American after going 9-23-32 in 40 games. Schmidt then skated five games for the Hershey Bears in the AHL playoffs and skated in the opener of the 2013-2014 season for the Bears (notching a goal in a 4-3 loss) before being called up to the Caps. In two games he has averaged a little more than 17 minutes a game and leads the team in shots per game from the blue line. He has not looked out of place. Yes, small sample size, but one has to start somewhere.
1. Early savers pay late dividends. Through six games, Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth have a combined save percentage of .848 in the first period. That number speaks for itself. The Caps are spending too much time behind the eight-ball. Against a team that has a total of three first period goals (only Buffalo has fewer), here is the chance for one of them to lift that number.
2. Rhythm. Neither the first nor second line have established any rhythm at even strength. Alex Ovechkin (42) has three times as many shots on goal as Nicklas Backstrom (11) and Marcus Johanson (3), suggesting that too much of the offense is being funneled through Ovechkin. The second line, well, they just have not established anything. Only Florida has allowed more goals at 5-on-5 than the Rangers. Here is a chance for these scoring line guys to establish more rhythm.
3. The early bird catches the WORM in goal. If by “WORM” you mean “wobbly, oddly rickety man” in goal. Yes, that would be Henrik Lundqvist, the five-time Vezina Trophy finalist (winner in 2012) and bane of the Caps’ existence in the last two playoffs years. As noted above, in five appearances he has a save percentage of .875 in the first period of games and a .851 save percentage in the second period of games. One can wait until the third period to capitalize on his iffy play at one’s peril; he has a .974 save percentage in the last three third periods in which he appeared.
In the end…
Elliotte Friedman said this in his “30 Thoughts” for this week…
“From 2005-06 through 2011-12, just three of 32 teams who were four points out of a playoff position on November 1 recovered to make it.”
That is a rather stark way of saying, “you can’t win the Stanley Cup in October, but you can lose it.” The Caps stopped the bleeding when they beat Edmonton on Monday. Now, they have to bloody some other folks. The Rangers are swimming in quicksand at the moment. They can’t score, they can’t stop anyone from scoring, and that road trip is looking mighty long at this point.
Capitals 5 – Rangers 3