The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The Washington Capitals wrap up their five-game home stand on Saturday night when their newest divisional rival, the Columbus Blue Jackets, pay a visit to Verizon Center.
This will be the first meeting of the clubs as divisional rivals – as conference rivals for that matter. For 12 seasons the Jackets competed – if that is the right word – in the Central Division of the Western Conference. Only once in 11 tries in an 82-game season did Columbus finish the season with averaging more than one standings point per game. In 2008-2009 they finished with 92 points, good for fourth place in the Central Division and seventh in the Western Conference. That remains their lone playoff appearance, and they are still waiting for their first playoff game win. They were swept in the first round in 2009 by the Detroit Red Wings.
Last year, they were close, but no cigar. They closed with a rush, going 8-1-0 in their last nine games and finishing in a tie with Minnesota with 55 standings points. The Wild took that last playoff spot, though, by virtue of having more wins than Columbus, 26 to 24.
The Jackets are off on familiar ways to start the 2013-2014 season, which is to say that they are struggling. In six games they have two wins, a trick shot win against the New York Islanders and a 4-1 win in Buffalo against the hapless Sabres. They have lost three straight, the silver lining being that they did so to Boston, Detroit, and Montreal (the latter two on the road), all teams that are playoff contenders.
Columbus is a team played only infrequently by the Caps. Since coming into the league in the 2000-2001 season the clubs have met only 14 times, the Caps holding a 9-3-1-1 edge that includes wins in their last three meetings. The last time the clubs met was New Year’s Eve 2011 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, a 4-2 Capitals win in which the Caps wiped out a 2-0 Blue Jackets lead with four goals in the third period. Only ten of the 20 Caps who dress that night (nine skaters and backup goalie Michal Neuvirth) are still with the club. It’s a good thing they wear name plates on the backs of their jerseys, or the teams might not recognize one another.
The numbers so far for these clubs look like this…
1. The Caps have a powerful power play, but the Jackets take advantages of advantages more consistently. Columbus has power play goals in five of the six games played so far. Four players share in the six power play goals scored to date: Jack Johnson (2), Boone Jenner (2), Cam Atkinson (1), and Mark Letestu (1). Caps fans will be forgiven if they think we are making these names up.
2. For a team that has trouble scoring (2.33 goals per game) the Blue Jackets do spread things around. Nine players have split 14 goals; 16 players have points through six games.
3. Columbus has one multi-goal game by a player this season. Marian Gaborik?...no. Brandon Dubinsky?...no. R.J. Umberger?...no. Does the name “Boone Jenner” ring a bell? Jenner potted a pair against Montreal on Thursday in a 5-3 loss, both goals coming on power plays. They were the first goals in the NHL for the rookie.
4. Speaking of rookies, in “First NHL Goal” watch, Ryan Murray is up for the Blue Jackets. The second overall pick in the 2012 draft would seem an unlikely candidate to notch one in this game. In six games so far he has only one shot on goal.
5. Columbus has allowed 14 even strength goals so far this season. Defenseman Jack Johnson has been on the ice for nine of them.
1. Only Florida (0.30) and Buffalo (0.09) have worse goals scored to goals allowed ratios in the first period than the Capitals (0.44).
2. The Caps have outshot opponents only twice in seven games so far. Not that it mattered much; they lost both games.
3. That Alex Ovechkin is off to a good start scoring goals is not a surprise. However, he is on a pace to shatter a personal career high in another statistical category. He is on a pace to finish the season with 141 penalty minutes. His career high so far is 89 PIMs in 2009-2010.
4. No team has more players above 50 percent in faceoff wins than the Caps (Mikhail Grabovski, Eric Fehr, Nicklas Backstrom).
5. The Caps lead the league in power play efficiency, and part of that is that only one team in the league has spent less time on the power play than the Caps (Ottawa). No team has spent less time at 5-on-4, and it’s not close. Washington has spent 4:10 less time at 5-on-4 (25:48) than the next lowest team (Ottawa – 29:58).
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Columbus: Sergei Bobrovsky
The defending Vezina Trophy winner is off to a decent, if unspectacular start – 21st in both goals against average and save percentage. However, it is a better start than he had last season. His GAA is better through his first six games (2.49 to 3.15), and his save percentage is better (.921 to .900). In his six games to date the key has been to get him early. He has a save percentage of only .898 in the first period, followed by .924 in the second period and .933 in the third. If there is an odd stat about him, it comes from last season. Bobrovsky did not lose in regulation time in any game last season in which he faced 30 or more shots. He was 14-0-6 in 20 decisions. So far this season he has regressed, going 1-4-0 in games in which he faced 30 or more shots. In three career appearances against the Caps he is 1-0-1, 3.36, .890.
Washington: Martin Erat
Maybe now he will get his chance. It would probably be welcome. Of 22 skaters having dressed for the Caps so far, only three have logged less even strength ice time per game than Erat (7:09). He skated more than ten minutes in total ice time only once in seven games, but at Friday’s practice he skated with the second line with Troy Brouwer and Brooks Laich. The timing might suit Erat just fine. Erat has scored more goals (16) and more points (53) against Columbus – all while playing with the Nashville Predators – than he has against any other NHL team. He is plus-19 over his career against the Blue Jackets and minus-15 against everyone else. And in one of the truly odd career stats you will find, Erat is a plus-39 in 200 career games played on Saturdays. He is even or worse on every other day of the week over his career (minus-35 overall). He’s going to be one of the game’s three stars…book it.
1. Shoot early, shoot often. In the three games so far in which Bobrovsky faced more than ten shots in the first period he allowed five goals on 36 shots (.861 save percentage).
2. Muscle memory. We imagine there are few Caps fans out there who would have thought that only once in their last five games would the Caps score more than two goals. They have only five even strength goals in those last five games. They have been outshot, 147-119, at even strength in those five games. And, if one takes out Alex Ovechkin’s 22 shots at even strength, it means the other 17 skaters have split the remaining 97 shots, which works out to barely one per game per skater. It is not as if the Caps have had a recent history of being a spare offensive team. They have been here before.
3. No peeking. This is the getaway game before a five-game road trip that will start by taking the Caps to western Canada. No letting the mind wander.
In the end…
This has the chance to be the most boring game on the 13-game slate for Saturday. Why? What a pathetic pair of teams. The Caps are 1-4-0 in their last five games and have scored a total of eight goals in the process (1.60 goals per game). Columbus has only one win in regulation this season and is 1-5-1 in their last seven games, scoring a total of 11 goals (1.57/game). It could come down to Alex Ovechkin and Mikhail Grabovski for the Caps, Cam Atkinson and Mark Letestu for the Blue Jackets. Why? These are the successful shooters in the trick shot phase so far this season. We hope it does not come down to that.
Capitals 3 – Blue Jackets 2