The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The Washington Capitals end their three-game home stand on Thursday night when they face the Minnesota Wild on Verizon Center ice. If you are unfamiliar with this team, well, join the club. The Capitals have faced the Wild fewer times – 12 – than any team in the NHL. In fact, there are only two teams in the history of the franchise that the Capitals faced fewer times, the California Golden Seals and the Cleveland Barons, both faced ten times by the Caps.
The Wild have made only six appearances all time in Washington, and the Capitals have a 5-1-0 record in those contests. Now, here is the weird number in those six appearances: 8. That is the total number of goals scored by the Wild at Verizon Center, and half of those came in a 4-3 win on November 21, 2002. In no other game did Minnesota score more than one goal.
None of that means a lot other than as the sort of thing you can impress your fellow patrons with at your local tavern. What does matter for purposes of this game is that the Wild are 6-1-0 in their last seven games, outscoring their opponents by a 24-13 margin. They have been remarkably efficient in the process, making good on 13.3 percent of their shots (the league shooting average, not counting the Wild, is 8.8 percent).
It is a good thing, too. In those seven games the Wild reached the 30 shot mark only once, averaging 25.7 shots on goal in all.
On the other side, the Wild have gotten superb goaltending from Josh Harding, building a reputation as being something much more than a goalie with a unique, inspiring personal story. He appeared in five of the seven games in this recent stretch, posting a 5-0-0, 1.07, .955 record with two shutouts. Good as that was, he was not the Wild player who won one of the week’s three stars for the week ending November 3rd. That went to Jason Pominville, who had a 4-2-6 week in three games. It is part of a recent run of games coinciding with the 6-1-0 record over which he is 7-2-9, plus-8.
Harding has faced the Capitals only once, allowing two goals on 38 shots in what would be a 2-1 Caps win on November 13, 2009, in Washington. On the other hand, Pominville is well known to the Caps and Caps fans from his nine seasons in Buffalo. He is 9-11-20, plus-1 in 30 career games against Washington.
Here is how the two teams stack up in their numbers so far (through games of Tuesday):
1. Pominville is not the only Minnesota player on a hot streak. Zach Parise – another name familiar to Caps fans – is 4-5-9 in the 6-1-0 Wild run. Ryan Suter and Mikael Granlund each have six assists. You could say the whole club is hot. There are 19 different skaters with points over those seven games and ten with goals.
2. The Wild display an uncommon balance in their scoring, unique in fact. Their period by period scoring over 16 games is as follows: 1st period – 15 goals; 2nd period – 14 goals; 3rd period – 14 goals. No team in the league has that tight a pattern of goal scoring by period.
3. No team has allowed fewer 5-on-5 goals than the Wild (13). They are the only team allowing fewer than one 5-on-5 goal per game (0.81).
4. Only two teams – Ottawa and Toronto – have committed more minor penalties than the Wild. With 63 times shorthanded they are tied for the third highest number in the league, behind only Winnipeg and Ottawa.
5. Minnesota is a front runner of a team. They have not lost a game in regulation when leading at either intermission (5-0-1 when leading after one period, 9-0-1 when leading after two), and they have not won a game when trailing at an intermission (0-4-1 when trailing after one, 0-4-1 when trailing after two).
1. Since being shut out by the New York Rangers on October 16th, the Caps are 6-2-0, outscoring their opponents by a 31-18 margin, despite being outshot by 50 shots on goal (289-239).
2. In their 6-2-0 run 20 different skaters have points; eight of them have at least five points. Nicklas Backstrom leads with 11 points (4-7-11). Jason Chimera (4-5-9) and Alex Ovechkin (6-3-9) are next in line. There are 12 different players with goals. Alex Ovechkin leads with six in just six of those games (missing two to injury). Joel Ward is next with five goals.
3. In his last 82 games Nicklas Backstrom is 19-66-85. His 5-14-19 scoring line through 15 games this season works out to a 27-77-104 point pace.
4. With five goals in 15 games this season, Jason Chimera has as many as he recorded in his previous 53 games. With 11 points he has as many as he had in his first 41 games last season.
5. Only one player this season has more multi-point games than Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom (six apiece). The Islanders’ Kyle Okposo has seven such games. No team other than the Caps has two such players with as many as six multi-point games.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Minnesota: Justin Fontaine
Caps fans would recognize Jason Pominville as the Wild’s leading goal scorer (ten), and they would not be surprised that Zach Parise is second (eight). But Justin Fontaine in third place on the club with five? Four of them coming in his last seven games? Who is this guy?
Fontaine is an undrafted, four-year veteran of the University of Minnesota-Duluth college hockey program. Upon completing his four-year stint in Duluth, the right-winger was signed to an entry-level contract with the Wild in April of 2011. In two years serving an apprenticeship with the Houston Aeros in the AHL, Fontaine recorded 39 goals and 111 points in 137 games. His five goals in 16 games is tied for third among all rookie skaters, trailing only San Jose’s Tomas Hertl and Calgary’s Sean Monahan. This will be his first career appearance against the Caps.
Washington: Martin Erat
Martin Erat has had one strange season to date. He spent most of his time chained to the fourth line and only recently has received more exposure on scoring lines. As a result he has five assists and is yet to score a goal of his own. It gets stranger. He has points in only two games this season, a three-assist effort against Columbus on October 19th and a two-assist game in the 7-0 stomping of Philadelphia last Friday. He is without a point and minus-4 in his other 13 games.
There is the matter of all the experience he has playing against Western Conference teams as a member of the Nashville Predators. In 36 career games against the Wild he is 12-15-27, plus-2. He is 5-6-11 against Minnesota on the power play. If there is a team against which he might break out, this is the one.
1. Special…K? This game might turn on which situation dominates, the Wild at 5-on-5 or the Caps on the power play. The Wild have the best 5-on-5 goals scored to goals allowed ratio in the league, compared to the Caps’ 18th-place ranking. On the other hand, the Caps have the top power play, while Minnesota ranks only 25th in penalty killing.
2. Snipers vs. Finishers, and Vice Versa. We noted that the Wild have a 13.3 percent shooting percentage over their last seven games. The Caps have hardly been slouches in this regard, shooting to a 13.0 percent rate over their last eight games. If one of these teams maintains that success rate, chance are they win.
3. Size Matters. Minnesota is another one of those teams that gets by on maneuverability more than size. The Wild have had only 12 skaters over 200 pounds dress for games this season. The Caps, on the other hand, have had 17 skaters over 200 pounds dress. One thing to watch for is to see if the Caps can wear the Wild down.
In the end…
This could be a rather entertaining game. There is the intrigue of teams that do not see one another often, despite Minnesota having no fewer than six skaters who have substantial game experience in the Eastern Conference (Matt Cooke, Zenon Konopka, Jason Pominville, Nino Niedereiter, Dany Heatley, and Zach Parise), and the Caps having four players with significant Western Conference experience (Jason Chimera, Troy Brouwer, Joel Ward, and Martin Erat).
There is also the fact that these are two teams playing well of late, both with hot goaltenders. And, there is the star quality of an Alex Ovechkin against a Zach Parise, a Dany Heatley versus a Nicklas Backstrom, or a Mike Green against a Ryan Suter. We are guessing it will be one of the unsung players who step up in this one… maybe, say, a second-line player for a team dressed in red.
Capitals 3 – Wild 2