Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 18: Hurricanes at Capitals, February 26th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals wrap up their three-game home stand with their first meeting against the Carolina Hurricanes this season and their first meeting against their old friend…

…Jordan Staal, as a Hurricane.  HA!  Thought that was going to be an Alexander Semin reference, didn’t you? 

The Hurricanes, with the Brothers Staal and Alexander Semin, not to mention a host of other names Caps fans have become acquainted with over the years, will descend upon Washington looking to dig themselves out of a bit of a rut.  Carolina’s 4-2 win over the New York Islanders on Sunday broke a three-game losing streak, their longest of the young season. 

It was not a very productive week for the ‘Canes.  They were outscored by their opponents, 14-9, and twice they dropped three-goal decisions.  They have had an anemic power play (1-for-12), although their penalty kill was superb (a perfect 14-for-14).  But the big problem over these four games has been their third period play.  In the three-game losing streak, the Hurricanes allowed a total of 10 goals in the final frame on 33 shots.  They halted that slide, allowing the Islanders no third period goals in Carolina’s 4-2 win.

The Hurricanes’ first periods have been anything but electrifying, too.  In these last four games, including the win over the Islanders, Carolina scored one first period goal.  No team has fewer first period goals this season than Carolina (7), and only three teams have allowed more scores in the opening period than the 20 allowed to date by Carolina.  It has really put the Hurricanes behind the eight ball early.  In 17 games so far they have allowed the first goal 13 times with a record of 6-7-0 in those games.

What the early-game troubles had meant for Carolina is that even with a respectable record when trailing at the intermissions, they are fighting uphill – 4-5-0 when trailing at the first break and 2-4-1 when behind after 40 minutes.  Even though they lead the woeful Southeast Division, Carolina has been very accommodating in terms of letting teams get the early advantage.  Here is how the Hurricanes and Capitals compare in their season numbers to date…

1.  Cam Ward is in breathing distance of putting up the worst regular season numbers for a full season in his career.   His 3.16 goals against average would be almost a quarter of a goal game worse than his worst full season number to date (2.93 in 60 appearances in 2006-2007).  His save percentage of .898 is within a point of his current low, .897, also in the 2006-2007 season.  He does have a good career record against the Caps, though.  In 31 career appearances Ward is 16-10-4, 2.53, .922, with four shutouts.

2.  At the other end of the spectrum of bests and worsts, Jordan Staal is on a pace to obliterate his career best points per game average.  Last season he posted 50 points in 62 games while with the Pittsburgh Penguins (0.81/game).  Through 17 games to date this season he has 15 points (0.88/game).  He is on a pace to set a career assist mark (31, with 28 being his previous career high, in a full 82-game 2009-2010), despite this being a 48-game season.  He has had mixed success against the Caps, going 6-1-7 in 21 games, but with a minus-5 rating.

3.  The other Brother Staal – Eric – is having something of a renaissance year.  Last season Eric Staal posted his lowest goal total (24) since the 2004-2005 lockout.  He was a minus-20 and was on ice for more goals against than any NHL forward (98).  This season, though, he has nine goals in 17 games (a 43-goal pace per 82 games) and is a team-best plus-11.  So far he has been on ice for only nine goals against while being on ice for 26 goals of the 50 goals scored by the Hurricanes.  He has a fine career record against the Caps – 24-32-56, plus-7, in 54 career games.

4.  Carolina has dressed nine defensemen so far this season, including (we kid you not), Michal Jordan.  How’s that for a Carolina theme?  What it means is that only Jay Harrison has played in all 17 games on the Carolina blue line.  Harrison is tied with Joe Corvo and Justin Faulk with two goals to lead the defense, and he is tied with Faulk for the lead in points among defensemen with seven.  If there is a problem, it is that he has been on ice for 22 goals against, high on the team for the defense.

5.  Carolina might rank in the top-ten in scoring offense with 50 goals in 17 games (2.94/game) but five of them -- ten percent of their total – are of the empty-net variety, tied with Pittsburgh for tops in the league.

1.  Troy Brouwer likes southern cooking, apparently.  Of his eight goals so far, five of them have come in five Southeast Division games, including at least one against each of the three division teams he has faced to date.

2.  Washington has 12 power play goals over their last nine games.  That is more than 13 teams have in total for the season.  With 17 power play goals for the season they are averaging precisely twice as many per game (1.00) than they did last season (0.50), and it is their highest PPG/game since averaging 1.04 PPG/game in 2008-2009.

3.  Alex Ovechkin has now gone 96 games and 46 straight goals without one of those tallies being an empty netter.

4.  After starting the season 1-4-0, 4.73, .857; Braden Holtby is 4-2-0, 2.35, .926, with one shutout.  If he gets the start on Tuesday and wins it will be his best run of success since going 8-0-1 in his last nine decisions of the 2010-2011 season.  Of particular note in this recent run is that in his last three appearances he allowed only one even strength goal in each game.

5.  The penalty kill might have turned a corner.  Since going 1-for-3 against the Penguins on February 7th, the Caps are 21-for-23 (91.3 percent) over their last six games.  As it turns out though, in the two games in which they allowed a power play goal, they lost.  Both the goals were game-winners.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Carolina:  Alexander Semin

What?  You were thinking Drayson Bowman?  Alexander Semin comes into this game having busted out of a slump in a big way on Sunday.  After a five-game run in which he was 0-1-1, minus-1, he was 1-2-3, plus-1 in the Hurricanes’ 4-2 win over the New York Islanders.  Curiously enough, that five-game drought came on the heels of another 1-2-3 effort against the Islanders on February 11th.  Think of it this way.  Semin is 2-4-6, plus-5 in two games against the Fishermen, but he is 2-6-8, plus-5 in 15 other games.  Not bad, but not especially extraordinary, either.  One of the odd numbers in his totals so far has to do with shots on goal.  Semin recorded 35 shots in his first eight games.  He has only 26 shots on goal in his last nine contests.

Washington:  Jason Chimera

If you looked at his career numbers against Carolina, you might think, “nope, not going to happen tonight.”  Chimera, who is still without a goal so far this season, has only one in 19 career games against the Hurricanes (1-2-3).  What is worse, he has only three assists over his last 12 games (0-3-3, minus-6), and he has only 15 shots on goal in his last ten contests.  He has only seven goals over his last 66 regular season games.  He is ninth among Caps forwards in ice time per game.  Reading this, you might think us pessimistic about Chimera’s chances of breaking out of his drought.  You would be wrong.  He is breaking out… tonight.


1. Be a Front Runner.  Carolina has led a game at the first intermission once in 17 tries this season.  They have led at the second intermission five times.  In all of those situations, they won.  Do the math.

2.  Put 'em in a box.  Carolina has had a bit of an odd progression on special teams.  In their first eight games they faced 38 shorthanded situations, killing off 28 of them (73.7 percent penalty kill).  In their last nine games they have gone shorthanded only 31 times, killing off 25 of them (80.7 percent).  The Hurricanes suffer a problem similar to that the Caps have faced, an inability to deal with high volumes of power plays faced.

3.  40-60.  In eight losses so far this season the Hurricanes have allowed 14 third period goals and an overtime goal.  This is a team that has had issues with 60 minutes of play.  The Caps have not had extraordinary success in the third period (16 goals in 17 games, 13th in the league), but the Hurricanes are a team that has provided opportunities there.

In the end…

This is one of those “four-point” games that is worthy of the term.  The Caps can close to within four points of Carolina with a win (and Tampa Bay), with all of those teams stuck on 18 games played after tomorrow night.  It would be a good springboard for a road trip that will take the Caps to Philadelphia and Winnipeg.  If the Caps lose they drop eight points behind Carolina and would remain six behind Tampa Bay.  It would compound a problem they already face – too deep a hole and too few games left to dig out of it.  But with a 4-2-0 record over their last six games the Caps look more and more like the playoff contender folks expected when the season started.  Playing at that pace over the rest of the year would get them at around the 54-point mark, on the cusp of a playoff spot. It is important to keep up the pace.

Capitals 4 – Hurricanes 2