The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
Well, aren’t we glad THAT’S over with? The Washington Capitals wrapped up their last trip out of the Eastern time zone until the new year in disappointing fashion, managing a single standings point in trips to Phoenix and Colorado.
Now, they get to come home for one of the fabled Metropolitan Matchups that have been a staple of National Hockey League history for, oh, about six weeks. On Tuesday the Columbus Blue Jackets make their second visit to Verizon Center to take on the Caps, who beat the Jackets, 4-1, on October 19th.
Since then Columbus has been struggling to tread water even in what is a mediocre division. The Blue Jackets are 4-5-0 since their visit to Verizon in October, and it is a record that reflects two very different teams. There was the team that won three in a row after leaving Washington, two of those wins coming in impressive fashion against Vancouver (3-1) and Toronto (5-2). Then there is the other team that followed up that streak with a five-game losing streak in which they scored only eight goals. The Blue Jackets broke that streak last Saturday with a 5-2 win over the New York Islanders.
Columbus will be facing an unusual situation in preparing for this game – hotel rooms. Since they left Washington last month the Blue Jackets have had just one game away from Nationwide Arena. That was a 4-2 loss in Pittsburgh, which doesn’t even qualify as a day trip, seeing as how the cities are less than 200 miles apart. In these parts, that’s almost a commute.
What it means is that Columbus (four) ranks only ahead of the woeful Florida Panthers (three) in road points earned to date in the NHL. This is not a team that can be called road warriors. Including their progress to date this season the Blue Jackets have not ranked higher than 20th in road points earned in any of the last five seasons.
Here are how the teams compare, numbers-wise:
1. James Wisniewski, Scoring Machine. With 13 points in 16 games, Wisniewski is on a pace (13-56-69) to obliterate his career best points effort (10-41-51 in 2010-2011). He got here by going 2-8-10 in nine games since he and his Columbus teammates last cast their shadows across Verizon Center ice. He is 0-2-2, plus-2, in six career games against Washington.
2. Another player looking to jump well past his career high in scoring is Ryan Johansen. He does not have the length of resume Wisniewski has, but he is off to an impressive start nonetheless. With a 5-6-11 scoring line to date, he is on a pace to go 26-31-57. That would smash his career best, set in his rookie year two years ago when he was 9-12-21 in 67 games. Much of that pace is fueled by a 4-4-8 scoring line in nine games since he faced Washington.
3. For what it’s worth, no team has allowed more empty net goals than the Blue Jackets (5). The Caps are one of six teams not yet scoring one. Will something crack?
4. No team has fewer one-goal wins than Columbus (1). That goes with no team having played fewer one-goal games than Columbus (4).
5. Only Florida has taken fewer leads (1) into the third period of games than Columbus (2). The Blue Jackets did, however, win both games.
1. Going into Monday’s games, 54 players had more shots on goal than Mike Green. All 54 players had at least one goal to show for it. Alas, Green is still looking for his. He is tied with Winnipeg’s Zach Bogosian for early season futility, both being 0-for-49 in shooting.
2. Washington has spent more than a minute more of 5-on-3 power play time (5:46) than the next highest participant at 5-on-3 (Anaheim – 4:28). At least Anaheim has a goal to show for it. The Caps are one of two teams with more than four minutes of 5-on-3 power play time without a goal. The other is Buffalo. This is not company you want to keep.
3. Of the Caps’ 53 goals scored this season, 20 were scored on the power play. The percentage of total goals claimed by the power play (37.7 percent) is by far the largest in the league. Montreal is next with 33.3 percent of their goals scored on power plays.
4. Braden Holtby did not face 40 shots against Colorado on Saturday. Pity. Five times in his career he has faced 40 or more shots with a record of 4-1-0, 2.55, .939.
5. In today’s Fenwickiness, consider “5-on-5 close.” As defined at extraskater.com, score “close” refers to “game situations where the score is either tied, or within one goal in the first or second periods.” For the Caps, here is how that translates into results. Six times this season the Caps finished a game with a share of Fenwick events with the score close of more than 50 percent. In those games they are 4-1-1. One loss was a one-goal decision in regulation, the other a Gimmick loss. Twelve times they finished 50 percent or worse and are 5-7-0 in those games. Four of the losses were by three or more goals.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Columbus: Brandon Dubinsky
A more familiar face to Caps fans seems to have found his game in the confluence of the Scioto and Olentangy Rivers. Brandon Dubinsky is 3-7-10 in his last nine games, a point total that by itself is half as many as he posted in 29 games all of last season for Columbus. He is tied for the team lead in scoring (13 points) and is one of only 14 players in the league at the moment who has an even-strength goal, a power play goal, and a shorthanded goal. He remains his feisty self, leading the Blue Jackets in both penalty minutes and hits. Dubinsky also has won more than 54 percent of his faceoffs and has only three giveaways charged to him in more than 300 minutes of ice time. In 19 career games against the Caps (all of them as a New York Ranger), he is 3-8-11, plus-3.
Washington: Alex Ovechkin
At 1:24 of the third period of the Caps’ 4-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers on October 24th, Nicklas Backstrom scored on assists from Marcus Johansson and Alex Ovechkin. In the rest of that game and six games played since – 96:36 of even strength ice time – Ovechkin has not added to his even strength point total. He has three goals and two assists, all of it on the power play. It speaks to a certain amount of depth, not to mention power play production, that the Caps are 4-3-1 in games since the Edmonton game (including those missed by Ovechkin to injury), but Ovechkin – who is staring up at 109 skaters with more even strength points – is going to have to be more than a power play trigger man for the Caps to sustain any level of success over the long term.
1. 30. Sergei Bobrovsky has been easy to predict in goal for Columbus this season. Fail to get more than 30 shots on goal on him, and you lose. Get more than 30, you win. Bobrovsky is 5-2-0 in games in which he faced 30 or fewer shots on goal (in one of the losses he was pulled after facing 13 shots in 23 minutes), 0-5-0 in games in which he faced more than 30. He faced a season high 39 shots on goal in Washington’s 4-1 win over Columbus on October 19th.
2. As Nicky Goes… The Caps are 9-2-0 in games in which Nicklas Backstrom records a point, 0-6-1 in games in which he does not.
3. Zone starts. Columbus is second in the Eastern Conference in faceoff winning percentage. The odd part is that only Tampa Bay has taken fewer draws than the Blue Jackets in the East. Keep things moving., and perhaps the Caps will not have to put up with doing something that Columbus actually does well.
In the end… Here is a game the Caps could, should, and need to win. As it is, even if the Caps win it will be the latest into the season that they won their 10th game (in a full NHL season) since the 2007-2008 season when it took them until Game 29 to get to ten wins. After this game the quality of competition in the six games on the schedule before Thanksgiving ramps up. Only Ottawa, who the Caps play on the day before Thanksgiving, currently has a worse record than the Caps, and that is by a single standings point (the Senators have a game in hand at the moment). This is as important a should-win game as you might find in November.
Capitals 4 – Blue Jackets 2