Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 49: Capitals at Rangers, January 19th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals wind up their three-game road trip on Sunday night with a visit to the Big Apple to take on the New York Rangers.

“What kind of apple?”

Excuse me?

“You said ‘the Big Apple.’  What kind of apple is it?  Red Delicious?  Macintosh?  Winesap?  Belle de Boskoop?” 

Belle de what?  Cheerless, what are you talking about?

“Hey, when you spend lotsa time makin’ cider, you get to know your apples.  So what is it?  What kind of apple is ‘the Big Apple?’”

It’s just a name, Cheerless, not an apple, per se.

“I never heard of no ‘per se’ variety of apple.  Do you mean ‘Melrose?’” 

Now you’re just being silly.  No, the “Big Apple” was a name coined by a journalist back in the 1920’s, a guy by the name of John J. FitzGerald.  He wrote sports for the old New York Morning Telegraph and started using the phrase “big apple” to refer to horse racing in New York.  It caught on with other writers of the day, but sort of fell out of use by the 1960’s.  Then some marketing whiz in the Convention and Visitors Bureau dug it out and started a campaign around New York as the “Big Apple.”  It stuck ever since.

“Bet they can’t make cider out of it.”

That’s probably a safe bet.  But they do play hockey up there, and it is there, at Madison Square Garden, where the Caps will find themselves on Sunday night.  The team they will face seems to be getting into a groove.  The Rangers spent almost the entire month of October on the road while the Garden was having some upgrades completed. 

The long stretch away from home did not agree with the Rangers, as they went 3-6-0 in nine straight road games to open the season.  The Rangers sought to right themselves, but did little more than tread water over the next two months.  However, starting with a 4-1 win over the Minnesota Wild back on December 22nd, the Rangers are 10-3-1 in their last 14 games.

In those last 14 games the Rangers have outscored their opponents by a 36-25 margin.  What the Rangers have discovered, or perhaps re-discovered – was defense and goaltending.  Six times in those 14 contests the Rangers allowed fewer than two goals to their opponent. 

It is not as if the Rangers are holding opponents to an inordinately low number of shots; they have allowed 31 shots on goal per game in their 10-3-1 run.  What they are getting is superb goaltending.  Henrik Lundqvist is back on track after a shaky start.  After going 10-15-2, 2.77, .905, unusually poor numbers for Lundqvist, he is 6-2-1, 2.08, .935 during the Rangers’ 10-3-1 run.  If anything, backup Cam Talbot, who took over the duties when Martin Biron retired in October, has been better.  Overall, the rookie is 10-3-0, 1.62, .940 in 15 appearances.  In five appearances in this recent run by the Rangers he is 4-1-0, 1.39, .950.  Only twice in his 15 appearances to date has Talbot allowed more than two goals.

Fifteen different players have shared in the goal-scoring in the Rangers’ 10-3-1 run, none of them with more than Mats Zuccarello, who has six.  Zuccarello has five assists to go along with the goals to lead the Rangers in points over those 14 games with 11.  In three games against the Caps so far this season he has not recorded a point, and he has but one assist in five career games against Washington.

Rick Nash also has six goals over this 14-game stretch, doubling his season total to date in 33 games.  He has three game-winning goals in his last five games, four of them Ranger wins.  He does not have a point against Washington in either of the two games in which he has appeared, but he does have seven goals and eight assists in 14 career contests against the Caps.

Here is how the teams compare in their overall numbers:

1.  The Rangers’ special teams have been an important element of their recent success.  Their power play is 12-for-45 in their last 14 games (26.7 percent), and while their penalty kill is not extraordinarily efficient (29-for-35; 82.9 percent), it benefits from not being tested too often, just 2.5 times per game over this stretch.

2.  One of the things the Rangers have done very well in this 14-game run is outshoot their opponents.  In the 10-3-1 run they have outshot their opponents on a per-game basis, 47.2 to 31.0, and have outshot their opponents in 11 of the 14 games.

3.  Of the nine defensemen to dress for the Rangers this season, only one – Ryan McDonagh – is on the plus side of the plus-minus ledger (plus-1).

4.  This being the back half of a back-to-back set of games for the Rangers, keep in mind that they are 5-3-0 in the back-half of back-to-back games so far this season.  One of the losses was in the last meeting of these clubs, back on December 8th following a 4-3 overtime loss to New Jersey the previous night.  The Rangers lost to the Caps the next night, 4-1.

5.  The Rangers are among the better possession teams in the league.  They are eighth in Corsi-for percentage in 5-n-5 close situations (52.3 percent) and seventh in Fenwick for percentage (52.5 percent).  They are even better in their 10-3-1 run: a Corsi-for percentage of 55.2, a Fenwick-for percentage of 55.9.

1.  When the Caps lost to Columbus by a 5-1 score on Friday, it broke a string of five straight one-goal decisions.  It was the first time the Caps lost by three or more goals since dropping a 5-2 decision to Philadelphia on December 17th, and it was their most lopsided loss since Pittsburgh shutout the Caps, 4-0, on November 20th.

2.  The Caps have struggled of late, posting a 3-5-5 record over their last 13 games.  Part of it is special teams.  The power play is 5-for-33 in those 13 games (15.2 percent), while the penalty kill is 28-for-39 (71.8 percent).

3.  The two-goal lead is said to be the most dangerous in hockey.  Folks might be facetious about that, but two-goal wins have been hard to come by for the Caps.  Only three teams have fewer two-goal wins than the Caps (2).

4.  The Caps won the last two meetings between these clubs.  It is the first time the Caps recorded consecutive wins against the Rangers in the regular season since they won their last three meetings in the 2009-2010 season, two of them at Madison Square Garden.

5.  The loss to Columbus ended a streak of nine straight games in which the Caps recorded a Corsi-for percentage in 5-on-5 close situations over 50 percent.  They are still 21st in the league in that statistic, a ranking that might not sound impressive but is a considerable improvement from their mid-20’s ranking where they spent much of December.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New York: Derick Brassard

Until the Rangers started this 10-3-1 run over their last 14 games, Derick Brassard was idling along with a 6-10-16 scoring line in 35 games.  In those last 14 games, however, Brassard has been making plays by playmaking.  He has eight assists in those 14 contests to lead the club over that stretch and has improved his scoring line to 8-18-26 games.  He has a pair of assists in three games against the Capitals this season, his career scoring line against Washington being 0-3-3 in nine games.

Washington: Martin Erat

There are 190 players having dressed for NHL games this season who have yet to score a goal.  Only 22 of them have had such futility with more shots on goal than Martin Erat, who is tied with Pittsburgh’s Robert Bortuzzo at 29 shots apiece without lighting the lamp.  He has not recorded a shot on goal in his last five games and has only seven shots on goal over his last 12 contests.  Only once this season has Erat recorded as many as three shots on goal in a game, that coming back on November 15th in a 4-3 Gimmick win in Detroit.  He has only eight shots on goal in 17 divisional games so far.  It says here, he breaks the string on Sunday night.


1.  Hard first 20 minutes.  Only one team in the league (Nashville) has fewer wins than the Rangers when trailing at the first intermission.  One win in 19 tries when trailing after 20 minutes.  It can’t hurt, the Caps have the fourth-worst record in the league when leading after 20 minutes (7-5-0).

2.  No No-Names.  The Rangers don’t have a lot of “names” – Rick Nash, Brad Richards.  But it is guys like Brian Boyle or John Moore who seem to do damage to the Caps in these meetings.  The Caps have to make sure to pay attention to the bottom half of the forward lines.

3.  Dispossessed.  The Rangers are on a seven game streak in which their Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 close score situations is above 50 percent.  In six of those games it was over 55 percent.  The Rangers have been setting pace and controlling territory, just what you would expect from a team on a 10-3-1 run, and the kind of thing the Caps need to address early in this game.

In the end…

The Rangers have a fine record outside the Metropolitan Division: 20-13-0.  Within the division, their record is much weaker.  New York’s 6-8-3 record is the second worst intra-divisional record in the Metro.  Only the New York Islanders’ 3-11-3 record in-division is worse.  Even in their recent 10-3-1 run, they are only 1-2-1 against Metropolitan Division foes.  The Caps can take advantage of this.  It would be something to salvage the road trip and get back on a winning track.

Capitals 3 – Rangers 2

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