Saturday, March 01, 2014

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 61: Capitals at Bruins, March 1st

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals finish up their two-game road swing to start the season’s home stretch as they visit the Boston Bruins this afternoon.  The Caps are looking to tie their longest winning streak of the season (four), while the Bruins look to extend their streak of not losing games in regulation to six (3-0-2 coming into this game).

To date, the Caps have had good luck against Atlantic Division teams, posting a 10-4-5 record.  However, this is the first time the Caps are meeting the class of the division in the Bruins this season.  In Boston, the Caps face a formidable opponent, especially in TD Garden.  No team in the league has posted more wins or standings points at home than the Bruins (23 wins, 48 standings points won).  That might prove a high hurdle to clear for the Caps, but Washington is also facing a team that stubbed their toe in their last three games, losing two of them in overtime.

Boston went 3-0-2 in February.  In posting that record they split 20 goals among 11 different skaters and points among 16 skaters.  Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand led the club with three goals apiece.  Lucic added four assists for seven points over the five games, but he did not lead the team in points.  That was a spot reserved for Jarome Iginla, who went 2-6-8 in February, scoring points in each of the five games.  In fact, Iginla is 4-11-15 over his last nine games and has points in eight of them.

Lucic and Iginla are two of the three Bruins who posted at least four assists in five games in February.  The third is defenseman Torey Krug, who was 1-4-5 for the month and who is 2-9-11 over his last 12 games.  That recent scoring burst has lifted Krug into a tie for 14th in scoring among NHL defensemen and is the club leader among blueliners in that regard (12-22-34).

Tuukka Rask has not faced a shot from an NHL shooter since before the Sochi Olympics.  Rask backstopped Team Finland to a bronze medal in Sochi and was given the night off in Boston’s first game back following the break, a 5-4 overtime loss to Buffalo.  In the run-up to the Olympic break Rask was a bit off his game.  He was 1-1-1, 2.70, .904, the goals-against average and save percentage being a substantial drop-off from his season numbers (2.14, .927).  Rask has never beaten Washington in his career (0-2-3, 3.41).

Here is how the teams compare in their numbers to date:

1. “B” stands for “Boston,” but it also stands for “balance.”  The Bruins have eight skaters with at least ten goals, five of them between 15 and 20 goals scored.  They have 18 skaters with at least ten points, four of them with between 40 and 50 points.  Nine different players have power play goals, 11 have power play points.  Four different players have shorthanded goals, 13 players have game-winning goals.  Thirteen players are plus-10 or better, five of them plus-20 or better.  Even penalty minutes – 20 players have at least ten PIMs this season, nine have at least 30.  This team does everything as a group.

2.  You score against Boston at 5-on-5, you’re going to earn it.  No team in the East has allowed fewer goals at 5-on-5; only Tampa Bay (91) is within a dozen allowed by the Bruins (85).

3.  Boston smothers opponents.  Only St. Louis (18) and Pittsburgh (17) have more wins by three or more goals than Boston (16), and only Chicago has fewer losses (3) by three or more goals than the Bruins (4).

4.  For a team with a reputation for rugged play, the Bruins play surprisingly within the rule book.  Boston has the 11th fewest number of minor penalties called this season and is tied with Colorado, Dallas, and New Jersey for the 11th fewest number of shorthanded situations faced.  They do like to mix it up, though.  Boston is third in fighting majors this season (36), trailing only Philadelphia (38) and Vancouver (37).

5.  As one might expect for a team ranked as highly as the Bruins, they are a superior possession team.  In 5-on-5 close score situations Boston ranks third in Corsi-for percentage and fourth in Fenwick-for percentage.

1.  The four-goal performance notwithstanding, the Caps have had a decent run lately on defense, allowing only seven goals over their last four games and holding two of those opponents under 30 shots.

2.  Washington is one of the more productive teams on the road.  The Caps rank ninth in the league in goals scored on the road this season, tied for fifth among teams in the East.

3.  The Caps are still struggling to hold leads. Washington is 25th in the league in winning percentage when taking a lead into the first intermission of games, and there is that whole two-goal lead thing.

4.  The Caps spend entirely too much time killing penalties, especially for a team that does not do it especially well (tied for 17th in the league).  Washington has faced 220 shorthanded situations this season, sixth most in the league, and has found itself shorthanded five or more times six times in their last dozen games (42-for-49 overall; 85.7 percent).

5.  The Caps sometimes play down to the level of their opponent.  Case in point, the last game against Florida where the possession numbers varied wildly by situation.  For example, the Caps dominated play in 5-on-5 close score situations, putting up Corsi-for and Fenwick for percentages of 53.5 and 55.9, respectively.  Ah, but at 5-on-5 overall?  The Caps trailed poorly – 44.4 percent and 45.8 percent.  That’s why Florida could wipe out two two-goal leads.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Boston: Reilly Smith

Who the $@#% is Reilly Smith, you ask?  He is a 22-year old third round draft pick from 2009 who happens to have 18 goals (tied for second on the team) and 43 points (one of four Bruins with 40 or more points), despite averaging fewer than 15 minutes of ice time a game.  He does not have a goal in his last six games, though.  What Reilly is not shy about is shooting.  He is third on the club in shot frequency, averaging a one shot per eight minutes of ice time (minimum: 100 shots), trailing only Patrice Bergeron and Jarome Iginla.  Smith has never faced the Caps.

Washington: Braden Holtby

If the Caps are to make a go of it in their last 22 games, Holtby is going to have to ramp up his game.  All the Ryan Miller-to-Washington nonsense is in the rear-view mirror (Miller having been traded to St. Louis yesterday), so Holtby does not have that distraction.  It is a chance for him to shed this all-or-nothing trend in his game lately.  Over his last 12 appearances he has allowed four or more goals six times, but he also has two shutouts.  Consistency is what is needed now.  He is 3-0-0, 2.24, .930 in three career appearances against Boston.


1. Be Boring.  The Caps are not going to win a shootout (not the Gimmick kind of shootout).  One team might score five goals in this game, two won’t, and the one team more likely to do it – a lot more likely – is Boston.  The Caps need this to be a low scoring game.

2.  Stand up for yourself.  This does not mean dropping the gloves, although Boston is not shy about that sort of thing.  If the Caps get pushed around in their own end, lose battles against the wall, get caught backing off too much, Boston will roll over them like a rolling pin over biscuit dough.

3.  Be special.  Boston is not an especially noteworthy penalty killing team.  If the Caps are to win, they need to capitalize on the power play chances they get to offset their disadvantages at 5-on-5.

In the end…

This should be a comfortable Bruin win…on paper.  Skates don’t work so well on paper, that’s why they play on ice.  The Caps have not been intimidated by this team in recent games.  Witness their seven-game playoff win two years ago and their 2-1-0 record against them last season.  The Caps start crossing the 14-game mine field that could blow up their season this afternoon.  We’re thinking their first steps will be safe ones.

Capitals 3 – Bruins 2

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