Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 69: Maple Leafs at Capitals, March 16th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals wrap up their brief two-game home stand on Sunday afternoon, hosting the Toronto Maple Leafs at Verizon Center.  The Caps will be trying to shave some of the deficit they have between themselves and a playoff spot, while the Maple Leafs try to cement their oddly assumed spot in the post-season.

Odd, you say, Peerless?  Well, yeah.  Despite the fact that Toronto comes into this game with a 36-24-8 record, good for second in the Atlantic Division and third in the Eastern Conference, consider that the Maple Leafs…
  • Have been outscored 203-192 this season
  • Have been out-shot by 7.7 shots per game (27.7 for, 36.4 percent against, the latter being worst in the league)
  • Have a penalty kill that ranks 28th in the league…yes, even worse than Washington’s
  • Has allowed more 5-on-5 goals than all but seven teams in the league
  • Has allowed more shorthanded goals than all but two teams in the league
  • Has just two wins this season when trailing after two periods; only Detroit has fewer wins (1).
  • Has more penalty minutes per game than all but two teams
  • Has allowed more third period goals than every team except the New York Islanders

You have to wonder just how it is that the Maple Leafs have sustained such a lofty perch in the standings.  While you are wondering, consider as well that Toronto comes into this game having won four of their last five games after stumbling out of the Olympic break with three straight losses.  It has not been a dominant run for the Leafs over these five games.  Two of the four wins came in extra time, and another was a one-goal decision. 

However, four wins in five games is, if not impressive in this case, then effective in moving the Leafs closer to clinching a playoff spot.  In those five games, Tyler Bozak leads the team in goals and points (3-2-5), including the overtime game-winner in the Leafs’ 3-2 win over the New York Rangers on March 5th to open this stretch.  He is, however, without a point in his last two games, the first time he has gone without a point in consecutive games since January 23/25.  In the 14 games since then, Bozak is 6-9-15.  He is 2-4-6 in 13 career games against the Caps.

Jake Gardiner is the other Maple Leaf with three goals over this five-game stretch.  Those three goals made the defenseman the eighth Toronto player to hit the 20-point plateau this season and set a career high in goals (eight), surpassing the seven goals he recorded in his rookie season in 2011-2012.  He is 0-1-1 in seven career games against Washington.

With Gardiner reaching the 20-point mark with those three goals, the Maple Leafs are now one of four teams with four 20-point producers on defense (Calgary, Chicago, and Columbus being the others).  One of them is Morgan Rielly, whose 22 points ranks him seventh among rookie defensemen in the league.  His 20 assists is second among rookie defensemen to Boston’s Torey Krug.

On a team that faces as many shots as do the Leafs, goaltenders are tested.  Take Jonathan Bernier, for instance.  Bernier has received most of the work in goal this season (50 appearances in 68 games), and his 2.61 goals-against average ranks only 26th in the league.  However, he also faces 35.0 shots per 60 minutes.  It is his sixth-ranked .925 save percentage that keeps him on the first page of the goals-against rankings among NHL goalies.  Bernier is 2-1-0, 2.01, .925 in three career appearances against the Caps.  Similarly for James Reimer, who appears likely to get the start in this game (Bernier is injured), his 3.23 goals against average ranks 41st among 43 qualifying goalies in the league, but his save percentage of .914 ties him for 22nd in the league, the disparity in rankings being a product of his facing 37.4 shots per 60 minutes. 

Here is how the two teams break down overall in their respective numbers:

1.  When Toronto scores, they win.  The Maple Leafs have not lost in regulation time when scoring four or more goals in the hockey portion of contests (that is, not including shootout wins that resulted in four-goals-for results).  They are 21-0-4 in 25 such contests.

2.  Toronto does not lose one-goal games, not in regulation that is.  The four one-goal losses in regulation time is the second fewest such losses in the league so far.  Only Anaheim (2) has fewer).

3.  Toronto’s power play has been in an extended dry spell.  Over their last 11 games the Maple Leafs are 2-for-25 (8.0 percent).  Those two power play goals have come in their last three games, though, both of them wins.

4.  Those last three games happened to be a west coast road trip for Toronto that saw them win twice in three contests (3-1 over Anaheim and 3-2 over Los Angeles sandwiched around a 6-1 loss to San Jose).  The Leafs went 2-1-0 on the trip despite being out-shot 133-73.  Toronto was lit up in their possession statistics over those three games, posting a cumulative Corsi-for percentage in 5-on-5 close score situations of 30.1 and a cumulative Fenwick-for percentage of 31.9.  Despite those woeful numbers, the Maple Leafs had a cumulative PDO of 1.031 (shooting percentage plus save percentage) in those situations.

5.  There is no delicate way to say this.  When it comes to possession overall, Toronto stinks.  The Maple Leafs are dead last in both Corsi-for and Fenwick-for percentages in all situations.  They are dead last in both at 5-on-5.  Only Buffalo is worse in 5-on-5 close score situations.  Toronto is hell bent on demonstrating that there is a winning exception to the rule that in possession lays the key to success.

1.  The Caps have dressed 11 rookies this season.  Compare that to last season when they dressed three.  The 11 rookies are the most dressed by the Caps in a season since they dressed 11 in the 2005-2006 season.  At the moment, only Tom Wilson, Connor Carrick, and Evgeny Kuznetsov are rookies skating with the club.

2.  Only Nicklas Backstrom among the Capitals ranks among the top-50 in faceoff winning percentage.  He is 50th with a 49.8 percent.

3.  Capitals rank 1-2 in power play scoring.  Nicklas Backstrom is first (4-32-36), and Alex Ovechkin is second (19-14-33).

4.  No rookie forward has played in so many games and averaged so little ice time as Tom Wilson.  He averages 7:23 in ice time in 68 games, yet he is still tied for 35th of 112 rookie forwards in goals scored (3) and 36th in points (9).

5.  The Caps have not been able to escape the bottom ten in possession statistics.  They rank 23rd in Corsi-for in 5-on-5 close score situations (48.8 percent) and 22nd in Fenwick-for (48.5 percent).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Toronto: James van Riemsdyk

Streaks have been the hallmark of James van Riemsdyk’s game lately.  From January 25th through February first he had points in four consecutive games (2-4-6).  After being held off the score sheet against Florida on February 4th, he ran off another four-game points treak (4-3-7).  A three-game streak without a point followed, but van Riemsdyk comes into this game with points in each of his last three games (0-3-3).  He has been especially effective on the road this season, tied with teammate Phil Kessel for sixth place in goals scored away from Air Canada Centre (16).  He is 3-6-9 in his last seven road games and is 1-1-2 in two games overall against Washington this season.

Washington:  Alex Ovechkin

Of the top-140 point producers at even strength, only one player has fewer than ten assists: Alex Ovechkin.  Ovechkin is tied for second in the league in goals at even-strength with 26, but he has only nine assists at evens.  Consider that he has more than 100 shots on goal at even-strength (206-105) more than Nicklas Backstrom and almost 150 more than frequent linemate Marcus Johansson (206-66), and it is not hard to figure out why it might be that Ovechkin has so few even-strength assists.  Backstrom and Johansson have a combined ten goals at even-strength.  Ovechkin is obviously the go-to guy on the top line and on the team at-large, but one wonders if it is not too much of a good thing, or at least not enough of something else.  One would expect Ovechkin to add to his total in this game; he is 2-1-3 in two games this season against Toronto and 27-22-49 in 32 career games against the Maple Leafs. 


1.  Score Four.  Toronto has not won a game this season in regulation when allowing four or more goals.  The Maple Leafs are 2-14-5 when allowing four or more, both wins coming in extra time.  The Caps being 22-3-2 in games in which they score four or more goals, that four goal threshold seems pretty safe as a predictor of a win.

2.  Second Line Surge.  Troy Brouwer has one even strength goal in his last nine games (he does have three power play goals).  Dustin Penner does not have a goal for the Caps since his trade from Anaheim and does not have one in his last dozen games overall.  Brooks Laich is on-again off-again in the lineup.  Mikhail Grabovski has not been in the lineup since skating just 2:20 on February 27th.  Evgeny Kuznetsov might get time there after spending much of his introduction to the NHL skating on the fourth line.  Between juggling the lineup, injuries, and uneven production, the second line has been quiet.  Given that Toronto is so generous in terms of shot attempts allowed, the second line – whatever that might be – should get their chances.

3.  Don’t get boxed in.  Toronto has had more than three power play opportunities in only two of their last 14 games.  Only four teams have had fewer man advantages than the Maple Leafs this season overall, but Toronto does rank 12th in opportunities on the road.  The Caps are 5-13-4 in their last 22 games when allowing teams four or more power plays.  Stay out of the box.

In the end…

The Caps have not won consecutive games since their four-game winning streak ended on March 1st.  They need to get a streak put together, win games in bunches.  Trouble is, a team cannot play games in bunches, just one at a time.  And with the trip to the west coast to face Anaheim, San Jose, and Los Angeles looming, it would be easy to look past this game.  Sure, you would not think so, given the Caps’ situation, but this team has an odd tendency not to show up in games in which they need to do just that.  That said, Toronto is a very accommodating team when it comes to other teams’ offense, relying a lot on the performance of their goalies.  There will not be a “hot goalie” on Sunday.

Capitals 5 – Maple Leafs 3

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