The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The Washington Capitals, fresh off their 4-2 loss to the Boston Bruins on Saturday afternoon, take to the road on Sunday and hop right back on the horse with a Sunday contest in Nashville against the Predators.
Nashville has, for all intents and purposes, slipped out of the Western Conference playoff race, trailing Phoenix for the second wild card spot by nine points and with four teams to climb over (including the Coyotes) to reach the post-season. What the Predators have not been is consistent about the nature of their slide. At the beginning of March the Preds were a team skating in bad luck. They held opponents to nine goals in four games and won none of them. They found their offense briefly for a three-game stretch, scoring 11 goals over three games and winning all of them. Just as quickly as the offense appeared, it vanished again. Two goals in three games resulted in three straight losses. Nashville has been better of late, going 3-1-1 in their last five games, but it looks to be too little, too late.
Nashville’s problem has been in no small part due to their inability to win at home. The Predators are one of six teams in the league with a sub-.500 record at home this season (based on standings points), and since March 1st are 1-5-1, their only win coming against the Buffalo Sabres. It is at home where the Predators have found lighting the lamp especially difficult. In those last seven games at home Nashville has only 14 goals, and things are not even that good. Six of the goals came in their win over the Sabres, and five times the Preds scored a single goal or were shut out.
Nashville has had balance in their scoring, just not a lot of it. Ten players share in the 14 goals over those seven home games, four players – Eric Nystrom, Matt Cullen, Roman Josi, and Shea Weber each with a pair. There are 18 players sharing in the points, but only Mike Fisher (0-5-5), Patric Hornqvist (1-3-4), and Nick Spaling (1-3-4) have more than three points.
Notable in the absence of mentions is rookie defenseman Seth Jones. The fourth overall pick in last June’s entry draft was hit along the boards in the first period of the Predators’ 2-0 win in Chicago last Sunday and missed the second and third periods with concussion symptoms. Jones was in the top ten among rookie defensemen in total points and power play scoring, and he was one of five rookie defensemen with two game winning goals this season.
Nashville has a lot of names that Caps fans might not recognize. One they should be familiar with is defenseman Shea Weber. His name is sprinkled all through the league statistical rankings. Weber is tied for the league lead in goals among defensemen (20, with Erik Karlsson and Dustin Byfuglien), he is seventh in total points (48), first in power play goals (11), third in power play points (25), tied for fourth in game-winning goals, second in shooting percentage, and fourth in ice time. He is 5-3-8 over his last ten games and sports a 2-5-7 scoring line in eight career games against Washington.
One of the problems the Predators have had in getting any traction this season has been the absence of goaltender Pekka Rinne. After missing 51 games following hip surgery, Rinne returned to the Nashville lineup on March 4th. The return has not gone as well as any Predators fan would hope. In 11 appearances in March, Rinne is 3-6-1 (one no decision), 3.34, .884. He was lit up for seven goals on 29 shots in his last appearance, a 7-3 loss to Dallas on Friday. He has only one career appearance against the Caps, allowing one goal on 40 shots in a 3-1 win over the Caps on November 15, 2011.
1. Nashville does not generate much in the way of power play opportunities at home. Only four teams have had fewer power play opportunities on home ice than the Predators (116). They don’t spend so much time killing penalties, either. Nashville has the seventh fewest instances of shorthanded situations in the league.
2. One un-Predator number that has plagued Nashville this season is “164.” That is the number of 5-on-5 goals allowed so far, second only to Edmonton (165) for the highest total in the league.
3. Only two teams in the league have fewer losses in regulation when scoring first than the Predators. With three such losses this season they trail only St. Louis (2) and Chicago (1) for fewest in the league. Their problem is getting there. Nashville has taken first leads only 33 times in 75 games.
4. Only San Jose (226) has been charged with fewer minor penalties than the Predators (239). On the other hand, only five teams have more fighting majors than Nashville.
5. As is befitting a middle of the road team, that is where the Predators reside in the possession statistics. Nashville is 17th in Corsi-for percentage in 5-on-5 close score situation (49.4), 14th in Fenwick-for percentage (50.5). They have been better, especially at home of late. In March the Preds are at 55.6 percent Corsi-for and 55.3 percent Fenwick-for in 5-on-5 close score situations.
1. Yesterday, the Caps allowed the first goal for the 37th time this season. Only five teams have fewer wins when allowing the first goal than the Caps (9). Fortunately for them, Nashville happens to be one of them (8). In one of the stranger statistics in this area, only Ottawa has more extra time losses (9) than the Caps (8) when trailing first.
2. Washington has the lowest percentage in the league of even-strength goals to total goals. Of the Caps’ 205 goals, 130 have been scored at even strength (63.4 percent). By way of comparison, Chicago is first at 80.1 percent).
3. Since the Olympic break the Caps are 9-for-23 on their road games power play (39.1 percent). The penalty killers are 23-for-26 (88.5 percent).
4. Nicklas Backstrom is tied for second for most successful trick shots in the Gimmick (7), trailing only T.J. Oshie (8). His four game-deciding goals in the skill phase trails only Anze Kopitar (5).
5. The Caps have now gone five straight games on the wrong side of 50 percent in Corsi-for and Fenwick-for percentage in 5-on-5 close score situations. Their cumulative numbers over those five games are 43.4 percent and 42.9 percent, respectively.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Nashville: Patric Hornqvist
In his first full season in the NHL in 2009-2010 Patric Hornqvist displayed talent that would tantalize Nashville fans, finishing the season with 30 goals and 51 points in 80 games. Unfortunately for those Nashville fans, that remains his career season. He has not fallen off dramatically, but in four full seasons he went from 51 to 48 to 43, and now 41 points (he had 14 in 24 games last season). He is third on the team in total scoring this season, though, and he is coming into this game on a hot streak, four straight games with points (2-4-6). He is 0-2-2 in six career games against the Capitals.
Washington: Jaroslav Halak
Chances are that Jaroslav Halak will get most, if not all of the remaining starts for the Capitals in goal (the Caps have two more back-to-back sets). He took a seat against Boston on Saturday, perhaps with this game in mind. Halak has done quite well against Nashville with a 10-3-3, 1.71, .931 line that includes four shutouts in 17 appearances. The Caps will need him to return to this level of play. After not allowing more than three goals in any of his first seven appearances with Washington, he gave up four goals on 36 shots in a 5-4 Gimmick loss to Los Angeles last Tuesday.
1. Slow and steady wins the race. Nashville is a creature of style. They have not practiced it as well this year as in past years, perhaps, but they tend to slow the game down and adopt a deliberate, station-to-station sort of game. This will test the Caps’ patience.
2. Top Six Production. It is getting late in the game for the Caps to be getting as little production as they are getting from their top six at even strength. The Caps’ top six forwards should get their chances against this team. Nashville has allowed five or more goals four times in their last seven games.
3. Possession. The Caps have been on the wrong side of 50 percent in Corsi-for in 5-on-5 close score situations for five straight games. It is their longest such streak since going eight straight games in late December. It is something the Caps need to turn around in the stretch.
In the end…
The Caps are running out of room for error. They now trail both Columbus and Detroit by two points for a wild-card berth in the playoffs. And, that two-point deficit is really three, since the Caps will almost certainly lose tie breakers with both teams. Their 25 wins in regulation and overtime (the first tie breaker at the end of the season) is four fewer than the Red Wings, eight fewer than the Blue Jackets. Getting a win here is as close to “have to have” as it gets at this time of year.
Capitals 4 – Predators 2