Monday, March 31, 2014

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 76: Stars at Capitals, April 1st

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

With the playoff hopes of the Washington Capitals dealt a blow by Sunday’s 4-3 Gimmick loss to the Nashville Predators in the Music City, the Caps return home to face an equally desperate team in search of a playoff spot.  The Dallas Stars, like the Capitals, sit in ninth place in the Western Conference one point out of a wild card spot.  Unlike the Caps, however, the Stars seem to be making one final push toward getting into that top eight in the West.

Dallas comes into this contest on Tuesday night having won four of their last five games, including a win in St. Louis in their last game on Saturday, only the Blues’ sixth loss in regulation on home ice this season.  In those last five games the Stars have leaned heavily on goaltender Kari Lehtonen.  Despite having traded for Tim Thomas from Florida at the trading deadline, Lehtonen has been the go-to guy over the Stars’ 4-1-0 run of late.  After missing three games to a concussion in mid-March, courtesy of a collision with Minnesota’s Erik Haula on March 8th, Lehtonen has all five decisions in the 4-1-0 run, plus a goals against average of 2.00 and a save percentage of .939.  It is part of a longer run of personal success for the native of Helsinki, Finland.  He has not lost consecutive decisions since mid-January and is 12-4-2, 2.03, .927, with two shutouts in his last 19 appearances (one no-decision) since January 21st.  He is 12-6-2, 2.67, .922, with one shutout in 20 career appearances against Washington.

In their 4-1-0 push in the last week, Dallas has had the benefit of balanced scoring.  Eleven different players share the 18 goals scored over those five games, and 16 players share in the points.  One of the players sharing the goal scoring lead with three over those five games is a name familiar to Caps fans.  Cody Eakin is 3-1-4 over those five games, lifting him to 16-18-34 in 73 games for the Stars this season.  The recent hot streak for Eakin comes at a welcome time both for him and for the Stars.  Before embarking on this 3-1-4 run, Eakin was just 0-1-1 in his previous nine games.  Eakin, a former third-round draft pick of the Caps, has faced his old team just once in his career, posting an assist on the game-winning goal in Dallas’ 2-1 win over the Caps on October 5th.

Also worth noting is the top brother scoring duo in the NHL.  Jamie Benn (30-40-70) and Jordie Benn (3-16-19) have been important elements of this recent 4-1-0 streak and overall for the Stars.  Defenseman Jordie (0-5-5) is tied with Colton Sceviour (3-2-5) in overall points over their last five games, while forward Jamie is 1-3-4.  Jamie has been a model of consistency over the last seven weeks, going 8-12-20 over his last 17 games and not going consecutive games without a point in that span (note…he was without a point in his last game, against St. Louis).

Here is how the teams compare overall through Sunday's games...


1.  Although the Stars have been successful of late, special teams is not the reason why.  The power play has been pretty good, going 3-for-15 (20.0 percent), but the penalty kill is just 11-for-15 (73.3 percent).  On the other hand, the Stars have dominated at even strength, outscoring their opponents by a 15-7 margin over their last five games.

2.  What Dallas has been able to do in their 4-0-1 run that they have not done so well this season is score in the third period.  Only three teams have scored fewer third period goals than the Stars this season (61), but Dallas scored in the third period in four of their last five games and had six goals overall in the final frame. 

3.  The Stars are capable of the blowout.  They have 16 wins this season by three or more goals.  Only five teams have more: Chicago (18), Anaheim (18), Pittsburgh (19), St. Louis (21), and Boston (24).  Good company.

4.  Dallas is not an especially efficient power play club.  They average one power play goal per every 10:30 of power play time.  By way of comparison, the Caps are the most efficient team in this regard, averaging one power play goal per every 6:24 of power play time.  Dallas is not especially efficient as a penalty killing team, either, allowing on average one goal per 8:02 of shorthanded ice time (the Caps allow one goal per 8:43 of shorthanded ice time).

5.  Dallas is among the better possession teams in the league, ranking tenth in Corsi-for percentage in 5-on-5 close score situations (51.9) and eighth in Fenwick-for percentage (52.2).  Oddly enough, those numbers are lower than the season averages for the Stars over their last five games, 49.8 percent in Corsi-for percentage and 50.8 percent in Fenwick-for.

1.  Since the Olympic break the Caps are 6-2-2 in games in which they score a power play goal, 1-3-2 in games in which they do not.  Conversely, they are 4-2-2 when not allowing a power play goal (including two games in which they were not shorthanded), 3-3-2 when they do allow one.

2.  Don’t look now, but Jaroslav Halak has not won a game with his new mask.  He debuted the new lid in Los Angeles on March 20th.  Since then he is 0-0-3, 2.47, .914.

3.  Washington has the fourth worst record in the league when leading after one period (13-5-3).  Only seven teams have led at the first intermission fewer times than the Caps (21 in 75 games).  They rank just 19th in the league when scoring first.  Only six teams have more one-goal losses (including Gimmicks) than the Caps (22).  This is why we can’t have nice things. 

4.  The Caps once had one of the more formidable scoring offenses in the second periods of games.  As it is they are tied for sixth in second period goals scored.  One thing holding them back, though, is the fact that no team has found itself shorthanded more often than the Caps in the second periods of games (110).  They have been on the power play in the middle frame just 83 times, the sixth fewest number of instances in the league.

5.  If you want to see how the Caps are slipping graphically, here it is…

The 15-game gauntlet the Caps had to navigate in March, over which they went 6-5-4, has taken its toll on a team that has had possession issues for most of the season.  They have dropped to 24th in Corsi-for percentage in 5-on-5 close score situations (48.3) and 25th in Fenwick-for percentage (48.0).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Dallas: Antoine Roussel

Among the 19 forwards in the NHL having recorded more than 100 penalty minutes, only Philadelphia’s Wayne Simmonds has more points this season (55) than Dallas left wing Antoine Roussel (28).  Roussel happens to rank second in the league among all players in penalty minutes (193), trailing only Vancouver’s Tom Sestito (201), and has ten fighting majors, tied for 15th in the league.  Roussel comes into this game on a three-game points streak (1-3-4).  The undrafted native of Roubaix, France, has faced the Caps just once in his career without recording a point.

Washington:  Jay Beagle

If you are a casual musician, you don’t generally play concerts in sold out arenas.  If you participate in local dinner theater, you don’t generally have a movie studio calling you to star in their latest $100 million flick.  And it you are a fourth-line grinder, you don’t generally get called upon to center the top goal scorer of his generation.  Unless you are Jay Beagle, that is.  This is no slam on young Mr. Beagle, who is by any account a diligent, hard-working sort.  But it is one thing to be a 12-minute a game grinder chipping in an occasional point, as he was last season.  It is another to be asked to be a playmaker to set up more offensively gifted players on a night-in, night-out basis as Beagle has been asked to do for a little while now. 

Of 565 skaters having played in half of their team’s games, Beagle ranks 487th in Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 (44.8 percent).  Not all of that has been accumulated skating with Alex Ovechkin, but neither is it indicative of a player who will drive possession.  In his last six games, which corresponds to his current run of games centering Ovechkin at even strength, Beagle’s Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 is a cumulative 38.6 (source:  Ovechkin does not have an even-strength point in this arrangement; neither does Beagle, and the Caps are 2-1-3, having scored nine even strength goals in all.  If there is a reason to continue this experiment, it is not readily apparent.


1. Do whatever

2. You need to do

3. To win

…really, at this point the rest is just noise.

In the end…

The Caps are now at the point in the season where you can see the games remaining in which they will be underdogs, perhaps significant underdogs – at St. Louis, against Chicago, even if those teams will have long clinched their seeds in the playoffs by the time the Caps play them.  That makes a game like this one against Dallas a “must win” game, not a “must get at least one point” game.  It hardly matters a lot if it comes in regulation, in overtime, in a shootout, or by forfeit for that matter.  Fail to get two points in this game, and we can schedule the wake for this season.

Capitals 4 – Stars 3

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