The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
Well, we are the end of it. This is the last prognosto of the season, coming far earlier than the cousins and I hoped or expected. That goes for everyone in the Washington Capitals organization as well. But there is one game left to play, and it comes against an old adversary. The Tampa Bay Lightning come to town to bring down the curtain on the season in D.C.
This will be the 113th meeting of these two teams (not including playoffs…let’s not go there). The Caps enjoy a 70-30-6-6 advantage in the teams’ first 112 regular season meetings, including two wins this year – a 6-5 Gimmick win at Verizon Center on December 10th and a 4-3 win in Tampa on January 9th.
After that January 9th game the Lightning were 26-14-4, good for second in the Atlantic Division with 56 points, two points behind Boston. The Caps, on the other hand, found themselves third in the Metropolitan Division, just two points behind the Philadelphia Flyers for second place in the Division. That would be the last time these teams would have something in common, standings-wise.
Tampa Bay would struggle over the next 14 games heading into the Olympic Games break, going 7-6-1. For the Caps, though, the bottom dropped out of their season. After beating the Toronto Maple Leafs in their next game, the Caps lost seven in a row (0-5-2) and nine of their next 11 (2-6-3) to tumble all the way to seventh in the Metropolitan Division by the end of January. From that slump the Caps never recovered. On the other hand, the Lightning are going to the playoffs and are doing so with the benefit of a strong finishing kick. Tampa Bay is 11-3-2 in their last 16 games and comes into the season finale on a three-game winning streak.
Not all is well with the Bolts, though, as they prepare enter the post-season. Goaltender Ben Bishop injured his arm diving to make a glove save in the first period of what would be a 3-0 win over the Maple Leafs on April 8th to end Toronto’s playoff hopes. Bishop did not return to the game, and he has been out of action since. It is not certain if he will be able to return for the first round of the playoffs. It could be a mortal blow to the Lightning playoff hopes, given that this has been something of a coming out season for the 27-year old. He is fourth in the league in wins (37), tied for seventh in goals-against average (2.23), tied for seventh in save percentage (.924), and tied for third in shutouts (5). Bishop’s .932 save percentage at 5-on-5 is fifth in the league; his 37 wins more than doubled his total wins over his previous five seasons (18 wins in 45 games). At least this season, he was the goaltender the Lightning have been searching for over the past few seasons.
Bishop’s absence makes the return of Steven Stamkos all that much more important. Stamkos, who suffered a broken tibia against the Boston Bruins on November 11th, returned to action on March 6th. In 19 games since his comeback, Stamkos is 11-6-17, re-establishing himself as one of the premier goal-scorers in the league. It could only help a club that is already the eighth-best scoring offense in the league, especially since they are now missing a goalie having an elite-caliber season.
Another player having blossomed this season, although it is not unexpected in his case, is defenseman Victor Hedman. The second overall pick in the 2009 entry draft took a while to find his game in the NHL, but find it he did this season. Hedman is tied for ninth in goals among defensemen (13), seventh in assists (42), and tied for fourth in points (55). His possession numbers are solid, 25th in Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 among defensemen playing in at least 75 percent of his club’s games (54.0) and 26th in Fenwick-for percentage (53.8 percent) among the 141 defensemen in that group. He has been hot lately, too, going 1-5-6 in his last four games and 2-10-12 in his last dozen contests.
Here is how the two teams compare heading into their final contest of the season:
1. Tampa Bay seems to have an odd sweet-spot when it comes to wins and losses. The Lightning have only 19 wins in 39 one-goal decisions (.487 winning percentage) and split their 22 games decided by three or more goals. Two-goal games, though? The Lightning are 15-5.
2. Only six teams have allowed fewer goals at 5-on-5 than the Lightning. The 1.67 goals allowed per game at 5-on-5 is a huge improvement over last season when they allowed 2.08 goals per game at 5-on-5.
3. Another odd statistic for a club on the brink of finishing with 100 standings points – only five teams have more losses in regulation time when leading after two periods than Tampa Bay. It is only three losses on their ledger, but that only goes to show how hard it is to win games in the NHL when trailing after two periods.
4. Shots hardly seem to matter a great deal to the Lightning. They have a .568 winning percentage when out-shooting opponents (25-15-4), a .588 winning percentage when they are out-shot (20-10-4).
5. Tampa Bay’s possession number are good, but not extraordinary. In 5-on-5 close score situations they rank 11th in Corsi-for percentage (51.3 percent), 10th in Fenwick-for percentage (51.5 percent).
1. The Caps will finish the season in minus territory when it comes to shots on goal and shots allowed (they are currently at minus-4.0/game). What they could do, however, is finish better in this measure than they did last season (minus-4.2/game). Tampa Bay would have to out-shoot the Caps by 20 shots in this game for the Caps to match last year’s deficit.
2. Only two teams in the league have fewer empty net goals this season than the Caps (4): Calgary (3) and Edmonton (2). Guess you could say they earn their goals.
3. The Caps are 26th in the league when leading after one period, tied for 20th in winning percentage when scoring first. This is why we can’t have nice things.
4. Here are a few things to know about that whole “wins when scoring fewer than three goals” thing. The Caps are, as has been pointed out, 1-41-8 over the last two seasons in such games. One reason why is that they allowed an average of 3.06 goals per game. They allowed fewer than three only 16 times in those 50 games and fewer than two goals only twice. Let’s compare that to the recent standard of fire wagon hockey in these parts, the 2009-2010 Caps. That team was 3-9-3 in games in which they scored fewer than three goals. They also allowed fewer than three goals five times, including two shutouts (this year’s team has no shutouts in such games).
5. Unless the Caps have a wildly untypical performance in this game they will finish their season with Corsi-for and Fenwick-for percentages almost identical to last season’s. Their Corsi-for of 47.9 percent in 5-on-5 close score situations this season compares to an identical 47.9 percent last season, while their Fenwicks are 47.7 percent this season and 47.6 percent last year.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Tampa Bay: Ondrej Palat
In the 2011 entry draft only three players were taken later than Ondrej Palat, selected 208th overall in the seventh round. Palat, a native of Frydek-Mistek, Czech Republic, had spent two years skating with Drummondville in the OMJHL for two seasons before his selection by Tampa Bay, then he spent a year with the Norfolk Admirals in the AHL. Last season he split time between the Syracuse Crunch in the AHL and the Lightning (14 games). Based on that resume one might not have anticipated what came next. Palat is second among rookies in total points (59), trailing only Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon (63). He is third in goals (23), trailing only MacKinnon (24) and teammate Tyler Johnson (24). His plus-32 is tops among rookies, and only Johnson has more special teams points (16) than Palat (15). For what it’s worth, the player selected just before Palat in the 2011 draft was Garrett Haar…by Washington.
Washington: The Fans
From unleashing the fury to chanting “it’s all your fault” after opposing goalies allow a score, the fans have been there for 40 nights this season, doing what they could to lift the Caps to a win. The Caps’ post-season streak might end at six seasons with today’s game, but they will have their seventh straight season with at least 20 home wins (or finish on a pace for 20 or more wins, as was the case in the abbreviated 2012-2013 season). That is due, in no small part to the folks who pay the freight. Today is their day.
Keys? What keys? Just enjoy the moment.
In the end…
There is going to be a lot of soul searching and analysis after the sun comes up on Monday. But before the sun goes down on Sunday the Caps have a chance to do something they have not done this season, put together a five-game winning streak. It is not much, given the hopes and expectations when the puck dropped in Chicago back in October, but it will have to do.
Capitals 4 – Lightning 3