The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The Washington Capitals take their new “Barry Trotz” model on the road for a test drive on Saturday, visiting TD Garden in Boston to face the Bruins in a match-up of teams that had very different finishes in 2013-2014 and that have very different aspirations in 2014-2015.
The Capitals are a team that has been on a slow slide from the discussion of Stanley Cup contenders in 2010 to also-ran status last year, failing to reach the post-season for the first time since 2007. For the Capitals, returning to the playoffs is a reasonable goal. The Stanley Cup finals? That is something else. Not impossible, mind you, but it seems a bigger reach.
On the other hand, there are the Boston Bruins. For all the words spent describing the talent and achievements of the Chicago Blackhawks, the Los Angeles Kings, and even the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Bruins have won more regular season games over the last four seasons (177) than every other team in the league except the Penguins (187). Since 2008, no team – not Chicago, not Los Angeles, not Detroit or Pittsburgh – has won more playoff games than Boston (57).
This year’s edition of the Bruins is once more in the discussion of team expected to challenge for a berth in the Stanley Cup finals. They are skilled, ornery, and deep. Last season they had ten players with ten or more goals, 18 with ten or more points, 15 with a plus-minus of plus-10 or better. Sixteen different players had game-winning goals, 12 had power play goals, and 20 players had at least ten penalty minutes (10 with at least 40).
Here is how the two teams compare in their 2013-2014 final numbers:
Here is how the two teams compare in their 2013-2014 final numbers:
1. Stingy. Only once over the past six seasons have the Bruins ranked lower than third in scoring defense (sixth in 2011-2012). Over those six seasons the Bruins averaged allowing only 2.28 goals per game.
2. Inside-out. It is a bit odd to find a defenseman leading a team in power play goals, but such were the Bruins last season. Zdeno Chara led the club with ten in 2013-2014, three more than Patrice Bergeron.
3. Tidal Wave. No team had more wins by three or more goals last season than Boston. It wasn’t close, either. The Bruins had 26 such wins, almost half of their 54 wins, while St. Louis had 21 wins by three or more goals. By the same token, no team had fewer losses than by three or more goals than the Bruins (4).
4. Ornery, yes; stupid, no. One might think that a team with the reputation that goes with being the “Big Bad Bruins,” they might be a heavily penalized team. Not really, or at least not as much as you might think. The Bruins’ 292 minor penalties taken was 12th-fewest in the league last season. They did finish second in the league in fighting majors, though, with 46 (Toronto had 48).
5. First, last, and in-between. The Bruins allowed both the fewest first period goals last season(44) and the fewest third period goals (56). Only Detroit (67), St. Louis (61), and Los Angeles (57) allowed fewer second period goals than Boston (68).
1. The Caps led the NHL in power play goals last season (68). On the other hand, only three teams allowed more shorthanded goals against than the ten the Caps gave up: Philadelphia (11), Toronto (12), and Edmonton (13).
2. Since Alex Ovechkin came into the league, only one active player is within 125 goals scored of the 422 he has. Jarome Iginla has 310. Dany Heatley is next among active players with 292. He also leads in total points scored over that period (814), 42 more than Sidney Crosby (772).
3. Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom were the first players to go one-two in power play points since… Ovechkin and Mike Ribeiro did it for the Caps in 2012-2013. The last time teammates finished one-two in power play points was in 2003-2004 when Marian Hossa and Daniel Alfredsson did it for the Ottawa Senators.
3. Symmetry. The Caps scored 68 power play goals last season, 34 at home and 34 on the road.
4. The Caps allowed only 21 power play goals on the road last season, sixth fewest in the league. That was nine fewer than they allowed at home, the largest such negative difference between home and road in the league.
5. Your Andre Burakovsky number: 1. Through Thursday’s games 36 rookies dressed in games to start the season. The only goal scored among they was Andre Burakovsky’s first NHL goal on his second NHL shot in his first NHL game.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Boston: Patrice Bergeron
Over the course of his ten year career coming into this season, Patrice Bergeron recorded 31 points against the Capitals in 32 career games (0.97 points per game). Among 16 teams he has faced more than ten times, the only larger points-per-game mark he as is 1.00 points per game against the Los Angeles Kings (11 points in 11 career games). And if there is any further evidence one needs about his all-around ability, over the course of that career Bergeron has received votes for the Calder (eighth in 2004), Byng (seven times receiving votes), Selke (five times, two wins), and Hart (three times). For good measure he also has won a King Clancy Trophy for leadership and humanitarian contributions, and he has received all-star team votes in each of the last three years, finishing as high as fourth among centers last season. He is 8-23-31, minus-3 in 32 games against the Caps.
Washington: Evgeny Kuznetsov
Evgeny Kuznetsov has played in only 18 regular season games in the NHL. However, in his season debut on Thursday he skated for 6:36 in ice time, his lowest amount of ice time to date in those 18 games. He skated only 4:10 at even strength and did not record a shot on goal at either even strength or in the 2:26 he skated on the power play. He did not record a shot attempt. That is what skating on a fourth line with a rookie (Liam O’Brien, 2:40 in total ice time) and a prospect (Chris Brown, 3:42 in total ice time) on the fourth line will do. This was not the kind of season opener Kuznetsov might have imagined, especially after making such a good impression in his 17 games to close last season. New season, new coach, and he has to earn his time, but so long as he is skating with O’Brien and Brown (19 total games between them), ice time might be hard to come by. He has one career game against the Bruins, scoring a goal in a 4-2 loss to Boston last March 29th.
In the end…
The Caps have had as much success as anyone against the Bruins lately. They are 4-1-0 in their last five games against Boston and 6-3-0 since November 2010. The Bruins are still the Bruins, a team that is largely unchanged in key personnel and style for what seems like the last 20 years. They are good, know it, and have high aspirations. The Caps are a team in transition (again), looking to find a comfort level employing new personnel and applying a new philosophy. They are a work in progress, and progress is what is hoped for after the disappointing result in the opener against Montreal.
Capitals 3 – Bruins 2