Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 36: Capitals at Islanders, December 29th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals end the 2014 portion of their 2014-2015 schedule on Monday night when they visit the New York Islanders at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, NY.  This will be the 200th all-time regular season meeting of the clubs, a series that the Caps lead, 98-84 with 13 ties and four extra time losses.

The Caps and Islanders have split two games so far this season, New York winning the front half of a home-and-home series, 3-2, in overtime on November 26th on Long Island.  The Caps got even with a 5-2 win on home ice on November 28th.  The overtime win by the Islanders was typical of their season so far.  New York has won more extra time games overall (nine) than any team in the league and is tied for the league lead in wins via the Gimmick (six).  It is a team that has had very good fortune playing on thin margins.  While there are 18 teams than have played as many or more one-goal games as the Islanders (18), only Anaheim has more wins (17 in 23 games) than the Islanders (15 in 18 games).

Of late, the Islanders have been on a see-saw with respect to wins and losses.  Since losing to the Caps, 5-2, on November 28th, New York won three straight, then lost three straight, followed that up with a four-game winning streak, and now find themselves losers of their last two games as they prepare to face the Caps.

With two games left on their December schedule, the Islanders face the Caps with a 6-4-1 record for the month.  John Tavares leads the Isles in goal scoring for the month (five) and comes into this game with three goals in his last three games.  Tavares has been a very consistent player this season, not having gone more than two games without a point so far.  He has two four-game point streaks this season and is looking for his third such streak when he faces Washington on Monday.  He is 10-7-17, plus-1, in 19 career games against the Capitals.

Kyle Okposo leads the Islanders in points for the month (3-7-10).  He, too, is coming into the game against the Caps on a three-game points streak (1-3-4), and he has three multi-point games in his last nine contests.  Despite the points production of late, Okposo has had a odd season of sorts.  With 119 shots on goal in 35 games, he is tied for ninth in the league and is on a pace to finish with his highest career shot total (279).  However, with only eight goals on those 119 shots he is on a pace to finish with his second lowest shooting percentage (6.7 percent) in his eight-year career.  He is 7-7-14, plus-6, in 20 career games against Washington.

Brock Nelson got off to a fast start with six goals and 12 points in his first nine games this season.  Since that hot start he is 8-7-15 in 23 games.  Nelson is, however, second on the team in goals for December (four) and has already matched his career high in goals (14) set in his rookie year last season.  He is 0-2-2 in five career games against the Caps.

Here is how the two clubs compare overall…

1.  Those 15 one-goal wins are the reason that the Islanders have the best winning percentage in one-goal games this season (.833).  In decisions not settled by one goal, the Islanders are rather ordinary (8-9).

2.  The Gimmick has been kind to the Islanders so far, almost obscenely so.  New York is 6-1 in the freestyle competition and have done it largely by converting their scoring chances.  They have 12 goals in 24 shots, tied for the top shooting percentage in the league.  The 12 goals scored is second only to the Florida Panthers.

3.  Part of the reason the Islanders have been successful in extra time is that they have allowed themselves to be forced into the extra session.  Only five teams have allowed more third period goals than the Isles (38), and they have a third period goal differential of minus-9 for the season.

4.  Only four teams have scored more goals at 5-on-5 than the Islanders (72), and only two teams have more shorthanded goals scored than the five that New York has posted. 

5.  Three times this season the Islanders have lost a game after taking a 3-0 lead.  All three instances have occurred this month.  They lost to St. Louis, 6-4, on December 6th after taking a 3-0 first period lead.  They lost to Minnesota, 5-4, on December 9th, after taking another 3-0 first period lead.  Finally, they lost to Buffalo, 4-3 in a Gimmick last Saturday after taking a 3-0 lead into the third period.

1.  Only the New York Rangers have earned more standings points against Metropolitan Division teams (23) than the Caps (20).

2.  The Caps enjoyed 14 power play opportunities in three games last week.  It is the most they have had in any three-game stretch this season and the most they had in any three-game stretch since they had 16 opportunities over the March 1-5 period last season.

3.  Where one-goal games have been a source of success for the Islanders this season, they have been less of one for the Caps.  Washington is tied for 22nd in winning percentage in one-goal decisions this season (.400/8-6-6).  In decisions of more than one goal, the Caps are 10-5.

4.  All goals count, so we will not make too much of the fact that the Caps are tied for fourth in the league in empty net goals scored (five).  For the record, the scorers are: Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin, Joel Ward, Eric Fehr, and Brooks Laich.

5.  Washington, Pittsburgh, and Calgary are the only teams with five players with ten or more goals scored.  Marcus Johansson joined the club to make it five for the Caps when he scored against Pittsburgh on Saturday.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New York: Jaroslav Halak

Number one Islander goaltender Jaroslav Halak last saw action on December 20th, stopping 20 of 21 shots in a 3-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning.  He missed the Islanders’ last two games, however, with a lower-body injury (groin).  He practiced with the team on Sunday and seems likely to return to the net for the Isles on Monday night  They could use him.  Since going 3-4-0, 3.44, .891 in his first seven appearances, he is 15-2-0, 1.78, .932, with three shutouts in his last 17 appearances.  And that includes a two-game hiccup in which he lost consecutive games to the St. Louis Blues after winning 11 straight decisions.  He is working on a four-game winning streak as the Caps come to town. He is 5-4-0, 2.65, .897 in nine career appearances against the Caps.

Washington: Matt Niskanen

Although Matt Niskanen was signed to a big contract in free agency by the Caps last summer, it was always unlikely that he would match the point total he put together for the Pittsburgh Penguins last season (10-36-46, plus-33 in 81 games).  He was not going to get the featured ice time, either at even strength or on the power play, with fellow right-handed shots John Carlson and Mike Green on the roster.  Still, Niskanen is without a point in his last six games and has just a goal and an assist in his last 13 contests.  In those six straight games without a point he has just five shots on goal.  He is not expected to be a heavy-duty scorer from the blue line, but if he can jump up a notch in production it would add a dimension that would make the Caps that much more difficult to play.  He has never scored a goal against the Islanders, but he does have ten assists in 17 career games.

In the end…

In the Caps’ 8-1-2 run through the Eastern Conference to end the calendar year they have outscored opponents by a 34-20 margin and have a special teams index over 100 (101.5, power play plus penalty killing percentages).  They are 3-0-2 in one-goal decisions, 5-1 in games decided by more than one goal.  Twice they won games in regulation when scoring just two goals, an issue with the club last season.  Braden Holtby has two shutouts in his last four games.  This is a team that is playing well and being rewarded for it.  On the other hand, the Islanders have a very nice record, but one wonders if the underlying numbers – a dependence on one-goal wins and extra-time success – is sustainable over a full season.  The “X” factor here is Jaroslav Halak, who has been arguably the best goaltender in the league since November 1st.  If he is suffering any lingering effects from his groin injury, it could make it a long night for the Islanders.  Even if he is healthy, he will be facing a team that has been good on a consistent basis for the better part of a month.  It suggests that the Caps will spoon-feed the hosts a helping of reality to end 2014.

Capitals 4 – Islanders 2

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