The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
Geez, another game? Well, yeah. There might have been only two games in Week 3, but Week 4 gets off to a quick start as the Caps head to Vancouver to meet the Canucks in the back half of a back-to-back set of games.
This is one of those dangerous games in which the Caps have clear edges in record and the underlying numbers, but face an opponent that has the ability to play better than its record to date. The Canucks started the season well, winning their first three games. However, they are just 1-2-1 in their last four games. It is noteworthy that the lone win was a 4-1 decision over the St. Louis Blues, one of the stronger teams in the Western Conference.
Overall, the Canucks are a team that generally ranks in the bottom half of the general statistics. Scoring offense is the exception. The usual suspects lead the team in offense – the Sedin twins. Daniel leads the club in scoring with ten points, his brother Henrik is next with nine. The Canucks have a good balance in goal scoring, too. Radim Vrbata, who was signed away from the Arizona Coyotes to a two-year/$10 million deal last July, leads the team with four goals, which isn’t bad for the consolation prize in the Jarome Iginla sweepstakes. After that there is Henrik Sedin with three goals, then a group of seven players with a pair of goals.
Alexandre Burrows and Chris Higgins might be expected to be in that group of two-goal scorers. Linden Vey, perhaps not so much. He was traded to the Canucks from the Los Angeles Kings last June in exchange for a 2014 second round draft pick. He had respectable goal totals in juniors (102 in 262 games) and in the AHL (55 in 191 games), so his presence among the Canucks’ goal scoring leaders might not be so surprising, but it is early in the season.
What the Canucks have not enjoyed is scoring from the blue line. Alexander Edler is the only Canuck blueliner with a goal. As a group they have Edler’s goal on a total of 70 shots (1.4 percent). As a group they have only six points at even strength, Edler with half of them.
Here is how the teams’ numbers compare:
1. In one respect the Canucks should provide a stiff test for the Caps. Vancouver is tied for second in the league with 33.7 shots on goal per game. The Caps are third in fewest shots per game allowed (23.7).
2. Vancouver doesn’t do close games. In seven contests to date the Canucks have played in one one-goal decision, a 5-4 Gimmick win against Edmonton in Game 2.
3. The Canucks have allowed more goals at 5-on-5 (18) than all but four teams: Buffalo, Carolina, Philadelphia, and Edmonton. That is not a neighborhood in which one wants to travel.
4. Hockey is not a dainty sport, but there are some teams more so than others. Vancouver had been credited with 124 hits this season, fewer than any other team except for Chicago and Minnesota.
5. That low hit total might be a reflection of good possession numbers overall for the Canucks (if they have the puck, they don’t need to hit anybody). Vancouver is sixth overall in Fenwick-for percentage in all situations (52.6), although that drops quite a bit at 5-on-5 (51.1; 15th in the league, according to war-on-ice.com).
1. For the Caps, the trick is avoiding one-goal games. While the Caps are 1-1-2 in one-goal decisions, they are 3-0-0 in games decided by two or more goals.
2. Only Minnesota and St. Louis have (one apiece) allowed fewer second period goals than the Caps (3); only Florida (2), Los Angeles (2), and Chicago (1) have allowed fewer in the third period than the Caps (3). Only Minnesota has allowed fewer combined second and third period goals (5) than the Caps (6).
3. One would like to see the Caps getting more opportunities to unleash their power play. They are tied with Pittsburgh for 22nd in the league in man advantage opportunities (25). Only Pittsburgh, New Jersey and San Jose have more power play goals on the road so far than the four scored by Washington.
4. Seven games in, and the Caps have been outshot only once, 29-21 by Boston in Game 2, a 4-0 Caps win. Since then, over a five game stretch, the Caps have outshot opponents by five or more shots in each game.
5. Alex Ovechkin… tied for 13th in shots on goal? Hey, the Caps are winning. Who cares?
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Vancouver: Ryan Miller
Him again? Well, he might be Ryan Miller, but maybe he’s not “Ryan Miller.” Miller has not had a good start with his third team in the space of seven months (Buffalo, St. Louis, Vancouver). He is 33rd in goals against average (2.71) and 36th in save percentage (.906), both significantly under his career numbers (2.59/.915). He has alternated good and poor performances over his five appearances to date. And, while his first two appearances against the Caps last season were excellent with the Sabres (2-0-0 in a pair of Gimmick wins that went a combined 18 rounds), he allowed four goals on 22 shots in his last appearance against the Caps, that one while tending goal for St. Louis in a 4-1 Caps win. Miller is 15-12-0 in 28 career appearances against the Caps with a 2.50 goals against average and a .917 save percentage with three shutouts.
Washington: Troy Brouwer
One thing about these western Canada trips. Guys get to play in front of hometown fans in an opportunity they do not get often. Tonight it is Troy Brouwer’s turn. Brouwer is off to a bit of a slow start with one goal in seven games, none in his last four and no points in his last three. There is last season to compare it to, though. In a year in which he set a career best mark of 25 goals, he had only one in his first seven games, too. In 15 career games against the Canucks, Brouwer is 3-2-5, plus-6.
In the end…
A back-to-back should not pose the problems for the Caps that it might later in the season or under different circumstances. The Caps have played in only two games over the past seven days leading up to this game, and any jet lag they might have felt going west should long ago have ceased to be a problem. This will be a game of focus and discipline. The Caps are playing better, but the Canucks do have talent. If they have the former, the latter will make little difference.
Capitals 4 – Canucks 2