The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The Washington Capitals, fresh off their 1-0 loss to the New Jersey Devils on Friday night, head on the road to The Gateway of the West, St. Louis, to meet the Blues in a battle of teams near the top of their respective games. The Caps, even with the loss, are 3-1-0 in their last four games and have allowed only eight goals in the process. Meanwhile, the Blues are winners of nine of their last ten games, a 2-1 loss to the Nashville Predators that broke a seven-game winning streak last Saturday the only blemish on that record.
On offense, the formula has been simple for the Blues in their 9-1-0 run – everybody feed Tarasenko. Vladimir Tarasenko has nine of the Blues’ 30 goals in their last ten games. The third-year forward, taken 16th overall in the 2010 entry draft, has shown himself to be a goal scorer from the start. In his rookie season of 2012-2013 he averaged 0.21 goals per game. That number jumped to 0.33 goals per game last season, and through 16 games this season he is averaging 0.63 goals per game. His ten goals in 16 games is tied with Toronto’s Phil Kessel for fifth in the league. And, like a fellow Russian known well to Caps fans, he is not shy about shooting the puck. His 63 shots on goal is tied for fourth in the league with San Jose’s Logan Couture, ten shots behind league leader Alex Ovechkin (through Thursday’s games). He is without a point in his only appearance against the Caps to date.
The other side of the equation is who is providing the helpers. The defense has contributed only two goals to the 30-goal total over the Blues’ last ten games (Carl Gunnarsson and Jay Bouwmeester doing the honors). But five defensemen have recorded to total of 19 assists in this run of good fortune. Kevin Shattenkirk has contributed eight of those helpers. Shattenkirk has been a prolific point producer from the blue line, by modern standards, averaging 45 points per 82 games over his four-year career coming into this season. He has ramped that up significantly so far. With 14 points in 16 games he is on a pace for 72 points.
At the other end, the Blues have had solid goaltending. The shots allowed have not been remarkable, but Brian Elliott and Jake Allen have allowed only 19 goals on 286 shots over the last ten games, a .934 save percentage. Both goalies have been stingy this season. Neither Elliott, in ten appearances this season, nor Allen, in six games, has allowed more than three goals. Allen pitched shutouts in back-to-back appearances against Anaheim and New Jersey on October 20th and November 4th. He has been a bit leaky otherwise, though, allowing ten goals on 89 shots in his other four appearances (.888 save percentage). Elliott has allowed two or fewer goals in six of his ten appearances and has a save percentage of .939 in his last four appearances, three of them wins. Elliott is 4-2-0, 3.50, .871 in eight career appearances against Washington, while Allen is 3-1-0, 2.26, .908 in four appearances against the Caps.
Here is how the teams compare in their numbers through Thursday night’s games:
1. St. Louis has allowed 13 goals – total – in 640 minutes of first and second periods of games so far this season. Only Minnesota has allowed fewer first period goals (7) than the Blues (8), and no team has allowed fewer second period goals than St. Louis (5).
2. Only five teams have scored fewer 5-on-5 goals than St. Louis (26). On the other hand, only Florida (Florida??) has allowed fewer goals at 5-on-5 (16) than the Blues (18).
3. If you score against the Blues’ goalies at even strength, keep the puck.. Brian Elliott has the best even-strength save percentage (.950) among goalies appearing in at least five games. Jake Allen is sixth (.944).
4. Score first, and you have a chance. No team has more wins than the Blues when scoring first (8). They are only 3-3-1 when allowing the first goal.
5. For a team that has the capacity to stifle a team, the Blues are not highly ranked in hits (24th) or blocked shots (tied for 21st). They are, however, on the good side of 50 percent in possession numbers – 52.58 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (ranked sixth).
1. The Caps are developing decent scoring balance. Seven different players have at least ten points through 16 games.
2. Last year, 9-7-0 after 16 games for 18 points. This year, 7-6-3 for 17 points. Hey, they only won nine of their first 16 games in 2009-2010, when they finished with 121 points, so there is that.
3. Only Buffalo has won fewer games (none) when trailing first in games than the Caps (1).
4. The Caps are wasting a lot of good efforts at holding shots down. They are just 5-5-3 when outshooting their opponents.
5. Numbers at 5-on-5…Corsi-for percentage: 51.74 (rank: 10th); PDO: 99.41 (rank: 21st). You would think something has to give (numbers from war-on-ice.com).
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
St. Louis: Jori Lehtera
With all the attention being paid to Vladimir Tarasenko, Jori Lehtera is flying under the radar. Don’t be deceived. In the Blues’ 9-1-0 run he is 5-8-13 and had a hat trick in the Blues’ 6-1 win over Buffalo on Veterans Day. A third round draft pick (65th overall) in the 2008 entry draft, Lehtera is something of a late bloomer, although that might be a product of his spending his entire career since the draft playing in Europe before this season, except for seven games with the Peoria Rivermen of the AHL in 2008-2009. At 26, he does not qualify as a rookie, although he would be second in points if he did (6-10-16). This will be his first appearance against the Capitals.
Washington: Braden Holtby
Does Barry Trotz put Braden Holtby back on the horse after his mistake led to the New Jersey Devils’ 1-0 win over Washington on Friday night? He might just select Holtby because he has been playing well lately, his giveaway to Mike Cammalleri for the Devils’ game-winning goal notwithstanding. In his last four appearances he has a save percentage of .947 (89-for-94) after finishing four games in five with a save percentage under .900. He has had success in limited opportunities against the Blues (2-0-0, 1.00, .974 in two appearances).
In the end…
The Caps beat the Blues twice last season, each by a 4-1 margin. The Caps are 5-1-1 in their last seven meetings against the Blues, so it is not as if the Caps find themselves at an insurmountable disadvantage. This will be the fourth back-to-back set of games the Caps have played in 17 games this season, though. Even early in the season, before the grind sets it, that can’t be easy. Still, there was enough to take away from the New Jersey game of a good nature, especially in the way the Caps battled the Devils in an ugly game, to suggest that the Caps will continue their good fortune against the Blues.
Capitals 3 – Blues 2