The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The Washington Capitals bring the first half of the 2014-2015 season to a close on Saturday night when they host the Detroit Red Wings at Verizon Center.
The three-game home stand that starts with Saturday’s contest against the Red Wings is something of transitional phase of the schedule. Having concluded a successful run against primarily Eastern Conference teams on their way to an 11-1-4 record since December 4th, the Caps face Detroit, Colorado, and Philadelphia – three capable teams that will provide a test for the Caps – before Washington embarks on a treacherous part of their schedule that will see them facing Nashville, Dallas, Pittsburgh, and Montreal before the end of the month, all of those games on the road except that against the Penguins. Throw in the fact that the Caps will play five back-to-back sets of games over the next month, and it is apparent that this three-game home stand represents a chance for the Caps to make hay while the sun shines, or to take advantage of home cooking, or [insert appropriate metaphor here].
The first task at hand is to subdue the Red Wings. For a while in mid-December it looked as if the Red Wings’ season was unraveling a bit. From December 10th through December 21st Detroit lost six in a row (0-2-4, all of the extra-time losses coming in the Gimmick) much of it a product of doing without goalie Jimmy Howard, who was out of action with a lower-body injury. Since then, however, they are 5-2-0 and have climbed within three points of Atlantic Division-leading Tampa Bay with a game in hand.
Over their recent 5-2-0 run, the Red Wings are led in points by Gustav Nyquist. Thought of primarily as a goal scorer (43 goals in 98 games over this season and last), he has been showing off his helper chops with eight assists to go with one goal. He has points in five of those seven games, including a three-assist game in a 6-3 win over Buffalo that started the Red Wings’ recent good fortune. The odd thing about his point production over these seven games? He is a minus-1, having been on ice for six of the 19 goals allowed by the Red Wings over those seven games (two of them were empty netters). In four career games against the Caps, Nyquist has five goals and two assists.
Five years ago, it was Nicklas Lidstrom as the dean of Detroit defensemen, one of four natives of Sweden finding playing time on the Red Wings’ blue line. Today, Niklas Kronwall, one of that group of Swedes, has assumed the role of dean of the Detroit defense. The 33-year old native of Stockholm, now in his 11th season in Detroit, has been a very consistent defenseman in terms of his production, much like Lidstrom. He has averaged half a point per game over his career, and this year he is a bit better, averaging 0.56 points per game (5-18-23 in 41 games to date). He comes into this game with points in four of his last six contests (0-6-6), but he has not recorded a goal in his last ten games, one in his last 17 contests. What he has not done recently is get pucks all the way to the net. Kronwall has five shots on goal in his last nine games after recording 15 over a five-game span ending December 16th. In 11 career games against the Caps, Kronwall is 1-4-5, minus-5.
Jimmy Howard has 16 of Detroit’s 22 wins, and his absence after he left the ice after the first period of a December 19th game against the New York Islanders threw sand into the gears of the Red Wing machine. Petr Mrazek performed well in Howard’s absence in that game and the two that followed, but the fact remains that it is Howard who dominates the team's statistics at the position and who ranks highly in the league rankings – 4th in goals against average (2.08) and tenth in save percentage (.921). His 1,846 minutes ranks tenth among goalies in ice time. One thing that has eluded him is success against Washington. He is 3-1-2, 3.23, .880 in six career appearances against the Capitals.
Here is how the teams compare overall:
1. The Red Wings are a team that seems to get better as games go on. They are tied for 17th in first period goals (32), but rank 7th in third period goals (42).
2. Scoring first seems not to be a very good predictor of Red Wings’ success. Twenty times in 41 games this season Detroit has scored first. Their .500 winning percentage (10-4-6) ranks 27th in the league. On the other hand, their .571 winning percentage when scored upon first (12-6-3) is second in the league.
3. Detroit plays well in comfort. In game decided by more than one goal, the Red Wings are 13-7. However, in one-goal games, their winning percentage of .429 (9-3-9) ranks 22nd.
4. The Red Wings have long had a reputation of getting it done without having to resort to the dark arts. Things have not changed. Detroit ranks last in the league in fighting majors. Only two Red Wings have engaged in fisticuffs this season, Kyle Quincey and Brendan Smith, the latter being sent off twice for fighting.
5. Detroit has the best special teams index in the league. Their 24.5 percent power play (second in the league) and 86.8 percent penalty kill (fourth) combine for an index of 111.3, almost two full points better than Pittsburgh (109.4).
1. The Caps have had trouble finding that elusive fourth straight win this season (they have four three-game winning streaks). They do, however, have a four-game winning streak at home, their longest such streak of the season. After going 4-4-3 in their first 13 home games, the Caps are 5-1-1 in their last seven home contests.
2. Intermissions are a good indicator of what Capital outcomes might be. Their 11-1-1 record when leading after one period is the sixth-best winning percentage in the league (.846), while their 18-1-2 record reflects the second highest win total.
3. That one-goal game record for Detroit of which we spoke? Yes, the Red Wings rank 22nd in one-goal game winning percentage. The team right behind them in the rankings is Washington (10-6-8/.417).
4. Of the 22 skaters appearing for the Caps this season, only two are in “minus” territory (Jason Chimera: minus-1, and Tom Wilson: minus-2). Last season, 19 of 35 skaters finished underwater in plus-minus. At the other end, three Caps have a plus-minus of plus-10 or better this season: John Carlson (plus-14), Eric Fehr (plus-12), and Alex Ovechkin (plus-10).
5. Three players in the NHL have played in at least 40 games and have yet to record a penalty minute: Anaheim’s Cam Fowler (in 41 games), Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau (in 41 games), and Washington’s Marcus Johansson (in 40 games). Since the 2010-2011 season, no player appearing in more than 200 games has fewer penalty minutes than Johansson (26 PIMs in 303 games).
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Detroit: Pavel Datsyuk
Pavel Datsyuk just does not seem to age. Perhaps the only concession he has made to the advance of time is a susceptibility to injury (he has played in only 75 of the Wings’ 123 games over the past two seasons). However, Datsyuk, with a career points-per-game average of 0.98, is averaging a point a game this season (30 in 30 contests). What is standing out is his goal-scoring. His 14 goals in 30 games is, so far, his best goals-per-game production (0.47) in his 13-year career. It is a product of his shooting percentage (17.5) that is his third best in his career and his best since converting on 19.3 percent of his shots in 2005-2006. He comes into this game with points in six of his last eight games (2-5-7). In 14 career games against Washington, Datsyuk is 5-13-18, plus-4.
Washington: Joel Ward
Joel Ward started the season with a hot streak – seven goals in his first 13 games. Then he went three games before scoring again, four games without one, eight games without one, then nine games, a streak he would like not to reach ten as the Caps take on the Red Wings. It has not been for lack of shooting. Ward has one goal in his last 18 games, but on a total of 30 shots, a 3.3 percent shooting percentage. Last season Ward finished seventh in the league in shooting percentage (18.0), and even with his recent slump is shooting 14.1 percent overall this season. In three-plus seasons with the Caps, Ward’s overall shooting percentage is 14.3 percent. Perhaps he’s just shooting in bad luck at the moment. In 24 games against the Red Wings, Ward has a career scoring line of 10-7-17, plus-7.
In the end…
Playing Detroit is like playing the Yankees in baseball. They are a standard against which every team measures themselves. This will be no different for the Caps. Making it a more important game is that a win in regulation time moves the Caps within a point of the Red Wings for fifth in the Eastern Conference with a game in hand. This will be the fourth of a six-game road trip on which the Red Wings find themselves, and they come into this contest having won their last two games, the Alberta portion of the journey (4-2 over Edmonton, 3-2 over Calgary). This is something of a trap game for the Red Wings, it being the only contest Detroit will play over a six-day period.
The Caps have done well against the Red Wings recently. Coming into this season Washington had not lost in regulation time to Detroit since dropping a 3-2 decision at Joe Louis Arena in March 2011. They had not lost at home to the Red Wings in any fashion since losing a 4-3 decision in December 2005. However, the Red Wings did win the first meeting of these clubs this season, a 4-2 decision at Verizon Center on October 29th. It is time the Caps returned the favor.
Capitals 4 – Red Wings 2