The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The Washington Capitals continue their brief road trip in the Central Division with a trip to Big D to visit the Dallas Stars on Saturday night.
Dallas has had a rough time trying to kick start their season, and it is getting late in the game for the Stars to find their rhythm. They started the year well enough, going 4-1-2 in their first seven games, but then slid into a ditch, losing seven in a row (0-5-2) before snapping their skid on Veterans Day. They then went 5-3-0 to get back to .500, and followed that up by losing four in a row (0-3-1) to undo that good work. There have been winning streaks since then (two four-gamers) and a losing streak (also a four-gamer) that puts them at 19-17-7 as they prepare to host the Caps, five points behind the Los Angeles Kings for the second wild card playoff spot.
The immediate concern of the Stars is to stop the bleeding of a 1-3-2 record in their last six games after they pasted Arizona and Minnesota by a combined 13-1 margin. Over these last six games the Stars scored only 16 goals (compare that to the 13 in two games; the inconsistency is a reflection of their season) but allowed 22 (3.67/game).
Offensively, the best that can be said is that the Stars have had roster balance in scoring. Ten players share in the 16 goals scored, and three of them – Erik Cole, Ales Hemsky, and Trevor Daley – have three apiece. There are 21 players sharing points, Hemsky leading with five on two assists added to his three-goal total.
Conspicuously absent among the scoring leaders in this six-game stretch are Tyler Seguin (0-2-2) and Jason Spezza (1-3-4). Both are mired in their own brand of scoring slump. Spezza does have points in four of his last six games and five of his last eight contests, but he is applying the points with an eye dropper. He has not had a multi-point game since December 13th, when he had a goal and an assist in a 4-3 win over the New Jersey Devils. That is his only multi-point game over his last 35 contests dating back to October 25th. One could say he has been consistent – points in 18 of those 35 games (5-14-19) – but he also has just one goal in his last 14 games, too. He has had a good career at the Caps’ expense, though. In 32 career games against Washington, Spezza is 10-21-31, minus-2.
Seguin, on the other hand, is shooting in some terrible luck lately. Tied for the league lead with Steven Stamkos and Rick Nash with 26 goals, he has one goal in his last 11 games on 46 shots, a 2.2 percent shooting percentage. Think of it as regression, in a way. Over his first 32 games, Seguin had 25 goals on 131 shots, a 19.1 percent shooting average. As it is, he is still posting his best overall shooting percentage of his career in five seasons (14.7 percent) and is still on an overall pace for 50 goals. Seguin is 3-2-5, even, in 13 career games against Washington.
On the other side of the puck, goaltending has been an issue in the 1-3-2 skid over the Stars’ last six games. Neither Kari Lehtonen (0-1-2, 4.40, .856) nor Anders Lindback (1-2-0, 2.91, .897) have been effective. It is not as if the goalies have faced a barrage of shots, either. The Stars allowed an average of 29.2 shots a game, but even here Dallas’ inconsistency comes through. Twice in those six games the Stars allowed 38 or more shots; three times they allowed fewer than 25 shots. And it is not as if either Lehtonen or Lindberg have found themselves in a deep slump in these six games. Neither is having a memorable year. Lehtonen’s .904 save percentage for the year so far is his lowest in 11 seasons in the NHL. The same holds true for Lindback’s .875 save percentage; it is his lowest in five seasons (and in fact, his save percentage has dropped in each of his five seasons: .915, .912, .902, .891, .875).
Here is how the teams compare overall:
1. Dallas does best in games played close. They are 11-4-7 in one-goal decisions, but they are 8-13 in games decided by more than one goal.
2. Beware the second period with the Stars. No team has more second period goals scored than the Stars – 60, almost half of their total of 130 goals scored this season. And, they have a plus-12 goals differential in the middle frame. The flip side of that is the third period. The Stars have a minus-15 goal differential in the third period, owing to the fact that only four teams have scored fewer third period goals this season (Buffalo, Carolina, New Jersey, and Arizona).
3. The Stars have had the pleasure of more power play opportunities on home ice than any team in the league (97). They have not been especially effective in converting their bounty; they are tied for 13th in total power play goals scored at home (15).
4. The Stars more than make up for any power play deficiencies they have with the puck with their 5-on-5 play. Only Tampa Bay (107) has scored more goals at 5-on-5 than Dallas (98).
5. Teams are never out of games against Dallas. Only four teams have worse winning percentage when scoring first than Dallas .545/12-7-3).
1. The loss to Nashville was a rare occurrence for the Caps over their last 20 games (14-2-4), but the one-goal loss was the Caps’ 15th in 27 one-goal decisions this season (12-7-8). They have the eighth-worst winning percentage in the league in such decisions.
2. The Caps outshot the Predators on Friday night, 34-30, and lost. This is not unusual over the whole season. The Caps are 9-9-4 when outshooting opponents, 11-3-4 when outshot. Their winning percentage when being outshot (.611) is second-best in the league (Anaheim: .625).
3. Washington allowed the first goal against Nashville in the loss. That made the Caps 1-11-5 this season when trailing first, the worst winning percentage in the league (.059).
4. The two power play goals scored on three chances against the Predators on Friday night lifted Washington into second place in power play conversion rate (24.6; St. Louis: 25.7). However, it was the first time that the Caps recorded two power play goal in a game since they went 2-for-2 against the New York Islanders on November 26th. They had gone 22 straight games without a multi-man advantage goal game. They still managed a 19.7 power play in those 22 games (13-for-66).
5. Allowing two third period goals to Nashville was a somewhat rare occurrence for the Caps. Even with the two goals allowed, Washington has allowed the eighth-fewest third period goals in the league (35). The two third period goals allowed to Nashville was the first time the Caps allowed a pair of third period goals since (stop us if you’ve heard this) their 4-2 loss to the Rangers on December 23rd.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Dallas: Jamie Benn
Jamie Benn was on a nice little run, points in five of six games (2-4-6), until he came up empty in his last two games. In the second of them he was shut out from scoring a goal despite recording six shots on goal. It is the shots that command some attention here. There seem to be nights when Benn is firing on all cylinders (he has four or more shots on goal in five of his last 12 games), and there are nights when the firing pin seems to have been removed (one or no shots in three of those games). That has the faint look of an opportunistic shooter, unlike the “shoot from the rafters” approach of an Alex Ovechkin. He has not been taking great advantage of the opportunities presented, though. Benn has only two goals in his last 11 games (on 29 shots, a 6.9 percent shooting percentage). Benn is 1-4-5, plus-5, in five career games against the Capitals.
Washington: Evgeny Kuznetsov
When all is said and done, and Evgeny Kuznetsov’s NHL career is over, he might look back on this season as a hard, but useful learning experience in the ways of the NHL. His rookie season has not gone as planned. Included in the Calder Trophy discussion at the start of the year, Kuznetsov has just 15 points in 42 games. That is still tied for tenth among rookies, and if Kuznetsov had not spent as much time as a fourth liner as he has, that total and his ranking might both be higher. He comes into this game with just one point in his last nine games and has no goals in his last ten contests. He has had the occasional burst of production (he has four three-game point streaks this season), and the Caps could use another to maintain a consistent secondary scoring pace of production. He has just one appearance against the Stars, that one without a point.
In the end…
Job One for tonight’s game…don’t let one loss become two. The Caps have not lost consecutive games since dropping decisions to Toronto and Vancouver on November 29th and December 1st, respectively. That is the only time in the last two months that the Caps lost consecutive games in regulation, speaking to a consistency of effort that is a large part of their game at the moment. The variable here is likely to be Justin Peters, who could get his first start since the 6-2 loss to Toronto on November 29th (one in which he allowed two goals on six shots in the first period, was pulled, then returned in the third period to allow another goal on five shots). Peters had a respectable 1.51 goals against average and a .948 save percentage in two conditioning appearances with the Hershey Bears, an encouraging sign. It makes for an interesting challenge for the Caps as they end their two-game road trip.
Capitals 4 – Stars 3