The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The Washington Capitals close their second back-to-back set of games in a week when they host the St. Louis Blues this afternoon at Verizon Center. The Caps will be getting right back on the horse, so to speak, after a gut-wrenching 1-0 overtime loss to the Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre yesterday.
The Caps ran into a hot Montreal team yesterday, a club that had won four straight entering the contest. They will do the same when they face the Blues, also winners of their last four contests. In fact, St. Louis has not lost in regulation in their last ten contests (9-0-1). They are doing it in a fashion that reflects their coaching.
Ken Hitchcock coaches teams that are difficult to play against, limiting shots and goals, and fashioning a physical approach. In their 9-0-1 run, the Blues have allowed a total of 19 goals and an average of 24.8 shots per game. Only twice in that stretch have they allowed more than two goals in a game.
On the other hand, the Blues’ offense has been something to behold over this streak. St. Louis has scored 42 goals over the ten games, including a pair of seven-goal efforts at the expense of the San Jose Sharks. Fourteen players share in the 42 goals, and 18 skaters have recorded points. The goal total is impressive, but it is heavily weighted among four players. David Backes leads the charge with eight goals in his last ten games, including a four-goal effort against the Arizona Coyotes on January 6th. T.J. Oshie has seven goals in the 9-0-1 run, while Jaden Schwartz and Alexander Steen have six apiece.
Schwartz is perhaps the least known of this foursome to Capitals fans. Now in his fourth season with St. Louis, Schwartz is developing into quite a goal-scorer. Two years ago he finished with seven goals in 45 games, and last season he had 25 goals in 80 games. This season, with 17 goals in 41 games, he is on a pace to finish with 31 goals for the season. He does not have much exposure to the Caps in his brief career to date. In three games against Washington, Schwartz is 1-1-2, plus-1.
While the goal scoring has come largely from the forwards in St. Louis’ recent success, the defense has contributed in stoking the fire. Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Pietrangelo each have seven assists in the Blue’s last ten games. Shattenkirk also contributed two goals. He is second among the league’s defensemen in total scoring (42 points), trailing only Calgary’s Mark Giordano. His 32 assists leads all NHL defensemen.
While the Blues were saying goodbye to goalie Martin Brodeur on the ice and welcoming him to the front office, Brian Elliott was adding to his resume in solid fashion over the past ten games. Elliott made eight appearances, compiling a record of 6-0-1 (one no-decision), 2.04, .919, with two shutouts. Elliott has three shutouts this season, and they are something of a reflection of the system in which he plays. In none of them did he face more than 27 shots, and he faced and average of 22.7 shots in the three games. Elliott is 5-2-0, 3.19, .881 in nine career appearances against Washington.
Here is how the teams compare overall:
1. St. Louis has a very respectable goals against average among their goaltenders (2.34). Their combined save percentage of .913 is not especially impressive, although Elliott’s .943 save percentage at even strength is the best in the league among goalies playing in at least 20 games (note: Carey Price, who shut out the Caps yesterday, is second at .942).
2. The Blues are the only team in the league with a goal differential of plus-8 or better in all three periods of games this season. They are a plus-8 in the first period, plus-11 in the second, and plus-15 in the third.
3. Only four teams so far this season have more wins by three or more goals than the Blues (11), and only four teams have a better winning percentage in such games (.688/11-5).
4. The Blues have the best winning percentage among Western Conference teams against the East (.706/12-3-2) and are 8-1-0 against the Metropolitan Division. They have not lost to a Metropolitan Division team since dropping a 3-2 decision to the New York Rangers on Opening Night.
5. St. Louis is third in the league, behind Montreal and the Caps, in winning percentage when scoring first in games (.815/22-4-1). Only five teams have a better winning percentage when scored upon first than the Blues (.429/9-9-3).
1. Going into Sunday’s games, only five teams have played fewer home games than the Caps (23). As a team that is 8-0-2 in their last ten home games, having so many home games coming over the next ten weeks is something that could bear dividends later in the season.
2. Even when they are not playing one another, the Caps and the Penguins seem joined at the hip. Going into Sunday’s games, the Caps and Penguins have identical numbers of goals scored (143) and goals allowed (121) in 49 games apiece.
3. In their 8-0-2 record over their last ten home games, Washington has out-scored opponents by a 29-17 margin. They have not been doing it by limiting shots (294 for, 295 against), but their special teams have been very good: 8-for-32 (25.0 percent) on the power play, 34-for-38 (89.5 percent) on the penalty kill.
4. Note that shooting percentage for opponents in the Caps’ last ten home games (.058). Goaltending, meaning Braden Holtby, has been superb. Holtby appeared in all ten games, compiling a record of 8-0-2, 1.68, .942, with two shutouts.
5. No team has more extra-time losses this season than the Caps (10, tied with Florida). Six of those losses have come in overtime. There, Holtby’s save percentage of .778 is fifth worst among goalies appearing in at least 20 games. Not that four losses coming while shorthanded has anything to do with it, eh?
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
St. Louis: Vladimir Tarasenko
Over his first 36 games, Vladimir Tarasenko was on a pace to finish with 50 goals. Over his last 12 games, though, he has a total of two goals and is without one in his last five contests. One might say he is shooting in bad luck, scoring those two goals on a total of 43 shots (4.7 percent). On the other hand, it might be the pendulum swinging the other way after a hot first 36 games (17.9 percent on 22-for-123 shooting). Still, he is on a pace to be only the second Blues player to finish with more than 40 goals (41) since Brett Hull was lighting things up for St. Louis in the mid-1990’s (Brad Boyes has 43 in 2007-2008). Here is your fact of the day… Tarasenko does not have a goal on the road since December 6th against the New York Islanders, nine games and counting. In two career games against Washington he does not have a point.
Washington: Brooks Laich
As we noted in our post-game recap of the loss to Montreal Brooks Laich had a solid game – four shots on goal, five hits, three blocked shots, drew three penalties (one coincidental) and plus-13 in Corsi at 5-on-5. It would be nice to get a bit more offensive production from him (no goals in his last ten games), but playing as he did yesterday, if he can continue it, is an important part of the sort of game the Caps play under Barry Trotz. It is especially important against an opponent such as St. Louis, which plays such a heavy game itself. Laich is 1-2-3 in eight career appearances against the Blues.
In the end…
With any team on a streak, you can see the streak coming or going before they start or end. In the case of the Blues, on a ten-game points streak, you might be seeing the end coming from the results of their last two games, both Gimmick wins, one against a struggling opponent (Carolina). Still, it is a club against which it is very hard to score (two or fewer goals allowed in five of their last six games). The Caps have a tough task ahead, made tougher by 63 minutes of grind-it-out hockey against Montreal on Saturday afternoon with one point to show for it. But the Caps have become a team that is hard to score against themselves (well, as long as Braden Holtby is in goal). It might be a boring affair on Super Bowl Sunday, but if it ends in a win, that’s fine with us.
Capitals 2 – Blues 1