Sunday, February 08, 2015

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 54: Flyers at Capitals, February 8th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals take the ice looking for their fourth consecutive win when they host the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday afternoon at Verizon Center.  This will be the sixth time this season that the Caps take a three-game winning streak into a game looking for a fourth straight win.  Washington has yet to grab that fourth straight win.

The Flyers come into this game having earned points in their last five games (4-0-1).  Four of those decisions were of the one-goal variety, three of them going to extra time.  The longest points streak of the season might have come too late for the Flyers, though.  Sitting in fifth place in the Metropolitan Division and tenth place in the Eastern Conference, nine points out of a playoff spot with 30 games to play, there might be too many teams to climb over and too few games in which to do it for the orange and black.

At the moment, though, the Flyers are on a run led by a stingy defense.  A big part of that has been the play of goaltender Steve Mason.  After missing six games with a knee injury, Mason has been in net for the last four games, going 3-0-1, 1.23, .959, and a shutout of the Toronto Maple Leafs on January 31st.  It is part of a longer run of good play by Mason in the 2015 portion of the season.  Since the calendar turned over, he is 5-1-1 (two no-decisions), 1.51, .948, and the shutout.  As it is, Mason has the third best save percentage at even strength this season (.937), behind only Pekka Rinne (.938) and Carey Price (.939) among goalies appearing in at least 30 games. In 12 career appearances against the Caps, Mason is 7-3-2, 2.77, .908, with two shutouts.

At the other end of the ice the Flyers have 14 goals in their 4-0-1 run.  Nine players share in the goal scoring, led by Chris VandeVelde with three.  It is an unexpected outburst, part of a longer run in which he has five goals in his last seven games.  In his previous 81 games covering parts of five seasons with the Edmonton Oilers and the Flyers, VandeVelde had only four career goals.  Sustainable?  Five goals on his last ten shots on goal over seven games is probably a short term trend, but he will be someone to watch.  In four career games against the Caps he has one assist.

Sixteen Flyers share points in their recent five-game string of success.  Wayne Simmonds and Michael Del Zotto each have a pair of goals and a pair of assists to lead the overall scoring.  For Simmonds, four points in his last four games comes on the heels of a five-game streak without a point and eight without a goal.  Simmonds still leads the Flyers in goals (18), power play goals (11), and game-winning goals.  He has faced the Caps 18 times in his career and is 3-5-8, plus-1.

Del Zotto is engaged in something of a rehabilitation of his career.  After going 10-31-41, plus-20 for the New York Rangers in 2011-2012, then following it up with 21 points in 46 games in the abbreviated 2012-2013 season, his offensive production from the blue line dried up last season.  He recorded only two goals and 11 points in 41 games with the Rangers, then had only a goal and five points in 25 games with the Nashville Predators after the Rangers traded him for defenseman Kevin Klein.  Del Zotto is 5-12-17 in 40 games for the Flyers, his point total second on the club among defensemen.  In 21 career games against Washington he is 0-7-7, plus-4.

Here is how the teams compare overall:

1.  Philadelphia has played reasonably well in one-goal games, posting a record of 11-8-8 (including a 3-2 overtime win over the Capitals on January 8th).  In games decided by more than one goal, the Flyers are 11-14.  In their 4-0-1 run, they are 3-0-1 in one-goal decisions.

2.  The Flyers have been nicked up on the blue line all season.  Only Mark Streit has appeared in all 52 games this season, and only Nick Schultz (50) has appeared in more than 42 games among the ten defensemen to dress for Philadelphia this season.

3.  When it comes to penalties, the Flyers seem to be either in the protection racket or polishing their reputation.  While they have the 11th fewest number of minor penalties, the Flyers are tied for seventh in fighting majors.  Either they are protecting their skill players (or, given their place in the standings, what passes for skill), or…well, they’re the Flyers.

4.  Getting an early lead is something that manages to elude the Flyers regularly.  Only Florida has scored first in fewer games (19 times in 50 games) than Philadelphia (20 in 52 games).

5.  Possession is an issue for the Flyers.  They have the seventh-worst Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 (48.3), eighth-worst in close score situations (47.9). Only three players appearing in at least 20 games have individual Corsi-for percentages above 50 percent – Michael Raffl (55.8), Jakub Voracek (54.1), and Claude Giroux (52.4).

1.  The Caps fell behind in each of their last two games and won both contests.  Before that they had one just once all season when falling behind first.  The flip side of that is their record when scoring first.  Not only is their 25-1-4 record the second-best winning percentage in the league (.883; Montreal is .870), but they have scored first 30 times in 53 games.  Only four teams have scored first more often – the New York Rangers (31), Tampa Bay Lightning (32), Pittsburgh Penguins (33), and Winnipeg Jets (33).

2. The Caps are 10-1-1 in their last dozen games at home, outscoring opponents by a 37-20 margin.  Their special teams index in this home streak is impressive at 112.7 (27.3 percent power play, 85.4 percent penalty kill).

3.  Only four teams have spent less total power play time at home than the Caps (129:44) – New Jersey (122:27), Carolina (117:36) and Boston (103:00).

4.  The Caps have a standings points record over .500 when out-shooting opponents (12-10-5) and a record over .500 when outshot (11-5-5).  However, they are undefeated when shots are even (5-0-0).

5.  The Caps don’t do blowouts.  Well, not often.  Only Florida has had fewer decision of three or more goals (9) than the Caps (11).  No team has fewer losses by three or more goals than the Caps (2).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Philadelphia: Sean Couturier

Sean Couturier was an eighth overall draft pick of the Flyers in the 2011 entry draft.  He made the jump right to the Flyers after 41-goal and 36-goal years with Drummondville in the QMJHL.  One might have anticipated that he would take his place as a scoring line forward with the big club. So far, that has not been the case, at least the scoring part.  Couturier has 41 goals in 257 career games, a 13-goal pace per 82 games.  That does not make the 22-year old a failure, by any means.  However, his role might be a little different than what might have been envisioned.  Couturier is second among Flyer forwards in ice time per game, due in large part to his leading the club’s forwards in shorthanded ice time.  With so much shorthanded ice time comes power play goals allowed, and no forward in the league has been on ice for more power play goals against, and it’s not close.  Couturier has been on ice for 28 power play goals against (half of his total) while his teammate Matt Read and the New York Islanders’ Frans Nielsen have been on ice for 21 power play goals against.  He has not been making it up in the offensive end; he is 2-1-3 in his last 16 games.  Couturier is 3-3-6, plus-2, in 14 career games against the Caps.

Washington:  Braden Holtby

The Washington Capitals have an excellent record at home over the last two months, and much of that id due to goalie Braden Holtby.  Since he lost a 4-3 decision to the Vancouver Canucks on December 2nd, Holtby is 9-0-2, 1.53, .947, with three shutouts at Verizon Center.  His three shutouts have come in his last four appearances on home ice.  His sustained level of performance has allowed him to climb into the top five in goals against average (2.14/5th), save percentage (.925/4th), shutouts (6/2nd), and minutes (2,634/1st).  Holtby also has a fine record against Metropolitan Division teams.  In 17 appearances he is 10-3-4, 2.10, .927 with four shutouts, one of them coming in a 1-0 Caps win over the Flyers on January 14th.  Holtby is 4-2-4, 3.01, .900, with two shutouts in 11 career appearances against Philadelphia.

In the end…

The Caps have an opportunity with this contest.  A win over a division rival would be satisfying, but two points could leave the Caps tied with the Pittsburgh Penguins at the top of the Metropolitan Division by day’s end.  A win would also allow the Caps to maintain some space over the New York Rangers, no less than a two point lead that would be important given that the Rangers would hold three games in hand on the Caps after tomorrow’s games (the Rangers face the Dallas Stars on Sunday).  A division rival, a crowded group jockeying for position at the top of the division, getting some measure of payback for the overtime loss the Flyers pinned on the Caps a month ago.  They should not lack for motivation. 

Capitals 4 – Flyers 2

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