The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The Washington Capitals return to the friendly confines of Verizon Center Sunday night to meet the Toronto Maple Leafs in a battle of teams on opposite sides of the playoff divide. Caps fans will be hoping the the team can return to winning ways after suffering first streak of three consecutive losses in regulation and winless week in almost four months.
The three losses the Caps bring into this game came against Metropolitan Division opponents in each case. There are two things that the Caps need to address off the top. One is surrendering first period goals. In their three straight losses they were outscored, 4-1, in the first periods of games and trailed at the first intermission in each one. The second thing is special teams. Washington was just 1-for-12 (8.3 percen t) on the power play and allowed a shorthanded goal in their three losses, and they were an equally poor 9-for-12 killing penalties (75.0 percent).
Part of the problem is that the big names did not play big in the three losses. Alex Ovechkin had one power play goal in three games (his only point), Nicklas Backstrom went all three games without a point, as did defenseman Mike Green, and goalie Braden Holtby allowed four goals on 25 shots (.840 save percentage) in the first period of the three games. Having no Caps with more than one goal for the week, and having Eric Fehr and Jason Chimera leading the forwards with two assists apiece was not a recipe for wins.
While the Caps had to deal with the unusual circumstance of a losing streak, such occurrences have become far too regular for the Maple Leafs. Toronto had a six-game winning streak in December that left them 19-9-3 and only two points out of the Atlantic Division lead. Since then, the Leafs are 6-23-2 with losing streaks of 11, five, three (twice), and two games. They will come to Washington having lost to the Montreal Canadiens, 4-0, breaking their first winning “streak” – two games – since that six-game streak in December.
As befits a team having long dropped out of playoff contention, Toronto has been moving assets – Daniel Winnik to Pittsburgh for Zach Sill and two draft picks; Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli to Nashville for Olli Jokinen, a prospect forward, and a draft pick; David Clarkson to Columbus for Nathan Horton.
For Toronto the future certainly is not “now.” And for Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk, and Tyler Bozak – the top three scorers for the Leafs – the future might not be in Toronto. All three have been linked to trade rumors of one sort or another, Bozak to Edmonton, van Riemsdyk generally (although the thinking is he could be a part of the rebuild), Kessel to…well, perhaps lots of places.
None of the three have had a big month of February, as one might expect with the weight of potential trades pressing on their shoulders. Kessel has two goals in 11 games this month and is a minus-7. Van Riemsdyk has one goal for the month and is minus-6. Bozak has had the best scoring month of the three – 3-3-6 – but he carries a minus-8 along with that scoring line for February.
If you look at the players who departed in trade, Daniel Winnik, David Clarkson, Mike Santorelli, and Cody Franson combined for 34 of the 167 goals scored by the Leafs this season, more than 20 percent of the total. One wonders where the scoring will be made up. Chances are it will not. The new guys – Jokinen and Sill – have combined for one point in seven man-games. Which brings us to Nazem Kadri. He has been the focus of trade stories as well, but at age 24 and the number four scorer on the team (15-19-34) he might be considered part of the rebuild going forward as well. He has only two goals for the month, but being “even” in plus-minus over 11 games for the month almost qualifies him for Selke consideration for this team.
Here is how the teams compare overall:
1. The Maple Leafs are a team that gets behind the eight-ball early. Only four teams have scored first fewer times in games than Toronto (27), no team has allowed more first period goals than the Leafs (63), and no team has trailed in more games after the first period than the Maple Leafs (27).
2. One thing about the Leafs, they do not play games close. No team has played more games to decisions of three or more goals than Toronto, who takes a 15-15 record in such games into their contest with the Capitals. Here is the odd part about that statistic, though. While the Maple Leafs have a three-or-more goal decision in roughly one game out of every two (30 times in 62 games), they have had only three such decisions in their last 15 games (1-2-0, both losses on the road in New Jersey and Montreal).
3. Odd stat…with David Clarkson now in Columbus, only one Leaf has more than one fight this season. Dion Phaneuf has five bouts.
4. If there is a shorthanded goal to be scored in this game it would not be a surprise. No team has had more combined shorties for and against than Toronto (16). Only three teams have more shorthanded goals scored than the Maple Leafs (7), and no team has allowed more shorthanded goals (9).
5. As one might expect, the Leafs are a team that struggles with possession. They are 27th in the league in 5-on-5 Corsi-for percentage (46.3) and 27th in Fenwick-for percentage (46.4). They are barely better, from a ranking standpoint, in close score situations – 26th in both Corsi-for percentage (46.1) and Fenwick-for percentage (46.6; numbers from war-on-ice.com).
1. About those shorthanded goals. No team has participated in games with fewer shorties than the Caps (5) – three goals scored and two allowed.
2. Even with the four first period goals allowed in the three games the Caps lost coming into this game, they have the sixth-fewest goals allowed in the first period this season (42).
3. Only three teams have committed more minor penalties than the Caps this season (242) – Columbus (243), Pittsburgh (270), and Winnipeg (303).
4. No team in the league has taken a lead into the third period more times this season than the Caps (30). Only Tampa Bay has more wins in those situations (27) than the Caps (26), and Washington has lost just one game in regulation when leading after two periods.
5. The three-game losing streak for the Caps has been a possession nightmare. Even accounting for the small population size of events, the Corsi-for (47.1) and Fenwick-for percentage (46.2) at 5-on-5 was poor. It was worse in close score situations, a Corsi-for percentage of 41.7 and a Fenwick-for percentage of 42.2 (numbers from war-on-ice.com).
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Toronto: Jonathan Bernier/James Reimer
Playing goaltender for the Toronto Maple Leafs is like trying to turn back a tsunami with a bath sponge. The combined save percentage of Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer is a not-awful .912, but their combined goals against average of 2.87 is not conducive to winning many games. Even if their combined save percentage was .924 (the save percentage of Washington’s Braden Holtby), their combined goals against average would be 2.47 (Holtby’s is 2.20). Bernier took the call in each of the last three games for the Leafs, including last night’s 4-0 loss to Montreal. It suggests that Reimer will tend goal for Toronto against the Caps. The trouble there is that he has struggled. “Struggle” might be too weak a term. In his last 14 appearances Reimer is 1-10-0 (three no decisions), 3.06, .903. Take out the no-decisions, all of them in relief of Bernier and all of them perfect in save percentage, his save percentage in full games over that stretch is .896. Reimer is 2-3-1, 2.62, .922 in six career appearances against Washington.
Washington: Tim Gleason
When the Caps swapped defensemen with Carolina – Jack Hillen (and a draft pick) for Tim Gleason – the Caps upgraded their “sturdy” quotient on the blue line. Despite playing in just 55 games with the Hurricanes he led the team’s defensemen in hits (133) and is in the top-25 in the league (23rd). This is the second straight season that Gleason has been traded in-season. On New Year’s Day 2014 the Hurricanes traded Gleason to Toronto for defenseman John-Michael Liles and a prospect (he re-signed with Carolina as a free agent before this season). What the Caps will not get in the trade is offense, although perhaps strangely Gleason does have a goal this season (Hillen did not with the Caps in 35 games). Since scoring a career high five goals in 2009-2010, Gleason has a total of five goals in 317 games over five seasons. He is 0-3-3, plus-6, in 11 career games against Toronto.
In the end…
You would think this would be an easy one for the Capitals to win. The Leafs can’t string together wins, they are selling off pieces, they give up a ton of shots, they have been a poor possession team when whole. Then you remember that the Caps allowed a season-high six goals to Toronto back on November 29th. Washington is 23-11-6 since that loss, including a 6-2 win over the Maple Leafs on January 7th (a team high in goals scored this season for the Caps), but that loss in November serves as a reminder that any team, even one as wounded as the Leafs, can be dangerous. And if that isn’t enough, the Caps have been in a rut over the past week that needs to be addressed. The imminent trading deadline of 3 p.m. on Monday is a distraction, but that is part of being a pro – dealing with distractions. This game might have its annoying moments, but it should be one in which the Caps return to winning ways.
Capitals 5 – Maple Leafs 2