Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 69: Stars at Capitals, March 13th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys is one of the most renowned rivalries in the National Football League.  The Washington Capitals and the Dallas Stars?  Uh…no.  Since the teams first met in October 1974, when the Stars were in Minnesota and were the “North Stars,” they have done battle 90 times.  Washington trails in the series with a 29-44-16-1 record, which includes a 5-4 loss in Dallas on January 17th, a game in which the Caps fought back from a 0-3 deficit to tie the game, only to allow goals 16 seconds apart in the third period to stifle the comeback.

More recently, the Stars have been trying to claw out from under the wreckage of a six-game losing streak (0-4-2) that dropped them from four points behind the San Jose Sharks for the last playoff spot to six points out of that spot (trailing the Calgary Flames) and all but ruining their playoff hopes.  Since that losing streak the Stars are 3-1-0, but the damage might have been done.

The real damage was done just before that losing streak, though.  Late in the third period of a game against the Florida Panthers, with the Stars nursing a 2-0 lead, Panther defenseman Dmitry Kulikov hit Tyler Seguin low and sent the Stars forward sprawling across the ice.  Seguin suffered a knee injury, Kulikov was suspended for four games for clipping Seguin, and the Stars started falling further out of the discussion of playoff contenders.

Seguin returned to the lineup last Saturday against Tampa Bay and scored a pair of goals after missing ten games.  It did not matter; the Stars lost to the Lightning, 5-4.  As it is, even with Seguin having missed those ten games he is second on the team in total scoring (61 points), and leads the team in goals (31) by a substantial margin over Jamie Benn (23).  Seguin is 4-3-7 in 14 career games against the Caps, including a goal and an assist in the Stars’ 5-4 win on January 17th.

Of players playing in the first six seasons of their careers over the 2009-2010 to the 2014-2015 seasons, only John Tavares has scored more goals (169) than Jamie Benn (139).  He has scored 20 or more goals in each of his five full seasons to date (including this one), and was on a pace to do so in the abbreviated 2012-2013 season (12 in 41 games).  Lately, though, Benn seems to have lost his touch.  Since recording a hat trick against the St. Louis Blues in a 4-1 win on February 17th, Benn has one goal in his last ten games, none in his last eight.  He is 2-4-6 in six career games against Washington.

Kari Lehtonen wins games in goal for the Stars, but he isn’t especially effective in doing so.  Only three goalies in the NHL have allowed four or more goals more times than Lehtonen (15) – Edmonton’s Ben Scrivens (17), Arizona’s Mike Smith (18), and Jhonas Enroth (15 times with Buffalo, three times with Dallas).  His 2.94 goals against average ranks 36th of 43 qualifying goaltenders; his .906 save percentage ranks 33rd in that group.  Lehtonen’s save percentage at even strength (.911) ranks 36th among goalies appearing in at least 25 games.  Put another way, he is not stealing games.  Lehtonen is 12-24-5 when the Stars score three or fewer goals.  What he does have, though, is wins against the Caps.  Lehtonen has not beaten any team in his career as often as he has beaten the Caps (14-6-2, 2.61, .924, two shutouts in 22 appearances).

1.  Only St. Louis has scored five or more goals in more games (15) than the Stars (14; 11-1-2).  The Stars are one of only four teams to have scored five goals in a game and lost in regulation this season (the New York Islanders, Calgary, and the Caps being the others).  They lost, 7-5, to the Islanders on October 25th.  By the way, the Caps’ loss in this category was a 6-5 decision against the Arizona Coyotes on November 2nd.

2.  Dallas scores goals every which way.  They rank fourth in goals scored at 5-on-5 (144), seventh in 5-on-4 goals (39), tied for fifth in 5-on-3 goals (3), tied for tenth in 4-on-4 goals (6), and tied for fourth in 4-on-5 goals.

3.  Dallas allows goals every which way, too.  Their 153 goals allowed at 5-on-5 is second-most in the league.  They are tied for fifth in most goals allowed at 4-on-4 (6).  The Stars are second worst in allowing 4-on-4 goals (8).  They are tied for second worst in allowing goals at 3-on-4 (2; the Caps are worst with four goals allowed).  Dallas is tied for eighth in most goals allowed at 4-on-5 (39).

4.  Holding leads is an issue for the Stars.  They have the sixth worst winning percentage in the league when scoring first (.583/21-9-6).  They have the tenth-worst winning percentage when taking a lead into the first intermission (.727/16-5-1), and they have lost eight games when leading at the second intermission (three losses in regulation, five in extra time).  No team has lost more games when leading after 40 minutes.

5.  Shot attempts are hardly scarce in Stars games.  Dallas leads the league in total Corsi events (shot attempts), both teams, per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 (118.1) and total Fenwick attempts per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 (87.2). 

1.  Last season the Caps had 16 players who finished the season in double-digits in points out of 35 skaters dressing for the club.  This season they have 17 players with ten or more points out of 27 skaters dressing for the team.  If there is an 18th, it would seem new Capital Curtis Glencross would be the best candidate.  He has four points in four games and has 14 more games to get six points.

2.  Health has been an issue for the Caps over the past few days, but it remains that the Caps have had a comparatively fortunate season thus far.  Through 68 games, the Caps have had 13 players appear in 60 or more games.  In 2013-2014, the Caps had only 12 players all season who appeared in 60 or more games.

3.  The Caps still have the league’s best record in games decided by three or more goals (12-3).  Three of the Caps’ last six games have ended in such decisions, and the Caps are 2-1 in those games.

4.  Washington has the league’s second-best special teams index at home (112.5, the sum of power play and penalty kill percentages).  Detroit has the best (115.0).

5.  One would like the Caps to get off to better starts, possession-wise.  Washington is 19th in the league in Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 in the first period (50.0).  They are much better in the second period (52.9/6th), but they slip back again in the third period (50.5/18th).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Dallas: Antoine Roussel

Among the Stars’ top goal scorers, Tyler Seguin has missed time to injury (as noted above), as has Trevor Daley (out the last week after a knee-on-knee hit from the Islanders’ Matt Martin).  Erik Cole was traded to Detroit, and Cody Eakin was suspended by the team for disciplinary reasons earlier this week (he was reinstated for Thursday’s game against Carolina).  Where is the secondary scoring coming from?  Perhaps Antoine Roussel.  The third year forward is seventh on the team in goals (12), and he is the only player in the league with 12 or more goals and 125 or more penalty minutes.  He is also a team-worst minus-14, so perhaps there are limits to his contributions.  He has not done much scoring of late, though.  He has one goal in his last 21 games, over which he is a minus-12.  In three career games against the Caps he is 1-0-1.

Washington: Troy Brouwer

When Troy Brouwer scored 25 goals and recorded 43 points last season – both career highs – the thinking coming into this season was that a regression was in order.  Well, if there is to be one, it might not be much.  Brouwer is on a pace to finish 22-19-41.  The 19 assists would tie a career high, and the 22 goals would tie his second best season, 2009-2010 with Chicago.  He has found the goals a little harder to come by lately; he has three goals in his last 17 games.  Part of the problem might be a bit more frequency in his trips to the penalty box.  Brouwer recorded 22 of his 45 penalty minutes this season in his last 14 games.  He is 5-5-10 in 16 career games against the Stars.

In the end…

The Caps have shown a skill lately of dispatching struggling teams effectively.  They beat Buffalo (6-1), Columbus (5-3), and Toronto (4-0), teams looking past this season.  Dallas is on the brink of falling out of the Western Conference race if they have not already.  Their strength – scoring goals – has suffered some slippage in March with 13 goals in five games (their season average is 3.08 goals per game).  The Caps can use this game as a springboard to get through a softer stretch of their schedule (they get the Stars, Sabres, and Devils over their next six games before facing Nashville and the Rangers in back-to-back games). 

The Caps, who looked to be firmly installed as the first wild card team and challenging for the Metropolitan Division lead a week ago, are now just four points ahead of Boston with the Bruins holding two games in hand and trailing the Caps by only one win in regulation and overtime. This game against the Stars is one that the Caps need to win, more than one might think looking at the records of the two teams.

Capitals 5 – Stars 3

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