Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 75: Predators at Capitals, March 28th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals look to make it five wins in their last six games as they wrap up their abbreviated two-game home stand against the Nashville Predators on Saturday afternoon.  This will be the Caps’ last contest against a Western Conference opponent this season, unless they should advance to the Stanley Cup final. The Caps come into this contest with a 12-12-3 record against the West this season, a 6-7-0 record against the Central Division, and an 0-1-0 record against the Predators, having lost a 4-3 decision in Nashville on January 16th when the Preds overcame a 3-2 deficit with two goals in the final five minutes of the contest to take the victory.

Nashville comes into this contest with something of a rocky 2015 portion of the season, although the Predators seem to be righting themselves at the right time.  Their streaks since the new year began look like this:
  • January 3 – 16: 6-0-1 (ending with the win over the Caps)
  • January 17 – 30: 1-2-2
  • February 1 – 17: 8-1-0
  • February 19 – March 17: 4-9-2
  • March 21 – 26: 3-0-0
That 22-12-5 record overall has left the Predators at the top of the Central Division and with the second best record in the conference (46-21-8/100 points), one point behind the Anaheim Ducks (47-22-7/101 points).

Nashville has struggled on the road recently, even through their streaks, posting a 3-4-0 road record in March.  In those seven games the Predators have been outscored, 17-11, and their special teams have not been very special.  The power play is 2-for-24 in the seven road games (8.3 percent), while the penalty kill is 15-for-21 (71.4 percent).

Scoring has come hard for the Predators on the road in March.  Only once in seven away games have they recorded more than two goals, and only Paul Gaustad has more than one goal for the Predators in those seven games.  Those two goals doubled Gaustad’s total for the season, the four goals being a career low for a season in which Gaustad played in at least 50 games.  In 24 career games against the Capitals, he is 2-2-4, plus-5.

Taylor Beck is in his first full season with the Predators after being taken in the third round of the 2009 entry draft.  He also happens to be Nashville’s leading scorer on the road in March with four points (1-3-4).  It is something of an unexpected outburst from Beck, who for the season is 7-8-15.  He is something of a road warrior, though.  Of his seven goals, five have come on the road, and 11 of this 15 points have been recorded outside of Tennessee.  He has appeared in just one game against the Caps so far in his career, finishing without a point.

Perhaps lost in the hoopla that surrounds the season of Montreal goaltender Carey Price, Nashville’s Pekka Rinne is putting together a season that would appear to make him a contender for one of the other finalist spots for the Vezina Trophy.  Rinne is tied with Price for most wins by a goaltender (40), is third in goals against average (2.08), is fifth in save percentage (.927), and has four shutouts.  His .935 save percentage at even strength is fifth among goaltenders appearing in at least 20 games this season.  He has done his part on the road for the Predators in March, although his record does not reflect it.  He is 3-3-0 in March road games with a 2.02 goals against average and a .929 save percentage.  In one of the odd instances of the Caps-Predators rivalry, Rinne has appeared against the Caps only once in his career, that coming in November 2011.  He made 39 saves in a 3-1 win in Nashville.

Here is how the teams’ numbers compare overall:

1.  Nashville is something of a slow starter in games, having scored only 54 goals in the first periods of games this season.  They do close with a rush, though.  Of their 200 goals scored in regulation, 146 of them (73 percent) have been scored in the final 40 minutes.

2.  Only the New York Rangers have a larger ratio of goals scored to goals allowed at 5-on-5 this season (1.37:1) than the Predators (1.31:1).  The Rangers have a goal differential of plus-44 at 5-on-5, while Nashville has one of plus-41 (the Caps are plus-7).

3.  The sweet spot for beating Nashville is the two-goal decision.  The Predators have the third-best winning percentage in one-goal games (.674/29-6-8), and they have the third-best winning percentage in games decided by three or more goals (.667/12-6).  In two-goal games they are 5-9 (.357 winning percentage).

4.  Those first period goal totals suggest that Nashville is not an especially adept team at front-running, but watch out if they do get out to leads.  They have scored the first goal only 32 times in 75 games, the seventh-fewest amount of first-goal games in the league.  However, when scoring that first goal, Nashville is 26-2-4, their .813 winning percentage third-best in the league.  Similarly for first period leads, the Predators have led after 20 minutes just 22 times in 75 games, 12th fewest in the league.  They are, however, 19-1-2 in those games, their .864 winning percentage ranking third in the league.

5. Nashville’s possession performance in March road games has been very different in 5-on-5 situations overall and 5-on-5 close score situations.  Overall, the Predators’ Corsi-for and Fenwick-for percentages at 5-on-5 are 50.2/49.4.  In close score situations those percentages jump: 55.0/53.6.

1.  Nashville does not score much in the first period of games, and the Caps are stingy in allowing goals in the first period of contests.  Only five teams have allowed fewer first period goals than the 50 allowed by Washington (of course, Nashville recorded one of those goals in the first meeting of the clubs).  The Caps have, however, been a bit less stingy at home, allowing 25 goals in the first period of 37 home games (12th-fewest in the league).

2.  If PDO is, in part, “puck luck,” the Caps don’t seem to have it late in games at home.  They have a 5-on-5 PDO at home of 101.9 in the first periods of games (seventh-best in the league), and a second period 5-on-5 PDO of 101.6 (eighth).  The third period falls off – 98.3 (23rd).

3.  The Caps have won four of their last five games, but they have not been doing it with offense.  In those five games they have only 11 goals, and their power play is 3-for-11 (but 0-for-8 in the last three games).  They have played on the margin, too, winning two games in extra time and another by one goal.

4.  Washington still needs to improve on those one-goal games, though.  The Caps rank 18th in one-goal game winning percentage (.452/19-13-10).  Decisions by more than one goal are not a problem (21-11, including a league best 12-4 record in games decided by three or more goals).

5.  In their recent five-game run of good fortune, the Caps’ possession numbers have been generally solid.  At 5-on-5 overall their Corsi-for and Fenwick-for percentages are 56.0/54.6.  In close score situations they are 55.3/53.9.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Nashville: Seth Jones

Learning to play defense for a defenseman in the National Hockey League is a process, not an instant mix in which you just add talent, even for a fourth overall pick like Seth Jones.  Last season – his rookie year in the NHL – Jones was on ice for 76 goals against in 77 games (1,511 minutes played).  Only Winnipeg’s Jacob Trouba was on ice for more goals against among rookie defensemen (77).  This year, in 75 games, Jones has been on ice for only 56 goals against (1,466 minutes played).  He has managed this improvement with almost identical offensive numbers: 6-19-25 last season, 6-18-24 this season.  It is the difference between being a minus-23 last season (last among rookie defensemen) and being a plus-6 this season.  Jones is 1-1-2, plus-3 in two career games against the Caps.

Washington: Joel Ward

Joel Ward has never scored a goal against his old team, either before he joined the Predators when he played for Minnesota (he never faced Nashville as a member of the Wild) or since joining the Capitals (no goals in five games).  Of more immediate concern, Ward has gone seven straight games without a goal, and he has just seven in his last 52 games dating back to November 28th (an 11-goal season pace).  It is a symptom of the lack of secondary scoring the Caps have had.

Ward has been something of a slow finisher in the regular season over his career.  In the last ten games of each of his six full seasons before this one, he had six goals in the 60 games.  Getting more production out of Ward – and the bottom nine forwards generally – will be key in whether the Caps advance to the post season or find themselves coming up short.  Ward is 0-1-1, minus-1, in five career games against Nashville.

In the end…

The playoffs start early for the Caps.  Despite holding a five-point lead over both the Ottawa Senators and the Boston Bruins for one of the two wild-card playoff spots, the Senators hold a game in hand and, more important, the schedule to close the regular season is sprinkled with playoff-eligible teams throughout for the Caps.  It starts today against the Predators.  Fortunately for the Caps, history would appear to be on their side.  Washington holds a 7-2-0 all-time record against Nashville at Verizon Center and have a four-game home winning streak against the Preds.  It seems likely to be a game that fans of the game within a game – goalie vs. goalie – will like, but one that will feature little offense.  Pekka Rinne will be hard to solve, but a power play goal, a deflection, and an empty netter might be the formula here.

Capitals 3 – Predators 1

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