The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The Washington Capitals will be looking to kill two (or more) birds with one stone when they face the New York Rangers on Sunday afternoon. They will be looking to shake off their 4-3 loss to the Nashville Predators on Saturday afternoon, they will be trying to put some distance between themselves and their closest pursuers for a wild-card playoff berth (Ottawa and Boston), and they will be seeking to end a three-game losing streak to the Rangers dating back to last season.
Despite having the third-best goal differential in the Eastern Conference, the Caps find themselves facing the possibility of missing the playoffs altogether as they head into this contest against the Rangers. Part of the Caps’ problem in clinching a playoff spot is an inconsistency in their performances on a game-to-game basis, especially recently. While the Capitals are 4-2-0 in their last six games, they are just 5-5-0 in their last ten and in that time have not been able to put any more distance between themselves and the Boston Bruins (their closest pursuer at the moment in the standings) than the three point difference they had back on March 3rd, before this ten-game stretch started.
On the other side, the Rangers are fine-tuning for the playoffs. While they lost on Saturday in Boston to the Bruins – a 4-2 loss in goalie Henrik Lundqvist’s return after almost two months since sustaining a neck injury – the Rangers are 9-3-1 in March. Multiply each of those numbers by three, and you have the Rangers’ record in the 2015 portion of the season to date: 27-9-3. If there is the slightest crack in their façade, it has appeared in the last two weeks, over which the Rangers are a more mortal 3-3-0.
In those six games, the Rangers outscored their opponents by an 18-14 margin, but two of the three wins were laughers – a 7-2 win over Anaheim a week ago and a 5-1 win over Ottawa on Thursday. Their power play is just 1-for-7 in those six games and has not been on the ice in either of their last two contests. The penalty kill is 13-for-14 in those six games.
The Rangers have had the benefit of primary scoring in the 3-3-0 run with Chris Kreider leading the club with three goals and Derek Stepan leading in overall points with six. But New York has had secondary contributions as well. Kevin Hayes is tied for the scoring lead over the last six games with six points (1-5-6). Hayes was a 24th overall pick of the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2010 draft (the Caps took Evgeny Kuznetsov two picks later). However, the Blackhawks allowed their rights to sign him to expire last August, and the Rangers signed him as a free agent later that month. He has been quite a find for the Rangers, going 14-24-38 in 71 games. Those 14 goals are tied for sixth on the club, and his 38 points is seventh in Ranger scoring. Hayes is 0-2-2, plus-2 in two career games against Washington.
J.T. Miller has provided some secondary scoring, too. In his last six games he is 2-3-5, and in 50 games has almost twice as many goals (9) as he had in 56 games over the previous two seasons combined (5) and twice as many points (20) as he recorded over the previous two seasons combined (10). He has points in four of his last five games, matching a four-games-in-five scoring stretch he had from December 29th through January 8th. In seven career games against the Capitals, Miller is 1-0-1, minus-2, his goal being the game-winner in the Rangers’ 3-1 victory over the Caps on March 11th.
On Saturday, Cam Talbot assumed the backup goaltending role from which he sprung when Henrik Lundqvist suffered a neck injury back on January 31st. With the Rangers playing a back-to-back set of games, and Lundqvist getting the nod on Saturday, it would seem likely that Talbot will get the call against the Caps on Sunday. He already has a victory against Washington this season to his credit, a 3-1 win on March 11th. It was part of an extended run over which he allowed two or fewer goals in nine straight games, a streak that came to an end last Tuesday in a 4-2 loss to the Los Angeles Kings. He got right back on track, though, with a 23-save effort in a 5-1 win over Ottawa on Thursday. In spelling Lundqvist as the number one goaltender, Talbot was 16-4-3, 2.16, .929, with two shutouts. In two career appearances against the Caps, Talbot is 1-1-0, 2.03, .937.
Here is how the teams compare overall:
1. When the Rangers win, they do not just win, they bury teams. New York has almost as many wins by three or more goals (18) as they do one-goal wins (21). Only Montreal and Tampa Bay have more wins by multi-goal margins (29 apiece) than the Rangers (26), and New York’s 18 wins by three or more goals is tied for the league lead (with Chicago and Vancouver).
2. The Rangers have allowed only one 4-on-4 goal this season, fewest in the league, an interesting counterpoint to the Caps being tied for second in 4-on-4 goals scored (13, with Anaheim).
3. The Rangers being out-shot is not a good sign for opponents. New York is tied for the league lead in winning percentage (.667/18-8-1) when being out-shot.
4. The Rangers are one of only two teams (Nashville is the other) having lost once in regulation when leading after the first period. And, they have the league’s second best record (32-0-1) when leading at the second intermission (Chicago is 23-0-0). Those 32 wins when leading after two periods is tied with the Caps for the league lead.
5. The Rangers have been a dominant team at 5-on-5 in one respect in the 2015 portion of the season. In 38 games they have outscored their opponents by an 88-58 margin at 5-on-5, a 1.52 goals scored-to-goals allowed ratio. It is, however, at odds with their possession numbers. Over the same 38 games the Rangers have Corsi-for and Fenwick-for percentages at 5-on-5 of 50.1/50.1. Those numbers are not a lot better in close score situations – 50.2/50.7. If anything, the Rangers are slightly better in possession on the road. Their Corsi-for/Fenwick for percentages in close score situations of away games are 51.8/52.1 (numbers from war-on-ice.com).
1. Over their 5-5-0 ten-game run, the Caps have split 48 goals down the middle with their opponents (24-24). Their power play is 7-for-24 (29.2 percent), while their penalty kill is 26-for-31 (83.9 percent), a respectable 113.1 on the special teams index.
2. It is the even strength battle that the Caps are losing. They have been outscored at 5-on-5 by a 16-11 margin over their last ten games.
3. The Caps’ leading scorer over their last ten games is not Alex Ovechkin, and it is not Nicklas Backstrom. It is Evgeny Kuznetsov, who has eight points (4-4-8). Kuznetsov, Ovechkin, and Curtis Glencross each have four goals to lead the team in their last ten games.
4. Neither Ovechkin nor Backstrom has a point in their last three games. It is the first time the duo went three straight games together without a point since each went without a point in three straight games last November 15-18.
5. The even strength scoring problems the Caps have had over their last ten games do not align with their possession number over those same ten games. Their Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 overall is 55.0. It is not as good in close score situations, however (51.2; numbers from war-on-ice.com).
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
New York: Rick Nash
Rick Nash scored his 40th goal of the season on Saturday against Boston. It was his first goal in nine games and just his third in his last 16 games after lighting the lamp 37 times in his first 57 games. His scoring is a critical element in Ranger success, as you might expect. New York is 24-8-1 in games in which Nash scores at least one goal, 31-8-5 when he records a point. The Rangers are 23-12-6 when he does not record a goal, 16-12-2 when he does not record a point. Not that the Rangers’ record without Nash scoring is poor, just not as dominant. He has had more than his share of success against the Caps, too. In 17 career games against Washington, Nash is 12-8-20, plus-2.
Washington: Marcus Johansson
On the one hand, Marcus Johansson has been a very consistent player for the Caps. In his last four seasons he has averaged 0.58, 0.65, 0.55, and this season 0.54 points per game. On the other hand, that is not the sort of upward arc of production one would like to see in a player still in his early career phase (Johansson is 24 years old). On the one hand, his goal production is up, having already set a career high of 17 goals in 75 games this season. On the other hand, he does not have a goal in his last eight games, which is lousy timing for a club suddenly finding itself in a playoff dogfight. Johansson is not the problem; he is, however, a symptom. The Caps need more balance than they are getting (half of the 24 goals over the last ten games coming from three players), and Johansson is a part of that solution. He is 1-5-6, minus-6, in 15 career games against the Rangers.
In the end…
Playing to a .500 record over their last seven games might be good enough for the Caps to slide into the playoffs, but it would not be the way to bet. Their inconsistency is a bit maddening, to boot. They dropped their last two decisions to playoff-eligible teams (3-0 to Winnipeg and 4-3 to Nashville) after winning two such decisions over such clubs (3-2 over Minnesota and 2-0 over Boston). And those two wins came after two losses to…well, you get the point (to the Rangers and the Wild, to complete the point). From here on out, it is almost all playoff-eligible or near-eligible teams the Caps will face over their last seven games (only Carolina is not contending for such a spot). They will have to earn their ticket to the post season.
Capitals 3 – Rangers 2