Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Eastern Conference Quarterfinals: Capitals vs. Islanders

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals begin their march to the Stanley Cup on Wednesday night when they host the New York Islanders at Verizon Center.

The Caps and the Islanders have a rich history of playoff meetings, the teams having met six times in the post season:
  • 1983 Patrick Division Semifinal - Islanders win best-of-five, 3-1
  • 1984 Patrick Division Final – Islanders win best-of-seven, 4-1
  • 1985 Patrick Division Semifinal – Islanders win best-of-five, 3-2
  • 1986 Patrick Division Semifinal – Capitals win best-of-five, 3-0
  • 1987 Patrick Division Semifinal – Islanders win best-of-seven, 4-3
  • 1993 Patrick Division Semifinal – Islanders in best-of-seven, 4-2
Younger Caps fans, be advised.  Before the Pittsburgh Penguins perpetrated their version of grief on the Caps, there were the Islanders.  The Caps have never beaten the Isles in a seven-game series.  In all three best-of-seven series the teams played, the Caps won Game 1.  They took a three-games-to-one lead in 1987 before losing the series in the most excruciating manner imaginable:

But this will be the first meeting of the clubs in the post season in 22 years.  Of more recent relevance, the teams met four times this season, each club holding serve twice on home ice with three of the games decided in extra time:

The series might have been close on the scoreboard, but there are two things to note in the summary stats.  First, the Islanders have dominated the shots and shot attempts – 28 percent more shots on goal in the four games, 23 percent more shot attempts.  Second, special teams have been kind to both clubs, at least in terms of their respective power plays, both clubs converting more than 30 percent of their chances.  On that last point, the Caps suffered a problem consistent with one with which they had to deal all season – lack of power play opportunities.  Despite a better conversion rate than the Islanders, the Caps lost the special teams battle, 4-3.

In terms of individual scoring, the Caps have the usual suspects – Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom – leading the list.  The Islanders, on the other hand, have spread things around a bit more.  Overall, eight Islanders scored goals in the four-game season series, while 17 skaters recorded points.  For the Caps, eight players have goals (a third of the total coming from Ovechkin), and 15 players have points.  What the Islanders have been able to do, to an extent, is limit Ovechkin’s shots on goal.  He had 36 shot attempts in the four games, but 16 on goal, slightly lower than his 4.88 shots per game for the season overall.

Goaltending for each club is consistent with their season, at least in the workload.  Braden Holtby played every minute of the four games for the Caps. Jaroslav Halak and Chad Johnson split the duties for the Islanders, Halak recording both wins for the Isles, Johnson taking both losses.  The heavy shot volumes by the Islanders took a toll on Holtby’s goals against average and save percentage, both among the worst he posted against any Eastern Conference team this season.  Conversely, Halak has a respectable goals against average, but his .906 save percentage suggests a weakness at the most important position in a short series.

In terms of the teams’ overall performance this season, here is how they compare:

Who’s hot?

The Caps were 9-3-1 in their last 13 games of the regular season.  Only five times in those 13 games did they allow more than two goals.  Four of those occurrences came in the four losses, all four times the Caps falling into a 0-3 deficit.

Who’s not?

The Islanders came limping into the post season.  They went 6-8-5 in their last 19 games and did not win consecutive games at any point in that span of games (four of the extra time losses came in the Gimmick).  Scoring goals was a challenge.  They had a four game losing streak in that run in which they scored a single goal in each game, and they had a three-game losing streak in which they scored two goals or fewer.

Random facts to impress your friends and annoy your enemies...
  • Getting a lead matters, to a point.  The team that scored the first goal won three of the four games in the season series.  Only in the last game, when Anders Lee opened the scoring for the Islanders in a 4-3 overtime Caps win, did this not hold true.
  • Three times in this series the Islanders held a dominating shot and shot attempt advantage (Games 1, 3, and 4 of the season series).  However, all three of those games went to overtime.  In the one game in which the Caps held an advantage (Game 2), the Caps won going away, 5-2, scoring the game’s last three goals.
  • The Caps enjoyed significant contributions from the blue line offensively over the course of the season.  Not so much in the season series against New York, with one notable exception.  Of the Caps defensemen likely to play in this series, John Carlson and Mike Green each recorded an assist over the four games.  Neither Karl Alzner nor Brooks Orpik recorded a point.  On the other hand, Matt Niskanen went 1-4-5 in the four games (Tim Gleason did not appear against the Islanders as a Capital this season).
  • Power plays figured heavily in the outcomes of two games in this series.  Both Islander wins came in extra time on power plays, when the space available in a 4-on-3 advantage was greater than in 5-on-4 situations in regulation time.
  • The Caps outscored the Islanders, 6-2, in the third period of the four games in the season series.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

It is a given that if the stars – Alex Ovechkin and John Tavares – do not perform to their capabilities, the opponent is likely to advance.  But what players for each team that lack that kind of star power have to step up their game?

New York: Josh Bailey

In the four games against the Caps this season, Josh Bailey had one assist and was minus-1, despite averaging almost 17 minutes a game.  It was a curiously underwhelming performance given that Bailey finished the season with 15 goals (one below his career best in 2009-2010) and 41 points (a career high).  He comes into the post season without a goal in his last 11 regular season games and one in his last 15 contests.  He is 3-6-9, minus-4, in 27 career regular season games against Washington.

Washington: Mike Green

The Caps did not get much in terms of offense from its defense against the Islanders this season, with the exception of Matt Niskanen, and that largely the product of a three-assist game in the Caps’ 5-2 win last November 28th).  If the Caps can get more production out of the blue line and soften up the Islanders, the path to the second round of the playoffs becomes somewhat easier.  Green started showing signs of his old goal-scoring prowess late in the season.  He had five goals in his last 12 regular season games after recording only five goals in his first 60 games of the season.  He does not dominate the ice time he did in his younger days, but his one power play goal for the season was his lowest total in any season since his first full year – none in 70 games of the 2006-2007 season.  Green is 4-11-15, minus-2, in 27 career games against New York

In the end…

This series might just boil down to a trade-off between two questions.  Can the Caps dominate special teams?  Can the Islanders dominate the shot meter?  If the Caps can answer the first question in the affirmative and keep the Islanders from doing the same with the latter question, they win.  If the reverse is true, if the Islanders dominate the shot meter and keep the Caps from doing damage on their power play, they will advance. 

Where this series tilts is suggested by the season series.  Even when dominating the shot meter, the Islanders could only manage to drag things out into extra time.  When the Caps negated that advantage, they dispatched the Islanders with room to spare.

Those questions will turn on how the goaltenders can perform against the other team’s strengths.  In that regard, the Capitals have an advantage.  This is not 2010, and this Jaroslav Halak is not that Jaroslav Halak.  

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