The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The Washington Capitals wrap up the road portion of their 2014-2015 season on Sunday afternoon in Detroit against the Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena. The Caps will be coming back on less than a full-day’s rest after their 4-3 overtime loss to the Ottawa Senators on Saturday night. The Red Wings will be doing the same after they bested the Minnesota Wild, 3-2, in a Gimmick.
The Red Wings come into this game in the midst of a long slow bleed of air out of their balloon. Since March 6th, Detroit is 5-9-2, and frankly, there is not much secret where the problem lies. Detroit is surrendering far too many goals, 52 of them over those 16 games. At the wrong time of year, goaltending has become an issue. In the 5-9-2 run, three Detroit goaltenders – Jimmy Howard, Petr Mrazek, and Jonas Gustavsson – have combined for a goals against average of 3.07, a save percentage of .895, and each of them was relieved once from a game.
It has made for an unsettled situation in which is not clear if Jimmy Howard is going to be “the man” between the pipes heading into the post season. Howard has had an odd season when compared to last. He has appeared in 51 games this season, the same number in which he appeared in 2013-2014. His record looks very similar to last year’s:
- 2013-2014: 21-19-11, 2.42, .910 (ES save percentage: .920), 2 shutouts
- 2014-2015: 22-13-10, 2.66, .911 (ES save percentage: .919, 2 shutouts
Last season, Howard closed with a rush, winning four of his last five appearances and stopping 121 of 131 shots. This season he is stumbling to the finish. He is 3-1-2, 3.37, .876 in seven career appearances against Washington.
The offense has been a bit off, a shortcoming magnified by the goals allowed. In the 5-9-2 run Detroit has 43 goals (2.69/game). What they are lacking is contributions from those expected to make them. Their leading goal scorer this season – Tomas Tatar (28) – has four goals in his last 22 games. The leading point-getter – Henrik Zetterberg (62) – is 1-5-6 over his last ten games.
Then there is Pavel Datsyuk. His problem is not production as much as it is health. He played in only nine of the 16 games in the 5-9-2 run. We was 3-6-9 in those games, a point-per-game pace consistent with his production for the season (60 points in 60 games).
If there has been something close to a constant for the Red Wings on offense it has been Gustav Nyquist. After last year’s coming out party for the former fourth-round draft pick (28 goals in 57 games), Nyquist has 26 goals this season, second on the club. He has five of those goals in the recent Red Wing 16-game slide, about his season average per game (0.33), and has assisted on four others. There has, however, been an odd change in his goal scoring profile from last year to this. Last season his 28 goals included 22 at even strength and six on the power play. This year, Nyquist’s power play production has more than doubled, to 14 goals, but his even strength output has been cut nearly in half, to 12 goals. He is 5-3-8, plus-2, in five career games against the Capitals.
Here is how the teams compare overall…
1. No team has scored more power play goals on home ice than the Red Wings (39), in no small part a product of the fact that only Dallas has more power play opportunities on home ice (158) than Detroit (148).
2. Special teams get a workout on the Joe Louis Arena ice sheet. The Red Wings have the third-highest number of shorthanded situations faced on home ice (138), trailing only Pittsburgh (139) and Winnipeg (151).
3. Scoring first is almost always a good thing, but Detroit has an odd record in this regard. The Red Wings rank 24th in winning percentage when scoring first (.5909/23-8-8), but they rank third in winning percentage when allowing the first goal (.462/18-16-5).
4. Sixteen different Red Wings have at least one power play goal this season (by way of comparison, the Caps have 12 players with at least one power play goal).
5. Even though the Red Wings have been struggling over the last month in wins and losses, they remain a possession monster. At 5-on-5 overall, their Corsi-for percentage over their 5-9-2 run is 54.1; their Fenwick-for percentage is 53.2 percent. Their corresponding close score percentages are 53.6/53.3 (numbers from war-on-ice.com).
1. Washington’s overtime loss was their first in the five-minute extra session in more than two months. The last time they dropped a game in the overtime was on January 31st, a 1-0 overtime loss to Montreal.’
2. The two 5-on-3 power play goals allowed by the Caps against Ottawa were twice as many as they had allowed all season.
3. Perhaps the loss to Ottawa was preordained. The Caps have lost five games in the extra period when trailing at the first intermission five times this season. Only four teams have more, each with six such losses.
4. The Caps losing in overtime to Ottawa dropped their record to 4-13-5 when trailing after the first period, the ninth-worst winning percentage in the league (.182).
5. Washington has struggled some in possession on the road recently. In their last 13 road games the Caps have been over 50 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5, close score situations, only four times and over 50 percent in Fenwick-for percentage five times. Overall, their numbers in those 13 games are 49.0/48.3, respectively (numbers from war-on-ice.com).
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Detroit: Justin Abdelkader
Of the 43 goals scored by the Red Wings in their recent 5-9-2 slide, Justin Abdelkader has nine of them and has assisted on three others, factoring into almost 28 percent of the goals scored by Detroit in those 16 games. He has two streaks of at least three games with a goal embedded in that run as well. It is part of a season in which Abdelkader has shattered his previous career high in goals – he has 23; he had tenin each of his previous two seasons. He also has a career high in points (44), far eclipsing the 28 points he recorded last season. He has a knack for scoring in close score situations, 18 of his 23 goals coming when the Wings are trailing by a goal, tied, or leading by a goal. And, five of those goals are game-winners. Abdelkader is 3-2-5, minus-3, in 11 career games against Washington.
Washington: Nicklas Backstrom
Quietly – who would have expected otherwise – Nicklas Backstrom is looking as if he might be at the start of piecing together a nice little scoring run. Sure, it seems sometimes as if he might not ever score a goal of his own again – he has not had one in his last 20 games and missed on a couple of excellent chances against Ottawa on Saturday – but he has assists in three of his last four games and has regained the league lead in assists (57) from Philadelphia’s Jakub Voracek (56). Even with the goal drought, Backstrom is sixth overall in scoring (75 points). If there is something there that suggests a breakout might be coming it is that he has been such a consistent point-per-game player over his career. He has 569 points in 574 career games, five points short of that point-per-game mark. Perhaps not coincidentally, he has his 75 points this season in 79 games, four points short of the mark. Backstrom is 2-8-10, minus-2, in ten career games against Detroit.
In the end…
Washington faces another desperate team on Sunday, this one trying to hold a three-point lead in the wild card race, not make up the three point deficit that Ottawa had on Saturday. It is odd to be using the term “desperate” in reference to the Red Wings, but they are in jeopardy of missing the post season for the first time in 24 seasons and the third time since Ronald Reagan’s first term as President. Nine players having dressed for the Wings this season were not yet born the last time Detroit missed the post season.
On the other side, the Caps are on the cusp of returning to the post season after a one-year absence. That last few strides to the finish line could prove to be the most difficult. Washington closes the season with these Red Wings, then wrap up the regular season at home against Boston (a team in Detroit’s position trying to hang on to a wild card spot) and the Rangers, who might want to send a message in the season finale and atone for the 5-2 pasting the Caps put on them in their last meeting.
Nothing has yet been earned, and for all intents and purposes the Capitals are already playing teams in playoff mode. They need to match the effort.
Capitals 4 – Red Wings 3