The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The Washington Capitals, fresh off of their 6-2 dismantling of the Calgary Flames, head to Vancouver to face the Canucks on Thursday night in the middle game of their three-game road trip. Washington brings a three-game winning streak into this contest, outscoring opponents by a 14-4 margin in the process, while Vancouver enters the game on a two-game losing streak (one in overtime) after winning three of their first four games of the season.
Unlike the Capitals, who have been scoring at a smart pace so far as the top-scoring team in the league at 3.80 goals per game (through Tuesday’s games), Vancouver has been struggling to light the lamp. The Canucks come into this game ranked 18th in scoring offense (2.50 goals per game) and have just ten goals scored in their last five games.
At an individual level, part of the problem in the offensive end is the un-Sedin like way the Sedin brothers are playing. They came into this season with a spooky similarity in their career numbers. Henrik was 211-704-915 in 1,092 career games (0.84 points per game), while brother Daniel came into the season 327-554-881 in 1,061 games (0.83 points per game). Through six games this season, their paths have diverged a bit. Daniel is 2-2-4, plus-3 through six games, while Henrik is 1-1-2, plus-4. Neither have a power play point despite each averaging more than three minutes per game on the man advantage, tops among Vancouver forwards. Both have had their success against the Caps, Henrik going 2-9-11, plus-4 in 15 career games against the Caps, Daniel going 7-5-12, plus-4 in 14 games against Washington.
Bo Horvat was taken as the ninth overall pick by the Canucks in the 2013 entry draft. He made the jump to the NHL last season for Vancouver, appearing in 68 games and finishing the season 13-12-25. He added another goal and three assists in the postseason and finished 11th in voting for the Calder Trophy for top rookie. He is off to something of a slow start this season with just one goal to account for his point production, despite averaging almost five more minutes of ice time per game (16:55) than he averaged last season (12:16). He had an assist in his only career appearance against the Caps last season.
The Caps need no introduction to goalie Ryan Miller. In 30 career games against Washington, Miller is 17-12-0, 2.50, .916, with three shutouts. If anything, he has been better in a Vancouver uniform than as a Buffalo Sabre or a St. Louis Blue. In two seasons with Vancouver, Miller is 4-1-0 in five appearances with a 1.75 goals against average and a .926 save percentage. He has appeared in each of the Canucks’ first six games this season, and allowed two or fewer goals in four of those appearances. Overall he is 3-1-2, 1.80, .935, with one shutout.
Here is how the two teams stack up against each other to date:
1. About that Vancouver power play. At the moment it does not seem to have sufficient wattage to power an appliance bulb. The Canucks are 28th in a 30-team league on their 1-for-20 (5.0 percent) effort so far. Their 1-for-30 shooting on the power play (3.3 percent) is anemic, and really… Bo Horvat (his only goal of any kind for the season) from Sven Baertschi and Ben Hutton? That’s your power play goal?
2. Vancouver has not done well early in games. They scored first just twice in six games and took a lead into the first intermission once.
3. On the other hand, the Canucks have been tight in the defensive end late in games. Only the Montreal Canadiens have allowed fewer third period goals (1) than the two allowed by Vancouver.
4. Three players currently with the Canucks have appeared in more than 600 games with the team. There are, of course, the Sedin brothers. The third is Alexandre Burrows, who has played each of his 694 career games in Vancouver. He is one of 14 players in 45 years of franchise history to record at least 170 goals and 170 assists (he has 176 of the former, 170 of the latter). Oddly enough, the Capitals are the only team in the NHL against which he has never scored a goal. He has one assist in ten career games against Washington.
5. Vancouver might have a winning record at 3-1-2, but they are not doing it on the basis of their possession numbers. The Canucks rank 26th in the league in Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 (46.0). It is better in close score situations, but not by a lot. At 48.4 percent in such situations, Vancouver ranks 21st (numbers from war-on-ice.com)
1. The Capitals are one of four teams having two defensemen with four or more points. John Carlson (2-4-6) and Matt Niskanen (2-2-4) are the Caps’ representatives on that list. Washington, the Dallas Stars, and the Ottawa Senators are the only teams in the league with four players having played in four or more games and averaging at least a point per game. For the Caps, that foursome is: Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, John Carlson, and T.J. Oshie.
2. Last year through five games Tom Wilson had 11 penalty minutes on his record. Through five games this season: none.
3. Only seven teams have allowed fewer goals at 5-on-5 than the Caps (8). One of them happens to be Vancouver (7).
4. If you are going to be awarded a power play, it is good for possession to win draws and not spend precious time chasing down the puck. The Caps, who have the league’s third-best power play (31.3 percent) have won 60 percent of their man-advantage faceoffs (18-for-30).
5. Washington is now fourth in the league in Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 (53.6 percent). They are not quite as highly-ranked in close score situations (54.6/seventh). They are, however, strong early – 56.0 percent in the first period, 54.4 percent in the second period (all numbers from war-on-ice.com).
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Vancouver: Brandon Sutter
Eight years ago this past summer, Brandon Sutter was climbing the stair to the stage as the 11th over all pick of the draft, taken by the Carolina Hurricanes. Now in his eighth NHL season, Sutter is on his third team and his first season with the Vancouver Canucks. Last season, with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Sutter tied a career high in goals with 21, fourth on the team. Perhaps the Penguins thought it was wise to trade him at the top of his game, because Sutter was sent to Vancouver along with a third-round draft pick in 2016 for Nick Bonino, Adam Clendening, and a second-round pick in 2016. The early returns of Sutter are decent, he is 2-3-5, plus-4, in six games. They might be better with a bit more consistency. Sutter has been something of an all-or-nothing player at the offensive end with two multi-point games (1-1-2 in the opener against Calgary and 1-2-3 against St. Louis last Friday) nd four games without a point. He already has 31 career games against the Caps, the most he has played against any team, going 3-6-9, plus-5.
Washington: John Carlson
John Carlson is still just 25 years old, but he appears to be taking the next step on his climb into the elite category of defensemen in the NHL. Five games into the season he is tied for second in scoring among defensemen (2-4-6) and is tied for first in goals (2). In his last 82 games he is 14-43-57, plus-14. Over the last two seasons he is fourth in points/60 minutes at 5-on-5 among 140 defensemen playing at least 1,000 5-on-5 minutes (numbers from war-on-ice.com). If there is a place where he could stand some further improvement, it might be in his possession numbers. In that same group of 140 defensemen, Carlson ranks 52nd in Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 (51.8). But even here there is a good side. In close score situations, Carlson ranks 13th in Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 (50.4). In six career games against the Canucks, Carlson is 2-4-6, plus-1.
In the end…
It says in the media guide that the Caps hold a 40-39-9-1 edge in the all-time series against Vancouver. Unfortunately, Washington is only 16-22-5-1 in Vancouver and has lost six consecutive games there (0-5-1). Theiir last win in Vancouver was back on Valentine’s Day 2001, a 4-3 win in overtime on a goal (his second of the game) by Adam Oates. It was part of a 22-game run in which the Caps went 17-1-2-1.
The Caps head into Vancouver on a bit of a hot streak. Not hot like in 2001, but four wins in five tries is something nice to start the season. To win this game the Caps would seem to need to keep the Vancouver power play from waking up, and to find a way to solve Ryan Miller when they have the man-advantage. Sounds as good as any way for the Caps to win.
Capitals 3 – Canucks 2