Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 10: Capitals at Panthers, October 31

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals, fresh off their 2-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets, jet out of town for a Saturday night meeting in South Florida where the Florida Panthers will be waiting.  The Panthers will be coming off their own game the night before, having lost by a 3-1 margin to the Boston Bruins.  Florida will have the advantage of playing both sides of their back-to-back games at home.

Before heading into their weekend set of back-to-back games, the Panthers put together a fairly impressive trio of games against Western Conference opponents.  They dropped a 3-2 decision in Chicago to the Blackhawks, then the roared back (get it?) with a pair of wins – a 6-2 thumping of the Stars in Dallas and a 4-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche last Tuesday.

Over those three games in which the Panthers recorded a dozen goals, the points burden was borne primarily by Vincent Trocheck, who recorded two goals and three assists to have a hand in almost half the Panther goals.  Trocheck, now in his third – and first full – season with the Panthers after being drafted in the third round in 2011, was tied for second on the team in goals (4) and points (9) going into the weekend. He leads the team in power play points (2-3-5).  He has a goal in his only previous appearance against the Caps, and he should be considered dangerous.  His hometown is Pittsburgh.

Reilly Smith chipped in a goal in each of the Panthers’ wins heading into the weekend. Smith, another third round draft pick (by Dallas in 2009), is already on his third franchise (Boston between stops in Dallas and Florida), despite the fact that he will not turn 25 years of age until next April.  The right winger has one assist in six career games against Washington.

So, you are a goalie with a 2.01 goals against average and a .939 save percentage.  You also have a win-loss record of 3-3-1. You are Roberto Luongo, Florida Panther goaltender.  This is Luongo’s seventh season with the Panthers, split into two tours of duty.  In 399 career games with the club he has a .921 save percentage, but his goals against average is 2.61, and his record is 145-183-55.  He has faced an average of 33 shots per game as a Panther.  The phrase “lack of support” comes to mind.  He has yet to allow more than three goals in any game so far this season, but allowing three seems to be a problem.  He has losses in all three games when allowing three scores (one in overtime).  And for good measure, he also has a 1-0 loss on his ledger this season. He does give the Caps fits, though.  In 36 career games against Washington, he is 20-10-0, 2.29, .926, with two shutouts.  He is also a real hoot on Twitter.

Here is how the two teams compare in their numbers heading into Friday’s games:

1.  Florida is one of only four teams with a positive goal differential per game of 1.0 or more (3.10 goals for per game, 2.10 goals against per game).

2. The Panthers are a very efficient shooting team.  They rank seventh in team shooting percentage (10.9 percent), and there are five players currently shooting at 20.0 percent or better (Connor Brickley, Vincent Trocheck, Jaromir Jagr, Reilly Smith, and Quinton Howden).

3.  Getting off to good starts against the Panthers is difficult.  They are tied for third in fewest first period goals allowed (5).

4.  Conversely, Florida will make teams pay in the third periods of games.  They are tied for fourth in most goals scored in the third period of games (14).

5.  When they are good, they are very good.  Four of Florida’s five wins to date have been by three or more goals.
1.  Last season, the Caps were 9-17-6 in games in which they scored two or fewer goals.  With last night’s 2-1 win over Columbus, the Caps are 1-2-0 in such games this season.

2.  The power play, one of the presumed strengths of the team, is 2-for-14 (14.3 percent) over their last five games.

3.  Washington is the only team remaining in the league for which every penalty assessed so far has been a minor penalty.  They have been whistled for 33 infractions, all minor penalties.

4.  This year’s version of the Capitals is less “heavy” than last year’s, at least to the extent they are credited with hits.  They have been credited with the fourth fewest number of hits in the league (193).  Only San Jose, Minnesota, and Carolina have fewer.

5.  Philipp Grubauer is likely to get the start in goal tonight for Washington.  In his brief career to date, he is 4-5-2, 2.80, .915 in 12 road appearances.

The Peerless' Players to Ponder

Florida: Jaromir Jagr

In hockey terms, Jaromir Jagr is old.  How old?  He is probably a Hall of Famer based on his record in Pittsburgh alone: 806 games, 439 goals, 1,079 points.  But since then he has played in another 753 games in the NHL.  There are only 93 other active players in the league with that many career games played.  There are 244 players having dressed for games this season who were not born when Jagr took the ice for the first time in the NHL on October 5, 1990.  Oh, and about that October 5, 1990 debut.  It was against, who else, the Capitals.  Who else made their NHL debut in that game?  Peter Bondra.  He retired in 2007.  If Jagr appears in 74 games this season, he will rise to fourth all-time in games played after the age of 40 (Gordie Howe, Tim Horton, and Chris Chelios would still rank ahead of him).  Another full season, and there would be only Chelios ahead of him.

What is even more confounding is his production.  He leads the Panthers in goals (six, before Friday’s game), points (10), and shooting percentage.  If there is one concession to his age, it is that he averages only 15:16 in ice time per game.  And it is not a case of a big burst in one game; Jagr has points in six of the nine games in which he played going into Friday’s game with Boston.  He is still dangerous.  While Caps fans might think that he has been particularly hard on the Caps, that is more a product of his Pittsburgh years.  With 90 career points in 78 games (30-60-90), his career 1.15 points per game against Washington is just 16th among the 30 franchises in points per game.

Washington: Marcus Johansson

Marcus Johansson was born on October 6, 1990, the day after Jaromir Jagr made his debut in the NHL.  With all the attention paid to Alex Ovechkin’s five-game goal streak to start the season, Evgeny Kuznetsov’s hat trick/five-point game, the additions of T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams, and the emergence of John Carlson among the elite performers among NHL defensemen, it is easy to overlook a player line Johansson.

He is one of nine Caps at the moment who has recorded five or more points (2-3-5).  His plus-3 is third on the team (going into Friday’s game), and he is playing with his usual discipline with respect to the rule book (no penalty minutes).  Since he came into the league in 2010-2011, Johansson is one of four players who has appeared in more than 300 games, recorded more than 50 goals, and has been charged with fewer than 50 total penalty minutes (Loui Eriksson, Ryan O’Reilly, and Michael Grabner are the others).  He has been neither flashy nor extraordinarily prolific.  He has been solid, a fine complementary player on a team with a full complement of top-six forwards.  In 18 career games against Florida, Johansson is 3-8-11, plus-2.

In the end…

The Caps played a tough 60-minute game last night, now head on the road.  Even for elite athletes, this can be a difficult situation, especially against a team with a surprisingly effective offense such as Florida's (even if Jaromir Jagr is held out another game with a lower body injury).  Add in the fact that the Caps will be giving number one goalie Braden Holtby a breather, and this is a game that can be dangerous.  It will put a premium on playing smart, on playing efficiently.  The Caps have become just such a team from the early evidence this season. 

Capitals 3 - Panthers 2

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