The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
Since the Washington Capitals last took the ice in a 4-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, Cyber Monday has come and gone, the NHL bestowed its second star of the week previous on Caps goalie Braden Holtby, who also won the NHL’s second star for the month of November, and the Caps have had four days to rest, recharge, and refocus before Thursday night’s contest in Montreal against the Canadiens.
This game pits the top two teams in the Eastern Conference in standings points earned per game against one another. Both of them, as you might expect, are coming into the game on a hot streak. The Caps won five in a row to end the month of November and are 9-2-1 in their last dozen games. Montreal has points in their last six games (5-0-1) and are 8-2-2 in their last dozen games.
In their 5-0-1 run, Montreal outscored their opponents, 20-12, four of the five wins coming by multi-goal margins. Their special teams have been similarly dominant, the power play going 6-for-20 (30.0 percent) and their penalty kill going 18-for-20 (90.0 percent). The good fortune has hardly been a fluke, either. The Canadiens’ possession numbers over their last half-dozen games are very good: 52.5 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5 overall, 55.0 percent in score-adjusted Corsi-for, and 54.7 percent in Corsi-for in close score situations.
Montreal is led in scoring in their 5-0-1 stretch by Alex Galchenyuk (5-2-7). The 21-year old center had a five-game points streak snapped in the Canadiens’ last outing, a 2-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday. It is a nice change for Galchenyuk, who labored under a slow start to the season, going just 1-7-8 in his previous 18 games before finding his scoring touch. The odd thing about the recent run of production is that Galchenyuk has scored goals on his last four shots on goal and five of his last six. In eight career games against the Capitals, Galchenyuk is 0-5-5, plus-2.
A pair of former Capitals figured into the scoring for the Canadiens in their six-game points streak. Alexander Semin recorded an assist in the first game of the streak, a 5-3 win over the New York Islanders on November 20th. However, he suffered a lower-body injury in Montreal’s 5-1 win over the Rangers in New York on November 25th and was placed on injured reserve. The other former Capital – Tomas Fleischmann – has a pair of goals on his ledger during the streak. Fleischmann has seven goals this season in 26 games, a total that almost matches his entire output for last season (eight) in 66 games split between the Florida Panthers and the Anaheim Ducks. Those two goals came at the end of a three-goals-in-four-games run for the left winger, but he is without a point in his last four games coming into this contest. In 16 career games against the Caps, he is 4-4-8, minus-3.
Carey Price is, at the moment, perhaps the best goaltender on the planet. Carey Price is also, at the moment, on injured reserve with a knee injury. That has left the number one netminding duties with Mike Condon, who has done his best “Cam Talbot as savior” impression as a backup thrust into a starring role for a team with large expectations. Like Talbot, the Ranger backup who went 21-9-4 last season in backing up and taking over for an injured Henrik Lundqvist, Condon has stepped up his game to meet the challenge. He is 9-2-3 with a 2.11 goals against average and a .918 save percentage. Twice this season he has been called upon to assume the number one goaltending duties after injuries (perhaps the same injury) to Price. In this six-game points streak, Condon’s contribution in four appearances is a 2-0-1 record (one no-decision in the game in which he relieved Price) with a 1.74 goals against average and a .935 save percentage.
Here is how the teams compare overall:
1. P.K. Subban is tied for third in total scoring among defensemen, but no defenseman in the top-15 has done it scoring as few or fewer goals than Subban, who has just one goal to his credit this season. He is without a goal in his last 17 games.
2. Montreal has balance. The Canadiens already have 11 skaters with ten or more points I just 26 games. All of last season, they had only 15.
3. No team has more multi-goal wins than the Canadiens. Their 15 such wins is three more than Dallas and four more than the Rangers and the Caps. They also happen to have the fewest losses by two or more goals (two), one more than Minnesota, Vancouver, and the Capitals. It should then be no surprise that the Canadiens have the largest positive goal differential per game in the league (plus-1.27). The Caps are second (plus-1.00).
4. Montreal is very adept at goading teams into stepping outside the rules, then making them pay for it. Their 92 power plays ranks third overall, and their 22 power play goal total is tied for first (with the Boston Bruins).
5. The Canadiens’ recent run of fine possession play is not a short-term thing. For the season they rank sixth in overall Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 (52.2), fourth in score-adjusted Corsi-for (53.5) and seventh in Corsi-for in close score situations (52.5; numbers from war-on-ice.com).
1. In the Capitals’ five-game winning streak heading to Montreal, they outscored opponents, 21-10. Their special teams have been every bit as, if not more, successful than Montreal’s over a similar stretch. The power play is 7-for-16 (43.8 percent) in the 5-0-0 run, while the penalty kill is 7-for-10 (70.0 percent). While the penalty kill has lagged in efficiency, the Caps have minimized shorthanded situations (two per game) and still have a plus-4 goal differential on special teams in this stretch.
2. No player in the NHL has more games with three or more points this season than Evgeny Kuznetsov. Two of those games have come in this five-game winning streak, one against Winnipeg and the other against Colorado. Kuznetsov is the Caps leading point scorer in this five-game streak (2-6-8).
3. The Caps have had balance, too. In their five-game winning streak, 12 players share the 21 goals scored. Alex Ovechkin, Dmitry Orlov, and Justin Williams lead with three apiece. There are 17 skaters sharing in the point-scoring. After Kuznetsov, the team leader in that category is Jason Chimera (2-5-7).
4. If Montreal is good at getting teams to cross the line on rules, the Caps are good at staying inside the line. Only two teams have faced fewer shorthanded situations than the Caps (60) – Minnesota (58) and Carolina (55). No team has allowed fewer power play goals than the Caps (10).
5. What is odd about the winning streak for the Caps, and a source of concern, is that the possession numbers are not very good at 5-on-5. Their Corsi-for percentage overall is just 48.0, while their close score of 48.1 is hardly better. Their score-adjusted value of 50.7 makes the profile a bit brighter, but it could use improvement (numbers from war-on-ice.com).
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Montreal: Sven Andrighetto
With a name like “Sven Andrighetto,” you might think we were speaking of a driver on the Formula 1 circuit. Instead, he is a Zurich-born, second-year right winger who has a pair of goals (his first two of the season) as part of the recent 5-0-1 run for the Canadiens. Andrighetto, who was drafted in the third round of the 2013 entry draft (86th overall), has climbed the developmental ladder slowly, but surely, over the past several years. After working his way up the development chain in Switzerland from 2008 to 2011, he jumped across the water to join the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies of the QMJHL in Canadian juniors in 2011-2012. After two seasons with the Huskies in which he scored 67 goals in 115 games, he was drafted by the Canadiens, who assigned him the Hamilton Bulldogs of the AHL. He spent one full season there and most of a second, recording 31 goals in 124 games. He did get 12 games with the Canadiens last year, during which he scored his first two NHL goals. This will be his first appearance against the Caps.
Washington: Alex Ovechkin
The esteemed artist Harry Nilsson once wrote, “one is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do.” It has not been a lonely number for Alex Ovechkin, who happens to have a lot of "ones." As in “one-goal games.” Ovechkin has scored goals in 12 games this season…one in each of them. Ovechkin, whose 100 multi-goal games since he came into the league is a whopping 32 more than Jarome Iginla recorded over the same period, has not had a multi-goal game since April 2nd of last season, a span of 26 games and counting. Only Jaromir Jagr (124) and Iginla (106), who have been playing in the NHL since dinosaurs roamed the earth, have more career multi-goal games among active players than Ovechkin. In 36 career games against Montreal, Ovechkin is 22-16-38, plus-5.
In the end…
It is tempting to think of this as a playoff-level matchup between two teams that might find themselves meeting down the road in an Eastern Conference final. Well, let’s think about that for a second. The Caps have had four days off, which is something they are not likely to see in the spring. The Canadiens are missing their number one, All-World goaltender. What both are doing, though, is rolling over opponents in recent games. The Caps do it with a methodical, grind-opponents-down approach, while Montreal tries to skate opponents into the concrete beneath the rink. On one level, this is could be a game that is a study in which team can play more often at a pace of its choosing. On another, there are every effective goaltenders at each end to render such considerations of style of lesser relevance. This would seem likely to be a low-scoring affair, and that edge goes to the goalie with more battle experience, not to mention a good deal of career success against his opponent.
Capitals 2 – Canadiens 1