Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 35: Capitals at Sabres, December 28th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals take to the road on Monday night for the first half of a home-and-home series against the Buffalo Sabres, looking to extend their current run of good fortune.  Their seven-game winning streak stands as the longest current streak in the league at the moment.

The Caps have been a remarkably stingy club during this seven-game winning streak, allowing only 11 goals scored by opponents while scoring 25 of their own.  It has enabled the Caps to jump to second in the league in scoring offense (3.12 goals per game) while holding down the top spot in goals per game allowed (2.12).

Meanwhile, the Sabre enter the home-and-home series as a team in a rebuilding mode, but one with dangerous pieces at both ends of the ice.  They took a six-game losing streak into the Thanksgiving holiday, but since then, Buffalo is 7-4-2.  During that span of games they outscored opponents by a 39-30 margin, and five of their seven wins have come by margins of three goals.

For a player who has had a spotlight shined upon him as the second overall draft pick last June, Jack Eichel has handled the attention quite well.  Even more so since the number one overall pick, Connor McDavid by the Edmonton Oilers, went down to injury in early November.  Eichel is fourth among rookies in total points (20) and is second among that group in goals scored (11).  He is 4-3-7 in the Sabres’ 7-4-2 run since Thanksgiving, going 2-2-4 in his last contest, a 6-3 win in Boston over the Bruins on Saturday.  He comes into this game looking to extend his points streak to four games, which would be a personal best in his rookie season.  This will be his first career appearance against the Capitals.

Lost in the Eichel-mania is the fact that Ryan O’Reilly is putting together a fine season.  O’Reilly, who was trade to the Sabres from the Colorado Avalanche last June for Nikita Zadorov, Mikhail Grigorenko,a nd J.T. Compher, leads the team in goals (14) and total points (32), and he is well on his way to setting career bests in both.  His 33-goal pace would eclipse his 28 goals in the 2013-2014 season, and his 75-point pace would top his 64 points in that same 2013-2014 season.  O’Reilly is 7-8-15 in the 13 games since Thanksgiving, and he has four multi-point games in that span.  In seven career games against Washington, he is 0-1-1, even.

It has taken more than a third of the season, but the goaltending situation for the Sabres might be settling out at last.  Chad Johnson was a fifth-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2006 entry draft, then bounced around the AHL and various NHL organizations, once the property of the Penguins, the New York Rangers, and the Phoenix Coyotes before he was signed as a free agent by the Boston Bruins in July 2013.  As a backup for the Bruins in 2013-2014 he appeared in 27 games, going 17-4-3, 2.10, .925, with two shutouts.  That season got the attention of the New York Islanders, who signed Johnson away from the Bruins on a two-year contract.  He could not repeat his performance of the previous season, going 8-8-1, 3.08, .889 before being traded to the Sabres for goalie Michal Neuvirth.  Johnson has largely split time with Linus Ullmark in goal this season, but he got the call in each of the Sabres last three contests, going 2-0-1, posting a 44-save shutout of the Anaheim Ducks along the way, setting a club record for saves in a shutout.  He is 1-1-1, 2.61, .907 in three career appearances against the Capitals.

Here is how the teams compare overall:

1.  Buffalo had one of the top power play squads in the league with a 23.4 percent success rate through their first 30 games.  However, they come into this game without a power play goal in their last five contests, tying their longest streak of games without a power play tally this season.  The Sabres are 0-for-14 over those five games.

2.  The Sabres have a lot of young talent at forward, but on the back line Rasmus Ristolainen is having a good season as well.  The 21-year old, third-year defenseman is tied for eighth in the league in points among defensemen (7-17-24).  He has 11 of those points in 13 games since Thanksgiving (3-8-11).

3.  The Sabres struggle with their early-game performance.  Only the Philadelphia Flyers have taken a lead into the first intermission fewer times (3) than the Sabres (6). And only four teams have scored the first goal of a game fewer times than Buffalo (14): the Ottawa Senators (13), the New Jersey Devils (13), the Winnipeg Jets (12), and the Toronto Maple Leafs (11).

4.  The Sabres’ problems in the early parts of games is attributable to their offense.  No team has fewer first period goals scored than the Sabres (14), and their first period goal differential of minus-14 is second worst in the league (Philadelphia: minus-17).

5.  Buffalo is “Team Score Effect” when it comes to possession.  They are not awful overall, with a 48.7 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5 that ranks 20th in the league.  However, in close score situations that number deteriorates to 46.9 percent, which is 27th in the league (numbers from

1.  If defense wins championships, the Caps are following the right path.  In their seven-game winning streak they have allowed only 11 goals, holding opponents to a single goal five times.

2.  At the other end of the ice, only the San Jose Sharks have scored five or more goals in a game more times (9) than the Caps (8).

3.  It might surprise you to know that in franchise history the Caps have lost more games in regulation to the Sabres among teams not in the Caps’ division than they have to any other team (81).  In fact, the Caps’ franchise record against Buffalo is awful: 48-81-15-5.

4.  Evgeny Kuznetsov’s next goal will set a career best.  He currently has 11 goals, including the only two overtime goals scored by the Caps so far this season.

5.  Washington has had possession issues for quite some time now, but they seem especially pronounced early in games.  The Caps rank 18th in Corsi-for percentage overall in the first periods of games (48.6 percent; numbers from

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Buffalo: Evander Kane

Evander Kane’s first season in Buffalo has been challenging.  He missed ten games earlier this season to a knee injury, and even in those early games in which he did appear he was not particularly effective.  In his first 13 games of the season, Kane was 2-2-4, minus-5.  He has been more effective lately, though, going 6-3-9, plus-1, over his last 12 games, including points in his last three contests coming into Monday night’s game against the Caps.  Just when he seemed to be sorting things out on the ice, though, he now faces off-ice issues.  He has been something of a Cap-killer in his career, going 10-5-15, minus-5, in 21 career games against Washington.

Washington: Marcus Johansson

Anyone have Marcus Johansson as the team leader in game-winning goals more than a third of the way through the season?  We didn’t either.  Johansson has been quietly putting together a solid season, one of seven Caps with 20 or more points (7-13-20).  He is on a pace to finish with a career best in points for a season (49; current: 47) and power play goals (7; current: 3).  And then there are those team-leading four game-winning goals, already a career best.  His “shoot first” approach has carried over from last year (1.68 shots per game) to this one (1.70 shots per game, another career-best pace).  Johansson is 3-4-7, minus-1, in 16 career games against Buffalo.

In the end…

You could call this a “trap week” for the Capitals.  Coming in on a seven-game winning streak and 14-1-1 in their last 16 games, having beaten their closest Eastern Conference pursuers last week, and the new calendar year approaching, this week has the potential to be a pothole on the smooth road the Caps have been on over the past month.  Two games against the Sabres, a New Year’s Eve date with the Carolina Hurricanes, and a Saturday contest with the Columbus Blue Jackets might look like “W’s” on paper, but one hopes the “W” doesn’t stand for “whoops” by week’s end.  The Caps have done a good job of tending to business, whether at home (14-3-1, best record in the league) or on the road (12-3-1, third best record in the league).  This week will test their focus.

Capitals 4 – Sabres 1

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