The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The Washington Capitals venture outside the Eastern Conference for an opponent – only the second time since December 2nd – when they host the Colorado Avalanche at Verizon Center on Monday night. The Caps will be looking to sweep the season series against the Avalanche, having won the teams’ previous meeting, 3-2, in Denver on November 20th. Doing so would return the favor done the Caps last season when Colorado swept both games, 5-1 in Washington and 4-1 in Denver.
Colorado came off last year’s first playoff appearance in four seasons full of promise when the 2014-2015 season began. Chock full of young talent, the Avs were looking to make the next leap forward toward a place among the elite teams in the league. Things did not work out that way to start the season. Colorado lost six of their first seven games and 13 of their first 17 games before they won consecutive games for the first time this season, on November 13-15. As late as December 9th the Avalanche had yet to reach the ten-win mark, a record of 9-13-6.
Since then, however, they have bent the arc of progress forward more to their liking. Colorado is 9-3-2 in their last 14 games and come into their game against the Caps on a three-game winning streak. Over those 14 games the Avalanche’s leading goal scorer has been defenseman Erik Johnson (8-1-9). The goal-scoring binge has Johnson leading all NHL defensemen in goals scored for the season (12). The former first overall pick in the 2006 entry draft has already established a career best in goals scored, and with 22 points is on a pace (44 points) to set a career high in points as well. Johnson is 2-4-6, plus-1, in six career games against Washington.
Gabriel Landeskog leads the Avalanche in overall scoring in their 9-3-2 run (1-9-10). He is still on a pace, however, to fall far short of his 26-goal/65-point season of last year. He was plagued by a slow start that left him with only four goals and six points in his first 18 games. He is still on a sluggish goal-scoring pace (16, on a full season basis), owing in part to a shooting percentage (6.3) that is barely half as efficient as what he recorded last season (11.7). In four career appearances against the Caps, Landeskog is 1-5-6, plus-4.
Another of the young cohort who has had a sluggish first half of the season is forward Ryan O’Reilly. After posting career highs in goals (28) and points (64) last season, O’ Reilly is on a pace to finish this season with just 14 goals and 45 points. He, too, has suffered a lack of shooting productivity, his shooting percentage resembling Landeskog’s in that it is barely half as good as last year’s mark (7.8 this season; 13.9 last season). Where his performance differs from Landeskog’s is that he had not suffered a slow start as much as he has had a consistently mediocre output over the course of the season. He does not have a points streak of more than two games, and he does not have a streak without a point of more than three games. O’Reilly is 0-1-1, even, in six career games against the Caps.
In goal, Semyon Varlamov’s season would be familiar to Caps fans in that he has had three separate absences due to groin injury problems. It has contributed to an inconsistency in his game this season in which he has a goals-against average about a third of a goal higher than last year (2.77 versus 2.41) while still posting three shutouts, one off his career best (four in 2011-2012). Since returning from his latest bout with groin problems, Varlamov is 6-2-0, 1.97, .940, with two shutouts in eight appearances. Varlamov is 2-0-0, 1.00, .973 in two career appearances against his former team.
1. Colorado does fairly well in one-goal games (11-7-8) but are under .500 in games decided by more than one goal (7-9). The Avs have a 4-1-0 record in their last five one-goal games.
2. The Avalanche put themselves in a bind in one important facet of the game. Only four teams have faced more shorthanded situations than Colorado. While their 22 power play goals allowed is quite respectable (eighth-fewest in the league), spending so much time killing penalties (fourth most shorthanded ice time in the league) keeps them out of rhythm.
3. Colorado does not have high end scoring; their leading scorers (Alex Tanguay and Jarome Iginla) are tied for 72nd in points. But they do have balance. The Avalanche have eight skaters with at least 20 points.
4. Colorado often finds itself behind the eight ball early in games. Only four teams have scored first in games fewer times than the Avalanche, and Colorado’s 9-7-1 record in those games is the sixth-worst winning percentage (.529) in the league.
5. The Avalanche have not done especially well late in games, either, although in this case such things are relative. Their 10-2-2 record when leading after two periods is the fourth-worst such winning percentage (.714) in the league.
1. The Caps have three players with ten or more power play points: Nicklas Backstrom (1-14-15), Alex Ovechkin (9-5-14), and Marcus Johansson (1-9-10).
2. The Caps are one of two teams (the Islanders are the other) with two players in the top-five in hits. Brooks Orpik is fourth (160), and Alex Ovechkin is fifth (143).
3. Orpik is also third in the league in blocked shots (110), making him the only player in the league in the top five in hits and blocked shots.
4. Nicklas Backstrom is the epitome of consistency. His home scoring line is 7-13-20, plus-2, in 19 games. His road scoring line is 6-15-21, plus-2, in 22 games. H has six power play points in 19 games at home, eight in 22 games on the road. His shooting percentage is 15.6 at home, 15.4 percent on the road.
5. Speaking of which, Alex Ovechkin comes into this game with a remarkable consistency of his own. In 362 career road games his has 221 goals and shoots to a 12.2 percent rate. In 358 career road games he has 222 goals and shoots to, wait for it… a 12.2 percent rate.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Colorado: Jarome Iginla
In the prognosto preceding the Saturday game against Detroit, we remarked that Pavel Datsyuk does not seem to age. The same might be said for Colorado’s Jarome Iginla. The Avalanche forward is on a pace to finish the 2014-2015 season with his 15th consecutive season with at least 20 goals (not including the abbreviated 2012-2013 season). He is currently tied (with Alex Tanguay) for the team lead in points (27), and he is tied (with Tanguay and Erik Johnson) for the team lead in goals (12). He has five goals in his last nine games, including a pair in the Avalanche’s 5-2 win over the Ottawa Senators last Thursday. Iginla has shaken off a slow start (two goals in his first 20 games this season) to resume what, for him, is a normal goal scoring pace. The concession to age in Iginla’s case is his ice time. He is averaging 17:27 a game, which is his lowest average ice time since he averaged 16:30 a game in the 1998-1999 season. In 22 career games against Washington, Iginla is 8-10-18, minus-3.
Washington: Jason Chimera
While Washington has put together a fine 12-1-4 stretch of games over the last five weeks, things have not gone nearly so well for Jason Chimera. Over those same 17 games, Chimera is 1-2-3, plus-2. In fact, Chimera has only one goal in his last 20 games on just 20 shots. In 11 of those 20 games he did not register a shot on goal. And, his ice time has been curtailed severely. He skated fewer than ten minutes in three of his last five games. Chimera has been a victim of wide swings in his goal-scoring over the past four seasons – 20 in 82 games in 2011-2012, 3 in 47 games the following season, 15 in 82 games last season, and he is on a pace for only six this season. In 29 career games against Colorado, Chimera is 7-8-15, minus-1.
In the end…
Last season, the Caps plainly could not handle Colorado’s speed in being outscored by a 9-2 margin in two games. In the teams’ first meeting this season the Caps negated the speed advantage for the Avs by playing a slow and steady game, relying on patience to lull the Avalanche into mistakes. It didn’t hurt having the captain recording a goal and an assist, either. It also happened to be a contest in which Chimera scored one of his three goals this season. The Caps might need that formula again – getting their scoring lines to produce, but getting something out of the bottom half of the forward lines as well. It is something that the Caps have had on a regular basis over the last five weeks, and that spells trouble for the visitors.
Capitals 4 – Avalanche 3