Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 69: Stars at Capitals, March 13th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys is one of the most renowned rivalries in the National Football League.  The Washington Capitals and the Dallas Stars?  Uh…no.  Since the teams first met in October 1974, when the Stars were in Minnesota and were the “North Stars,” they have done battle 90 times.  Washington trails in the series with a 29-44-16-1 record, which includes a 5-4 loss in Dallas on January 17th, a game in which the Caps fought back from a 0-3 deficit to tie the game, only to allow goals 16 seconds apart in the third period to stifle the comeback.

More recently, the Stars have been trying to claw out from under the wreckage of a six-game losing streak (0-4-2) that dropped them from four points behind the San Jose Sharks for the last playoff spot to six points out of that spot (trailing the Calgary Flames) and all but ruining their playoff hopes.  Since that losing streak the Stars are 3-1-0, but the damage might have been done.

The real damage was done just before that losing streak, though.  Late in the third period of a game against the Florida Panthers, with the Stars nursing a 2-0 lead, Panther defenseman Dmitry Kulikov hit Tyler Seguin low and sent the Stars forward sprawling across the ice.  Seguin suffered a knee injury, Kulikov was suspended for four games for clipping Seguin, and the Stars started falling further out of the discussion of playoff contenders.

Seguin returned to the lineup last Saturday against Tampa Bay and scored a pair of goals after missing ten games.  It did not matter; the Stars lost to the Lightning, 5-4.  As it is, even with Seguin having missed those ten games he is second on the team in total scoring (61 points), and leads the team in goals (31) by a substantial margin over Jamie Benn (23).  Seguin is 4-3-7 in 14 career games against the Caps, including a goal and an assist in the Stars’ 5-4 win on January 17th.

Of players playing in the first six seasons of their careers over the 2009-2010 to the 2014-2015 seasons, only John Tavares has scored more goals (169) than Jamie Benn (139).  He has scored 20 or more goals in each of his five full seasons to date (including this one), and was on a pace to do so in the abbreviated 2012-2013 season (12 in 41 games).  Lately, though, Benn seems to have lost his touch.  Since recording a hat trick against the St. Louis Blues in a 4-1 win on February 17th, Benn has one goal in his last ten games, none in his last eight.  He is 2-4-6 in six career games against Washington.

Kari Lehtonen wins games in goal for the Stars, but he isn’t especially effective in doing so.  Only three goalies in the NHL have allowed four or more goals more times than Lehtonen (15) – Edmonton’s Ben Scrivens (17), Arizona’s Mike Smith (18), and Jhonas Enroth (15 times with Buffalo, three times with Dallas).  His 2.94 goals against average ranks 36th of 43 qualifying goaltenders; his .906 save percentage ranks 33rd in that group.  Lehtonen’s save percentage at even strength (.911) ranks 36th among goalies appearing in at least 25 games.  Put another way, he is not stealing games.  Lehtonen is 12-24-5 when the Stars score three or fewer goals.  What he does have, though, is wins against the Caps.  Lehtonen has not beaten any team in his career as often as he has beaten the Caps (14-6-2, 2.61, .924, two shutouts in 22 appearances).

1.  Only St. Louis has scored five or more goals in more games (15) than the Stars (14; 11-1-2).  The Stars are one of only four teams to have scored five goals in a game and lost in regulation this season (the New York Islanders, Calgary, and the Caps being the others).  They lost, 7-5, to the Islanders on October 25th.  By the way, the Caps’ loss in this category was a 6-5 decision against the Arizona Coyotes on November 2nd.

2.  Dallas scores goals every which way.  They rank fourth in goals scored at 5-on-5 (144), seventh in 5-on-4 goals (39), tied for fifth in 5-on-3 goals (3), tied for tenth in 4-on-4 goals (6), and tied for fourth in 4-on-5 goals.

3.  Dallas allows goals every which way, too.  Their 153 goals allowed at 5-on-5 is second-most in the league.  They are tied for fifth in most goals allowed at 4-on-4 (6).  The Stars are second worst in allowing 4-on-4 goals (8).  They are tied for second worst in allowing goals at 3-on-4 (2; the Caps are worst with four goals allowed).  Dallas is tied for eighth in most goals allowed at 4-on-5 (39).

4.  Holding leads is an issue for the Stars.  They have the sixth worst winning percentage in the league when scoring first (.583/21-9-6).  They have the tenth-worst winning percentage when taking a lead into the first intermission (.727/16-5-1), and they have lost eight games when leading at the second intermission (three losses in regulation, five in extra time).  No team has lost more games when leading after 40 minutes.

5.  Shot attempts are hardly scarce in Stars games.  Dallas leads the league in total Corsi events (shot attempts), both teams, per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 (118.1) and total Fenwick attempts per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 (87.2). 

1.  Last season the Caps had 16 players who finished the season in double-digits in points out of 35 skaters dressing for the club.  This season they have 17 players with ten or more points out of 27 skaters dressing for the team.  If there is an 18th, it would seem new Capital Curtis Glencross would be the best candidate.  He has four points in four games and has 14 more games to get six points.

2.  Health has been an issue for the Caps over the past few days, but it remains that the Caps have had a comparatively fortunate season thus far.  Through 68 games, the Caps have had 13 players appear in 60 or more games.  In 2013-2014, the Caps had only 12 players all season who appeared in 60 or more games.

3.  The Caps still have the league’s best record in games decided by three or more goals (12-3).  Three of the Caps’ last six games have ended in such decisions, and the Caps are 2-1 in those games.

4.  Washington has the league’s second-best special teams index at home (112.5, the sum of power play and penalty kill percentages).  Detroit has the best (115.0).

5.  One would like the Caps to get off to better starts, possession-wise.  Washington is 19th in the league in Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 in the first period (50.0).  They are much better in the second period (52.9/6th), but they slip back again in the third period (50.5/18th).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Dallas: Antoine Roussel

Among the Stars’ top goal scorers, Tyler Seguin has missed time to injury (as noted above), as has Trevor Daley (out the last week after a knee-on-knee hit from the Islanders’ Matt Martin).  Erik Cole was traded to Detroit, and Cody Eakin was suspended by the team for disciplinary reasons earlier this week (he was reinstated for Thursday’s game against Carolina).  Where is the secondary scoring coming from?  Perhaps Antoine Roussel.  The third year forward is seventh on the team in goals (12), and he is the only player in the league with 12 or more goals and 125 or more penalty minutes.  He is also a team-worst minus-14, so perhaps there are limits to his contributions.  He has not done much scoring of late, though.  He has one goal in his last 21 games, over which he is a minus-12.  In three career games against the Caps he is 1-0-1.

Washington: Troy Brouwer

When Troy Brouwer scored 25 goals and recorded 43 points last season – both career highs – the thinking coming into this season was that a regression was in order.  Well, if there is to be one, it might not be much.  Brouwer is on a pace to finish 22-19-41.  The 19 assists would tie a career high, and the 22 goals would tie his second best season, 2009-2010 with Chicago.  He has found the goals a little harder to come by lately; he has three goals in his last 17 games.  Part of the problem might be a bit more frequency in his trips to the penalty box.  Brouwer recorded 22 of his 45 penalty minutes this season in his last 14 games.  He is 5-5-10 in 16 career games against the Stars.

In the end…

The Caps have shown a skill lately of dispatching struggling teams effectively.  They beat Buffalo (6-1), Columbus (5-3), and Toronto (4-0), teams looking past this season.  Dallas is on the brink of falling out of the Western Conference race if they have not already.  Their strength – scoring goals – has suffered some slippage in March with 13 goals in five games (their season average is 3.08 goals per game).  The Caps can use this game as a springboard to get through a softer stretch of their schedule (they get the Stars, Sabres, and Devils over their next six games before facing Nashville and the Rangers in back-to-back games). 

The Caps, who looked to be firmly installed as the first wild card team and challenging for the Metropolitan Division lead a week ago, are now just four points ahead of Boston with the Bruins holding two games in hand and trailing the Caps by only one win in regulation and overtime. This game against the Stars is one that the Caps need to win, more than one might think looking at the records of the two teams.

Capitals 5 – Stars 3

A NO-Point Night -- Game 68: Rangers 3 - Capitals 1

If there were any messages to be sent in last night’s game between the Washington Capitals and the New York Rangers, it was the Rangers doing the sending, that they are the team to be beat in the Metropolitan Division, if not the Eastern Conference. The Rangers smothered the Caps behind goalie Cam Talbot’s 28 saves, 3-1, at Verizon Center.

Carl Hagelin got the Rangers on the board first, finishing after some persistent pressure in the Caps’ end by batting in a loose puck from the top of the crease past goalie Braden Holtby 8:20 into the game.

Washington tied it three minutes later on a power play. After the Caps put in some hard work digging out the puck from below the Ranger goal line, Evgeny Kuznetsov collected the loose puck in the corner and fed Alex Ovechkin for a one timer above the left wing circle. The shot hit the stick of Ranger defender Jesper Fast and changed direction, sailing past Talbot’s blocker to tie the game.

J.T. Miller broke the tie before the first intermission when the Caps could not clear the puck out of their own zone. Tim Gleason’s attempted clear hit a seam in the glass and ricocheted back to the middle of the ice where Kevin Hayes picked it up. Hayes backed through the high slot, then fed Miller, who wristed the puck past Holtby on the short side to make it 2-1 for the visitors.

That would be all for the scoring until late in the third period when John Carlson’s pass to Nate Schmidt at the top of the offensive zone was intercepted by Chris Kreider. It set up a two-on-one break with Martin St. Louis that became a two-on-none as Carlson was left chasing the pair as they entered the Caps’ zone. Krieder skated in and fed St. Louis for the tap-in that ended the suspense for the evening, the Rangers skating off with the 3-1 win.

Other stuff…

-- The loss was the fourth in the last five games the Caps have played against Metropolitan Division opponents.

-- Ovechkin’s power play goal made it five straight games in which the Caps recorded a goal with the extra man. They are 6-for-11 over that span (54.5 percent).

-- The Caps were a perfect 3-for-3 killing penalties, making it five games in six that they have been so and going 15-for-16 over those six games (93.8 percent).

-- Mike Green and Brooks Orpik sat out with ailments; Cameron Schilling and Nate Schmidt taking over. It was Orpik’s first missed game as a Capital.

-- The absences made a difference.  All three Ranger goals were scored with make-shift pairs on the ice for the Caps.  Schmidt and John Carlson were on for the first and third Ranger goals, Tim Gleason and Schilling for the second New York goal (although that was bad luck as much as anything).

-- Fifteen of the 18 skaters for the Caps were credited with hits, Tom Wilson leading the team with six. Evgeny Kuznetsov was next in line with four (and you thought “hits” was an arbitrary stat).

-- Joel Ward’s assist on the Ovechkin goal made it four in his last five games with a point.

-- Ovechkin’s goal was his 45th of the season; he joins four other players in NHL history with seven or more 45-goal seasons (Marcel Dionne, Mario Lemieux, Mike Bossy, and Wayne Gretzky).

-- Jay Beagle, who has enjoyed a substantial amount of time on scoring lines this season, skated under eight minutes for just the third time this season (7:43). He suffered an upper body injury and did not skate in the third period.

-- Eric Fehr was 12-for-15 on faceoffs, accounting for all of the advantage the Caps had in the circle for the game (38 wins, 29 losses).

In the end…

Barry Trotz said the right things about a third of his defense being spare parts… “They were both fine.  We handled it okay. That’s a pretty good team on the other side there. They’re deep and they’re fast. They were a good test for our guys. We’re missing a couple important guys. Would they make a difference in the game? I don’t know. But it’s not an excuse. We played well enough to at least get a point tonight.” 

That’s fine for media consumption, but the fact is that the Caps have lost three straight games to the Rangers, dating back to last season.  This is a team that is likely to be standing in the Caps’ path at some point in the post season, and the Caps need to demonstrate that they can do better than “well enough,” even if they are nicked up.  They will have two more chances in the regular season, perhaps facing a once-more healthy Henrik Lundqvist in goal.  Cam Talbot did a pretty good imitation of him on Wednesday night, a demonstration that injury – even to the team’s most important player – need not be debilitating.  The Caps have work to do.