Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 9: Blue Jackets at Capitals, October 30

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals take the ice Friday night in a situation they are facing for only the second time this season – coming back from a loss in the previous game.  Having lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins, 3-1, on Wednesday night for their second loss in eight games this season, Washington will host the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday night.

Two losses in eight games is a problem the Blue Jackets would like to have.  They come into this game with just two wins in ten outings (2-8-0).  That is good enough to be last in the Metropolitan Division, last in the Eastern Conference, and last in the league standings.  What they have going for them is that they are winners of their last two games after starting the 2015-2016 season with eight losses.

Still, this is not a team that has come by its ill fortune as a result of bad luck.  They have only a single one-goal loss in their bucket.  Two two-goal losses, three three-goal losses, and two four-goal losses round out their loss profile.

That single one-goal loss came after the Blue Jackets started the season 0-7-0 and fired head coach Todd Richards in favor of John Tortorella.  That was the “turnaround,” so to speak, although caution should be taken with respect to those two-game outcomes.  Beating Colorado and New Jersey are not particularly noteworthy accomplishments, since neither is above .500 at the moment (the Devils are 4-4-1; the Avalanche are 2-5-1).  Then again, both wins were on the road, and Columbus was (and still is ) last in the league, so every team they play at the moment might be viewed as a superior opponent.

On an individual level, there are some surprises with the Blue Jackets.  If you had “Boone Jenner” leading the team in goals, go buy a lottery ticket.  If you had him with more goals (6) than Alex Ovechkin (5), buy me a lottery ticket.  But there he is with six goals in ten games despite only 15 minutes a night in ice time.  He is already two-thirds of the way to his goal total for last year (9) in 31 games and is almost half way to his goal total of two years ago (16) in his 72-game rookie season.  Three of those goals have come in the Blue Jackets wins in the last two contests.  You might be thinking about some regression, though.  Through Wednesday’s games, his shooting percentage (26.1) was identical to that of Jaromir Jagr – six goals on 23 shots.  Jenner is 0-3-3, even, in six career games against Washington.

On the other end is Nick Foligno.  After a season in which he posted a career high 31 goals, 42 assists, 73 points, and plus-16; a season in which he signed a six-year contract extension for $33 million; Foligno is stuck on one goal, five points, and a minus-9 after ten games.  He has one point (an assist) in his last five games and skated a season low of 15:01 in the Blue Jackets last game, a 3-1 win at New Jersey.  He is five games without a goal, and counting.  Foligno is 6-11-17, plus-6, in 23 career games against the Capitals.

So…what about Bob?  Three seasons ago, goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky won 21 games in 38 appearances, posting a 2.00 goals against average and a .932 save percentage while recording four shutouts.  It was good enough to earn him the Vezina Trophy as the league’s outstanding goaltender.  Two seasons ago, he won 32 games in 58 appearances, but his number slipped a bit – 2.38 goals against average, a .923 save percentage, and five shutouts.  He finished tied for eighth in the Vezina voting.  Last season he slipped some more – 30 wins in 51 games, a 2.69 goals against, a .918 save percentage, and two shutouts.  He received no votes for the Vezina Trophy.  This season he is off to a poor start – 2-6-0, 3.99, .864 in eight appearances, but that might be worse than it sounds.  He allowed four or more goals in each of his first five appearances, losing all of them with a goals against of 5.07 and a save percentage of .835.  In his last three appearances he has not come all the way back, but his 2.35 goals against and .914 save percentage, not to mention both Columbus wins so far, look more like a bona fide NHL goaltender.  In ten career appearances against Washington, Bobrovsky is 4-2-3, 3.17, .905.

Here is how the teams compare overall:

1.  One of the confounding things about Columbus’ slow start is that they have been a good possession team.  Despite their 2-8-0 record, they rank seventh in Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 (52.4).  Ah, but there is the matter of how they do in close score situations, and there things are far less rosy.  The Blue Jackets rank 22nd (48.4).  Put another way, Columbus might want to start with the third period, where they are best in the league overall (61.2) and fourth in close score situations (61.1; all numbers from

2.  Columbus has one player in “plus” territory.  We will give you a moment to try and guess who it is…

… Cody Goloubef.  The 2008 second round pick is a plus-1 in six games.

3.  Columbus acquired David Clarkson from the Toronto Maple Leafs late last season for Nathan Horton.  Horton, who has not played a game since the 2013-2014 season, might be the better part of that deal.  Clarkson played three games for the Blue Jackets last season and has appeared in six games so far this season without having yet recorded a goal for his new club.

4.  Since John Tortorella took over behind the Columbus bench, they have outscored opponents by a 5-1 margin in the third period of games after being outscored by an 18-7 margin in the third periods of games before his arrival.

5.  One thing that remains a work in progress, and something that has ominous overtones for the Blue Jackets in this game, is their penalty kill.  Only the Buffalo Sabres (69.6 percent) are worse than Columbus (69.7 percent), and they are tied for the seventh-highest number of shorthanded situations faced (33).  They have allowed at least one power play goal in seven of their ten games.

1.  Through Wednesday's games, the only teams with more points from defensemen than the Caps (21) were Nashville (23) and Montreal (24).

2.  Washington is third in the league in special teams index, the sum of their power play and penalty killing percentages (113.2).  Only the New York Islanders (116.2) and the Dallas Stars (118.5) are ranked higher.

3.  Jay Beagle has won 59.3 percent of the faceoff he has taken.  The rest of the team: 40.5 percent.  Yeesh.

4.  Only two teams have logged less power play time than the Caps (38:48).  Winnipeg (38:29) and Toronto (36:21) are those two teams.

5.  The Caps have had rather consistent possession numbers over the course of games overall.  Their Corsi-for percentages at 5-on-5 are 54.2 in the first period, 53.6 in the second period, and 51.4 in the third period.  they are one of seven teams with Corsi-for over 50 percent in all three periods overall at 5-on-5.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Columbus: Ryan Johansen

Last season, Ryan Johansen signed a three-year/$12 million contract at the end of training camp to end what had become an increasingly contentious negotiation between the player and club.  He justified the deal by playing in all 82 games for the second consecutive year while posting 26 goals and 71 points, one of only 16 players in the league to finish with more than 70 points.  This season, the every-game-played streak has come to an end.  Johansen missed the last two games with an undisclosed illness, that coming on the heels of medical issues he has to deal with over the summer.  He is expected to play against Washington on Friday, though.  Columbus could use him.  He had a goal and six points in eight games before his absence from the lineup. And, that goal and six points came in his first five games of the season.  He was without a point in the three games leading up to his being taken out of the lineup.  Johansen is 4-4-8, minus-1, in ten career games against the Capitals.

Washington: Alex Ovechkin

Here is a number no one saw coming with respect to Alex Ovechkin: “zero.”  As in no power play goals in seven games this season.  Ovechkin, who in ten seasons before this year posted almost 50 percent more power play goals (176) than the second-place player on the list (Thomas Vanek with 118), scored his last regular season power play goal in the last regular season game last year, against the New York Rangers. Perhaps the threat of Alex Ovechkin on the man advantage is the next step in his and the team’s evolution, and the club hasn’t really suffered much from his absence on the power play goal-scoring sheet.  But Ovechkin remains the most powerful power play weapon in the league, and one suspects that he, who has only once finished a season shooting less than 10.8 percent on the power play, will add his customary contributions.  In 17 career games against Columbus, Ovechkin is 12-1-13, minus-8.

In the end…

John Tortorella might be a pain in the backside, but he is a motivator, and he appears to have the Blue Jackets more motivated than they appeared to be under Todd Richards.  That means you can take that 2-8-0 record and stuff it in the disposal.  The only records that matter are that the Blue Jackets are 2-1-0 under Tortorella, and that they have outscored their opponents by a 5-1 margin in the third periods of those three games.  The Caps had better be better prepared to play a full 60 minutes than they were at times against Pittsburgh on Wednesday.  This being a getaway game right before a trip to Florida the following night, the Caps will certainly want to end the brief two-game home stand on a high note.

Capitals 4 – Blue Jackets 2

Washington Capitals Recap: A NO-Point Night: Penguins 3 - Capitals 1

 The Washington Capitals came into Wednesday night’s contest with the Pittsburgh Penguns on a five-game winning streak, their longest since they put together an eight-game winning streak late in the 2012-2013 season. The five-game streak would not become six as the Penguins put down the Caps, 3-1.

A scoreless game through two periods, the Caps broke through early in the third period on what looked like a harmless shot. Evgeny Kuznetsov weaved his way up ice out of the Capitals’end, slowly backing off the Penguin defense. As he got to the top of the left wing circle in the Pittsburgh end, he snapped a low shot that grazed the stick of defenseman Olli Maatta, then deflected off the skate of defenseman Rob Scuderi before sliding between the pads of goalie Marc-Andre Fleury to give the Caps a 1-0 lead 89 seconds into the period.

The cheers barely subsided when the game was tied. Beau Bennett took a feed from Nick Bonino and got behind the Caps’ defense. His initial shot was stopped by Braden Holtby, but he was all alone to follow up and put home his own rebound just 24 seconds after the Kuznetsov goal.

Phil Kessel broke the tie less than two minutes later, taking a brilliant feed from Evgeni Malkin through the legs of defenseman Karl Alzner at the top of the Capitals’ crease and sending the puck past Holtby’s left pad.

Bonino ended the scoring with an empty net goal with 1:43 left to leave the Caps and their fans quiet and in search of starting a new winning streak.

Other stuff…

-- For all the lack of scoring early, it was not a matter of low shot volumes. The teams combined for 27 shots on goal in the first period, 14 for Pittsburgh and 13 for Washington.

-- On the other hand, the four goals in the third period scored by the two teams came on a total of only 14 shots, seven for each team.

-- The Caps finished with their fifth straight game allowing 25 or fewer shots. They have allowed the fewest shots on goal per game in the league (24.3).

-- With the goal, Evgeny Kuznetsov extended his points streak to four games, tying his longest in the NHL, set last season.

-- The Caps came into this contest with a home power play hitting at 35.7 percent (5-for-14). They went 0-for-3 in this game despite getting seven shots on goal.

-- The Caps could have found themselves in a hole early, taking three penalties in the first nine minutes of the contest, including a pair that put the Penguins on a 5-on-3 power play for 1:45. The Caps held the Penguins to just three power play shots on goal.

-- The TKO line that combined for three goals, nine points and 13 shots on goal against Edmonton last week was a bit quieter in this game.  T.J. Oshie, Alex Ovechkin, and Evgeny Kuznetsov were a combined 1-0-1 (Kuznetsov’s goal) with another 13 shots on goal.

-- Braden Holtby’s save percentage at 5-on-5 was .889.  That makes it three games in his past four in which his 5-on-5 save percentage was under .900 after starting the season with three games at .900 or higher at fives.

-- This was just the second game in eight for the Caps in which neither team recorded a power play goal.  The other was a 6-2 win against the Calgary Flames on October 20th. 

-- Although the Caps did not gain any ground on either of the New York teams ahead of them in the Metropolitan Division standings, the Caps are two points ahead of the pace they had last season after eight games (4-2-2).

In the end…

It’s not the end of the world, Caps fans. There are still 74 games left in the season and four more against the Penguins.  Pittsburgh played a decent road game, despite getting no production out of Sidney Crosby, who is now without a point in eight of the nine games in which he has played.  As has been the case more often than not this season, the key on the Penguin side of the ice was the play of Marc-Andre Fleury.  The Caps played well enough to hold their own (their shot attempts were 11 more than the Pens, 66-55), but the Penguins got better results in net. 

The trick in these things is always to keep “one” loss from becoming “two in a row,” especially at home, where the Caps will host Columbus on Friday before heading to Florida on Saturday.  It means looking forward, not dwelling on this outcome.