Friday, November 06, 2015

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 13: Maple Leafs at Capitals, November 7th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals return to the ice on Saturday night when they host the Toronto Maple Leafs at Verizon Center.  The Caps will be looking to move into double digits in wins and four in their last five games when they take on the Leafs.  Meanwhile, Toronto will be looking to break a four game winless streak on the road.

At home, the Caps have done it with a stifling defense.  In their five wins on Verizon Center ice so far, they held opponents to a single goal four times.  In fact, those four games holding opponents to one goal have come in their last four games at home. 

Meanwhile, the Leafs cannot seem to find the back of the net on the road.  In compiling a 1-4-1 record on the road so far, Toronto is averaging only 2.00 goals per game.  And if not for Leo Komaraov, who has four of their dozen goals, the Leafs would be in a deeper hole.  Komarov has been something of a road warrior for the Leafs.  Four of his five goals for the season have come away from Air Canada Centre.  It establishes something of a career trend for the three-year veteran.  Of his 17 career goals, 11 have come on the road.  None of those goals – home or road – have come at the Capitals’ expense.  He has two assists in six career games against Washington.

There are five players in the NHL with eight assists but without a goal so far this season.  Defenseman Dion Phaneuf is one of them going into Friday night’s schedule of games.   In fact, Phaneuf will come into this game without a goal in his last 33 games dating back to last season.  He has not scored a goal on the road in almost 11 months, last recording one at Carolina in a 4-1 loss to the Hurricanes on December 18, 2014.  Phaneuf, who was once an up-and-coming two-way defender with a physical edge, has seen his offensive production go into decline in recent years.  After scoring 10 goals in 48 games in 2011-2012 (0.19 per game), he was down to nine goals in 70 games last season (0.04 per game), and he is looking for his first tally this season.  In 18 career games against Washington, Phaneuf is 1-6-7, minus-8.

In goal for the Leafs, it’s pick your poison.  They have not settled on a number one netminder, largely because neither Jonathan Bernier nor James Reimer have played like one.  Bernier has more appearances (seven) than Reimer (six), but Reimer has a better goals against average (2.82 to 3.02) and a better save percentage (.908 to .899).  He also has both Toronto wins.  Reimer’s performance to date has not varied much from his career numbers to date (2.90 GAA, .913 save percentage).  He is 2-4-1, 2.87, .920 in seven career appearances against the Caps. 

Of Bernier, more was expected.  A former 11th overall draft pick by the Los Angeles Kings, he put up fine numbers in his first season in Toronto after being traded to the Leafs in June 2013.  He was 26-19-7 in that first year with Toronto with a 2.68 goals against average and a .923 save percentage, tied for fifth in the league among goalies appearing in at least 40 games.  Last season, though, his numbers sank to 2.87/.912, and they have only gone further south to start this season.  After stopping 34 of 35 shots in dropping a 2-1 Gimmick decision to the Buffalo Sabres on October 21st, arguably his best effort of the season, he is 0-3-3, 3.76, .869 in his last three appearance.  Bernier is 3-2-0, 2.62, .909 in five career appearances against Washington, but he will not be dressing for this game.  Bernier is on injured reserve with a lower body injury.

Here is how the two teams compare overall:

1.  Five teams have a negative goal differential of 1.00 goals per game or more going into Friday’s games.  Toronto is one of them (-1.00).  The others are Philadelphia (-1.15), Anaheim (-1.17), Columbus (-1.21), and Calgary (-1.71).

2.  No team has had fewer occurrences of scoring first in a game than the Maple Leafs.  They have scored the first goal of a game only twice, one in a 4-1 win over the Dallas Stars last Monday.  It might be worth noting that the buzz didn’t last long.  They allowed the game-tying goal less than a minute later.  The other came in a 2-1 trick shot loss to the Buffalo Sabres on October 21st.  Toronto also has the fewest instances of leads taken into the first intermission (one, tied with Philadelphia).  That was also in the 2-1 freestyle loss to the Sabres.

3.  The Maple Leafs are one of two teams to have two defensemen with eight or more points.  Dion Phaneuf and Morgan Rielly are the point-getters for the Leafs.  The other club is Montreal, with P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov.

4.  If there is one thing this game is likely not to feature, it is a lot of power plays.  Pending the results of
Toronto’s game against Detroit on Friday night, they are tied for 27th in the league in power play opportunities.  They team they are tied with – Washington.

5.  Mike Babcock teams in Detroit were possession monsters.  Never in ten seasons with the Red Wings did they finish a season below 51.4 percent in Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5.  Never did they finish a season below 51.9 percent in score-adjusted Corsi-for percentage.  Babcock has made inroads in communicating that perspective to his new team.  Toronto ranks tenth overall in Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 (51.3) and eighth in close-score situations (52.4; numbers from

1.  Only the New York Rangers (7) have fewer first period power plays this season than the Caps (8, tied with Toronto).  And, for a team with a power play north of 22 percent (22.9 to be exact), they don’t have many power play goals.  Only 12 teams have fewer man advantage goals than the Caps (8).  No team in the league has as high a percentage of conversion and so few goals to show for it.

2.  More on special teams.  The first period differential in special teams ice time (10:21 on the power play and 31:24 killing penalties for a differential of -21:03) is not only the worst in the league, it is more than twice as bad as the 29th place team – Toronto (10:20).  Maybe it is a product of power play efficiency, of dispatching power plays with a goal early in the man advantage, or maybe it is a product of an efficient penalty kill, milking it for the full two minutes at a time.  Still, that is a substantial difference from the rest of the league.

3.  The Caps are second in the league in third period goals scored (17).  They are tied with Montreal and Columbus for the most non-empty net goals scored in the third period (15).

4.  Thinking of beating Braden Holtby at home?  Bring a lunch and a tool box; it will be long hard work.  Holtby has allowed a single goal on Verizon Center ice in four of his last five games, two goals in the other, and he has an overall record of 5-2-0, 1.74, .934 at home this season.

5.  The Caps have five players with Corsi-for percentages at 5-on-5 at 60.0 percent or better for the season: Nicklas Backstrom (61.8), Brooks Laich (61.2), Nate Schmidt (61.0), Justin Williams (60.8), and Dmitry Orlov (60.0; numbers from

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Toronto: Morgan Rielly

In his first two seasons in the NHL, Morgan Rielly was consistent in his points per game from the blue line.  In his rookie season he averaged 0.37 points per game, and last year he averaged 0.36 points per game.  This season he is off to a fast start with eight points in 12 games (0.67 points per game), although that is fueled by a three-point game (1-2-3) against Dallas last Monday.  As it is, Rielly is 3-3-6 in his last six games.  However, Toronto being Toronto, those points also come with a minus-1 mark over those games overall.  With an overall scoring line of 3-5-8, minus-3, he has the misfortune of being one of two defensemen in the league with at least eight points and a minus-3 or worse (Minnesota’s Ryan Suter – 2-9-11, minus-3 – is the other).  Rielly is 1-1-2, even, in six career games against the Caps.

Washington: Justin Williams

Justin Williams is the picture of quiet efficiency these days.  He has points in his last four games (1-3-4), becoming the fourth Capital to reach double digits in points with his assist in the 4-1 win over the Boston Bruins on Thursday.  He is 2-6-8 over his last eight games.  Only three times in 12 games this season has he been on the minus-side of the plus-minus ledger.  Not coincidentally, those were in the Caps’ three losses this season.  His Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 is a superb 60.5 (although he ranks just fourth on the club).  And, his presence seems to rub off on others.  Wilson has skated more than 15 5-on-5 minutes with ten teammates so far this season.  In every single instance, the teammate has an equal or better Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 with Williams than apart from him (numbers from  He is 8-10-18, plus-8, in 32 career games against Toronto.

In the end…

Mike Babcock is a fine coach, and he might turn the Maple Leafs into a fine team.  But at the moment, “fine team” would not be an apt description of the Maple Leafs.  Going into Friday’s game against Detroit, they lost seven of eight games, and four of their last five losses were by multi-goal margins.  They have yet to defeat a team on the road this season that has won a game (they beat the Blue Jackets in Columbus when the Jackets were 0-4-0).

The only way the Caps can lose this game is if the Caps “lose” this game.  Toronto does not have the depth or the skill at either end of the ice, and they do not have enough goaltending to keep the Caps from settling this game early, competition-wise.  If there is a danger for the Caps here, it is in the time they spend early in games killing penalties.  Toronto was 3-for-8 on the power play in two games heading into their Friday game against the Red Wings.  For the Caps, they will get either a goalie coming off a game the previous night (Reimer) or perhaps one who has yet to appear in an NHL game.  Antoine Bibeau was called up from the Toronto Marlies because Jonathan Bernier was placed on injured reserve with a lower-body injury.  Bibeau was 5-1-0, 2.17, .908 with the AHL club.  It makes for a difficult situation for the Maple Leafs that the Caps would do well to take advantage of from the drop of the puck.  Pound on them early, and it will be a quick night.

Capitals 5 – Maple Leafs 2

Washington Capitals Recap: A TWO-Point Night: Capitals 4 - Bruins 1

The Washington Capitals spotted the Boston Bruins the first goal in last night’s contest at Verizon Center, but the Caps came back with four unanswered goals to resume their winning ways in a 4-1 win.

Boston broke a scoreless streak of 199:30 against the Caps in the first period on an unfortunate bounce.  Brett Connolly skated the puck down the left wing for the Bruins in the Capitals’ zone.  When he got to the bottom of the left wing circle, he threw the puck to the front of the net.  Matt Niskanen got his stick on the puck and deflected it upward, seemingly out of harm’s way, but the puck his Jimmy Hayes in the chest and rebounded behind goalie Braden Holtby to give the Bruins the early edge.

That would be it for any “edge” the Bruins enjoyed.  Alex Ovechkin tied the game less than five minutes later on his seventh goal of the year when he went to the top of the crease to establish positions, took a bump from Zdeno Chara, took a nudge from Kevan Miller, and as he tumbled to the ice managed to lift the stick of Chara away from a loose puck and then wrist the puck past goalie Tuukka Rask into the back of the net to tie the game.

Washington broke the tie early in the second period when Brooks Laich got his first of the season.  It was a nasty, greasy sort of goal.  It started with Michael Latta making a nice play to outfight Tyler Randell for the puck and slide it out to Dmitry Orlov at the right point.  Orlov fired the puck at the net, but as it sailed through it struck the inside of Laich’s right ankle as he was setting up a screen in front of Rask at the top of the crease.  The puck bounced down and past Rask’s glove to make it 2-1.

Barely three minutes late it was 3-1, courtesy of a usual goal scored in an unusual way.  On a Caps power play, John Carlson fed the puck down to Nicklas Backstrom at the goal line to the left of Rask.  As Backstrom surveyed the ice, Carlson circled all the way around the Bruins’ defense to the bottom of the left wing circle as Alex Ovechkin, who normally would occupy that spot, rotated up into Carlson’s spot.  Backstrom feathered a pass through the top of the crease to Carlson, who pounded it past Rask for a 3-1 lead.

Karl Alzner closed the scoring with his first goal of the season, an empty netter with 1:50 left from the center red line, and the Cap had a 4-1 win.

Other stuff…

-- The 199:30 shutout streak against the Bruins dating back to the last game against Boston in the 2013-2014 season belonged entirely to Braden Holtby.  His career record against the Bruins went to 8-2-0, 1.52, .954, with three shutouts.  In his last four appearances against Boston he is 4-0-0, 0.25, .991, with three shutouts.

-- Alex Ovechkin’s goal leaves him one behind Sergei Fedorov as the most prolific goal scorer from Russian in NHL history.  His 482 career goals ranks fourth overall among active players, five behind Chicago’s Marian Hossa.

-- Brooks Laich’s goal was the first he scored at home in the regular season since recording one against the Buffalo Sabres at Verizon Center last March 7th.

-- Karl Alzner’s goal broke a 19-game streak without one dating back to last season, his last one coming on March 26th against the New Jersey Devils.

-- For Laich and Michael Latta, who had an assist, their points were their first of the year, respectively.  They became the 18th and 19th players for the Caps to record a point this season.  The only skaters who remain without one who have played for Washington this season are Sean Collins, Taylor Chorney, and Chandler Stephenson.

-- With a goal and an assist, John Carlson recorded his fourth multi-point game of the season.  He leads all NHL defensemen in multi-point games thus far.

-- Evgeny Kuznetsov broke an odd streak with his assist on the Ovechkin goal.  It was his first assist in five games after he had eight helpers in his first seven contests.

-- The Caps were taken to school in the faceoff circle, but not by the usual suspect.  Patrice Bergeron was a mere 14-for-27 in the dot, but the David Krejci and Joonas Kemppainen were a combined 19-for-25 against the Caps.  Jay Beagle, one of the best faceoff practitioners in the league, was victimized six times in eight tries against that pair.

-- Marcus Johansson had an eerily quiet game.  In 16 minutes an change, the only marks on his score sheet were a missed shot attempt and one faceoff (a win).

-- On the other hand, Matt Niskanen gets a seat at the buffet – two shots on goal, three blocked, two misses, a hit, two giveaways, a takeaway, two blocked shots, and a plus-1 in 19:09.

In the end…

At the moment, the Caps own this series against the Bruins.  Or at least Braden Holtby does.  He has beaten them eight straight times after dropping his first two career decisions to them.  Then there was the 2012 playoffs in which he had a goals against average of 1.95 and a save percentage of .935 in beating them in seven games.  His performance on Thursday night was part of an overall fine performance by the Caps coming off a loss on Tuesday night.  They have been very good at keeping one loss from becoming two in a row. 

They get a bit of a break in the schedule with their next game at home against a Toronto Maple Leaf team that has only one road win before setting off on the road to Detroit, where the Red Wings are just a .500 home team, and Philadelphia, struggling to keep up in the Metropolitan Division. The Caps have done a good job of taking care of business in their first dozen games to date, so while there is always a danger in not taking such teams seriously, the Caps have not shown signs of doing any such thing.