The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The Washington Capitals played what was arguably their worst game in five weeks when they dropped a 4-1 decision to the Florida Panthers in the first leg of their three-game road trip. Not since the Caps lost in New York to the Rangers, 5-2, on November 3rd did the Caps look as disorganized as they did against the Panthers on Thursday night. Worse, they did it with many fathers and mentors of players in attendance.
The Caps get a chance to redeem themselves and put a smile on their elders’ faces on Saturday night when the Caps complete the Florida portion of their road trip with a game in Tampa against the Lightning at Amalie Arena.
This will be the second meeting of the clubs this season and first in Florida. Washington defeated the Lightning, 4-2, on November 27th at Verizon Center. Since that meeting, the teams have traveled similar paths…
If anything, the recent record of the Caps is a bit of a slowdown from their 16-5-1 start, but it is still among the fastest starts in club history. On the other hand, the 3-2-0 record for the Lightning is just more of what they had been doing to start the season. The Lightning does have two three-game winning streaks this season, but they have been hard pressed to generate any sense of momentum. It does not even seem to matter whether they have done it at home or on the road, the lurching, stumbling progress has been the same – 7-5-1 at home (19th-ranked home ice record) and 7-7-0 on the road (12th).
The Lightning have not been especially productive in the offensive end of the ice in the five games since they faced the Caps. With all due respects to the players involved, if J.T. Brown is tied for the points lead (1-3-4), Brian Boyle (2) and Nikita Kucherov (4) are the only players with more than one goal, and the guy you expect to be the leader in scoring goals has none in his last seven games and two in his last 11, this is not a mix conducive to long term success.
Which brings us to “the triplets.” Last year, Kucherov, Tyler Johnson, and Ondrej Palat made quite a trio, accounting for 74 goals as a group. Their possession numbers as a group was just about as good (53 percent). Kucherov has certainly contributed from the right side recently and has ten goals for the season (second to Stamkos’ 11). Johnson and Palat, however, are not having quite the same impact as Kucherov or even as they had last season. Johnson has four goals in 23 games, although all of them have come in his last 11 games. He has missed a number of games this season to an upper body injury. Palat has two goals in 17 games and just returned to the lineup on December 10th after missing three weeks with a lower body injury. As a group, these three players have eight career goals against the Caps in 19 games.
There might be a fair amount of talk as the season unfold whether Henrik Lundqvist, Carey Price, Marc-Andre Fleury, or even Braden Holtby should be given consideration for the Vezina Trophy. Here is another name – Ben Bishop. While the four goalies mentioned have certainly had fine starts to the season (or at least while healthy in the case of Price), Bishop is second in the league in goals against average (1.95; minimum: 750 minutes) and fourth in save percentage (.931). He has gone 15 straight appearances without having allowed more than two goals in consecutive games (7-6-1, 1.59, .944, one shutout). What is amazing is that in that run he lost five games in regulation when allowing two or fewer goals. Bishop is 1-4-1, 3.96, .884 in seven career appearances against the Caps.
1. Part of Tampa Bay’s problem is weak special teams. Their special teams index (power play plus penalty killing percentages) ranks 27th in the league (94.5).
2. So far this season, three teams have failed to earn a standings point when trailing after two periods. Tampa Bay is one of them with a 0-8-0 record when trailing after 40 minutes (the Rangers and Avalanche are the other teams).
3. Only four teams have scored two or fewer goals in more games than the Lightning (16): Vancouver (17), Columbus (17), Anaheim (17), and Florida (18). Conversely, only three teams have allowed two or fewer goals in more games than the Lightning (16): Washington (17), Montreal (17), and the Rangers (19).
4. The Lightning might beat teams, but they don’t beat them up. Only Toronto has fewer fighting majors this season (1) than Tampa Bay (2).
5. The Lightning might be skating in a bit of bad luck, or perhaps they are deep in talented finishers. Their possession numbers are not bad: 11th in Corsi-for overall at 5-on-5 (51.3), 11th in score adjusted Corsi (51.6), and 11th in close score Corsi (50.6; numbers from war-on-ice.com).
1. If Tampa Bay’s special teams are weak, the opposite is true for the Caps. Their special teams index ranks second in the league (107.9) to the Boston Bruins (108.5).
2. One thing you can probably count on is that the winner of this game will be the team going to the locker room at the second intermission with a lead. There are seven teams with perfect records when leading after 40 minutes, and the Caps and Lightning represent two of them. Only the New York Rangers have more wins in those situations (13-0-0) than the Caps (12-0-0).
3. Alex Ovechkin is on a pace to finish the season with 427 shots on goal. If he hits that mark it would be his highest shots on goal total since 2008-2009 when he finished with 528 shots on goal.
4. No Capitals defenseman appears in the top-50 of goals allowed/on-ice. Matt Niskanen is tied for 56th with being on ice for only 26 goals against.
5. Washington has not experienced consecutive games with overall Corsi at 5-on-5 of over 50 percent since they did it in back-to-back games on November 12th against Philadelphia (51.7) and on November 13th against Calgary (60.7). In 11 games since they have been over 50 percent just three times and are a cumulative 48.5 percent (numbers from war-on-ice.com).
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Tampa Bay: Steven Stamkos
The Internet forgets nothing. And when one of the most prolific goal scorers of his era “likes” a "tweet" about the possibility of his leaving his current employer for another (who happens to reside in his hometown), people will take notice. Steven Stamkos is not having a banner year so far (11 goals in 29 games), and this cannot help. He is on an oh-fer over his last seven games on just 13 shots. While he is one of the most efficient shooters in the league (17.1 percent for his career), he is on a pace to finish with his lowest shot total (204) of any full season in which he played since his rookie year in 2008-2009 (181 in 79 games). Stamkos is 14-13-27, minus-14, in 33 career games against Washington.
Washington: Braden Holtby
It would seem likely that it will be largely up to Braden Holtby to keep the Caps’ record intact of not having lost consecutive games this season. And frankly, this will be a challenge. In four games following relief from Philipp Grubauer this season, Holtby is 2-2-0, 2.75, .889. Almost half of the 11 goals he allowed in those four games came in the 5-2 loss to the Rangers on November 3rd, and he does have a good save percentage in the other three games (.922), but it might be something that bears watching in this game. Holtby is 6-2-1, 3.10, .904, with one shutout in 10 career appearances against the Lightning, including a 32-save effort in a 4-2 win against Tampa Bay on November 27th.
In the end…
This is really pretty simple. That Florida game?
If they don’t, they will be just fine.
Capitals 3 – Lightning 2