Sunday, January 31, 2016

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 16

Week 16 for the Washington Capitals was as light a work week as one gets for an NHL team.  Postponement of their contest against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday made for a one-game week, a 4-3 overtime loss to the Philadelphia Flyers.  It was not the way the Caps might have wanted to go into the All-Star Game break, but the break came at a welcome time.

Record: 0-0-1

The overtime loss earned the Caps a point for the week, but it was still the first non-winning week since they went 1-1-1 in Week 5.  It did not keep them from going into the All-Star Game break with the league’s best record at 35-8-4.  Their 74 standings points are four more than the Chicago Blackhawks, and the Caps have six games in hand.  Their 1.57 standings points per game is well clear of the second-place Dallas Stars (1.34).

If you are trying to divine anything out of this, consider the history of teams leading the league in points at the major season breaks (All-Star Game or Olympics) since the 2004-2005 lockout:

Let’s think of this as an incentive to buck the trend.

Offense:  3.00/game (season: 3.32 /game; rank: 1st)

The Caps headed into the All-Star break with the league’s top scoring offense, a ranking they have not finished a season with since they led the league in 2009-2010 with a scoring average of 3.82 goals per game (still the top scoring offense of the post 2004-2005 lockout period).  It is a 12.2 percent improvement on the scoring average they took into last season’s All-Star game break (2.96).

In 47 games to date the Caps scored five or more goals 12 times and have a record of 12-0-0 in those games.  In the 22 games in which they scored four or more goals they are 21-0-1.  Compare that to last season when the Caps scored five or more goals seven times in 46 games going into the All-Star break with a record of 5-1-1.  In 16 games in which they scored four or more goals they had a record of 12-2-2.

Defense: 4.00/game (season: 2.19 /game; rank: 2nd)

If defense wins championships, the Caps have one capable of achieving that outcome. Had they not allowed the goal in overtime to the Flyers last Wednesday, the Caps would have the best scoring defense in the league.  As it is, they went into the break with the second-best scoring defense, the 2.19 goals per game they allowed substantially better than their second best performance since the 2004-2005 lockout (2.33 goals per game in 2010-2011).

The Caps possession numbers to date have far underperformed their win-loss record, and that might be the biggest concern at the break.  Washington ranks 14th in the league in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 overall (50.4 percent), eighth in score-adjusted Corsi-for (52.0 percent), and 16th in close score situations (49.6 percent).  Those numbers are a bit under the ones the Caps posted heading into last year’s All-Star break – 51.5 percent overall, 52.3 percent in score-adjusted Corsi-for, and 52.7 percent in close score situations (numbers from

Goaltending: 3.98 /.875 (season: 2.08 / .928 / 2 shutouts)

At this year’s All-Star game break there are 35 goaltenders who have logged at least 1,200 minutes of ice time.  Of that group, Braden Holtby ranks at or near the top in a number of categories:

  • Wins: 30/1st 
  • Goals-Against Average: 2.07/4th
  • Save Percentage: .929/7th
  • Even-Strength Save Percentage: .937/7th

He has been the key part in the Caps’ goaltending profile that is flirting with a team goals against average of 2.00 per game and a save percentage bumping up against the .930 mark overall.  Holtby is, at the break, on a short list of candidates to win the Vezina Trophy. 

What the Caps have had in addition to Holtby’s excellent start is fine relief goaltending.  Philipp Grubauer shook off a sluggish start to go 5-3-1, 2.12, .925 in 11 appearances.  He has been even better of late.  In his last six appearances covering 265 minutes of ice time, Grubauer is 3-1-0, 1.36, .955.

In both Holtby and Grubauer the Caps find themselves in better position at the position than they were heading into the All-Star break last season.  Holtby was having a fine season, posting a 22-9-8/2.26/.921/4 shutout record at the break.  What they were not getting enough of was solid netminding in his absence.  Justin Peters was 2-4-1/3.52/.864, and those numbers dragged the overall goaltending numbers to 2.47/.913.

The better backup goaltending has not made an appreciable dent in Holtby’s workload, though.  Last season he had 40 appearances in 46 games heading into the All-Star break, logging a total of 2,332 minutes.  This season, through 47 games going into the break, he has 39 appearances  and 2,264 minutes, about four fewer periods of hockey.  Even in shots faced, Holtby’s workload is similar to last year’s.  At this time last year he faced 28.8 shots per 60 minutes.  At the moment, that number is 28.9 shots per 60 minutes.

Power Play: 0-for-2 / 0.0 percent (season: 26.8 percent; rank: 1st)

Week 16 might have been one game’s worth of action, but it was representative of the team’s power play in a strange way.  At the end of their 4-3 overtime loss to the Flyers, a game in which they had just two power play chances, the Caps ranked 24th overall in power play chances for the season.  They ranked 28th in power play chances on home ice.  That they would still lead the league in total power play goals scored (38) and rank third in power play goals scored at home (23) says a lot about the most efficient power play in the league overall (26.8 percent) and on home ice (30.0 percent).

The total chances do, however, represent a bit of an improvement over where they were going into the break last season.  At this time last year, the Caps had 135 power play opportunities in 46 games.  At the moment they have 142 opportunities in 47 games.  They are more efficient with those opportunities, posting a 26.8 percent overall power play this season compared to 24.4 percent at this time last season.

The big difference, year-to-year, is what the Caps have done with those power play goals scored.  What they have done is win more often.  In fact, the Caps have yet to lose a game in regulation when scoring a power play goal (22-0-2, including 13-0-0 at home).  Last season at the All-Star break they were just 13-8-7 in game in which they recorded at least on power play goal.

What is perhaps most encouraging about the power play improvement is that it is not a function of the production of Alex Ovechkin.  At the All-Star break last season, 12 of his 27 goals were scored on the power play.  As of this weekend, 11 of his 28 goals scored this season were recorded with the man advantage.

Penalty Killing: 4-for-5 / 80.0 percent (season: 84.7 percent; rank: 4th)

The difference on the other side of special teams from year-to-year at the All-Star break boils down to one word – discipline.  Through 47 games this season, the Caps are tied for the sixth fewest number of shorthanded situations faced (144).  Through 46 games at the break last season the Caps had faced 156 chances, a reduction of better than eight percent.  It has been part of a significant improvement in penalty killing efficiency.  At the All-Star break last season the Caps were killing penalties at a 79.5 percent rate.  Today, they rank fourth in the league with a penalty kill more than five percentage points better.

Success on the penalty kill seems to bear little relationship to wins and losses this season.  The Caps are 20-5-1 when posting a perfect penalty kill, 15-3-3 when they allow the opponent at least one power play tally.  Instances of shorthanded situations are a bit of a different story. The Caps are 26-6-2 when facing three or fewer shorthanded situations, 9-3-2 when they face more than three such situations.

In the end…

The All-Star game break provides an opportunity to take stock and see just if, where, and how the team has improved on a year-to-year basis.  The Caps have that gaudy record that looks like Secretariat’s stretch run in the Belmont Stakes in 1973.  They have not done it the way the new generation of methodologists would argue is key to success, by dominating possession statistics. In that regard, the Caps are a rather ordinary team.  This should give fans pause who want to find a place to set up their lawn chairs for the championship parade in June.

What they have done is avoid the hills and valleys (mostly the valleys) that a team usually encounters over the course of an 82-game season.  It is a team that can be characterized as “taking care of business,” and that shows up in a couple of performance statistics – early game performance and goal differential by period.  The Caps have displayed a talent, not just of taking a lead (they have the seventh-highest rate of leads taken to games played – 55.3 percent),  but in holding it.  Their 25-1-0 record when scoring first leads the league in winning percentage (.962).  And, they have yet to lose a game in regulation when leading after one period (17-0-0) or when leading after two periods (26-0-1), the only team in the league that can make that claim.

The goal differential by period reflects a certain focus, a “60 minute” approach that has been lacking among many previous editions of the club.  Until they allowed two goals to the Flyers in the lone game of Week 16, the Caps were the only club in the league with a plus-10 or better goal differential in each of the three regulation periods.  As it is, they are plus-9 in the first periods of games, and their plus-22 in each of the second and third periods of games is tops in the league for both.

It is hard to say that there is room for improvement for a team with a 35-8-4 record at the All-Star game break, but the possession numbers do stand out as something to follow as the stretch run begins on the 2015-2016 season.  If those measures improve, the Caps will be an even more formidable team than the one that dominated in the pre-All-Star game portion of the season.

Three Stars at the Break:

  • First Star: Braden Holtby (30-5-3, 2.07, .929, two shutouts)
  • Second Star: Evgeny Kuznetsov (15-34-49, plus-24, 3 game-winning goals)
  • Third Star: Alex Ovechkin (28-14-42, plus-20, 5 game-winning goals)

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Washington Capitals Recap: A ONE-Point Night: Flyers 4 - Capitals 3 (OT)

The Washington Capitals waited eight days since their last game to face competition, and when the ice chips settled at Verizon Center, they found that the hiatus had its price as the Philadelphia Flyers skated off with a 4-3 overtime win.  The loss broke the Capitals’ home winning streak at 12 games.

It was a game in which the Caps found themselves always chasing – the Flyers, the puck, and a lead.  They spent most of the game unsuccessful at the first two and never did achieve the last.  It started less than five minutes into the contest.  Tom Wilson was sent off at the 4:48 mark on an interference penalty, and the Flyers struck just six seconds later.  After Claude Giroux won the ensuing faceoff from Mike Richards, the Flyers worked the puck clockwise around the perimeter until Wayne Simmonds found Brayden Schenn in the slot for a one-timer that beat goalie Braden Holtby. 

A little over six minute later the Flyers had a two-goal lead, courtesy of a brutal turnover from Evgeny Kuznetsov.  Skating around the back of his own net, Kuznetsov threw a backhand pass into the middle where Ryan White picked it off.  From between the hash marks, White snapped the puck past Holtby, and it was 2-0 barely 11 minutes into the game.

That was the way the teams went to the locker room at the first intermission, and when play resumed it was the Caps dominating.  They capitalized when the Flyers could not get the puck out of their own end.  A pass from White to Sam Gagner proved to hot to handle, and the puck bounced free to Nate Schmidt, who slid it to Andre Burakovsky in the high slot.  Burakovsky had time to pick is spot, and his picked it well, firing the puck just over goalie Michal Neuvirth’s left pad to make it 2-1.

Nicklas Backstrom tied the game less than a minute later.  The Caps skated up on a 3-on-3 rush, led by T.J. Oshie carrying the puck down the left side.  Skating down the wall, Oshie spied Backstrom as the late trailer, and he fed Backstrom skating down the middle.  From the inside edge of the right wing faceoff circle, Backstrom wristed the puck past Neuvirth, and it was a 2-2 game 8:34 into the second period.

The Flyers recaptured the lead late in the period on a goal by Jakub Voracek, who fired a shot though a maze of bodies from the far edge of the right wing circle off a faceoff win by Giroux.  The 3-2 Flyer lead was how the teams would enter the third period.

The only goal of the final frame came in the fourth minute.  Kuzetsov redeemed his turnover in the first period with some hustle and deft stick work.  After Justin Williams chipped the puck into the Flyer end, it got caught up in the skates of Scott Laughton.  Kuznetsov pounced on the opportunity, digging the puck out of Laughton’s skates and turning toward the goal.  Working the puck around Mark Streit, he found Burakovsky skating down the weak side.  Kuznetsov slid the puck over, and Burakovsky rang a shot off the inside of the pipe on the near side past Neuvirth to make it 3-3 at the 3:55 mark.

That would be the way the score remained for the duration of regulation time, but things were settled shortly thereafter.  Voracek and Kuznetsov dueled behind the Caps’ net for the puck, and Voracek won the battle, circling out to the right of Holtby.  Spinning off Kuznetsov, with Holtby having lost his stick, Voracek snapped a shot over Holtby’s left shoulder and into the top corner on the far side to send the Flyers off with the 4-3 win.

Other stuff…

-- After the game, the Capitals announced that Alex Ovechkin would not participate in the All-Star game in Nashville this coming weekend.  The team stated that Ovechkin had been playing with an injury and made the decision with the long-term needs of the team in mind.  As a result, Ovechkin will serve a one-game suspension and will not participate in the Caps’ first game on the schedule after the All-Star game against the Florida Panthers on February 2nd.

-- In a way, this game was something out of a Sherlock Holmes story, the dog that did not bark.  Or more precisely, the whistle that was not blown…twice.  Once when Dmitry Orlov took an elbow to the face behind his own net, and again when Michal Neuvirth directed the puck into the netting on a late Caps power play that might have provided a 5-on-3 advantage.

-- Andre Burakovsky is on a tear.  The two goals make it four games in his last six that he recorded two points.  He is 3-6-9 over those six games.

-- Nicklas Backstrom’s goal extended his points streak to three games.  He is 6-7-13 over his last 11 games.

-- Braden Holtby took a pair of minor penalties less than four minutes apart in the second period.  They were his first penalties of the season.

-- The Caps were down to 16 skaters by the end of this contest.  In addition to Dmitry Orlov taking an elbow in the chops (he did not skate the last 7:24 of regulation and did not skate in the overtime), Marcus Johansson left the game 12 minutes into the contest with an upper-body injury.

-- Two Capitals went out with injuries, but one returned from injury for this game.  John Carlson skated for the first time since December 26th.  In 19 minutes of ice time he had one shot on goal, one shot attempt blocked, three blocked shots, and he finished a plus-1.

-- You would probably go through a few names on the Caps roster for this game before settling on Nicklas Backstrom as the team leader in credited hits (6).

-- The Caps came into this game plus-11 in first period goal differential; the Flyers came in at minus-18.  So, of course, the Flyers led, 2-0, after the first period.  Hockey is weird.

-- Evgeny Kuznetsov wins the coupon for the all-you-can-eat buffet… an assist, five shots on goal, a shot attempt blocked, two misses, three hits, two giveaways, a takeaway, a blocked shot, and nine wins in 14 faceoffs taken to go with a minus-1.  With that point, he is 6-15-21, plus-10, over his last 16 games.

In the end…

The rust showed.  Add to that the fact that the Caps lost two players to injury, got one back who was just easing himself back in (to the extent you can do that in the NHL), had another who is banged up enough to miss the league’s All-Star game, and it was a recipe for disaster.  That it was not, that the Caps managed a point out of this game, is a sign of the club’s depth.

That is not to say they played well.  They did not.  The second line had an eventful night, and not all in a good way.  They were on ice for two of the three goals for (both scored by Andre Burakovsky with an assist on one to Evgeny Kuznetsov), and they were on ice for both even strength goals scored by the Flyers in regulation.  Kuznetsov was also on ice – and was victimized – for the game-winning goal in overtime.

Now, the Caps get almost another week off before taking the ice again.  There will be more rust to accumulate, and it will be a challenge to keep it from getting too thick.  They have  a large cushion in the standings with which to work, but a hallmark of this team has been its ability to keep one loss from becoming two.  That will be put to the test as the club takes some days off to tend to its wounds among some key players.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 47: Flyers at Capitals, January 27th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals return to the ice (we hope) on Wednesday night for the first time since January 19th as the Philadelphia Flyers come to town in a nationally-televised affair at Verizon Center.

Not much has changed since the Caps defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets, 6-3, last week before Winter Storm Jonas came to town and overstayed his welcome.  The Caps had the best record in the NHL then, and they still have the league’s best record.  They led the league in scoring offense then, and they lead it now.  They were tops in scoring defense then, and they remain so now.  Power play…ditto.

Their opponents, the Flyers, have had their own interruption in play, a game against the New York Islanders scheduled for last Saturday that was postponed, but otherwise the Flyers have struggled recently.  After putting together a four-game winning streak earlier this month, tying their longest of the season, the Flyers are 1-3-1 in their last five games, their lone win coming at Detroit in a Gimmick against the Red Wings.  The odd part of that five-game run for the Flyers is that all five games were one-goal decisions.

Over those last five games, the Flyers have had the same problem that has plagued them all season – scoring goals.  They have just ten in those five games, entirely consistent with their 29th-place ranking in scoring offense (2.24 goals/game).

In the “what have you done for us lately” file, there aren’t many Flyer skaters.  Only six Flyers have goals over their last five games, led by Wayne Simmonds with three.  The three goals lifted Simmonds into a tie for the team lead in goals with Claude Giroux and lifted him a bit out of the mini-slump in which he found himself.  He has four goals in his last six games after recording just three in his previous 14 contests.  Simmonds has been a remarkably consistent performer in his four-and-a-half seasons since arriving in Philadelphia from the Los Angeles Kings.  His goals-per-game have clustered between 0.30 (this season so far) and 0.37 (last season); his points have clustered between 0.60 (in 2011-2012, his first in Philadelphia) and 0.73 (in 2013-2014).  His shots per game range from 2.40 per game (in 2011-2012) to 2.55 (in 2013-2014).  And, he has missed only ten games in his Flyer career.  Simmonds is 5-6-11, plus-1, in 21 career games against the Capitals.

Claude Giroux is the player with whom Simmonds is tied in goals for the Flyers, and he has two tallies in the Flyers’ 1-3-1 slide.  For Giroux, it is part of a longer productive run in which he is 2-6-8, plus-2, over his last eight games.  Giroux has been another consistent player in his own right.  Starting in 2011-2012, when he set career hights in goals (28, since equaled), assists (65), and points (93), he has been a point-per-game player (108-229-337 in 334 games).  He is also making his way up the Flyers’ all-time lists.  A hat trick against the Caps (perish the thought) would place him in a tie for 16th in all-time goals for the Flyers (Dave Poulin: 161).  His next power play goal would tie Scott Hartnell for 13th in franchise history (57); his next shorthanded goal would lift him into the top-20 in Flyers’ history (he has five career shorthanded goals).  He is within 13 points of 500 and would become the 14th player in Flyer history to reach that mark.  In 26 career games against the Caps, Giroux is 15-13-28, plus-2.

In goal, the Flyers might be a bit thin.  Michal Neuvirth was reported to be “limping badly” after the Flyers’ 3-2 loss to the Boston Bruins on Monday night.  That will put the role of backup into question, but it would seem that Neuvirth injury or not, Steve Mason would get the call in this game (unless he doesn't).  Mason’ overall statistics this season are hardly those for the scrapbook.  Of 41 goalies having logged at least 1,000 minutes this season, Mason is 33rd in goals-against average (2.72) and 26th in save percentage (.914).  He appeared to be piecing together a good stretch of appearances, but looking at his last five outings his save percentage has steadily deteriorated.  He started with a 20-save shutout of the New York Islanders on January 9th, then saw that save percentage slide to .938, .935, .914, and finally .911 (albeit having faced 45 shots) in a 4-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins last Thursday.  Against the Caps, Mason is 7-4-2, 2.83, .904, with two shutouts in 14 career appearances.  There was some mystery on Tuesday about his availability, though (and Neuvirth’s for that matter)...

Here is how the teams compare overall:

1.  Back to Mason for a moment.  If he gets the call, watch his shots-faced totals.  It appears that 30 shots faced is a magic threshold for him this season.  In nine appearances in which he faced fewer than 30 shots, Mason is 6-1-1 (one no-decision), 2.35, .903, with two shutouts.  In 20 appearances when facing more than 30 shots he is 4-11-5, 2.87, .917, with one shutout.  The bad news?  The Flyers are allowing the league’s second-most shots per game (32.4).

2.  The Flyers do not do much flying early in games.  No team has fewer first period goals scored than Philadelphia (22).  Only Ottawa has a worse first period goal differential (minus-18) than the Flyers (minus-18).

3.  If this is a one-goal game, it might be the Flyers’ best hope.  They are 13-5-8 in one-goal decisions, but 7-13 when the margin is two or more goals.

4.  As you might expect, the Flyers do not work or play well with others.  They rank second in the league in penalty minutes per game (12:24), and they rank third in fighting majors (21), behind Anaheim and Columbus (each with 27).  Twelve different Flyers have recorded fighting majors this season, led by Wayne Simmonds with four.

5.  The Flyers rank 16th, right behind the Caps, In Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 overall (50.2).  They are a better team, rankings-wise, away from home.  Their 49.9 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5 overall ranks 10th, while their close score Corsi-for ranks 11th (49.6).  That ranking drops when score-adjusted Corsi is considered (15th/49.7; numbers from

1.  If the Caps earn a point in this game they will tie a record for fewest losses in regulation recorded in January.  The 1999-2000 team was 11-1-2-0.  A win would make this team 8-1-1 for the month, with two postponed games.

2.  Front runners…the Caps are the only team in the league not to lose a game in regulation when leading after one period (17-0-0) or when leading after two periods (26-0-1).  Just for good measure, they are the only team in the league with a .500 record when trailing after two periods (5-4-1). 

3.  Those ten instances in which they trailed after two periods is the lowest total in the league. The 27 instances in which they led after two periods also leads the league.

4.  The Caps have the league’s best home power play (30.9 percent), but they also have the fewest power play chances on home ice (68).

5.  The Caps will be looking to improve a home ice statistic in this game.  Over their last four games at Verizon Center they have a Corsi-for percentage of 54.7 overall and 56.9 in close score situations (numbers from

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Philadelphia: Shayne Gostisbehere

Rookie defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere packs a lot of offensive punch in a small frame.  At 5’11”, 160 pounds, he is among the smaller defensemen in the league, but he has eight goals and 12 assists for 20 points in 28 games this season (both numbers lead all rookie defensemen).  It was not as if a lot of people saw this coming.  Gostisbehere was not listed on the 2012 amateur rankings of North American skaters by Central Scouting, and he managed to climb to just 148th place in the final rankings.  He was taken by the Flyers with the 78th overall pick in the 2012 entry draft, the 26th defenseman taken in that draft.  He is one of just 24 defensemen in that draft to have appeared in an NHL game so far, and he ranks 16th on that list in career games played.  He ranks eighth on the list in goals and ninth in points.  Gostisbehere comes into this game riding a three-game points streak and will be making his first appearance against the Capitals.

Washington: Alex Ovechkin

Alex Ovechkin is on a pace to finish the season with 50 goals, a total that would earn him his  sixth Maurice Richard Trophy, if his closest competitors maintain their respective current paces.  That is not unusual; it would be his seventh 50-goal season and his fourth straight Richard Trophy.  The unusual part of his season is the power play, specifically assists. Through 45 games Ovechkin has just three assists on the power play, putting him on a pace to finish the season with just five.  It would be a career low in that statistic, wiping out the nine-assist season he had last year.  He has gone his last 15 games without recording a power play assist.  True, the power play does not go “through” him as much as is does go “to” him as its finisher, but the low assist total is unusual even by his standards.  Ovechkin is 29-17-46, minus-3, in 38 career games against the Flyers.

In the end…

Philly does not score much, and they appear to have health issues in goal.  These are not what one considers features in a winning formula against a team like the Caps that can score and prevent scoring with equal skill.  Nevertheless, this is always an entertaining contest that hearkens back to the knock-down, drag-out wars of the 1980’s between these clubs.  The Caps dominated the Flyers in the first (and so far only) meeting of the clubs this season, converting two of three power plays and holding the Flyers to 20 shots on their way to a 5-2 win in Philadelphia back in November.  There is little that has happened since to suggest that the gap between these teams has narrowed.

Capitals 5 – Flyers 2

Monday, January 25, 2016

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 15

Week 15 seems like a long time ago, the Washington Capitals having been missed from competition since last Tuesday due to Winter Storm Jonah and the several feet of snow it left that postponed Friday night’s game against the Anaheim Ducks (and, as it turned out, Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins).  It was another successful week, nonetheless, another week in the Caps almost uninterrupted winning momentum.

Record: 2-0-0

Week 15 was the sixth perfect week out of 15 this season for the Caps.  It was the seventh in which they did not lose a game in regulation.  The Caps finished the week 16 points clear of the New York Rangers in the Metropolitan Division and 14 points ahead of the Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference.  In defeating two Metropolitan Division rivals in the New York Rangers and the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Caps reached the 11-win mark against divisional opponents.  They finished the week as the only team in the league with double-digit win totals against two different divisions, 16-3-0 against the Atlantic Division and 11-3-1 against the Metropolitan Division.

Offense:  5.50/game (season: 3.33 /game; rank: 1st)

A two-game week is a light week, workload-wise, but an 11-goal week looked a lot like a full week’s worth of output.  With the Caps lighting up the Rangers for five goals and the Blue Jackets for six, the Caps now have 12 games this season in which they scored five or more goals.  They had 13 all of last season (not including Gimmick results).  The Caps lead the league in games with five or more goals scored. 

Individually, the scoring was a bit clustered, but that might be more a function of the 11 goals coming over just two games.  There were guys who were hot.  Six Capitals shared the 11 goals, Justin Williams leading the way with three goals, all of them recorded in a hat trick against the Rangers to start the week. Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Marcus Johansson each had a pair of goals.  Twelve different Caps recorded points for the week, seven of them with multi-point weeks.  Evgeny Kuznetsov led the team with six points, all of them assists, including four in the 6-3 win over Columbus.  Williams finished the week with five points (3-2-5).

Defense: 2.50/game (season: 2.15 /game; rank:1st)

Another week, another week of not allowing more than three goals in a game.  This despite allowing the Rangers 33 shots on goal and the Blue Jackets35 shots on goal.  What looked like a good start to the new calendar year in that regard – opening January with a pair of sub-30 shots against games – has slipped some.  The two games over 30 shots allowed make it five in their last seven in which the Caps have allowed 30 or more shots to opponents.  It was not really much of a score-effect result, either.  The Caps allowed 24 of the Rangers’ 33 shots over the first two periods, after which they held just a 3-2 lead.  They allowed Columbus double-digit shot totals in each of the three periods of the 6-3 win.

If you’re looking at individuals, the Matt Kiskanen/Karl Alzner defensive pair was on ice for three of the five goals against for the week, two of them at 5-on-5, one while shorthanded.  Taylor Chorney and Ryan Stanton were on ice for two goals, both at even strength against Columbus.  Among the forwards, it was Jason Chimera and Tom Wilson on ice for most goals against, with three apiece.

It was not an especially good week, possession-wise.  The Caps were 84 shot attempts to the good, 97 to the bad at 5-on-5, a Corsi-for of 46.4 percent overall.  That was a disappointment after posting a plus-50 percent Corsi-for in each of their previous three games and 55.9 percent overall.  It was not any better in close score situations, where the Caps were 40.7 over the two games (numbers from

Goaltending: 2.50 /.926 (season: 2.04 / .929 / 2 shutouts)

As Braden Holtby finished Week 14, so did he start Week 15 – relieved by Philipp Grubauer.  Late in the second period of the Caps 5-2 win over the New York Rangers, Holtby took himself out of the contest with what was later described as symptoms of dehydration.  Grubauer slammed the door in his unplanned stint, stopping all 11 shots he faced in 22 minutes and change of work.

Holtby returned to the ice to face Columbus in the second game of the week, and while he was not quite as sharp as fans have come to expect of him this season, he played well enough to keep the game from ever being in much doubt.  It left him in the unaccustomed position of finishing a week with a personal goals against average over 3.00 (3.07 to be exact) and a sub-.920 save percentage (.912).

For Grubauer it was another case of filling in the gaps in expert fashion.  With his 11-for-11 effort against the Rangers, he is 3-1-0, 1.36, .955 over his last six appearances.

Power Play: 4-for-6 / 66.7 percent (season: 27.1 percent; rank: 1st)

“Cool efficiency “ does not describe the Capitals’ power play in Week 15.  “White-hot efficiency” seems a more apt description.  Four power play goals on just six power play chances in two games.  It was quite an eruption for a team that finished Week 14 with their first consecutive games without a power play goal in the 2016 portion of the season. 

Three Caps divided up the four goals, Alex Ovechkin recording a pair, and Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson each recording one.  Evgeny Kuznetsov and Matt Niskanen each finished the week with three power play assists.

It is part of an important change in deployment the Caps have used recently, involving the movement of the forward occupying the goal line extended to the goalie’s left to a position at the top of the crease.  The move appears to have created a headache for defensemen trying to decide whether to cheat and lean toward Ovechkin in the left wing circle, or pay sufficient attention to the man at the top of the crease who is in position to redirect a centering pass, precisely what happened on the power play goals by Johansson against the Rangers and Backstrom against the Blue Jackets.  If you factor in that Ovechkin had the other two power play goals, the Caps seem to have given opponents a whole new scenario to give them fits.

It was not an especially efficient week from a shooting perspective, the Caps managing seven shots on goal in 8:31 of power play time (0.82 shots per minute).  But their shots were of such high-quality that it hardly mattered.  The Caps are still at least a step ahead over their opponents in this regard.

Penalty Killing: 6-for-7 / 85.7 percent (season: 84.9 percent; rank: 6th)

It was a pretty good week for the Caps on the penalty kill, posting a mark over 85 percent after dropping under that threshold in Week 14.  It was a very uneven week, though.  Against the Rangers to open the week the Caps did a fine job a man short, holding the Rangers to four shots on four power plays over 7:40 in power play time.  Against the Blue Jackets, the Caps – Braden Holtby, specifically – found themselves in a shooting gallery.  Columbus recorded ten shots on goal (scoring once) in 4:20 of power play ice time (2.30 shots per minute).  Still, it is results that count, at least in the context of a single week, and one goal in seven chances is a decent result.

Faceoffs: 71-for-134 / 53.0 percent (season: 50.2% / rank: 13th)

It was a good week overall in the circle for the Caps, divided into a very good start and a less than good finish.  The Caps dominated the Rangers in the opening game of the week, winning 42 of 71 draws (59.2 percent).  They went just 29 for 63 against the Blue Jackets in the second game of the week.  The Caps were consistent across the zones for the week, winning 53.5 percent of their offensive zone draws, 52.0 percent of faceoffs in the defensive end, and winning 53.7 percent of faceoffs taken in neutral ice.

On an individual level, it was the new guy who impressed most.  Mike Richards won 22 of 34 faceoffs (64.7 percent), going over 50 percent in all three zones.  The surprise was Evgeny Kuznetsov being the only other Capital taking at least ten draws to finish the week over 50 percent, going 16 for 29 (55.2 percent).

Goals by Period:

The Caps won every period and won the week by period.  By the end of the week they remained the only team in the league with double-digit goal differentials in each of the three periods of games, and they enjoyed better than plus-20 goal differentials in the second (plus-21) and third (plus-21) periods of games.

If there was a smudge on the record in Week 15, it was the manner in which the two goals against were scored in the first periods of games.  In both games for the week the Caps allowed the first goal.  The good part of that was that it was the only goal either the Rangers or the Blue Jackets would score in the opening frame.

In the end…

With two wins in Week 15, the Caps reached the 35-win mark.  That ranks 26th in wins for a season in team history, which might not sound like much, given that this is the Caps’ 41st season.   But that is after just 46 games.  Their points percentage (.793) is unmatched in club history, not even by the 2009-2010 Presidents Trophy winners that posted a 54-15-13 mark for 121 points (.738 points percentage.  This club is on a pace to finish with 130 points.

Will they finish with such an impressive total of standings points?  Who knows?  Injuries, slumps, the odd snow storm could pierce the momentum the Caps established and sustained over the first 46 games of the season, but one reason that they have been able to sustain that momentum is that they show no inclination but to take each game – each week – at a time.  Week 15 was an example of that.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Justin Williams (3-2-5, plus-5, eight shot attempts, six shots on goal
  • Second Star: Evgeny Kuznetsov (0-6-6, 55.2 percent faceoffs)
  • Third Star: Matt Niskanen (0-3-3, plus-1, 11 shot attempts, eight shots on goal, almost 27 minutes average ice time)

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 47: Ducks at Capitals, January 22nd

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals have been a perfect storm of offense, defense, and goaltending this season, inflicting blizzard conditions on opponents across North America.  It just seems fitting that the Capitals will host a hockey game as an historic storm winds up literally over their heads.  As Winter Storm Jonas unleashes its fury on the Washington metropolitan area, the Capitals will be looking to unleash their own brand of fury on the Anaheim Ducks on Friday night.

The Capitals come into this game as winners in seven of their last eight contests and face an Anaheim team that has won four of their last six games, each of their losses suffered by a single goal.  The Ducks, on many preseason short lists as a bona fide contender to reach the Stanley Cup final out of the Western Conference, has struggled throughout the season.  The source of their problems has been entirely unexpected.  Bruce Boudreau, who was behind the Capitals bench in 2009-2010 when they posted the highest goals per game average for a season (3.82) since the 1995-1996 season, has presided over an offense that is the only one in the NHL to average less than two goals per game (1.98 to be precise).

Anaheim has been a bit more productive lately, outscoring their opponents by a 17-12 margin over their last six games.  It has been a product of better 5-on-5 performance.  The Ducks outscored opponents, 13-9, at fives, quite an improvement over their 43 goals for and 64 against (minus-21) in their first 39 games (numbers from

Individually, Jakob Silfverberg leads the Ducks in scoring over their last six games, recording seven points on three goals and four assists.  He is typical of a team that has struggled over the first 35-40 games but lifted their game a bit recently.  Over his first 39 games this season he was 3-3-6, but over his last six games he more than doubled his offensive production to date.  Silfverberg is still well behind his scoring pace of last season when he was 13-26-39 (all career bests) in 81 games.  In seven career games against Washington, he is 1-2-3, even.

A player who has gone a bit sideways over the last six games, at least in his offensive production, is defenseman Sami Vatanen.  The four year veteran leads the Duck defensemen in goals (6), assists (16), and points (22), but in his last six games he is just 1-1-2.  Vatanen has not exactly lit it up on the road this season.  He is 2-4-6, minus-3, in 19 road games.  He does not have a point in two career games against the Caps.

Corey Perry is the other Duck with three goals over their last six contests.  Perry, a 50-goal scorer in 2010-2011 when he won the Richard and Hart Trophies, has settled into being a goal scorer who can reliably score at a 40-or-so goal rate per 82 games.  Since his 50-goal season he has averaged 38.7 goals per 82 games.  He is a bit off that pace this season with 17 goals in 45 games, and that is a product of low road production.  Perry has just two goals in 19 road games.  He is 5-8-13, even, in 11 career games against Washington.

Here is how the teams compare overall:

1.  Only one Duck having appeared in more than 20 games this season is a “plus” player.  Defenseman Josh Manson is plus-1 in 35 games.  Six Ducks are double-digit minus players, including Carl Hagelin, since traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

2.  As tough as the Ducks have found it to score goals, they do not give opponents many opportunities.  They are allowing the third-fewest shots on goal per game in the league (27.2).  What it not as impressive is how they have turned low shot volumes into low goal totals.  While the Ducks are sixth in the league in scoring defense (2.31 goals/game) they are allowing opponents an 8.5 shooting percentage, 13th in the league overall.

3.  This will be the first road game for the Ducks in three weeks.  They beat the Canucks in Vancouver on New Year’s Day, 2-1, in a Gimmick.  They have allowed only one goal in their last three road games.  Then again, they have scored only three goals in the hockey portion of those three games, preceding their win in Vancouver with a pair of wins in Alberta, a 1-0 win over Calgary and a 1-0 win over Edmonton.

4.  Anaheim plays with a large chip on its collective shoulder.  The Ducks are tied for the league lead in fighting majors (27, with Columbus), far ahead of the third-place team (Philadelphia: 21).

5.  While Anaheim has been unproductive on offense, it has not been a function of poor possession numbers.  They have been a superior road team in this regard, fourth overall in the league in Corsi-for percentage (52.1), fifth in score-adjusted Corsi (52.7), and second in close score situations (52.4).

1.  The kids like playing in their own back yard.  The leaders this season in 5-on-5 points per 60 minutes at Verizon Center are Evgeny Kuznetsov (2.53), Marcus Johansson (2.14) and Andre Burakovsky (1.95; numbers from

2.  T.J. Oshie has a knack for drawing penalties at home.  At 5-on-5 this season he leads the team with a plus-6 in penalty differential (drawn versus taken; numbers from

3.  The Caps lead the league in PDO at 5-on-5 (102.5, shooting plus save percentages).  Now ask yourself, is the on-ice shooting percentage sustainable (8.9, second in the league), is the on-ice save percentage sustainable (93.6, third in the league), is it both, or is it neither (numbers from

4.  The Caps have one bench minor penalty this season so far.  Only the New York Rangers are without one.  Little things from which big things might be built.

5.  The Caps are an unremarkable team in their possession numbers at home: 51.9 percent Corsi-for overall at 5-on-5 (15th), 52.2 percent in score-adjusted Corsi (10th), and 51.8 percent in close score situations (12th).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Anaheim: Ryan Getzlaf

So far this season, 797 skaters have dressed for NHL games.  Of that number, 343 of them have more goals than Ryan Getzlaf through Wednesday’s games.  Of that number, 535 skaters have a shooting percentage better than Getzlaf’s 3.6.  Three goals on 84 shots on goal was not likely to be a feature of the Anaheim plan for this season.  He does have two of those three goals on the road, though, but he has yet to light the lamp in the 2016 portion of the season.  This is a player who averaged 24.0 goals per 82 games over his career coming into this season, and he is only 30 years old, just four months older than Alex Ovechkin.  It is hard to think this is a late-career decline on Getzlaf’s part, merely an extended run of poor shooting luck.  One only hopes he does not find a cure in Washington.  In 10 career games against the Caps he is 3-7-10, minus-1.

Washington:  Andre Burakovsky

This has been a season of challenges for Andre Burakovsky, but he is showing signs of emerging from the funk that permeated his game over the first half of the season.  In his last five games he is 1-6-7, plus-5, with three two-assist games (his total of two-assist games for the season).  He has shown himself to be an adept playmaker, which leaves his shooting as an aspect of his game to keep an eye on.  Not so much for the results (even of more would be nice) as the attempts.  Burakovsky has a total of eight shots on goal in his last seven games, and his shooting frequency (1.16 shots on goal per game) is a bit off from last season (1.23).  His next assist, however, would tie the total he has last season in 53 games.  Burakovsky recorded two of his nine goals last season, including the game-winning goal, in the Caps’ 5-3 win in Anaheim over the Ducks.  It was his only two-goal game last season and his only such game thus far in his two-year career.

In the end…

History will be made outside the arena on Friday evening as Washington is slowly buried under a blanket of snow.  It is a metaphor for the Caps’ season, the team being able to slowly and methodically bury opponents with goals from a deep offense and use an oppressive defense and goaltending to silence them at the other end of the ice.  The Ducks are a team for which being on the road will be a bit of a novelty, this being their first road game in three weeks, and there are the travel distractions that will test their focus (they are scheduled to play in Detroit on Saturday).  There is every reason to think that Caps fans braving the elements will be rewarded for their fortitude.

Capitals 3 – Ducks 1

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Washington Capitals Recap: A TWO-Point Night: Capitals 6 - Blue Jackets 3

The Washington Capitals went into their contest with the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday night having demonstrated that they can win close, low scoring games, posting 10 of their 34 wins when scoring two or fewer goals in a game.  At Nationwide Arena the Caps demonstrated that trading scoring chances is not much better a strategy for opponents.  The Caps spotted the Blue Jackets the game’s first goal, then came storming back to post a 6-3 win over Columbus.

The Blue Jackets got that first score on Kerby Rychel’s first NHL goal in the game’s tenth minute, converting a goal-mouth feed from William Karlsson on a 2-on-1 break.  If that gave the home team fans the hope that their charges would make it a hard night on the Caps, that hope was dimmed somewhat less than three minutes later.  The Caps pushed the Blue Jacket defense back with a three-man rush though the neutral zone, Alex Ovechkin carrying the puck down the left side.  Gaining the offensive zone, Ovechkin slid the puck to T.J. Oshie filling in the middle, and Oshie wired it to Nicklas Backstrom cutting in from the right.  Backstrom snapped a shot past goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, and the game was tied.

Less than four minutes later the Caps took the lead for good.  Pressuring the Blue Jackets in their own end, Tom Wilson forced Justin Falk into a turnover from the right wing wall.  Falk sent the puck through the middle, where it was picked off by Marcus Johansson.   As Dalton Prout slid over to disrupt Johansson’s progress, Johansson fed Jason Chimera filling in the space Prout vacated.  Chimera fired a dart past Bobrovsky, and it was 2-1 at the 15:52 mark.

That would be how the teams went to the first intermission, but the score did not stay that way long after.  After Falk was sent off on a double-minor for high sticking Johansson, the Caps scored a pair of power play goals.  Alex Ovechkin got his 28th goal of the season, converting a splendid cross-ice pass from Evgeny Kuznetsov on a one-timer past Bobrovsky from the left wing circle.  Less than two minutes later, Backstrom recorded his second of the game when he settled at the top of the crease and tipped in a feed from Kuznetsov past Bobrovsky’s right pad to make it 4-1 at the 4:47 mark.

Columbus got back within a pair on a power play of their own, Boone Jenner pounding in a rebound of his own shot from the top of the crease past goalie Braden Holtby.  Less than a minute later the lead was three goals once more, though.  Justin Williams gathered the puck at his own blue line and fed it up to Kuznetsov skating through center ice.  Kuznetsov relayed it to Andre Burakovsky skating down the left side.  With Kuznetsov continuing on toward the net, Burakovsky cut behind him and shot the puck through a maze of bodies past Bobrovsky to make it 5-2 with 10:25 gone in the second period.

The second period ended that way.  Columbus inched within a pair one more time when Ryan Murray took advantage of Holtby losing track of the puck and stepped up to backhand it past Holtby’s left elbow at the 5:07 mark.  That would be a close as the Blue Jackets would get.  Marcus Johansson scored an empty net goal with 33 seconds left for the final 6-3 margin.

Other stuff…

-- The Caps had trouble getting started in each of the first two periods.  Columbus out-attempted the Caps, 12-1 (six shots, six attempt blocked) in the first 4:48 of the game.  The Blue Jackets out-attempted the Caps by an 8-2 margin to start the second period (four shots, three shots blocked, one miss) before Justin Falk took his double minor on which the Caps scored two goals.

-- This was the 12th time in 46 games that the Caps recorded five or more goals.  Last season they did it 13 times in 82 games (not including Gimmick goals).

--  With a four-assist night, this was the third game this season that Evgeny Kuznetsov recorded three or more assists (tied for most in the league with Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson) and seventh time he finished a contest with three or more points (tied for most in the league with Patrick Kane and Taylor Hall, pending results of Tuesday night).  Pending results of other games, he is now third in the league in assists (33).

--  Ryan Stanton got his first game as a Capital in this one, and it was not an auspicious debut.  He was on ice for two goals against, and it was after his penalty in the second period that the Blue Jackets scored a power play goal.

-- Alex Ovechkin recorded an assist on the first goal by Nicklas Backstrom.  It broke a 14-game streak without a helper.

-- Marcus Johansson’s empty net goal made it three straight games with a goal and points in ten of his last 14 games (8-7-15).

-- After taking a puck off his left hand that needed some attention, Jason Chimera scored his 13th goal of the season and broke a five-game streak without one.  He has now alternated points and non-points games over his last nine contests (3-4-7).

-- The Caps had five players finish with multi-point games: Kuznetsov (0-4-4), Backstrom (2-0-2), Johansson (1-1-2), Matt Niskanen (0-2-2), and Alex Ovechkin (1-1-2).

-- This was the Caps’ second straight game with two power play goals and their fourth such game over their last nine contests.   In January, the Caps are 10-for-29 on the power play (34.5 percent).

-- Braden Holtby finished the game in goal.  He had been relieved for performance against Buffalo last Saturday, then left early due to dehydration symptoms on Sunday.  He was not quite as sharp as he has been over the last two months, but he was good enough to earn his 30th win.  It is the tenth 30-win season for goalies in Caps franchise history and Holtby’s second, tying Jose Theodore for second in 30-win seasons in franchise history.  Olaf Kolzig had five such seasons.  Jim Carey had the other.

In the end…

Well, it was not a one-goal game.  Five of the last six contests between these teams ended in one-goal decisions, including both games this season, and the sixth game was a two-goal win for the Caps punctuated by an empty-net goal.  This contest ended a slippery part of the schedule for the Caps in which the 2016 portion of the season started with a four-game road trip, then largely alternating home and away games.  The Caps now head home for a five-game home stand straddling the All-Star Game break that features four divisional opponents and a game against the Anaheim Ducks and former Caps coach Bruce Boudreau.  Having won seven of nine games to start the new year, the schedule sets up to allow the Caps to put even more distance between themselves and their closest pursuers in the East.

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 46: Capitals at Blue Jackets, January 19th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Having dispatched their closest pursuers in the Metropolitan Division on Sunday night, the Washington Capitals pivot to take on the division's worst team on Tuesday evening.  The Caps spotted the New York Rangers a goal, then came back to win, 5-2, to start Week 15 of the NHL season.  They now head to Columbus to face the Blue Jackets in a Buckeye Blockbuster.

Well, perhaps not a “blockbuster,” the noise of the cannon at Nationwide Arena notwithstanding.  Since the Blue Jackets beat the Caps, 5-4, in a Gimmick on January 7th, Columbus is 2-3-1.  While those wins have come in their last two games, ending a four game losing streak, those wins also came at the expense of the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Colorado Avalanche, teams that find themselves outside the playoff mix.

Colorado has struggled to score in this recent half-dozen game run.  The Blue Jackets recorded only 13 goals over those games , giving up 19 in the process.  Brandon Dubinsky has almost a third of that total, scoring three goals (3-1-4) in his last five games after enduring a seven-game streak without one.  While Dubinsky has been scoring more often of late, what he has really been rolling up is penalty minutes.  Over his last 17 contests Dubinsky has 29 penalty minutes, a total that includes each of his three fighting majors this season.  Dubinsky, a hard-nosed sort of player dating back to his days with the New York Rangers, leads the team in credited hits (114), and he leads the club in faceoff winning percentage (51.7).  In 27 career games against Washington, Dubinsky is 5-12-17, plus-6.

Two other Blue Jackets have more than one goal over their past half-dozen games.  Cam Atkinson has a pair of scores, both coming in losses, a 4-2 loss to Minnesota on January 5th and a 4-3 overtime loss to Carolina on January 9th.  The odd part about his recent performance is that his two goals came in the four losses, over which he was a minus-4.  He is without a point in his last two games while going plus-2.  Atkinson has both of the Blue Jackets’ shorthanded goals this season, one of them coming in that loss to Carolina on what was his only shot on goal of that contest.  He is 6-4-10, plus-5, in 11 career games against Washington.

Alexander Wennberg has a pair of goals in his last half-dozen games as well.  One of them was the game-winner in Columbus’ 3-1 win over Toronto last Wednesday, breaking the Blue Jacket’s four-game losing streak.  It was the first game-winning goal of his career in what was his 101st NHL game.  Wennberg has been reasonably hot lately.  Over his last 19 games he is 4-11-15, this coming after he recorded a single goal (his only point) in his first 15 games of the season.  Wennberg has two assists in five career games against the Caps.

Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky was activated off the injured reserve list on Friday after spending more than a month on the shelf, the result of his suffering a groin injury on December 8th against the Los Angeles Kings.  With Bobrovsky unavailable, Columbus resorted to goaltending by committee.  It has not been successful.  While Bobrovsky’s numbers do not overwhelm (11-12-6, 2.52, .916, with one shutout), the trio of Joonas Korpisalo, Curtis McElhinney, and Anton Forsberg are 6-13-3, 3.17, .898.  With Bobrovsky activated, Anton Forsberg (the winning goalie in the Blue Jackets’ 5-4 trick shot win against the Caps on January 2nd) was re-assigned to the Lake Erie Monsters of the AHL.

Here  is how the teams compare overall:

1.  Columbus nicked the Caps for a pair of power play goals on three chances in that 5-4 freestyle win earlier this month.  They have two power play goals in 19 chances (10.5 percent) over six games since then.

2.  Columbus’ penalty kill is decent enough at 81.5 percent for the season (12th in the league).  But they are shooting themselves in the foot lately giving opponents so many opportunities.  Since December 21st, the Blue Jackets have faced 51 shorthanded situations in 11 games, allowing 10 goals (80.4 percent).  Four times over that span the Blue Jackets faced six or more shorthanded situations.

3.  Allowing the first goal has been a gri predictor of outcomes for Columbus.  The Blue Jackets rank last in the league in winning percentage when allowing the game’s first goal (.115/3-20-3).

4.  It is not as if the Blue Jackets end games well, either.  The 57 goals allowed in the third periods of games this season is most in the league, as is the 48 goals allowed in the second periods of games (tied with Edmonton and Anaheim).

5.  There are 13 teams with negative possession numbers on home ice.  Columbus is one of them, ranking 19th in Corsi-for overall at 5-on-5 (49.4 percent).  Their score-adjusted value is worse (47.7/21st).  While their close score Corsi-for is over 50 percent (50.4), they still rank just 20th in that category (numbers from

1.  Justin Williams’ hat trick against the Rangers on Sunday night was the 37th in the league this season and the Caps’ second.  Evgeny Kuznetsov has the other one, in a 7-4 win over the Edmonton Oilers on October 23rd. 

2.  Evgeny Kuznetsov had a three-assist game against the Rangers, his second game of three or more assists this season.  He joined Nicklas Backstrom and Jason Chimera with two such games this season.  John Carlson also has a three-assist game.

3.  Only the Dallas Stars (97) have more goals scored at 5-on-5 this season than Washington (94).  Only Tampa Bay (63), Philadelphia (63), and Los Angeles (62) have allowed fewer goals at 5-on-5 than the Caps (64).

4.  Good things happen when Justin Williams records a point.  The Caps are 21-1-0 when he gets a mark on his line of the score sheet.

5.  The Caps were over 50 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5 in their 4-1 loss to Buffalo last week.  That puts them in position to finish with Corsi-for over 50 percent in consecutive road games for the first time since they did it on October 31/November 3 against the Florida Panthers (a 2-1 win) and the New York Rangers (a 5-2 loss; numbers from

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Columbus: Seth Jones

Sometimes, you have to trade value to get value.  That seemed to be the rationale behind the trade executed between Columbus and Nashville when the Blue Jackets sent forward Ryan Johansen to the Predators for defenseman Seth Jones.  It was the kind of trade you do not see much in the NHL these days, a couple of under-25 stars in waiting, each of them a fourth-overall draft pick (Johansen in 2010, Jones in 2013).  Jones, who is still just 21 years old, is in his fourth NHL season and now has more than 200 games on his resume.  The big change for Jones, in addition to discarding those hideous yellow jerseys, is the ice time he is getting.  In the five games he has dressed so far for the Blue Jackets he is averaging 24 minutes a game.  Of the seven top ice time game logs he has this season, five are with Columbus.  Part of that is the fact that three of the games in which he has played went to extra time, but he is still getting a steady, heavy load of minutes.  He is 1-1-2, plus-1, in three career games against the Caps.

Washington: Marcus Johansson

No team in the NHL has more wins than do the Washington Capitals, and no Capital has more game-winning goals than Marcus Johansson.  His six game-winning goals in 42 games so far this season equals his total for his previous four seasons combined, covering 276 games.  Since December 1st he has been on a roll.  In 22 games since then he is 9-10-19, plus-6, and he is on an overall pace to finish with his first 50-point season.  Drafted as a center, he seems to have found a comfort level in that position on the Caps’ third line, where he has points in five of six games (4-2-6).  He is even improved on faceoffs.  Last year he rarely took draws, just 26 in 82 games.  This season he has nearly tripled that number (67) and has won roughly half of them (34 for a 50.7 winning percentage).  In 13 career games against Columbus, Johansson is 4-6-10, plus-3

In the end…

If Columbus does not have the Caps’ full and undivided attention, they should.  Washington has a 2-1 win and a 5-4 trick shot loss in two games against the Blue Jackets this season.  It is not as if the Caps have dominated this season series to date.  There is a bit of uncertainty about who the Caps will start in goal, what with Braden Holtby having to leave Sunday’s game early suffering from dehydration (it is not thought to be serious), but this is a team that has been able to set aside those sorts of issues over the last month.  The Caps have alternated wins and losses over their last five games in Columbus, and if that pattern holds, they will win this game.  As if we needed a reason to pick the Caps.

Capitals 3 – Blue Jackets 1