The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
Fresh off a heart-stopping 4-3 overtime win over the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, the Washington Capitals head right back to the ice on Sunday evening when they return home to host the Ottawa Senators at Verizon Center.
The Caps bring a three-game winning streak into this contest, their fourth streak of three wins or more in compiling a 31-7-3 record at the half-way point of the season. This game will be the second half of the Caps’ eighth back-to-back set of games this season. They will be looking for their fifth sweep in back-to-backs when Ottawa comes to town. The Senators will be playing the back half of their own back-to-back set of games, having defeated the Boston Bruins, 2-1, in overtime on Saturday night.
These two teams met back on December 16th at Verizon Center, a game that the Caps won behind goals by Michael Latta and John Carlson, and a 26-save effort from goalie Braden Holtby. Since then, the Senators are a struggling bunch, going 4-5-1, including a 1-3-1 record on the road. Their offense has been anemic in their ten-game run, recording just 20 goals while allowing 28. Special teams have not helped the Senator cause, either. Their power play is 4-for-31 over their last ten games (12.9 percent), while their penalty kill is just 25-for-34 (73.5 percent).
Eleven different Senators shared the 20 goals scored over their last ten games, led by right wing Mark Stone with four (4-1-5). Stone, a former sixth-round draft pick now in his third NHL season is fourth on the club with 11 goals, slightly off the pace he set last season when he potted 26 goals in 80 games on his way to a season that was good enough for him to be named a finalist in the Calder Trophy voting for the league’s top rookie. Stone is 1-1-2, plus-2, in four career games against Washington.
Bobby Ryan and Mika Zibanejad each have three goals since Ottawa last faced the Caps. Ryan recorded his first game-winning goal of the year, one of two he had, in the Senators’ 3-2 overtime win over the St. Louis Blues last Monday. The two-goal game interrupted what had been a goal-scoring drought for Ryan, who had only two goals over his previous 13 games. He is still tied for second on the club in goals scored (13), and he is still on a pace to surpass last year’s 18-goal output in 78 games. What seems to be lacking in his game is a shooters’ mentality. He is an efficient 13.4 percent on 97 shots this season, but those 97 shots are only 2.37 per game, well off the 2.83 shots per game he recorded last season. Ryan is 6-4-10, minus-5, in 12 career games against the Caps.
Zibanejad has been a reliable high-teens goal scorer for the Senators over the last two seasons, and he is on a similar pace this season (16). He went three consecutive games without recording a shot on goal immediately after the December 16th contest against the Caps, but he has 19 shots on goal in seven games since, five of them in the Senators’ last contest, a 2-1 win over the Boston Bruins on Saturday. Of his eight goals this season, three of them are game-winners, tied for the team lead. Zibanejad is 3-2-5, minus-1, in 11 career games against Washington.
Here is how the teams compare overall:
1. Watch Kyle Turris. He is tied with Ryan for second in goals scored for the Senators (13), and the team is 11-1-0 in games in which he scores a goal.
2. Ottawa has, by far, the worst shot differential per game in the league. At minus-5.1 shots per game they are 1.2 shots per game worse than the Arizona Coyotes. That is a product of shots allowed. Their 33.4 shots per game allowed is worst in the league.
3. Scoring first does not come easily to the Senators, which is a good thing for opponents, because they are tough to beat when they do. Only 14 times in 41 games have they scored the first goal, but their winning percentage (.857/12-2-0) is third best in the league, behind only San Jose (.882/15-2-0) and the Caps (.958/23-1-0).
4. Only two teams have more power play goals on the road than Ottawa (15). Chicago and San Jose each have 16 power play goals on the road. Their road power play operates at 24.6 percent efficiency, third in the league behind St. Louis (26.9) and Chicago (27.1).
5. There is no other way to say it, Ottawa is a poor possession team. They rank 27th in overall Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (47.1 percent), 29th in score-adjusted Corsi (46.3), and 27th in close score situations (46.4). Their Corsi-against/60 (shot attempts allowed per 60 minutes) is second highest in the league (58.7). Only Colorado has allowed more (60.8; numbers from war-on-ice.com).
1. Washington has power play goals in four of their last six games, going 5-for-17 over that span (29.4 percent). The penalty killers are 16-for-19 over those same six games (84.2 percent) and are 24-for-27 over their last nine contests (88.9 percent).
2. Only two teams have had fewer power play opportunities at home this season than the Caps (59). Philadelphia has had 58 opportunities; Winnipeg has 55 opportunities. At the same time, only three teams have faced fewer shorthanded situations at home than the Caps (50). San Jose (49), Buffalo (46), and Minnesota (37) have had fewer.
3. The Capitals are the only team in the league with a goal differential of plus-10 or greater in each of the first (plus-10), second (plus-16), and third periods (plus-15) of games this season.
4. The overtime win over the Rangers improved the Caps’ record in one-goal games to 13-2-3. Their .722 winning percentage is best in the league in such decisions.
5. The Caps return home to take up what has been an odd recent history in their possession numbers at Verizon Center. In their last nine games their Corsi-for at 5-on-5 is a disappointing 49.6 percent, but their numbers in score-adjusted (50.6) and close score (51.1 percent) are better (numbers from war-on-ice.com). With six of their next eight games at home, it is an opportunity for improvement.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Ottawa: Erik Karlsson
Erik Karlsson is pulling away in the scoring race among the league’s defensemen. With 45 points, he is seven ahead of Dallas’ John Klingberg. He is one hot player at the moment with a hand in half of the Senators’ 20 goals since they played the Caps last month (2-8-10). He is now on a more than point-per-game pace, threatening to become the first scoring leader among defensemen to finish a full 82-game season at more than a point-per-game pace since Mike Green recorded 76 points in 75 games for the Caps in 2009-2010. Karlsson can score in bunches. He has point streaks of three games or better four times this season, including a nine-game streak and a seven game streak. He comes into this game on a three-game streak. Karlsson is 2-15-17, even, in 19 career games against Washington.
Washington: Alex Ovechkin
When Alex Ovechkin scored the overtime game-winning goal against the New York Rangers on Saturday afternoon, it was his 499th career goal, but it also lifted him into what is an accustomed place in the NHL – the league lead in goals. Technically, he was tied with three other players at 24 goals apiece (Dallas’ Jamie Benn subsequently broke the tie with a goal on Saturday night), but Ovechkin has been on a sustained run of goal-scoring as of late. He has ten goals in his last 11 games, and he is now on a pace to finish the season with 49 goals. No other player is on such a pace at the moment.
In the end…
It’s getting harder and harder to find adjectives to describe the sort of season the Capitals are having. They just keep finding different ways to win. If they are not putting teams away early, they are fighting to the horn to tie a game and win in overtime. When they sustain injuries to or absences from important players, others raise their game. It means that they have a three-point lead on the rest of the league in the standings with three games in hand over the second-best team in the league standings, the Dallas Stars. However, while it is tempting to look ahead, it is important – and from a fan’s point quite worth it – to just focus on the moment. Caps fans have never seen a team this consistently good. Enjoy the moment.
Capitals 4 – Senators 2