The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The Washington Capitals head into the great unknown on Thursday night when they take on the New York Islanders. No, not into a black hole in space or into the deepest depths of the ocean, but to Barclays Center in Brooklyn, at which they will make their first ever appearance.
The Caps will visit Brooklyn having righted themselves, or so they hope, after stubbing their toe with a pair of losses to close last week. Their 3-2 win over the Boston Bruins was a solid road game that they will hope to replicate against a team with whom they fought a hard, seven game series in the first round of last season’s playoffs.
On the other side, the Islanders have been doing some “righting” of their own. After a stretch in which they lost four of five games ending with a 3-1 loss at home to the woeful Toronto Maple Leafs on December 27th, they have won three of their last four contests, two of those wins coming on the road (in Toronto and in Buffalo), and the third win coming in their last outing, a 6-5 win over the Western Conference-leading Dallas Stars.
This mini-stretch of four games has been a bit of an odd ride. The offense is inconsistent and unsettled, bracketing six-goal performances against Toronto and Dallas around sparse two-goal efforts in Buffalo (2-1 win) and in Pittsburgh (in a 5-2 loss). Meanwhile, the Isles defense and goaltending has been, if anything, more consistently bad in this run. They allowed three or more goals in three of the four games (five goals twice), and their penalty kill has been dreadful, going 12-for-16 (75.0 percent). That last statistic is made worse by the fact that all four opponent power play goals were scored in the last three games on just 12 attempts, a 66.7 percent penalty kill rate.
On an individual, “who’s hot, who’s not” basis, there isn’t so much a “hot” Islander as there is some balance over the last four games. Six different players have two goals apiece: Cal Clutterbuck, Anders Lee, Frans Nielsen, Nikolay Kulemin, John Tavares, and Kyle Okposo.
All that is very nice for the Islanders, but it does leave a question of what’s up with Ryan Strome? Last season, in his first full season with the club, Strome struck for 17 goals in 81 games. One could envision a leap forward for the 22-year old, former fifth overall draft pick this season. It has not happened. Strome is on a pace to finish with roughly the same number of assists this year (31) that he had last season (33), but his goal scoring has dried up. He has only three goals in 29 games this season and comes into this game on a 14-game streak without a goal. He is 1-4-5, minus-1, in five career games against the Caps.
At another level of disappointment is the season John Tavares is having. Being in the top-50 scorers among 776 skaters to have dressed for games this season is not the profile of a bad player, but it is not the level of production expected of Tavares, either. He is the Islanders’ leading goal scorer and is second in points (15-14-29), but both his goals and assists are well below the pace he set when he finished fourth in the league in goals (38), tied for ninth in assists (48), and second in points (86). He has shown recent signs of ramping up his production to levels to which we are more accustomed. Tavares is 2-4-6 in his last six games. He is 10-10-20, plus-3, in 21 career games against the Caps.
Here is how the teams compare overall:
1. The recent penalty killing problems are a bit odd, given that the Islanders are second in the league in penalty killing (85.6 percent). It is an especially odd problem given that before the leaky last three games, the Islanders went 15 straight games without allowing a power play goal (35-for-35). What they have been is stingy allowing power play goals at home. Only Montreal and Chicago (five apiece) have allowed fewer than the Islanders (seven).
2. The Islanders sure are “Team Meh.” They rank in the middle third in so many statistical categories… Power play (17th/18.8 percent), shots per game (14th/29.8), shots against per game (11th/30.4), faceoff winning percentage (15th/50.0), winning record in one-goal games (T-14th/10-5-5), wins when outshooting opponents (T-14th/10). It is the profile of a team that neither does things especially well, nor especially poorly.
3. What the Islanders can do is mount comebacks. An 8-10-3 record when allowing the first goal does not look impressive, but it is the fifth best such record in the league. But those comebacks don’t occur late in games. The Islanders are 1-10-2 when trailing after two periods, tied for the seventh-worst record in the league. Only four teams are without a win when trailing after 40 minutes, making that one win look even worse.
4. The Islanders seem to have problems with some basic aspects of the game, at least so far as bench management is concerned. Only two teams have more bench minor penalties that the Islanders (7): San Jose (8) and Detroit (9).
5. New York has a rather pronounced difference in their possession numbers as far as ranking is concerned. They are 21st in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 in away games this season (47.3 percent), but they rank 11th in the same statistic at home (51.9 percent; numbers from war-on-ice.com).
1. Washington plays the front runner role very well. No team has more wins when scoring first (21), they are one of three teams with a perfect record when leading after one period (13-0-0; New Jersey and Philadelphia are the other perfect teams), and no team has more wins when leading after two periods (20).
2. Folks probably know by now that Alex Ovechkin is four goals away from 500 for his career. Not as many folks might know that Jason Chimera is four assists from 200 in his career.
3. There are 26 active goaltenders with at least 20 career shutouts. Braden Holtby is one of them (22), and he has played in at least 35 fewer games than any of the other 25.
4. Nicklas Backstrom is putting together a quietly efficient season as a goal scorer. He is on a pace to finish with 25 goals, which would be the second highest total of his career, and his 18.0 shooting percentage is a career best to date.
5. Washington’s possession numbers on the road have really deteriorated of late. In their last 13 away games their Corsi-for is 45.4. Over that period they were over 50 percent just three times, at Winnipeg on December 5th (a 2-1 overtime loss), at Buffalo on December 28th (a 2-0 win), and at Boston on Tuesday (a 3-2 win; numbers from war-on-ice.com).
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
New York: Jaroslav Halak
Jaroslav Halak last appeared in a game for the Islanders on December 21st, allowing two goals on 29 shots in a 5-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks. Since then he has been on the shelf with an upper body injury. He was taken off the injured reserve list on Tuesday, meaning he could return to action against the Caps on Thursday. Thomas Greiss has not played poorly in his absence, his 3.33 goals against average more a function of high shot volumes faced (40.0 shots per 60 minutes), although his save percentage of .917 is middle-of-the-pack. Getting Halak back would seem important to keep the Islanders from losing contact with the Caps in the Metropolitan Division standings entirely (they trail by 12 points). Halak has been solid this season with a 10-6-3, 2.09, .923 record with two shutouts. He was slightly better than that leading up to his injury, going 5-2-2, 2.04, .926 in his most recent nine appearances. Halak is 6-4-0, 2.67, .896 in ten career regular season appearances against the Caps.
Washington: Dmitry Orlov
Dmitry Orlov’s offensive production has been promising on one level. He has already tied his goal output of the last season in which he played for the Caps (3, in 54 games in 2013-2014), and he has surpassed his point production from that season (11) with his 14 points to date. On another level, he might need to strive for more consistency. Over his last 22 games he has had a four game points streak (3-2-5), an eight game streak without a point, four assists over a four-game span, and a five-game streak without a point before he recorded an assist against Boston in Tuesday’s 3-2 win. He has one goal in seven career games against the Islanders.
In the end…
If the Islanders allow shot volumes to the Caps in the same fashion as they have recently – three straight games allowing 40-plus shots, an average of 39.6 over their last five games – this game will not end well for the hosts. That argues for the Caps applying pressure from the opening puck drop to force the Islanders into a defensive crouch. The Caps have had some issues scoring in recent games, scoring fewer than three goals in three of their last seven games, but this could be an opportunity to improve on their scoring statistics.
Capitals 5 – Islanders 2