Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 55: Kings at Capitals, February 16th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

As the Washington metropolitan area emerges from under a crust of snow and ice deposited on Presidents Day, the Washington Capitals prepare to return to their own ice sheet and host the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday evening at Verizon Center.

The Caps will be facing their fourth straight Western Conference team, while the Kings will be skating against their fifth consecutive Eastern Conference team and fourth straight against a Metropolitan Division opponent.

This is something of an odd rivalry.  Like so many of those the Caps had with teams in the early days, the Kings dominated, the Caps managing a single win in the teams’ first 20 meetings (1-16-3).  But a similar sense of futility has infused the rivalry from the Caps’ side in recent years as well.  Washington won four straight against the Kings in the early 1990’s, but since a 6-1 win in February 1994, the Caps are just 6-16-2, with three ties in 27 decisions against Los Angeles.  Since the 2004-2005 lockout, the Caps are 2-2-1 at home against the Kings, winning the last contest at Verizon Center, a 4-0 shutout on February 3rd last season.

The Kings come into this game like a drunk trying to negotiate a sidewalk, weaving back and forth from curb to storefront as he makes his way.  Starting with a 3-2 loss to the Arizona Coyotes back on January 23rd, the Kings have faithfully alternated wins and losses, going 4-5-0.  In those nine games they outscored their opponents by a 32-28 margin, but that margin is influenced by a 9-2 pasting of the Boston Bruins a week ago.  Five of the other eight decisions were settled by a single goal, the Kings winning two of them.  Special teams have figured prominently in the Kings’ performance over their last nine games, the power play going 9-for-29 (31.0 percent) and the penalty kill going 28-for-35 (80.0 percent).

Scoring 32 goals over a nine-game span, even if nine of them come in a single game, is a bit unusual in the NHL these days, and the Kings have been balanced in doing it.  Seventeen different skaters have goals in that 4-5-0 stretch, led by Dustin Brown and Marian Gaborik with four apiece.  Gaborik will miss this game, having suffered an injury in a knee-on-knee collision with New York Ranger Dominic Moore last Friday. The injury came at a particularly unfortunate time for Gaborik, who had appeared in all of the Kings’ games to date.  In 14 seasons coming into this one, he had appeared in all scheduled games only once, dressing for all 82 games with the Rangers in 2011-2012.

On the other hand, Brown’s goal scoring came at a more fortunate time, both for the team and personally.  Until his recent outburst, Brown seemed to be on a path to finish with the fewest goals in a full season in his career and yet another drop in year-to-year goal production since recording 28 goals in the 2010-2011 season.  In fact, his four goals over his last nine games doubled his production for the season to date, to eight goals, but he is still on a pace (12 goals) to barely surpass last year’s total of 11 in 82 games.  Brown is 2-6-8, plus-1, in 12 career games against the Caps.

Anze Kopitar has done his best to keep the Kings afloat over their 4-5-0 run.  He leads the team in point over that span (3-7-10) and has a healthy lead in points for the club this season (16-34-50).  Kopitar is on a pace to finish the season with 75 points, which would make six 70-point seasons in his last nine.  With five such seasons on his resume, only Joe Thornton, Henrik Sedin, Evgeni Malkin, and Alex Ovechkin have more (six apiece).  He is 7-4-11, plus-4, in 10 career games against Washington.

Here is how the teams compare overall…

1.  Los Angeles is one of the better teams in the NHL at coming from behind.  Their 13-13-1 record when allowing the first goal is second-best in the league to Dallas’ 13-10-3.  Their 6-9-0 record when trailing at the first intermission is fourth-best in the league.

2.  First period scoring is not a feature of Kings games.  The 70 goals scored, for (36) and against (34), is the third fewest in the league,  Only Tampa Bay (67) and Carolina (64) have featured fewer goals.

3.  Los Angeles is one of eight teams this season not to score a 5-on-3 power play goal.

4.  The Kings have the second best record in one-goal games this season (18-7-3).

5.  If possession is king in the NHL, the Kings are…kings.  They lead the league by a healthy margin in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 overall (56.4 percent to 53.5 percent for Dallas).  They lead at home (58.8 percent) and away (54.4 percent).  They strangle teams in the first period (57.8 percent, first in the league).  They finish teams off (54.0 percent, second in the league).  And they do it by suppressing chances.  Their Corsi-against/60 (48.0) is best in the league (numbers from war-on-ice.com).

1.  Marcus Johansson is tied for third in game-winning goals (7), one behind Joe Pavelski and Jonathan Toews.  Alex Oveckin is two back (6).

2.  Ovechkin has six goals in his current four-game goal scoring streak.  If he nets one against the Kings, it will tie is season-long goal scoring streak.   He opened the 2015-2016 season with a five-game streak.

3.  The Caps have five defensemen with more than ten points.  Only Carolina and the New York Rangers have more (six apiece).

4.  The Caps lead the league in scoring offense, due in part to their accuracy.  They lead the lead in aggregate shooting percentage, the only club over 10 percent (10.8 percent).

5.  Washington comes into this game on a decent possession run of their own on home ice.  Over their last eight games they have a Corsi-for of 53.8 percent at 5-on-5 (numbers from war-on-ice.com).

Los Angeles: Jhonas Enroth

Jonathan Quick is one of the best goaltenders in the NHL, but he can’t be when he is injured.  Quick suffered an injury late in the Kings’ 9-2 win over Boston a week ago and did not dress in any of the three games played since.  He did participate in practice on Saturday and pronounced himself as feeling “good.”  Whether that means he makes a return to the ice against the Capitals is uncertain, and that could mean the Caps face Jhonas Enroth, although Peter Budaj is also available.  Enroth, who has carved out a solid eight-year career as a backup goaltender (career high of 37 appearances with Buffalo in 2014-2015).  This season, his first with the Kings, Enroth has appeared in a dozen games, which is consistent with his workload frequency coming into this season.  What he has not done with any frequency, though, is win.  After winning in his first three appearances this season, he does not have a regulation win in any of his last nine appearances (1-5-1, 2.76, .904, his lone win a 3-2 overtime win over San Jose on January 24th).  Enroth is 2-0-3, 2.91, .916 in five career appearances against the Capitals.

Washington: Nicklas Backstrom

Nicklas Backstrom leads all NHL forwards in power play assists this season (19).  Since he came into the league in 2007-2008, no player has more assists on the man advantage.  In fact, he has a rather substantial lead over the second-place player in that category, 212 to 184 for Joe Thornton.  Over those nine seasons, he and Alex Ovechkin constitute the most dangerous power play duo in the league, Ovechkin with 283 power play points (first) and Backstrom with 262 power play points (second). Backstrom comes into this game on a three-game points streak, all five of his points being assists.  In eight career games against Los Angeles, he is 2-5-7, minus-4.

In the end…

From the frying pan into the fire.  The Capitals lost the the league’s second-best possession team on Saturday, and now they face the cream of the crop in that area.  The Kings have not been below 50 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5 in any of their last seven games (59.2 percent overall) and have allowed an average of only 36.3 shot attempts at 5-on-5.

This will be a battle of the irresistible force of the Capitals’ offense against the immovable object of the Kings’ system that limits opportunities.  So far this season the Caps are 3-3-0 against the top-five possession teams in the league (0-2-0 against Dallas, 1-0-0 against Nashville, 2-1-0 against Carolina).  However, they are 8-1-0 against the top five teams in Corsi-against/60 at 5-on-5.  They can thrive in such situations, perhaps because they do not panic; they just grab their lunch pails and go to work.  They’ll need a thermos full of strong coffee to help them with this one.

Capitals 3 – Kings 2

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