Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 58: Coyotes at Capitals, February 22nd

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals look to extend their current winning streak to four games on Monday night when they host the Arizona Coyotes in the second game of their four-game home stand. 

While the Caps come into this game one of the hottest teams in the NHL, 8-2-0 in their last ten games (second best ten-game record in the league), the Coyotes are stumbling through this portion of their schedule.  It wasn’t always this way this season.  Back on January 12th, the Coyotes were on a four-game winning streak and were sixth in points in the Western Conference.  Then the Coyotes suffered a four-game losing streak that set in motion a 5-9-2 record over 16 games that leaves them in fifth place in the Pacific Division and five points out of a playoff spot.

The Coyotes might be coming out of their funk, though.  They are 3-2-0 in their last five games, including a 6-3 win over the Dallas Stars (who the Caps have not beaten in two decisions this season) and a 6-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens, a squad that a lot of teams beat these days, but not as soundly.

In those most recent five games, the Coyotes have not lacked for offense.  They scored 21 goals in those games, recording four or more four times.  Their defense, on the other hand, has lacked stinginess and consistency.  The Coyotes did have games in which they allowed one goal (a 4-1 win over the Calgary Flames) and two goals (the win over Montreal), but they allowed a total of 16 goals in those five games, including six in a 6-4 loss to St. Louis in their most recent game on Saturday.

The Coyotes are led in scoring over the last five games by Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Martin Hanzal, both with seven points.  Defenseman Ekman-Larsson (2-5-7 in his last five games) is one of those players who, if he played in the East or for a more accomplished team, might get more attention than he gets with the Coyotes.  He is among the more durable players in the game, at perhaps it most difficult position, having missed two games in his last five seasons.  He has already topped the 40-point mark for the third straight season (45, a career high) and had achieved career bests in assists (28), power play goals (11), and game-winning goals (7).  So far this season, only Erik Karlsson has had more games with three or more points among defensemen (6) than Ekman-Larsson (5).  He could miss this game, though, having sustained a lower-body injury in the Coyotes’ loss to St. Louis on Saturday.  He is 1-2-3, minus-2, in five career games against the Capitals.

Hanzal has not had the kind of production over his career that a 17th overall draft pick (2005) might have been expected to have.  Only once has he had as many as 40 points in a season (40 in 2013-2014), and only once has he had more than 15 goals in a season (16 in 2010-2011).  He is on a pace to challenge both of those career highs this season.  He would probably be a lock to surpass his career highs but for missing 13 games to lower body injuries this season, injuries being a recurring theme in his career.  He has not appeared in more than 70 games in a season since the 2009-2010 season and will not this season with 13 games already missed.  Hanzal is 1-3-4, plus-1, in six career games against Washington.

Goaltending has been an issue for the Coyotes this season, but out of adversity has come opportunity.  Mike Smith has been on injured reserve since early December after undergoing surgery for a core muscle injury.   That injury might have opened the door for Anders Lindback, a six-year veteran of 111 NHL games, to step up.  But instead, the opportunity was snatched up by Louis Domingue, a fifth round draft pick of the Coyotes in 2010, who had just seven games of NHL experience coming into this season.  In his first 16 decisions taking over in goal, Domingue was 9-4-3, 2.08, .931, with two shutouts.  However, he has fallen to earth since, going 3-5-1, 3.76, .882 in his last nine appearances.  He has never faced the Capitals.

Here is how the teams compare overall:

1.  Scoring first is a reliable predictor of wins and losses in the NHL for most teams.  Not so for the Arizona Coyotes, though.  The Coyotes have the third-worst winning percentage in the league in games in which they score first (.552/16-9-4).

2.  Part of the Coyotes’ problem is giving up first period goals.  Only five teams in the league have allowed more first period goals than Arizona (50).

3.  No team has allowed more shorthanded goals than the Coyotes (10).

4.  Arizona leads the league in total power play opportunities (217).  However, they rank only 11th in power play opportunities on the road (91).

5.  Arizona has issues with respect to possession.  They rank 28th overall in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (46.7 percent), 27th in score-adjusted Corsi-for (46.4 percent).  Their road numbers are not much different, 45.7 percent overall (25th) and 46.7 in score-adjusted Corsi-for (25th, numbers from

1.  The Caps have 90 standings points this season, tops in the league.  If they took a month-long team vacation in Fiji, the second-ranked team in the East, the Florida Panthers, could not catch them at the earliest until March 10th, and only after putting together an eight-game winning streak.

2.  Sure, the Caps have the most wins in the league when leading after two periods (32-0-1), but they also have the best record in the league when trailing after two periods (5-6-2).

3.  The Caps have the smallest difference in the league between their home power play efficiency (23.3 percent) and their road power play efficiency (23.1 percent).

4.  Only five teams in the league have allowed fewer power play goals at home than the Caps (11).

5.  In their last 10 home games, the Caps have an aggregate Corsi-for at 5-on-5 overall of 52.5 percent (numbers from

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Arizona: Max Domi

Max Domi is tied for fourth among all NHL rookies in goals scored this season (17) and tied for third in total points (41).  He’s keeping good company, since the player with whom he is tied in both categories is 2015's second-overall draft pick Jack Eichel.  Domi, the 12th overall pick of the 2013 entry draft.  He started this season with a rush, going 8-7-15 in his first 16 games.  Then he skidded off the road, recording goals in just two of his next 40 games (a two-goal game on December 4th against Buffalo and a hat trick against Edmonton on January 12th).  He does have a pair of goals in each of his last two games, though, suggesting he might be getting a second wind.  This will be his first appearance against the Caps.

Washington: Matt Niskanen

Matt Niskanen has put together a quietly steady season, at least on the surface.  He leads the Caps in average ice time – 24:38 per game, a career high.  He is third among Caps defensemen in goals (3), second in points (24), second in power play points (11), third in plus-minus (plus-15).  He is on a pace to record the second highest number of shots on goal in his career.  However, he has been struggling recently at both ends of the ice.  He has one point in his last six games, and he was a minus-3 in the 4-3 win over the New Jersey Devils on Saturday.  No Capital has been on ice for more goals this season than Niskanen (57), although these things are relative, too.  There are 41 NHL defensemen who have been on ice for more goals than Niskanen, and he ranks 44th among 202 defensemen with at least 300 5-on-5 minutes in goals against/on ice per 60 minutes.  He is 2-6-8, minus-5, in 27 career games against the Coyotes.

In the end…

On paper, the Coyotes are a team the Caps should dispatch handily.  Arizona allows too many goals, has a weak penalty kill, they haven’t won a road game in regulation since January 7th, and they haven’t won a road game in the Eastern time zone since November 19th (3-2 at Montreal).  Then again, it’s a game on a weeknight in February against a team the Caps do not have much of a rivalry with, having faced the Coyotes only five times at Verizon Center since the 2004-2005 lockout (3-2-0).  This is a game that will test the team’s focus and attention, and with the Caps playing with fire recently, allowing the game’s first goal in each of their last four games, this could be a tougher battle than the records of the teams might suggest.  Or not…

Capitals 5 – Coyotes 2

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