The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
It is four wins and counting for the Washington Capitals, who will seek to extend their winning streak to five games when they host the Montreal Canadiens at Verizon Center on Wednesday night. The Caps, already the hottest team in the league this season, currently have the best ten-game record in the league at 9-1-0 in their last ten contests. Over those ten games they outscored their opponents, 33-24, although their special teams – specifically the power play – could use some work. Over those same ten games the Caps are 5-for-35 (14.3 percent) with a man advantage, while the penalty killers are 32-for-36 (88.9 percent).
Meanwhile, the Canadiens are staring a spring without a playoff berth in the face. What started as a very promising season, winning their first nine games (eight of them by multi-goal margins), was dealt a mortal blow when goalie Carey Price, the defending Vezina Trophy winner, suffered what would become what could be a season-ending knee injury. Since that nine-game winning streak to open the season, the Habs are 19-27-5 and are in 13th place in the Eastern Conference, eight points out of a playoff spot and the team holding that last playoff spot having two games in hand on the Canadiens.
Montreal’s most recent misfortune is going 1-3-1 over their last five games after a three-game winning streak that provided a glimmer of hope that the season could be saved. And, those five games have been largely ugly. They gave up six goals to both Buffalo and Arizona in losses, and they have not scored more than two goals in any of their last four games. Their power play has been efficient (3-for-12/25.0 percent) but lacked a volume of opportunities. Their penalty kill gave everything they earned on the power play back (10-for-13/76.9 percent), perhaps saved by having few shorthanded situations to kill off.
The Canadiens have only 11 goals in their last five games, four players with two – Alex Galchenyuk, Sven Andrighetto, Brendan Gallagher, and Dale Weise. Conspicuous by their absence are P.K. Subban (the Canadiens’ leading point producer) and Max Pacioretty (team leader in goals). Subban has three points (all assists) in his last five games, in the midst of which he was subject to a post-game dressing down from head coach Michel Therrien for losing an edge and the puck to Colorado’s Jarome Iginla, who took it the other way for the game winning goal late in a 3-2 loss. It was an odd thing to do on Therrien’s part, given that Subban had points in 17 of his previous 20 games (4-16-20). Just one more bit of drama in a difficult season. He is 1-4-5, minus-5, in 18 career games against the Caps.
As for Pacioretty, who was looking the wrong way when Iginla got behind him for that game-winning goal, he has just two goals in his last 14 games (including one in this recent five-game slide) and is a ghastly minus-14 over those 14 games. He has just two “plus” games on the ledger in that span. His 21 goals in 60 games is well off the pace he set in the previous two seasons when he recorded at total of 76 goals. It is not a lost season for Pacioretty as much as one that has gone sideways on him. He is 2-7-9, minus-2, in 22 career games against Washington.
Here is how the teams compare overall:
1. Whoever scores first, it hardly seems to matter for the Canadiens, given how reliable scoring first is as a predictor of wins in the NHL. Montreal has seven losses in regulation when scoring first; only six teams have more (a fact made worse by the knowledge that Montreal had that nine-game winning streak to start the year). Only four teams have fewer wins when opponents score first than the four the Canadiens have, and they have the league’s sixth-worst winning percentage when allowing the first goal.
2. Montreal has to score to win these days. They are 16-1-0 when scoring more than three goals, but if they score fewer than three they are 6-24-3, three of those wins resulting in a third goal for scoring purposes in a shootout. There aren’t many 2-1 wins in their results table.
3. Speaking of shootouts, Montreal’s record in the Gimmick makes their record look better than it is. They are 5-2 in the freestyle competition, all of the instances coming after Price’s injury. Otherwise they are 14-27-3.
4. The Canadiens have a respectable goal differential in the first period of games this season (plus-1) and the second period (plus-6). However, their goal differential in the third period and overtime (minus-12) has sunk them.
5. For all their troubles, Montreal is a good possession team. They rank sixth in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 overall (52.7 percent) and are ranked third in away games (52.3 percent).
1. “Four” is a magic number for the Caps. They have not lost a game in regulation time when scoring the “pizza” goal (a reference to a local pizza promotion): 24-0-1, their only loss coming in a trick shot competition. In fact, three goals is a pretty good measure of the Caps’ chances. In games where they score three or more goals in regulation and overtime they are 33-1-2.
2. If the Caps score a power play goal, it will be a good sign. They are 26-1-2 when scoring on the man advantage. It is probably a better signal that preventing opponents’ power play goals. Washington is 26-5-1 when shutting out opponents on their power play.
3. Only one team has spent more time shorthanded in the first period this season than the Caps (123:58). The Philadelphia Flyers have spent 128:24 shorthanded in the first periods of games. At the other end, only three teams have spent less time killing penalties in the third period than the Caps (72:14) – the Minnesota Wild (71:52), the Calgary Flames (70:45), and the Carolina Hurricanes (64:03).
4. The Caps’ 24 multi-goal wins are as many or more wins than the total win number for five teams (Buffalo, Columbus, Vancouver, Edmonton, and Toronto).
5. The Caps finished their 3-2 win over Arizona with their third straight game out-attempting their opponents at 5-on-5, reversing a three-game streak in which they were on the wrong side of 50 percent Corsi-for.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Montreal: Tomas Plekanec
Tomas Plekanec is one of those under-the-radar guys who is effective without usually being included on a short list of the game’s top players. In five of his last seven full seasons (not including the lockout-shortened 2012-2013 season) he finished with more than 50 points, three times hitting or surpassing 60 points. He would seem to be a lock to add to his total of 50-point campaigns this season with 44 points in 60 games (he is on a pace to hit exactly 60). He is also a very durable player, missing just 12 games in his last ten seasons, including this one. Something he does not have this season, and what the Caps would like to keep him from getting, is a shorthanded point. He has recorded at least one shorthanded point in each of the last nine full seasons preceding this one (again, not counting the 2012-2013 lockout-shortened season). He is 14-15-29, plus-3, in 39 career games against the Caps.
Washington: Nate Schmidt
It might be an odd thing to point out, but there are only two players in the league who have 13 or fewer points and a plus-14 or better – the New York Rangers’ Kevin Klein and the Caps’ Nate Schmidt. Sure, you can say that the plus-minus is a product of hitching a ride on the best scoring offense in the league, but Schmidt has put together a solid year while assuming more responsibility (as all defensemen did) after Brooks Orpik went down to injury. Schmidt is averaging 18:58 in ice time per game, a career high so far, and he has already appeared in 53 games, surpassing his previous high of 39 games last season. Those 14 points are more than three times the number he put up last season (4), and he has already more than doubled his career best in blocked shots with 88 (he had 35 in 29 games in 2012-2013). Schmidt comes into this game without a point in his last four games, and he is 0-2-2, plus-4, in five career games against Montreal.
In the end…
This is one of those games where fans will take notice if the Caps get up in the Canadiens’ faces early and stand on their throats, figuratively speaking. Montreal is a severely weakened team without Carey Price, especially in goal where none of the other netminders taking the ice for them this season have a goals against below 2.50 or a save percentage above .905. It has made their postseason prospects are bleak. Meanwhile, the Caps have played games rather close over the last three weeks, but they have found themselves consistently on the right side of them. If the Caps score early in this one, it could turn into a rout.
Capitals 4 – Canadiens 2