The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The Washington Capitals kick off what might be their most difficult week of the regular season when they visit the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center on Sunday afternoon in a nationally televised game. It will be the first of five games the Caps will play in seven days in their busiest week of the season.
Compounding the matter for the Caps is that they, and the other 29 teams in the league, are in the final hours before the trading deadline, when rosters become a bit more uncertain. The Caps have made just one trade as of this writing, adding defenseman Mike Weber from the Buffalo Sabres for a 2017 third round draft pick. They also waived long-tenured forward Brooks Laich in what appears to be a salary-cap management move to provide some flexibility as the trading deadline nears.
Meanwhile, the defending Stanley Cup champions have been busy in advance of the deadline. They traded forward Marko Dano and two draft picks to the Winnipeg Jets for forwards Andrew Ladd and Matt Fraser, and defenseman Jay Harrison. They also sent forward Phillip Danault and a second round draft pick in 2018 to the Montreal Canadiens for forwards Tomas Fleischmann and Dale Weise. And, they traded defenseman Rob Scuderi to the Los Angeles Kings for defenseman Christian Ehrhoff.
Ladd is clearly the big-ticket item among the deals so far for the Blackhawks. Ladd is neither new to the trading deadline, nor to the Blackhawks. He was shipped to the Blackhawks by the Carolina Hurricanes for Tuomo Ruutu at the 2008 trading deadline. In two-plus seasons with the Blackhawks, Ladd recorded 37 goals and 99 points in 184 games. In his last season in Chicago – in 2009-2010 – he helped the Blackhawks win their first Stanley Cup since 1961. Now, after five-plus seasons with the Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets, he returns to Chicago. He arrives on a bit of a hot streak with goals in each of his last three games, four in all. His 17 goals in 59 games to date (0.29 goals/game) is right in line with his career goal scoring pace (0.27 goals/game). Ladd is 14-18-32, plus-13, in 41 career games against the Capitals.
Twelve years ago on Saturday, the Capitals traded Robert Lang to the Detroit Red Wings for a 2004 first round draft pick (that would become Mike Green), a 2004 fourth round draft pick, and a prospect forward by the name of Tomas Fleischmann, a second round pick of the Wings in 2002. Fleischmann went on to play 283 games over six seasons for the Caps before he was traded in November 2010 to the Colorado Avalanche for defenseman Scott Hannan. From Colorado, Fleischmann went to Florida, then Anaheim, and this season to Montreal before arriving in Chicago, his sixth NHL club. He had modest success with the Canadiens this season, recording ten goals and 20 points in 57 games. He has not been especially productive lately, though, having just two goals and an assist in his last 23 games. Fleischmann is 5-4-9, minus-4, in 19 career games against Washington.
One thing that does not seem to change for the Blackhawks is Corey Crawford in goal. There is a temptation to think of Crawford as a beneficiary of a talented team in front of him. He certainly has that, but he has not exactly been a passenger on the Stanley Cup journey’s either. Over the last four seasons, including this one, Crawford is one of six goaltenders to appear in at least 100 games, post a save percentage of at least .920, and record a goals against average of 2.25 or lower. That is a group that includes Tuukka Rask, Henrik Lundqvist, Cory Schneider, Carey Price, and Brian Elliott. Not a bad group. He has not been very effective lately, though. Since shutting out the St. Louis Blues on 25 shots in a 2-0 win on January 24th, Crawford is 4-5-1, 3.10, .907 in ten appearances. In six career appearances against the Capitals, Crawford is 2-3-1, 3.52, .883.
Here is how the teams compare overall:
1. The Blackhawks are in a bit of a late-winter funk. Over their last seven games they are 2-4-1, outscored by opponents by a 23-18 margin.
2. Half of the 16 goals scored by Chicago over their last five games have come on the power play. Seven of them came over a pair of games. They went 4-for-7 in a 7-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on February 15th, and they went 3-for-4 against the New York Rangers in a 5-3 win on February 17th. They are 8-for-16 (50.0 percent) over their last five games.
3. Good as the power play has been lately, the penalty kill has been ineffective. The Blackhawks killed all six shorthanded situations they faced against the Dallas Stars on February 6th, but in seven games since, they are 11-for-19 (57.9 percent).
4. Patrick Kane has not gone consecutive games without a point since he was blanked on December 22nd and 27th. Since then he is 14-20-34 in 26 games. Just to note, Kane was held without a point in his last game, a 3-1 loss to the Nashville Predators.
5. Chicago has been a good, but not especially impressive possession team. They rank 13th in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 overall (50.9 percent) and 12th in score-adjusted Corsi (51.4 percent). Their rankings at home are hardly different in overall Corsi-for overall (13th/52.1 percent), but their score-adjusted Corsi-for ranks eighth on home ice (52.2 percent; numbers from war-on-ice.com).
1. The Caps have not been a dominant power play team lately, but they seem to be shaking off the slump they had coming out of the All-Star Game break. Over their last nine games they have power play goals in six of them and are 6-for-32 overall (18.8 percent).
2. The Caps have played to five consecutive one-goal decisions (4-1-0), their longest streak of one-goal decisions this season. Ten of the Caps’ last 12 games were settled by one goal, and the other two decisions – both of them two-goal victories – featured empty net goals for the final margin. The Caps are 8-2-0 in those ten one-goal decisions.
3. For a team with as gaudy a record as the Caps, it is a bit surprising that only ten teams have taken a lead into the first intermission fewer times. The Caps have won all 18 instances in which they led after one period, the only team to win all of their games when leading after 20 minutes.
4. There is no team in the league with a wider spread between first period and third period goals scored than the Caps. Washington has scored just 45 goals in the first periods of games this season (tied with Arizona for 17th in the league), 80 goals in the third period (first) for a plus-35 goal spread from first to last period. Buffalo is second with a plus-26.
5. There is one area that suggests the Caps need to spend some time buttoning things up. In six of their last nine road games they have allowed more high-quality scoring chances than they have had. They are minus-23 in high-quality scoring chances in those nine games overall (numbers from war-on-ice.com).
The Peerless Players to Ponder
Chicago: Artemi Panarin
Artemi Panarin has made it a rout in the rookie scoring race. He has a three-goal lead on Detroit’s Dylan Larkin (22 to 19), a ten-assist lead on Arizona’s Max Domi (35 to 25), and a 15-point lead on Domi (57 to 42). He is tied for fourth among rookies in power play goals (5) and tied for second in power play points (15), no small achievement on a veteran team such as Chicago. And, if anyone was thinking he might hit a rookie “wall” with respect to his performance over a long season, he has not yet reached that wall. He is 6-6-12 in his last ten games, including a hat trick in the 5-3 win over the Rangers on February 17th. Panarin has an assist in his only appearance against the Caps.
Washington: Dmitry Orlov
Dmitry Orlov is thought of as something of a high-risk (in his own end), high reward (in the offensive zone) player. He has skill, but perhaps not the seasoning to use those skills as judiciously as a more veteran player might, resulting in taking chances that can be taken advantage of by opponents. Nevertheless, among 181 league defensemen playing at least 500 5-on-5 minutes this season, Orlov ranks tenth overall in Corsi-for/relative (plus-5.47 percent, as per war-on-ice.com). As a third-pair defenseman he might not get a lot of exposure to opponents with top-end offensive statistics, but it is a respectable number nonetheless. With John Carlson on injured reserve, maintaining and improving on that edge is going to be an important ingredient to the Caps’ success as they approach the postseason. He has two assists and is a plus-2 in three career games against Chicago.
In the end…
The theme of this game is that it could be a preview of a Stanley Cup final. The top road team in the league (Washington at 21-6-2) will do battle with the second-best home team (Chicago at 22-8-2). Joel Quenneville, with 1,438 regular season games coached an 792 wins, will face Barry Trotz, with 1,338 games coached an 647 wins. The league’s leading goal scorer (Alex Ovechkin with 40) will face the league-leading overall scorer (Patrick Kane with 84 points). What the Caps bring to this game is recent success against the Blackhawks. They have won the last four contests between the teams, outscoring the Blackhawks 14-5 in the process, and the Caps have wins in seven of their last nine games against Chicago. Neither team can be said to be at the top of their game at the moment, but this should be a very entertaining affair, one that is not merely hyped as a possible Stanley Cup final preview, but a legitimate one.
Capitals 4 – Blackhawks 3