Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 77: Capitals at Avalanche, April 1st

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Well, we are getting down to it.  The Washington Capitals are down to their next to last weekend of regular season games for the 2015-2016 season.  And, they have to play them in back-to-back fashion, starting with a visit to Denver to face the Colorado Avalanche on Friday night.

The Caps are 5-2-2 in games played west of the Mississippi River this season, and they will look to improve on their 5-7-1 all-time record in Denver against the team that moved there from Quebec in the 1995-1996 season. The Caps are 4-2-1 in their last seven contests, while the Avalanche are desperately trying to make up a five-point deficit with the Minnesota Wild with five games to play after having lost three of their last four contests.

Scoring has become an issue for Colorado.  It is not a team that has filled nets with pucks over the course of the season (2.61 goals per game, tied for 17th), but they are averaging just 2.45 goals per game in their last 11 contests and have just five goals in their last three games, four of them in a 4-3 win over the Nashville Predators on Monday.

Colorado just is not getting much in the way of top-end goal production.  Matt Duchene (29) and Nathan MacKinnon (21) are the only Avs with 20 or more goals this season.  Duchene has been productive of late with four goals in his last ten contests, but MacKinnon has been in a slump with just two goals in his last 15 contests.  Both are nursing injuries, Duchene with a knee injury that caused him to miss six games (he is expected to return against the Caps) and MacKinnon with a knee injury as well, keeping him off skates for the time being.  Get past those two, and you find a pair of players at 19 goals, one with much of his career ahead of him, the other in sight of the end of his playing days.

Gabriel Landeskog has been a young man in a hurry since he was taken with the second-overall pick in the 2011 entry draft by the Avalanche.  We skated directly into the Colorado lineup, winning the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie after posting 22 goals and 52 points in the 2011-2012 season.  Before the next season started, on September 4, 2012, he was named Captain, the youngest player ever named a team captain (11 days younger than Sidney Crosby was when he was named captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins in May 2007). 

But Landeskog seems to have been in a hurry to stand in place.  He’s been a very consistent player, averaging between 0.25 and 0.32 goals per game in his five seasons, including this one.  What he has not done is take that next step up the production ladder.  He is on a pace to finish this season with 20 goals, which would make it four times in four full seasons he reached the 20-goal mark (not counting the abbreviated 2012-2013 season), and he will certainly pass the 50-point mark for the fourth time in four full seasons (he has 49 coming into this game).  But with more than 350 regular season games under his belt, one might start to wonder if he has that next step in him.  Landeskog has four goals in his last nine games, and in six career games against the Caps he is 1-6-7, plus-2.

Jarome Iginla is in the home stretch of his career.  Now in his 19th season with exactly 1,300 regular season and playoff games on his resume, he will be 39 years old in July.  He is not the productive curiosity that Jaromir Jagr is with the Florida Panthers at his advanced age, but Iginla is not going quietly into his good night, either.  His next goal will give him 20 for the season, making it 16 straight full seasons (again, not counting that 2012-2013 season) in which he reached the 20-goal mark and 17 in 18 full seasons of his career (he had 13 in 70 games in 1997-1998, his second year in the league).  His recent performance does not provide a lot of comfort that he has much left in the tank.  Iginla is without a goal in his last dozen games and does not have an even strength goal since February 17th in a 3-2 win over Montreal, an even strength goal-less streak of 17 games and counting.

Here is how the teams compare overall:

1.  After the four players mentioned above, no other Colorado player has more than 13 goals (defenseman Tyson Barrie).

2.  Colorado is allowing the second highest number of shots per game this season (32.1, to Ottawa’s 32.8)

3.  The Avalanche score first a lot.  Only five teams have opened a game with the first goal more times than the 44 by Colorado. They just don’t seem to win a lot.  Their .614 winning percentage (27-15-2) ranks 24th in the league.

4.  If the Avs win, don’t count on it being a blow-out.  Colorado is tied for the fourth-best winning percentage in one-goal games (.600/21-10-4), but they are just 18-24 in games decided by two or more goals.

5.  Colorado is the worst possession team in the league.  They are at 44.2 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5 overall, but that isn’t the half of it.  They have allowed 178 more shot attempts than the Ottawa Senators, and their Corsi plus-minus of minus-784 for the season is 361 points worse than the New Jersey Devils (minus-423; numbers from

1.  While the Avs have only those four players with more than 13 goals, the Caps have eight players north of that number (Ovechkin, Oshie, Williams, Kuznetsov, Backstrom, Chimera, Burakovsky, and Johansson).

2.  While the Avs have allowed the 29th-fewest shots per game, the Caps have allowed the sixth fewest (28.7).

3. The Caps sustained their first extra time loss of the season when scoring the first goal when they lost in the Gimmick to Philadelphia on Wednesday night, but they still have the best winning percentage in the league when scoring first (.917/33-2-1).

4.  The Caps also held on to their league-best winning percentage in one-goal games despite the loss to the Flyers (.692/27-6-6).  They are also 27-10 in games decided by two or more goals, their .730 winning percentage in such games also best in the league.

5.  The Caps are not likely to finish this game over 50 percent in Corsi-for on the road this season (they would have to go plus-51 in shot attempts), but they can improve on their 14th-best 49.2 percent at 5-on-5 on the road (numbers from

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Colorado: Semyon Varlamov

Assuming he starts in goal for the Avalanche and lasts until at least the second intermission, Semyon Varlamov will have recorded his third straight 3,000 minute season (fourth straight full season, not counting the abbreviated 2012-2013 season).  It is not an insignificant accomplishment for a goalie that had frequent injury issues with the Capitals, the team that drafted him and with whom he spent his first three seasons in the NHL.  He has had a borderline bizarre record of late, though.  He has allowed three goals in each of his last five appearances.  His 3.03 goals against average in those games does not look as good as his .913 save percentage, which while far from elite is respectable.  Only Ottawa’s Craig Anderson has faced 35 or more shots in more games (25) than has Varlamov (17), and Anderson has appeared in five more games and has almost 400 more minutes played.  In three career games against the Caps, Varlamov is 2-1-0, 1.35, .965.

Washington: Nate Schmidt

Oh yeah, that guy.  Nate Schmidt does not get much attention, but there he is taking his regular turn night in and night out (he has not skated less than 13 minutes in any game he played in this season).  He is one of five Caps defensemen with at least 15 points (2-14-16), and he is one of five defensemen at plus-13 or better (plus-13).  It would be nice to see him get a goal, though.  He hasn’t had one since January 7th, leaving him without one over his last 32 games.  This game might be a good sign.  The goal he recorded previous to the one he scored on January 7th – his other goal this season – was recorded against Colorado on November 21st.  It is his only point in four career games against the Avalanche.

In the end…

There just is no way the Caps should lose this game.  Colorado gives up too many opportunities at 5-on-5.  Their power play is having a rough go of it (1-for-14 in their last seven games).  They do not pose many threats on offense, and among those they do have, there are players who are either injured or struggling.  Washington has not scored more than four goals against a goaltender in a game since they beat Columbus, 6-3, on January 19th (they had five against Nashville on February 9th, but the fifth goal was an empty-netter).  That’s 30 games and counting.  They will not get to 31.

Capitals 5 – Avalanche 2

Washington Capitals Recap: A ONE-Point Night: Flyers 2 - Capitals 1 (OT/Gimmick)

It might have been a preview of an Eastern Conference quarterfinal playoff matchup when the Washington Capitals visited the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday night. It certainly played like one as the Flyers and Capitals failed to settle things in regulation or the five-minute overtime, needing to go to the freestyle competition before the Flyers skated off with a 2-1 win.

It was a contest of special teams in the hockey portion of the game. The first two periods went scoreless, but early in the third the Caps broke on top with the man advantage. Evgeny Kuznetsov took a pass from Justin Williams and skated the puck down the right wing wall. He turned and looked for a passing lane to Alex Ovechkin. Failing to find one on the ice, he elevated a pass through the middle of the ice to Ovechkin in the left wing circle. Ovechkin settled the puck and wristed it over the glove of goalie Steve Mason to make it 1-0, 1:28 into the period.

That goal held up until Marcus Johansson took a hooking penalty 13 minutes into the period. The Caps skated most of the ensuing shorthanded situation off, but the Flyers worked the puck around the Caps’ zone late in the power play, Wayne Simmonds taking it behind the Caps net and banking a pass off the boards to Claude Giroux at the left point. Giroux fired a slap shot that clipped the shaft of Brayden Schenn’s stick and sailed over the glove of Braden Holtby to make it 1-1 at the 14:32 mark.

That did it for the scoring in the hockey portion of the show. In the Gimmick, Mason denied T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov, while Nick Cousins and Same Gagner scored for the Flyers, giving the home team the extra standings point in the 2-1 decision.

Other stuff…

-- It was something we noted in the prognosto, that the Caps came into this game as the most efficient shooting team in the league when it came to the Gimmick (8-for-15/53.3 percent). Going 0-for-2, the Caps fell to third at 47.1 percent. They fell to 19th in save percentage in giving up two goals on two shots (11-for-17/.647).

-- Alex Ovechkin’s goal, his league-leading 44th, was just his third in his last 13 games.

-- Nicklas Backstrom had a rough night in the faceoff circle, going 1-for-15 (6.7 percent).

-- Jay Beagle led the Caps in shots on goal (6).

-- When Marcus Johansson was sent off on a hooking penalty in the third period, it was the first penalty he took since February 9th, breaking a 22-game streak without one. Nevertheless, in taking the penalty he set a career high in penalty minutes taken in a season (12).

-- Braden Holtby has 17 career penalty minutes, 11 of them have been taken against the Flyers after the two minutes he was charged for roughing in this game.

-- Dmitry Orlov…no charged giveaways in 15:54.  Keep it up, kid.

-- Maybe it’s scoring in a venue in which the official scorer is more inclined to look for such things, but the teams combined for 64 hits (Caps: 30, Flyers: 34).  Compare that to Monday, when the Caps and Columbus Blue Jackets combined for 33 hits (Caps: 18, Blue Jackets: 15).

-- After going five games without a penalty minute, his longest streak since opening the season with a six-game penalty-free streak, Tom Wilson picked up his third minor penalty in two games with a roughing call in the third period (coincidental with Sam Gagner).

-- The Caps held the Flyers to a virtual draw in possession at fives, scratching out a 50-49 edge in shot attempts.  More to the point, and consistent with what they do when they are successful, they ruled the third period with a 14-9 edge in shot attempts at 5-on-5, and they had a 11-7 edge in high-danger scoring chances (numbers from

In the end…

OK, it was a loss.  But the Caps played a decent road game.  If anything, this game was one more in what is something of a shooting funk in which the Caps find themselves.  In their last 17 games they are shooting 5.7 percent at 5-on-5; they were 0-for-25 in this game.  A team with the depth of skill the Caps have cannot be expected to stay in this rut for much longer.  The takeaway, then, is the play of Braden Holtby, who was 22-for-22 in saves at 5-on-5, bringing his 5-on-5 save percentage to .934 over his last 17 games (numbers from  As has been noted, you might say he’s back in “beast” mode.  And that’s the best sign for the Caps coming out of this game.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 76: Capitals at Flyers, March 30th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals, fresh off their Presidents Trophy-clinching 4-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets, take their show on the road on Wednesday night when they face the Philadelphia Flyers at Core States First Union Wachovia Wells Fargo [insert name of mega corporate financial institution here] Center in what could be a preview of a first round series of the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs.

The Caps come into this contest as winners of three of their last four games and five of their last seven contests.  The Flyers, on the other hand, have alternated wins and losses over their last seven contests (4-2-1).  Four of those games were decided by one goal, the Flyers splitting the decisions, one of the two losses coming in extra time.

In those last seven games, the Flyers outscored their opponents by a 18-15 margin.  Special teams goals have not been much of a feature in Flyers games lately, the power play going 3-for-23 over those last seven games (13.0 percent), while the penalty killers have been a superb 16-of-17 (94.1 percent).

The Flyers have had goal scoring from both expected and unexpected sources over their last seven games.  Claude Giroux has four goals, two of them game-winners, one of them in overtime, that coming in the Flyers’ 3-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets on Monday night.  The four goals is something of an awakening for Giroux, who was on a pace to finish with just 22 goals, tying last year’s total and continuing a mid-career slide from a personal best of 28 goals in 2013-2014 (tying the total he had in 2011-2012).  If this late surge is a return to that form, he will be a formidable force in the postseason.  In 28 career games against the Caps, Giroux is 15-15-30, plus-1.

Ryan White is a player of modest accomplishments in his seven-year career, coming into this season with just 11 goals in 175 games as a generally a bottom-six forward.  However, his three goals over the last seven games, tied for second most on the club in that span, brought his season total to 11 goals, doubling his career total coming into this season.  What he has had this season that he did not have in seasons past is power play success.  White has three power play goals this season, the first of his career, two of them coming in this recent seven-game run.  In 13 games against the Caps, White is 1-1-2, minus-5.

Then there is Radko Gudas, who also has three goals in this seven-game stretch.  In his first season with the Flyers after spending three with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Gudas has set a personal best in goals scored (5), propelled by this recent run of success.  It is not a part of his game that gets expressed that often.  He is more of a nuisance, an annoyance, a pain-in-the-backside.  That is what 332 penalty minutes in 195 career games will do.  And it is not as if those penalties have come from a disproportionate number of fights.  He does have ten bouts in those 195 career games, but only two of them have come with the Flyers this season, ranking him fifth on the team.  He does lead the team in minor penalties taken (28), and he is a minus-17 in penalties drawn to penalties taken at 5-on-5.  Gudas has an assist in ten career games against the Caps.

Here is how the teams compare overall:

1.  Shayne Gostisbehere continues his march toward what he and Flyer fans hope will be a Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie.  If there are highlight reel assists, he had one on the Claude Giroux overtime goal against Winnipeg on Monday night, Giroux led Gostisbehere on a two-on-one break, but his pass was muffled by Mark Schiefele.  Gostisbehere used every bit of the length of his stick to yank the puck away from Schiefele, then from one knee fed Giroux cutting to the net for the game-winner.  He leads all rookie defensemen in goals (16, twice as many as St. Louis’ Colton Parayko), assists (26, three more than Parayko), points (42), power play goals (7), power play assists (14), power play points (21, three times as many as Vancouver’s Ben Hutton), and he is fourth in ice time (19:53).

2.  The Flyers can get in trouble with penalties, but they are selective in one sense.  They are tied for the tenth-highest number of shorthanded situations faced this season, but at home they are tied for 15th with the Boston Bruins.  Despite their stinginess in allowing power play chances, they rank just 21st in home penalty killing (80.5 percent).

3.  Just how is this team in the playoff hunt?  Scary offense?, they are 19th in scoring offense (2.59 goals per game).  Stingy defense?...not especially, they rank 13th in scoring defense (2.55 goals per game).  Intimidating power play?...Nope, they rank 18th (18.0 percent).  Stifling penalty kill?...not there, either, ranking 19th overall (80.8 percent).  Shot volumes?...ok, they rank eighth at 30.7 per game, but they allow 31.0 shots per game, sixth-most in the league.  Efficient when shooting the puck?...not really; they are shooting at 8.4 percent, 23rd in the league.

4.  Add to their middling rankings in the top-end statistics their 47 first period goals (fifth-lowest in the league) and their 69 third period goals scored (19th), and it is not a team that should scare people.  Except for this…they have ten overtime goals this season, second-most in the league.  Fifteen of their 75 games have been settled in the five-minute extra session.  Unfortunately for the Flyers, there isn’t a lot of 3-on-3 in the postseason.

5.  Philadelphia does not impress much in their possession numbers, either.  At 50.2 percent Corsi-for for the season overall at 5-on-5, they rank 16th of 30 teams.  Their score-adjusted numbers are slightly worse – 49.9 percent, ranking 17th overall. And it you take it down another notch – to score-adjusted Corsi at 5-on-5 on home ice – well, the Flyers take it down another notch, ranking 18th at 49.0 percent (numbers from

1.  Philadelphia has not been kind to the Capitals.  Washington is 33-60-6-5 all-time in Philly, although their 5-2 win on November 12th did break a four game losing streak (0-3-1).

2.  March has not been kind to the Caps’ power play.  With the man advantage, the Caps are 7-for-39 this month (17.9 percent).

3.  The plus-18 shot differential the Caps enjoyed against Columbus on Monday night (40 for, 22 against) was the second-highest of the season for the club.  They were plus-19 (38 for, 19 against) in their 5-2 loss to the Florida Panthers on February 2nd.

4.  We are getting to the end of the season, when the Gimmick will be put away for another year, but while it is still a feature, keep in mind that the Caps are the most efficient club in the league one respect of that aspect of the game.  Washington is 8-for-15 shooting on trick shots, a 53.3 percent mark.

5.  The Caps are eighth in the league in score-adjusted Corsi-for at 5-on-5 in road games (51.7 percent), a number that is actually better than their corresponding number on home ice (51.2 percent, 14th in the league; numbers from

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Philadelphia: Steve Mason

If there is one thing that you can point to as a reason the Flyers are in the thick of the playoff race, it is goaltending, specifically that of Steve Mason.  He has been very effective in March, going 7-2-2, 1.97, .929, with one shutout.  And his is the basket into which the Flyers must carry their hopes of reaching the playoffs, since Michal Neuvirth is out for the rest of the regular season with what, in the NHL’s mysterious “don’t tell” sort of way, is thought to be a knee injury.  He has been an especially effective goaltender on home ice.  In his last 15 appearances at Wells Fargo Center, he is 10-3-2, 1.85, .937, with three shutouts.  In 15 career appearances against the Caps, Mason is 7-5-2, 2.85, .904, with two shutouts.

Washington: Brooks Orpik

When Brooks Orpik returned from a lower body injury in February, he displayed an offensive touch he had not revealed in his year and a half with the Caps, going 2-4-6 in his first six games back, including the first regular season game-winning goal in his career.  He does not have a point since that hot restart, though, going oh-for his last 15 games.  He does contribute in other ways.  He is expected to make his presence felt in the defensive end of the ice, and if that means doing some of the hard work, like hits and blocked shots, he will oblige.  He has at least three hits or three blocked shots in each of his last seven games with a high of eight hits in the Caps’ 3-2 win over the Minnesota Wild on February 26th and a high of eight blocked shots in the Caps’ 4-1 win over the Nashville Predators on March 18th.  In 61 career games against the Flyers, Orpik is 2-10-12, plus-8.

In the end…

The Caps now know what they will be doing in mid-April, playing playoff games with a home-ice advantage as long as they are able.  The Flyers have no such certainty, holding the second wild-card spot by the thinnest of margins, a tie-breaker over the Detroit Red Wings (fewer games played with the teams tied in standings points).  Philly has to keep winning to keep that advantage since Detroit holds the advantage of more regulation and overtime wins.  That’s the long way of saying that the Flyers are a desperate team, while the Caps are one that is likely to be in “tune-up” mode to get ready for the postseason.  There is an importance in playing with focus and discipline for Washington, but they will not have the sense of desperation with which the Flyers are likely to play.  That, and the snake pit in which the Caps will find themselves, makes for a difficult test for the Caps, but it is a good one to have to simulate the playoff atmosphere they will be facing in less than three weeks.

Capitals 3 – Flyers 2

Monday, March 28, 2016

Washington Capitals Recap: A TWO-Point Night: Capitals 4 - Blue Jackets 1

For the second time in franchise history and second time in seven seasons, the Washington Capitals are the owners of the Presidents Trophy in the National Hockey League.  The Caps clinched the league’s best record for the 2015-2016 season with a 4-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets at Verizon Center.

For the Caps, the game was reminiscent of so many games played early in the season when they would slowly and methodically wear teams down, then dominate the third period to put games away.  If the most reliable predictor of a Caps win this season was first goal scored, things looked good for the hone team in the first period.  Late in the period the Caps showed fans why it is always a good thing to get pucks to the net.  At the top of the offensive zone, Nate Schmidt double-clutched as if he was going to take a slap shot, pulling Nick Foligno to the middle of the ice in defense and opening a passing lane to John Carlson for a one-timer from the left point.  Carlson’s drive made it all the way to goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who kicked the shot out to his left.  Unfortunately for him, that happened to be where Justin Williams was camped out.  Williams had time to draw the puck over to his forehand and whip it into the net before Ryan Murray could dive across in an attempt to poke the puck away.  With just 3:30 left in the period, it was 1-0, Caps.

That would have been a good way to go into the first intermission, but before Wes Johnson could finish announcing the goal to the crowd, Columbus struck back on a turnover by Dmitry Orlov.  After Brooks Orpik sent the puck around the end wall to the Olympia corner, Orlov collected it and had a decision to make.  He could have turned, pulled the puck to his forehand, and then sent it up the wall and out of the zone.  He could have sent the puck back around the boards to Orpik.  Or, he could have tried to backhand the puck up the middle and out of danger. He chose the last of these, and as the knight said in the movie…

The puck was batted down by Rene Bourque, giving Cam Atkinson a chance to gain control and snap a shot past goalie Braden Holtby’s glove to tie the game just 1:36 after the Williams goal.

That would be all the scoring until the third period.  And as Caps fans have come to know this season, the Caps own the third period.  They certainly did on this night, taking the lead for good just 3:46 into the frame.  Daniel Winnik led a three-man rush against the Columbus defense, sliding the puck over to Tom Wilson on the right side as he gained the offensive zone.  The puck was poked away from Wilson by Dean Kukan, allowing Winnik to recover the puck and send it to the Columbus net on which Mike Richards was closing.  Richards did not get a stick on the shot coming through, but it might have forced Bobrovsky into leaving another juicy rebound, this one cleaned up by Wilson cutting across the slot and backhanded into the open net.

The Caps got insurance late in the period on a power play.  Nicklas Backstrom started the play by working the puck off the right wing wall and deftly pulling it around Cam Atkinson to find Matt Niskanen at the top of the offensive zone.  Niskanen has time and space to get a shot off and as the puck sailed through, T.J. Oshie got enough of his stick on it to redirect it past Bobrovsky’s left pad to make it 3-1 at the 14:26 mark.

The Caps closed the scoring with 2:25 left when Backstrom took a Niskanen pass in the neutral zone, took one step up to gain the red line, then snapped a shot that banked off the crossbar and in for the final 4-1 margin.

Other stuff…

-- The Caps, in addition to winning their second Presidents Trophy in franchise history, hit the 54-win mark for the second time in franchise history, tying the club record for wins.

-- Braden Holtby became the fifth NHL goalie to win 46 or more games in a single regular season.  More important, he looks more and more like the goalie who threatened to lap the field on his way to the Vezina Trophy.  With 21 saves on 22 shots in this game, Holtby is 5-1-1, 1.88, .927, with one shutout in his last seven appearances.

-- Did you have Matt Niskanen leading the team in shots on goal?  OK, did you have Jason Chimera?  If you had either one, you were a winner.  Both had five shots on goal.  Niskanen led the club with nine shot attempts.

-- Nicklas Backstrom had a goal and an assist, his 17th multi-point game of the season, tied for 11th most in the league.

-- This was the Caps’ 29th win at home this season, tying this club for second all-time in home wins in franchise history (2008-2009).  Their next home win will tie the 1985-1986 and 2009-2010 teams for the top spot in franchise history with 30 wins.

-- The penalty killers had a fine night.  They allowed the Blue Jackets no goals and just one shot in 4:51 of shorthanded ice time.  They are 16-for-17 over their last five games (94.1 percent).

-- Matt Niskanen had a pair of assists for his first multi-point game since January 19th, also against the Blue Jackets.

-- Nicklas Backstrom’s goal was his 20th of the season, making him the fifth Capital to reach that mark this season.  The five 20-goal scorers are the most for the Caps in one season since they had seven in the 2009-2010 season.

-- The big lead in the standings allowed the Caps to spread out the ice time.  No forward logged as many as 18 minutes (T.J. Oshie had 17:56).  Three defensemen topped 20 minutes (Matt Niskanen, Karl Alzner, and John Carlson), and that might have been just two had Barry Trotz not held Dmitry Orlov to just three second period shifts totaling less than three minutes after his first-period gaffe that led to the Columbus goal.

-- The shot attempts at 5-on-5 by period illustrated how the Caps wore the Blue Jackets down.  The teams split 36 shot attempts down the middle in the first period, 18 apiece.  In the second period it was the Caps with a slight edge, 12-11.  In the third period, though, the Caps dominated by a 20-11 margin (numbers from    

In the end…

This game was not really as close as the final score indicated.  The Caps could have ended the issue early but for some fine stops by Sergei Bobrovsky, particularly on Jay Beagle.  And, but for a mistake in judgment by Dmitry Orlov on where to put the puck to get it out of harm’s way, it might have been Braden Holtby’s second shutout in a row.  As it was, it was a solid, businesslike effort, one that looked like the Caps were focused on tending to business with a minimum of fancy plays.  Two goals off rebounds and another on a deflection are the sorts of greasy goals they will need when the games matter more.  It was a welcome look.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 75: Blue Jackets at Capitals, March 28th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals take to the ice on Monday night to wrap up their brief two-game home stand, facing the Columbus Blue Jackets in a Metropolitan Division matchup.  The Caps will be looking to clinch the league’s best record for the 2015-2016 season, while the Blue Jackets will be trying to fend off the Toronto Maple Leafs to avoid having the worst record in the Eastern Conference.

The Caps settled the matter of who would be the top seed in the Eastern Conference for the postseason long ago, and their recent play reflects the lack of urgency such certainty provides.  They come into their game with the Blue Jackets with a 4-3-1 record over their last eight games, all three of the regulation losses by margins of three or more goals.

For the Blue Jackets, urgency was never really a part of their season.  They lost their first eight games and never got within shouting distance of .500 thereafter.  The closest they have come was when they reached 28-31-8 after beating the Detroit Red Wings, 5-3, on March 8th.  Since then, however, the wheels have come off the wagon, Columbus limping along with a 2-6-0 record since that win over the Red Wings.

Columbus has had their troubles lighting the lamp in those last eight games, scoring a total of 15 goals while allowing 25.  Boone Jenner leads the team with four goals over those eight games, bringing his career-best total to 28 for the season.  Jenner has been something of a barometer of success for the Blue Jackets of late.  Columbus is 7-1-1 in the last nine games in which Jenner has a goal.  In just three seasons he is already among the all-time franchise leaders in goals scored, his 53 goals tied for 14th with Manny Malhotra.  In nine career games against the Caps, Jenner is 1-4-5, minus-2.

Cam Atkinson is even further up the list of all-time Blue Jacket goal scorers than Jenner (fifth all-time with 85 goals), three of them coming in the Blue Jackets’ last eight games.  Atkinson has improved on his season goal totals in each of his five seasons in the league, reaching a career high of 26 goals this season.  Those three goals in the Blue Jackets’ 2-6-0 slide is part of a longer run of personal success for Atkinson in which he is 7-2-9 in his last 11 games.  Atkinson is 6-4-10, plus-4, in 12 career games against Washington.

Eight goaltenders have appeared in 50 or more games for the Columbus Blue Jackets over their 15-year history, and Sergei Bobrovsky is arguably the best of them all. He ranks third on the all-time games list for Columbus (180), but he ranks first in goals against average (2.45) and save percentage (.921), and he is tied for second in shutouts (12) with Marc Denis, seven behind Steve Mason.  Add in his first team NHL All Star berth and Vezina Trophy in 2012-2013, and he can make a claim as the top goaltender in the history of the franchise.  The 2016 portion of the season has not been kind to him, though.  Twice battling through groin injuries, Bobrovsky is just 2-5-0, 3.34, .885 in eight appearances in the new year.  In 12 career games against the Caps, Bobrovsky is 4-4-3, 3.25, .900.

Here is how the teams compare overall:

1.  This is the sixth season in 15 in which the Blue Jackets have employed more than one coach.  After losing the first seven games of this season, Todd Richards was relieved by John Tortorella.  Columbus has employed as many as three coaches in a season, in 2006-2007 when they had Gerard Gallant, Gary Agnew, and Ken Hitchcock behind the bench.

2.  Score  That’s a thing in the NHL.  Not for the Blue Jackets, though.  Only three teams have fewer wins when scoring first than Columbus (21) – Buffalo (18), Vancouver (15), and Toronto (13).

3.  Lead after two periods…win.  That’s a thing in the NHL, too.  Seems this one passed Columbus by as well.  Only five teams have fewer wins when leading after two periods than the Blue Jackets (19) – Buffalo (18), Detroit (18), Edmonton (17), Vancouver (16), and Toronto (15).

4.  The Blue Jackets can be had late in games.  Only Vancouver has allowed more third period goals (90) than Columbus this season (89), and if the game goes to overtime, Columbus is likely to struggle.  No team has fewer goals scored in overtime than the Blue Jackets (1).  Their lone overtime goal in 15 games going to extra time came back on November 27th in a 2-1 win over Pittsburgh, the first time this season they went to extra time.

5.  Does Corsi matter?  On a game-to-game basis, not so much for Columbus.  In overall 5-on-5 situations, the Blue Jackets are 18-21-5 when they under 50 percent, Corsi-for, while they are 12-16-3 when finishing a contest at 50 percent or better (numbers from

1.  This will be the 16th time this season the Caps are coming off a regulation loss.  In the previous 15 instances they are 14-0-1 and have outscored opponents by a 53-27 margin (3.53 goals per game scored to 1.80 allowed).  Their power play in those games was 12-for-44 (27.3 percent), while the penalty kill was 36-for-43 (83.7 percent).  The only blemish on their record in those 15 games was a 5-4 Gimmick loss to Columbus on January 2nd after dropping a 4-2 decision in Carolina on New Year’s Eve.

2.  Washington is one of three teams to have two players with seven or more game-winning goals.  Alex Ovechkin and Marcus Johansson have seven apiece for the Caps.  Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews have eight apiece for Chicago, and Steven Stamkos (8) and Tyler Johnson (7) reached that threshold for Tampa Bay.

3.  There are 140 players in the NHL with 15 or more goals so far this season.  Of that group, Marcus Johansson has the highest percentage of goals being game-winning goals (7 of 15 goals/46.7 percent).

4.  Here’s a fact from the back of the closet… only two teams in the league have taken fewer faceoffs than the Caps – the New York teams.  The Caps have taken 4,334 draws this season, while the Rangers took 4,297 going into their game with Pittsburgh on Sunday night, and the Islanders took 4,227 faceoffs.

5.  Looking at Caps and Corsi, Washington is 25-9-3 in games in which they out-attempt their opponents or hold them even.  They are 28-7-2 when they are out-attempted by opponents (numbers from  An argument to look for score effects and score adjustment.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Columbus: Seth Jones

In 33 games since being traded by the Nashville Predators to the Columbus Blue Jackets for forward Ryan Johansen, defenseman Seth Jones has become the foundation on the Blue Jacket blue line.  Jones leads Columbus in ice time per game (24:29) and is the only Blue Jacket defenseman to log at least 2:30 a game on both the power play (2:30) and penalty kill (2:38).  Getting almost five minute more per game than he was getting in Nashville, Jones has more goals (two), more assists (15), and more points (17) than he did in Nashville (1-10-11), despite playing in seven fewer games with Columbus (33) than he did with Nashville (40) to start the season.  Jones, who is still just 21 years old, leads his 2013 draft class in games played (232), and he leads all defensemen from that class in points (80).  In four career games against the Caps, Jones Is 1-3-4, plus-3. 

Washington: Braden Holtby

Braden Holtby became the sixth goaltender in NHL history to win 45 games in a single season when he shut out the New Jersey Devils, 1-0, in overtime last Friday night.  He is now within sight of the all-time win total for goaltenders, 48 wins by New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur in 2006-2007.  It is quite rarefied air Holtby inhabits.  But it comes with a warning.  In the other six instances in which a goaltender won at least 45 games in a season (Brodeur also did it in the 2009-2010 season, winning 45 games), only Bernie Parent won a Stanley Cup, doing it with the 1973-1974 Philadelphia Flyers after winning 47 games in the regular season.  As a matter of fact, of the five instances apart from Parent, none of the goalies advanced to a conference final.  Only three of them won a series – Roberto Luongo in 2006-2007 with the Vancouver Canucks, Brodeur in 2006-2007 with the Devils, and Evgeni Nabokov in 2007-2008 with the San Jose Sharks.  Miikka Kiprusoff and his Calgary Flames were ousted in the first round in 2008-2009, while Brodeur’s 2009-2010 Devils were taken out in the first round. 

This is not to say that the Caps and Holtby are doomed.  Of those five teams that failed to reach a conference final, only the 2007-2008 Calgary Flames playing in front of Kiprusoff ranked higher than 19th in scoring offense (tied for seventh).  Brodeur’s 2006-2007 team on which he set the record ranked 27th in scoring offense for the season.  The Caps are a much more formidable offensive club, ranking second in scoring offense overall.  They are more than their goaltender.  They just happen to have a very good one.  In 12 career games against Columbus, Holtby is 7-2-2, 2.96, .899.

In the end…

We are now in the last ten percent of the regular season – eight games left to play.  It is time to dig the big boy pants out of the closet and get ready for the postseason.  The Caps “played” better than they “scored” against St. Louis on Saturday night, but there is no parade for winning a Corsi championship.  The performance of Jake Allen in goal was a not-so-subtle reminder of what it is that has confounded Caps teams in the postseason since dinosaurs roamed the earth – good, if not great goalies playing as if they were Georges Vezina, George Hainsworth, and Patrick Roy rolled into one.  The Caps will have to finish much better than they did against St. Louis, and finish the last eight games of the season better than they did the last eight games (4-3-1).  This is a game the Caps are supposed to win.  Of course, you know where we stand on such things…

Capitals 4 – Blue Jackets 2

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 24

Week 24 was a full week of four contests for the Washington Capitals.  With so much on the plate for the hockey fan, it still seemed unsatisfying as the club continued to display a disturbing lack of consistency and an inability to raise their game against opponents of a caliber they are likely to find in the postseason.

Record: 2-2-0

For the second time in three weeks the Capitals did not have a winning week.  They avoided their first losing week of the season, but barely, making sure about that when they scored the game’s only goal in overtime against the New Jersey Devils on Friday for their second win of the week.  By week’s end the Caps had 53 wins for the season.  That tied the club for the 18th-highest win total in NHL history and tied them for seventh in wins in the post 2004-2005 lockout era.  It also left this team within one of the franchise record for wins (54 in the 2009-2010 season).

What is creeping into the minds of Caps fans, perhaps, is a sliver of doubt about just how good this team is.  Or more to the point, whether they can raise their game to the heights they enjoyed over the first four months of the season when they compiled a 35-8-4 record.  The two losses in Week 24 made it four losses for March, the second consecutive month in which the Caps will have had four or more losses in regulation.  By this team’s standards, that is an avalanche of losses.  But on the other hand, that also means that the Caps’ combined record of 18-8-1 in February and March work out to a 112-point pace per 82 games.  If that’s just a slump, it is one that is certainly bearable.

Offense:  1.75/game (season: 3.08 /game; rank: 2nd)

Seven goals in three games, none in the last six periods of regulation for the week.  The second-ranked scoring offense in the league had a bad week.  It happens.  Alex Ovechkin had one of them, but while he still maintains a lead in the goal-scoring race with 43 goals to 39 for Chicago’s Patrick Kane, he has just three goals in his last 13 contests.  With eight games left and being seven goals short of 50, it seems unlikely that Ovechkin will finish with his seventh 50-goal season, although it seems likely that he will capture his sixth Maurice Richard Trophy as the league’s top goal scorer.

It was a team-wide slump in Week 24, shooting-wise.  It was not enough that the Caps shot just 7-for-98 for the week (7.1 percent) and only 4-for-80 at 5-on-5 (5.0 percent), it was their goal scoring core that had a collective tough time of it.  Look at the four 20-goal scorers.  Ovechkin was 1-for-15 (6.7 percent), Justin Williams was 0-for-9 (seven of those shots on goal recorded against St. Louis), and Evgeny Kuznetsov was 0-for-8.  T.J. Oshie scored on his only shot on goal for the week, but he missed the last two games with flu-like symptoms.  That made the Caps’ four 20-goal scorers 2-for-33 (6.1 percent).  It was a team effort.

If there was a goal-scoring highlight, it was John Carlson scoring in overtime to give the Caps a 1-0 win over the Devils on Friday night.  It was a lot of first wrapped into one.  The goal came in Carlson’s first game back after missing ten games to a lower-body injury and recovery from surgery, it was his first career overtime game-winner, and it was the first time in franchise history that a defenseman scored an overtime game-winning goal in a 1-0 game for the Caps.  Jason Chimera was the only Capital to post as many as three points for the week (1-2-3), while Jay Beagle and Marcus Johansson joined Chimera with a pair of assists apiece.

Defense: 3.00/game (season: 2.34 /game; rank: T-2nd)

This section this week is pretty much all about possession numbers.  One thing that the Caps have been guilty of in recent weeks is getting off to poor starts but winning in spite of it.  Week 24 was very different.  The Caps had a good possession week overall, but it was also very uneven.  A 51.4 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5 overall is a good week, but how the Caps got there was unsettling.  In four games they posted a 56.8 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5 in the first periods of games.  They also managed to win the scoring chance battle, 33-27, and the high-danger scoring chance battle, 15-10.  All they had to show for it was two goals scored and two allowed.

The second and third periods were a different story.  The Caps were under 50 percent in combined Corsi-for at 5-on-5 in both the second period (48.6 percent) and in the third (47.9 percent).   As one might expect, they lost the scoring chance numbers, too.  For the second periods of games it was a 21-29 difference, while in the third it was 21-23.  The Caps did manage a slight edge in high-danger scoring chances in the second periods of games (9-8), but they lost the third period (7-12).  It should have been no mystery, even with the Caps’ poor shooting percentages for the week, that they ended up with a minus-2 goal differential in the second periods of games (two for, four against), and had a minus-3 differential at 5-on-5 in the third periods of games (none scored, three allowed; all numbers from

Goaltending: 2.97 /.893 / 1 shutout (season: 2.23 / .922 / 3 shutouts)

For Braden Holtby, Week 24 was a case of having a bad game, shaking it off, and putting together a decent week overall under the circumstances.  When he allowed five goals on 26 shots in 47:18 to the Pittsburgh Penguins and yielded to Philipp Grubauer, it was the sixth time this season that he was relieved before finishing a start and the fifth time it happened over 23 appearances up to that game.

Holtby came back to win the middle two games of the week, stopping 50 of 52 shots in 122 minutes in wins over Ottawa and New Jersey.  The win over the Devils gave Holtby 45 wins on the season, making him the sixth goaltender in league history to hit that mark, three short of the league record of 48 wins set by the Devils’ Martin Brodeur in 2006-2007.  Of the other six instances of a goaltender winning at least 45 games (Brodeur did it twice), none of the goaltenders appeared in fewer than 73 games (Bernie Parent, who won 47 games for the 1973-1974 Philadelphia Flyers).  Holtby, who has 45 wins in just 60 games, can appear in a maximum of just 68 games this season.  Parent also happens to be the only one of the other five goaltenders to have won a Stanley Cup in the year he broke the 45-win barrier.

Philipp Grubauer had a relief appearance and a start in Week 24 to put on his record.  It was not exactly a memorable week.  Grubauer faced just five shots in mop-up duty against the Penguins in the 6-2 loss to open the week and allowed the final Pittsburgh goal.  Against the St. Louis Blues to end the week he was occasionally sharp, but he was let down by his defense on a pair of Blues’ goals, leaving shooters alone against him from point-blank range, and he was leaky on what might have been the game’s pivotal goal, the second St. Louis goal scored by Colton Pareyko from long range under his pads.  It was an example of the sort of inconsistency he had not displayed since early in the season.  Slumps happen, even for goaltenders who get infrequent work, and Grubauer’s .853 save percentage for the week reflected that.

Power Play: 1-for-8 / 12.5 percent (season: 22.8 percent; rank: 2nd)

Four games, four instances of two power play opportunities.  And the Caps did not do much with the few opportunities they had, getting a power play goal from Alex Ovechkin against the Ottawa Senators in the Caps’ 4-2 win last Tuesday.  The power play has been quite streaky over the last nine weeks, very much in a feast (four weeks over 23 percent) or famine (four weeks under ten percent).  Over those nine weeks the Caps are just 14-for-88 (15.9 percent).

In addition to the less-than-noteworthy performance level of the power play in Week 24, it was not especially productive, either.  Ten shots on goal in 15:00 of power play time.  Ovechkin had half of those power play shots on goal (five) and scored his first power play in almost a month, going 11 games without a power play strike since recording a man advantage goal against the Minnesota Wild in a 3-2 win in February 26th.

Penalty Killing: 13-for-14 / 92.9 percent (season: 84.6 percent; rank: 4th)

The Caps had one of their best weeks of the season in killing penalties.  It was the first week in which the Caps faced ten or more shorthanded situations that they killed more than 90 percent of the situations they faced.  The thing of it, though, was that it was not pretty.  The Caps allowed 22 power play shots on goal in 24:32 of shorthanded ice time, a good (but not great) shots-per-minute rate (0.90 shots per minute). 

The Caps did face two top-ten teams in power play efficiency in the New Jersey Devils (ninth-ranked) and the St. Louis Blues (sixth), shutting them out on three power plays, and shutting out the Blues entirely from any opportunities (the first time this season the Caps did not face an opponent’s power play).  Against two bottom-half power plays, the Caps did allow a power play goal to the Penguins (19th-ranked), although the Pens also had seven opportunities.  The Caps shut out the 28th-ranked Ottawa Senator power play on four chances.  In a week that had its ups and downs, the penalty killing might have been the best part of the week.

Faceoffs: 115-for-219 / 52.5 percent (season: 49.9% / rank: 18th)

Up-down-up-down.  That was Week 24 in the faceoff circle, alternating games of more than 50 percent winning performance with games under 50 percent.  And, as if to complete the roller-coaster nature of the week, the Caps were over 50 percent in the defensive zone (58.1 percent), under 50 percent in the offensive zone (49.3 percent), and right at 50 percent in the neutral zone.  It made for a good week overall – 52.5 percent for the week.

On an individual level, Mike Richards (63.0 percent of 46 draws)) and Jay Beagle (56.8 percent of 37 faceoffs) ruled all they surveyed within the confines of the circle.  Evgeny Kuznetsov also finished over 50 percent among Caps taking at least ten draws (21-for-40), but he really shined in, of all places, the defensive zone, going 10-for-12 for the week. 

Goals by Period:

The Caps displayed an inability to close teams down as games wore on.  The five goals allowed in the second periods of games represented more than ten percent of the total they had allowed over the first 23 weeks of the season (10.2 percent).  The five goals allowed in the third periods of games was almost ten percent of the total coming into the week (9.3 percent).  It was a result of letting close games get away from them, allowing the Penguins three third period goals in the space of 9:19 to allow a 3-2 deficit balloon to 6-2, then allowing three second period goals in 8:00 to the St. Louis Blues to allow a scoreless game go to 3-0 and essentially end the competitive portion of that contest.

Even the 3-2 edge in first period goals was deceptive.  The Caps scored all of them in a 12-minute span against the Ottawa Senators, then held on as the Senators went on to make a game of it before the Caps scored an empty-netter in the last minute of a 4-2 win.

In the end…

Week 24 was not a good week, but neither was it a bad one.  There is the gnawing question of whether the Caps can “flip the switch” and raise the level of their game to that which they displayed over the first four months of the season.  Even with an 18-8-1 over the past two months, the Caps are good, but they have been less than extraordinary.  Of greater concern, the Caps are now 1-3-1 in their last five games against playoff-eligible teams, getting outscored by a 19-11 margin over those contests. 

The Caps enter the last three weeks of the regular season with eight games to find their rhythm and get everyone back to good health, or as good as a team can expect at this time of year.  The team has been in something of a broad-based sleepwalk over the past several weeks, the top scorers not scoring, the best defenders not defending, and the goalies not…ok, “goalie-ing” isn’t a word, but you get the point.  Week 25 is another four-game week, one that provides a different sort of opportunity for the Caps to raise their game.  A Columbus team that is difficult to play against, a Philadelphia  team fighting for their playoff lives, and a final road swing out west to Colorado and Arizona.  It never stops.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Jason Chimera (1-2-3, plus-1, 4 shots on goal)
  • Second Star: Nicklas Backstrom (1-1-2, minus-1, 4 shots on goal, 49.2 percent on faceoffs)
  • Third Star: Braden Holtby (2-1-0, 2.48, .910, 1 shutout)

Saturday, March 26, 2016

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 74: Blues at Capitals, March 26th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals look to make it a back-to-back winning weekend when they take on the St. Louis Blues at Verizon Center on Saturday night.  The Caps will try to build on their 1-0 overtime win in New Jersey against the Devils on Friday night.  On the other side, the Blues will also be trying to make it a win-win weekend after their 4-0 win against the Vancouver Canucks on Friday night.

Both teams come into this game on a bit of a hot streak.  The Caps have won four of their last five contests, going 2-1-0 on their just-completed three-game road trip.  The Blues are on a three-game winning streak, all of the wins coming by way of shutout.

The author of those shutouts was goaltender Brian Elliott, who returned on March 19th after suffering a knee injury against the San Jose Sharks on February 22nd and missing ten games.  Elliott is perhaps the best goaltender in the league who gets almost no recognition.  Over five seasons in St. Louis, he is the only goaltender in the league with a goals against average under 2.10 (2.00), a save percentage of .925 or better (.925), and 25 or more shutouts (25).  He has been nothing short of spectacular in the 2016 portion of the season.  In 22 appearances he is 14-3-4, 1.73, .943, with four shutouts.  He also brings a personal eight-game winning streak into this game, if he gets the call (he shut out Vancouver on Friday night).  In ten career games against the Caps, Elliott is 6-2-0, 3.17, .886.

If it isn’t Elliott, it is likely to be Jake Allen in goal for the Blues.  Allen struggled in relief of Elliott, taking the loss in three consecutive games, including the game unfinished by Elliott against the Sharks on February 22nd.  He followed that up with six straight wins, but he struggled in his last two outings, allowing four goals on 17 shots in just 31 minutes of a 7-4 loss to Calgary on March 14, and then allowing five goals on 26 shots in a 6-4 loss to Edmonton on March 16th.  Allen has never faced the Capitals.

The Blues are not an especially prolific offensive team, tied for 19th in scoring offense in the league (2.57 goals per game).  They are not an especially balanced team, either.  Vladimir Tarasenko has been involved in just over a third of the 190 Blues’ goals scored this season (34-30-64) and almost half of their 46 power play goals (12-10-22).  Over the past four seasons, including this one, Tarasenko is one of 14 players to dress for at least 250 games and record at least 100 goals.  He notched his 100th career goal against Vancouver in a 3-0 win on March 19th.   In three career games against the Caps, Tarasenko is 1-1-2, plus-3.

Over the last five seasons, including this one, only nine defensemen have more points in the NHL than Kevin Shattenkirk (45-149-194 in 330 games).  This season, only five defensemen have more power play points than he does (23), and he has done it with at least 50 fewer power play minutes than any of the defensemen ranked ahead of him.  He comes into this game with points in six of his last nine games (3-5-8).  If there is an odd stat in his season line, especially given the team for which he plays, it is that he is a minus-16, by far the worst of his career (he was minus-11 in his rookie season in Colorado in 2010-2011 before being traded to St. Louis in mid-season).  In seven career games against the Caps, Shattenkirk is 1-4-5, plus-4. 

Here is how the teams compare overall:

1.  No team has more shutouts than the Blues (nine).  They have done it allowing as few as 15 shots in a game (4-0 over Vancouver on Friday night) and as many as 45 (4-0 over Nashville on November 7th).

2.  No team has had fewer power play chances on the road this season than St. Louis (95).  Only once have they had more than four chances in a road game, that coming in Winnipeg against the Jets on October 18th.  They went 1-for-6 in that game, a 4-2 win.

3.  Winning when leading after two periods is standard operating procedure in the NHL, but it is not fool-proof.  The Blues have only lost one game in regulation when leading after two periods this season, but their winning percentage (.806) ranks just 24th in the league (25-1-5).

4.  St. Louis has earned its success in winning close games.  Their 24-3-9 record in one-goal games is the second best winning percentage (.667) in the league to Washington (.711).  On the other hand, the Blues are just 20-19 in games settled by more than one goal.

5.  The Blues are the seventh-best team in the league in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 overall in road games (50.9 percent).  They were 50 percent or better in eight of their last ten road games, hitting or surpassing 60 percent three times.  They are a combined 55.0 percent over those last ten road games (numbers from

1.  When the Caps beat the Devils, 1-0, in overtime on Friday night, it was their 27th one-goal win this season.  Only ten teams in the post 2004-2005 lockout era have more one-goal victories.

2.  At the other end, the Caps are 26-9 in games settled by more than one goal, just one win short of the total number of wins posted by Vancouver and Toronto this season (27).

3.  John Carlson leads the team’s defensemen with 32 points, but if Matt Niskanen can post one more, and if Dmitry Orlov can get two more points, it would give the Caps three 30-point defensemen, matching the total they had last year and the most for the club in the post 2004-2005 lockout period.

4.  The Caps have a shot at finishing the season with eight 40-point players.  Six have already reached that mark (Evgeny Kuznetsov, Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Justin Williams, T.J. Oshie, and Marcus Johansson).  Two more have a chance to get there – Jason Chimera (37) and Andre Burakovsky( 36).  If they do, the eight 40-point players will match the eight in the 2009-2010 season as most in the post 2004-2005 lockout era.  The team record is 12, in 1991-1992.

5.  The Caps were improving at home, holding opponents to fewer than 50 shot attempts per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 on home ice for three straight games until they allowed 63.9/60 to Nashville in their last home contest.  Those three straight games under 50 attempts/60 minutes was pretty good in the context of the season in which they held opponents under 50 attempts/60 minutes only ten times overall (numbers from

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

St. Louis: Alex Pietrangelo

Of how many defensemen could it be said that a 5-24-29, plus-4, in 65 games is an “off” season?  For Alex Pietrangelo that might be the case.  The 29 points in 65 games (0.45 points per game) is the first time in six full seasons that he averaged less than half a point a game from the blue line.  Over those six full seasons, including this one, Pietrangelo ranks 12th overall among defensemen in points per game (0.56; minimum: 300 games).  And, he is a minutes-eater.  Only four defensemen in the league have logged more than 25 minutes in more games than Pietrangelo (48 games).  The 21:36 he had against Vancouver on Friday night was almost like a night off. It was his lowest ice time of the season.  He is 2-6-8, plus-10, over his last 13 contests, and in six career games against the Caps he has yet to record a point.

Washington: John Carlson

John Carlson returned to the lineup on Friday night after missing a month with a lower-body injury.  He did it in style, recording the first overtime goal of his career in the Caps’ 1-0 win over the New Jersey Devils.  His return comes just in time to give the Caps a healthy defense for their final stretch run before the playoffs.  And that cannot help but be a good thing, either.  The Caps, despite having the second best scoring offense in the league, does not get a lot of scoring from the back line.  Eight defensemen have points this season for the Caps (only St. Louis and the New York Rangers have fewer with points, seven apiece), and it is possible that no Capital defenseman will finish the season with as many as ten goals (Dmitry Orlov has eight).  Carlson’s seven goals in 48 games works out to a pace of 12 goals per 82 games, consistent with his last two seasons.  If he can be that threat from the blue line going forward, the Caps can become the formidable team they were over their first 50 games.  In eight career games against the Blues, Carlson is 1-3-4, even.

In the end…

St. Louis is not an easy team to play against.  No Ken Hitchcock team is.  His teams will make opponents work for every inch over the 200 foot ice surface.  It puts a premium on the seemingly contradictory elements of quickness and patience.  The Caps will have to be disciplined and aware of hard-closing defenders to make quick, crisp passes, but they will have to be patient against a club that allows the eighth-fewest shot attempts at 5-on-5 in the league.  Close games have been a staple for the Caps, though.  Eight of their 12 games in March were one-goal decisions, and they are 6-1-1 in those contests.  This could be another in that string.

Capitals 3 – Blues 2