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 first...win. 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 war-on-ice.com).
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 war-on-ice.com). 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