The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The Washington Capitals return to the ice on Friday night for the first in a set of back-to-back games when they host the New York Rangers at Verizon Center.
The Caps have completed three games in their five-game week and have won the last two – against the Pittsburgh Penguins and Toronto Maple Leafs – after dropping the first game of the week to the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday. The Rangers are coming to D.C. on quite a run of late. It has been more than two months – since December 18 and 20 (the last two in a three-game losing streak) – that the Rangers have lost consecutive games, and they are 10-2-1 in their last 13 contests. They bring a three-game winning streak into this game, pending the results of their game in Pittsburgh on Thursday night.
In that 10-2-1 run, the Rangers have outscored their opponents by a 35-27 margin. They are 6-for-31 on the power play (19.4 percent) while going 27-for-36 killing penalties (75.0 percent).
Although the Rangers are not, Mats Zuccarello is not. He has one point in his last five games, a goal against Columbus in the Rangers’ 2-1 win over the Blue Jackets on Monday. It is unusual, coming on the heels of what was a eight-game stretch in which he was 2-9-11, plus-7. He is 0-7-7, minus-1 in 14 career games against the Caps.
Keith Yandle is the prototypical playmaking, power-play quarterback sort of defenseman. At least he is this season. In 63 games he has just four goals, but his 31 assists is tied with Andrei Markov for 11th among the league’s defensemen, and 12 of his total points have come on Ranger power plays. His goal scoring has been in decline in recent years since he set a personal high of 12 goals with the Phoenix Coyotes in 2009-2010. Since then he either repeated his previous year’s goal total or saw it drop in every season. He is on a pace for five goals this season, which would continue that trend. Yandle is 0-10-10, even, in 15 career games against Washington.
Only one goalie over the past 11 seasons has more than 300 wins, a goals against average under 2.50, and a save percentage over .920. Toss in 59 shutouts, and Henrik Lundqvist has a claim on being the best goaltender of the post-2004-2005 lockout period. What he has not been lately is consistent. In his last 12 appearances he has good overall numbers – 9-3-0, 1.91, .931, with two shutouts. Underneath, he has five games in which he had a save percentage under .900. When he was good, though, he was superb – two shutouts and three other games in which he allowed a single goal. He remains the rock on which Ranger success depends, and his smoothing off the rough edges while maintaining those strong overall numbers will be the most important factor as the Rangers chase the Cup. Lundqvist is 9-4-3, 2.65, .906, with four shutouts in 32 career appearances against the Caps.
Here is how the teams compare overall:
1. Despite their 10-2-1 record since February 3rd, the Rangers have lost three points to the Caps in the standings in that span (the Caps are 12-3-0 over the same span).
2. In that 13-game span, the Rangers allowed five goals in each of the three losses (5-4 in overtime to Los Angeles, 5-2 to Chicago, and 5-2 to New Jersey). They did not allow more than two goals in any of their ten wins.
3. The Rangers have done well lately when avoiding penalties. In their last 13 games, they faced two or fewer shorthanded situations seven times, although it has not been a measure of success. The Rangers were just 3-for-9 killing penalties in those games (33.3 percent), and twice they avoided any shorthanded situations at all. Probably a good thing.
4. The Rangers have the worst penalty kill on the road in the league (72.4 percent). They have allowed at least one power play goal in 20 of 31 road games and two power play scores seven times. In their last 15 road games they are just 28 for 42 (66.7 percent).
5. The Rangers are not an especially effective possession team on the road, either. Their 46.3 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5 ranks 24th in the league. They have been below 50 percent in eight of their last nine games and under 40 percent three times (numbers from war-on-ice.com).
1. The Caps have 13 wins this season in games that ended by a 3-2 margin, the most in the league, four more than the New Jersey Devils. Eight of the Caps' 26 wins at home this season have been by 3-2 margins. Each of the last four Caps wins have been by that margin, and eight of their 12 wins since the All-Star Game break have been by that margin.
2. One-goal decisions agree with this team, and it might be the biggest difference between this team and the 2009-2010 team that won the Presidents Trophy. This team is 23-5-4; that 2009-2010 team lost 21 of 41 one-goal decisions (eight in regulation and another 13 in extra time) and ranked just 17th that season in one-goal winning percentage.
3. Power play efficiency for the Caps manifests itself in ways other than the share of chances they convert. The Caps lead the league in 5-on-4 goals scored (45), but they spent just 323:50 in power play time doing it. The Caps have, by far, the best minutes-to-goals scored ratio in the league. They have spent an average of 6:57 of power play time for each goal scored; the Los Angeles Kings are next at 7:23 of power play time per goal scored.
4. Only two teams in the league have two goaltenders who have appeared in at least 15 games, have a goals against average under 2.25, and have a save percentage of .90 or better. Florida (Roberto Luongo and Al Montoya) and the Caps, with Braden Holtby (2.22/.923) and Philipp Grubauer (2.26/.926).
5. The Caps rank just 11th in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 in the third periods of home games (52.7 percent), but they have a goal differential of plus-18, tops in the league (numbers from war-on-ice.com).
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
New York: Eric Staal
Eric Staal was traded to the Rangers by the Carolina Hurricanes for prospect Aleksi Saarela and second round draft picks this year and next. In one game so far with the Blueshirts he has yet to register a point. But it’s early, or so you would think. Perhaps the change and the possibility of a playoff run will reenergize him, but Staal has been in productive decline for several years now. After going 18-35-53 in 48 games for the Carolina Hurricanes in the abbreviated 2012-2013 season (a 31-60-91 scoring pace over 82 games), he had 21 goals an 61 points the following year, 23 goals and 54 points in 2014-2015, and he has 10 goals and 33 points in 64 games this year (a 13-30-43 scoring pace). Having more talent around him in New York will no doubt take some of the pressure on him from facing the opponents’ best defenders in Carolina, but it remains to be seen just what effect he will have on the Rangers in the home stretch. Staal is 27-44-71, plus-5, in 71 career games against the Caps, the team he has faced more than any other in his career.
Washington: Barry Trotz
OK, we’re doing coaches again. When the Caps defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday night, Barry Trotz won 649th game as an NHL head coach, passing Ron Wilson for eighth place on the all-time list of NHL leaders in wins among head coaches. He already had established a first in Capitals coaching history earlier in the season that not a lot of people took notice of. When the Caps beat the Minnesota Wild on February 11th for their 40th win of the season, Trotz became the first coach in Capitals history to win 40 or more games in each of his first two seasons behind the bench (including partial seasons). And, if the Caps win 13 of their last 19 games, a longshot perhaps, but not an impossible task, Trotz would set a franchise record for wins by a Caps coach in consecutive years (currently held by Bruce Boudreau, who won 104 games over the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 seasons).
In the end…
We get ahead of ourselves with talk about games left and records to be chased, but that is a luxury fans can indulge. As for the Caps, they will face a Ranger team with serious flaws (i.e., their penalty kill) and serious strengths (best 5-on-5 goal ratio in the league), but one that is also on a serious run of successful games. The Caps lead the season series, winning three straight after dropping the first game between the clubs. The Caps have faced challenges such as those presented by the Rangers, and they have offered no indication that they will do anything but handle this one successfully, too.
Capitals 3 – Rangers 2