Monday, October 31, 2016

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Games 9 and 10: Home and Home -- Capitals vs. Jets, November 1/3

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

On Tuesday night the Washington Capitals take the ice for an end and a beginning.  When they face the Winnipeg Jets at MTS Centre in Winnipeg, it will be the last of their four-game road trip to western Canada.  It also will be the start of a home-and-home set of games with the Jets that will move to Washington on Thursday.

The Caps and the Jets are teams headed in opposite directions.  Washington won two in a row after dropping their first game on this road trip and has climbed back into third place in the Metropolitan Division (through Sunday’s games), two points behind first-place Pittsburgh with a game in hand.  On the other hand, the Jets are 2-3-0 in their last five games and have slipped to fifth in the Central Division and ninth in the Western Conference.

The Jets have been outscored, 10-8, in those last five games, half of those goals coming in a 4-1 win over the Dallas Stars last Thursday.  It is an offense that is struggling, especially once one gets past rookie phenom Patrik Laine, who has six of the Jets’ 22 goals thus far.  Even in his just-started career, the second overall pick in last summer’s entry draft is exhibiting a certain streakiness to his goal scoring.  Among his six goals he has a hat trick (against Toronto on October 19th in a 5-4 Jets win) and a two-goal game (against Dallas on October 27th in a 4-1- win). The season is young, but so far, as Laine goes, so go the Jets.  The Jets are 3-0-0 in games in which he scored a goal, 1-5-0 in games in which he did not.  Through Sunday’s games he is tied for the rookie scoring lead (six, with Auston Matthews), and is third in points (eight, behind Matthews and William Nylander, both of Toronto).  He is showing himself to be an efficient shooter, second among rookies in shooting percentage (20.7 percent, among rookies with at least ten shots on goal), and he leads all rookie forwards in ice time per game so far (19:22).  These games will, of course, be his first against the Caps.

Mark Scheifele is second on the team in goals (four) and tied with Laine for the team points lead overall.  Scheifele is a top-ten draft pick in his own right (seventh overall in 2011), and his progress has been more the sure and steady kind that the explosive start Laine has had.  He got a cup o’ coffee in the NHL in each of the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 seasons (11 games between the two seasons), then stuck with the big club in the 2013-2014 season.  Scheifele recorded 13 goals in 63 games of his rookie year and built upon that, recording 15 in 82 games in 2014-2015 and 29 in 71 games last season to lead the club.  He has stumbled a bit after a hot start, going his last three games without a goal after recording one in four of his first six contest.  In seven career games against the Caps, Scheifele is 2-2-4, even.

Winnipeg might lead the league in letters among the last names of goaltenders, but what Michael Hutchinson and Connor Hellebuyck do not have is much in the way of experience.  Between them they have a total of 107 games of NHL experience.  In that respect you could call both (or one of them) the goaltending of the future for the Jets.  It is hard to come to any conclusions about either of these netminders other than to say that at the moment both are headed in the wrong direction.  Hutchinson is perhaps the more troublesome.  This is his third full season with the Jets, and his save percentage and goals against average have been moving in ways not conducive to a long-term stint as a number one goalie. Two season ago he was 21-10-5, 2.39, .914 with two shutouts in 38 games.  Last year he was 9-15-3, 2.84, .907 in 30 games.  So far this season, Hutchinson is 2-3-0, 3.09, .906, alternating good and poor performances over his five appearances.

Meanwhile, Hellebuyck is in his second season after posting a 13-11-1, 2.34, .918 record last season with two shutouts.  He is 2-2-0, 2.55, .919 in five appearances this season, and he stopped 51 of 52 shots (.981 save percentage) over his last two appearances over 83 minutes of ice time.  Based on recent performance, it would appear Hellebuyck would get the nod in this one.  He won his only other appearance against Washington, stopping 37 of 38 shots in a 2-1 win over the Caps last December 5th in Winnipeg.

1.  Winnipeg has five power play goals so far this season, four of them by Laine, who seems to like that left wing faceoff circle spot that Caps fans associate with being Alex Ovechkin’s domain.

2.  The Jets do allow a lot of shots on goal.  At 31.7 shots on goal per game, they allowed the sixth highest volume on a per game basis so far.  The odd part of that is that their possession numbers are not bad at a high level.  The Jets are 16th in the league in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (49.36 percent; numbers from

3.  Killing penalties at home has been an issue for the Jets.  Winnipeg ranks just 25th in the league in home penalty killing (73.7 percent), and only five teams have been shorthanded more times than the Jets at home (19).

4.  Winnipeg is one of just three teams yet to win a game when outshooting their opponent.  The Jets, Buffalo, and Toronto are all 0-3-0 in those situations.

5.  Only the Philadelphia Flyers (15) and the Los Angeles Kings (14) have allowed more second period goals than the Jets (13).  Those 13 goals allowed equals the total the Jets have allowed in the first, third, and overtime periods combined.  Sound familiar, Caps fans?

1.  Then again, the second period of this game might be a bit duller than Caps fans are used to.  The Caps have scored the fewest second period goals this season (3), one fewer than the Jets (4).

2.  Washington has allowed the fewest shots on goal per game in the league (25.0 through Sunday’s games) and has the second-best Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (54.21 percent, behind the Kings at 56.38 percent).

3.  The Caps have allowed only three third period goals through eight games, fewest in the league, and one of those was an empty-netter.

4.  No team has taken a lead into the first intermission more often than the Caps so far this season.  In six such occurrences, Washington is 4-1-1.

5.  Nineteen skaters have dressed for the Caps this season, and 19 skaters have points.  Eleven of them have goals already.  Only Jay Beagle, Zach Sanford, and Nicklas Backstrom do not have a goal among the forwards.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Winnipeg: Alexander Burmistrov

You score 22 goals and record 65 points in 62 games in your first year of Canadian junior, and then you are taken with the eighth overall pick in the 2010 entry draft.  It looks as if you might have a bright future.  So what happened to Alexander Burmistrov?  That was his introduction to North American hockey, but since then the results have been underwhelming.  Perhaps jumping right into the NHL was a mistake in his developmental strategy.  He had six goals and 20 points for the then Atlanta Thrashers in his first year out of amateur hockey.  It has not gotten appreciably better.  In this, his fifth season, he has 30 goals and 80 points in 283 career games.  That works out to a 9-14-23 pace per 82 games.  That is not the profile of a high-scoring, top-six forward.  And he is not off to a hot start this season.  Burmistrov has one assist in eight games, having gone his last six contests without a point and just four shots on goal (his only four shots on goal this season).  Burmistrov has already had a rocky start to his career, having interrupted his NHL career with a temporary move to the KHL (in 2013-2014).  He has had less than ten minutes of ice time in three of his last five games.  In 18 career games against the Caps, Burmistrov is 2-2-4, even.

Washington: Nicklas Backstrom

Seeing no goals next to Nicklas Backstrom’s season-to-date so far might cause Caps fans some concern, but it is not all that unusual.  Yes, last year he had four goals in his first four games.  But in 2014-2015 he had two in his first seven games.  He had one in his first nine contests in 2013-2014.  He had one in his first 17 games in 2012-2013.  He has had slow starts before in terms of personal goal scoring.  He does have five assists in eight games, though, which is not far off his pace per 82 games over his career (60.0), and he has helpers in each of his last two games.  It is reasonable to think that Backstrom is being Backstrom, a player of uncommon consistency whose game has been as dependable as the sunrise over his previous nine seasons.  If he breaks out, it could be against the Jets, against whom he is 15-27-42, plus-8 in 40 career games.

In the end…

The Caps appear to have shaken much of the early season inconsistency and, frankly, apparent disinterest off their sticks.  They have been more impressive in their last two games, building on what has been a consistently stifling defense.  Winnipeg poses an interesting test, especially in the first of the home and home games.  MTS Centre is a very difficult venue in which to play for visitors.  And Patrik Laine certainly will get the attention of players, coaches, and fans watching from Caps Nation. But there is the air of an unshakability about this club at the moment.  And it is a team deeper and more skilled than that which the Jets will ice, either in Winnipeg or in Washington.

Tuesday: Capitals 3 – Jets 1
Thursday: Capitals 4 – Jets 1

A TWO-Point Night -- Game 8: Washington Capitals 3 - Calgary Flames 1

The Washington Capitals scored early and hung on late on Sunday night to capture a 3-1 decision from the Calgary Flames at Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary. The win extended the Caps’ modest winning streak to two and ended Calgary’s three-game winning streak.

Washington opened the scoring barely two minutes into the game. Zach Sanford chased down a sliding puck deep in the Calgary zone. Out-dueling defenseman Mark Giordano for long enough to keep it alive for Jay Beagle to gather up below the Flames’ goal line. Beagle moved behind the Calgary net and feathered a soft backhand past out between the hash marks for Brett Connolly to one-timer past goalie Brian Elliott at the 2:01 mark.

Five minutes later the Caps scored again. With the Caps on a power play, a John Carlson drive went wide, rebounded off the end boards, and was redirected to the side boards by the Calgary defense. Nicklas Backstrom settled the puck and found Alex Ovechkin on the other side of the formation. Ovechkin one-timed a pass to the Flames’ net where Marcus Johansson was waiting to redirect the puck behind Elliott to make it 2-0 just 7:14 into the period.

Later in the first period the Flames halved the lead on an odd play. Nate Schmidt tried to bat the puck out of harm’s way at the Capitals’ blue line, but the clearing attempt was blocked by Matthew Tkachuk. The skating momentum of Tkachuk carried him into Schmidt at the top of the right wing circle. Schmidt was taken to the ice by Tkachuk as Mikael Backlund gathered up the loose puck. The collision between Tkachuk and Schmidt, arguably an interference penalty on Tkachuk, might have been enough of a distraction for goalie Braden Holtby to allow just enough room on the far side for a Backlund snap shot to sneak through to make it 2-1 13:44 into the period.

That would be all the scoring either team could muster through 59 minutes. Marcus Johansson got his second goal of the game into an empty net in the last minute. Jay Beagle timed a pass from Giordano to John Gaudreau just inside the Washington blue line perfectly, getting his stick on the pass to block it into the neutral zone. Beagle ran it down, and with Giordano trying to interrupt his progress down the left wing, Beagle floated a pass to the middle where Johansson was skating all alone. Johansson tapped the puck into the empty Calgary net with 24.1 seconds left to clinch the Caps’ 3-1 win.

Other stuff…

-- Brett Connolly’s goal was his first as a Capital. Zach Sanford’s secondary assist on the play was his first point in the NHL. Now, all 19 skaters dressing for the Caps this season have at least one point. Those two were the last.

-- Alex Ovechkin had a point before he had a shot attempt. He assisted on Johansson’s power play goal at 7:17 of the first period but did not record his first shot attempt until the 6:10 mark of the second period, a power play shot on goal. He finished with three shots on goal and five shot attempts.

-- The two-goal game by Johansson was his second straight, the first time in his career that he posted consecutive multi-goal games.  With two two-goal games this season he ties a career best for a season.  This is the third season in which he had two multi-goal games, the last one recorded in the 2014-2015 season.

-- Jay Beagle had a two-assist game, his first multi-point game of the year.  His last three multi-point games have come on the road, and five of his last six have come away from Verizon Center.

-- Brooks Orpik was the only Capital not to record a shot on goal.  He had two missed attempts.

-- Only the three members of the fourth line – Beagle, Connolly, and Sanford – had less even strength ice time than Ovechkin (12:46) in this game.

-- The Caps held the Flames to 22 shots on goal, the third time in eight games they allowed opponents 25 or fewer shots and the eighth straight game they denied an opponent more than 30 shots on goal.  The Caps now top the league in fewest shots on goal allowed per game (25.0).

-- This was the seventh time in eight games so far that the Caps scored the game’s first goal.  They are 5-1-1 in those games.

-- Washington held the anemic Calgary power play to one shot on goal in four minutes of two unsuccessful power plays.  The Flames are still 0-for-the-season at home on the power play (0-for-24), the only team yet to score a home power play goal.

-- Among 30 goalies with at least 250 minutes played this season, Braden Holtby lifted himself into the top ten in save percentage with his 21-for-22 effort.  He is now at .917 for the season.

In the end…

Another solid road effort.  The Caps are doing it a little differently this season, at least in the early going.  They are choking the life and spirit out of teams by denying them scoring chances and shots.  It has been just the thing as the offense tries to find some consistency.  And now, the Caps could make it a very successful road trip if they can handle the Winnipeg Jets in the first of a home-and-home set that will close the four-game road trip.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 3

Week 3 of the season was “A Tale of Two Games”…it was the worst of games, it was the best of games; it was the worst of special teams, it was the best of special teams; it was a game of Holtby, it was the game of Grubauer…you get the picture. 

Record: 1-1-0

On the one hand, it was a light schedule, what with just two games on the docket.  On the other, they were in western Canada in the most distant road trip of the young season.  Last season, when the Caps took a similar four-game road trip to the western provinces, the Caps opened with three wins.  One of them was against the Edmonton Oilers, then a precocious team with iffy defense and goaltending that the Caps beat by a 7-4 margin.  This time around, the Oilers got their four goals, but things might be turning around in the Edmonton end of the ice in their new arena, where the Caps managed but one goal.  The Caps followed up the 4-1 loss in Edmonton with what might have been their best all-around game of the season. They dominated possession, had balanced scoring, and held an opponent to two or fewer goals for the fifth time in seven games (not counting shootout goals). 

Offense:  3.00/game (season: 2.71 /game; rank: T-15th)

Scoring one goal against Edmonton was surprising in one respect, the Caps being among the most skilled and deepest offenses in the league, largely returning the league’s second-ranked scoring offense from last season.  On the other hand, the Oilers, who allowed three or more goals in their first three games of the season, allowed a total of one goal in two games leading up to their game against the Caps. They allowed only one goal to the Caps and as of the end of the week allowed just two goals over four games.

Meanwhile, the Caps unloaded on the Vancouver Canucks, scoring five goals for the first time this season, getting points from nine different skaters, and dominating the possession numbers (a 56-35 edge in shot attempts at 5-on-5).  And it came with a couple of unexpected results.  The Caps got a five-goal game without any of them off the stick of Alex Ovechkin (the first time in 11 five-goal games he did not light the lamp), and Tom Wilson – that would be second-line Tom Wilson – got his first of the season with assists from Evgeny Kuznetsov and Marcus Johansson on a snipe that was certainly no fluke.

Defense: 3.00/game (season:  2.14/game; rank: 6th)

The Caps are proving to be a rather difficult team to play against in two related respects that were on display in Week 3.  They allowed Edmonton only 29 shots on goal and Vancouver only 25 shots on goal, ending the week with six straight games holding opponents under 30 goals and not yet having allowed as many as 30 shots in regulation time this season (they allowed Pittsburgh 28 shots in regulation and two in overtime in the season opener).  The Caps and Oilers split 90 shot attempts at 5-on-5 in the 4-1 Edmonton win, but Washington held the Canucks to just 35 5-on-5 shot attempts, just 0.72 shot attempts per minute at fives.  The Caps ended the week allowing the third-fewest shot attempts per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 (48.48; numbers from

Goaltending: 3.00 /.889 (season: 1.99 / .921 / 1 SO)

The goaltending was efficient and inefficient in Week 3, but no in ways one might expect.  Braden Holtby took the loss in Edmonton, allowing four goals on 29 shots.  It was his second straight game with a save percentrage south of .900, and they are the only two times in which he allowed more than two goals.  Allowing a goal to Patrick Maroon when he lost track of the puck barely a minute after the Caps got within a goal was a tough play and a difficult position in which Holtby found himself, but it was a much the turning point in the contest as any other.

In the second game of the week, Philipp Grubauer did what a backup needs to do, provide solid minutes.  He might not have been as sharp as he was in his shutout of the Colorado Avalanche in Week 2, but he was solid against the Canucks, stopping 23 of 25 shots, including all six he faced as the Caps pulled away from a one-goal lead to start the third period to a 5-2 win.

Power Play: 1-for-5 / 20..0 percent (season: 14.3 percent; rank: 23rd)

Well, they got one.  With one power play goal in two games, the Caps avoided ending the week with the fewest power play goals in the league.  As it is, the three they have so far through seven games is tied with the four other teams just ahead of the New York Islanders with two extra man goals.  Marcus Johansson did the honors against the Canucks, joining T.J. Oshie and Alex Ovechkin as the only power play goal scorers so far this season.  It was not the prettiest of goals, coming off an Oshie shot that hit the post and dropped into the crease about 12 inches from the goal line from where Johansson could swipe it in.

You could say the Caps were victimized somewhat by bad luck.  It was not for lack of shots; they had 12 shots on goal in 8:40 of power play ice time, a healthy 1.39 shots per power play minute.  T.J. Oshie had five of those 12 shots but did not convert any of them, although his miss when hitting a post resulted in Johansson’s oower play goal.  What the Caps diod not get, shooting-wise, was a lot from Alex Ovechkin who had two power play shots against Edmonton and none against Vancouver.

Penalty Killing: 6-for-7 / 85.7 percent (season: 76.2 percent; rank: 23rd)

After allowing a power play goal to the Edmonton Oilers in the first game of the week, the Caps finally stopped the bleeding on their penalty kill, denying the Canucks a goal on any of their three man advantages.  It was the first time since Game 3 against Colorado that the Caps did not allow a power play goal (they didn’t allow a goal of any kind in that one). 

The Caps held Vancouver to three power play chances after allowing four chances to the Oilers in the first game of the week, and in that respect, avoiding shorthanded situations has been the best penalty killing tool they have.  By week’s end, the Caps held opponents to three or fewer power play chances  five times in seven games. 

It was an efficient penalty kill in denying shots. In the two games the Caps allowed just ten shots on seven power plays covering 12:43 in shorthanded ice time (0.79 shots per minute).  Perhaps the Caps are turning a corner here.

Faceoffs: 66-for-132 / 50.0 percent (season: 51.4% / rank: 7th)

Two games, one over 50 percent, on under, two players finishing the week with more than 10 draws and a winning percentage over 50 percent (Nicklas Backstrom: 53.6 percent; Jay Beagle: 52.0 percent), two players finishing the week with at least ten draws and winning less than 50 percent of them (Lars Eller: 48.0 percent; Evgeny Kuznetsov: 45.7 percent).  Little wonder that the Caps split 132 draws right down the middle (66 wins, 66 losses) for the week.  If there was a noteworthy performance, it was Justin Williams against Vancouver.  He won all six draws he took, including four in the offensive end. 

Goals by Period:

If there is something the Caps still need work on, it is that second period.  While they won the first and third periods of the week, they are still coming up short in the second period.  It was another case of allowing as many goals in the second period (three) as in the first and third periods combined.  Their minus-6 goal differential in the second periods of games is tied for the fourth-worst in the league.  Given that the Caps are tied for the best first period goal differential (plus-6) and tied for the third-best third period goal differential, it’s clear that the second period is a problem that needs to be addressed.

In the end…

If you subscribe to the idea that you are only as good as your last game, then the Caps had a good week.  Yeah well, that goes only so far.  Splitting weeks is not the game plan, road trip notwithstanding.  But look at it this way.  The Caps have gone 33 consecutive weeks without a losing week (27 winning weeks and six .500 weeks) since Week 23 of the 2014-2015 season.  That is some impressive consistency.  

Three Stars:
  1. First Star: Marcus Johansson (2-1-3, plus-2, game-winning goal, five shots on goal)
  2. Second Star: T.J. Oshie (1-1-2, plus-1, eight shots on goal, 12 shot attempts, two blocked shots)
  3. Third Star: Matt Niskanen (0-2-2, plus-2, three hits)

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 8: Capitals at Flames, October 30th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals play the second of their first set of back-to-back games this season when they head to Calgary to take on the Flames on Sunday night.  The Caps, fresh off a 5-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday night, will look to win consecutive games for the first time since winning three in a row in Games 2-4.

In the Flames, the Caps will be taking on a hot team on rest.  Calgary beat Ottawa on Friday night at home, 5-2, extending their winning streak to three games and giving them a 4-2-0 record since starting the season with three straight losses (0-2-1).

Calgary comes into this game with balanced scoring, eight players having recorded at least five points through nine games.  Johnny Gaudreau leads that group with seven points and has two straight two-point games coming into the contest with Washington.  He is establishing himself as one of the best of a new generation of goal scorers.  Only three players – teammate Sean Monahan (62), Nikita Kucherov (60), and Filip Forsberg (59) – have more goals among players 23 or younger over the last three seasons than Gaudreau (56), who is in his third NHL season.  What he has not done is score a goal against the Caps.  In four career games against Washington, he has two assists and is minus-1.

Monahan is another of those players with at least five points and is tied for the team lead in goals with four.  The sixth-overall draft pick in 2013, Monahan has three straight 20-plus goal seasons on his resume coming into 2015-2016.  Four goals in nine games suggest he is on his way to a fourth straight such season and perhaps his second 30-plus goal campaign (he had 31 in his sophomore season, in 2014-2015).  The odd part of his season so far is that he does not yet have an assist to go with his four goals.  If he isn’t doing the scoring, bad things seem to happen when he is on the ice.  In four games scoring goals, the Flames are 3-1-0, and he is a combined plus-3.  In games in which he does not have a goal, the Flames are 1-3-1, and he is a combined minus-7.  Monahan is 4-2-6, plus-2 in six career games against the Caps.

The other four-goal scorer for the Flames is Michael Frolik.  Now in his ninth NHL season, Frolik is skating with his fourth club.  A player of considerable promise (10th overall draft pick to the Florida Panthers in 2006), he has never quite measured up to that lofty selection status.  He has not had a 20-goal season since his sophomore year with Florida in 2009-2010 (21 goals).  Last season, his first in Calgary, he had 15 goals in 64 games.  After getting three goals in his first four games, he has just one in his last five contests, but that came in the Flames’ 5-2 win over Ottawa on Friday.  In 23 career games against the Caps, Frolik is 7-7-14, minus-4.

1.  Calgary has the third worst special teams index in the league (84.6, combined power play and penalty killing efficiencies), ahead of only Arizona (83.1) and Chicago (72.6).

2.  The Flames have yet to record a power play goal at home, the last team in the league without a home power play goal.  They are 0-for-22

3.  No team has allowed more power play goals at home than the Flames (9, tied with Chicago).  Just as bad, no team has been shorthanded more times so far at home than Calgary (25, tied with Pittsburgh).  The Flames are shorthanded an average of 5.0 times per game on home ice. The Flames have a healthy lead on the rest of the league in minor penalties taken (49, five more than second-most Anaheim).

4.  First periods have been good to Calgary – they are tied for third in first period goals scored (9).  Third periods have been less kind – the Flames are tied for second in most third period goals allowed (12).

5.  Only two teams have been charged with more giveaways than the Flames (95) – San Jose (110) and Montreal (105).

1.  The Caps have yet to be out-shot by an opponent this season.  Seven games, seven times outshooting their opponents.  Three times they out-shot their opponent by at least ten shots.

2.  The Caps have allowed the first goal in a game just once, the fewest times allowing the game’s first goal in the league. That came in the Caps’ 4-1 loss to Edmonton last Wednesday.

3.  The Caps have only three players with five or more points, compared to the eight that the Flames have, but 17 of the 19 skaters to dress so far this season have at least one point.  Brett Connolly and Zach Sanford are looking for their first marks on the score sheet.

4.  The Caps have just four players in “minus” territory, but some of them are names you don’t expect (or like to see) there – Nicklas Backstrom (minus-1), Dmitry Orlov (minus-1), and Andre Burakovsky (minus-2).  Sanford is the other (minus-1).

5.  The Caps are second in the league in 5-on-5 possession (54.65 percent), trailing only the Los Angeles Kings ((57.02 percent Corsi-for; numbers from  They are fourth in league in road Corsi-for (55.21 percent).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Calgary: Brian Elliott/Chad Johnson

Goaltending has been consistent for the Flames so far, but not in quite the way they would like.  Brian Elliott, the number one netminder, and Chad Johnson have similar numbers. Elliott has a goals against average of 3.15, Johnson is at 2.89.  Elliott has a save percentage of .893, Johnson is at .901.  Their even-strength save percentages are decent (Elliott: .924, Johnson: .915), but their save percentage when a man short are not (Elliott: .778, Johnson: .824).   It is not surprising that the Flames have the 25th-ranked team shooting percentage against in the league (11.4 percent) and the 24th ranked scoring defense (3.44 goals against per game). Elliott is 6-3-0, 3.36, .883 in 11 career games against the Caps, while Johnson is 2-2-1, 2.58, .920 in five career appearances against the Caps.

Washington: Braden Holtby

Braden Holtby appears likely to get the call in goal for the Caps against Calgary after giving way to Philipp Grubauer in Vancouver on Saturday night.  Holtby will have three full days of rest since his last appearance, the 4-1 loss to Edmonton last Wednesday.  Last year was one of consistency for Holtby in terms of his performance on a days-rested basis.  He was 3-0-0, 2.28, .934 when playing the second night in a row; 28-4-4, 2.30, .921 with two shutouts when playing with one day’s rest; 8-3-1, 1.89, .923, with one shutout on two days’ rest; and he was 8-2-2, 2.14, .923 when playing, as he would tonight, with three or more days’ rest.  What he has not been, though, is successful against the Flames. He is 2-1-1, 3.66, .852 in five career games against the Flames.  At least he finished his last three games against Calgary; he was relieved in the first period of each of his first two career appearances against the Flames.  In his last three appearances against Calgary he has been more the beneficiary of shot suppression.  The Caps held the Flames to 20 or fewer shots in each of those games.  Holtby’s save percentage in those games is just .889, although he has two wins and an overtime loss in them.

In the end…

The Caps played well last night against Vancouver.  They were even dominating at times, especially in pinning the Canucks in their end of the ice.  The chore now is to put two such games together.  It has not been a problem of defense, nor has it even been one of the way the offense has played, necessarily. It has been a matter of results, converting opportunities at even strength and the power play.  That is what the Caps got last night in a balanced scoring effort.  So…two in a row?  Two in a row.

Capitals 5 – Flames 2

A TWO-Point Night -- Game 7: Washington Capitals 5 - Vancouver Canucks 2

It might have been a bit too long coming for Capitals fans, but the Caps shook off the rust that was clogging their offensive game and won a 5-2 decision over the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday night.  It was the first time in seven games that the Caps recorded more than four goals in a game and just the second time they recorded more than three goals.

The offense for the Caps did not come early, but when it arrived it did so in waves. Late in the first period, Brendan Gaunce tried to backhand the puck off the side boards and out of the Vancouver zone, but managed only to get as far as Matt Niskanen at the blue line.  Niskanen sent a shot at the Canuck net, just as Marcus Johansson was crossing in front in the low slot. Johansson got enough of the puck as it was sailing by to redirect it past goalie Jacob Markstrom, and it was 1-0 for the Caps at the 17:17 mark.

Fifteen seconds later, the Caps had a 2-0 lead. From behind his net, Markstrom tried to send the puck around the boards and out of danger, but Karl Alzner pinched down the wall and sent the puck back the way it came.  Johansson got to the puck and fed Evgeny Kuznetsov behind the cage.  Kuznetsov sent the puck out into the high slot where Tom Wilson was filling in.  His shot snuck under a leaping Alzner and past Markstrom at the 17:33 mark.

It might have made for a great end to the first period, but Vancouver halved the lead with just 5.6 seconds left when Jannik Hansen was left all alone to the right of goalie Philipp Grubauer, in the right position to snap home a rebound of an Eric Gudbranson shot to close the first period scoring.

Washington restored their two-goal lead mid-way through the second period on a power play.  Nicklas Backstrom patiently surveyed the Canuck defensive layout from the right wing wall, selecting T.J. Oshie for a shot from between the hash marks. Oshie’s drive hit the post to Markstrom’s right and caromed behind him to the other side of the net.  Johansson batted home the loose puck before Markstrom could recover, and it was 3-1 8:58 into the period. 

Vancouver got back within a goal late in the period, a case of just one too many Canucks getting to loose pucks in close.  A shot by Jake Virtanen was stopped by Grubauer, but the puck popped out to Sven Baertschi to Grubauer’s left.  His shot caromed behind Grubauer to Bo Horvat on the other side of the net, and Horvat had a lay up to make it 3-2 with just 2:43 left in the period.

Washington nursed the one-goal lead for 17 minutes of the third period; then they put the game away.  Nate Schmidt fed the puck from his blue line up to Andre Burakovsky sailing down the right wing.  Gaining the Vancouver zone, Burakovsky fed the puck to T.J. Oshie skating down the middle.  Oshie unloaded a howitzer that beat Markstrom cleanly over his blocker, and it was 4-2 with just 2:27 left in the game. 

Karl Alzner closed the scoring when he collected a loose puck in the corner to the left of Grubauer and fired the puck off the boards and down the ice, a shot that took six full seconds from Alzner’s stick to the back of the empty Canuck net (we timed it).  And with that, the two-game losing streak was history, Caps beating the Canucks, 5-2.

Other stuff…

-- Goals by Tom Wilson and Karl Alzner were their first goals of the season, respectively.

-- T.J. Oshie’s “assist” on Marcus Johansson’s power play goal, coming off a shot attempt that hit the post and caromed to Johansson, was Oshie’s first assist of the season.

-- The Caps killed all three Vancouver power plays, breaking a three-game streak in which the Caps allowed a power play goal.  It was the second time in seven games the Caps shut out the opponent’s power play.

-- Every Capital had at least one shot on goal except Dmitry Orlov and Zach Sanford.

-- The Caps were 14-for-23 on offensive zone faceoffs (60.9 percent), offsetting a 12-for-25 effort in the defensive zone (48.0 percent).

-- Evgeny Kuznetsov had an assist, making it four games in five that he recorded a point.  He also was on the good side of 50 percent on draws (7-for-13/53.8 percent), which has not been a regular feature of his game this year.

-- This was the sixth straight game in which the Caps allowed fewer than 30 shots on goal.  They have yet to allow more than 30 in a game this season, having allowed 30 shots to Pittsburgh in the season opener against the Penguins.

-- Alex Ovechkin did not record a point, the first time he failed to record a point in a game in which the Caps scored five or more goals since he was blanked in a 5-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on November 12, 2015.  He had at least a point in ten straight games in which the Caps scored five or more goals until last night.

-- Andre Burakovsky had a bit of an odd game.  He had an assist, three shots on goal, five shot attempts.  He did not have another mark on his score sheet.  No hits, no blocked shots, no takeaways, no giveaways, no faceoffs taken.

-- The Caps had an overwhelming possession edge, outshooting Vancouver, 31-20 at 5-on-5, and out-attempting them 56-35 (61.5 percent Corsi-for; numbers from

In the end…

Good game, good timing.  This is more what Caps fans expect, but it is hard to perform at this level consistently, especially on the road.  But the Caps got a lot of contributions from a lot of different sources.   Four different players had goals (none named “Ovechkin), and nine of the 18 skaters had points, including three of the six defensemen (Karl Alzner, Matt Niskanen, and Nate Schmidt).  It was a nice result to serve as just the lead-in for the next game, Sunday night against Calgary.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 7: Capitals at Canucks, October 29th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals will take the ice in the second of a four-game road trip through western Canada when they visit Vancouver on Saturday night to face the Canucks.  The Caps will be looking to start a winning streak after losing consecutive games to the New York Rangers and Edmonton Oilers, while the Canucks will be trying to end a three-game losing streak (0-2-1) after starting the season with four wins.

Vancouver has not been an especially hospitable place for the Caps.  Their 3-2 win over the Canucks last October was their first since they skated off with a 4-3 overtime win in February 2001, breaking a six-game losing streak in British Columbia (0-5-1).

Through seven games, the Canucks have not been an especially dominating offensive team.  In fact, they are anemic in that regard.  They scored more than three goals just once, and that was in an overtime win (4-3 over Carolina on October 16th) and average just 2.00 goals per game, last in the league.  The difference in their four-game winning streak to start the season and the three-game losing streak they bring into this game is in allowing goals.  The Canucks allowed just six goals in their four wins, but they allowed ten in their three losses.

Vancouver’s offense, such as it is, comes from the usual suspects – the Sedin brothers, Daniel and Henrik.  Now 36 years of age, the twins show little evidence of slowing down.  Daniel, the left winger of the pair, recorded 28 goals last season, the most he had since he finished with 30 in 2011-2012.  In fact, since he had 12 goals in the season that followed, the abbreviated 2012-2013 season, his goals have increased with each year (from 12 to 16 to 20 to 28 last year).  He is in a bit of a rut, coming into this contest having posted consecutive games without a point for the first time this season.  Daniel is 7-6-13, plus-3 in 16 career games against the Caps.

Brother Henrik, the center of the duo, is tied for the team lead in goals (3, with Bo Horvat) and points (5, with Brandon Sutter).  His numbers, unlike those of brother Daniel, did dip a bit last season.  His games played in 2015-2016 dropped from 82 in 2014-2015 to 74, his goals dropped from 18 to 11, and his total points slid from 73 to 55.  His 44 assists in 74 games was the second lowest on a per game basis (0.59/game) since the 2004-2005 lockout (0.56 in 2013-2014).  Going into Friday’s game against the Edmonton Oilers, his minus-4 is second worst on the team (Phillip Larsen is minus-5).  That is a particularly odd situation for Henrik to find himself in, since he has not finished a season in minus territory since he was minus-2 in his rookie season in 2000-2001.  But, it’s early.  He is 3-11-14, plus-3 in 17 career games against Washington.

To the extent the Canucks have had their troubles, it has not been a product of goaltending.  The only difference between the performances of Ryan Miller and Jacob Markstrom thus far has been the scoring support in front of them.  Their goals against averages are almost identical (Markstrom: 1.95; Miller: 1.97), as are their save percentages (Markstrom: .923; Miller: .933), the difference between them being one goal Markstrom allowed that, had he stopped it, would leave him with the same save percentage as Miller.  Perhaps that goal was the game-tying goal he allowed to the Los Angeles Kings in his last time out that led to the only blemish on his record, a Gimmick loss that left him 3-0-1.  On the other hand, Miller is just 1-2-0, but he’s had just three goals of offensive support in three games.  His lone win came in the trick shot competition, a 2-1 win over the Calgary Flames in the season opener.  Markstrom is 0-3-0, 3.97, .875 in three career appearances against the Caps, while Miller is 17-14-0, 2.54, .916, with three shutouts in 32 appearances against Washington.

1.  Goals in general are hard to come by in games involving the Canucks.  So far, only the New Jersey Devils (4.17 total goals) feature fewer total goals by both teams per game than the 4.29 in Canuck games.

2.  Vancouver is last in the league in shots on goal (24.9), leaving little in the way of surprise as to why they are last in scoring offense.

3.  The Canucks are 28th in the league in home power play efficiency (6.3 percent on 1-for-16).  One of the teams below them (Carolina) has not yet played a home game.

4.  Vancouver replaced the Caps as the least penalized team in the league.  They have taken only 20 penalties thus far (tied with Columbus for fewest), only 19 minor penalties (tied with Columbus and the Caps), and their 6:08 in penalty minutes per game is lowest in the league.

5.  All of Vancouver’s wins so far are of the one-goal variety (tied for most one-goal wins in the league).  They have not yet won a multi-goal decision (0-2-1).

1.  The Caps are coming into this game looking to avoid losing three straight games in regulation time since Games 61-63 of the 2014-2015 season (to Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Carolina).

2.  Alex Ovechkin is on a four-game goal streak. The last one of those he had was in Games 49-52 last season (against Philadelphia, Nashville, Minnesota (a hat trick), and Dallas).  The last time he had a longer streak was in the five games to start last season.  Coincidentally, the fifth game in that five-game streak to open last season came against the Canucks in Vancouver.

3.  Washington is second in the league in shots on goal (33.5).  They are also last in the league in shooting percentage (7.0).

4.  The Caps have scored first in five of six games so far, but they have just three wins in those games (tied for 13th in winning percentage…don’t make a lot of that at this point of the season).

5.  If he gets the call on Saturday, it will be Braden Holtby’s 250th game in the NHL.  He would join Don Beaupre (269) and Olaf Kolzig (711) as the only goalies to reach the 250 game mark in club history.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Vancouver: Brandon Sutter

Last season was something of a lost year for center Brandon Sutter. After being traded by the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Vancouver Canucks along with a third-round draft pick for Nick Bonino, Adam Clendening, and a second-round draft pick, he played in just 20 games for the Canucks last season, losing 33 games to a hernia and the last 29 to a broken jaw from a puck to the face barely a week after he returned from his hernia injury.  He finished the season 5-4-9 in 20 games, about the same scoring pace he had in his last season in Pittsburgh in which he tied his career high in goals (21) and recorded more than 30 points (33) for the first time in three seasons.  He has started quickly, points-wise (five points, tied for the team lead), even if his goals are few (one so far).  He comes into this game with his first consecutive games of the year without a point and his first two “minus” games.  Sutter is 3-6-9, plus-5, in 32 career games against the Caps.

Washington: Daniel Winnik

Fourth liners scoring goals is unusual.  Fourth liners having a multi-goal game is shocking.  Such was the case for Daniel Winnik when he recorded both of the Caps’ goals, including the game-winner, in a 2-1 win over the New York Islanders on October 15th.  However shocking that might be, it is usually the fans who are shocked.  In this instance, Winnik appears to have sustained something of an after-shock.  In four games since his outburst, he does not have a goal, he does not have a point, and his has just one shot on goal.  On the other hand, the lack of scoring hasn’t been accompanied by being a liability in the defensive end.  Winnik is “even” in each of his last four games, and he remains a positive Corsi player at 5-on-5 (51.35 percent; numbers from  Players can contribute in many ways.  He is 6-7-13, plus-10, in 30 career games against the Canucks.

In the end…

Six games is 7.3 percent of an NHL season.  In that respect, losing a couple of games in a row is no reason for panic.  And, as if it means much just 7.3 percent of the way through the season, the Caps are still a wild-card team.  But this is an interesting stretch of games coming up for the Caps, staring in Vancouver.  The Canucks have lost three in a row (pending their game against Edmonton on Friday night), Calgary is 3-4-1, Winnipeg (with whom the Caps have a home-and-home coming up) are 3-4-0, and Florida is 3-3-1.  These are all winnable games, but the Caps need to improve on both sides of special teams and generally give their goalies more support than they have thus far received.  It’s only “early” for so long.

Capitals 4 – Canucks 2

Thursday, October 27, 2016

A NO-Point Night -- Game 6: Edmonton Oilers 4 - Washington Capitals 1

The Washington Capitals got off on the wrong foot in the first of their four-game western Canada trip, dropping a 4-1 decision to the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday night. The Caps held phenom Connor McDavid without a goal, but they could not keep the secondary scorers off the score sheet, and their offensive struggles in the early season continued.

After a scoreless first period, the Oilers got a pair of goals from the well-traveled Benoit Pouliot in the second period. The first came in the eighth minute of the period when he and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins pressed the Caps back into their own end. As Nugent-Hopkins carried the puck into the Caps’ zone on a 2-on-2 rush, Pouliot drove down the middle to the net. It put him in perfect position to redirect a shot past goalie Braden Holtby to give the Oilers the lead.

Late in the period, Pouliot struck again. Holtby stopped a Nugent-Hopkins shot, but left the rebound to his right. Pouliot swept in an backhanded the puck off the end boards to himself. Then, from below the goal line he swatted the puck off Holtby’s leg and banked it into the net to make it 2-0 going into the second intermission.

The Caps halved the lead off the opening faceoff of the third period. Andre Burakovsky gathered up the loose puck in the neutral zone and skated into the Edmonton end. He turned and sent the puck back to Matt Niskanen at the right point, and from there Niskanen sent it to the Oiler net. Goalie Cam Talbot made the initial stop, but Alex Ovechkin was standing at the top of the crease to put back the rebound, and it was 2-1 just nine seconds into the period.

That was as close as the Caps got. Patrick Maroon restored the two-goal lead barely a minute after the Ovechkin goal, converting a rebound off a 3-on-2 rush. Milan Lucic ended the scoring on a power play, deflecting an Andrej Sekera drive from the top of the crease at the 9:57 mark to make it 4-1, Oilers, and send the Edmonton fans home in a happy mood.

Other stuff…

-- Until last night, the Caps went 100 straight games without losing consecutive regular season games in regulation time, including the entire 2015-2016 season.  The Caps have now lost consecutive games in regulation to the Oilers and to the New York Rangers.

--  Game 6 makes five times in six outings that the Caps allowed a power play goal.  It might be a signal of how bad things are that the Caps allowed a power play goal on four Oiler power play opportunities, and the Caps improved their penalty killing efficiency (from 71.4 to 72.2 percent).

-- The power play went 0-for-3, the fifth time in six games that the Caps failed to turn on the red light with a man advantage.  They are now 28th in the league on the power play (10.5 percent).

-- The power play did not lack for shots.  They had nine shots on goal in six minutes of power play ice time.  It says something that T.J. Oshie had four of them.  What that something is, we are not quite sure.

-- Karl Alzner, Lars Eller, and Johno Carlson led the Caps in even strength shots on goal (three apiece). The top two forward lines had a total of six even strength shots on goal.

-- The second period continues to be a concern.  Washington allowed two goals in the middle frame last night, bringing their season total of second period goals allowed to eight.  They have allowed only five goals combined in the first and third periods, and overtime.  They have been outscored in the second periods of games, 8-2.

-- Brooks Orpik and Daniel Winnik were the only Caps not to record a shot attempt. 

-- Since recording a pair of goals against the New York Islanders, Winnik has just one shot on goal in four games.

-- Evgeny Kuznetsov is still struggling to get to the 40 percent line in faceoff winning percentage.  He was 9-for-22 last night (40.9 percent), leaving him at 39.4 percent for the season, 127th of 139 players having taken at least 25 draws.

-- Braden Holtby allowed his first third period goal of the season last night, then allowed another one.  The Caps have still allowed the fewest third period goals this season (3).  They are also tied for having allowed the fewest first period goals (2, with three other teams).

In the end…

You get the feeling that the Caps just are not taking things seriously yet.  They have stretches of decent play, but the goals Edmonton scored last night largely reflected a more hungry attitude than the Caps displayed.  And there are aspects of performance that have gone from being odd to annoying to a concern – both sides of special teams and their ability to hold teams in the second periods of games.  They are getting a fine and consistent effort from Alex Ovechkin (goals in four straight games), but the rest of the team’s offense is a step or two too slow.  The road is a chance to work things out, and the Caps have three more games to shake the rust off, or they could find themselves looking up at more than the three teams now ahead of them in the Metropolitan Division standings.  And even if it is “early,” it can get late pretty quick if there are a lot of teams to climb over in the standings.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 6: Capitals at Oilers, October 26th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals embark on their first extended road trip of the young season this week, starting their journey with a stop in Edmonton on Wednesday night to take on the Oilers.  An early season meeting against the Oilers has become an early season staple of the Capitals schedule, and this is the fourth time the Caps will meet the Oilers in October in five years (the only interruption being the abbreviated 2012-2013 season).  Washington and Edmonton have alternated victories in that four-game stretch, the Caps winning the last meeting of the clubs in Edmonton by a 7-4 margin last season.

The Oilers that the Caps will face this time around have to qualify as one of the big early season surprises.  Entering this contest on a three-game winning streak, Edmonton has a 5-1-0 record that is best in the Western Conference and is second in the league only to the Montreal Canadiens (5-0-1).  What sets this team apart from recent, disappointing versions of the Oilers is that this version is adding defense and goaltending to a prolific offense.  Last year’s 27th-ranked scoring defense is currently ranked ninth in that category.  The improvement in their scoring defense, married to a deadly offense (tied for first in goals per game) has the Oilers second in the league in scoring differential (plus-1.16 goals per game).

The Oilers have seven players with at least two goals so far, a group led by Connor McDavid.  Coming off an injury-shortened rookie season that still left him fourth among rookies in points and third in assists, McDavid was named the youngest team captain in NHL history this season, at 19 years and 266 days old when named, 20 days younger than Colorado’s Gabriel Landeskog when he was named the Avs’ captain in 2012.  Going into Tuesday’s games, McDavid was tied for the league lead in multi-point games (three), and he is the only player in the league with two three-point games.  The odd part about his scoring profile is that he recorded all four goals and five assists he has so far in four games against Western Conference teams.  He is looking for his first points against an Eastern Conference team, having been blanked by Buffalo and Carolina.  He has faced the Caps just once so far in his career, going 1-1-2, minus-2, in the Oilers’ 7-4 loss to the Caps last October.

At the other end of the age scale among the multi-goal scorers for the Oilers is Mark Letestu (31).  His goal scoring has an odd aspect to it as well.  Both of his tallies came on the road, in Calgary in a 5-3 win and in Winnipeg in a 3-0 win last Sunday.  Letestu has carved out a solid career as primarily a checking line forward that can chip in occasional offense.  He has had at least ten goals in five of his six full seasons in the league coming into this season, missing out when he sat out 28 games of the 2014-2015 season with a groin injury and finishing with seven goals.  Now in his second year in Edmonton, the Oilers are his third NHL team, having played for Pittsburgh and Columbus.

Edmonton’s offense is certainly weighted on the forward side of the roster.  Only one defenseman has a goal this season.  That one came off the stick of Darnell Nurse in the Oilers’ last game, a 3-0 win over Winnipeg.  Nurse, who was the seventh overall pick in the 2013 entry draft, is the youngest defenseman to dress for the Oilers so far this season (he will turn 22 in February).  Only 13 of the 214 defensemen to dress so far this season are younger than Nurse.  Last season was his first full season with the Oilers, and he finished with three goals and ten points in 69 games.  He is also a middle-of-the-pack defenseman on a team with poor possession numbers among their blueliners (47.20 Corsi-for at 5-on-5).    He is without a point and even in plus-minus in his only appearance against the Caps.

1.  Speaking of poor possession numbers, no defenseman for Edmonton is at 50 percent or better in Corsi-for at fives.  Oscar Klefbom is tops at 49.11 percent (numbers from

2.  Twelve of 21 skaters to dress for Edmonton so far this season are 25 or younger.

3.  The Oilers lead the league in overall shooting percentage (13.3 percent).  It’s a good thing, too, because they have the fifth-worst shots per game differential in the league (minus-4.4).

4.  Only Calgary (53:39) and Anaheim (47:57) have spent more time (through Monday’s games) killing penalties this year that the Oilers (40:50).  The power play/penalty killing time differential is sixth worst in the league (minus-9:10).  Only four teams have taken more minor penalties than Edmonton (28).

5.  Edmonton is 24th in team Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (47.07 percent).  This is part of an odd early-season scenario in which four of the top seven teams in the league standings (Montreal, Vancouver, Detroit, and the Oilers) are among the bottom 11 in Corsi-for (numbers from

1.  No Capitals defenseman has recorded a goal so far this season.  As a group, they are shooting 0-for-49.  However, all six of them have points.  But, only one of them (Dmitry Orlov) has a power play point.

2.  Washington is the least penalized team in the league, fewest overall (17) and fewest minor penalties (14).  However, the fact that they have two fighting majors on their record means that they are fifth-lowest in penalty minutes per game (8:00).

3.  Only Columbus (39:02) has spent less ice time on special teams (power play time plus penalty kill time) than the Caps, who are tied for second least (49:31).

4.  No team in the league has taken fewer faceoffs per game than the Caps.  They are tied with Carolina, taking 57.2 faceoffs per game (Carolina’s winning percentage is better, 56.3 percent to the Caps’ 52.1 percent).

5.  Washington has allowed the fewest shot attempts per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 so far this season (47.38; numbers from Corsica.Hockey).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Edmonton: Milan Lucic

On a team with 12 skaters age 25 or younger, Milan Lucic is almost a graybeard at the age of 28. After spending his first eight NHL seasons with the Boston Bruins, Lucic was traded to the Los Angeles Kings in June 2015 and signed with Edmonton as a free agent this past summer.  Lucic has been a player with an interesting mix of offensive skill (six straight seasons coming into this one averaging at least half a point per game) and a physical edge (more than 200 hits in four of his last five seasons, interrupted only by the abbreviated 2012-2013 season).  He is getting a lot of work with his new team, currently posting the highest average ice time of his career (18:25) and second among forwards only to Connor McDavid (21:07).  On a team with considerable skill among its forwards, Lucic’ contributions in that area make the Oilers a much more formidable team.  He is 6-14-20, minus-3, in 29 career games against the Capitals.

Washington: John Carlson

John Carlson leads the Capitals in ice time per game (23:57) and is second among skaters in shots on goal (17 to Alex Ovechkin’s 21).  But all he has to show for that in the offensive end to date is one point, an assist in the Caps’ 2-1 win over the New York Islanders in the home opener.  Only Los Angeles’ Jake Muzzin has fewer points (none) with more ice time per game (24:10).  Carlson ranks fifth in shots on goal by league defensemen, but his 17 shots on goal without a tally is the most shots on goal for a defensemen without a goal in the league.  He is keeping some good company in that regard, though.  Through Monday’s games, Kevin Bieksa was 0-for-16, Kris Letang was 0-for-16, Duncan Keith was 0-for-16.  With Carlson, that would be a pretty good top-four.  But the Caps need to get more out of their blueline than what they have so far (no goals among the six defensemen to dress).  And it starts with Carlson.  He is 1-5-6, plus-11, in 22 career games against Edmonton.

In the end…

These aren’t your father's Oilers.  Well, not your older brother’s Oilers.  At the moment they do look a little like your father’s Oilers with Connor McDavid doing a passable version of Wayne Gretzky, Jordan Eberle doing a decent job of being Jari Kurri, and…well, there is no current version of Paul Coffey.  The point being that this team, at least in the early going, has made life difficult for goalies, and unlike recent editions of the club appear to have an ability to keep pucks out of their own net.  It remains to be seen if this is merely an early-season blip, or if it is a hint of things to come with this team.  For purposes of this game it hardly matters.  If the Caps get caught up in a track meet with the Oilers, the start of the western Canada trip is likely to get off to a bad start.  It will be important for the Caps to impose their will on the Oilers’ skill.  Break out those t-shirts.

Capitals 3 – Oilers 2

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 2

The Washington Capitals dropped the puck on their 2016-2017 season this week, and it was something of a mixed bag.  A win and a loss, some fine 5-on-5 play, less than fine play from special teams, performances you expect from some players, and performances from some players Caps fans will hope improves before too long. 

Record: 2-1-0

The Caps opened Week 2 with a pair of wins, putting them in a position to end the week with their best five-game start since opening the 2011-2012 season with seven wins.  The New York Rangers put an end to that thinking with a 4-2 win over Washington to end the week.  It did not keep the Caps from ending the week on top of the Metropolitan Division, a rather clogged division at the moment with three points separating the top spot (Washington with 7) and eighth place (Carolina with four).  When the Caps lost their last game of the week, they became the 28th team to lose their first game in regulation time.  Only the Vancouver Canucks and Montreal Canadiens (both with 4-0-1 records) remain as clubs yet to lose their first game in regulation time.

Offense:  3.00/game (season: 2.60 /game; rank: T-24th)

It was the top line’s week to shine, accounting for six of the nine goals scored by the Caps for the week.  Alex Ovechkin put aside the donut he had in Week 1 and scored in each of the week’s three contests.  T.J. Oshie had a pair in the Caps’ 3-0 win over the Colorado Avalanche to open the week, and Evgeny Kuznetsov scored one in the Caps’ 4-2 win over the Florida Panthers in the middle game of the week.  Justin Williams cracked the seal on his season with a goal to open the Caps’ win over Florida, and Lars Eller did the same in opening the scoring in the 4-2 loss to the Rangers.  Marcus Johansson had a goal and two assists to tie Kuznetsov for second on the team in points for the week.  It was a week that might have been better had the Caps not gone dry after taking a 2-0 lead on the Rangers in the game to end the week.

Defense: 2.00/game (season:  1.80/game; rank: T-2nd)

When Week 2 ended, only two teams in the league had not allowed more than 30 shots on goal in a game – the Florida Panthers (who have yet to allow as many as 30) and the Caps (who allowed 30 only in an overtime game against the Penguins).  The Caps held three opponents in Week 2 to an average of 27.3 shots per game, only 18 of them to the Colorado Avalanche in a 3-0 win. It left the Caps with the second-fewest shots allowed per game in the league (24.8; the New York Rangers have allowed 24.6).

From a shot attempts perspective it was a good week.  At 5-on-5 the Caps out attempted their opponents by a 127-108 margin, a Corsi-for of 54.04 percent (numbers from  That went a long way to explaining the Caps shots on goal advantage at fives (78-55/58.65 percent) and their 5-on-5 goal differential (plus-4).

Goaltending: 1.68 /.930 / 1 SO (season: 1.58 / .935 / 1 SO)

Few Capitals fans would have bet it would be Philipp Grubauer would be the first Capital goalie to get a shutout this season, but he did, against the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday (he beat Semyon Varlamov, who happens to be the only goalie in the Western Conference with a shutout through two weeks).  Grubauer faced just 18 shots in the shutout, the fewest a Capital goaltender faced in a shutout since Varlamov faced 17 with the Caps in a 6-0 win over Tampa Bay on November 26, 2010.

Braden Holtby got the other two starts of the week, and in five of the six periods he played, he was very good.  That second period against the Rangers to close the week, though. Three goals on five shots faced.  It certainly was not all his fault.  As is often the case, defensive breakdowns contributed, at least on two of the goals (the shot through a screen by Brandon Pirri to start the scoring for the Rangers was a goal that is not unusual).  As it was, he finished the week with a .906 save percentage, not usually what Caps fans see from Holtby.

Power Play: 2-for-8 / 25..0 percent (season:  percent; rank: T-21st)

It looked as if the Caps’ power play shook off the early season rust in the first game of the week, scoring two power play goals in three chances to open the game against Colorado on Tuesday.  It would be all they would get, though.  The Caps went 0-for-5 to close the week.  Overall they shot 2-for-14 on their eight power plays in 12:54 of power play time.  They overpowered the Avalanche with 11 shots in just 6:54 of power play time, and they were barren against the Rangers, managing only one shot on goal in 4:00.  It might be worth noting at this point that Alex Ovechkin, the first shooting option on the power play, had just two shots on goal for the week, both against the Avalanche (one goal).  Teams seem to be forcing the set-up guys with pressure, making them give up the puck earlier than they might want to in trying to set up plays for Ovechkin. 

Penalty Killing: 8-for-10 / 80.0 percent (season:  percent; rank: T-26th)

The Caps managed something they failed to do in Week 1, hold a team without a power play goal.  But they only did it once in three games in Week 2.  Colorado was the victim, failing on three chances to find the back of the Washington net.  Florida got one in the 4-2 loss to the Caps, and the Rangers got one in their 4-2 win over Washington.  All in all, the Caps did kill eight of ten shorthanded situations.  It was not as if teams riddled the Caps with shots.  The three opponents managed just 12 shots on goal in 16:59 in ice time.  There was an odd juxtaposition in the power play goals allowed for the week.  The first of them was scored by Jaromir Jagr, a veteran in his 23rd season with more than 1,800 regular season and playoff games in the NHL.  The other was scored by Jimmy Vesey, a rookie born two and a half years after Jagr played his first game in the league who was playing in his fifth NHL game.

Faceoffs: 81-for-161 / 50.3 percent (season: 52.1% / rank: 8th)

It was the good, the bad, and the “meh” in the fsaceoff circle for Week 2.  The good was the Caps winning 59 percent of their offensive zone draws for the week.  Nicklas Backstrom had a great week in the offensive end, going 14-for-20 in the offensive end.  Lars Eller was 6-for-9.  The defensive end was a different story.  The Caps were just 39.1 percent in their own end, Jay Beagle and Backstrom the only players taking more than five draws to win 50 percent of their draws.  Eller had a difficult week in the defensive end, going 4-for-13 (30.8 percent).  In the neutral zone, the Caps went 27-for-54 to complete the “meh” portion of the week.  The concern here overall is the performance of the top line center, Evgeny Kuznetsov.  He was 14-for-39 for the week and is just 38.9 percent through five games.  Of 130 players having taken at least 25 draws so far, Kuznetsov ranks 118th in winning percentage.

Goals by Period:

The second period kept the Caps from a perfect week.  Three goals in 12 minutes did the Caps in against the Rangers in the 4-2 loss to close the week.  Washington allowed four second period goals for the week, pushing their total to six for the season and putting them in the top ten of most goals allowed in the middle frame (tied for 10th with San Jose and St. Louis).  Those six goals allowed in the second period are twice as many as the Caps allowed in the other two periods and overtime combined through five games.

In the end…

A 2-1-0 record in week two is hardly a poor outcome, but that second period against the Rangers is probably going to be the takeaway for the week.  The problem was summed up nicely by captain Alex Ovechkin after the game: “We scored first two goals, and I think we felt like it’s going to be over.”   You would think guys with as many games in hockey as those who play for the Caps would, in just the fifth game of the season, not succumb to such perils, but yet it happens, and not just to the Caps.  Still, it was the wrong way to end the early eastern portion of the season as the Caps get ready to head to western Canada for a four-game tour.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Alex Ovechkin (3-1-4, plus-3, 13 shots, 20 shot attempts, nine hits)
  • Second Star: Philipp Grubauer (1-0-0, 0.00, 1.000, 18-save shutout)
  • Third Star: Evgeny Kuznetsov (1-2-3, plus-3, nine shots, 15 shot attempts)