The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
After splitting their first two games of the season against Metropolitan Division foes, the Washington Capitals host their first non-division opponent of the season when the Colorado Avalanche visit Verizon Center on Tuesday. The Avs will come to town having played the night before in Pittsburgh against the Penguins after taking a wild 6-5 win over the Dallas Stars in Colorado’s home opener on Saturday night.
The Caps, with their 1-0-1 record, have just four goals scored in two games to date, two players – Andre Burakovsky in the opener in Pittsburgh and Daniel Winnik in the home opener against the New York Islanders – each with two-goal games.
In their season opener, the Avalanche were led by center Joe Colborne, who recorded his first career hat trick, two of his goals coming on power plays seven minutes apart in the first period, and the other giving the Avs a three goal lead in the second period before they hung on for dear life at the end against the Stars. Colborne is a former 16th overall draft pick of the Boston Bruins (2008 draft). At the time, then Bruin General Manager Peter Chiarelli said of him, "This kid can really fire the puck…He's a good skater…very smart, with offensive acumen. He's a big, strong focused kid." Less than three years later, though, he was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs with a 2011 first and a 2012 second round draft pick for defenseman Tomas Kaberle, never having played a game for the Bruins. He barely made a ripple with the Maple Leafs, appearing in just 16 games over three seasons with one goal and five assists. He was traded to the Calgary Flames just before the start of the 2013-2014 season to his hometown Calgary Flames for a fourth round draft pick. He made more of an impression in Calgary, posting 37 goals and 100 points in 217 games over three seasons. However, after the 2015-2016 season, he was not tendered a qualifying offer by the Flames and signed with the Avalanche on the first day of the unrestricted free agent signing period last July. Colborne is 0-2-2, even, in five career games against the Caps.
There is a Capitals connection to Colborne, going back to the trade between the Bruins and the Maple Leafs in 2011. The second round pick traded with Colborne to the Maple Leafs ended up taking a trip of its own. Let’s follow along. This pick was a conditional pick to start with, the condition being that the Bruins reach the Stanley Cup finals in 2011. They did, and the condition was exercised. Toronto took the pick and traded it to Colorado for John-Michael Liles in June 2011. A year later, Colorado sent this pick and their first round pick to the Caps for goalie Semyon Varlamov. A week later, the Caps sent this pick and Cody Eakin to the Dallas Stars for center Mike Ribeiro. What became of the pick? The Stars took Mike Winther, who played for four different teams in Canadian juniors and last year played for the University of Calgary. Such is the life of an NHL draft pick.
Back to the game at hand. The Avs had two other players in their opener against the Stars score goals on their only shots of the game. Nathan MacKinnon was one of those players. MacKinnon, now in his fourth NHL season, has not quite yet fulfilled the potential that a number one overall draft pick (2013 draft) might have been expected to have. He’s been good – 60 goals and 155 points in 219 career games – but he has been outnumbered, so to speak, but the sixth-overall pick, Sean Monahan, who is 81-79-160 in 240 games for the Calgary Flames. However, he and Monahan are the only players over the last four seasons (including this one to date) with at least 50 goals and 150 points at the age of 21 or younger. MacKinnon certainly has room to grow. He has not lacked for production against the Caps in his young career, though. MacKinnon is 2-3-5, plus-1, in five career games against Washington.
Defenseman Tyson Barrie was the other Avalanche to record a goal on his only shot in the win over Dallas. The harmless looking shot flipped at the Dallas net from the right point clicked off the left toe of defenseman Stephen Johns’ skate and behind goalie Kari Lehtonen for what would be the game-winning goal. Game winning goals are no stranger to Barrie, who has 12 game winners among his 41 career NHL goals. Barrie is one of those offensive defensemen who slip through the cracks in the discussion of the upper echelon of that specie of blueliner. Over the last five seasons, including this one, Barrie is one of ten defensemen with at least 40 goals and at least 100 assists. The list looks like an all-star roster. Perhaps more impressive, Barrie is the youngest defenseman on that list, nine days younger than Oliver Ekman-Larsson. He is 1-1-2, minus-4, in four career games against Washington.
1. Joe Colborne is the tenth Colorado player to record a hat trick in the post-2004-2005 lockout era. By contract, seven Capitals have done it. The difference is that the Caps have 17 hat tricks among those seven players (Alex Ovechkin leads with seven), while Colorado has 15 hat trick among their ten players (Milan Hejduk leads with three).
2. Colorado is going to be looking to break a streak this season. They won 39 games in each of the past two seasons, failing to reach the postseason in each instance, after winning 52 games in 2013-2014.
3. Jared Bednar won his first game as head coach in the NHL last Saturday. He is the seventh head coach in Avalanche history and has a connection to the Caps. He was head coach for the affiliate South Carolina Stingrays for two seasons, going to the postseason both times and winning the Kelly Cup as ECHL champion in 2009.
4. Colorado had trouble keeping other teams off their goaltenders last season. Only the Ottawa Senators (32.8) and Vancouver Canucks (32.5) allowed more shots on goal per game than the Avalanche (32.3).
5. The Avalanche was the worst possession team last year at 5-on-5, and it really was not all that close. Their 44.20 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5 was almost two full percentage points worse than the New Jersey Devils (46.17). They had the third-fewest shot attempts per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 (50.14) and the most shot attempts against (63.30; numbers from Corsica.hockey).
1. On Saturday night, Daniel Winnik became the 17th Capital since the 2004-2005 lockout to record at least two two-goal games on home ice at Verizon Center (his other two-goal game was in a 4-1 win over the Nashville Predators last March 18th). He has a way to go to catch Alex Ovechkin for the top spot. Ovechkin has 48 such games.
2. Keep telling yourself it’s early, but the Caps have the worst special teams index (power play plus penalty killing percentages) in the league: 50.0.
3. John Carlson is second in the league among defensemen in shots on goal with 11 in two games. Calgary’s Dougie Hamilton has 13 in three games.
4. So far this season, 28 defensemen have recorded goals. None of them play for the Capitals. There are 55 players identified as centers who have scored goals. None of them play for the Caps. In fact, only the New Jersey Devils and Los Angeles Kings have scored fewer goal (three apiece) than the Caps (four). It’s early.
5. The Caps are fifth in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (54.29 percent; numbers from Corisca.hockey). Of the top five teams, only the New York Rangers have suffered a loss in regulation time. As a group, the Cap, Rangers, Tampa Bay, Vancouver, and Florida are 8-1-1.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Colorado: Semyon Varlamov
Five goals on 28 shots was Semyon Varlamov’s line in the Avalanche’s opener against Dallas on Saturday. But hey, a win is a win, right? It is not as if it was a performance against the grain, either. Starting his sixth season with the Avalanche, Varlamov is 2-4-0, 3.92, .893 in his first game of the season. Ah, but in his second game of the season to date, he is 4-1-0, 1.41, .954, with one shutout. It does not seem quite as if Varlamov played his last game for the Caps back in 2011, but he has appeared in 266 games for Colorado and has 134 wins for the Avs, both second-best in franchise history (Patrick Roy had 262 wins in 478 games). Over his career with the Avalanche, which started with the 2011-2012 season, only Ryan Miller (107) and Mike Smith (106) have more losses than Varlamov (104). The odd part of that trio is that they have similar numbers of games played (Varlamov: 266, Smith: 258, Miller: 257), goals against average (Varlamov: 2.65, Smith: 2.64, Miller: 2.63), and save percentages (Varlamov: .917, Smith: .916, Miller: .916). He has a career record of 2-2-0, 1.78, .956 against the Caps.
Washington: Alex Ovechkin
Alex Ovechkin opened the 2016-2017 season by going without a goal in his first two games. This is cause for, if not panic, then concern among some regions of Capitals Nation. Here is a fun fact. The last time he opened a season without a goal in his first two games was in the abbreviated 2012-2013 season. In fact, he didn’t record his first goal until Game 5 that season. He ended up scoring 32 goals in his last 44 games. That is a 60-goal pace over an entire 82-game season. But, when a goal scorer is on the far side of 30, there will be attention paid to whether a slip in production is the start of the inevitable. Of some concern is that he has only three shots at 5-on-5 in almost 27 minutes of ice time against Pittsburgh and the New York Islanders, teams against which he came into the season with a combined 59 (in 87 games) of his 525 career goals. Colorado is learning a new system off a year in which they were not defensively solid. It is a team against which Ovechkin could jump-start his 2016-2017 season. He is 5-4-9, minus-1, in 12 career games against the Avalanche.
In the end…
Colorado is a team made to order for a team looking to break out of an offensive slump. They are not a great defensive team to start with, and they will be coming to Washington the day after having to endure the Penguins’s team speed and firepower in Pittsburgh. But Colorado is a speedy team in their own right, and if the Caps let them hang around and get a goal early, it could be the start of a rough night that will leave fans in an ornery mood. So which will it be…Avs served up on a cracker, or the Avs skating rings around the Capitals’ defense? You’ve read this space often enough to know the answer. Dinner is served…
Capitals 4 – Avalanche 2