The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The holidays are behind us, and that means the National Hockey League is about to embark on the long slog that is the January-February portion of the season. It is a time that tests a team’s discipline and focus, and for the Washington Capitals it begins with a visit to Boston to take on the Bruins in a battle of high-powered offenses.
Washington enters the contest with the league’s second best scoring offense and looking to get back on a winning path after losing consecutive games to close the old year and ring in the new. Boston has the league’s third best scoring offense and will be looking to get the bad taste out of its mouth from a 5-1 pasting by the Montreal Canadiens in the Winter Classic played outdoors in Foxboro on New Year’s Day.
Washington had a fine December, posting an 11-1-1 record before dropping its final game of the month, to the Carolina Hurricanes (4-2), and before starting January with a Gimmick loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets (5-4). For Boston, the schedule since December 1st has been a roller coaster. After closing November with five straight wins, the Bruins are 7-5-3 since, including regulation losses in four of their last five games. All four of those losses were by multi-goal margins.
In those five games the Bruins were outscored by a 19-12 margin. The odd part about their performance on offense, or lack of it, was their power play. In the four losses the Bruins went 0-for-8, while in their lone win – a 7-3 win over the Ottawa Senators – the Bruins went 4-for-7. Those four goals in their last game of December doubled their power play output for the preceding 13 games of the month (4-for-27/14.8 percent).
The scoring over the last five games has been as unbalanced among players as it has been unevenly distributed across the games themselves. Only four players recorded goals in this 1-4-0 run for the Bruins, led by Matt Beleskey with four. Those four goals doubled his total for the season and offered the first glimpse of the sort of player the Bruins might have expected when they signed him to a five-year/$19 million deal last July after he recorded 22 goals in 65 games for the Anaheim Ducks in 2014-2015. Beleskey does not have a point and is a minus-3 in seven career games against Washington.
Patrice Bergeron and Jimmy Hayes are next in line in goal scoring over the last five games with three apiece. They came upon them in somewhat different ways. Bergeron scored the first of his three goals to give the Bruins a 2-1 first period lead in their game against the Buffalo Sabres on December 26th. It was a lead that the Bruins could not hold, losing the game, 6-3. Bergeron scored a pair of goals, including the game-winner, in Boston’s 7-3 win over Ottawa on December 29th. Bergeron is 8-23-31, minus-5, in 36 career game against the Caps
Jimmy Hayes scored all three of his goals in this five-game stretch in that 7-3 win over Ottawa. The hat trick was his first multi-goal game of the year and the first hat trick in his 202-game career to that point. It interrupted quite a dry spell he was enduing. Before that three-goal outburst, Hayes had one goal in his previous 21 games. Hayes has a goal in six career games against the Caps.
Here is how the teams compare overall:
Here is how the teams compare overall:
1. Another note on Patrice Bergeron. He is 50 percent or better on faceoffs in 31 of the 37 games he has played this season. Only three times this season has he won fewer than ten draws in a game. Oddly enough, among players taking at least 250 draws this season he does not rank in the top ten in winning percentage. Bergeron is 13th at 56.6 percent.
2. Boston has already employed ten defensemen this season. No team has used more (Edmonton and Tampa Bay also have dressed ten defensemen). Nine of the ten Bruin defensemen to dress have points. Only Matt Irwin, who dressed for only two games, does not have a point.
3. Boston is one of two teams in the league to have scored 35 or more goals in each of the three periods in regulation this season (Dallas is the other).
4. Brad Marchand will serve the second of a three-game suspension for clipping Ottawa’s Mark Borowiecki in the Bruins’ 7-3 win on December 29th. He is no stranger to league-imposed down time. In March 2011 there was a two-game suspension. In December 2011 there was a $2,500 fine. In January 2012 there was a five-game suspension. In January 2015 there was a two-game suspension. And now, he is sitting for three games (log from tsn.ca). He does not play well with others, it seems.
5. Caps fans are acquainted with the matter of their team having a winning record despite some iffy possession numbers. The same holds true for the Bruins. Despite a 20-13-4 record, Boston is 18th in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 overall (49.2 percent). It does not get much better in score-adjusted (49.6/17th) or close score situations (49.8/15th; numbers from war-on-ice.com).
1. The Capitals are 10-0-0 in games in which Alex Ovechkin recorded an assist this season. They are 10-0-1 when Marcus Johansson records an assist. Helping is a good thing.
2. The Caps have eight players with 20 or more points this season. No team has more (Montreal also has eight). Those eight are: Evgeny Kuznetsov (35), Alex Ovechkin (34), Nicklas Backstrom (34), John Carlson (27), T.J. Oshie (25), Justin Williams (24), Marcus Johansson (24), and Jason Chimera (21).
3. Washington has a plus-16 goal differential in the third periods of games this season, second in the league. They and the Dallas Stars (plus-24) are the only teams better than plus-10.
4. Despite losing consecutive games by one-goal margins coming into this game with Boston, the Caps lead the league in winning percentage in one-goal games (.688/11-2-3).
5. Odd thing about the Caps at 5-on-5 on the road. The Caps have the best goal differential in the league (plus-15), but their Corsi-for at fives ranks 19th (48.3 percent; numbers from war-on-ice.com).
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Boston: Tuukka Rask
Last season, goaltender Tuukka Rask allowed four or more goals 10 times in 70 appearances on his way to a 34-21-13, 2.30, .922 record with three shutouts. While he has four shutouts in 27 appearances so far this season, he also has allowed four or more goals six times. In all six of those instances he allowed five or more goals, and his overall record of 14-10-3, 2.51, .914 is disappointing. His 2.51 goals against average is the first time he has been above 2.50 since the 2010-2011 season when he posted a 2.67 GAA in 29 games. His .914 save percentage is his lowest since he had a .886 mark (his career low) in just four games in 2007-2008, his first season in the NHL. Rask looked to be turning things around in December, going 5-2-2, 1.38, .953, with two shutouts in his first nine appearances for the month. However, he allowed three goals on 32 shots in the 7-3 win over Ottawa on December 29th, the first time all month he allowed more than two goals in a game, and he followed that up by allowing five goals on 30 shots in the 5-1 loss to Montreal in the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day. The Caps might not be the team to play to turn things back around. Rask has a career record of 1-7-3, 3.01, .896 in 11 career appearances against Washington. His only win against the Capitals came via shutout, a 16-save effort in a 3-0 win on March 6, 2014.
Washington: Nicklas Backstrom
Over the last five seasons, including this one, no Capital player has more points against Boston in regular season games than Nicklas Backstrom. The odd thing about it is, all of his 11 points have come via assists. He has not had a goal against the Bruins in a regular season game since April 5, 2010, a game in which he figured in all the scoring (1-2-3) in a 3-2 win. It has been 15 games without a goal against the Bruins, but he has been effective, nevertheless. Those 11 assists have come over his last 10 games against Boston. He is 4-24-28, plus-8, in 26 career games against the Bruins.
In the end…
After losses to a pair of struggling teams in their last two outings, the Caps move up in weight class in competition as they head to Boston. The Bruins might be missing their top goal-scorer in Brad Marchand, but it is still a formidable offense with which the Caps will have to contend. What is more, the Bruins have special teams almost as formidable as the Caps. Both teams are top-ten in both power play and penalty killing. The fault line on which this game could be settled is the 5-on-5 play and whether the Caps’ league best goals-for/goals-against ratio (1.43:1) prevails over their iffy possession numbers overall.
Capitals 4 – Bruins 3