Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 60: Wild at Capitals, February 26th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals will be looking to rebound from Wednesday night’s loss to the Montreal Canadiens when they host the Minnesota Wild at Verizon Center on Friday night in the last game of the club’s four-game home stand.

The Caps are in the position for the 11th time this season of trying to avoid consecutive losses in regulation time.  The Caps are 9-0-1 in the first ten instances (twice they have lost consecutive games, one of the losses coming in extra time in each instance).

Meanwhile, the Wild will be coming to Washington hot off their Thursday night game in Philadelphia against the Flyers.  They head to Philadelphia winners of four of their last five games, the loss coming on Tuesday against the New York Islanders.  The loss ended a four-game winning streak to open the tenure of new coach John Torchetti, who replaced Mike Yeo, relieved of his duties by the club on February 13th.

Minnesota certainly “torched” opponents in their most recent five games under Torchetti.  They scored five or more goals in each of the four wins to open his tenure and overall have outscored opponents 22-12.  They had power play goals in each of the four wins, going 5-for-21 overall (23.8 percent), while their penalty kill went 11-for-16 (68.8 percent).

There are 14 different Wild skaters recording at least one goal in their 4-1-0 run.  Charlie Coyle is tied for the lead with three.  Coyle has been quite something else this season for the Wild, obliterating his career high in goals (12 in 2013-2014) with 18 so far this season, eight of them in his last 14 games and doing it on just 28 shots on goal (28.6 percent shooting).  If there is an odd part about his goal scoring, none of his ten most recent goals have been game-winners.  Coyle is 2-1-3, minus-4, in five career games against the Caps, one of those two goals coming in a 4-3 loss to the Caps on February 11th.

Twenty different Wild skaters have points over their last five games, none more than the unlikely Erik Haula, who has more than a third of his total point production for the season (20) in these last five games (2-5-7).  He, too, has easily surpassed his career high in point (15) set in his rookie year in 2013-2014.  Where to watch for him will be when the Caps are on the power play.  Two of his seven goals this season have been scored while shorthanded with a shorthanded assist thrown in.  He has multi-point games in three of his last five games and four in his last eight contests.  Haula has just one career appearance against Washington without a point.

It is unclear who will get the nod in goal for the Wild against the Caps, given that they will be playing the second of back-to-back games.  Devan Dubnyk is expected to start against Philadelphia on Thursday.  If Dubnyk does get that assignment and is given the night off in Washington, Darcy Kuemper is not a big drop off in terms of efficiency.  His 2.26 goals against average and .920 save percentage are both better than Dubnyk’s (2.38/.918), and he has two shutouts in his 16 appearances to date.  He has just three losses in regulation this season, and they were not flukes.  He had a goals against average of 3.05, allowing nine goals on just 68 total shots (.868 save percentage).  The four-year veteran has never faced the Capitals.

Here is how the teams compare overall:

1.  Minnesota has nine games all season in which they scored five or more goals.  Four of them have come in their last five contests.

2.  The Wild are an odd team in one respect.  Fourteen times this season they held opponents to fewer than 25 shots on goal, and their record is 5-6-3 in those games.  Not that they are any better when allowing high shot volumes.  Minnesota is 1-3-4 when allowing more than 35 shots on goal.

3.  The Wild are the third-best faceoff team in the league (51.7 percent). However, their special teams work is not up to that level – 56.5 percent on the power play (11th in the league) and 46.2 percent when shorthanded (11th).

4.  The Wild rank 27th overall in penalty killing on the road (75.5 percent).  They are just 16-for-24 (66.7 percent) in their last seven road games through Wednesday).

5.  Minnesota ranks 21st overall in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (48.1 percent), 23rd in road games (46.2 percent).  They rank 25th in the third periods of games this season (47.5 percent; numbers from

1. In 14 games following losses this season (regulation or extra time), the Caps have a record of 12-1-1 and have outscored opponents by a 48-28 margin.

2.  In those 14 games following losses, the Caps power play is 12-for-56 (21.4 percent), while the penalty kill is 29-for-38 (76.3 percent).

3.  The Caps could not erase a three-goal deficit against the Canadiens on Wednesday, but they still have three more wins (16) when allowing the first goal of a game than the next best team (Los Angeles: 13).  The noteworthy (and perhaps disturbing) thing about that is the fact that the Caps have allowed the first goal more times (30) than they have scored the first goal (29).  Only 11 teams have allowed the game’s first goal more times than the Caps, and only two of them – the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins – are currently in the playoff mix.

4.  Washington allowed the Canadiens a power play goal in their loss on Wednesday, but the Caps have still allowed the fifth-fewest power play goals on home ice (12, tied with four other teams).

5.  First periods on home ice have been a problem for the Caps in one important respect.  The have allowed the third highest number of shot attempts per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 (58.9).  Only Philadelphia and Colorado have allowed more (both at 60.4; numbers from

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Minnesota: Jason Pominville

Jason Pominville is tied for the team lead in goals over Minnesota’s last five games (three).   For him, the change in head coaches has been, at least coincidentally, a benefit.  Before John Torchetti took over, Pominville had one goal in his previous 22 games.  Previous head coach Mike Yeo saw the problem as a confidence issue and thought he was coming out of his slump, but if he is in fact going to put that drought behind him, another coach will benefit.  One has to wonder, though.  After a 30-goal season for the Wild in 2013-2014, he has just 27 goals in his last 142 games.  Pominville is 11-12-23, plus-4, in 35 career games against the Caps.

Washington: Alex Ovechkin

Alex Ovechkin has opened some space between himself and his closest pursuer for the Maurice Richard Trophy as the league’s top goal scorer, 39 goals to 35 for Chicago’s Patrick Kane.  He is on a pace to finish the season with 55 goals, and folks might not be aware of just what an accomplishment hitting 55 goals would be.  Only four players in league history have passed their 30th birthday and hit or surpassed the 55-goal mark – Marcel Dionne (56 goals at age 31 in 1982-2983), Bobby Hull (58 goals at age 30 in 1968-1969), Mario Lemieux (69 goals at age 30 in 1995-1996), and Phil Esposito, who did it three times (55 goals at age 30 in 1972-1973, 68 goals the following year, and 61 goals in the season after that).  What is perhaps more noteworthy, given the attachment some observers had to his plus-minus figure a couple of years ago, his current plus-23 is better than that recorded in five full seasons of the players noted.  None of those five finished with as high as a plus-20.  Only Phil Esposito (plus-51 in his 1973-1974 season) finished higher than where Ovechkin currently resides.  He is 9-3-12, plus-3, in nine career games against the Wild.

In the end…

The Caps hit the 60-game mark with a chance to record their fourth ten-game split out of six with eight wins.  In that respect the Caps have been a very consistent team.  What seems to have infiltrated their game lately is almost a sense of boredom, reflected early on in games when they just cannot seem to get started.  They have allowed the first goal in each of their last six games, and they have just one first period goal in that span.  That the Caps would go 4-2-0 in those games, with both of their losses by a single goal, is either very surprising (and perhaps something vulnerable to a correction in terms of wins and losses), or they are just so extraordinarily skilled that it does not matter much.  We would rather they just not test this proposition and get on with tending to business earlier in games.

Capitals 4 – Wild 2

Washington Capitals Recap: A NO-Point Night: Canadiens 4 - Capitals 3

The Washington Capitals saw their four-game winning streak come to an end on Wednesday night when they dropped a 4-3 decision to the Montreal Canadiens at Verizon Center. The loss ended the Caps’ home winning streak at five games.

Montreal put the Caps in an early hole with a pair of first period goals. Alex Galchenyuk struck for the Canadiens when he put back a rebound of a Dale Weise shot at the 9:09 mark. Brendan Gallagher made it 2-0 late in the period on a power play, converting another rebound, this time of an Andrei Markov shot that Max Pacioretty tipped on its way through, Gallagher sweeping the loose puck around the left pad of goalie Braden Holtby.

The Caps fell further into the hole dug for them by the Canadiens when former Cap Tomas Fleischmann snapped a rebound past Holtby from the left wing faceoff circle. The goal ended Holtby’s evening in favor of Philipp Grubauer.

Washington got on the board less than four minutes after the Fleischmann goal when Jason Chimera jumped on a loose puck at the post to goalie Mike Condon’s left and chipped a backhand over his glove into the net at the 5:32 mark.

Any thoughts of a comeback were put on hold when Alex Galchenyuk scored his second of the night, finishing a 2-on-1 break by converting a pass from Lars Eller past Grubauer’s right pad 12:24 into the period.

The Caps added a goal in the third period when Dmitry Orlov took a wide swing from the neutral zone down the left wing and from a severe angle ripped a shot over Condon’s left shoulder and into the top of the net on the far side to make it 4-2 at the 12:24 mark.

Andre Burakovsky made things interesting late when he took a pass from Stan Galiev and from the top of the circles snapped a shot between Condon’s pads to make it 4-3 with 2:53 left. That would be as close as the Caps would get, though, as a Nicklas Backstrom drive from between the circles was gloved down by Condon with three seconds left to seal the 4-3 win for the Canadiens.

Other stuff…

-- When Braden Holtby was relieved by Philipp Grubauer in the second period, it marked the fourth time in his last 14 appearances that he did not finish a game he started.  Three of those instances are the only losses in regulation on his record over his last 37 appearances (edit...oops, this loss was pinned on Grubauer for allowing the fourth goal, but still).

-- Six shot attempts would be a pretty good night for most players, but for Alex Ovechkin that represents a rather quiet night.  His two shots on goal was just the tenth time in 57 games he was held to two or fewer shots.

-- Brooks Orpik appeared in his 800th career game, and he had two assists. You could almost see this coming.  It’s all about the “hundreds.”  This season alone, Ovechkin scored two goals in his 800th career game (including his 500th career goal), and T.J. Oshie scored a goal in his 500th career game.  When Brooks Laich appeared in his 500th game back in 2011, he scored a goal.  A goal for Orpik might have been a bridge too far, but he had his first two-assist game of the season.

-- The power play continues to struggle.  The 0-for-3 in this game made it 5-for-48 (10.4 percent) since Winter Storm Jonas ripped through Washington in late January.  At least they spread the shots around.  Five different players had one apiece.

-- Tom Wilson had a fairly bizarre night.  He took two penalties in the first period of the “not the brightest thing he’s done this month” sort, and for his impertinence was provided a staple gun to staple his behind to the bench in the second period.  He had one 55 second shorthanded shift.  He took a regular turn in the third period with five shifts.

-- Ovechkin has turned into “Mr. Hockey Helper.”  He had an assist, making three straight games he’s provided apples to teammates.  It marked almost precisely a year since the last instance in which he had three consecutive regular season games with assists.  In Games 57-59 last season (February 15-19) he had assists in each game. 

-- Stan Galiev had a career high four shots on goal and an assist on Burakovsky’s goal.

-- When the Caps allowed a power play goal to the Canadiens late in the first period, it broke a four-game streak not allowing one.

-- Karl Alzner skated just 16:42 in ice time, his lowest amount of ice time this season  and the lowest since he had 14:21 in ice time in a 4-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins last February 25th.

-- Wouldn’t you know it?  The Caps win the Corsi battle (54-49 in shot attempts at 5-on-5) and lose the game.  It wasn’t even a case of making a mad rush when they fell behind by three goals.  The splits by period were 18-18 in the first, 17-13 Caps in the second, and 19-18 Caps in the third.

In the end…

This is not a happy tune the Caps are whistling lately.  Fall behind early, comeback late.  It's like the spring and autumn time changes, but different.  This made six straight games in which the Caps allowed the first goal.  Yes, they have the league’s best record when allowing the first goal, but it’s not like it is actually a good record (16-10-4).  It is a disturbing trend in a larger context, that the Caps have been a rather unimpressive team in the first periods of games this season (a plus-2 goal differential after last night, 8-6-2 when trailing after one period).  If there is something that needs attention, this is it.  And with the Minnesota Wild coming to town on Friday, a top-ten team in first period goals scored this season, they should be paying attention.