Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 17: Red Wings at Capitals, November 18th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals, fresh off their 7-1 thumping of the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday night, take the ice on Friday for the second of their season-long five-game home stand. The seven goal explosion was the high-water mark for goal in a game this season for the Caps and it comfortably surpassed the total number of goals they scored in their previous four games (five goals).

Meanwhile, the Detroit Red Wings are not making their last year in Joe Louis Arena a memorable one. It started out as if it might be such as season, the Wings 6-2-0 in their first eight games. However, in their last nine games they are 2-6-1, causing them to slip to seventh place in the Atlantic Division.

It is not as if the Wings have been blown out in their losses. Of their seven losses in their last nine games, four of them were by one goal and another (a 5-3 loss to the Winnipeg Jets on November 4th) featured an empty net goal by the Jets with less than ten seconds left in that game.

Detroit’s problem has been getting anything resembling consistent scoring. In their 2-6-1 slide they have just 16 goals (1.78/game), and they have been shut out twice. Dylan Larkin and Henrik Zetterberg split six goals over those nine games. Larkin is a bit of a curious case so far. With five goals on the season, he is roughly on a pace (24 goals) to match last year’s total as a rookie (23, tied for third among all 2015-2016 rookies). However, through 17 games he has just one assist, that coming on Opening Night in Tampa Bay against the Lightning. And, he has not been much of a road warrior, going 1-1-2, minus-6, in seven road games (he does not have a “plus” game on the road this year). In three career games against the Caps, Larkin is 1-1-2, plus-2.

Then there is Henrik Zetterberg. At 36 years of age, he is the oldest member of the Red Wings. And the way his season started, one might have thought the years were starting to show on his frame. In his first ten games, Zetterberg did not record a goal (although he did have four assists) and was a minus-1. In his last seven games he is 3-4-7, plus-1. His road performances have been uneven so far, going 1-2-3, minus-2, in seven road games but failing to record a single shot on goal in two of them. He was once one of the best two-way forwards in the league, going five straight seasons with at least 20 goals, at least 65 points, and five straight top-ten finishes in the Selke Trophy voting for best defensive forward (although he has never won it). However, he does not have a 20-goal season in his last four seasons coming into this one and cleared the 65-point threshold once (66 points in 2014-2015). His progress this season bears watching. In 17 career games against the Caps, Zetterberg is 6-6-12, minus-1.

Goaltending has been a Jekyll and Hyde experience for the Red Wings so far. On the one hand there is Jimmy Howard with a 1.80 goals against average and .943 save percentage in eight appearances. On the other is Petr Mrazek with a 3.16 goals against average and a .901 save percentage in 11 games. The odd thing, though, is how similar their records look. Howard is 4-3-0, while Mrazek is 4-5-1. Mrazek is the more interesting, and arguably more disappointing story. He is on a pace to finish with the worst goals against average and save percentage numbers of his brief career to date. Those numbers are especially disappointing compared to last year, when he was 2.33 and .921 in 54 games. This season, Mrazek has been streaky. He lost his first two decisions, stopping just 64 of 72 shots in the process (.889 save percentage), then he won four straight decisions with a .945 save percentage. However, he is winless in his last five appearances (0-3-1, one no-decision) with a .860 save percentage. In four career games against Washington, Mrazek is 1-2-1, 1.54, .944, with one shutout.

1.  The Detroit Red Wings have won 2,866 games in their history. Only the Montreal Canadiens (3,311) and the Boston Bruins (3,031) have won more. Only the Canadiens have appeared in more Stanley Cup finals (34 to 24), and only the Canadiens (24) and the Toronto Maple Leafs (13) have more Stanley Cup championships than the Red Wings (11). However, with seven years (and counting) having passed since they last appeared in a Stanley Cup finals, it is their longest finals drought since they appeared in the Cup final in 1995 for the first time in 29 years.

2.  Detroit has scored more than three goals on the road just once in seven road games this season, losing 6-4 to the Tampa Bay Lighting on Opening Night. Odd thing about that game. Detroit had 34 penalty minutes in the contest, a total surpassed just twice in a single game since the 2004-2005 lockout and not at all since February 18, 2008 in a 4-0 win over the Colorado Avalanche.

3.  Only three teams – the Toronto Maple Leafs (18), the Edmonton Oilers (18), and the Caps (19) – have more first period goals this season than Detroit (17). Trouble with that is that there are only six teams allowing more third period goals than the Red Wings (17).

4.  On the blue line, Mike Green has three goals. The other seven defensemen to dress for Detroit this season have a total of four. Green has 11 points. No other defenseman has more than four. Green is the third-oldest defenseman on the squad, and he is older than 15 other skaters on the team. The “Young Guns” days seem long ago.

5.  The Red Wings were once the gold standard of possession hockey. Back in their last Stanley Cup winning year in 2007-2008 they led the league by a wide margin in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (58.77 percent to 55.57 percent for the Caps; numbers from Not so these days. The Red Wings rank 29th in CF% at 5-on-5 (45.82, ahead of only the Arizona Coyotes with 45.76).

1.  The seven-goal performance by the Caps against Pittsburgh on Wednesday night was the 13th time since the 2004-2005 lockout that the Caps scored seven or more goals in a single game on home ice. It was the third time they did so and scored both a power play and a shorthanded goal in the process. Oddly enough, in none of those 13 games did the Caps record as many as 40 shots, not even in their 10-2 win over the Boston Bruins on March 3, 2008 (10 goals on 34 shots).

2.  Only the Los Angeles Kings (13 times) have out-shot opponents more often than the Caps (12).

3.  The Capitals’ plus-11 first period goal differential is far and away the best in the league (Columbus is plus-8).

4.  Nicklas Backstrom had three assists in his five-point effort against the Penguins. Since he came into the league, no player has more games with three or more assists than Backstrom (32). Sidney Crosby is second with 30.

5.  The Caps do a good job stifling opponents’ offense on an overall level. They rank fifth in Corsi-against per 60 minutes (51.67; numbers from

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Detroit: Gustav Nyquist

Gustav Nyquist was a fourth-round draft pick of the Red Wings in the 2008 entry draft. He was a good, if not great goal scorer for a couple of years with the Wings’ AHL affiliate in Grand Rapids. Then, in the 2013-2014 season, he exploded for 28 goals in just 57 games. Since then, though, his goal scoring totals have been like air slowly leaking out of a balloon – 27 goals in 82 games and then 17 goals in 82 games last season. So far this season he has three goals in 17 games (a 14-goal pace), and he brings an 11-game streak without a goal into this contest. He has only three points on the road this season (all assists), and he has only eight shots on goal in seven road games. It is starting to show up in his ice time, which over the last four games has dropped from 22:53 to 18:37 to 15:25 and finally to 14:34 last Tuesday night in a 4-3 loss to the Lightning. Nyquist is 5-3-8, plus-2, in nine career games against the Caps.

Washington: The Washington Defense

If you had “Karl Alzner” as the Washington Capitals defenseman leading the team’s blueliners in goals almost one-fifth through the season, buy a lottery ticket. Until Wednesday night against the Penguins, he was the only Capital defenseman to score a goal this season (Dmitry Orlov got his first). Five other defensemen – John Carlson, Nate Schmidt, Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik, and Taylor Chorney are a combined 0-for-114 shooting. Some of that is expected; Orpik and Chorney would be hard pressed to get two goals combined this season (okay…Orpik had three last season, including his first regular season game-winner). However, Niskanen, Schmidt, and especially Carlson going this long without even an accidental, ricochet-off-two-sticks-and-the-pipe goal, is bordering on the bizarre. Last season, the Caps had seven defensemen record at least one goal, all of them represented on this year’s team, so you would think it is just a matter of time and continuing to pound shots on net. But it does look odd.

In the end…

Perhaps the days of the Detroit Red Wings being the dominating team are over. Clearly, they are not the club that over a 12-season span won 50 or more regular season games five times, went to the Stanley Cup final five times, and won the chalice on four occasions. The last three seasons the Wings bowed out in the first round of the playoffs, and at the moment they look like a club that will struggle to make the postseason for the 26th straight year. It is a team that is having a devil of a time finding the back of the net, especially on the road (1.86 goals per game).  And their defense has shown cracks.   They have allowed four or more goals in five of their last eight games.  On top of that, the Red Wings have a rather lengthy injury list.

The Caps are hardly a team that can afford to be complacent about this game or this team, though.  One blow out win does not a winning streak make, and the 7-1 win on Wednesday means only that the Caps are 2-2-1 in their last five games.  But if the Caps come out as hungry as they were on Wednesday, they can get a good start on the weekend.

Capitals 4 – Red Wings 1

A TWO-Point Night -- Game 16: Washington Capitals 7 - Pittsburgh Penguins 1

It might be a just a mid-week, mid-season game for some, but for the Washington Capitals on Wednesday night, it was about making a point against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Having lost last spring’s Eastern Conference semi-final playoff series to the Penguins, and losing to them on Opening Night this season as the Penguins raised their Stanley Cup Champion banner to the rafters, showing themselves to be competitive in this rivalry was something that needed to be established.

The Capitals certainly did that, pasting the Penguins at Verizon Center, 7-1, behind big nights from Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie. It was Oshie getting things started for the Caps in the first period. With Pittsburgh on a power play, Evgeni Malkin was a little too lackadaisical with the puck inside the Caps blue line. Trying to nudge the puck to teammate Kris Letang, it didn’t have enough juice, and Oshie got his stick on it. Oshie then chipped the puck out into open ice in the neutral zone where Jay Beagle gave chase. In alone on goalie Matt Murray, Beagle tried to deke Murray to the ice and tuck in a backhand. Murray got his right pad on the puck, but Oshie followed up to chip the puck over that right pad, and it was 1-0, 7:32 into the game.

Backstrom got on the board ten minutes later. Skating down the right side in front of the player benches, Oshie fed Backstrom in the middle cruising toward the Penguins blue line. Backstrom backed off defenseman Brian Dumoulin and snapped a shot that handcuffed Murray, sneaking under his left arm, to make it 2-0 at the 17:30 mark.

It was Oshie once more just before the first intermission. On a power play, the Caps moved the puck up ice smartly, starting with a pass from goalie Braden Holtby to John Carlson. It was Carlson up ice to Alex Ovechkin, who slid the puck to Oshie entering the zone, then back to Carlson for a shot from outside. Marc-Andre Fleury, in relief of the injured Murray, made the initial save, but Oshie swooped in and almost took the puck off the blade of Backstrom’s stick to chip the puck into the empty net with just 7.9 seconds left in the first period.

Dmitry Orlov got on the board early in the second period. It started when the Penguins fumbled the puck inside the Caps blue line, and Backstrom was there to move it out of harm’s way into the neutral zone. From there, Marcus Johansson scooped it up and headed down the right side. Gaining the offensive zone, he slid it across to Orlov trailing the play. Orlov stepped up and wrong-footed a wrist shot that beat Fleury past his right pad to make it 4-0 just over five minutes into the second period.

Five minutes into the third period, the Caps had their second power play goal of the evening. With Washington on a 5-on-3 advantage, Backstrom sent the puck through the blue paint to Oshie on the far side to Fleury’s right. Oshie collected the puck and threaded a pass into the middle through a maze of sticks where Justin Williams was waiting. Williams was patient enough to settle the puck and flip it under Fleury’s right arm to make it 5-0.

Five minutes later the Caps capitalized on another Penguin turnover. Duimoulin blew a tire just inside the Caps blue line, and Andre Burakovsky pulled the puck free. He fed Ovechkin overtaking him on the right wing, and Ovechkin had a clear lane down ice. With Letang trying to close the distance, Ovechkin warded him off, pulled the puck to his forehand, and tucked it around Fleury’s left pad to give the Caps a 6-0 lead 10:26 into the third period.

After Phil Kessel spoiled Holtby’s shutout bid on a rebound from in close at the 16:28 mark, Backstrom closed the scoring by taking a long feed from Nate Schmidt just outside the Pittsburgh blue line, skating down the middle, and rifling a shot over Fleury’s left shoulder at the 16:58 mark to seal the win.

Other stuff…

-- Before last night, there were 16 instances of a Washington Capital player scoring both a power play and a shorthanded goal in the same game dating back to 1987.  Last night, T.J. Oshie became the 14th Capital to do it (Peter Bondra did it four times, the only Capital to do it more than once).  Mike Green had been the last one to do it, turning the special teams daily double in a 3-1 win over the Florida Panthers back on February 7, 2009.  It was part of Green’s record-setting eight-game goals streak by a defenseman.

-- Nicklas Backstrom took over second place in total games with five or more points since the 1987-1988 season.   His two-goal, three-assist night gave him his fifth such game in his career, breaking his tie with Alex Ovechkin and put him one behind Peter Bondra.

-- Last night was the first time two Capitals recorded four or more points in a single game since Oshie and Alex Ovechkin did it in a 5-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on December 18, 2015.

-- When the Caps foiled the Penguins on four power play opportunities, it was the first time the Caps shut out an opponent on four or more power plays since the stopped four Winnipeg Jet power plays in a 3-2 win on November 1st.  Curious thing about that is that in the seven games since that win, last night was just the third time the Caps allowed a team more than two power play chances.

-- Kris Letang…minus-5.  First time that’s happened to a Penguin since March 2016 (cough – Sidney Crosby – cough).

-- Every Capital had a shot on goal except Andre Burakovsky and Zach Sanford.  Eight Capitals had three or more shots, none had more than four.  Marcus Johansson and Nicklas Backstrom were two of the four Caps with four shots on goal.  Who said Swedes don’t shoot the puck.

-- The Caps had seven power play opportunities, their high for the season and the most since they had eight (no goals) in a 5-2 loss to the Florida Panthers last February 2nd.  Their two power play goals marked the first time since Game 3 (a 3-0 win over the Colorado Avalanche) that the Caps had a multi-power play goal game.

-- Five of the six Capitals defensemen had points.  Only Karl Alzner did not have a mark on his score sheet.

-- This was the worst beating the Caps gave the Penguins in a regular season, game, by goal differential, since the Caps beat the Pens, 8-0, on October 29, 1991, in Pittsburgh.  The last time the Caps beat the Pens by more goals on home ice was in an 8-0 win on January 2, 1989.

-- Lost in the Fleury…uh, flurry of goals is the consistency of Braden Holtby in net.  Since he allowed four goals on 29 shots in a 4-1 loss to the Edmonton Oilers on October 26th, he is 6-1-0, 2.14, .935.

In the end…

Put aside that it is November, and just enjoy the highlights.  Games like this don’t happen often.  In 11 seasons since the 2004-2005 lockout, the Caps have scored seven or more goals 24 times, a little more than twice a season.  And to do it against the team that has caused so much pain and despair over the years?  Well, that just makes it better, November or not.  Hope y’all recorded it to get through the next couple of months until the teams meet again.