The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The Washington Capitals welcome the new year and the Ottawa Senators to Verizon Center on Sunday evening to begin the 2017 portion of their 2016-2017 season. It will be the first of three meetings between the clubs this season, all of which will take place in January, and the only one that will be played at Verizon Center.
Ottawa will come to Washington having wrapped up a December that had them treading water, but not much more. For the month, the Senators were 6-4-3, dropping their last two games of the month, a 4-3 loss in New York to the Rangers and a 3-2 overtime loss to the Detroit Red Wings. It is part of a streakiness that characterized the Senators’ December, posting a three-game losing streak, followed by a four-game winning streak, and then the two-game losing streak they bring to Washington.
Erik Karlsson is the top offensive defenseman of his generation. Since he came into the league in 2009-2010, he has 417 points, 62 more than Chicago’s Duncan Keith over that span. He is one of three defensemen with more than 100 goals over those years (Shea Weber and Dustin Byfuglien being the others). He is also a three-time Norris Trophy finalist, winning the trophy in 2012 and 2015, and finishing second to Los Angeles’ Drew Doughty in the voting last season. He is coming off a productive December in which he was 3-10-13 in 13 games. Ah, but has his scoring made that much of a difference? Yes, but not to an extraordinary level. Ottawa is 5-2-0 when he scored a goal but just 12-6-2 when he recorded a point this season. They are 8-6-2 when he is shut out on the score sheet. Karlsson is 2-16-18, minus-3, in 21 career games against the Capitals.
The curious mid-career journey of Bobby Ryan continues. After posting consecutive seasons of 30-plus goals in his first four full seasons in the NHL as a member of the Anaheim Ducks, he came back to the pack. The abbreviated 2012-2013 season was a demarcation point of sorts, one in which he has his string of 30-plus goal seasons stopped with 11 in 46 games. Since then, he has been a reliable 20-or-so goals per season player, but not the goal-scoring forward one might have foreseen when he was posting those productive early career seasons. This season he is on a pace to finish with just 17 goals, and that is with a four-game goal streak he had in mid-December, breaking a streak of 16 games without a goal. It is an odd circumstance for Ryan, whose 14.0 percent shooting efficiency is his best since he shot 15.2 percent in posting 31 goals for the Ducks in 2011-2012. He has just 50 shots on goal in 31 games, a 124-shot pace that would be his lowest in a full season in his career. Ryan is 6-4-10, minus-7, in 14 career games against Washington.
Ottawa has employed four goaltenders through 36 games so far this season. Craig Anderson has the most games played for the Senators (19), but he has been on a leave of absence from the club since early December to be with his wife, Nicholle, who is undergoing treatment for cancer. That has left the number one netminding duties to Mike Condon, who came to the Senators in a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins in early November for a fifth round draft pick. Condon, who appeared in every Ottawa contest in December, has performed respectably for the Senators with a record of 14-8-4, 2.43, .915, with two shutouts so far. His December was not particularly kind to his overall numbers, although his win-loss record did suffer unduly for it. Condon was 6-3-3 in 13 appearances in December (one no-decision) with a 2.56 goals against average, a .908 save percentage, and one shutout. He does, however, come into this game with losses in his last two appearances, one of them in overtime to the Detroit Red Wings. In three career appearances against the Caps, Condon is 1-2-0, 3.05, .898.
1. Ottawa has, at least for the moment, a curious affinity for the number “21.” Going into Saturday’s games, the Senators ranked 21st in the league in scoring offense (2.50 goals/game), power play efficiency (16.5 percent), shots per game (28.9), fewest shots against per game (30.5), total goals (90), goals against at 5-on-5 (62), second period goals for (29), and third period goals for (29).
2. Speaking of goals-for, Ottawa is the only team in the league to have scored the same number of goals in each regulation period (29).
3. On New Year’s Eve, the Caps beat the team with the worst record in the Eastern Conference in games decided by three or more goals in the New Jersey Devils (2-9 in such games before falling to the Caps, 6-2). On New Year’s Evening, the Caps will face the club with the second-worst such record in Ottawa, who is 3-8.
4. Ottawa does not score first often, but when they do, they win. With an 11-2-1 record when scoring first, the Senators have the third-best winning percentage in the league (.786).
5. The Senators are not a particularly effective possession club. Their 47.96 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5 ranks 25th in the league. They do rank higher in road games, 21st at 48.09 percent (numbers from Corsica.hockey).
1. Scoring first in games is still a thing for the Caps, who are tied for third (with Montreal) in wins when scoring first (17) and tied for third (with San Jose and Toronto) in total games scoring first (23).
2. Only one team – the Columbus Blue Jackets – has gone to the first intermission of games trailing fewer times (6) than the Caps (7). The Caps’ 4-3-0 record in those games is the third-best winning percentage (.571), trailing only Pittsburgh and the New York Rangers.
3. Only the Columbus Blue Jackets have a larger first period goal differential (plus-19) than the Caps (plus-17).
4. The third-ranked Washington penalty kill has become not just a very good one, but a very consistent one in one respect. The Caps have a 1.1 percent differential between home (87.5 percent) and road (86.4 percent) penalty kill, the smallest such differential in the league (tied with Nashville, the 16th-ranked penalty kill).
5. The Caps return home with the fourth-ranked club in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 on home ice (52.89 percent). They also have the second-best goals against per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 (1.54) in the Eastern Conference, trailing only Montreal (1.39; numbers from Corsica.hockey).
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Ottawa: Ryan Dzingel
Left winger Ryan Dzingel has something of an interesting story. Born in Wheaton, Illinois, not generally thought of as a hot hometown for NHL’ers (Dzingel is the only native of Wheaton ever to play in the NHL, according to Hockey-Reference.com), a seventh-round draft pick (only seven players were picked later in the 2011 entry draft), and a “veteran” of just 75 games at the professional level (all with Binghamton in the AHL), he is the fifth-leading point getter (8-11-19) for the Senators in this, his first full season in the NHL (he played in 30 games for Ottawa last season and is thus ineligible for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year). He has displayed a certain talent for scoring goals, recording 45 in 110 games at Ohio State University and another 19 in 75 games with Binghamton in the AHL. His eight goals in 36 games this season is on pace for an 18-goal season. One interesting fact of his season to date is the that he has only seven “minus” games out of the 36 he has played to date, and none of those were worse than minus-1. His plus-7 for the season is second-best on the club (Marc Methot is plus-12). He did not record a point in his only career appearance against the Caps.
Washington: Karl Alzner
Karl Alzner, as a defensive defenseman, has never been a player to drive possession numbers, but his personal numbers are slipping over time in this area. Two seasons ago, he was a 51.06 percent Corsi-for player at 5-on-5. That dropped to 49.56 percent last season, and this season it is 48.30 heading into Sunday’s game against Ottawa (numbers from Corsica.hockey). Of particular concern is that Alzner has played with six defensemen this season, and every one of them has better Corsi numbers apart from Alzner than playing with him (numbers from stats.hockeyanalysis.com). The difference is less pronounced with the defensemen with whom Alzner has spent the most time (Matt Niskanen and John Carlson), but with both displaying a more than six percentage point improvement when separated from Alzner, the differences are still attention-getting. Alzner is 0-4-4, plus-5, in 23 career games against Ottawa.
In the end…
This is an odd sort of trap game in what almost looks like a trap “week” for the Caps, who will open and close the week against the Senators (and the Senators do not have an intervening game between the meetings with the Caps) with Toronto and Columbus in-between. Ottawa does not command the sort of attention a Metropolitan Division rival would, or the sort that a marquee Western Conference team like Chicago or Los Angeles might. Nevertheless, the Senators do have 20 wins and sit just three points behind the Caps in the conference standings (the Caps hold a game in hand). The Senators also happen to have a 9-7-0 record on the road this season, fifth-best in the East. It is not a team to be trifled with. We think the Caps will skip the order of trifle for their first game of the season.
Capitals 4 – Senators 2