The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
After a brief respite from the travel, a 6-1 win against the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday night at Verizon Center, the Caps head right back on the road for the second of back-to-back games in Ottawa against the Senators on Tuesday night.
The Senators are one of those pesky teams that can be really annoying to play against. At the very least, they have been that for the Caps so far this season. The Caps have two wins in two tries against Ottawa, but neither was easy, a 2-1 win on New Year’s Day at Verizon Center and a 1-0 shutout on January 7th in Ottawa.
Since Ottawa lost what were two ends of an extended home-and-home set against Washington (they had five days off between games as their league-mandated hiatus this season), the Senators are 5-1-1 and have climbed into second place in the Atlantic Division. Their recent success has not resulted in much by way of improvement in their playoff position relative to other teams. They are still eight points behind the Montreal Canadiens for the division lead, and despite their recent success, they remain just four points clear of Toronto, lurking as the number nine team in an eight-team playoff race with a game in hand on Ottawa.
The Senators have outscored their seven opponents since facing the Caps by a 27-21 margin. Mike Hoffman leads the goal scorers with seven in those seven games. Hoffman has had a sustained run of scoring success going back to late November. Since November 22nd, he is 13-13-26, plus-11, in 25 games. He has established himself as a reliable goal scorer with 27 and 29 goals in his first two full seasons in the NHL, and he is on a pace to finish with 32 goals this season on 17 in the 41 games in which he has played. Eleven of his 17 goals so far this season have come on home ice. In eight career games against the Caps, Hoffman is 1-3-4, plus-1.
For the time being, the debate over who is the best offensive defenseman in the NHL is settled. Since the 2009-2010 season, his rookie season in the NHL, Erik Karlsson is the only defenseman to have topped the 400 point park (424). He is one of just three defensemen to reach the 100-goal mark over that span (107), joining Shea Weber (129), Dustin Byfuglien (121), and Brent Burns (103). This season, Karlsson is second in overall scoring (39 points) to Burns (47) and leads the league’s defensemen in assists (32). He comes into this game on a six-game points streak (0-7-7), but he has not scored a goal in 18 games, dating back to December 7th, when he had one as part of a three-point night as the Senators beat the San Jose Sharks, 4-2. Karlsson is 2-16-18, minus-6, in 23 career games against Washington.
One might have been forgiven for overlooking the trade that send goalie Mike Condon from the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Senators back in November, but with Craig Anderson on extended absence from the team, it looks like one of the most valuable deals made in recent memory by the club. He has been a respectable 13-7-4, 2.52, .914, with three shutouts, but the workload might be getting to him. He appeared in all seven games for Ottawa since they faced Washington, and while he is 5-1-1 over that span, his goals against average in those games (2.97) and save percentage (.905) are trending in the wrong direction. It resembles the problems he had last season filling in for the injured Carey Price in Montreal when his numbers started dragging down as the season wore on. Condon is 1-4-0, 2.45, .912 in five career appearances against the Capitals.
1. When Ottawa lost to the Columbus Blue Jackets in their last game, 7-6 in overtime, it was the first time the Senators scored at least six goals in a game and lost since they lost to the Caps, 8-6, on December 29, 2007.
2. After facing Dallas on Saturday, the Caps are going to run into another team that does not work or play well with others. Ottawa is eighth in the league in penalty minutes taken per game (10:34), and there are tied for eighth in fighting majors (18). They are also tied for the league lead in bench minors (10, with St. Louis).
3. If there is a blowout, chances are the Senators will not be on the good side of it from their perspective. Ottawa is 4-8 in games decided by three of more goals this season, their .333 winning percentage ranking 25th in such games.
4. You might guess that Ottawa is not a very good possession team, given two stats that indicate they don’t have the puck as often as they would like. The Senators are sixth in the league in hits and fourth in blocked shots.
5. And you would be right about possession. Ottawa ranks 24th in overall Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (47.80 percent; numbers from Corsica.hockey), 25th in Corsi-for adjusted for score, zone and venue (47.20 percent).
1. The Caps are plus-50 in goals scored and goals allowed at 5-on-5. Their lead on the second place team (Minnesota at plus-34) looks like Secretariat in the Belmont.
2. The Caps and the Boston Bruins are the only two teams in the league ranking in the top five in both Corsi-for per 60 minutes and Corsi-against per 60 minutes, adjusted for score, zone, and venue (numbers from Corsica.hockey).
3. Much is made of Sidney Crosby, the game’s best playmaker, scoring goals at a career-best pace. Less is made of Alex Ovechkin, the best goal scorer of this era, becoming something of a playmaker. He is tied for eighth among left wings in assists, and he has ten helpers in his last ten games.
4. The Caps go into this game with power play goals in each of their last five games, tying their longest streak of the season. The have power play goals on five of their last seven power play opportunities going back to the third period of their 8-7 overtime loss to Pittsburgh.
5. Pity the power play doesn’t get more opportunities. The Caps have two or fewer opportunities in nine of their last 12 games, and their minus-28 penalty differential at 5-on-5 is second worst in the league (Colorado: minus-29).
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Ottawa: Jean-Gabriel Pageau
Ottawa has eight players with 20 or more points this season. Jean-Gabriel Pageau has been making a push to make it nine with five points in the seven games since Ottawa last saw the Caps (1-4-0). Pageau was taken as a fourth-round pick of the Senators in the 2011 entry draft, after which he completed his Canadian junior career in the QMJHL and spent parts of three seasons with Binghamton in the AHL. He has played in parts of five seasons with Ottawa, but only last year might be called his first full season in the NHL, going 19-24-43 in 82 games. His numbers are off somewhat this season, currently on a pace to finish 9-24-33, his goal scoring down as a reflection of a regression in his shooting percentage (14.3 percent last season, 6.0 percent so far this season). Pageau comes into this game with just one goal in his last 18 games. He does not have a point in 11 games against the Caps and is a minus-3.
Washington: Brett Connolly
Over his first 25 games, Caps fans might have wondered if acquiring Brett Connolly was such a good idea. He was 4-1-5, plus-2, and the Caps seemed to win as he was largely anonymous on the ice. Ove his last seven games, though, Connolly has found his scoring touch, going 4-0-4, plus-8, with a game-winning goal against the St. Louis Blues last week. He, Lars Eller, and Andre Burakovsky have found a chemistry on the third line that has often made it the most energetic, if not most effective forward line on some nights. His scoring has been a contributing factor to the Caps’ success. They are 7-0-1 when he scores a goal, the only blemish being that 8-7 wild riot of an overtime loss to Pittsburgh last week. Connolly is 1-2-3, minus-5, in ten career games against Ottawa, and in two games this year against the Senators he does not have a point, nor does he have a shot on goal in 20:39 of total ice time.
In the end…
This is the middle game of a three-games-in-four-nights stretch that the Caps have heading into the All-Star break, completing a run of four games in six nights. And what makes the last two games of this stretch hard – the game Tuesday night against Ottawa and the Thursday night game against the New Jersey Devils – is that these are hard teams to play against, teams that would just as soon play in oatmeal as on ice, even though the Senators’ scoring has ticked up a notch recently. It makes the days off coming up look a bit more appealing, and again, this will be something the team needs to have the discipline to set aside if they are to continue their run of success into the All-Star Game break.
Capitals 3 – Senators 2