The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The Washington Capitals, fresh off their 5-0 dismantling of the Columbus Blue Jackets to end the second-longest in-season winning streak in NHL history, look to extend a winning streak of their own when they visit the Ottawa Senators on Saturday night. Washington will head in the game carrying with them a four-game winning streak, the second longest in the league, with the Pittsburgh Penguins, now that Columbus’ run has ended (the Vancouver Canucks have a five-game streak going into Friday night’s game against the Calgary Flames).
Meanwhile, the Senators have not played since dropping a 2-1 decision to the Caps in Washington on New Year’s Day. It makes a lot of what we wrote for that game still relevant from their end.
So let’s take a look at the Caps. Starting with a 6-2 win in New Jersey over the Devils on New Year’s Eve, the Caps have four consecutive wins heading into this game. The Caps have outscored opponents by a 19-8 margin, those 19 goals scored by 14 different players. Those 19 goals generated points from 19 different players.
Justin Williams leads the group of goal scorers with three and is tied for the team lead over the last four games with seven points. It is part of a longer run of success for Williams who started the season sluggishly. After he managed only a 2-2-4, minus-4, scoring line over his first 23 games, Williams is 9-7-16, plus-7, in his last 15 games. One might call it the hockey gods paying a debt of sorts. Williams scored those two goals in his first 23 games on a total of 52 shots (2.26 shots per game/3.8 shooting percentage). Over those last 15 games in which he has nine goals, Williams did it on 30 shots (2.00 shots per game/30.0 shooting percentage). Here is an odd fact about Williams in his career. He has received votes for a league award only once. Not the Hart, not the Selke, not the Bing, not the Lindsay. Just one – the Conn Smythe. He won it. Caps fans hope he makes it two later this year. In 36 career games against the Senators, Williams is 7-12-19, minus-5.
Evgeny Kuznetsov is tied with Williams for the team lead in total scoring over the four-game winning streak (1-6-7, plus-6). He, too, is in the midst of a longer scoring run, going 1-15-16, plus-5, in his last 15 games after struggling to open the season with a 3-6-9, plus-5, scoring line in his first 23 games. He’s been streakier than Williams over this recent run with a six-game points streak followed by a three-game drought, then a stretch of points in four of his last six games heading to Ottawa. Kuznetsov is 1-2-3, even, in seven career games against Ottawa.
As a group, the Caps’ defense is 6-10-16 over the four-game scoring streak. John Carlson leads that group in goals (two) and total points (four) in those games. Carlson was on a career scoring pace last season (his 8-31-39 in 56 games was a 12-45-57 pace per 82 games), one limited by injury that cost him 26 games. On a per-82 game basis, it was one more year in an almost uninterrupted year-to-year improvement in points, starting with his 7-30-37 record in his first full season in 2010-2011. This year has been a step back so far. His 5-17-22 is on pace for an 11-37-48 finish, and despite the power play woes of the club overall, one for which he mans the high ground spot, his even strength scoring has been sluggish (4-9-13 versus 8-30-38 two years ago when he played in all 82 games). He is 5-6-11, plus-2, in 21 career games against the Senators.
1. Ottawa has had 28 skaters dress for the club this season, but only 17 of them have recorded points. Eleven players appearing in a combined 61 man-games did not record a point. As you might expect, none of them are “plus” players, posting a combined minus-18.
2. Since 1998-1999, when Ottawa recorded its first 40-win season in franchise history, only the New Jersey Devils among Eastern Conference teams have more wins (736) than the Senators (726). We don’t count Detroit, which spent most of those seasons as a Western Conference team.
3. Ottawa just doesn’t do well in first periods. Only nine times in 37 games have they taken a lead into the first intermission (6-2-1). Only Philadelphis (eight times) and Colorado (five times) have done it with less frequency.
4. Ditto for the scoring first thing. Ottawa does well when they do score first, holding the sixth-best winning percentage in the league. But they have done it only 15 times in 37 games. Only three teams – Tampa Bay (14), Vancouver (14), and Colorado (11) have done it less often.
5. Possession seems to be a four-letter word in Ottawa. They rank 28th of 30 teams in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 on home ice (47.86 percent; numbers from Corsica.hockey). It doesn’t get a lot better when adjusted for score, zone, and venue, either (45.51 percent). They rank 27th.
1. The Caps have six goals from five different defensemen over their four-game winning streak: John Carlson (2), Dmitry Orlov, Taylor Chorney, Karl Alzner, and Nate Schmidt.
2. In one of the weird sidebars of the four-game winning streak, the Caps’ special teams index (power play plus penalty killing percentages) is 100.0. Not that they have been equally efficient on both ends of special teams. The penalty kill has been fantastic (22-for-24/91.7 percent). The power play…not so much (1-for-12/8.3 percent).
3. Bet you noticed something else about those special teams numbers in the winning streak. Opponents have been on power plays twice as often (24 times) as the Caps (12 times). Think that is compatible with winning in the long term? No, we don’t, either.
4. With 38 games in the books, the Caps have taken 2,272 draws. They won 1,136, and they lost 1,136.
5. Adjusted for score, zone, and venue, the Caps are road warriors when it comes to possession. They rank first in the league by that measure in road games (54.91 percent; numbers from Corsica.hockey).
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Ottawa: Kyle Turris
At even strength, keep an eye on Kyle Turris. In 37 games he has 12 even strength goals to lead the club, almost as many as the next two Senators – Derick Brassard (7) and whichever of five players you care to pick who have six. He has been something of a Caps-killer generally when it comes to goal scoring. His goals-per-game mark against Washington (0.50) is the highest of any team against which he has played in his career. Naturally, he scored a goal (Ottawa’s only goal) in the game on New Year’s Day. He has slowly and steadily cobbled together a consistent season, point-wise. Only once since November 13th, spanning 23 games, has Turris gone consecutive games without a point (Games 35 and 26 on December 27 and 29 against the New York Rangers and Detroit Red Wings, both Senator losses, the latter in overtime). Overall, Turris is 7-3-10, plus-10, in 14 career games against Washington.
Washington: Dmitry Orlov
Did you know that there are only ten defensemen in the league with at least 15 points and at least a plus-10? That list includes Montreal’s Shea Weber. It includes San Jose’s Brent Burns. It includes Minnesota’s Ryan Suter. It also includes Dmitry Orlov (2-16-18, plus-13). Orlov is starting to come on in the offensive end of the rink. He started the 2016-2017 campaign going 0-2-2 in his first dozen games. Since then, though, he is 2-14-16 in his last 26 games. He’s not Erik Karlsson among offensive defensemen, but he’s not chopped liver, either. And, of that group of ten defensemen with at least 15 points and plus-10, he is, at 25 years of age, the second youngest (Minnesota’s Matt Dumba is 22). He also has points in his last six road contests (0-7-7, plus-6). In nine career games against the Senators, Orlov is 1-2-3, plus-5.
In the end…
The obvious concern in this game is, for the Caps, a letdown after the big win on Thursday night. On the other hand, Ottawa has had five off-days for rust to accumulate, and they are bringing a three-game losing streak in, to boot (0-2-1). This has the makings of a sloppy game, one that might resemble last Sunday’s game and not in a flattering way for either team. Still, when the final horn blows, the Caps could find themselves leap-frogging both Pittsburgh and the Rangers into second place in the Metropolitan Division with a win, depending on what the Rangers do in Columbus on Saturday night (Pittsburgh is in the midst of an eight-day break and do not play again until Sunday). That should provide some incentive, right?
Capitals 3 – Senators 2