The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
After a week without hockey, the Washington Capitals get to play two games in less than 24 hours, following up their 3-2 Gimmick loss in Detroit to the Red Wings on Saturday afternoon with a 12:30 start in New York against the Rangers on Sunday. This will be the Caps’ first visit to Manhattan this season, having dropped a 4-2 decision to the Blueshirts at Verizon Center in the teams’ only meeting so far this season on October 22nd.
New York has made themselves relevant in the Metropolitan Division race again, putting together a six-game winning streak before dropping their last game, a 4-2 loss to the New York Islanders on Thursday. They have inched to within four points of the Columbus Blue Jackets for third place and are five behind the Pittsburgh Penguins in the division.
It has become a cliché to say that the Rangers will go only so far as goaltender Henrik Lundqvist will carry them. Lundqvist stopped 32 of 34 shots against the Columbus Blue Jackets on February 11th in a 4-2 win to become just the 12th goaltender in NHL history to win 400 games in his career. Of those 12 netminders, Lundqvist is the only one to record all of his wins with one franchise. The win comes in a season that has the ominous look of the beginning of, if not the winter, than at least the autumn of his career. His 2.69 goals against average is the highest of his 12-year career, and his .911 save percentage is the lowest in his career. It comes off a 2015-2016 season in which no goalie in the league saw as many shots as did Lundqvist (1,944) and in which no goalie made more saves (1,788). No goalie has had more seasons with 3,500 minutes or more in total ice time than Lundqvist since he came into the league (eight). He has been much better of late, going 8-2-0 in his last 11 appearances (one no-decision), with a 2.11 goals against average and a .934 save percentage with one shutout. In 33 career appearances against Washington, Lundqvist is 20-9-4, 2.63, .907, with four shutouts.
J.T. Miller just gets better and better. At least that is what his year-to-year numbers say. Now in his fifth season, Miller has improved each season in games played (from 26 in his rookie season to 82 last season and all 57 games this season), goals (from two in his rookie year to 18 – a 26-goal pace – this season), assists (from two to a career-high 28 this season), plus-minus (from minus-7 his rookie season to plus-19 so far this season). The three shorthanded goals he has this season (tied for the league lead) are the first three of his career. In the Rangers’ recent 6-1-0 run, he has had a hand in ten of the Rangers’ 23 goals (2-8-10). He’s been a good-luck charm this season, the Rangers going 29-5-0 in games in which he recorded a point. Miller is 2-1-3, minus-4, in 15 career games against the Caps.
Seven Defensemen have appeared in more than one game for the Rangers this season. All of them have at least one goal. None have more goals than Nick Holden. Holden, an undrafted free agent originally signed by the Columbus Blue Jackets, came to the Rangers ion June 2016 from Colorado for a fourth-round draft pick in 2017. The nine goals he has this season is one off his career high, recorded in 54 games with the Avalanche in 2013-2014. He is one of the unknown commodities on the blue line in the league, averaging as many goals per game over the last four seasons as Duncan Keith and Mark Streit and more than Alex Pietrangelo and Nick Leddy. However, his goal in the Rangers’ last game against the Islanders was his first goal in 17 games. In six career games against the Capitals, Holden is 1-0-1, minus-2.
1. Since being shut out by the Philadelphia Flyers, 2-0, on January 25th, the Rangers have scored four goals in each of their last five straight games at Madison Square Garden (4-1-0).
2. New York has won four straight on home ice, but not because they limited opponents’ shots on goal. Calgary (32 shots on goal), Anaheim (44), Nashville (37), and Colorado (34) averaged 36.8 shots on goal.
3. Caps fans will be concerned if there is any 4-on-4 time in this game. The Rangers are tied for the league lead in goals at 4-on-4 (six), while the Caps have yet to score in that situation this season.
4. Only two teams in the league have fewer penalty minutes per game than the Rangers (6:58) – Chicago (6:43) and Carolina (6:15).
5. The Rangers are not an especially formidable possession team on home ice. They rank 23rd in the league in home Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (48.87 percent; numbers from Corsica.hockey).
1. Getting power plays on the road is an infrequent occurrence for the Caps, relative to the rest of the league. Only three teams have had fewer power play chances than the Caps (77) – St. Louis (74), Columbus (73), and the New York Islanders (71 – and only two teams have spent less time on the power play than the Caps (123:46) – Columbus (114:24) and the Islanders (110:56).
2. The two goals the Caps allowed in the Gimmick on Saturday made it nine goals against on the road in the freestyle competition this season. No team has allowed more shootout goals in road games.
3. The Caps have four of the league’s top seven scorers since the calendar rolled over to 2017, Since January 1st, Nicklas Backstrom leads the league in points (31), Evgeny Kuznetsov is tied for fourth (25, with Mark Scheifele), T.J. Oshie is sixth (24), and Alex Ovechkin is seventh (23, tied with Connor McDavid and Nazem Kadri).
4. The Caps are one of four teams in the league to shoot over ten percent on the road (10.1). The others are Columbus (10.5 percent), Minnesota (10.7 percent), and the Rangers (11.5 percent).
5. Washington has the third-best save percentage of shot attempts at 5-on-5 in the league in road games (.963). Only the Rangers (.964) and Minnesota (.966) are better (numbers from Corsica.hockey).
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
New York: Michael Grabner
Michael Grabner has worn the number “40” at each of his four stops in the NHL – Vancouver, the Islanders, Toronto, and the Rangers. This season he is trying to match his goal total to that jersey number. With 26 goals in 56 games, Grabner is on a pace to finish with 38 goals. And, he has been coming on stronger of late on home ice. After going 17 games with just one goal at Madison Square Garden, his has goals in four of his last five contests on home ice and points in all five (5-2-7). The odd part is that he has goals in just nine of 30 home games he has played this season (12 of his 26 goals). The Rangers are 8-1-0 in those games, though. Grabner is 2-3-5, plus-1, in 20 career games against the Capitals.
Washington: Evgeny Kuznetsov
It is a measure of how deep the Caps are and how talented Evgeny Kuznetsov is that a second line center should be in the top-five in scoring since January 1st. In 22 games in the new year, Kuznetsov is 9-16-25, plus-15 (a 34-60-94, plus-56 pace), and he is tied with Nicklas Backstrom for the most even strength points in the league since January 1st (21). The Caps are 13-1-1 in the 15 games in which he recorded points in the new year, 7-1-0 in the games in which he recorded a goal. He has been doing it with considerable efficiency, too. He has not logged more than 20 minutes of ice time in a game since December 3rd and hasn’t skate more than 19 minutes in a game in this calendar year and is averaging just 15:54 per game. Kuznetsov is 2-6-8, plus-4, in 10 career games against the Rangers.
In the end…
The Caps are 19-2-2 since the last time they lost consecutive games, back in Games 33-34 in late December. They have not lost consecutive games on the same road trip since Games 14-15 back in mid-November. This is a team that can take care of business on the road and put losses behind them. The Caps take a 10-11-2 record at Madison Square Garden since the 2004-2005 lockout into this contest but are 10-6-1 in their last 17 visits to MSG, including wins in their last two games there. If we had a Magic 8-Ball, it might say, “signs point to a win.”
Capitals 4 – Rangers 2