The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
For the Washington Capitals, the 2015-2016 regular season enters its final phase on Saturday, when the Caps head to Detroit to take on the Red Wings as their bye week ends. For the Caps, their only visit to Joe Louis Arena this season is likely to be the last one as the Wings prepare to move on to Little Caesar’s Arena for the 2017-2018 season.
The Caps, to refresh your memory, will bring a six-game winning streak to The Joe and will be looking to win consecutive road games for the first time since January 19/21, when they beat the St. Louis Blues and Dallas Stars on their respective rinks. The Caps beat the Montreal Canadiens in their last road contest, 3-2, on February 4th, extending a trend of alternating road wins and losses over four games.
For the Red Wings, the second oldest NHL rink in the league (Madison Square Garden being the oldest) has not been a comfortable home this season. The 11 wins they have on home ice is the second-lowest home win total in the league (Colorado has seven home wins), and they come into this game 1-3-1 in their last five home contests.
Offense has been a clear problem for Detroit this season. The 2.37 goals scored per game is the lowest for the club in the post-2004-2005 lockout era. In fact, you would have to go back to the 1976-1977 season to find a Red Wing club with a more anemic offense (2.29 goals per game for a team that finished 16-55-9).
The Red Wings have one scorer in the top-50 in the league…barely. With 41 points, Henrik Zetterberg (13-28-41) is tied with Derek Stepan of the New York Rangers, Wayne Simmonds of the Philadelphia Flyers, and Mark Stone of the Ottawa Senators for 49th place in points. He did have a goal in the Red Wings’ 6-3 loss to the Caps On February 9th and does have a goal and an assist in three games since that meeting. Zetterberg is 7-6-13, minus-3, in 19 career games against the Caps.
One of the disappointments for the club this season has to be the production of Riley Sheahan. After posting modest, but respectable goal totals in the previous two seasons (13 in 2014-2015 and 14 last season), he has yet to light the red lamp in 55 games this season. No player in the NHL has taken more shots on goal than Sheahan (76) with nothing to show for it. He is one of just ten skaters of 814 to have dressed this season with a plus-minus of minus-20 or worse (he is minus-20). He comes into this game with one point in his last 12 games, over which he is a minus-7. Sheahan is 0-2-2, even, in 10 career games against the Caps.
Niklas Kronwall missed the February 9th game against the Caps, but he has been in the Red Wings lineup in the three games since, returning from a lower-body injury. Kronwall comes into this game having played in more games for the Red Wings as a defenseman (771) than only three defensemen in team history: Nicklas Lidstrom (1,564), Marcel Pronovost (983), and Red Kelly (846). This season, the 36-year old blueliner is having quite a struggle. In addition to being limited to 33 games by injury, he has yeat to score a goal this season (he has never gone an entire season without doing so), has just six assists, and his ice time is under 20 minutes per game (18:26) for the first time since he averaged 13:51 in 20 games in his first NHL season in 2003-2004. And, the Wings are just 11-17-5 in those games in which he did appear so far this season. Kronwall is 1-4-5, minus-6, in 17 career games against Washington.
1. The Red Wings are tied for the fewest wins in the league when leading at the first intermission (six). Then again, they have taken a lead into the first intermission just 12 times in 57 games. Even so, the .500 winning percentage when leading after 20 minutes is second-worst in the league (New Jersey is .476).
2. Maybe it is just the playing-with-a-lead thing, but the 12 wins Detroit has when leading after the second intermission is tied for third-fewest in the league, and only Colorado (.615) has a worse winning percentage than the Wings (.667) when leading after 40 minutes.
3. And, to complete the thought, Detroit’s .455 winning percentage when scoring first is worst in the league. Only Colorado (nine) has fewer wins in those situations than the Red Wings (ten).
4. Only Philadelphia has fewer wins by three or more goals (two) than Detroit (four).
5. The Red Wings are not generating much offense on home ice. Their 49.90 shot attempts per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 is third-lowest in the league (numbers from Corsica.hockey).
1. You look at the 14 wins the Caps have in one-goal games, which ranks tied for 12th in the league and might think, “wish that number was higher.” Then you look and see that they have just four regulation losses by one goal, a number that is less than all but two teams (St. Louis with two and Pittsburgh with one).
2. And, chances are you are not going to blow out the Caps. Only five times this season have they loast be three or more goals. That is fewer than all but three teams: Edmonton (four), the Rangers (four), and Minnesota (two).
3. The Caps have won 30 games this season when leading after two periods, five more wins than Minnesota. Then again, they take a lead into the third period so often – 32 times in 56 games (30-1-1).
4. Every Capital to have played in more than 25 games this has recorded at least ten points, 18 in all (Zach Sanford has two points in 21 games).
5. The Caps have the second-best goals-per-shot-attempt on the road this season (4.90 percent). Only Minnesota is better (5.39 percent; numbers from Corsica.hockey).
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Detroit: Dylan Larkin
If there is something to the idea of a “sophomore slump,” it might explain the season Dylan Larkin has had for Detroit. In a loaded rookie class last season that included Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, and Artemi Panerin, Larkin finished third in his class in goals scored (23), 11th in assists (22), and sixth in points (45). His plus-11 tied for fifth in that group, and only Panerin (seven) had more game-winning goals than Larkin (five). This season, he is limping along with a scoring line of 12-7-19, minus-18, in 55 games played. His minus-18 is second-worst on the club, and he has just one game-winning goal. He has not scored a goal over his last ten games and has only one point since then. Larkin is 1-1-2, plus-1, in five career games against Washington.
Washington: Barry Trotz
You have a team scattered to the winds for five days, get one good day of practice, then have to send them out on the ice on the road in their first game back together after the bye. This is one example of where one can see just how much a system and a philosophy has taken hold, the extent to which players play on physical and mental instinct through the rust. It’s not a vote of confidence in the coaching abilities of Barry Trotz, just an indicator of how much of what he has been preaching is now a part of the players’ DNA. Trotz is 6-2-0 against the Red Wings as coach of the Caps. A win would seal his first season sweep of Detroit behind the Washington bench.
In the end…
When you go on a week’s vacation after a long grind at the office, it probably takes you a day or two to get back into the rhythm of work. Now, imagine doing that while your competitors have spent that week grinding away at the job. And the Red Wings are going to be in an ugly state of mind, having lost five in a row (0-4-1), including that loss to the Caps on February 9th. It is a proud bunch that has less and less to play for in any practical sense, being as they are last in the Eastern Conference. This should be all a matter of how ready the Caps are to play after their hiatus. They tied the Red Wings in their first visit to that storied arena on the Detroit riverfront back in 1980. There are no ties in the NHL anymore, so the Caps will just have to scratch out a win.
Capitals 3 – Red Wings 2