Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 61: Washington Capitals at Nashville Predators, February 25th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals complete their back-to-back weekend on Saturday with a visit to Nashville to meet the Predators. A late-February trip to Music City would not normally register high on the interest meter for the regular season, but this game might be different. The Caps will be trying to deny a young Predator the opportunity to tie a long-standing and only once-tied individual record in the NHL. And it happens that the young Predator in question happened to be a former first-round pick of the Caps and was a key piece of one of the most infamous trades in team history.

By now, the diligent Caps fan knows that the object of this part of the discussion is Filip Forsberg, taken by the Caps with the 11th overall pick of the 2012 draft. Less than a year later he was traded to Nashville for Martin Erat and Michael Latta. Erat played parts of two seasons with the Caps before he was traded to the Phoenix (now Arizona) Coyotes with John Mitchell for Chris Brown, Rostislav Klesla, and a fourth-round draft pick (that fourth round pick was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes with Jack Hillen for Tim Gleason). Klesla was traded with Michal Neuvirth to Buffalo for Jaroslav Halak, who played 12 games with the Caps before he was traded to the New York Islanders for a fourth round draft pick that was later parlayed into a third-round pick that was used to select Nathan Walker. Brown was traded in 2016 to the New York Rangers for Ryan Bourque. Latta played in 113 games over three seasons with the Caps before heading off to Los Angeles as a free agent (he is now in the Chicago Blackhawks system). So in the end, Forsberg went to Nashville, and the Caps ended up with…Ryan Bourque and Nathan Walker.

Forsberg would be of special interest in this game only for the aforementioned history. But this game is, or rather could be, special. Last Tuesday, he recorded a hat trick in a 6-5 overtime loss to the Calgary Flames. On Thursday night he recorded another hat trick, this one in a 4-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche. Should Forsberg bring the hats raining down in Nashville on Saturday, he would become the third player in NHL history to record hat tricks in three consecutive games. Joe Malone did it twice in the 1917-1918 season, and Mike Bossy did it in 1980-1981 (no, none of the games were against the Caps). Forsberg’s goal-splosion of sorts can be viewed as either unexpected (even with the six goals he ranks tied for 23rd in the league with 22) or the cork popping from the pent-up pressure (he had one goal in his previous 11 games). In four career games against the Caps, Forsberg is 4-2-6, plus-1).

The Predators have dressed 35 skaters this season, a high number for this point in the schedule. Looked at another way, only four skaters have appeared in all 60 games to date for Nashville. The one that might have Caps fans asking, “who?” is defenseman Mattias Ekholm. Think of him as Nashville’s version of Karl Alzner, but with a little more edge in his game. He is about the same size, bears a passing resemblance to the Caps defenseman, and has put up somewhat better offensive statistics (19-62-82, plus-24 in his 287 NHL games). What he has is more penalty minutes, almost 50 more (134) than Alzner had at a similar point in his career (87 in his first 287 games). Ekholm had a modest two-game point streak broken in the win over Colorado on Thursday night. He is 2-2-4, even, in five career games against the Capitals.

It is hard to figure out just what the Predators have in goalie Pekka Rinne these days. Is he, at age 34, starting that long slow descent through the latter stages of his career, or is he just a guy in a slump? Whatever the case, he is 4-3-0, 3.08, .893 with one shutout over his last nine appearances, and he has been pulled twice from games. He has been much more effective on home ice this season, even if he has not been any more efficient. That is to say, he does have a 15-5-4 record on home ice, compared to 8-10-2 on the road, and he does have a 2.31 goals against average on home ice, compared to 2.71 on the road. However, his home ice save percentage of .917 in barely distinguishable from the .915 save percentage he has on the road. The big difference is in the shots he faces – only 27.7 per 60 minutes on home ice versus 32.0 shots per 60 minutes on the road. He has faced the Caps only three times in his career with a 2-1-0, 2.68, .911 record.

1.  Nashville has never been a consistently explosive offensive team, but this year’s edition has the third-highest scoring offense in franchise history (2.85 goals per game). It also has the third-best power play in team history (18.8 percent) and the second-highest shots on goal per game average (31.7).

2.  Scoring in the first period is a challenge for this team. In 60 games they have scored 37 goals, one fewer than they scored in the entire abbreviated 48-game season of 2012-2013. Only four teams in the league have scored fewer first period goals than the Predators this season.

3.  Winning close games has been a challenge, too. Their 10-6-9 record in one-goal games is the fifth-worst winning percentage (.400) in the league.

4.  Nashville has been stomping people in the middle period. No team has more second period goals this season (75), and they have a plus-28 goal differential, best in the league.

5.  Adjusted for score, zone, and venue, Nashville is sixth in the league in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (51.39 percent; numbers from It is largely a product of their offensive pressure; the Predators rank seventh in shot attempts per 60 minutes at fives (59.96).

1.  Once you account for the trick shot phase of the game, there is almost no difference between this year’s Caps and last year’s, record-wise.  Through 60 games this season, the Caps are 40-12-2 in games not settled with the Gimmick.  Last year, they were 42-11-3 in non-Gimmick games through the 60-game mark.

2.  Through 60 games, this year and last, the 2016-2017 team is slightly better on offense, scoring 200 goals (3.33 per game) compared to 197 goals at this point last season (3.28).  It is defense where this year’s team shines compared to last year, shaving a quarter-goal per game off their goals allowed (2.05 this year, 2.30 last year).

3.  Special teams are comparable through 60 games this year and last.  The 2016-2017 special teams index (power play plus penalty kill rates) of 106.4 (21.9 pp/84.5 PK) is just a shade off last year’s 107.5 (23.3 PP/84.2 PK).

4.  Starting with their 7-3 win in St. Louis on January 19th against the Blues, the Caps have alternated wins and losses in regulation on the road (4-3-0).  They will be looking to end that pattern after having beaten the Flyers in Philadelphia, 4-1, in their last road game.

5.  Only one team this season has given up more than three goals in a road game less frequently than the Caps.  Washington suffered that result just five times so far this season (0-4-1); the San Jose Sharks have four such instances (0-3-1).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Nashville: Viktor Arvidsson

The Predators are 6-5-2 over their last 13 games. Not a great record, to be sure, although they do have 43 goals scored over that span (3.31 per game). Viktor Arvidsson has had a hand in more of them than any skater (8-4-12) and is tied for the team lead in goals over that span (with Filip Forsberg). Arvidsson might be the least known productive player out of the 2014 draft. The fourth round/112th over pick from that draft is ninth in games played (120), ninth in goals scored (27), tied for eighth in points (57), and is tied for fifth in plus-minus (plus-7). This has been a breakout year for him. Playing in his first full NHL season (he played in 56 games last season and six the previous year), Arvidsson is 19-22-41, plus-15, in 58 games played and is tied for the league lead in shorthanded goals (three). He does have quite a disparity in home and road splits, though – 12-12-24, plus-15 in 31 home games and 7-10-17, even in 27 road contests. He does not have a point and is minus-2 in three career games against Washington.

Washington: Daniel Winnik

Calling a forward group “The Best Fourth Line in the NHL” might be damning with faint praise, given the responsibility of a fourth line generally.  Whether the Caps have that best fourth line might be a subject of debate, but it is hardly faint praise to put Jay Beagle, Tom Wilson, and Daniel Winnik in that discussion.  It is a group that contributes.  It is a trio that as a trio has been on ice for fewer 5-on-5 goals against (six) and has a lower goals-against per 60 minutes at fives (1.14) than any forward group in the NHL with at least 250 5-on-5 minutes played together (numbers from  

 The three have different roles.  Beagle is something of the energy guy who runs at high RPMs when he is on the ice.  Wilson is the one with the physical edge.  Daniel Winnik might be the glue that binds the three.  Only four times this season has Winnik been a “minus” player and never worse than minus-1.  The Caps are 5-0-2 in games in which he recorded a goal, and they are 12-0-3 in games in which he recorded a point.  He does not have quite the ice time, or the offensive numbers to go with it, that he had earlier in his career with the Anaheim Ducks, but he fills solid, reliable minutes that strengthens what in previous years has been a weakness of the club – the bottom six forwards, particularly its fourth line.  Winnik is 7-4-11, plus-4, in 26 career games against Nashville.

In the end…

These are the times that try the Capitals’ depth, but it tests how well players play in their lanes, too.  It is tempting to try to do more in the absence of key cogs like T.J. Oshie, Andre Burakovsky, Matt Niskanen, and Brooks Orpik, but the object isn’t to fill their roles as much as it is to do a better job of filling the role you are asked to play.  Coaches will try to shelter the replacements like Riley Barber, Aaron Ness, or Zach Sanford through matchups and shift management, but the regulars have to raise their game within the construct of their respective roles, too.  That makes this week – and this game – as much an opportunity as a challenge, an opportunity to put some steel in the spine of the club that they will need when the playoffs come around in a couple of months.

Capitals 3 – Predators 2

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