Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 77: Washington Capitals at Arizona Coyotes, March 31st

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

If Wednesday is “Hump Day” of the work week, then Friday night in Glendale, Arizona, the Washington Capitals will play “Hump Game” of their five-game road trip.  The Caps will face the Arizona Coyotes, a team they faced and defeated just six days ago, so we’re not going to spend much time rehashing the prognosto we wrote for that game But let’s just meander around the barn and see what interesting nuggets we can dig up about this contest…

-- Washington comes into this game having recorded three straight games on the road scoring five or more goals, beating the Lightning in Tampa Bay on March 18th (5-3), the Wild in Minnesota (5-4 in overtime), on March 28th, and the Avalanche in Colorado on Wednesday (5-3).  It might be the first time the Caps beat three teams with singular versions of their mascot names on the road in team history.  But more to our point here, it was the first time the Caps scored five or more goals in three straight road games in more than seven years, not since February 2010.  Oddly enough, they did so and still managed to lose two of the games.  The opened the trio of road contests with a 6-5 win over Rangers in New York, then lost in Montreal, 6-5 in overtime, and lost 6-5 in Ottawa.  The last time they scored five goals in each of four consecutive road games?  December 1992, when they did it against the Islanders (5-3), the Senators (6-5), the Devils (6-2), and the Flyers (5-2).  And just to top that off, two months later they scored 10 goals in consecutive road games, in St. Louis (10-6) and in Los Angeles (10-3).

-- Having lost both ends of a home-and-home since facing the Caps, Arizona is now 1-6-1 in their last eight games.  In six of those games they scored one or no goals.

-- Nicklas Backstrom is the leading point-getter for the Caps in March (3-15-18) and is tied for fourth in the league in scoring for the month.  T.J. Oshie has eight goals in March to lead the club; he’s tied for ninth in the league.

-- Twenty four times this season the Coyotes have been held to one or no goals, ten times in 38 games on home ice.

-- The Caps are second in the league in March on the power play (27.4 percent).  How many guesses would you have needed to come up with “Buffalo” as the league leader for the month (41.7 percent, and no, that is not a typo).

-- Washington has multiple power play goal games in consecutive contests for the first time this season (three against Minnesota on Tuesday, two against Colorado on Wednesday).  It is the first time they did it since scoring two power play goals in Games 45 and 46 in January of last season, against the Rangers and the Blue Jackets.  It is the first time they did it in consecutive road games since they did it three times in a row to end February and open March in 2014, doing it in Florida, in Boston, and in Philadelphia.

-- Alex Ovechkin has goals in three of his last five games, a total of five goals in that span.  If he gets two against Arizona, he will tie Guy Lafleur for 25th place in league history (560 goals).  With a hat trick he would tie Mike Modano for 24th place (561).  If he gets a power play goal, he breaks a tie with Keith Tkachuk for 13th place all-time (currently with 212).  He is second among active players in power play goals, four behind Jaromir Jagr, who played his first game in the NHL during the reign of Augustus Caesar.  If he gets the game-winning goal, he will tie Mats Sundin for ninth place all-time (96).

-- No Coyote has ten points this month (Tobias Rieder has nine).  Ho Coyote has five goals (Alex Goligoski has four).  No Coyote playing in at least ten of the team’s 15 games so far this month is a “plus” player (Anthony Duclair and Christian Dvorak are “even”).

-- Nicklas Backstrom is currently second among active players in assists per game (0.738), wedged between the centers in Pittsburgh, Sidney Crosby (0.824) and Evgeni Malkin (0.714).

-- Washington has five players with at least ten points in March: Nicklas Backstrom (18), Alex Ovechkin (12), Marcus Johansson (11), Kevin Shattenkirk (11), and T. J. Oshie (11).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Arizona:  Max Domi

After a fine rookie season that left him tied for sixth in goals (18), second in assists (34), and third in points (52) among rookies, Max Domi has not had so much a “sophomore slump” as he has had a “second season slide.”  His numbers have not fallen precipitously form his rookie campaign (9-24-33 in 54 games), but neither do they constitute an improvement.  He has struggled with goal scoring all season compared to last, but thinks took a turn since he came back at the beginning of February after missing 23 games with an upper-body injury.  In 28 games since his return, Domi has just four goals, none in his last eight contests.  Head coach Dave Tippett appears inclined to let Domi work through things, though.  For example, in March to date, Domi skated fewer than 16 minutes in a game just twice in 15 contests.  He is 0-2-2, plus-2, in three career games against the Caps.

Washington: Evgeny Kuznetsov

Evgeny Kuznetsov might be a player who is happy to get out on the road.  He had a goal and an assist in Colorado against the Avalanche on Wednesday to lift his scoring line on the road to 11-19-30 in 37 road games this season, third on the team in road scoring, behind Nicklas Backstrom (33 points) and Marcus Johansson (31).  He had been in a bit of a road slump after recording points in four straight road games in February, posting one assist over five games before his two point game against the Avs.  His road performance this season is a bit of a departure from his career totals, which are a bit behind on the road (29-54-83 in 126 games) versus his home record (23-73-96 in 129 home games).  What he does not have is much of a record against Arizona, against whom he is 1-2-3, minus-1, in five career games against the Coyotes.

In the end…

As road trips go, this one sure has the California trip from three weeks ago beat all to hell.  Two wins in two tries, admittedly against teams not at the top of their respective games, but two points are two points, and they all count in the end.  That said, the Caps might not be at the top of their game, either, especially at even strength.  Half of their ten goals are on power plays, leaving them outscored, 7-4 (not including an empty netter) at 5-on-5 in the two games.  They have been outshot overall, 65-55 in the two games, and they are just 45.5 percent on faceoffs.  They have gotten away with sloppy third periods, the one against Colorado perhaps a case of a second game in two days and having to play it at altitude.  Still, there is room for improvement in the Caps’ game, and if they are to extend their winning ways on the road and rack up a seventh straight win, they will have to do just that.

Capitals 5 – Coyotes 2

A TWO-Point Night -- Game 76: Washington Capitals 5 - Colorado Avalanche 3

The Washington Capitals made it two-for-two on their five-game road trip on Wednesday night with a 5-3 win in Denver over the Colorado Avalanche.  It was the power play that propelled the Caps to a win once more, the man advantage situations accounting for two of the team’s goals in the win.

John Carlson got the first of those power play markers early in the first period to start the scoring.  The trailer in what was a 4-on-2 rush into the Avalanche end, Carlson took a feed from Evgeny Kuznetsov and from the high slot snapped a shot past the glove of goalie Calvin Pickard at the four-minute mark to make it 1-0.

Colorado tied the game mid-way through the period when he took a drop-pass from Nathan MacKinnon in the middle of the ice and ripped a shot past the left pad of goalie Philipp Grubauer.  With 11:11 gone in the period, the game was tied.

Not for long.  Barely half a minute later the Caps had the lead back.  Jay Beagle led a fourth line rush into the Colorado end and fed the puck to Tom Wilson on his right as he was crossing the blue line.  Wilson tried to center the puck, but the puck clicked off the stick of defenseman Francois Beauchemin back to Kevin Shattenkirk.  His drive was redirected past Pickard by Beagle at 11:48 to make it a 2-1 game.

Early in the second period, the Caps added to their lead on another power play.  Working the puck low, Marcus Johansson fed Nicklas Backstrom in the corner to the left of Pickard.  Backstrom turned and fed the puck out to Shattenkirk, who walked back along the inside of the blue line.  He fired through a maze of players, and Johansson redirected the puck past Pickard, giving the Caps a 3-1 lead 4:57 into the period.

Six minutes later, the Caps added a goal when Johansson picked up a loose puck at the players benches, carried it down the right side, and fed Kuznetsov, who converted the feed off the near pipe and behind Pickard to make it 4-1, 11:03 into the period.

Then it was Colorado’s turn to strike back quickly, Matt Nieto finishing off a 2-on-1 break to make it a 4-2 game heading to the second intermission.

The Avs closed to within a goal early in the third period on a superb effort by MacKinnon.  Leading a 3-on-2 rush, MacKinnon skated the puck down the middle, weaved the puck past Dmitry Orlov inside the Caps’ blue line, broke in alone on Grubauer, and slipped the puck under his pads 4:29 into the period to make it 4-3.

The Caps got their insurance late in the period when Lars Eller intercepted a pass just inside his own line that Gabriel Landeskog could not handle and fired the puck down the ice into the empty Colorado net at the 18:38 mark to close the scoring in the Caps’ 5-3 win.

Other stuff…

-- The win was the Caps’ sixth in a row, the fourth time this season that they put together a winning streak of six or more games.

-- The five goals made it two in a row recording that many, the first time they posted five or more goals in consecutive games since they posted six goals in consecutive games against Detroit and Anaheim in Games 55 and 56 in early February.  It was the first time they recorded five or more goals in consecutive games on the road since they scored seven goals in each of Games 44 and 45 against Pittsburgh and St. Louis in mid-January.

-- Lars Eller broke a personal 21-game streak without a goal with his empty netter.  It was his first goal on the road since he potted one in a 5-2 win over the New Jersey Devils on January 26th.

-- Marcus Johansson followed up his four-assist game on Tuesday against Minnesota with a two point game last night (goal, assist).  He now has a four-game points streak over which he is 1-7-8.

-- Kevin Shattenkirk had a pair of assists, his third two-assist game in his last five contests.  He is now 0-11-11, plus-4, in 13 games with the Caps.

-- The win gave the Caps 110 standings points for the season, breaking their tie for third place in team history with the 2008-2009 club that reached the 108-point mark.  This club also broke a tie with that club for the third-highest win total in team history, this team recording its 51st win of the season.

-- On the heels of a 3-for-4 effort on the power play on Tuesday against Minnesota, the Caps were 2-for-3 last night.  They have power play goals in eight of their last ten games, over which they are 12-for-33 (36.4 percent) and are now tied with the Toronto Maple Leafs in power play efficiency for the season (23.3 percent).

-- Don’t let the power play success blind you to the penalty killers.  They blanked an opponent on the power play for the fifth straight game (15 shorthanded situations killed off).

-- Evgeny Kuznetsov has a goal and an assist, his first multi-point game in March.  Oddly enough, it was the assist that broke the longer streak of zeroes.  He had a streak of seven straight games without an assist ended, while his goal snapped a three game streak without one.

-- Shots and shot attempts were fairly balanced.  Colorado enjoyed a 63-57 edge in total shot attempts and a 50-49 edge at 5-on-5.  The teams were even in total shots on goal at 35 apiece, but the Caps had a 29-26 edge at fives.  In what might one of the odder numbers coming out of that, T.J. Oshie was the only Capital not to record a shot on goal in the game.

In the end…

On Tuesday it was the first line doing most of the damage.  Last night, the second line of Marcus Johansson (1-1-2), Evgeny Kuznetsov (1-1-2), and Justin Williams (0-1-1) combined with the third line of Andre Burakovsky (0-1-1), Lars Eller (1-0-1), and Brett Connolly to drive play and scoring.  Add in a touch of Shattenkirk (two assists) and Carlson (a goal) from the blue line, and it made for one of the more balanced score sheets the Caps have had this season.  

It is part of a longer trend.  The Caps’ offense is starting to pick up again overall.  They now have four or more goals in six of their last eight games and four or more in their last three contests.  Giving up seven goals in two games to a pair of struggling teams is not exactly part of the game plan, but last night might be explained in part by playing the second game of a back-to-back on the road and at high altitude.  That made for a third period that was a bit of an adventure.  With a day off, the Caps can get right back on track defensively when they visit the Arizona Coyotes on Friday, facing a team that will have mischief on their minds following the 4-1 loss the Caps hung on them last Saturday.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A TWO-Point Night -- Game 75: Washington Capitals 5 - Minnesota Wild 4 (OT)

If last night’s game between the Washington Capitals and the Minnesota Wild was an episode of the children’s show “Sesame Street,” it would be devoted to the letter “O.”  Alex Ovechkin had a hat trick, and T.J. Oshie added a pair of goals, including the game-winner in overtime to give the Caps a 5-4 win over the Wild.  The win allowed the Caps to maintain their three-point lead over the Columbus Blue Jackets in the Metropolitan Division standings.

Oshie got the Caps started mid-way through the first period.  It was due in large part to Oshie’s persistence in pursuing the puck as the Wild tried several times, without success, to get the puck across their blue line and out of their zone.  Finally, Oshie pulled the puck across his body to fee Ovechkin cutting right to left through the offensive zone.  Ovechkin collected the puck and fed Nicklas Backstrom coming down the middle over the blue line.  Backstrom one-timed the puck on net, but goalie Devan Dubnyk got his left pad on it.  Oshie jumped on the rebound and stuffed it past Dubnyk to make it 1-0, 11:36 into the period.

Minnesota tied it early in the second period when Jason Pominville converted a feed from behind the net by Martin Hanzal into a one-timer that beat goalie Braden Holtby at the 2:17 mark.  The tie lasted just five minutes when Ovechkin scored on a power play, one-timing a pass from Marcus Johansson from the left wing circle at the 7:31 mark.  Five minutes after that, Ovechkin had another power play goal, one-timing a pass from Kevin Shattenkirk from the same spot to make it 3-1 at the 12:28 mark of the period. 

Hanzal got the Wild back within a goal late in the second period when he backhanded a rebound of a Pominville shot through Holtby, making it 3-2 at the 15:43 mark.  That would be how the teams went to the second intermission.

In the third period, Ovechkin made it three goals on three power plays.  Although they lost a faceoff in the offensive end, the Caps hounded the wild into giving up the puck, Johansson sliding the puck up the right wing wall to Backstrom.  From the far edge of the right wing circle, Backstrom sent the puck across to Ovechkin at the top of the left wing circle, and he wristed it through Dubnyk to make it 4-2, 12:29 into the period.

Minnesota scored just over two minutes later when Dmitry Orlov tried to play the puck out of the defensive end, only to have it flagged down by Jason Spurgeon, who sent a long range shot from the right point past Holtby at the 15:03 mark.  Then, with Dubnyk pulled for an extra attacker in the last minute, the Wild tied the game when a Spurgeon shot ricocheted out to the left wing circle, right onto the stick of Eric Staal, who fired it into the open side of the net past Holtby with 26.6 seconds left.

In overtime, Oshie was denied on a chance to end it with a one timer from the doorstep, firing the puck wide.  The Caps reset the play though, with Johansson collecting the loose puck, circling out from behind the Wild net, and finding Oshie for another one-timer, this time from the left wing circle that beat Dubnyk to the far side, just inside the post to give the Caps the 5-4 win.

Other stuff…

-- The win was the Caps’ 50th of the season, fifth time in team history they hit that mark and the second consecutive year they did so (they had a team record 56 wins last season).

-- It was not his prettiest effort, but it was Braden Holtby’s 40th win, making him the third goalie in league history to win 40 or more games in three consecutive seasons.  Martin Brodeur did it with the New Jersey Devils in the 2005-2006, 206-2007, and 2007-2008 seasons (he won the Vezina Trophy in the latter two seasons and was runner-up in the first), while Evgeni Nabokov did it in the 2007-2008, 2008-2009, and 2009-2010 seasons (he was a Vezina runner-up in the 2007-2008 season).  Over his three seasons, Holtby is 128-40-23, 2.15, .924, with 20 shutouts.  Among 39 goalies having played at least 5,000 minutes over the past three seasons, Holtby is first in wins (23 more than Devan Dubnyk and Pekka Rinne), second in goals against average (Carey Price: 2.09), second in save percentage (Price: .929), first in shutouts, first in minutes played (11,493), first in games played (197), and first in games started (196).

-- Alex Ovechkin recorded his 17th career hat trick, the most in the NHL since he came into the league in 2005-2006 (Eric Staal has 13).  It was his 112th multi-goal game over that same period, 35 more than runner-up Sidney Crosby.

-- Oshie’s game-winner in overtime was his first overtime game-winning goal as a Capital (regular season; he did have one against Pittsburgh in a postseason game.  With the first of his two goals he eclipsed last season’s point total (51 last season, now 53 this season).  It was his sixth multi-goal game of the season and ninth in his two seasons with Washington (second over that span to Ovechkin’s 11).

-- Marcus Johansson had four assists, the first time in his career he recorded four assists in a game.  Nicklas Backstrom is the only other Capital to accomplish the feat this season (March 18th in a 5-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning).

-- Backstrom had three assists, the fifth time this season he recorded three or more assists in a game, the third time in March, and the second time this month against Minnesota.

-- Ovechkin had a four-point night of his own, the 21st time in his career he recorded four or more points in a game.  He is one of five Capitals to record four or more points in a game this season (Backstrom: 3 times, Oshie: 2, Kuznetsov: 1, Johansson: 1, Ovechkin: 1).

-- Lars Eller…tough night.  Finished minus-4 in less than 13 minutes of ice time.

-- Tom Wilson…odd night.  Double minor, fighting major, three hits, no shot attempts.

-- Minnesota won the possession wars, out-attempting the Caps at 5-on-5 by a healthy 38-22 margin (68.73 CF%).  The shots on goal were equally advantageous for the Wild at fives (21-10/67.7 percent; numbers from  In the little things that didn’t go well department, the Caps were sledgehammered in the faceoff circle, winning just 18 of 51 draws (35.3 percent).

In the end…

Sustaining success requires secondary scoring, but when a club gets as robust a baseline from their primary scorers, good things can happen, even when the underlying numbers do not look so good.  So it was for the Caps on Tuesday night.  The top line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and T.J. Oshie combined for all five goals and four assists.  For that, thank the power play, which, when you add in Marcus Johansson’s assists, had three goals on six shots and six of the 10 assists recorded.  And all that is nice, but the Caps did not have a particular good game at even strength.  Against a struggling team, that was disappointing, even for a road game.  But the Caps get a chance to get right back to it and do things the right way (or at least perhaps the more sustainable way) when they face the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday night.

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 75: Washington Capitals at Minnesota Wild, March 28th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

At this time of year a successful team is pursuing regular season milestones and records, and it certainly is true for the Washington Capitals as they head out on a five-game road trip, their longest of the season, beginning in Minnesota on Tuesday night when they visit the Wild.

The Caps set a franchise record on Saturday night when they defeated the Arizona Coyotes, 4-1, to secure their 31st home win, most in franchise history.  They also won their 105th game over two seasons, a record for wins by the club in consecutive seasons.  On Tuesday night in Minnesota, the Caps will seek to become the fifth team in franchise history to win 50 games in a season and do it in consecutive seasons for the second time in club history (they won 50 games in 2008-2009, then they won 54 games in 2009-2010). 

These two teams met just two weeks ago, the Caps winning by a 4-2 margin at Verizon Center.  Since then, the Wild are 1-5-1, part of a longer struggle in which Minnesota is just 2-9-1 over their last dozen games.  In that span of time, Minnesota went from having a one-point lead on the Chicago Blackhawks at the top of the Central Division and Western Conference to falling seven points behind the Blackhawks in the Central Division and Western Conference standings. 

Things really have not improved for the Wild since they faced the Caps back on March 14th.  They have had trouble scoring (15 goals, an average of 2.14 per game), and they have had problems keeping opponents from scoring (23 goals, and average of 3.29 per game).  Their scoring over those seven games has been led by a couple of veteran imports – Zach Parise (1-5-6) and Eric Staal (3-2-5).  Parise is in his fifth season in Minnesota (where he was born) after spending his first seven NHL seasons in New Jersey with the Devils. 

If there are two things that characterize Parise’s five seasons in Minnesota, one is his scoring, the other is his durability, or sporadic problems with it.  Over the last five seasons, Parise is the leading goal scorer for the Wild by a wide margin (122 to 78 to Nino Niederreiter).  On the other hand, over those same five seasons he has missed 47 games to a variety of maladies (foot, concussion, lower body, upper body, back, illness).   And for the Wild, it matters.  Parise, who is fifth on the club with 17 goals this season, is on a pace to finish with 20 goals, which would be his lowest total in a full or injury-free season since his rookie year in 2005-2006, when he finished with 14 goals in 81 games with New Jersey.   The 17 goals he has this season have come in 15 games in which the Wild are 10-3-2; they are 34-21-7 in games in which Parise has not recorded a goal.  He is 8-16-24, minus-1, in 30 career games against the Caps.

Eric Staal leads the club in goals over the seven games since facing the Caps (three), adding to his team-leading total of the season (26).  Staal has been one of the most reliable goal scorers for the Wild in March, posting nine in 14 games this month, including goals in his last two contests.  It is quite a change from a February in which Staal recorded just one goal in 12 games.  What sets apart Staal’s goal scoring so far this season from previous seasons, it is his efficiency.  With 26 goals on 192 shots on goal, his 13.5 shooting percentage is his best since he shot 16.1 percent in 2005-2006.  He is a bit more efficient on home ice (14.3 to 12.9 percent), but his 26 goals have been split evenly, home and road.  Staal is 28-44-72, plus-3, in 73 career games against the Caps.

Playing defense is a tough job in the NHL, one that generally requires a physical presence that can stand up to the pounding one gets on a nightly basis.  It makes someone like Jared Spurgeon, all 5-feet, nine-inches and 164 pounds, look like an outlier (he is the lightest defenseman to have dressed in the NHL this season).  Still, he has had enough talent and moxie to survive seven seasons and 443 regular season games in the NHL, all with the Wild, although he was originally a sixth-round draft pick of the New York Islanders in 2008.  This season his 32 points is second among Wild defensemen to Ryan Suter’s 37 points.  Those 32 points are part of what is a career year on offense for Spurgeon, eclipsing the 29 points he recorded last season in 77 games.  Spurgeon, who is second among the club’s defensemen in shots on goal this season (133, to Suter’s 152), has only eight shots on goal over the seven games played by the Wild since they faced the Caps, none finding the back of the net.  He has liked home cooking, though, going 5-15-20, plus-19, in 37 home games compared to 3-9-12, plus-11, in 34 road games.  Spurgeon has little exposure to the Caps in his career, going 2-0-2, minus-3, in four games against Washington.

1.  Small wonder that the Wild have fallen on hard times recently.  Since they lost to the Caps, they are tied for 18th in goals scored (15), and only Colorado has allowed more goals (27) than the Wild (23).

2.  Over that same period they are a bottom half-ranked team on special teams, 20th on the power play (17.6 percent), 21st in penalty killing (76.5 percent).

3.  Minnesota has dressed nine defensemen this season. Eight of them have goals.  Only Gustav Olafsson has failed to record a goal, going without one in 13 games.

4.  Winning when leading after two periods is something that is consistent among the teams in the NHL.  No team, not even the Colorado Avalanche, has won fewer than 60 percent of their games when leading after 40 minutes.  However, only six teams have lost more games when leading after two periods than the Wild (three losses in regulation, three more in extra time).  Toronto is the only club among those six that is currently playoff-eligible.

5.  For a playoff team, one that counted itself among the top clubs in the league a short time ago, the Wild struggle with possession.  They rank 21st in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 overall (48.82 percent), 20th when adjusted for score, zone, and venue (49.71 percent; numbers from

1.  Since they beat the Wild on March 14th, the Caps are 4-0-1.  Over those five games, Nicklas Backstrom leads the club in total points (1-7-8).  T.J. Oshie leads in goals scored (four).

2.  The Caps are 4-for-13 on the power play since they last played the Wild (30.8 percent), 8-for-9 killing penalties (88.9 percent).

3.  The Caps will be looking to reverse a poor stretch of road play on this trip.  They are 3-5-1 in their last nine road games.

4.  Washington has won only once in Minnesota in their history against the Wild, that coming in their last meeting in Minnesota, a 3-2 win last March 19th.  The Caps are 1-6-1 all-time in Minnesota against the Wild.

5.  Washington is third in the league in Corsi-for when adjusted for score, zone, and venue (53.81 percent; numbers from

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Minnesota: Devan Dubnyk

Devan Dubnyk has had two distinctly different seasons in 2016-2017.  In his first 45 appearances he was 32-10-3, 1.97, .934, with five shutouts, and was a candidate to be a Vezina Trophy finalist.  However, in 16 appearances since then, he is 5-9-1 (one no-decision), 2.92, .897, and he is has slipped somewhat from the Vezina conversation.  It is really the first sustained stretch of adversity he has faced since joining the Wild in January 2015 after being traded to Minnesota by the Arizona Coyotes for a third round draft pick.  He has been among the best goalies in the league over the last two seasons, seventh in goals against average (2.26), fifth in save percentage (.922), and tied for second in shutouts (ten), even with his recent struggles.  If he is looking to come out of his slump against the Caps, that might be a tall order.  Dubnyk is 2-4-0, 3.39, .893 in six career appearances against Washington.

Washington: Marcus Johansson

Marcus Johansson might be having the quietest career season imaginable.  He already has a career-high 22 goals and has a career high 48 points.  His plus-21 has obliterated his previous best (plus-12 last season).  He is shooting a career best 19.0 percent, and he is within a shift’s worth of time of his career high in average ice time (16:59 versus 17:32 in 2013-2014). Johansson is in the midst of his fourth consecutive and fifth overall 40-plus point season and seems a virtual lock to hit 50 points for the first time in his career.  With 18 even strength goals, he could reach 20 for the first time in his career.  And yet, he does it well within the boundaries of the rule book.  Johansson is the only active player in the league having appeared in more than 450 games (493) with fewer than 75 career minutes in penalties (62).  He has ten minutes in penalties this season, and his career high is 16 minutes in a season (2015-2016).  How few is that?  Since he came into the league in 2010-2011, there are 249 players who have had single games with 16 or more penalty minutes.  Johansson is 2-2-4, plus-6, in eight career games against Minnesota.

In the end…

This is an opportunity for the Caps to take advantage of a team that is struggling.  Even at home, the Wild have had their problems, losing four of their last five games on home ice.  As for the Caps, they are in a bit of an odd position with this opponent.  Even with the Wild’s struggles, they are on a path to host a first round playoff series with, it would appear, either Nashville or St. Louis, and little would seem to be in the cards to affect that result.  Rather, it is the Caps who find themselves in a more urgent situation with regard to their standing.  They have a slim three-point lead on the Columbus Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins in the Metropolitan Division.  Depending on how they fare on their five-game road trip that begins in Minnesota, the Caps could solidify their position at the top of the standings, or they could find themselves in the unenviable position of giving up home-ice advantage in the first round of the postseason.  For the Caps, this is more of a “must-win” game than it is for the Wild.

Capitals 3 – Wild 2

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 24

The Washington Capitals swept three games in Week 24, each of the games presenting their own challenges.  In winning the week, the Caps returned to a pattern that was missing in recent weeks.  They won for a second straight week, the first time they put together consecutive winning weeks since Weeks 17 and 18.  Let’s look at how they did it.

Record: 3-0-0

Three home games, three wins.  In accomplishing that feat, the Caps set a franchise record for home wins in a season.  When they beat the Arizona Coyotes, 4-1, on Saturday night, it was their 31st home win of the season.  That snapped a tie with the 1985-1986 and 2009-2010 clubs that had 30 home wins apiece.  It also happened to be their seventh perfect week of the season.

It was by no means an easy week to navigate.  Their first opponent for the week – the Calgary Flames – came to Verizon Center with a 12-1-0 record in the 13 games leading up to that contest.  The Columbus Blue Jackets were the team nipping at the Caps’ heels in the standings for weeks, a team that had a franchise record 47 wins and 100 points when they arrived in Washington.  The Arizona Coyotes were the club with nothing at stake and nothing to lose.  This Caps team finished the week as the fifth-winningest team in club history, their 49th win to end the week breaking a tie with the 2010-2011 Caps (48-23-11) and the 1983-1984 Caps (48-27-5).  The two points they earned against the Blue Jackets  in the middle game of the week broke their tie with the 1999-2000 team that finished with 102 points.

Offense: 3.00/game (season: 3.19 /game; rank: 2nd)

Even slipping a bit relative to their season average, the Caps finished the week with only the Pittsburgh Penguins averaging more goals per game than Washington.  They did it in different ways.  Against Calgary, the Caps beat a goaltender – Brian Elliott – who won 11 straight decisions and had not lost a game in regulation time in more than a month.  In beating Sergei Bobrovsky and the Columbus Blue Jackets, it came down to T.J. Oshie reprising his role as trick shot artist extraordinaire from his Sochi Olympics days.  Then, the Caps overcame their frustration in dominating the Arizona Coyotes in shot attempts, but finding themselves unable to solve goalie Mike Smith but once until late in the Saturday game.

Individually, seven players shared the nine goals, Alex Ovechkin and Daniel Winnik each getting a pair.  For Ovechkin, the two goals allowed him to finish the week with 30 goals for the 12th consecutive season, one of three players (Mike Gartner and Wayne Gretzky being the others) to start their careers with 12 consecutive seasons with at least 30 goals.  For Winnik, it was the second time this season and third as a Capital that he had a two-goal game (his first of the game being the game-winner), that coming against the Coyotes to end the week.  He scored his goals three minutes apart late in the third period, the shortest amount of time to score two goals in any of the six games he did it in his career.

Twelve different players recorded points with Nicklas Backstrom (1-3-4) and Kevin Shattenkirk (0-4-4) leading the way.  Brooks Orpik had an assist to break an eight-game streak without a point.  T.J. Oshie’s goal against Calgary in the first game of the week made it 30 on the season, the first time in his career he reached the 30-goal mark.  Among players appearing in 30 or more games this season, Oshie is seventh in goals per game (0.49).  Jay Beagle had an assist in the third win of the week, against the Coyotes.  In 82 career games in which Beagle recorded a point for the Caps, the team’s record is 67-8-7, and they are 31-2-5 in the 38 games he recorded a point on home ice.

Defense: 1.33/game (season: 2.14 /game; rank: 1st)

The Caps faced the good, the bad, and the “meh” in terms of opponents’ offenses for the week.  Calgary is a middle of the road team (ended the week 16th in scoring offense), Columbus is a very good offensive team (fifth), while Arizona is challenged in the offensive end (27th).  Still, holding three opponents to a total of four goals speaks to good defense from the net out.  The skaters limited chances for opponents, finishing the week by allowing just 51.52 shot attempts per 60 5-on-5 minutes, fewer than their fifth-ranked figure for the season (53.24; numbers from 

It was a case of the Caps taking advantage of possession-challenged teams, Calgary ranking 19th at week’s end in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 on the road, Columbus ranking 21st, and Arizona ranking last in Corsi-for on the road.  For the week, the Caps won the 5-on-5 battle with a 59.60 Corsi-for percentage at fives and a shots for share of 59.15 percent (numbers from, largely by limiting opponents’ opportunities to generate any offense.

Goaltending: 1.30 / .956 (season:  2.03 / .926 / 11 shutouts)

Braden Holtby got all the minutes in Week 24, and he was more than up to the task.  He stopped 86 of 90 shots over the three games and by the end of the week was second among all goalies in wins (39, Sergei Bobrovsky has 40), third in goals against average (2.01, behind Jimmy Howard and Bobrovsky), seventh in save percentage (.927), and first in shutouts (eight).  By period, he was excellent in the first periods of games (25-for-26/.962), sublime in the second period (23-for-23/1.000), and very good in the third (35-for-38/.921).  He also stopped all three shots he saw in overtime against Columbus and denied the Blue Jackets on all three shot attempts he faced in the Gimmick.  When he beat Columbus in the middle game of the week, it extended an amazing streak.  He has not lost in regulation to an Eastern Conference team in the 2017 portion of the season, not since dropping a 4-3 decision to the New York Islanders on December 27th.  Since then, Holtby is 17-0-2, 1.63, .939, with four shutouts against Eastern Conference teams.

Power Play: 3-for-10 / 30.0 percent (season:  21.8 percent; rank: 7th)

It was a good, solid week on the power play for the Caps.  The were 2-for-3 against the Calgary Flames, the first time the Caps recorded two power play goals in a game in six weeks, since doing it in a 5-0 win over the Carolina Hurricanes on February 7th.  When they went 1-for-4 against Arizona to end the week, it was the first time since Week 18 that they had a week of 30 percent or better on the power play.

The Caps certainly felt the presence of Kevin Shattenkirk on the man advantage.  He did not have a goal, but he did have four shots on goal and had the primary assist on both power play goals against Calgary.  Alex Ovechkin led the Caps in shots on goal on the power play for the week (six) and scored a pair of goals. T.J. Oshie was the player shooting in a bit of bad luck, getting four shots on goal without anything to show for it.  He did have a power play assist for the week, though, getting the secondary helper on Nicklas Backstrom’s power play goal (on his only power play shot on goal for the week) against Calgary.

Penalty Killing: 7-for-7 / 100.0 percent (season: 84.2 percent; rank: 7th)

Few chances, no goals.  That’s the way you draw it up.  When the Caps allowed the Flames a single power play chance, it was the third straight game that Washington limited an opponent to a single power play chance.  As it was, the seven shorthanded situations faced were the fewest faced by the Caps in 19 weeks with three or more games played this season.  It was the second time in four weeks and the fifth time this season that the Caps killed all the shorthanded situations they faced in a week.   It was also an efficient penalty kill, allowing only ten shots on goal in 14:00 of shorthanded ice time.  It was a particularly efficient penalty kill against Columbus, who managed a single shot on goal in four power play minutes.

Faceoffs: 81-173 / 46.8 percent (season: 50.0 percent; rank: 13th)

It was not a good week in the faceoff circle for the Caps.  They were below 50 percent in all three games and under 50 percent in both the offensive and defensive zones for the week.  It was not as if they were facing the best of the best in that particular skill, either.  None of the three teams they faced outranked them in the team faceoff rankings.

Individually, it was a good week for Jay Beagle, who outperformed his already highly-ranked faceoff winning percentage, winning 61.8 percent of his draws to finish the week ranked seventh among 145 skaters taking at least 250 draws this season (57.1 percent).  Evgeny Kuznetsov took the most draws this week (42) but won only 13 (31.0 percent).  He finished the week ranked 135th among that same group of 145 skatrers with 43.2 percent.  T.J. Oshie was the other Caps taking more than ten draws finishing over 50 percent (7-for-143/53.8 percent), while Lars Eller finished under 50 percent in that group for the Caps (16-for-34/47.2 percent).

Goals by Period:

The week had a certain common quality about it.  Slow starts and busy finishes.  Only three goals were scored in first periods for the week (two by the Caps, against Calgary and Arizona), while the Caps and their opponents combined for eight of the 13 total goals for the week in the third period, the Caps holding a 5-3 edge.  The Caps did maintain a positive goal differential in each period for the week.  It allowed the Caps to finish the week with the best goal differential in first periods this season (plus-41 to plus-32 for Columbus) and finish in a tie with Pittsburgh for the best goal differential in third periods (plus-32).  Washington finished the week as one of four teams with positive goal differentials in all three regulation periods and overtime (Columbus, the New York Rangers, and the Edmonton Oilers are the others).

In the end…

It was a good week.  Any week with three wins in three tries qualifies.  The Caps had superior possession numbers, but their offense did not track cleanly with that level of dominance, especially given they held a slim 5-4 edge in 5-on-5 goals despite a Corsi-for north of 55 percent.  But looking at the particulars, there were those dominant underlying numbers at 5-on-5, there were the good special teams results, there was the excellent goaltending from Braden Holtby, there was the find secondary scoring from the likes of Daniel Winnik, and there was the record-setting home win on Saturday.  There was not a lot not to like for Week 24. 

The three game sweep at home for the week was an especially welcome result, given that the Caps now embark on a five-game road trip over eight days, taking them through three time zones.  It might be just the sort of change in routine that the Caps need to keep their focus fresh as they head into the last few games of the regular season. 

Three Stars of the Week:
  • First Star: Braden Holtby (3-0-0, 1.30, .956)
  • Second Star: Kevin Shattenkirk (0-4-4, plus-3, 12 shots, 20 shot attempts, four hits, four blocked shots, 20:35 ice time per game)
  • Third Star: Nicklas Backstrom (1-3-4, even, 1-2-3 on power plays, one game-winning goal)

Saturday, March 25, 2017

A TWO-Point Night -- Game 74: Washington Capitals 4 - Arizona Coyotes 1

If the Washington Capitals were going to make franchise history, they did it in what was one of the stranger games of the 2016-2017 season.  The Caps beat the Arizona Coyotes, 4-1, but the score was closer than it looked, even as the possession numbers looked like more of a blowout.

The Caps had the look of a team that would make short work of the Coyotes, out-attempting them 10-5 in the first 8:30.  At 8:31, Alex Ovechkin scored on the power play on the team’s 11th shot attempt when Nicklas Backstrom, at the goal line to the left of goalie Mike Smith, took a feed from Marcus Johansson, then threaded a pass through to Ovechkin, who wristed the puck past Smith on the far side to make it 1-0.

The Caps dominated possession after that, but they could not find that second goal over the next 40 minutes.  It would be the Coyotes, hanging around for those 40 minutes, who would tie the game in the latter half of the third period.  It was a superb play by Anthony Duclair, who poked the puck off the stick of Andre Burakovsky in the Arizona end, chased the puck down in the neutral zone, skated in ahead of the pack, and got a shot on goal.  Braden Holtby made the initial stop, but Peter Holland followed it up and stuffed the puck in before Holtby could reorient himself.  After more than 50 minutes of dominance, the Caps let the Coyotes back into the game with the tying goal at 12:29.

The goal seemed to wake the Caps from their slumber, though.  A Jordan Martinook shot from the hash marks was muffled by John Carlson in front, and the loose puck was scooped up by Dmitry Orlov.  Fending off Jamie McGinn as he exited the defensive zone, Orlov reached the red line and eased the puck to Daniel Winnik on his right.  Winnik darted into the right wing circle and snapped a shot over Smith’s left shoulder on the near side to make it 2-1 at the 15:21 mark.

Less than half a minute later, the Caps had insurance.  Connor Murphy had the puck get lost in his skates as he was backing to his own blue line, and Marcus Johansson hounded him enough to give up the puck along the left wing wall.  Kevin Shattenkirk found it and threw it across, trying to find Evgeny Kuznetsov cutting to the net.  The puck sailed through and off the right wing wall with enough force to give Justin Williams a free look.  Williams did not waste it.  He one-timed it off the bar at the back of the net to give the Caps a 3-1 lead at 15:53 of the period.

Winnik sealed things late.  With Smith on the bench for a sixth attacker with less than two minutes left, Jay Beagle chipped a loose puck from the left wing circle in his own end past Alex Goligoski to Winnik exiting the zone.  Winnik worked his way between Murphy and McGinn and skated in on the empty net.  With McGinn draped on his back, Winnik one-handed the puck in as he was being hauled to the ice.  The empty netter at 18:21 sealed the 4-1 win.

Other stuff…

-- The Capitals set a franchise record with the win, their 31st home win of the season.  It snapped a tie with 1985-1986 and 2009-2010 clubs that had 30 home wins apiece.

-- Alex Ovechkin scored his 30th goal of the season on a power play in the first period.  In doing so, he joined Mike Gartner and Wayne Gretzky as the only players in NHL history to record 30 goals in each of their first 12 seasons in the NHL.  He’s going to have a bit of a challenge to get the most consecutive seasons to start a career with 30-goal seasons.  Gartner did it in his first 15 seasons.

-- The Caps had a 28-8 advantage in shot attempts in the first period, 12-3 in shots on goal.  It took Arizona more than 27 minutes to record ten shot attempts.  By the end of 40 minutes, that shot attempt advantage was 56-27, Caps.

-- Daniel Winnik scored exactly three minutes apart for his second two-goal game this season and his third as a Capital.  The two goals in three minutes was the shortest amount of time Winnik took to score two goals in any of his six career two-goal games.

-- Evgeny Kuznetsov had an odd game.  He had seven shot attempts (three on goal) in the first 23:30 of the game and none in the 36:30 thereafter.  He also lost all ten of the faceoffs he took and was one of just three Caps under 50 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (47.06).

-- Kevin Shattenkirk had his second two-assist game in his last three contests.  He has eight points (all assists) in 11 games as a Capital.  He also had eight shot attempts (tied for team lead with Alex Ovechkin) four shots on goal (tied for team lead with Ovechkin and Winnik) and was plus-3 (tied for team lead with Marcus Johansson).

-- The plus-3 was Johansson’s third such game this season and first since November 16th in a 7-1 win over Pittsburgh.

-- Jay Beagle won 13 of 18 faceoffs.  The rest of the team went 11-for-37 (29.7 percent).  Beagle also had an assist.  It was also the 82nd game of his career with the Caps that he recorded a point.  Washington is 67-8-7 in those games, 31-2-6 on home ice.

-- Braden Holtby stopped 28 of 29 shots.  It was the 16th time in 35 appearances on home ice this season in which he allowed one or no goals.  Overall he is 26-6-2, 1.74, .933, with seven shutouts on home ice.  He is first in the league in home wins, first in goals against on home ice, second in save percentage (Sergei Bobrovsky: .941), and first in shutouts on home ice.

-- You would think, looking at the gross numbers, that the Caps dominated, and to an extent they did.  However, at one point they held a 56-28 advantage in total shot attempts, but at game’s end, that advantage was 69-46.  At one point, they held a 37-14 (72.55 percent Corsi-for) advantage in 5-on-5 shot attempts, but at the end that advantage was 48-36 (57.14 percent; numbers from

In the end…

It came all too easy for the Caps early in terms of being able to dominate play.  But for the play of Coyote goalie Mike Smith, this game would have been over before the last strains of the National Anthem echoed away.  But they left the Coyotes hang around and hang around, and finally a misplay turned into a goal, and the Coyotes might have thought, “hey, we’re still in this.”  The Caps have far too much skill and experience than the young Arizona squad, and they converted opportunities late.  But this was a reminder that they will face goalies down the road who can steal games, and they will do so against teams that can skate with them.  They need to bear down harder than they did for stretches of this game when they seemed a little too satisfied with taking shots from long distance and not making Smith’s night harder to bear. 

Friday, March 24, 2017

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 74: Arizona Coyotes at Washington Capitals, March 25th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals close their three-game home stand looking for a sweep when the Arizona Coyotes come to town on Saturday night. The Caps come into this game having won four of five overall and have point in all five contests (4-0-1). Arizona, which had been making progress with a three-game winning streak earlier this month (tying their longest of the season), have fallen back again with a 1-3-1 record in their last five games.

Offense has been hit or miss for the Coyotes for a while now. In their last 11 games they scored four or more four times, and they were held to one or no goals five times, while posting a record of 5-4-2. The lack of scoring shows up in the individual point totals, too. Tobias Rieder leads the club with seven points in those 11 games (2-5-7). That is not especially surprising, given he is the third-leading scorer for the season (16-18-34). But the thing is, he hasn’t done much scoring, either in the last 11 games or the season for that matter, on the road. He has a goal and an assist in five road games in this 11-game stretch (although his overall scoring in March has been his best month to date) and is just 6-8-14 in 36 road games (sixth on the club in road points). Rieder is 1-2-3, plus-3, in four career games against the Caps.

Brendan Perlini and Radim Vrbata lead the Coyotes in goals in this 11-game span (three apiece). Vrbata appeared in his 1,000th NHL game on March 9th, a 3-2 overtime loss to the Ottawa Senators. He has moved around in doing it, playing for six franchises in his career, including two tours with the Coyotes, for whom he has played in 502 of his 1,008 career games. In this, his first year in his second tour with the Coyotes after two years in Vancouver, he has had a personal comeback of sorts.   His goal scoring is up (from 13 last season to 18 this year), as are his assists (from 14 to 34) and his points (from 27 to 52). With a late-season push he could challenge his career high in points (63 in 2014-2014 with the Canucks). Vrbata is 7-5-12, minus-7, in 18 career games against Washington.

Perlini is at the other end of the experience scale, a 12th overall draft pick in 2014 by Arizona and in his rookie season with the Coyotes. His 13 goals (in just 49 games) is tied for 11th among rookies. He has had a bit of a rough time lately as far as goal scoring goes. After potting single goals in three straight games, he is now six games and counting without one; without a point, in fact. This will be his first game against the Caps.

Then there are the goalies. Arizona has employed four of them so far this season – Mike Smith, Louis Domingue, Justin Peters, and Marek Langhamer. Of the quartet, Mike Smith has had the most work (50 appearances) and has the best numbers. He is the only one of the four with a goals against average under 3.00 (2.94) and the only one with a save percentage over .905 (.914). He also happens to be the only one to pitch at least one shutout this season (three). He was in the net eight times over the Coyotes’ but has little to show for it or perhaps deserves a bit better fate than he has had. He is 2-4-2, 2.99, .920 in those games, that save percentage perhaps deserving more success than he had. One manifestation of the lack of offensive support he has had this season is that he has a record of 6-21-4 in 31 games in which he allowed three or more goals this season. Smith is 2-7-1, 3.72, .879 with one shutout in 11 career appearances against the Caps. That save percentage against Washington is the worst he has against any opponent he has faced.

1.  Arizona has ten players at minus-10 or worse, Oliver Ekman Larsson being at the bottom of the heap with a minus-24. Only two of 287 defensemen in the league to have dressed this season – Damon Severson of New Jersey (minus-27) and Tyson Barrie of Colorado (minus-29) – are worse.

2.  The Coyotes are the only team in the NHL with two players in the top ten in credited hits. Luke Schenn is second (252), and Connor Murphy is ninth (170).

3.  Who scores first hardly seems to matter concerning Arizona. They have the second-worst winning percentage when scoring first (.486/18-14-5) and the third-worst winning percentage when scored upon first (9-24-4/.243). If not for Colorado threatening to finish the season with the fewest wins in a season since the 2004-2005 lockout, Arizona would have the worst record in the league.

4.  Arizona doesn’t blow anybody out. Their four wins by three or more games is tied for fewest in the league (with, who else, Colorado). They’ve lost 20 such games, second-most in the league (the Avalanche have 25).

5.  No surprise here…Arizona is the worst possession team in the league. Adjusted for score, zone, and venue, they have a Corsi-for at 5-on-5 of 45.77, well south of 29th-place Vancouver (47.10; numbers from

1.  In their five-game points streak, the Caps are 3-for-14 on the power play (21.4 percent) and 10-for-12 killing penalties 83.3 percent).

2.  The Caps have 40 or more shots on goal in three of their last five games, all of them on home ice. All but one of their instances of 40 or more shots have come at home this season (they had 41 in a 3-2 Gimmick loss to Pittsburgh on Opening Night).

3.  All six defensemen who appeared in more than 20 games this season for the Caps are better than plus-10. Only one Capital defenseman who has appeared in at least ten games is a “minus” player – Kevin Shattenkirk (minus-1).

4.  Milestone watch…If Daniel Winnik gets a goal, he will be the 11th player this season to reach double digits in goals for the Caps. If Justin Williams gets a power play point, he gets to ten, giving the Caps six players with at least ten power play points this season. Lars Eller and Andre Burakovsky could reach the 100-shot mark for the season; Burakovsky needs three, while Eller needs two. If Jay Beagle gets the game-winning goal, he would be the fourth Capital to register at least five game-winners this season.

5.  The Caps are making progress on the penalty front in one respect. They are up to having the fifth worst penalty differential at 5-on-5 (minus-28). At one point this season they were worst (numbers from

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Arizona: Shane Doan

Only 14 players in NHL history – and only two active players – have appeared in more games in the NHL than Shane Doan. His 1,536 games played trails only Jarome Iginla (1,545) and Jaromir Jagr (1,702) among active players. He is fourth in the history of the league in games played with one team, trailing only Alex Delvecchio (1,549), Nicklas Lidstrom (1,564), and Gordie Howe (1,687), all of whom did it for the Detroit Red Wings. Doan, who actually got his start with the original Winnipeg Jets incarnation of the franchise (their last year in Canada) is now in his 21st and perhaps last season (his contract expires after this season). He is hardly the player he was ten years ago, but who would expect him to be? Still, he is on a pace to finish with fewer goals (seven) than he had in any full season since he finished the 1998-1999 season with six goals. He is on a 28-point pace, which would be his fewest since he had 22 points in that same 1998-1999 season.   At the moment, he has one goal and nine points in his last 19 games and two goals and 15 points in his last 36 games.  Doan, who is currently day-to-day with a lower body injury (but could return against the Caps)  is 8-8-16, plus-3, in 26 career games against the Caps.

Washington:  Andre Burakovsky

Andre Burakovsky has become, if not a primary scorer for the Capitals, than something more than a secondary scorer.  That was never more evident than when he missed 15 games with an injured hand, over which the Caps went just 7-6-2 and averaged just 2.47 goals per game.  Compare that to the Caps with Burakovsky in the lineup, where they are 39-10-6 and average 3.40 goals per game in the 55 games in which he has played (he also missed three games in December).  It isn’t that the Caps are particularly successful when he scores on his own (6-1-3 in ten games in which he scored a goal), but in the 23 games in which he recorded a point, Washington is 18-2-3.  Over his last 17 games, straddling that injury absence, he has only one set of consecutive games without a point and is 6-10-16, plus-15 (and does not have a “minus” game in the group).  The odd thing about his scoring is the relative lack of it at Verizon Center this season.  He is 2-12-14 in 30 home games, while going 9-8-17 in 25 games on the road.  In four career games against Arizona, Burakovsky is 0-1-1, minus-3.

In the end…

Yes, this could be another of those “trap” games for the Capitals.  It is their getaway game before embarking on a five-game road trip through three time zones over nine days.  And taking a team like the Coyotes lightly, even if it is their fourth game in their own five-game road trip, is a recipe for disappointment and would make the road trip that is coming one with more pressure than it should have.  Put them on the mat, stand on their throats, get the two points, and head off on your journey.

Capitals 5 – Coyotes 1

A TWO-Point Night -- Game 73: Washington Capitals 2 - Columbus Blue Jackets 1 (OT/Gimmick)

The Washington Capitals fought through a lot of frustration on Thursday night, launching more than 30 shots over their first two periods without a goal and falling behind the Columbus Blue Jackets in the third period before tying the game with a third period strike and squeezing out a 2-1 win in the Gimmick to extend their lead in the Metropolitan Division over the Blue Jackets.

After neither team could score in the first 40 minutes, Columbus got on the board in the first minute of the third period. From a scramble in front of the Washington net, Brandon Dubinsky chipped a shot past a diving Braden Holtby and off the far post. The puck caromed out to the edge of the right wing faceoff circle where Seth Jones pounced on it and snapped a shot past Holtby, who could not recover in time to defend the shot. Columbus had the 1-0 lead 41 seconds into the period.

Six minutes later, the Caps finally got a goal of their own. They had 31 shots on goalie Sergei Bobrovsky over the first two periods without success, but they finally found the back of the net on a play that started with Justin Williams keeping the puck in the offensive zone, spinning around defenseman Zach Werenski and sliding the puck down the left wing wall to Marcus Johansson in the corner. Johansson fed the puck back out to Dmitry Orlov at the top of the offensive zone, and Orlov blasted a shot that beat Bobrosvky over his glove and into the top corner of the net to make it a 1-1 game, 6:39 into the period.

That did it for the scoring in regulation, and after neither team could score on any of their three shots in overtime, things were settled in the freestyle competition. T.J. Oshie opened the last portion of the contest by snapping a shot through the legs of Bobrovsky. It would be the only score either team would have, and when Holtby stopped Alexander Wennberg’s weak backhand attempt in the third round, the Caps had the 2-1 win.

Other stuff…

-- The Caps won just their second game of the season in the trick shot phase, their first since a 4-3 win over the Carolina Hurricanes on December 16th.

-- The win left the Caps’ two points ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who lost in the Gimmick to the Ottawa Senators, 2-1, and extended their lead over the Columbus Blue Jackets to three points in the Metropolitan Division.  It seems a certainty that two of these three teams -- three of the four top teams in the league standings -- will face one another in the first round of the postseason.  Thanks, Gary.

-- Alex Ovechkin just can’t find the back of the net for trying. He had eight shots on goal and 17 shot attempts for the game. He has one goal on 26 shots on goal in his last three games.

-- Every Capital recorded a shot on goal Except Justin Williams, whod did contribute an assist.

-- Matt Niskanen had six of his shot blocked.  That matched the entire total of Columbus shots blocked by the Caps.

-- Another piece of evidence of how much the ice was tilted in the Caps’ favor.  There were only 13 faceoffs taken in the Caps’ end of the ice, while there were 34 faceoffs taken in the Columbus end.

-- Good thing, too.  The Caps were just 4-for-13 in defensive zone draws (30.8 percent).

-- Odd fact…the Caps have won each of their last three games in which they scored just one goal in regulation.  In addition to this win, they won a 2-1 overtime decision against Philadelphia on March 4th, and they won a 1-0 decision over the New Jersey Devils on March 2nd.

-- Stopping 29 of 30 shots in goal, Braden Holtby is now 4-0-1 in his last five appearances with a 1.96 goals against average and a .932 save percentage.

-- Nothing, not shots, not faceoffs, and certainly not goals, illustrate the possession advantage the Caps had more than shot attempts at 5-on-5.  The Caps had a 74-35 edge in that department (67.89 percent).  It contributed to a 37-20 advantage in shots on goal at fives (64.9 percent; numbers from

In the end…

This could have been the kind of game that would haunt the Caps for the rest of the regular season.  They dominated territory for long stretches of the game, and almost succumbed to a freakish goal off a goal mouth pileup.  But on “Russian Heritage Night,” a night that featured a Russian former Hart Trophy winner pitted against a Russian former Vezina Trophy winner, it was an unheralded Russian to score his first goal in almost three weeks to get the Caps even, and then an American who achieved near legendary status in the Sochi Olympics with his trick shot prowess to beat the heralded Russian netminder that hearkened back to those days in Russia three years ago.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 73: Columbus Blue Jackets at Washington Capitals, March 23rd

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

More than 150 years ago, America went through a bit of nastiness that is often referred to in places below the Mason-Dixon Line as “The War of Northern Aggression.” It seems fitting that a hockey team representing a city in which many of the “blue jackets” worn by the northern aggressors were manufactured should be invading Verizon Center on Thursday night in what will be a pivotal battle in the war to finish atop the Metropolitan Division standings and perhaps in the war to capture the Presidents Trophy as the team that finishes at the top of the NHL league standings for the season.

And so it is that the Columbus Blue Jackets will face the Washington Capitals on Thursday night in what could be a game that will leave one or the other on top of the division and league standings at the final horn. Columbus will have played the previous night against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and a win in that game would tie them with the Caps in standings points going into the Thursday night matchup (edit: Columbus was defeated by the Maple Leafs, 5-2).

The Blue Jackets are the team that just won’t go away. One might have written off their 16-game winning streak that ended in Washington on January 5th as one of those things that happens, that the team would then fall back to earth. But Columbus is 20-13-2 since their big winning streak (still a 98-point pace). They come into this game winners of seven of their last eight games and have not lost consecutive games in six weeks (an overtime loss to Pittsburgh and a loss to New Jersey on February 3rd and 4th).

Over those 35 games since their big winning streak, the Blue Jackets have taken a collegial approach to scoring. Five players – Brandon Dubinsky, Cam Atkinson, Seth Jones, Zach Werenski, and Alexander Wennberg – all have 20 or more points in that span. Three – Atkinson, Nick Foligno, and Boone Jenner – have ten or more goals.

Cam Atkinson, the only player who shows up on both lists, is the team’s leading goal scorer over the last 35 games with 15. Three of them are game-winners, two of them in overtime. It is part of what has become a career year all around for the six-year veteran. Atkinson already has career highs in goals (33), assists (27), and points (60); and he is at the moment a career-best plus 14. His ten power play goals on the season almost equal his total in 159 games over the preceding two seasons (11). His 15.6 shooting percentage is another career high at the moment, and he is averaging more ice time than in any of his previous five seasons (18:10). He is that rare player who has been more dangerous on the road than at home, at least when it comes to goal scoring. Of his 33 goals this season, 19 have come on the road (in 35 games) to 14 at home (in 36 contests). Atkinson is 8-5-13, plus-3, in 16 career games against Washington.

Brandon Dubinsky, who hardly needs an introduction to Caps fans from his years with the New York Rangers, leads the team in points over this 35-game stretch (8-15-23). It has been quite a change from his first 34 games of the season, over which he was just 3-12-15. Long known as an ornery player with a talent for getting under the skin of more talented players, Dubinsky seems to be returning to those roots. He is on a pace to finish with more penalty minutes than he has had in any of the last two seasons, and with a big night or two could finish with his first 100-minute season of penalties since 2011-2012 (110 in 77 games with the Rangers). When Dubinsky does get on the score sheet he, like good secondary scorers, makes it count. Columbus is 25-3-3 in games in which he recorded a point so far this season. He is also equally efficient on the road as at home, going 6-13-19 in 34 road games and 5-14-19 in 35 home games. Dubinsky is 6-13-19, plus-2 in 32 career games against the Caps.

Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky has come back to earth…well, closer to earth…since he went 15-0-1, 1.68, .939 from November 25th through January 3rd. Starting with his loss to the Caps on January 5th, he is 14-8-2, 2.20, .927 with three shutouts in 24 games. It is not bad, by any means, but that GAA is 10th among 50 goalies playing at least 500 minutes in that span, and his save percentage is sixth. Those numbers are more in line with his season numbers on the road (16-5-4, 2.26, .920, three shutouts), which are quite different than those he has at home (23-8-0, 1.88, .939, three shutouts). He is on another lengthy success streak, going 9-1-1, 1.45, .954, with three shutouts in his last 11 appearances. Bobrovsky is 6-6-3, 3.16, .899 against the Caps in 16 career appearances.

1.  Since their 16-game winning streak ended, Columbus is 12th in the league in goal differential (plus-12), fourth-best among Eastern Conference teams currently qualifying for the playoffs, behind the Caps (plus-50), Pittsburgh (plus-28), and Boston (plus-17).

2.  One noticeable problem area for Columbus since the winning streak ended is their power play. During the streak, their 28.2 percent power play was second in the league (Calgary was 33.3 percent over that same period). Since then, it is just 12.9 percent, third worst in the league over that span.

3.  The Blue Jacket penalty kill, on the other hand, has actually improved since the streak. After going 79.6 percent in 16 straight wins (19th in the league during that period), Columbus is at 84.3 percent in the 35 games since (fourth).

4.  The before and after with respect to the end of the streak has one entirely expected component. During the streak the Blue Jackets shot 12.1 percent as a team, second-best in the league (Minnesota was 12.3 percent over the same period). Since the streak, Columbus is shooting 9.2 percent, 15th in the league over that span.

5.  Columbus is not an especially effective possession team at a high level. They rank just 14th overall in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 this season (50.26 percent). But adjusted for score, zone and venue, they rank fifth overall (51.34 percent; numbers from

1.  California looms large in the recent fortunes of the Caps, but if you hold that trip harmless as another in a long history of unproductive trips to California, the Caps aren’t doing badly. If you take that three-game road trip out of their last 11 games overall, the Caps are 6-2-0, averaging 2.88 goals per game, allowing 1.88 goals per game, and have a special teams index of a whopping 119.2 (26.9 percent power play, 92.3 percent penalty kill). Moral? more games in California.

2.  In those eight games, the Caps have had a dominating 268-214 edge in shots on goal overall (SF% of 55.6) and have recorded shots in three of their last five games not played in California (okay, all of them were at Verizon Center).

3.  The Caps have allowed opponents a single power play opportunity in each of their last three games.

4.  Washington is tied for the league lead in first period goals scored this season through Tuesday’s games (74)…with Columbus. The edge the Caps have is that they have allowed the fewest goals in the league in the first period (34), six fewer than the second-place team…Columbus.

5.  The Capitals have the third-best adjusted Corsi-for (score, zone, and venue) in the league at 52.66 percent, behind only Boston (55.07 percent) and Los Angeles (53.66 percent; numbers from

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Columbus: Seth Jones

Since November 29th, when the Columbus Blue Jackets started their 16-game winning streak, Seth Jones is tied for tenth in the league among defensemen in scoring (7-26-33, the same scoring line as Kevin Shattenkirk it turns out). He is one of five defensemen over that span to record two overtime game-winning goals. Over those 51 games he is the team’s leader among defensemen in goals (seven), assists (26), points (33), and ice time (23:14 per game). He is the only Blue Jacket defenseman this season to average more than a minute per game on both the power play and the penalty kill. Jones, who was taken with the fifth overall pick in the 2013 entry draft by the Nashville Predators, is fifth among all players taken in that draft in scoring (122 career points) and well ahead of the second leading scorer from that draft among defensemen (Rasmus Ristolainen with 109 points). Even though he has played just 106 games for Columbus in his career, he is tied for ninth in career goals by a defenseman (12, with Nikita Nikitin), 11th in assists (47), and 11th in points (59). Among Blue Jacket defensemen having played at least 100 games for the franchise, Jones ranks third in plus-minus (plus-7). He is 1-3-4, even, in six career games against the Caps.

Washington: Justin Williams

Although the Caps seem to be righting themselves after that sluggish return from the February break, one player seems to have been left behind a bit. In 16 games since returning from that break, Justin Williams is 2-5-7, minus-1. Those two goals are as many as Tom Wilson and Daniel Winnik have (a pair of fourth liners), and as many as Jakub Vrana has (in just nine games). It is not that Williams has been gun-shy; he is averaging a little over two shots on goal per game. But he is shooting just 5.9 percent in those 16 games compared to 13.4 percent for the season. For the Caps, his production matters. Washington is 16-1-1 in games this season in which Williams scored a goal and have not lost any of the ten games on home ice in which he scored a goal. Williams is 9-13-22, plus-12, in 31 career games against Columbus.

In the end…

To continue the Civil War analogy, think of this game as the equivalent of the Second Battle of Manassas. In the First Battle of Manassas, early in the conflict, the Union thought the Confederates would be easy pickings. They were wrong, as the Confederates dominated the battle and sent the Union forces into a disorganized retreat. Columbus came to the First Battle of Verizon Center on a 16-game winning streak last January and was feeling pretty good about themselves. That ended smartly, the Caps posting a pair of first period goals and winning, going away, by a 5-0 margin to end the streak.

Given the way these teams have dominated first periods this season, the Second Battle of Verizon Center will be one to watch early. Which team do we think will dominate?   Well, at the Second Battle of Manassas, the Union didn’t fare any better than in the first battle. Back to the north where you came from, damn Yankees…

Capitals 5 – Blue Jackets 2