The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The Washington Capitals wrap up their three-game California road trip hoping to salvage one win out of the journey when they face the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday night. Washington, having dropped three in a row going back to their last home game, a loss to the Dallas Stars, have not lost four in a row since January 2015 and have not lost four in a row in regulation time since Games 8-11 of the 2014-2015 season (part of what would be a five-game losing streak).
The Ducks have been treading water over the past six weeks or so. Since February 1st they are 7-8-1. While the Ducks slipped from one point behind the San Jose Sharks in the Pacific Division to seven points behind through Friday’s games over that span, the Ducks are still in third place in the division and are fifth in the Western Conference.
In the 16 games since February 1st, only one Duck is in double digits in points. Ryan Getzlaf, the Ducks’ leading scorer this season (12-41-53) is 5-10-15 over those 16 games. He scored those points in bunches with four multi-point games, two of them of the three-point variety. If there is an odd quality to his scoring over this stretch it is that in the four games in which he scored goals, the Ducks lost three times (including a two-goal game against the Arizona Coyotes). This is the tenth full season in a row (not counting his 57-game rookie season and the abbreviated 2012-2013 season) that Getzlaf topped the 50-point mark. And, he seems well on his way to finishing the season with his eighth 60-point campaign in his career. It is all part of a resume that makes Getzlaf a player who ranks fourth in assists (561) and ninth in the league in points (794) since he came into the league in 2005-2006. Getzlaf is 5-9-14, plus-2, in 13 career games against the Caps.
Rickard Rakell leads the team in goals over their last 16 games (seven), adding to his team-leading goal total for the season (28). He is the only duck to date to have topped the 20-goal mark. While Rakell has been the finisher for this team, he has not been much in terms of setting up scores. With a scoring line this season of 28-11-39, he and the New York Rangers’ Michael Grabner are the only players in the league with 25 or more goals and 15 or fewer assists. Rakell is one of the more efficient shooters in the league this season. Of 259 skaters recording at least 100 shots on goal, Rakell is fifth with a 20.3 shooting percentage. And don’t let him get going on shots. Six times this season he recorded five or more shots on goal, and in four of those occasions he recorded goals, three of those being two-goal games. Rakell is 0-0-0, minus-1, in four career games against Washington.
Cam Fowler leads the Duck defensemen in scoring this season (11-22-33), but his point production has been off since February 1st. After going 11-16-27 in his first 52 games this season, he is 0-6-6 in 16 games since February 1st. The absence of goal scoring is something that doesn’t seem to matter when looking at the games this season in which he did record goals. Anaheim is just 5-4-2 in games in which Fowler has goals this season. Nevertheless, Fowler is a minutes-eater. He has 34 games this season skating at least 25 minutes. That ranks eighth in the league. Fowler is 0-6-6, minus-9, in nine career games against the Capitals, that minus-9 being the worst he has over his career against any Eastern Conference team.
1. Since February 1st, the Ducks’ special teams have been very good and very bad. The good is the penalty kill, which is 49-for-55 over those 16 games (89.1 percent, third in the league since February 1st). At the other end, the power play is an anemic 3-for-42 (7.1 percent, worst in the league over that span).
2. The Ducks have had six players record more than 50 minutes in penalties this season, including one no longer with the team (Joseph Cramarossa logged 51 penalty minutes before being claimed off waivers by Vancouver): Jared Boll (80), Josh Manson (67), Kevin Bieksa (61), Corey Perry (57), and Ryan Kesler (57).
3. As befits a team that takes so many penalties, the Ducks are tied with the Winnipeg Jets for the most shorthanded situations faced this season (234, through Friday’s games).
4. Trailing after two periods is no recipe for success in the NHL, but it has been particularly difficult for the Ducks to win in such situations. Only the San Jose Sharks and Florida Panthers have fewer wins when trailing after two periods (one apiece) than the Ducks (two), and Anaheim has the fourth-worst winning percentage when trailing after 40 minutes (.071/2-19-7).
5. Anaheim has trouble generating offensive pressure as reflected in shot attempts. Their shot attempts per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 (54.70) ranks 20th in the league. On top of that, their Corsi shooting percentage is 3.88 percent, 19th in the league (numbers from Corsica.hockey). Not getting a lot of attempt and converting on comparatively few of them at fives is a combination that kills offensive production.
1. The loss in Los Angeles on Saturday night was the Caps’ tenth road loss in regulation time this season, matching the total they had in all of the 2015-2016 season.
2. The Caps, who lead the league in wins when scoring first, lost both games of this road trip having scored the game’s first goal. They have dropped into second place in the league in winning percentage when scoring first (.766/36-7-4).
3. In 11 games since the February break, the Caps scored two or fewer goals nine times, averaging 2.18 goals per game.
4. Penalty killing in road games has deteriorated for the Caps recently. The two goals they allowed Los Angeles on six power plays makes it three times in the last four road games the Caps allowed two power play goals. In those last four road games, Washington is just 13-for-19 killing penalties (68.4 percent).
5. Washington has allowed four or more goals in three of their last four road games. They allowed four or more goals in just five of their previous 29 road games.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Anaheim: Corey Perry
From 2005-2006 through last season, only four players in the NHL scored more goals than Corey Perry (330). Only six players had more 30-goal seasons. That was then, this is now. Perry is in the midst of what might be his most disappointing season in a 12-year career, all of which has been spent with the Ducks. Perry managed just seven goals in his first 30 games, and if anything, he is slowing down. He has just five goals in his last 38 games, one in his last 12 contests. His shooting efficiency has, by his career standards, been awful. Before this season Perry was a 13.6 percent shooter, but this season he has just 12 goals on 181 shots (6.6 percent). He has been particularly cold at home of late. Perry has gone his last 17 home games without a goal, his last one coming back on December 11th in a 5-1 win over the Ottawa Senators. Perry is 6-8-14, minus-1, in 14 career games against the Caps.
Washington: Nicklas Backstrom
Nicklas Backstrom did not record a point against the Los Angeles Kings last night. That makes two games in a row he did not post a point, and that is an uncommon occurrence for Backstrom this season. Only six times in 67 games has Backstrom gone two of more games in a row without a point, and, with the Ducks on tap for Sunday night, he has not gone three games without a point since Games 11-13 in early November. Backstrom getting on the score sheet matters for the Caps. He has points in 41 of 67 games this season, and in those games the Caps are 31-5-5. They are just 13-11-2 when Backstrom is held off the score sheet. Backstrom’s history in California is a bit odd. In 18 games played on the west coast in his career against San Jose, Los Angeles, and Anaheim, he is roughly a point a game player (4-12-16), but he is also a minus-10 and has only three “plus” games in the bunch. What he has been able to do is put up points in Anaheim. In five career games against the Ducks in Anaheim, Backstrom is 1-6-7, even, with three multi-point games in that group. Overall, he is 5-10-15, even, in 11 career games against the Ducks.
In the end…
There is “playing well,” and there are the rewards. Not every time does the former beget the latter, and it is tempting to say that last night was such a case for the Caps in Los Angeles. The Caps did out-attempt the Kings substantially at 5-on-5, topping Los Angeles by a 35-28 margin (55.6 percent Corsi-for). But converting those attempts into shots was a less successful enterprise, the Kings recording 15 shots at 5-on-5 to 13 for the Caps. It translated into a 3-1 advantage in goals for the Kings at fives. It had the look of a team playing well, but not well enough against a team scrambling to reach the postseason (the Kings are three points out of a playoff spot).
Anaheim is not in as dire a situation as the Kings, but the Caps are not playing at a consistently efficient level, either. The challenge here is to try to get an offense untracked against a good defensive team (seventh in scoring defense) and, should they get a lead, to hold and expand on a lead. That’s the sort of game management fundamental that has eluded the Caps lately and one they need to refresh as the playoffs approach.
Capitals 4 – Ducks 2