Sunday, April 02, 2017

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 78: Washington Capitals at Columbus Blue Jackets, April 2

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals enter the home stretch of their season-long five-game road trip on Sunday with a visit to Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, to face the Blue Jackets.  This last of five regular season meetings between the Caps and Columbus will decide the season series between the clubs, each team having won a game in regulation and a game in extra time this season.  It will be the Caps’ second visit to Ohio this season, their last visit ending in an unpleasant 2-1 overtime loss to the Blue Jackets.

The teams met less than two weeks ago, the Caps dealing Columbus a 2-1 Gimmick loss at Verizon Center on March 23rd.  Since then, the Blue Jackets are 2-1-1, losing their last two contests and dropping a point to the Caps in the standings.  Four points behind the Caps with five games to play, this might be considered a must-win for Columbus if they are to maintain any hope of catching Washington in the race for the top spot in the Eastern Conference and perhaps the Presidents Trophy with the league’s top record.

The Blue Jackets have struggled to score in their four games since facing the Caps, getting a total of six goals in those four games and being held to a single goal in three of those contests.  Six different Blue Jackets have one goal apiece in that stretch, while four have two points apiece.  One of those players is Kyle Quincey (1-1-2), who joined Columbus at the trading deadline in February, sent to the Blue Jackets by the New Jersey Devils for defenseman Dalton Prout. Columbus is Quincey’s fifth NHL team, having also skated for the Detroit Red Wings, Colorado Avalanche, and Los Angeles Kings in his other stops.  I took Quincey quite a while to get a crooked number on his scoring line for Columbus, going his first 11 games with the Blue Jackets without a point, extending what would be a 17-game streak without a point that ended when he recorded an assist against the Philadelphia Flyers in a 1-0 win on March 25th.  Quincey is 1-4-5, minus-5, in 15 career games against the Caps.

Alexander Wennberg is another of those four players with two points in their last four games for the Blue Jackets (1-1-2).  It is part of a career year for Wennberg in games played (76), goals (13), assists (43), points (56), plus-minus (plus-9), and shooting percentage (12.6).  He also has career highs in power play goals (2) and power play assists (20), as well as total shots on goal (103).  He has been in something of a slump recently, though.  He is just 1-3-4, minus-1, in his last 16 games, and when he recorded a point in games last week over Philadelphia and the Buffalo Sabres, it was the first and only time in those 16 games he had points in consecutive games.  Both of those games in which Wennberg recorded points last week were wins, which is not unusual.  Columbus is 30-6-2 in games in which Wennberg has a point this season.  He is 1-4-5, minus-7, in 11 career games against Washington.

Defenseman Jack Johnson is also 1-1-2 in his last four games.  Until Quincey joined the Blue Jackets in March, Johnson was the oldest member of the Columbus blue line (he turned 30 in January).  Now in his 11th season and sixth with the Blue Jackets, Johnson is third on the franchise’s all-time list in games played by a defenseman (363).  He is also third among the franchise’s defensemen in goals (32), second in assists (110), and second in points (142).  No defenseman in Blue Jacket history has more game-winning goals than Johnson (six).  Despite his all-time high ranking among Columbus in a variety of categories, he is not a particularly prolific scorer from the blue line.  It means that when he does score, it has its benefits.  Columbus is 15-3-2 in the 20 games in which he registered a point this season. Johnson is 4-8-12, minus-4, in 19 career games against the Capitals.

1.  Columbus had a fine start to March, going 8-2-0 to begin the month.  They ended it with a thud, going 2-2-2 in their last six games of the month.  They scored just nine goals in those six games while allowing 12 (not including the Gimmick goal in the loss to the Caps).

2.  Part of the Blue Jackets’ charm this season has been winning one-goal games.  They are third in the league in winning percentage in one-goal games (.595/22-7-8), and in their six-game slide they are still 1-0-2 in one-goal decisions.

3.  Columbus is also one of two teams this season with a .500 or better winning percentage when allowing the game’s first goal (.500/14-11-3; Pittsburgh is .559/19-11-4).  In their 2-2-2 slide, though, they lost both games in which they allowed the first goal, a 5-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs and a 3-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks.

4.  The Blue Jackets are struggling mightily on the power play.  They are without a power play goal in their last nine games, going 0-for-17.  Four times in those nine games they enjoyed only one or had no power play opportunities.

5.  The Blue Jackets are not an especially effective possession team.  Overall this season, they rank 18th in the league in total shot attempt percentage-for (49.92 percent; numbers from  However, in their last six games, they rank 27th (46.07 percent).

1.  Washington has not stayed within the lines this season in terms of the rule book boundaries, ranking fourth overall in minor penalties taken (294).  They have been a lot better about it recently, though.  In their last seven games, over which they are 6-1-0, the Caps are tied for 22nd in total minor penalties taken (22), and they rank 24th in total penalty minutes recorded (51).

2.  The Caps can beat you close, and they can beat you up.  They are the only team in the league with a top-five winning percentage in one-goal games (.594/4th), two-goal games (.688/5th), and games decided by three or more goals (.724/3rd).

3.  Washington is very adept at putting teams behind the eight-ball.  They have scored the game’s first goal 54 times in 77 games this season, most in the league, and they are successful when they do.  Their record of 42-7-5 when scoring first is most in wins and best in winning percentage (.778).

4.  Here we are, 77 games into the season, and the Caps are still just one of two teams in the league without a goal scored at 4-on-4 (Carolina is the other).  What makes this fact a bit bizarre is that the Caps are ranked ninth in 4-on-4 ice time this season (83.86 minutes; numbers from

5.  The Caps have ramped up their possession numbers recently.  They rank fourth overall in total shot attempt percentage-for (51.82; numbers from, but rank second in their 6-1-0 run of late (56.20, behind Minnesota at 56.60).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Columbus: Scott Hartnell

In the history of the NHL, 20 players have appeared in at least 1,000 games, recorded at least 1,500 minutes in penalties, and scored 300 or more goals.  Scott Hartnell became the 20th member of that club late last season, and he is only active member of that group.  This season, he skates as the oldest player on the Columbus Blue Jackets roster (he will be 35 years old on April 18th).  The nine-time 20-goal scorer has slipped a bit in his goal scoring this season, currently sitting at 13 goals, his lowest total for a full season since he had 12 for the Nashville Predators back in 2002-2003, his third season in the league.  He has had an excruciating time of it lately in terms of goal-scoring.  He has not recorded a goal since he had a pair against the Carolina Hurricanes, including the game-winner, in a 3-2 win on January 21st.  That makes 29 games and counting since his last goal.  All he has on his score sheet is seven assists.  Perhaps a combination of his age, production, and the improvement in skill around him, Hartnell has recorded 15 or more minutes of ice time just five times in 74 games this season, none since November 29th.  He is averaging just 11:34 over that 29-game streak without a goal and had fewer than ten minutes in three of his last ten games.  Hartnell is 13-13-26, plus-5, in 44 career games against the Caps.

Washington:  Braden Holtby

When Braden Holtby allowed six goals on 25 shots on Friday in a 6-3 loss to the Arizona Coyotes, it was the third time in his career that he allowed six goals in a game, the first time it happened to him since he allowed that many twice in the 2012-2013 season.  It has been a rare occurrence for Holtby, but not as rare as you would think in the NHL.  Goalies have allowed six or more goals 53 times this season (through Friday’s games).   What is of more concern is his recent road record.   In his last five road games, Holtby is 2-3-0, 4.50, .843.  Holtby has been a good, if not great goalie on the road over his last three seasons (11th in goals against average at 2.39; 15th in save percentage at .915 among 67 goalies with at least 1,000 minutes), but this latest stretch might be cause for some concern.  In 16 career appearances against Columbus, Holtby is 10-3-2 (one no-decision), 2.52, .911, with one shutout.

In the end…

Columbus must win this game.  Lose, and the chances of overtaking the Caps in the standings evaporate to almost zero (with a regulation win, the Caps would have a six-point lead with four games to play for each team). The Caps want to make a statement.  Win in regulation, or perhaps in extra time for that matter, and they can start making space in the team’s offices for that Presidents Trophy.  It would send a message to an opponent who they could face in the second round of the postseason that the Caps are at or near the top of their game.  Columbus comes into this game staggering a bit.  The Caps come into it off one of their worst performances of the season.  These teams will not be in a good mood on Sunday.  This is as much a “playoff” game as one is likely to see in the regular season.  Caps fans will get a glimpse of just how ready the team is to work in that crucible.

Capitals 3 – Blue Jackets 2

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