Monday, January 02, 2017

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 37: Maple Leafs at Capitals, January 3rd

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Having gotten 2017 off to a good start with a New Year's Day win, the Washington Capitals look to double their pleasure and double their fun in the young new year when they host the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday night at Verizon Center.

The Caps find themselves in the midst of a regular rhythm in their schedule, playing every other date starting with the New Year’s Day win over the Ottawa Senators and lasting until January 16th, when the Caps will face the Pittsburgh Penguins in the back half of a back-to-back set of games.  As for the Maple Leafs, they will be coming off a wild and entertaining 5-4 overtime win over the Detroit Red Wings outdoors in the Centennial Classic at Exhibition Stadium in Toronto.

This will be the second of three regular season meetings between the clubs this season, the Caps dropping the first of them, a 4-2 loss in Toronto on November 26th.  Since then, the Caps are 9-3-3, while the Leafs are 8-4-3.  Despite the winning records, neither team has made much headway in the standings since that first meeting.  After that game on November 26th, Washington was third in the Metropolitan Division and fourth in the Eastern Conference.  On Tuesday, the Caps were fourth in the Metro and fifth in the conference.  Meanwhile, the Maple Leafs were fifth in the Atlantic Division and tenth in the Eastern Conference, precisely where they found themselves on Tuesday.

Toronto is led these days by a precocious trio of rookies who ranked first, third, and fourth among rookies in total scoring after the New Year’s Day games.  Foremost among them is the top overall draft pick of last June’s entry draft, Auston Matthews.  He leads all rookies with 20 goals and with 32 points through 36 games.  He exploded on the NHL scene with a four-goal game in his first professional game, a 5-4 overtime loss to the Ottawa Senators on October 12th.  He had six goals in his first six games, but then went into a slump that had him without a goal and with only three assists over his next 13 games.  He came out of that slump with a two-goal/three-point performance against the New Jersey Devils in a 5-4 trick shot loss on November 23rd.  Starting with that game, Matthews is 14-5-19, plus-76, over his last 17 games.  He had a goal in his only appearance against the Caps back on November 26th.

Mitch Marner was another top-five draft pick of the Leafs, taken with the fourth-overall pick in the 2015 entry draft.  After completing his third year with the London Knights in Canadian junior hockey (a season in which he was 39-77-116, plus-45, in 57 regular season games and 16-28-44 in 18 postseason games), he stuck with the Maple Leafs to start this season.  He has been, to date, more of a player who puts up points in bunches.  He has eight multi-point games through 36 games so far, one behind Winnipeg’s Patrick Laine among rookies this season and tied with his rookie teammate, Matthews.  He comes into this game in the midst of what passes for a cool spell for him, 1-0-1 in his last four games.  Marner had two assists in the Leafs’ 4-2 win over Washington on November 26th.

The third rookie in this trio is William Nylander, son of two-time former Capital Michael Nylander.  Taken as the eighth-overall pick in the 2014 entry draft, Nylander played a second season with MODO Hockey in Sweden, then joined the Toronto Marlies in the AHL to wrap up the 2014-2015 season.  He was 14-18-32 in just 37 games in his abbreviated season with the Marlies, then split time the following season between the Marlies (18-27-45 in 38 games) and the Maple Leafs (6-7-13 in 22 games).  Nylander has been a picture of consistency, especially for a rookie, his longest streak without a point this season just three games.  He comes into this contest with points in five straight games (2-3-5) and points in eight of his last 11 contests (2-7-9).  He did not play in the November 26th contest against the Caps, the only game he has missed this season.  He does not have a point in one career appearance against Washington.

1.  Toronto has not had a 40-win season since 2006-2007 (40-31-11).  They are currently on a pace to finish this season with 39 wins.

2.  Only two rookies in Maple Leaf history have finished their inaugural season with at least 20 goals and at least 60 points.  The three aforementioned rookies all are on or near a pace to reach those marks.  Auston Matthews is on a pace to finish 46-27-73, Mitch Marner is on a pace to finish 21-41-62, and William Nylander is on a pace to finish 19-39-58.

3.  The Maple Leafs have a talent for jumping on teams early; they have a plus-10 goal differential in the first periods of games this season.  However, as perhaps the young team they are, closing teams out is a bit of an issue.  They have a minus-5 goal differential in the third periods of games.

4.  Toronto is one of four teams to have dressed eight rookies so far this season (Anaheim, Arizona, and Boston are the others).  No team has dressed more.  Six of the Leafs’ rookies have appeared in at least 35 games hand all of them have at least 15 points.  No other team in the league has more than two rookies with 15 or more points so far this season (New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers). 

5.  Toronto has not quite gotten the hang of possession.  They rank 13th overall in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (50.39 percent) and, as the young team they are, they struggle on the road in this area, ranking 19th away from Air Canada Centre (48.59 percent; numbers from

1.  The Caps have a fine franchise record in New Year’s Day games.  Their win over Ottawa on Sunday gave them a 16-6-1 record (with three ties) in Janaury 1st games.  The second game of the new year?  Well, that needs work.  The Caps have a 10-11-1 record (with four ties) in their second games of the new year.

2.  The Caps will bring a six-game winning streak on home ice against Toronto into this game.  Over those games the Caps have outscored the Maple Leafs, 21-9 (not including a trick shot winning goal for the Caps in January 2015).

3.  The loss to the Maple Leafs in Toronto last November is one of just two regulation losses to Atlantic Division teams this year for the Caps.  They are 9-2-1 against the Atlantic so far.

4.  The Caps have trailed at the second intermission in 11 games this season.  They have won just once.  Only Dallas and the New York Islanders have failed to win in that situation so far this season.

5.  No Capital forward with more than 50 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time so far this season has a Corsi-for under 50 percent when the score is tied (numbers from 

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Toronto: Connor Brown

Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander are among the rookie leaders in scoring so far this season, a fact that is not entirely surprising, given that all were top-ten draft picks.  Connor Brown, however, is an intriguing fourth member of the Toronto rookie scoring parade.  His is a case of hometown boy does good, despite a disadvantageous draft position.  The Toronto native was taken in the sixth round (156th overall) in the 2012 entry draft, and he immediately displayed a potential for scoring, at least in Canadian juniors.  He was 25-28-53 in 68 games with the Erie Otters before being drafted by the Leafs, then posted seasons of 28-41-69 in 63 games and 45-83-128 in 68 games in years to follow with the Otters. 

Brown graduated to the Toronto Marlies of the AHL in 2014-2015 and posted 21 goals and 61 points in 76 games of his rookie pro season.  Last year, he was up for a cup of coffee with the parent club, getting his first NHL goal in seven games.  In 36 games so far this season, Brown is 7-9-16, plus-5, in 36 games, tied for tenth in rookie scoring overall (with teammate Zach Hyman, among others).  He might be getting the knack for scoring at the NHL level, going 3-4-7, plus-2, in his last five games.

Washington: Evgeny Kuznetsov

“Dark night of the soul” might be a bit too dramatic to describe Evgeny Kuznetsov’s current state of play (and with apologies to St. John of the Cross, who wrote the poem later given that name and that has an entirely different meaning for “dark night”), but one just wonders what is going on in Kuznetsov’s game and whether his confidence has been chipped at over the last six weeks.  Kuznetsov does not have a goal since before Thanksgiving (the night before), a span of 17 games.  He does have ten assists in that span, but he gives the impression of passing up opportunities from good scoring position in favor of trying to make a pass to a teammate. 

Head coach Barry Trotz apparently has taken notice, and Kuznetsov’s ice time has fallen off the table in his last four games, going from 19:05 to 16:27 to 14:44 to 13:40 in the New Year’s Day game against Ottawa.  In fact, Kuznetsov skated only 4:10 in the first period of that game and only 4:11 in the second period, not what one expects from a player who had been getting first line minutes not too long ago with Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie.  It goes without saying that Kuznetsov has to raise his level of production a couple of notches if the Caps are going to make a deep push in the postseason, and perhaps the calendar turning over will give him that new life.  In eight career games against the Maple Leafs, he is 0-4-4, even.

In the end…

If you look at the Maple Leafs from a certain angle, they are the Capitals of the first couple of years coming out of the 2004-2005 lockout and the early stages of their 2007-2008 season in which they rode a late season push to elbow their way into the playoffs.  They are Toronto’s version of the Young Guns, a young, prolific offensive team that sits four points out of a playoff spot with 46 games to play.  That they bring a five-game winning streak into this game, four of the wins earned on the road, doesn’t hurt, either.  And letting them run wild on offense is not a prescription for winning. 

The Leafs are 11-0-4 in games this season when they score four or more goals, and only Pittsburgh, the Rangers, and Tampa Bay have scored four or more goals more times this season than Toronto.  The Caps have allowed four or more goals only five times this season, but a common thread among most of the opponents doing so is speed – Carolina, the Rangers, Edmonton, and the Leafs (who scored four in November against the Caps) have that attribute.  This makes this game a singular challenge for the Caps, one in which it will be interesting to note the degree to which Washington can impose its will on the whippersnappers from up north.

Capitals 4 – Maple Leafs 3