Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 44: Capitals at Penguins, January 16th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins meet on Monday evening in the last of their four regular season meetings this season.

There has not been a lot going on since the Caps and Pens met last Wednesday in a 5-2 Capitals win.  That’s not to say that nothing has gone on.  For instance…

-- Washington extended their winning streak to nine games with a 5-0 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday…

-- Pittsburgh is now on a three-game losing streak, starting with that loss the Caps.  They dropped a 4-1 decision to the Ottawa Senators and a 6-3 decision to the Detroit Red Wings, both on the road.

-- Washington lost John Carlson to a “lower-body injury” in the game against the Flyers.

-- Pittsburgh lost top defenseman Kris Letang to an apparent knee injury early in the first period of their Saturday night 6-3 loss to the Red Wings (he did return for a short shift ten minutes after suffering the injury but could not continue). 

-- The Caps scored 11 goals against Chicago and Philadelphia.

-- The Penguins scored four goals against Ottawa and Detroit.

-- The Capitals allowed no goals to the Blackhawks or Flyers.

-- The Penguins allowed ten goals against the Senators and Red Wings.

-- The Caps were 1-for-2 (50.0 percent) on the power play in their two games since beating Pittsburgh.

-- The Pens were 1-for-7 (14.3 percent) on the power play in their two games since losing to Washington.

-- The Caps killed seven shorthanded situations (100.0 percent) against Chicago and Philadelphia.

-- The Pens killed six of nine shorthanded situations (66.7 percent) against Ottawa and Detroit.

-- Washington outscored Chicago and Philadelphia, 10-0, at 5-on-5.

-- Pittsburgh was outscored by Ottawa and Detroit, 7-3, at 5-on-5.

-- The Capitals out-attempted the Blackhawks and Senators by a 95-89 margin at 5-on-5.

-- The Penguins were held to a 83-83 split of shot attempts by the Senators and Red Wings.

-- The Caps out-shot their two opponents by a 48-36 margin at 5-on-5 in their two games.

-- The Pens were out-shot by their two opponents by a 54-47 margin at 5-on-5 in their two games.

-- Alex Ovechkin is 3-4-7, plus-7, in his last five games.

-- Sidney Crosby is 0-4-4, minus-1, in his last five games.

-- Nicklas Backstrom is 4-7-11, plus-7, in his last five games.

-- Evgeni Malkin is 3-2-5, minus-4, in his last five games.

-- Washington has an 11-4-4 record in away games this season, sixth-best in the league.

-- Pittsburgh has an 18-2-2 record at home, best in the league.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Pittsburgh:  Olli Maatta

With Kris Letang perhaps missing some substantial time with a lower body injury, some of his offensive responsibility from the blue line seems likely to fall upon the shoulders of Olli Maatta.  The fourth-year player has battled injury and illness over the past two-plus seasons, and whether that is a reason or not, he still has had disappointing numbers this season (0-4-4 in 40 games).  In fact, it has been a struggle to measure up to the numbers he posted in his rookie season (9-20-29 in 78 games), one in which he finished fifth in the Calder Trophy voting for rookie-of-the-year.  In 127 games over his last three seasons he is just 7-25-32).  His streak without a goal has reached 61 games, since he scored last February 8th against Anaheim.   Maatta is 1-5-6, plus-5, in 11 career games against the Caps.

Washington:  Nicklas Backstrom

No player in the NHL this season has more points against the Pittsburgh Penguins than Nicklas Backstrom (3-8-11 in three games).  With two more points he would tie the highest point total scored against the Penguins in a single season in the post-2004-2005 lockout period (Simon Gagne was 7-6-13 against the Penguins for the Philadelphia Flyers in 2005-2006).  The 11 points scored by Backstrom against Pittsburgh is the most by a Capital against the Pens in this era.  In fact, in Capitals history you would have to go back to the 1988-1989 season to find a Capital who scored more points than Backstrom against the Pens in a single season (Mike Ridley, 7-5-12). Lately, it hasn’t mattered who it is that Backstrom lines up against.  He has points in his last six games (3-7-10).  He is 6-38-44, plus-7, in 37 career games against Pittsburgh.

In the end…

Streaks are odd things.  Whether a winning streak or a losing streak, you can get a sense when one is coming to an end.  Teams on losing streaks might play well without reward until they finally break through with a win.  Teams on winning streaks will start to show cracks and maybe escape with a win or two before their roll comes to an end.  The Capitals’ winning streak has reached nine games, and they have won their last three contests by a combined score of 20-3.  The Penguins certainly are capable of ending this streak for the Caps, especially since they have the league’s best home record.  But based on their recent play, it is really hard to pick against the men in red.

Capitals 4 – Penguins 2

A TWO-Point Afternoon -- Game 43: Washington Capitals 5 - Philadelphia Flyers 0

The Washington Capitals made it nine wins in a row, taking over the top spot in the league standings, when they shut out the Philadelphia Flyers, 5-0, at Verizon Center on Sunday afternoon.

The Flyers held the Caps to a scoreless tie for the first 29 minutes of the contest, but the Caps broke on top in the 30th minute of the game.  With Jakub Voracek in the penalty box and the Caps on a power play, Andre Burakovsky took advantage of Michael Del Zotto whiffing on a clearing attempt from between his own hash marks, picking up the loose puck and rifling a shot past goalie Steve Mason at the 9:08 mark of the period to make it 1-0.

That was the margin heading into the third period, but the Caps broke things wide open early in the third period.  Evgeny Kuznetsov tied up Sean Couturier long enough on a faceoff to allow Justin Williams to dart in to move the puck to Marcus Johansson below the Flyers’ goal line.  Johansson started to circle around the Flyers’ net, but he sent a pass out the back side to Williams closing on the Flyer net.  Williams beat Mason on the short side to make it 2-0, just 1:36 into the third period.

Less than two minute later the Caps struck again.  Ivan Provorov could not collect a pass at the Capitals’ blue line, and the loose puck slid into the neutral zone where Nicklas Backstrom picked it up.  Skating to the Philadelphia line, he saucered a pass to Alex Ovechkin for what looked to be a one-timer from the left wing circle.  Everyone in the building was waiting for it, even goalie Steve Mason, who slid across the crease to defend the shot that never came. Ovechkin fed Matt Niskanen driving down the middle, and Niskanen had an open net to shoot at, making it 3-0 at the 3:20 mark.

Less than three minutes later it was Niskanen again.  Jay Beagle fed Tom Wilson at the Flyers’ line, and Wilson carried the puck down the left wing and around the Flyers’ net.  Coming out the other side, he sent the puck out to the right point where Niskanen one-timed it to the Flyer net where it handcuffed Mason and trickled in to make it 4-0, 5:47 into the period.

Less than a minute later, the Caps had their fourth goal of the period.  Justin Williams kept the puck in at the left point and fed it across to Alex Ovechkin.  From the top of the offensive zone, Ovechkin dropped it for Brooks Orpik at the right point.  Orpik skated the puck down the right side and fed Nicklas Backstrom in front.  Backstrom deadened the puck, then fed it back between his legs to Williams closing on the weak side.  Williams had a slam dunk into the open side, and it was 5-0 at the 6:36 mark.  Philipp Grubauer slammed the door from there for his second shutout of the season, the Caps winning going away, 5-0.

Other stuff…

-- This was the third straight game, and the sixth time in nine games, in which the Caps scored five or more goals.  They have averaged 4.44 goals per game in that stretch.

-- This was the eighth shutout of the season for the Capitals, tops in the league (three teams have five).

-- The two-goal game was Matt Niskanen’s second of the season and the third this season by a Capitals defenseman.  Niskanen’s first was in a 4-2 win over the New York Islanders on December 13th; John Carlson had a two-goal game in a 4-0 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on December 23rd.

-- Niskanen had five of the Caps’ 22 shots on goal and 10 of their 48 shot attempts.  Both were tops on the team for this game.

-- Carlson left the game after the first period with what is described as a “lower-body injury” and did not return to the contest.

-- Justin Williams recorded his second two-goal game of the season, his other one coming on December 7th in a 4-3 win over the Boston Bruins.  Williams now has 11 goals in his last 19 games.

-- Nicklas Backstrom ran his scoring streak to six games with a pair of assists.  It was his fourth straight multi-point game.  In 23 games since Thanksgiving, Backstrom is 7-17-24, plus-12.

-- Alex Ovechkin extended his scoring streak to four games.  In his last 19 games he is 9-10-19, plus-10.

-- This was the 11th game this season in which the Caps allowed their opponent five or more power play opportunities.  It was the fourth time in those 11 instances in which the Caps denied their opponent a power play goal.

-- It was Philipp Grubauer’s second shutout of the season and his sixth straight win.  In his winning streak he has a goals against average of 1.56 and a save percentage of .942.

In the end…

There is a long way to go in the regular season, but the stinginess of the Caps is becoming quite a thing. With this shutout, they are allowing 1.91 goals per game.  That is, by far, the lowest in team history (next best is last year’s 2.33 goals per game, which tied the 2010-2011 mark), and it is just the second sub-2.00 goals against per game of the post-2004-2005 lockout era (St. Louis allowed 1.89 goals per game in 2011-2012).  Marry four shutouts in their last six games to the recent trend of five-plus goal games on offense, and the Caps are certainly on quite a roll.

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 14

If the Washington Capitals had a more dominating week in recent history than the one they had in Week 14, it does not immediately come to mind.  A perfect record against three high-caliber terms, a power play that finally showed signs of life, an amazing week at 5-on-5, and a milestone achievement for the Captain against the team’s – and his – most bitter rival.  In the regular season, it doesn’t get any better than this.

Record: 3-0-0

With three wins for the week, the Caps extended their season-long winning streak to eight games, their longest since a nine-game streak in Games 28 through 36 from December 12-30 last season.  And when the Caps defeated the Chicago Blackhawks in the final game of the week, the team became the second-fastest to 60 points in team history, hitting that milestone in Game 42 (they did it in 39 games last season).  The three wins for the week were especially noteworthy for who the Caps beat.  In taking down the Montreal Canadiens, Pittsburgh Penguins, and the Blackhawks, the Caps beat teams that closed Week 14 with a combined record of 80-35-16. They didn’t exactly beat a trio of tamata cans.

Offense:  5.00/game (season: 2.98 /game; rank: 2nd)

The Pittsburgh Penguins might not have an elite scoring defense, but the Montreal Canadiens and Chicago Blackhawks are top-ten scoring defenses.  The Caps lit all three up for at least four goals and for a combined 15 goals for the week.  Nine skaters recorded the 15 goals, and 16 different skaters had points.  By the time the week was over, the Caps had four or more goals in three straight games and six of their last eight contests (averaging 4.38 per game, all of them wins).

Nicklas Backstrom tied for the team lead in goals for the week (three) and topped all Caps in points (eight).  He had points in all three games, extending his personal points streak to five contests (3-7-10).  He had goals in all three games for the week, the first time he had goals in three consecutive games since Games 43-45 (January 19 – February 2) last season against Columbus (two goals), Philadelphia, and Florida.

Alex Ovechkin tied Backstrom for the team lead in goals, one of them coming just 35 seconds into the first period against Pittsburgh to give him 1,000 points in his career.  He added a goal for good measure and finished the week 3-3-6.

A club doesn’t get to averaging five goals for a week with just primary scoring, and the Caps got some from unusual places in Week 14.  Jay Beagle had a pair of goals to begin and end the Caps’ scoring in a 6-0 win over Chicago.  The odd part of that game, as much as the two goals, was his recording a career high eight shots on goal.  Brett Connolly also had a pair of goals for the week, recording singles against Montreal and Pittsburgh.   Tom Wilson chipped in his third goal of the season in the 6-0 win over Chicago.  Lars Eller got his fourth of the season and first in ten games in what might have been the oddest goal-scoring play of the week when he chipped one off a Penguin stick, off Kris Letang’s helmet, and into an empty net to close the Caps; 5-2 win over Pittsburgh.

Defense: 1.00/game (season: 1.95 /game; rank: 1st)

In an odd way, the Caps underperformed their outcomes on defense.  The 1.00 average of goals allowed is impressive, absolutely, but the Caps skated much closer to the margin in terms of shot attempts allowed.  They finished the week with a 50.7 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (numbers from, the relatively low number being largely due to the shot attempt advantage at fives that the Penguins had in the middle game of the week (45-35).  The shot attempts did not turn into shots on goal though, as the Caps held an 84-62 edge at fives for the week (57.5 percent).  Overall, the Penguins did manage 32 shots on goal, the only time the Caps’ defense has allowed more than 30 in their last nine games.

There wasn’t much to talk about in terms of on-ice victims of goals allowed, although it was a bit odd that three players – Matt Niskanen, Daniel Winnik, and Jay Beagle – should be on the ice for all three goals scored on the Caps in Week 14.  Why?  They were killing penalties.  The Caps did not allow a 5-on-5 goal for the week, which might be the most amazing number of them all in a week full of them.

Goaltending:  1.00 / .962 / 1 shutout (season: 1.87 / .933 / 7 SO)

Braden Holtby announced with authority that he is back in the conversation for the Vezina Trophy this season.  His overall numbers were amazing enough, but he was a perfect 55-for-55 stopping shots in the first and second periods of games, and he was a mind-bogglingly perfect 62-for-62 stopping pucks at 5-on-5.  When he shutout the Chicago Blackhawks to close the week, it was his third shutout in five games, his fourth in ten appearances, and his fifth in 14 contests.  Over those 14 contests, Holtby is 9-2-2 (one no-decision), 1.34, .950, with those five shutouts.  In his last five games, since being pulled after 20 minutes against Toronto, he is 5-0-0, 0.60, .978, with three shutouts.  Among 39 goalies with at least 1,000 minutes this season, he is now second in goals against average (1.85, to Devan Dubnyk’s 1.77), second in save percentage (.933 to Dubnyk’s .940) and first in shutouts (six).  His even strength save percentage (.945) trails Dubnyk by just two points (.947).  OK, so his 6-for-11 when shorthanded (.545 save percentage) might need some work.

Power Play: 3-for-6 / 50.0 percent (season: 18.0 percent; rank: 16th)

Three power play goals marked the most for the Caps in a week’s worth of play since Week 10, when they went 5-for-13.  It was just the fourth time in 14 weeks this season that the Caps had at least three power play goals in a week, while the 50 percent conversion rate is a season-high.  It might have been better had the Caps been awarded a power play against Chicago in the last game of the week.  It was the second time this season that the Caps did not have a power play chance, the other one also at the hands of the Blackhawks in the Caps’ 3-2 overtime win on November 11th. 

As for the games in which the Caps did get power play chances, they were 50 percent against both Montreal (1-for-2) and against Pittsburgh (2-for-4).  Alex Ovechkin had two power play goals for the week, his first one (in the Montreal game) breaking a ten-game drought without a power play strike.  His power play goal against Pittsburgh gave him his first multi-goal game since he had a hat trick against the St. Louis Blues on November 23rd, breaking a 21-game streak without a multi-goal game.  Nicklas Backstrom had the other power play goal of the week for the Caps.

Overall, the Caps were reasonably efficient in what power play time they had.  They scored their three goals on 12 shots over a span of 7:45 in power play time.

Penalty Killing: 8-for-11 / 72.7 percent (season: 86.1 percent; rank: 3rd)

Week 14 was that rare occurrence this season when the penalty killers were outperformed by the power play.  The three power play goals allowed was the most the Caps let through since they allowed four in going 13-for-17 in Week 7, the only time this season in which they allowed more power play goals than those allowed this week.  The 72.7 percent kill rate was the lowest weekly number for the season.  The two power play goals allowed to the Penguins was just the second time in 22 games that the Caps allowed as many as two power play goals in a game and just the third time all season they did so.  Oddly enough, all three of those instances have come at home.

Faceoffs: 101-for-170 / 59.4 percent (season: 50.7% / rank: 10th)

What makes the faceoff numbers noteworthy for the Caps in Week 14 is that they actually lost the first game of the week, winning only 27 of 58 draws to the Canadiens.  Against Pittsburgh and Chicago, the Caps went a combined 74-for-112 (66.1 percent).  Not that any of the three opponents were among the best in the circle (Montreal ranked 15th at the end of the week, Chicago 23rd, and Pittsburgh 26th), but it was still an outstanding week. 

It was a big week for three of the big four taking draws.  Nicklas Backstrom (63.0 percent), Lars Eller (69.0 percent), and Jay Beagle (61.5 percent) all finished over 60 percent for the week.  Backstom had a most interesting line in the Pittsburgh game, winning 12 of 13 draws against Sidney Crosby.

By zone, the Caps did well in all three.  They went 35-for-53 (66.0 percent) in the offensive zone, 32-for-59 (54.2 percent) in the defensive end, and 34-for-58 (58.6 percent) in the neutral zone.

Goals by Period:

As with much of the week, it would be difficult to do better in the scoring by period than the Caps had in Week 14.  They scored first and in the first period in all three games for a 5-0 edge in goals, then they followed that up by shutting out teams in all three games in the second period while adding two goals of their own.  That put games out of reach, but the Caps still managed to outscore opponents by an 8-3 margin in the third period, one of the goals scored an empty netter.

At the end of the week, Washington was first in the league in first period goal differential (+24) and fourth in third period goal differential (+14).

In the end…

Week 14 was arguably the best week overall for the Caps this season.  It was a dominating week – all of the decisions by three or more goals – and it was achieved at the expense of some very good teams.  There were a lot of excellent performances, the number of which might overshadow good ones, like T.J. Oshie going 1-4-5, plus-5; John Carlson getting three assists; or Karl Alzner recording his 500th consecutive game played.  A week like the one Evgeny Kuznetsov had – a goal and two assists to bring him to 2-17-19, plus-8, in his last 19 games – can get lost in the wash.  It is the good sort of problem the Caps would want, where they are getting contributions from up and down the roster on a game-to-game basis.  It might not be the sort of week that can be sustained, but it did offer a glimpse into just how well this team is capable of playing.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Alex Ovechkin (3-3-6, plus 5, 1,000th career point, 14 shots on goal, 22 shot attempts, three hits)
  • Second Star: Nicklas Backstrom (3-5-8, plus-5, 34-for-54 on faceoffs (63.0 percent), 17th career four-plus point game (1-3-4 against Pittsburgh, tying Ovechkin for third most in the league since Backstrom came into the league))
  • Third Star: Braden Holtby (3-0-0, 1.00, .962, one shutout)