Saturday, February 04, 2017

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 53: Kings at Capitals, February 5th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals finish off their weekend set of back-to-back games with a noon tilt against the Los Angeles Kings at Verizon Center.  The Caps will take the ice fresh off a 3-2 win in Montreal against the Canadiens on Saturday, while the Kings will be wrapping up their own back-to-back set of games, taking a 1-0 overtime decision from the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday afternoon.

The Caps bring a 15-2-1 record over their last 18 games into this contest, having broken their recent alternating win-loss-win trend over a five-game stretch with their second consecutive win on Saturday.  On the other hand, the Kings seem to finally have a rhythm to their game, winners of five straight, tying their longest winning streak of the season set in Games 18-22 in late November.

In their five-game winning streak, the Kings outscored their opponents by a 15-3 margin.  All of those wins belong to goalie Peter Budaj, who might be on the best streak of his career.  Budaj has been thrust into the limelight these days with Jonathan Quick only back to practicing after suffering a groin injury on Opening Night of the 2016-2017 season.  He has done quite well in his unexpected turn as the Kings number on netminder, going 25-14-3, 1.96, .923, with seven shutouts in 45 games.  In the five-game winning streak, all of them with Budaj in the crease, he has three shutouts (all of them coming in his last four contests), posting a 0.60 goals against average and a .975 save percentage.  For a player with a journeyman record of 150-121-39, 2.66, .905 and 18 shutouts with three clubs over 11 seasons, this is about as good as it gets.  If you are thinking he will not get the second game of the back-to-back after Saturday’s win, he has played in back-to-back games six times this season.  He has won both ends twice, lost both ends in regulation three times, and had a win and a no-decision (40 minutes in a 4-3 win over Arizona on December 1st).  Budaj is 1-2-2, 2.51, .900 in seven career appearances against the Caps.

Jeff Carter has three of those 15 goals in the five-game winning streak to lead the club.  He seems on his way to doing something he has not done in his five-plus seasons in Los Angeles, hitting the 30-goal mark, even though on a per-82 game basis he has been just that for the Kings (32.5).  Carter is second in the league in goal scoring, one behind league leader Sidney Crosby going into Saturday night’s games, and leads the league in game-winning goals (nine).  He is on a pace to finish with 43 goals, which would be second-most in his career (he had 46 with Philadelphia in 2008-2009).  In 28 career games against the Caps, Carter is 11-13-24, plus-2.

Marian Gaborik missed more than six weeks to start the season with a broken right foot.  His return to the lineup has not been much in the way of a spark, although he does seem to be finding his footing, so to speak, more recently.  He has just six goals in 29 games this season, but five of them have come in his last 13 games, four of those goals coming in wins.  Still, while Gaborik was once one of the most prolific goals scorers in the league with seven 30-plus goal seasons in his first 11 seasons in the league, he has just 68 goals in his last 241 games over four and a half seasons, a 23-goal pace per 82 games.  Gaborik is 8-8-16, plus-1, in 26 career games against Washington.

1.  Los Angeles’ special teams move in opposite directions on the road.  Their 14.6 percent power play ranks 27th in the league, while their penalty kill ranks seventh (84.7 percent).

2.  If the Capitals play a “heavy” game, then what would be the appropriate adjective for the Kings?  They lead the league in credited hits (1,560) more than 10 percent more than the second place club (Anaheim: 1,401).

3.  The more subtle form of separating an opponent from the puck – the takeaway – is something the Kings do not do well.  They rank last in the league in credited takeaways (204).

4.  In the glass half full/glass half empty file, the Kings have the second-best winning percentage in the league when leading after 20 minutes (.857).  On the other hand, they have taken a lead into the first intermission just 14 times in 52 games this season.

5.  Los Angeles is second in the league in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 overall (54.39 percent; numbers from and second in Corsi-for adjusted for score, zone, and venue (53.42 percent).  They are one of just three teams to hold opponents under 50 shot attempts per 60 minutes at fives (the others being St. Louis and Boston).

1.  There are 134 line combinations in the NHL having skated at least 100 5-on-5 minutes.  The combination of Lars Eller, Brett Connolly, and Andre Burakovsky has the fourth-best Corsi-for among that group (61.11 percent).  It’s all about denial.  They have allowed the fourth-fewest shot attempts per 60 minutes at fives (42.10; numbers from

2.  When the Caps held Montreal to two goals, it was the 31st time this season that they held an opponent to two or fewer goals, tied with Anaheim for most in the league.  The Caps are 27-1-3 in those games.

3.  Washington has 34 non-Gimmick wins this season, and they have spread the joy around in terms of game-winning goals.  Fifteen different Caps have game-winners this season.

4.  The Caps have scored first in 37 of 52 games this season and have both the most wins when scoring first (29) and the best winning percentage (.784).

5.  When Karl Alzner records his next point, the Caps will have six defensemen with ten or more points this season, equaling the number they had last season.  The Caps have employed only seven defensemen this season.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Los Angeles: Devin Setoguchi

Back in 2008-2009, his first full season in the NHL, Devin Setoguchi scored 31 goals for the San Jose Sharks and got as many All-Star votes at year end as Patrick Kane (okay, it was two, but still).  It looked as if the sky was the limit.  Then, the air slowly leaked out of his balloon, and he fell out of the sky.  His goal scoring dropped into the low 20’s the next two season, then into the high teens the two seasons after that, then into the low teens before he recorded no goals in 12 games with the Calgary Flames (his fourth team) in 2014-2015.  Last season he played in Europe with Davos in the Swiss league.  He was given a professional try-out contract with Los Angeles in early September and played well enough to get a one-year/two-way contract with the club.  He has been in and out of the lineup this season, playing in 44 of 52 games for the Kings, and is not nearly the goal-scorer he was coming into the league (four in 44 games, none since December 22nd), but he seems for the moment to have authored a second act to his NHL career.  Setoguchi is 1-5-6, minus-1, in nine career games against the Caps.

Washington: John Carlson

When John Carlson took the ice against Montreal on Saturday, he became the 26th player in Washington Capitals history to appear in 500 games with the club and 11th defenseman to do it.  His next goal will break a tie for eighth place, with Al Iafrate, in goals scored by a Capitals defenseman (currently 58), and he is currently in eighth place among defensemen in franchise history in points (253).  What he has had to deal with over the last two seasons that he did not in his first five full NHL seasons is missing games to injury.  Carlson has missed six games this season, bringing his two season total of 32 of 102 games played by the Caps.  It is not as if the Caps experienced a big dropoff in performance in Carlson’s absence.  Over the last two years the Caps earned 1.48 standings points per game with Carlson in the lineup, 1.41 without him.  Carlson is without a point in his last four games, his longest streak since going six games without a point in Game 3-8 last October.  He is 0-1-1, minus-3, in seven career games against the Kings.

In the end…

This game will conclude the tenth back-to-back set of games played by the Caps this season.  In their previous nine back-to-backs, the Caps won both ends twice, went 1-0-1 twice, and went 1-1-0 five times.  It suggests that things will not go well for the Caps in their Sunday afternoon contest, having failed in five of seven attempts to sweep the two games after winning the first.  Add to that the fact that Los Angeles comes to town on five-game winning streak in which they have been all but impenetrable, and things look even worse.  On the other hand, this game is a big jump in weight class in competition for the Kings, just the fourth time in 13 games they will have faced a playoff-eligible team.  And it is not as if any of the three teams they shut out in their last four games are juggernauts.  Carolina, Colorado, and Philadelphia rank in the bottom half of the league in scoring offense.  See where we are going with this?  The Kings haven’t allowed more than two goals in five straight games.  They won’t make it six.

Capitals 3 – Kings 2

A TWO-Point Afternoon -- Game 52: Washington Capitals 3 - Montreal Canadiens 2

The Washington Capitals cast their spell over the Montreal Canadiens and Bell Centre once more on Saturday afternoon, defeating the Canadiens, 3-2, to extend their points streak in Montreal to 14 games (12-0-2).

The Caps got off on the right foot early in the contest when Jay Beagle opened the scoring in the fourth minute of the contest.  Daniel Winnik collected a loose puck and the Montreal blue line and skated it into the offensive zone.  From the top of the left wing faceoff circle, he fed it across to Beagle skating down the middle.  Beagle cradled the puck and rifled a shot off the post to the left of goalie Carey Price and in to give the Caps a 1-0 lead just 3:02 into the contest.

Alexander Radulov tied the game mid-way through the period when the Caps were unable to get the puck out of the defensive zone.  Nate Schmidt tried to move the puck up along the wall, but no Capital was there to collect it.  Phillip Danault took control and fed Alexander Radulov, who snapped a shot past goalie Braden Holtby’s blocker, and the game was tied 7:32 into the period.

That would be how the score stood going into the second period, but the Caps broke that tie as the game approached the half-way mark.  Brett Connoly weaved his way down the left wing wall until he crossed the Montreal blue line.  Pulling up above the left wing circle, he fed the puck across to Andre Burakovsky all alone on the right side.  From the right wing dot, Burakovsky wristed a shot that beat Price cleanly to the top corner over Price’s left shoulder, making it 2-1, 9:26 into the second period.

Washington made it 3-1 with a power play strike early in the third period.  Off a T.J. Oshie faceoff win, Matt Niskanen and Nicklas Backstrom played catch with the puck at the top of the offensive zone.  Backstrom took a return pass from Niskanen, stepped up, and wristed a shot past Price, who got caught peeking around the wrong side of a Marcus Johansson screen as the puck sailed under his left arm at the 5:16 mark.

Less than three minutes later, Montreal closed the gap to a goal on a score by Max Pacioretty from between the hash marks, but that would be as close as Montreal would get as the Caps skated off with the 3-2 win.

Other stuff…

-- The last Caps loss in regulation time in Montreal was January 10, 2009.  Only three current Caps played in that 5-4 loss – Karl Alzner, Nicklas Backstrom, and Alex Ovechkin.  Even in that game, the Caps got within 22 seconds of forcing overtime.  Sergei Kostitsyn scored in the last minute for that win.

-- The magic of Jay Beagle continues.  He scored a goal, and the Caps won.  The Caps are 9-0-0 this season when Beagle scored a goal, and they are 32-1-5 in Beagle’s career when he scores a goal.

-- Beagle set a career high in goals scored in a season with his goal, his 11th of the season surpassing the 10 he had in 2014-2015.

-- Nicklas Backstrom’s power play goal was his first game-winning goal on the road this season.  He had two game-winners on home ice (against Pittsburgh on November 16th and against Boston on December 7th).

-- The Caps went 1-for-4 on the power play. Starting with their 4-1 win on the same Bell Centre ice sheet on January 9th, the Caps are 8-for-25 (32.0 percent) on the power play in their last eight road games.

-- In one respect, John Carlson is back from his recent injury hiatus.  He skated 24:16, the most ice time he logged since he skated 25:35 in a 2-1 Gimmick loss to the New Jersey Devils back on December 29th.

-- Alex Ovechkin had an odd game.  He skated just 18:02 and had five shot attempts (all shots on goal).  He had no other marks on his score sheet.

-- Stopping 20 of 22 shots, Holtby earned his tenth career win against Montreal.  He is 10-1-2, 1.62, .941, with two shutouts in 14 career appearances against the Canadiens.

-- Nicklas Backstrom was 15-for-19 in faceoffs.  His 78.9 percent winning percentage was his best on the road this season and topped only by his 9-for-11 effort (81.8 percent) in a 6-0 win over Chicago on January 13th.

-- The Caps dominated the shot attempt numbers, out-doing Montreal by a 43-32 margin at 5-on-5 (57.33 CF%).  They out-shot the Canadiens at fives, 25-16.

In the end…

“We’re playing the best team in the league.  They’re a heavy team, but I thought we put up a good fight.”  That was the view from Canadiens’ head coach Michel Therrien in the Montreal locker room after the game.  It is a measure of just where the Caps stand these days, a team that inspires “we played pretty good” quotes in the loser’s locker room.  It was a solid win, one that featured good, if not great play all around and in all three zones on an ice sheet that has been a second home for them for years now.  It was one of those games to file under “workmanlike” in terms of its description, and that is hardly a bad thing these days as the Caps check off another game on the schedule.