The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The Washington Capitals take to the road again, dropping in for their first visit to Little Caesars Arena in Detroit to face the Red Wings on Friday night. Both teams are coming off losses to the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Caps dropping a 2-0 decision at Capital One Arena on Tuesday night, while the Red Wings lost to the Leafs by a 6-3 margin at Air Canada Centre in Toronto on Wednesday night.
Washington will be looking to improve on their 2-1-1 road record on Friday. It is precisely the same road record they took into their fifth road contest last season. The Red Wings have split their two games to date in their new digs, an Opening Night win against the Minnesota Wild and a 3-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning last Monday. Overall, the Wings have been reasonably tight on defense, allowing three or fewer goals in their first six games. Then they gave up that six-pack to the Maple Leafs on Wednesday.
Henrik Zetterberg has set the bar high for performance in the early going for the Wings. He leads the team in goals (four) and is tied for second on the club in points (eight) through seven games. His scoring includes a four-point game (1-3-4) in a 6-3 win over the Vegas Golden Knights, one in which he assisted on the game-tying and game-winning goals. It is one of 18 games this season in which a player scored four or more points. It was his 15th career game with four of more points, third on the Red Wings’ all-time list (Steve Yzerman had 50 such games, and Sergei Fedorov had 19), but only the fourth time in his career he accomplished the feat on the road. In 20 career games against Washington, Zetterberg is 7-8-15, minus-3.
Dylan Larkin also has eight points for the Wings to start the season. The start is a welcome development for Wings fans, given what looked like a classic case of a sophomore slump last season. After a rookie year in which he was 23-22-45, plus-11, in 80 games and finished fifth in the Calder Trophy voting for the league’s top rookie, he was 17-15-32, minus-28 (tied for the sixth-worst plus-minus in the league). The odd part of his scoring line is that it is light in goals (one, a power play goal in the season opener), but he seems to be shooting in a bit of bad luck, too, scoring that goal on 16 shots (6.3 percent). He has just three goals in his last 19 regular season games dating back to last season. Larkin is 1-1-2, plus-1, in six career games against Washington.
Jimmy Howard got the start in goal against the Maple Leafs on Wednesday, but he didn’t finish. Howard allowed three goals on four shots in 15:46 before he was relieved in favor of Petr Mrazek. It was the second straight iffy performance for Howard. After starting the season with a 3-0-0, 1.62, .955 record, he gave up three goals on 26 shots in a 3-2 loss to Tampa Bay before his early exit against Toronto, leaving him with a 0-1-0 (one no-decision), 4.86, .800 record in his last two appearances. Howard did reach an important personal milestone this season. When he got the win on Opening Night against the Minnesota Wild, he became the third goaltender in Red Wings history to reach the 200-win mark. Terry Sawchuk (351) and Chris Osgood (317) are the others. In nine career appearances against the Caps, Howard is 3-2-3, 2.90, .899.
1. The Riley Sheahan watch resumes. Sheahan, who famously played in 79 games last season without recording a goal before getting two goals, including the last goal to be scored at Joe Louis Arena, in a 4-2 win over the New Jersey Devils to end the Wings’ season, has yet to record a goal in seven games yet this season.
2. The Red Wings have issues hitting the net with shots. Their 87 missed shots this season is topped by only four teams.
3. Here is an odd fact. Detroit is one of five teams to have taken more than 450 faceoffs this season (through Wednesday’s games). Four of those teams, including Detroit, are under 50 percent in wins. Practice, in this instance, does not make perfect.
4. Detroit has taken a lead into the first intermission just once this season (they won). It is not a league low. Four teams – Boston, Montreal, Anaheim, and Florida – have failed to take a lead after 20 minutes so far.
5. Slow starts have plagued the Red Wings so far. They have two first period goals in seven games, while allowing eight. Only Florida has fewer goals scored in the first period (one), and only five teams have allowed more.
1. We noted that there have been 18 four-or-more point games by NHL players this season. No team has more such performances than the Caps, who have three –Alex Ovechkin (4-0-4) against Montreal on October 7th, Evgeny Kuznetsov (0-4-4) on the same date, and Nicklas Backstrom (1-3-4) against New Jersey on October 13th.
2. Whatever the Caps are doing in the first periods of games, they need to bottle it and drink it for the second and third periods. They have outscored teams by a 9-4 margin in the first periods of games, but they have a minus-2 goal differential in the second period and a minus-4 differential in the third.
3. Only two teams – New Jersey and Toronto – have more wins by three or more goals (three apiece) than the Caps (two). That’s your “it’s early” fact.
4. The Caps are one of six teams to have outshot only one team, fewest occurrences in the league. That was in the 5-2 win over New Jersey, when the Caps out-shot the Devils, 28-23, which also happens to be the only instance so far in which the Caps held an opponent under 30 shots on goal.
5. Alex Ovechkin has now been outscored by every team. He has nine goals; the Montreal Canadiens are 31st and last in the league with ten.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Detroit: Mike Green
Caps fans will remember him as a “Young Gun,” along with Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, and Nicklas Backstrom. Now, only Niklas Kronwall among Detroit Red Wings defensemen has appeared in more NHL games (799) than Green (728). He is fifth among active defensemen in goals scored (135), eighth in points (440). This season, Green leads the team in points overall (1-8-9) and power play points (0-4-4), while averaging a team-high 22:48 in iced time per game. Green got off to a hot start with eight assists in his first four games, including one of those 18 four-point games across the league this season, that coming when he had four assists on Opening Night against Minnesota. Even with the hots start, though, Green appears not to be the offensive difference maker from the blue line with the Wings that he was with the Caps. Since arriving in Detroit in 2015-2016, Green ranks 18th in goals (22) and 27th in points (80). Good numbers, but no longer the elite level he displayed in his best years in Washington. Green has not yet recorded a point against his old team in five games and is a minus-4.
Washington: Tom Wilson
It has been a whirlwind start to the season for Tom Wilson, although perhaps not in the best way. Wilson has already been suspended twice, the latter resulting in his missing the first four games of the season, and in the three games in which he appeared so far, he has four shots on goal, 15 penalty minutes, 35:18 total minutes of ice time. He is also without a point. He will apparently get to remedy that with an opportunity on a scoring line, moved to the left side of the Nicklas Backstrom line with T.J.Oshie on the right, Andre Burakovsky taking Wilson’s old spot on the third line. It is a chance for him to break a one goal in 24 regular season games dating back to last season. This is an opportunity for Wilson in another respect. The Red Wings are one of three teams in the NHL (not counting the Vegas Golden Knights, a team that he has not yet faced) against which he has not recorded a point. He is 0-0-0, minus-1 in 12 career games against Detroit. Oddly enough, Wilson has only six penalty minutes in those 12 games against the Wings, the fewest he has against any opponent except San Jose (four in six games) and Vancouver (four in seven games).
In the end…
These are two teams that are not what they were. Detroit is far removed from the Stanley Cup contending clubs, last appearing in a Cup final in 2009 and last winning a playoff series in 2013. They have dropped standings points in each of the last three seasons, from 100 to 93 to 79 last season, missing the postseason for the first time since 1990. The Caps are coming off consecutive Presidents Trophy-winning seasons, but are thought of this season as more of a middle-of-the bracket contender than on a short list of serious Cup contenders. Both teams are bringing two-game losing streaks into this contest at the moment (through Wednesday’s games), the longest in the Eastern Conference. It might be early in the season, but the Red Wings are a club against which the Caps might be fighting for a playoff spot. It makes the two points available here an important commodity.
Capitals 3 – Red Wings 2