Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 50: Flyers at Capitals, January 31st

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The January portion of the regular season schedule comes to a close for the Washington Capitals on Wednesday night when they host the Philadelphia Flyers in a nationally-televised game at Capital One Arena. The Caps will be looking for a measure of revenge after dropping a 2-1 overtime decision on this same ice sheet just ten days previously.

The Flyers will be looking to resume the momentum that they built going into the All-Star Game break, going 8-2-0 in the ten games before the break. That 8-2-0 record tied the Boston Bruins and Calgary Flames for the best record in the league (16 standings points) since January 4th, when the Flyers embarked on their run.

Sean Couturier, who went into the Caps game back on January 21st as one of, if not the hottest player in in the league, has seen his goal-scoring dry up somewhat. While his total of eight goals over the Flyers’ last ten games still leads the team over that span, he is without a goal in his last four games. Yet he does have three assists over those four games to give him an 8-5-13, plus-5, scoring line over that ten-game span. He has been very much the go-to guy in this run, three of his eight goals being game-winners (one of them in overtime), his 27.6 percent shooting percentage best on the team, his 58.3 percent winning percentage on faceoffs leading the club, his 2:15 in shorthanded ice time per game leading all Flyer forwards, and his 21:36 per game in ice time also leading the club’s forwards. Couturier is 6-6-12, plus-5, in 23 career games against the Capitals.

Shayne Gostisbehere is rebounding from a disappointing sophomore season with a year that more closely resembles his rookie season in which he was 17-29-46, plus-8, in 64 games. In 45 games so far this season he is 9-24-33, plus-1, in 45 games. This puts him on a pace to finish 16-42-58, plus-2. He has slowed a bit lately, though, with just one point in his last six games (assist). Getting on the scoreboard appears to matter to the Flyers, for when Gostisbehere does record a point, the Flyers are 15-5-4 this season, and they have lost just once in regulation when he recorded a goal (5-1-2). He has struggled a bit with consistency, at least on a month-to-month basis. After a 1-12-13, plus-3, in 11 games in October, he was 2-4-6, minus-4, in 11 November games. Then he was 5-5-10, plus-2, in 13 games in December, but thus far in January he is 1-3-4, even, in 10 games. Gostisbehere is 0-6-6, even, in nine career games against Washington.

The Flyers do not often have a difficult choice to make in goal, at least not one based of good performances, but such might be the case for this first game coming out of the All-Star Game break. Brian Elliott has 46 saves on 49 shots (.939 save percentage) in his last two appearances before the break, one of them a 27-save effort in the 2-1 overtime win over the Caps on January 21st. It is an improvement over his previous seven appearances in which he topped .900 in save percentage just once (.861 overall despite going 4-3-0 in those games). If anything, Elliott seems to be the designated “road” goalie at the moment, his last four appearances and eight of his last 11 coming outside of Philadelphia. He does have a better save percentage on the road (.917) than he does at home (.896), although his road record (10-6-4 in 20 games) is not much different from his home record (9-5-3 in 18 appearances). The odd statistic here is that Elliott has allowed five shorthanded goals this season, all of them on the road. He also allowed 16 of his 27 power play goals against on the road, a 21-11 difference in special team goals allowed on the road versus at home. Elliott is 8-5-0, 3.05, .895, in 15 career appearances against the Caps.

On the other hand, Michal Neuvirth has been statistically superior in the Flyers’ 8-2-0 run, going 3-1-0, 2.08 (more than a goal better than Elliott’s 3.18), .926. What he has not had is a lot of work on the road, appearing in only four games away from Philadelphia (1-2-0, 2.14, .927, one shutout). Only one of his last nine appearances has been on the road, and that was just a 20-minute stint in which he stopped all eight shots in a 5-1 loss to the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on January 16th. His last decision on the road came on November 2nd, when he stopped all 33 shots he faced in a 2-0 blanking of the St. Louis Blues. The former Capital netminder is 1-1-0, 3.14, .891, in three career appearances against his old club.

The goaltender situation is complicated further by having both goaltenders nursing ailments.  Elliott was listed day-to-day with a lower body injury, and Neuvirth was reported to have a stomach virus.  General Manager Ron Hextall said, “I’m hoping both are able to play.”  If neither could, the duties might fall to Anthony Stolarz, the club’s top prospect goalie in the AHL.  However, he had surgery on the same knee twice in five months and has not played this season.  Alex Lyon and Dustin Tokarski have split duties with Lehigh Valley, the Flyers’ affiliate in the AHL.

1.  Even when a team is going well, you get hints that the run might be coming to an end. Consider the Flyers’ 8-2-0 run of late. They started it with four straight wins, outscoring opponents by a 21-11 margin, all of the wins by multi-goal margins. However, in going 4-2-0 in their last six contests, they have been outscored by opponents, 16-13, and three of their wins came in overtime. Both of their losses were by 5-1 margins (to the Rangers and to Tampa Bay).

2.  Perhaps one factor in the Flyers’ success of late is the time spent on special teams. They have spent 54:10 over their last ten games on the man advantage, and their 28.1 percent power play conversion rate is fifth in that span. And, although their penalty kill over those ten games is just 74.1 percent (21st over that period), they have spent just 42:50 killing penalties, and they have a plus-1 special teams goal differential (nine power play goals scored plus a shorthanded goal, seven power play goals allowed plus two shorthanded goals allowed).

3.  The Flyers have picked up their pace in taking penalties. They have 100 penalty minutes over their last ten games, almost half of them accounted for by three players: Scott Laughlin (21), Wayne Simmonds (12), and Michael Raffl (11).

4.  One luxury the Flyers have had in their 8-2-0 run is spreading time out among their defensemen. Of the six defensemen to play in at least nine of the ten games, none have averaged more than 18:43 in even strength ice time (Ivan Provorov) and none have less than 15:19 in even strength ice time (Brandon Manning).

5.  You wonder how the Flyers have cobbled together this 8-2-0 run. Not 5-on-5 shot attempt shares (50.46 percent overall/14th in that span), not 5-on-5 zone start shares (45.36 percent/25th), not 5-on-5 shooting percentage (7.5 percent/14th), not 5-on-5 save percentage (.925/17th), and their 5-on-5 PDO is exactly 1000 (all numbers from NHL.com).

1.  The Caps go into this game with a three-game home losing streak (0-2-1), tying their longest of the season (October 10-21). The difference is that all three of the losses in the earlier streak were in regulation.

2.  Four of the Caps’ last eight home games ended in extra time – three in overtime (two wins, one loss) and one in a Gimmick (a win).

3.  The Caps are three points away from having six defensemen with double digits in points. Christian Djoos (3-6-9) needs one point to get there, and Brooks Orpik (0-8-8) needs two. In other defenseman double digit milestone news, if Djoos takes a penalty, the Caps will have six defensemen with double digits in penalty minutes (Djoos has eight).

4.  Speaking of defensemen, John Carlson has 17 of the 18 points recorded on the power play by Capitals’ defensemen this season (3-14-17). Dmitry Orlov has the other point, an assist.

5.  If the Caps take a lead to the first intermission, you might be able to turn in early. Only the New York Islanders (14-0-0) have a better record than Washington when taking a lead after 20 minutes (18-0-1/.947).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Philadelphia: Michael Raffl

Only two players born in Austria have more games played in the NHL than the Flyers’ Michael Raffl (318): Thomas Vanek (934) and Michael Grabner (522). https://www.hockey-reference.com/friv/birthplaces.cgi?country=AT&province=&state= He is also third on that list in points (108), trailing Vanek (732) and Grabner (239), although he could be caught by a big game from the Caps’ Andre Burakovsky (104 points). Granted, the list of players born in Austria is not a big one, but Raffl has carved out a solid career over the last five years in Philadelphia, which isn’t bad for an undrafted free agent signed by the Flyers in 2013.

What he has been unable to do, though, is to recapture the level of production in his sophomore season in 2014-2015 when he had 21 goals in 67 games. He had just 21 goals in 134 games over the following two seasons. This year, he seems to have at least taken a step toward that higher level of production with nine goals in 49 games, topping his eight-goal total of last season in 52 games. He has been chipping in some secondary scoring in the Flyers’ 8-2-0 record over their last ten games with points in five of the games (3-2-5), and his plus-7 over that span is best on the team. In 17 career games against the Capitals, Raffl is 3-3-6, plus-1.

Washington: Madison Bowey

The Capitals had hopes this season for rookie defensemen Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos, the former a right-handed defenseman and the latter a left-handed shot.  These were to be the first in the next generation of defensemen to take their place with the Caps.  At the moment, though, their respective handedness has some relevance as the rumor mill starts to grind in earnest with the trading deadline approaching.  One such line of rumorizing has former Capital Mike Green – a right-handed shot currently playing for the Detroit Red Wings – as a possible target for the Caps.  This could conceivably bump Bowey to the press box, much as the Caps’ acquisition of Kevin Shattenkirk last season at the deadline pushed Nate Schmidt out of the lineup for stretches.

Last season, Shattenkirk was a luxury on a loaded team (a fat lot of good it did, though).  This season, Green – or a similar defenseman – might be a necessity.  It’s not that Bowey has been bad, but he has not been able to provide consistency (not unusual for a rookie) and has had limited minutes (13:30 per game).  One might argue that Bowey's numbers suffer from his pairing for large chunks of minutes with Brooks Orpik, but perhaps the question and concern going forward is one of whether the Caps want to put two rookies – Bowey and Djoos – in the playoff crucible this spring.  If the Caps were a middling contender, a club that might make the lower half of the postseason draw but likely a one-and-done team if they did make it, then giving both experience might not be as much a concern.  But the Caps are a division leader, by the second-largest margin of the four division leaders, and might be closer to making a deep postseason run than folks might have thought back in October.  It makes adding a piece like Green, perhaps at the expense of Bowey this season, something to consider.  Bowey has picked up his scoring pace a bit in recent games with four points in his last ten games (all assists; he is looking for his first NHL goal), and he is plus-2 in his last eight games after not posting a plus game in 21 consecutive games (minus-5) dating back to November 12th.  He does not have a point and is minus-3 in two games against the Flyers this season.

In the end…

The Metropolitan Division is cannibalizing one another. Seven teams are separated by just six points in their intra-divisional records at the All-Star Game break:

This game will open a stretch in which the Caps play four division opponents over their next five games – the Flyers, at Pittsburgh against the Penguins, and after a home date against the Vegas Golden Knights a home-and-home set of games against the Columbus Blue Jackets. If we can dream a bit, a sweep of those divisional contests would all but assure the Caps of a playoff spot if not the top spot in the division. Conversely, losing all four would make a tight division that much tighter just before the Caps go off on a four-game road trip in mid-February that will start a stretch run in which 16 of the Caps’ last 27 games are played on the road. It puts a premium on winning games like Wednesday night’s contest against the Flyers.

Capitals 4 – Flyers 3

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 17

The Washington Capitals had a light work load in Week 17, just two games for the second consecutive week, but it did not keep them from returning to their winning ways after a winless Week 16.  A win over the Florida Panthers gave the Caps something to build on as they headed into the All-Star Game break.  However, it came at a cost with one of their best players sustaining an injury that could leave the Caps short for a while.

Record: 1-0-1

Week 17 was the flip side of Week 16, both weeks including a loss in overtime, but the Caps won a game in the latest week, reversing their loss in regulation recorded in Week 16.  All in all, it is hard to get too irritated with the Caps’ 1-1-2 record over the past two weeks.  It has to be difficult to sustain any rhythm or high-motor when you play only four games over a 13 day period with a five-day break for the league-mandated bye and another three full days between games before the pre-All-Star Game finale.

The best part of winning the last game before the All-Star Game break and finishing the last two weeks with that 1-1-2 record is that the Caps take a six-point lead over the rest of the Metropolitan Division into the break, and they hold two games in hand on the suddenly streaking Pittsburgh Penguins, tied with the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second spot in the division.

As the Caps go into the All-Star Break, there is an oddly pleasant surprise about their record – its consistency.  First, consider that the team lost Matt Niskanen for 14 games, T.J. Oshie for six games to injury, and have had a lot of inconsistency from Andre Burakovsky in addition to injury that kept him out for 25 games.  And yet, if you look at the Caps in ten-game segments going into the break (nine games in the last segment), their records are:
  • 4-5-1 / 9 points
  • 6-4-0 / 12 points
  • 8-2-0 / 16 points
  • 6-2-2 / 14 points
  • 5-2-2 / 12 points (nine games)

They have the third best record in the league since November 1st (24-9-4/52 points) trailing only the Nashville Predators (24-7-5/53 points) and Boston Bruins (25-7-5/55 points).  Their consistency and continuing success will be tested, though, with Evgeny Kuznetsov suffering what appeared to be a groin injury in the Caps’ 4-2 win over Florida to end the week.  His absence will be keenly felt and will test the Caps’ ability to close ranks and move forward.

Offense: 2.50 /game (season: 3.00 /game, rank: T-9th)

Two games, five total goals.  Same as Week 16.  If there was concern about that, it was that the Caps scored only two even strength goals for the week, one by Alex Ovechkin and one by John Carlson.  They did get points from 11 different skaters, so in that respect there was a measure of balance.  Ovechkin (three), Carlson (two), and Evgeny Kuznetsov (two) were the Caps with multi-point weeks.

But it was not an especially efficient week for the Caps.  This has been a very discriminating team this season in terms of shots, ranking 31st in the league in shots per game at week’s end.  They did, however, record 74 shots in the two games in Week 17, including 46 in the 4-2 win over the Florida Panthers to close the week.  The 6.8 percent shooting percentage was a far cry, though, from the 10.3 percent for the season.

The shots for the week extended what, for the Caps this season, is an odd streak.  In outshooting the Philadelphia Flyers (28-23) and the Panthers (46-34), the Caps have now gone four games without being out-shot, their longest such streak of the season.

The Caps have yet to cut loose, though, so far in the 2018 portion of the season.  They did score four goals against the Panthers, but they have yet to score more than that in regulation in nine games so far in 2018 (they did score a fifth goal in a 5-4 overtime win over Carolina in the first game of the new year).

Defense: 2.00 / game (season: 2.80 /game, rank: 14th)

The Caps have struggled at times with the volume of shots allowed, having allowed teams 35 or more shots 17 times going into Week 17.  They came out of the week without adding to that total, holding Philadelphia (23) and Florida (34) to a total of 57 shots.  In fact, that made four straight games that the Caps held teams under 35 shots, their longest streak of such games since mid-November, when they had an eight-game streak.  The Caps might finally be finding their defensive posture as a result.  Not since they allowed four goals to the Carolina Hurricanes in the first game of the calendar year have the Caps allowed four goals in regulation.

What was just as encouraging was the shot attempts allowed at 5-on-5.  The Caps allowed just 71 in the two games.  It was what drove a week in which the Caps shot attempts-for percentage was a very good 56.97 percent overall (numbers from NHL.com) and an even better 60.14 percent in close situations.

Goaltending: 2.00 / .930 (season: 2.63 / .917 / 1 shutout)

Braden Holtby got both starts in Week 17, and it was a very good week.  Holtby (and backup Philipp Grubauer) have had to deal with heavier and higher quality shot volumes this season, and it shows in the overall numbers (although Grubauer is particularly a victim of low goal support).  With a bit lower shot volume to contend with, Holtby resembled more the goalie Caps fans saw the past two years. 

What was noteworthy about the week for Holtby was how he closed out games in regulation.  He stopped all 18 third period shots he faced in the two games for the week.  Not that he was a slouch in the first periods of games, where he stopped 18 of the 19 shots he faced (.947 save percentage).  It might have been a great week had he turned away the only shot he faced in overtime, but Travis Konecny scored on the only shot the Flyers recorded in overtime in the first game of the week to take a 2-1 decision.

Power Play: 3-for-9 / 33.3 percent (season: 20.0 percent, rank: T-14th)

The Caps had their best week –efficiency-wise – since Week 2.  With a 33.3 percent power play on a 3-for-9 week, they matched the 33.3 percent they had on 5-for-15 in the second week of the season.  The three goals were scored by three different players – Ovechkin, Brett Connolly, and Nicklas Backstrom.  Eight different players had power play points, Ovechkin having two as the only multi-point player with the man advantage.

When the Caps scored a pair of power play goals against Florida, it was the first time the Caps scored more than one power play goal on the road (two) since they had a pair in 4-3 win in Detroit over the Red Wings on October 20th.  It broke a 17-game road streak without scoring a pair of power play goals (5-for-47 over that streak – 10.6 percent).

The big thing for the power play in Week 17 was the shot volume.  Washington recorded two goals on 19 shots on goal against the Panther penalty killers in 9:24 of power play time on their way to finishing the week with three goals on 22 shots in just 14:08 of ice time.  On the other hand, the Caps did allow the Panthers four shots while shorthanded, which it a bit too loose for comfort on the man advantage.

Penalty Killing: 7-for-7 / 100.0 percent (season: 80.2 percent, rank: 18th)

Week 17 was the sixth time that the Caps spent a perfect week killing penalties and their fourth in the last nine weeks, over which they are 59-for-70 (84.3 percent), an improvement over their full season penalty killing rate that was still under 80 percent overall before Week 17 started.  The perfect week made the Caps 13-for-14 over the past two weeks (92.9 percent).

The Caps were efficient as well as effective.  They allowed the Flyers and Panthers only 11 shots on goal in 14 minutes of shorthanded ice time in killing seven power plays.

Faceoffs: 53-for-120 / 44.2 percent (season: 50.8 percent, rank: 12th)

It was not a good week for the Caps in the circle.  They were under 50 percent in both games, and they were under 50 percent for the week in all three zones.  The best they managed was being one-under in the offensive zone for the week (18-for-37 (48.6 percent).  Fortunately, the worst was left in the neutral zone, where they were 18-for-44 (40.9 percent).

Individually, Nicklas Backstrom had a good week going 16-for-25 overall (64.0 percent) including 7-for-9 in the offensive zone (77.8 percent).  No other Capital taking ten or more draws was over 50 percent, and as a group, Lars Eller, Jay Beagle, and Evgeny Kuznetsov were 33-for-82 (40.2 percent).

Goals by Period:

The Caps managed comparatively solid work holding teams off the scoreboard early.  They did allow one first period goal in two games, but that brought their total of first period goals allowed this season to 37, ten fewer than what they have allowed in the second periods of games and 12 fewer than in the third periods of games.  Those 37 goals allowed is now tied for tenth-fewest in the league.

The Caps also had a positive goal differential in the second periods of games this week, a sticking point for the team from time to time this season.  It narrowed their overall second period goal differential to minus-1.

In the end…

That the Caps are six points clear of the rest of the division at the All-Star break, despite losing significant players (Matt Niskanen, T.J. Oshie, Andre Burakovsky) for large parts of the schedule is no small feat.  To do so in arguably the toughest division in the league and to do so on pace to finish with 49 wins and 105 points is perhaps even more impressive.
Week 17 had that blemish of an overtime loss to a division rival, but overall they were stingy on defense, had better possession numbers, dominated shot totals, and had very good special teams play.

And, with just two games in Week 17, the Caps showed enough discipline and focus to earn points in three of four games played over a 13-day period.  It was the sort of scheduling quirk that could have resulted in a loss of focus and a bleeding away of the division lead.  

The Caps will start their rush to the trading deadline in a good position, but there will be a challenge right out of the All-Star break.  With four of their next six games to be played on home ice, and four of those six games against division rivals (Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and a home-and-home against Columbus), the object will be to put some additional distance between themselves and the rest of the division before they embark on a four-game road trip in the middle of February.  And they will have to do so wondering to the extent Evgeny Kuznetsov will be available.  Nevertheless, Week 17 set the Caps up to address that challenge from a position of advantage.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Alex Ovechkin (2-1-3, plus-1, 13th 30-goal season, 500th assist, 12 shots on goal, 17 shot attempts, 4 hits)
  • Second Star: Braden Holtby (1-0-1, 2.00, .930)
  • Third Star: Evgeny Kuznetsov (0-2-2, even)

Friday, January 26, 2018

A TWO-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 49: Capitals 4 - Panthers 2

The Washington Capitals came from behind twice, and then they pulled away from the Florida Panthers on Thursday night, taking a 4-2 decision in their last game before the All-Star Game break in what was a milestone night for their captain.

Denis Malgin opened the scoring for the Panthers mid-way through the first period. The teams battled for the puck along the left wing wall in the Capitals’ end before it squirted out into the faceoff circle. Malgin corralled it, and then he stepped around defenseman Christian Djoos to get room to rip a wrist shot that beat goalie Braden Holtby at the 11:02 mark.

The Caps tied it late in the first period on a power play. From the left point, Alex Ovechkin sent the puck deep to Evgeny Kuznetsov in the opposite faceoff circle. Kuznetsov sent a pass to the top of the crease where Nicklas Backstrom was filling in, and Backstrom redirected the feed past Harri Sateri at the 17:25 mark to make it a 1-1- game heading into the first intermission.

The Panthers regained the lead early in the second period, Malgin recording his second goal of the game, one-timing a redirected pass from Jonathan Huberdeau off Holtby, the near pipe, and into the net 6:40 into the period to make it 2-1.

Ovechkin tied the game just over a minute later when he redirected a Brooks Orpik drive from the left point out of the air and past Sateri’s right arm 7:51 into the period.

Washington took the lead for good late in the second on a goal by John Carlson. Kuznetsov worked the puck up the right wing wall and backhanded a pass to Tom Wilson in the right wing circle. Wilson relayed the puck through the slot to Carlson at the left wing circle hash marks where he one-timed the puck past Sateri at the 17:38 mark.

The Caps closed the scoring early in the third period on a power play. Andre Burakovsky grabbed the puck in full flight outside the Florida blue line and carried it into the zone. From the far edge of the right wing circle, he sent the puck across to Brett Connolly in the left wing circle for a one-timer that beat Sateri 1:52 into the period. The Caps clamped down on the Panthers from there to go into the All-Star break on a good note.

Other stuff…

-- Alex Ovechkin hit two milestones in this game. His assist on the Caps’ first goal was his 500th of his career. He became the 143rd player in NHL history to hit that mark and is the 14th active player with 500 helpers. He joined Nicklas Backstrom as the only Capitals to reach the 500-assist mark in team history.

-- Ovechkin’s goal was his 30th of the season, making him one of three players in league history to record 30 or more goals in each of his first 13 seasons in the league. Mike Gartner and Wayne Gretzky are the others.

-- Ovechkin became the 43rd player in NHL history to record 500 goals and 500 assists.  He is one of only five active players to do so.  Jaromir Jagr (766 goals/1155 assists), Jarome Iginla (625/675; technically active, but he has not played this season), Marian Hossa (525/609; sitting out this season for medical reasons), and Patrick Marleau (524/583) are the others.

-- It was Ovechkin’s 14th multi-point game of the season, tying him for 14th among players in the league this season in the total number of multi-point games.

-- Evgeny Kuznetsov also had a multi-point game (two assists), his 11th of the season.  However, it might be his last multi-point – or any – game for a while.  He went out for one shift in the third period before retiring for the night with a suspected groin injury.  If there is a silver lining, the Caps do not play again until next Wednesday, at least giving Kuznetsov five days to improve.

-- John Carlson had ten shots on goal, tying his high for the season (October 20th against Detroit). It was his third career double digit shots game, fifth most in club history since shots became a statistic and third most since the 2004-2005 lockout, trailing only Alexander Semin (four) and Ovechkin (46).

-- In one of the stranger collections of numbers coming out of this game, the Caps had a 46-34 advantage in shots on goal, but only a 65-61 advantage in shot attempts.  That was the result of having had only five shot attempts blocked.  For you Fans of the Fenwick (unblocked shot attempts), 92.3 percent of the Caps’ shot attempts were unblocked (60 of 65).  But even there, things were odd, as the Caps’ Fenwick-for percentage at 5-on-5 was only 51.43 percent (numbers from Corsica.hockey).

-- The third period was like a Rocky movie with head shots galore.  The teams combined for 33 shots on goal, the Panthers with 14 of them and the Caps with 19.  Yet, only one goal was scored (Brett Connolly, on a power play).

-- Speaking of power play, this was the first time the Caps scored more than one power play goal on the road (two) since they had a pair in 4-3 win in Detroit over the Red Wings on October 20th.  It broke a 17-game road streak without scoring a pair of power play goals (5-for-47 over that streak – 10.6 percent), itself an odd fact since they had two or more in three of their first five road games this season.

-- The Tom Wilson Trinity… three penalties (including a fight), three shots on goal, three hits.  He also had an assist and was plus-2.  Four of his last five shifts ended in penalties, three of his last four (the four shifts he skated in the third period) ending with a penalty on him.  A jam-packed 13 minutes of ice time, wouldn’t you say?

In the end…

The numbers on the scoreboard were nice (and let’s not leave out Braden Holtby’s 32 saves on 34 shots faced), but they are tempered with the injury to Kuznetsov.  Even with his struggles of late, he is a critical cog in the Caps’ machine.  Having a player of his skill occupying the second line center position gives the coaching staff that much more flexibility to experiment with line changes than they might have with a player of more limited talents.  And that doesn’t even count Kuznetsov’s own contributions when he is on his game.  The Caps are not a deep enough team to expect sustained success if he is out of the lineup for any significant length of time.  It would require a much more disciplined defensive approach than they have been able to muster consistently this season.  Consider it a challenge.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 49: Capitals at Panthers, January 25th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals will try to avoid a season-high fourth consecutive loss on Thursday night when they visit the Florida Panthers in Sunrise, Florida. The Caps will also be looking to halt a disturbing trend on the offensive side of the ledger, having seen their goal total drop by one in each successive game since their last win, a 4-3 decision over the Carolina Hurricanes on January 12th. Were the trend to continue, the Panthers would pitch a shutout in this one.

Pitching a shutout seems unlikely. Since beating the Montreal Canadiens in a 2-0 shutout in the last game of the 2017 portion of the season, Florida has not allowed fewer than three goals (including Gimmicks) in any of the eight games they have played so far in the 2018 portion of the schedule. They have allowed 32 goals in the eight games (not including Gimmicks) while scoring only 22 of their own, almost a third of them coming in a 7-4 win over the St. Louis Blues on January 9th.

The goals allowed shines a bright light on the Panthers’ goaltending. Roberto Luongo has been out of action since December 4th with a lower body injury, and the team is targeting early February for his return.  That has left the netminding duties to James Reimer and Harri Seteri. In the eight games played by the Panthers in the new year, Reimer received the call to start seven times with a 2-3-1 (one no-decision), 3.33, .900 record. Sateri is 0-2-0, 4.82, .861 in three appearances over the same period. They have struggled under some heavy shot loads, facing a combined average of 33.7 shots per 60 minutes over those eight games. Reimer was injured in a fall early in Florida’s loss in Dallas on Tuesday, going out less than four minutes into the game. If he cannot go, Sateri would get his first action against an Eastern Conference team in his career. The rookie, who was originally a fourth-round draft pick of the San Jose Sharks, has three games on his career record, having faced Dallas, the Minnesota Wild, and the Nashville Predators. He would be looking for his first career win, too.

Okay, so which Aleksander Barkov will show up for this game? He has been quite the enigma since the Panthers took him with the second-overall pick in the 2013 entry draft. He doubled his goal total from his rookie to second season (from eight to 16), then added another dozen to his third-year total (28). Then, he dropped to 21 goals last season in 61 games. This season has been something of a roller-coaster… no goals in five games to open the season, then four in six games, then two in 11 contests, followed by four in five games, one in 11 games, and four in seven games coming into this contest. But he has none in his last two, so that might be a harbinger of a dry spell. Not that it seems to matter all that much, the Panthers being just 8-4-3 in the 15 games in which he has a goal this season, but he does lead the team in goals (four) in the eight games of the 2018 portion of the season so far. In ten career games against the Caps, Barkov is 3-4-7, minus-5.

That Keith Yandle leads the Panther defensemen in points this season (25), not to mention he is tied with Aaron Ekblad for the team points lead in the new year (four) will surprise almost no one. He is eighth among all defensemen in points over the years since he came into the league in 2006-2007 (435).  But Yandle has one strange number, or “factoid” if you will, attached to him. In each of the last six seasons he has recorded one, and only one fight. This year’s took place in the free-for-all that was the Panthers’ 6-1 loss to the Dallas Stars on Tuesday. And he did not pick on a stiff. He took on Antoine Roussel (his fourth fight this season), less than four minutes into the contest after Roussel tangled up with goalie James Reimer (who would have to leave the contest with an injury). But Yandle’s best use of his hands are in scoring or setting up teammates to score. He has been remarkably consistent in this role. Yandle and Shea Weber are the only NHL defensemen to average at least a half-point per game in each of the last nine seasons. He is 1-11-12, plus-1, in 20 career games against the Caps.

1.  Since January 1st, Florida has fewer standings points than any team in the league (five) except Los Angeles (four). No team has fewer wins (two, tied with New Jersey and Los Angeles).

2.  Florida does like to shoot the puck, though. Their 34.5 shots per game is second-highest in the league this season (Chicago: 34.6). Fat lot of good it’s done either team. Perhaps because in the Panthers’ case, they have allowed the most shots on goal per game (35.1).

3.  Home ice advantage has not turned into power play advantage for the Panthers. They have the second lowest number of power plays on home ice this season (69; Buffalo has 64).

4.  Florida would almost be better to take the penalty rather than draw one. Their nine shorthanded goals leads the league. And, they’ve only allowed one such goal this season, tied for fewest in the league (San Jose). And taking penalties is something the Panthers do, perhaps too often. Their 11:36 in penalty minutes is second-most in the league (Nashville: 12:33). No team has more major penalties than the Panthers (26), and it’s not close (Dallas: 21).

5.  Just don’t fall behind the Panthers after 40 minutes. They are one of five teams with an unblemished record when leading after two periods (11-0-0). Oddly enough, three of those teams are in the Metro (Rangers: 15-0-0; Penguins: 15-0-0; Islanders: 17-0-0). Edmonton is the only such team in the West (12-0-0).

1.  This will be the ninth game for the Caps this month. At the moment, their eight games is tied with five other teams for fewest played so far in 2018. But would you have thought that one of those teams with which the Caps are tied – Arizona – is also tied with the Caps in standings points this month (10)?

2.  Only five teams have fewer power play chances on the road this season than the Caps (64), and only four have fewer power play goals in road contests (22).

3.  Only the Ottawa Senators have more bench minor penalties (12) than the Caps have this season (9).

4.  The Caps do better in close games (13-3-5/.619 in one-goal games) than they do in blowouts (9-8/.529 in games decided by three or more goals).

5.  Overtime has been kind to the Caps. With six goals scored in the five-minute frame, they are second only to Pittsburgh (seven).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Florida: Micheal Haley

Until Tuesday night, Luke Witkowski of the Detroit Red Wings and Kevan Miller of the Boston Bruins shared the honor of having the most penalty minutes charged to one player in a game this season with 27 penalty minutes apiece. When play ended on Tuesday, the top spot was grasped firmly by Florida’s Micheal Haley. He skated five shifts and 2:29 of on-ice time, but three of those shifts ended in penalties, he being charged with six infractions in all totaling 39 minutes, ending with his being excused from further participation 13:50 into the second period of the Panthers’ 6-1 loss to the Dallas Stars. He was the highlight, in a manner of speaking, in an evening in which the Panthers were docked 84 minutes in penalties, and the Stars logged 54 penalty minutes. The first period alone featured four fights. With his 39 minutes in PIMs, Haley jumped over Washington’s Tom Wilson into the top spot in the league in penalty minutes, 131 to 109.

It is not as if Haley is a heavyweight; more of a cruiserweight at 5’11”/205 pounds. But shy he is not. He played sparingly over his first six seasons in the league, amassing 222 penalty minutes in 72 games with three teams (the New York Islanders, New York Rangers, and San Jose Sharks). He broke out in a big way in his second season with San Jose, recording 128 minutes in just 58 games. And now, he has those 131 minutes in just 46 games with Florida. Such is his role. In eight NHL seasons he has never averaged as much as ten minutes of ice time per game (career average just over eight minutes per game), and he has just seven goals and 23 points in 176 NHL games. In five career games against the Caps, Haley has yet to record a point and is minus-1 (he has yet to record a shot on goal against the Capitals). Strangely enough, he does not have a penalty minute in any of those five games against Washington.

Washington: Chandler Stephenson

There are 340 forwards who have skated at least 400 minutes this season.  Chandler Stephenson is last among them in shots on goal per game (0.42).  He has not recorded more than two shots on goal in any of his 35 games so far, and he has hit that total four times.  He did not record any shots on goal in 24 games.  The Caps have enough skilled offensive forwards, but then again, this is a player who recorded 66 goals in 170 games over his last three years of Canadian junior hockey.  It just has not yet been a part of his game to be expressed as a pro (he had 25 goals in 174 games over four years with the Hershey Bears). 

Stephenson’s role going forward might be as a defensive/bottom-six specialist in the mold of Jay Beagle, who was himself a modest scorer over his first six seasons (13 goals in 182 games).  Over his last four seasons, though, Beagle has 36 goals in 248 games, roughly 12 per 82 games.  It argues for a certain level of patience with Stephenson, who is just five years removed from his draft year (3rd round/77th overall in 2012).  But for the moment, his being quiet in the offensive end (no points, one shot on goal over his last six games) can be tolerated if he can contribute in other ways, such as providing solid defense to allow others to bear the scoring load.  Stephenson does not have a point in either of his two career appearances against Florida and is “even.”

In the end…

If not now, when? As in, when will the Caps end their losing streak?  Sure, Florida is a good team at home, 5-1-0 in their last six contests. But that run goes back to when Roberto Luongo was healthy, and at the moment, he isn’t. Not that James Reimer is a bad goalie, but will he even be ready to go after leaving Tuesday’s game against Dallas less than four minutes into the contest? And if you want to see how that played out in terms of an odd NHL rule, read this…

But back to the point at hand. Florida is in a bit of a mess in goal at the moment, and there might not be a better opportunity for the Caps to find their offense than in this game. Their backup-backup – Harri Seteri – has only three NHL games on his resume, and Samuel Montembeault, playing at their AHL affiliate in Springfield, has never dressed for an NHL game and is in his own rookie season in the AHL (12-15-2, 3.00, .904, one shutout), although he is viewed as the successor to Luongo at some point.

Washington has alternated wins and losses in their last seven trips to Florida (4-1-2), and if the pattern holds, this would be a loss. It won’t be.

Capitals 5 – Panthers 2

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 16

For the Washington Capitals, it was going to happen sooner or later.  And frankly, one could see this coming, since we saw this movie at about this time last season.  It was not a romantic comedy, nor was it a thriller.  It was not a buddy movie, nor was it a sci-fi drama.  It was…well, we’re not quite sure.  Well, maybe we’re sure we do not want to see any further sequel.

Record: 0-1-1

It was the first losing week for the Caps since Week 3 and their first winless week this season.  It was only two games, which mitigates the result to a degree, but the part that causes discomfort is that it is precisely the result the Caps had coming out of the break last season – an extra time loss in their first game back and a close, if somewhat listless, loss the following night.  Last season it was a 3-2 Gimmick loss to the Detroit Red Wings followed by a 2-1 loss to the New York Rangers.  This time it was a 4-3 overtime loss to the New Jersey Devils and a 3-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens.  The good part of that, for you silver lining, glass-half-full crowd, is that the Caps followed up last year’s two-game losing streak coming out of the break with five wins in their next six games.

Better still is that despite the two losses in Week 16, the Caps finished the week at the top of the Metropolitan Division.  They did slip below the streaking Boston Bruins who, on a 12-0-4 streak, have inched ahead of the Caps in the Eastern Conference standings by two points.

Offense: 2.50 /game (season: 3.02 /game, rank: 11th)

Alex Ovechkin finished tied for fourth on the team in shots on goal (three, with Jay Beagle…yeah, Jay Beagle), which says as much as anything about the week the Caps had on offense.  John Carlson (ten shots) had as many as the next two Caps combined (Brett Connolly and Matt Niskanen with five apiece). Oh, and none of Ovechkin’s shots on goal came at even strength.  Tough week.

As for the actual scoring, Connolly had a pair of goals against the Devils, that pair leading the team for the week.  Carlson, Dmitry Orlov, and Lars Eller had the other three of the five the Caps had.  Eller has become quite the goal scorer of late.  He had a four-game goal scoring streak stopped in the overtime loss to the Devils to open the week, but his last minute goal to get the Caps close against Montreal was his fifth goal in six games, his sixth in nine contests.

Connolly was one of three Caps with two-point weeks, Orlov (1-1-2) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (0-2-2) being the others.  They were among 12 Caps with at least one point for the week.  It was only two games, but four defensemen had points for the Caps: Orlov, Niskanen, Carlson, and Brook Orpik).  Only the rookies – Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos – were blueliners held off the score sheet.

What the Caps did not get much of, and it was reflected in the scoring, was shots.  They managed just 45 shots in the two games.  They did rebound from a sluggish performance in New Jersey – 19 shots and 44 shot attempts – to a more robust one against the Canadiens (26 shots, 61 shot attempts), but it was not a strong week overall.

Defense: 3.50 / game (season: 2.83 /game, rank: 16th)

Well, the Caps were consistent in the defensive end.  They allowed New Jersey 66 shot attempts in the 4-3 overtime loss to start the week, and they allowed the Montreal Canadiens 67 shot attempts in the 3-2 loss to close it.  What they could not do consistently was keep the big guys on the other side from doing the most damage.  Taylor Hall had a goal (the game-winning overtime goal) and an assist among the four goals the Devils scored in the first game this week, and then Max Pacioretty had a pair of goals (including, as it turned out, the game-winning empty net goal) and an assist to figure in all of the Montreal scoring in the second game of the week.  That Pacioretty performance was noteworthy for two things.  First, it was the first time this season he recorded a multi-goal game. Second, he became the 15th player this season to record multiple-goal games against the Caps.

Individually, one wonders what is up with Nicklas Backstrom.  He was minus-3 for the week, worst on the club, and he is minus-4 over his last four games, three of them ending on the minus-side of the ledger.  One might wonder if this is guilt by association, since Alex Ovechkin and Devante Smith-Pelly, with whom Backstrom has spent much time on the first line lately, were each minus-2 for the week.  But then again, Tom Wilson (not Smith-Pelly) was on the right side of the top line against the Canadiens, and Backstrom was still minus-2.  The best that might be said here is that something just isn’t working quite the way it should on the top line in terms of keeping opponents silent.  And, even the best defensive forwards (a group that would include Backstrom) get scored on.

Goaltending: 3.05 / .895 (season: 2.66 / .916 / 1 shutout)

If Week 14 was saved by goaltending, Week 15 was not.  On the other hand, the goaltending was called upon to do a lot of saving, at least in terms of trying to deny opponents rushing in on breakaways.  The first New Jersey goal…long pass to Drew Stafford for a breakaway.  Third Devils goal…long floater pass to Miles Wood for a breakaway.  Game-winning goal…Taylor Hall chips the puck past Evgeny Kuznetsov at the players bench…skates in on a, yup, breakaway.  That’s half of the goals scored against a goaltender this week, Braden Holtby being the victim of all of them.  That is in no small part why Holtby finished the week with a .875 save percentage.

Philipp Grubauer wasn’t victimized as much by leaky defense, but his 32-save effort didn’t get enough goal support to give him a win.  It was the latest in a running dark comedy that is his season.  In seven games he started, finished, and allowed two or fewer goals, his record is now 3-3-1.  He has a save percentage of .959 in those seven games, not to mention his only shutout…in a loss (by Gimmick).  He deserves better.

Power Play: 1-for-8 / 12.5 percent (season: 19.2 percent, rank: 16th)

The Caps did get a power play goal this week, but it was the lack of one in five chances against New Jersey that might have kept the Caps from avoiding a losing week.  It was the eighth time this season that the Caps had five or more power plays in a game and the first time that they failed to convert on any of their frequent chances. It also happened to be just their second loss in such instances (6-1-1).

The Devils are a decent, but not elite penalty killing team (ranked 12th when they played the Caps), and the Caps aspire to elite power play status.  Going 0-for-5 with just five shots on goal in ten minutes of power play time, even with the rust that might have accumulated with six days off, was disappointing. 

Overall, the Caps went 1-for-11 shooting on the man advantage, John Carlson (four) and Ovechkin (three) leading the team in shots.  That is an indicator of the Caps getting little in the way of rebounds or chances in tight with T.J. Oshie getting just one shot on goal and Evgeny Kuznetsov two (Dmitry Orlov had the other).

Penalty Killing: 6-for-7 / 85.7 percent (season: 79.4 percent, rank: 19th)

If the Caps kill six of every seven shorthanded situations they face, they will do well.  So in that sense it was a good week for the penalty killers.  And, the Caps allowed the Devils and Canadiens only ten shots on goal in 12:16 of shorthanded ice time.  Few opportunities, a diminished number of shots, efficient goaltending (.900 save percentage).  The trouble is, the Caps were 23-8-2 this season coming into Week 16 when allowing an opponent four or fewer power play chances.  They lost in overtime to New Jersey (three chances) and Montreal (four). The penalty killers had a decent week with little to show for it.

Faceoffs: 58-for-118 / 49.2 percent (season: 51.0 percent, rank: 12th)

The usual suspects did the usual things in the faceoff circle.  But perhaps not in the usual ways, or at least in consistent ways.  Nicklas Backstrom (51.4 percent), Lars Eller (56.3 percent), and Jay Beagle (52.4 percent) had good weeks; Evgeny Kuznetsov (42.1 percent) had a challenging week.  Those four players, who each had ten or more draws taken for the week, were a combined 51.4 percent (56-for-109). 

But things were not quite as good as all that.  They were 25-for-43 on neutral zone faceoffs (58.1 percent), but in the ends they were less efficient.  The foursome was 17-for-34 in the offensive zone (50.0 percent), a number depressed by Lars Eller going 0-for-6 in the offensive zone against New Jersey.  It was worse in the defensive zone, where the quartet was just 14-for-32 (43.8 percent).  Nicklas Backstrom had the difficulties here, going just 2-for-9 (22.2 percent).

Goals by Period:

Second periods have been the Caps’ problem all season, and it was the case in Week 16.  It is not that the Caps were dominated in the middle period of Week 16, allowing three goals while scoring a pair over the two games.  But the order matters.  The Caps allowed a pair of second period goals to New Jersey after going to the first intermission tied, falling behind by a 3-1 margin and forcing them to scramble to secure a single standings point.  They allowed Montreal to open the scoring in the second game of the week with a power play goal seven minutes into the second period of a scoreless game.

In both instances the Caps came back, but the NHL is a league in which teams win from being ahead much more often than from catching up. 

In the end…

Earlier in the week, we wrote about the need to “beware the bye” as the Caps were coming out of their six-day hiatus.  And sure enough, just enough rust had accumulated to slow the club coming out of the break.  They now have 35 games remaining in the regular season.  Last year they went 23-10-2 in their last 35 games.  Few would predict that this club repeats that run.  In fact, just going “.500” in standings points (35 points in 35 games) would give the Caps 95 points, a number that was enough for the Toronto Maple Leafs to capture the second wild-card spot in the postseason last year. 

Something in-between the 48 points the Caps earned last season and the 35 that could be enough to make the postseason appears where the Caps are headed.  But to get there they need to change direction.  They need put the break behind them, quickly.  They need to win.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Philipp Grubauer (0-1-0, 2.08, .920)
  • Second Star: Brett Connolly (2-0-2, even, five shots on goal)
  • Third Star: Lars Eller (1-0-1, plus-1, 56.3 percent on faceoffs)

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 48: Flyers at Capitals, January 21st

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals play their third game in four days on Sunday afternoon when they host the Philadelphia Flyers in a Sunday afternoon tilt.  The Caps will be looking to halt a two-game losing streak on their post-bye schedule, while the Flyers will be looking to extend a successful run of late, having won seven of their last nine games.

What the Flyers will be looking to exploit is a somewhat leaky Capitals defense that has allowed three or more goals in six of their last seven games.  Given that the Flyers have scored five or more goals in four of their last nine contests, it will be a challenge for the Caps.

Sean Couturier leads the Flyers in goals (nine) and points (13) in the Flyers’ 7-2-0 run of late.  Couturier has found his goal scoring touch in a big way this season, having already obliterated his career high in goals scored (15 in 2014-2015) with 26 this season, tied for fourth in the league.  And when he scores, the Flyers are successful, going 13-3-5 in the 21 games in which he scored a goal.  In this current run of success for the Orange and Black, three of his goals were game-winners, one of them in overtime.  He has three multi-goal games in his last six contests and points in nine of his last 11 games (10-5-15).  One noteworthy number he has is his 20 even strength goals, twice as many as the Flyer with the next highest total (Claude Giroux with ten).  Couturier is 6-5-11, plus-4, in 22 career games against the Caps.

Speaking of Giroux, he is second on the club in points in their 7-2-0 run of late.  He did it by spreading the good cheer around, 11 of his 12 points in that run coming on assists.  Giroux is having a rebirth of sorts, his 14 goals this season already tying his total for all of last season and his 55 points just three shy of last year’s total of 58.  Giroux topping 50 points is nothing new, though.  This is the seventh time in the last eight seasons he had done so, the only time he fell short being in the abbreviated 2012-2013 season when he had 48 points in 48 games.  The odd thing about Giroux this season, though, is the Flyers’ lack of success when he gets heavy minutes.  Philadelphia is just 6-9-4 when Giroux skated more than 21 minutes.  In 34 career games against Washington, he is 18-18-36, plus-3.

Last season, Ivan Provorov finished fourth among rookie defensemen in scoring with 30 points.  He is on a pace to top that this season with 23 points in 46 games.  His nine goals (he scored his ninth yesterday in the Flyers’ 3-1 win over the New Jersey Devils) is already well clear of last year’s total of six goals.  In the Flyers’ 7-2-0 run he is 4-4-8 to lead the Flyers’ blue line in goals and points.  With 52 career points in his second season, he is already just the ninth Flyer defenseman in franchise history to record more than 50 points in his first two seasons, and he is just the sixth defenseman in Flyer history to post 15 goals over his first two seasons.  In five career games against the Caps, Provorov is 0-1-1, plus-2.

1.  Little things…the Flyers are the best team in the league in taking draws, winning 52.9 percent of the faceoffs they have taken.

2.  The Flyers might just as soon be on the road insofar as their power play is concerned.  At 23.4 percent, it is the fourth-best power play on the road in the league and more than five percentage points better than their power play at home (18.1 percent).

3.  Only three teams have fewer wins when leading after the first period than the Flyers (seven wins).  Then again, only the Vancouver Canucks (eight) and the Buffalo Sabres (eight) have taken fewer leads to the first intermission than the Flyers (nine/7-0-2).

4.  Scoring first is usually a good indicator of success, but not for Philadelphia, which ranks 24th in winning percentage when scoring first (.650/13-4-3).

5.  Getting out of the gate quickly has been an issue for the Flyers.  Only four teams have fewer first period goals than Philadelphia (33).

1.  No team in the NHL has spent less time with a 5-on-3 man advantage than the Caps this season.  Their total is just 20 seconds on one such opportunity.

2.  The third period of games have not been kind to the Caps in one respect.  Only three teams have a worse time differential between power plays and shorthanded situations (minus-26:44).

3.  Scoring first matters to the Caps.  They have the fifth-best winning percentage when scoring first in games (.809/17-2-2).

4.  Only three teams have a better winning percentage in one-goal games than Washington (.650/13-3-4).

5.  So the Caps get out-shot a lot.  Thirty times in 47 games, in fact.  Their 17 wins in those games is third-most in the league, trailing only Colorado (18) and Nashville (19).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Philadelphia: Wayne Simmonds

In the long arc of history for the Philadelphia Flyers, Wayne Simmonds might not get as much attention as he should.  With 179 goals as a Flyer, he ranks 17th in club history.  He among the most reliably productive goal scorers in the league, having topped 25 goals in five of the last six seasons preceding this one, the only time he missed being the abbreviated 2012-2013 season in which he scored 15 goals in 45 games. He has been on a run of late with five goals in his last nine games.  And when he scores, it is all but certain the Flyers win.  They are 13-0-1 in the 14 games in which he recorded a goal so far this season.  In fact, Philadelphia has lost just one game in regulation this season in which Simmonds recorded a point (they are 17-1-4).  The key might be to try to get him off his game and off the ice.  The Flyers are just 4-5-3 in the 12 games in which he logged penalty minutes.  Simmonds is 6-9-15, minus-3, in 29 career games against the Caps.

Washington: Evgeny Kuznetsov

If Evgeny Kuznetsov records a point on Sunday, it would tie his longest points streak of the season at four games.  And since the Caps are 19-5-3 when Kuznetsov records a point, his contribution is certainly welcome.  Although his goal scoring is off a bit lately, he is averaging more goals per game (0.28) than in any of his previous four seasons.  That recent goal scoring is something to take notice of, though.  He has just three in his last 18 contests.  The good thing here is that eight of his 13 goals this season have been scored on home ice.  Kuznetsov is slowly working his way up the all-time points list for the Caps, too.  His next point will break a tie with Gaetan Duchesne for 34th place on the all-time list, both with 225 career points with the Caps.  Doing it against the Flyers might be a good bet.  Philadelphia is one of seven teams against which Kuznetsov has at least ten career points (2-8-10).  However, he is also a minus-4 in his 13 career games against the Flyers, the worst plus-minus number he has against any team.

In the end…

Oddly enough, last season the Caps broke a two-game losing streak coming out of the bye week with a win over the Flyers.  It was a game for the top-sixers, Kuznetsov getting a pair of goals, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie getting the others, and Backstrom, Oshie, Kuznetsov, Alex Ovechkin, and Justin Williams recording multi-point games.  Sounds like a formula that could work again against a team playing its second game in 24 hours.

Capitals 4 – Flyers 1

Friday, January 19, 2018

A ONE-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 46: Devils 4 - Capitals 3 (OT)

The Washington Capitals managed to earn one point against the New Jersey Devils on Thursday night in their first game out of the bye week, but could not capture the second standings point in dropping a 4-3 overtime decision to the Devils in Newark.

The teams traded goals in the first period four minutes apart, New Jersey opening the scoring on a Drew Stafford breakaway at the 8:01 mark. Brett Connolly tied the game when a T.J. Oshie shot from the left point caromed off a Devils defender across the top of the crease and onto Connolly’s stick. Connolly wasted no time whipping the puck past goalie Keith Kinkaid to make it 1-1 at the 12:10 mark.

The Devils went out to a two-goal lead in the second period. Andy Greene followed up a shot that deflected off a Capitals defender and wristed a shot under the left arm of goalie Braden Holtby 3:33 into the period. Miles Wood made it 3-1 mid-way through the period when, after a faceoff win in the defensive zone, he took a lob pass from Sami Vatanen and broke in alone on Holtby, sneaking a shot through his pads that crawled over the goal line at the 10:55 mark.

Dmitry Orov got the Caps within a goal just 14 seconds later. A shot by Jay Beagle was kicked out by Kinkaid to the far boards where Orlov was filling in. His shot from long range beat Kinkaid to make it 3-2 at the 11:09 mark.

The Devils were less than five minutes from sealing the deal when the Caps struck to tie it. Brett Connolly got his second of the game, taking advantage of an opportunity after the Caps worked the puck in deep. Evgeny Kuznetsov skated the puck below the goal line, and just before he took it behind the net sent it in front to Connolly waiting between the hash marks. His shot beat Kinkaid cleanly, and the game was tied at the 16:12 mark.

That left it to be decided in overtime, and it did not take long. Taylor Hall chipped the puck past Evgeny Kuznetsov at the players bench, took off on his own behind the defense, and flipped it over Holtby’s left shoulder to give the Devils the 4-3 win just 34 seconds into the extra session.

Other stuff…

-- The Caps also lost an extra time game coming out of last year’s bye week, that one being a 3-2 Gimmick loss to the Detroit Red Wings in Detroit.

-- The Caps had just 19 shots on goal, Brett Connolly leading the team with four.  No other Caps had more than two.

-- Connolly had his first multi-goal game since he recorded a pair in with the Tampa Bay Lightning in a 6-3 win over the New York Rangers on December 1, 2014.

-- Nicklas Backstrom won 13 of 20 faceoffs.  The rest of the team won 13 of 32 draws (40.6 percent), and Chandler Stephenson was the only other Cap to finish over 50 percent.  He won his only faceoff.

-- Alex Ovechkin and Devante Smith-Pelly led the team with four hits apiece.  That’s nice, but is this a statistic you want two thirds of your first line leading in?  The Ovechkin, Backstrom, DSP line combined for four shots on goal.

-- New Jersey led in shot attempts, 56-44.  The Caps had only seven blocked shots, which seems an oddly low number.

-- Alex Chiasson, Tom Wilson, and Brooks Orpik had points (all assists).  That’s the sort of secondary support one likes.  Would have been nicer if accompanied by primary scoring.

-- Wilson had his first fighting major in more than a month (December 16th), and his first in more than two months in a road game (November 7th), but don’t blame him.  It wasn’t his fault he finished his check and delivered a clean hit on Brian Gibbons, only to have Brian Boyle step in to object.

-- This was just the third loss for the Caps this season in a game settled in the five minute overtime.  They are 6-3 in the five minute session this season.

-- This was the fourth straight game and 24th in 34 games in which Stephenson did not record a shot on goal. 

In the end…

A thoroughly “meh” game for the Caps.  They got a point, which is what they did in their first game back from the bye last season (a 3-2 Gimmick loss in Detroit to the Red Wings).  This was a game they probably should have lost in regulation, so the point they earned is welcome.  However, just like last year, they have to lace up their skates for a second game in two nights.  Last year it was in New York to face the Rangers.  This time, it is at home against the Montreal Canadiens.  Let’s hope this year’s result is better than last year’s.  They lost to the Rangers, 2-1.