Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 63: Capitals at Blue Jackets, February 26th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

If familiarity breeds contempt, then the Washington Capitals and Columbus Blue Jackets will be oozing contempt for one another when they face off for the third time in three weeks on Monday night at Nationwide Arena in Columbus.  Washington won the home-and-home series with the Blue Jackets earlier this month, a 3-2 win in Columbus on February 6th and a 4-2 win in Washington on February 9th.  Neither team has been very effective since, the Caps going 3-3-2 in eight games since the home-and-home and Columbus going 4-3-1.

Those two wins over Columbus are the last time the Caps won consecutive games.  In eight games since they have been outscored, 28-25.  Columbus won consecutive games coming out of that home-and-home series against Washington, but they are losers of four of their last six (one in overtime).  They do have a 22-20 edge in goals scored over those four games and have out-shot their opponents by a whopping 299-225 margin.

That many shots and so few goals are indicative of a team with offensive challenges.   And so it is with Columbus, which ranks 29th of 31 teams in scoring offense (2.53 goals per game).  They are one of just three teams without a 20-goal scorer this season (Arizona and Ottawa are the others).  Josh Anderson leads the group with 18 goals, five of them game winners to also lead the club.  The 18 goals are a career high for the four-year veteran, topping the 17 he had in 78 games last season.    His season cleaves into two pieces, though, as far as his goal scoring is concerned.  He had 13 goals in his first 32 games, but he has just five goals in his last 28 games.  The problem might lie in his shooting volume and shooting efficiency, or his lack of either, in this 28-game block.  Those five goals come on just 76 shots on goal (6.6 percent) after he recorded 13 goals on 104 shots (12.5 percent) in his first 32 games.  Anderson has yet to record a point against the Capitals in ten games against Washington, and he is a minus-5.

Columbus has seven players with at least ten goals, and Oliver Bjorkstrand (10) might be the most surprising among them.  A third round (89th overall) draft pick of the Blue Jackets in 2013, his ten goals match the career total he posted over his first two seasons with the Blue Jackets.  His 22 assists so far this season double his career total coming into this year (11).  The odd part of his statistical profile though, is how his goal scoring bears no relationship – at least no positive one – with his ice time.  Bjorgstrand has just one goal in 17 games in which he skated more than 16 minutes.  Like Anderson, he is looking for his first career point against the Caps in what will be his fifth game against Washington.  He is minus-2 in his four career games against the Caps to date.

In the history of the Columbus franchise, 23 goaltenders have dressed for the club in the regular season.  Sergei Bobrovsky is at the top of the list in games played (298), wins (165), shots faced (8,871), save percentage (.922; minimum: 20 games), goals against average (2.37; minimum: 20 games), and shutouts (23).  He has three of the four seasons in team history in which a goalie won 30 or more games (Steve Mason has the other).  And while he appears unlikely to match last year’s total of 41 wins and a league leading goals against average (2.06) and save percentage (.931), last year was a Vezina Trophy winning season, his second in five years.  Still, he is on pace to finish with his fourth 30-win season (he has 26 wins) and his fourth season with a save percentage of .920 or better (currently at .920).  He has had a rough time of it lately, though, or perhaps a bit unlucky.  In his last 15 appearances he is 5-8-2, 2.54, .914.  Bobrovsky is 6-10-4, 3.12, .897 in 21 career appearances against Washington.

1.  For such an offense-challenged team, this team gets shots to the net.  They rank third in shots on goal per game (34.4).

2.  Columbus does spread their power play scoring around.  Three different players have at least ten power play points this season – Seth Jones (13), Artemi Panarin (13), and Pierre-Luc Dubois (11).  If Zach Werenski gets one, it would make four.

3.  Columbus is 22nd in the league in wins in regulation and overtime this season (25), but they have 13 different players with game-winning goals.

4.  John Tortorella-coached teams are usually a hard-nosed bunch, but Columbus has been whistled for fewer penalties this season (189) than all but one team – the Carolina Hurricanes (176).

5.  First periods are generally an uneventful thing in Blue Jacket games.  Their 43 first period goals rank tied for 25th in the league (with Montreal and Colorado), while their 39 goals allowed in the first period are the third-fewest in the league (Nashville has 38 and Colorado has 36).

1.  The eight games the Caps have played open a window into their recent troubles.  They have been outscored by a 28-25 margin. The odd thing is that both the Caps and their opponents shot 10.5 percent in those eight games.  The difference is that the Caps were also out-shot, 266-239 in that span.

2.  The scoring might not be as close as it seems, either.  The Caps have three empty net goals in those last eight games.  Opponents have none.

3.  Special teams have been amazing, efficiency-wise, in the eight games since facing Columbus.  Their 31.3 percent power play and 84.6 percent penalty kill make for a special teams index of 115.9, an outstanding number.  The trouble is, the Caps are merely even in special teams goals scored and goals allowed (five power play goals scored to four power play goals and a shorthanded goal allowed).  Why?  The Caps have 16 power play chances in those eight games (24:51 in power play ice time) to 26 shorthanded situations faced (43:01 in shorthanded ice time).  The Caps have a power play goal in each of the three games against Columbus (3-for-7/42.9 percent), while the Blue Jackets have been blanked (0-for-6).

4.  In three games against Columbus this season the Caps have yet to hold the Blue Jackets under 35 shots (35, 37, and 39 in the three games) while failing to record more than 25 of their own in any game (23, 25, and 17).  Despite the 111-65 edge the Blue Jackets have in shots on goal in the three games, the Caps were winners in each of them.

5.  In a small number of games, official scoring idiosyncrasies pop up in some categories, but the Caps have been credited with 50 takeaways in this eight-game run, while they have been charged with 83 giveaways.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Columbus: Zach Werenski

Zach Werenski had a very nice rookie season for Columbus last year.  He received votes for the Norris Trophy (top defenseman), Lady Byng Trophy (gentlemanly play) and All-Star votes (finishing 19th among 28 defensemen receiving votes).  He finished third overall in Calder Trophy voting for the league’s top rookie, trailing only Auston Matthews and Patrick Laine.  The 11 goals he scored last season tied for seventh-most most among rookie defensemen since the 2004-2005 cancelled season.  Werenski has already matched last season’s 11 goal total in 20 fewer games, but he has fewer than half of the 36 assists he posted last year.  His 15 helpers this season have tended to come in bunches.  He has three multi-assist games that account for seven of his total of 15.  His scoring has been infrequent lately.  He has four assists in his last 14 games, but three of them (a season high) came in a 4-1 win over the New York Islanders on February 13th.  On odd part of his season is the fact that he is 7-10-17, plus-7 on the road, but only 4-5-9, minus-6 on home ice.  Werenski is 2-1-3, minus-1, in eight career games against the Caps.

Washington: Nicklas Backstrom

It would not be a home-biased opinion to offer that Nicklas Backstrom is among the most accomplished playmakers of this era.  Since he came into the league in the 2007-2008 season, he ranks third among 727 players appearing in at least 250 games in assists (570, trailing only Henrik Sedin (590) and Joe Thornton (581)), and his 0.72 assists per game trails only Sidney Crosby (0.80) in that group.  So what gives lately?  Backstrom has one assist in his last nine games, two in his last 17 contests.  He has taken to calling his own number lately, five of his ten highest game shot totals coming in the 21 games since January 7th, and he has seven of his 13 goals this season from that date.  One thing that hasn’t changed this season is Backstrom’s consistency, at least insofar as his home-road scoring splits are concerned.  He is 7-15-22 in 32 home games and 8-15-23 in 29 road games.  Back to shooting, he might want to do more of it against Columbus.  He has a goal on his only shot on goal in three games against the Blue Jackets this season.  In 28 career games against Columbus, Backstrom is 7-17-24, minus-7.  That minus-7 is his worst career plus minus against any Eastern Conference team (he is minus-8 in 13 career games against San Jose).

In the end…

Columbus started the 2018 portion of their schedule in third-place in the Metropolitan Division.  Now, they are fighting for their playoff lives, two points ahead of the Carolina Hurricanes for the second wild card spot in the East as they enter the last 20-game stretch on their schedule.  Combine that with the fact that Monday is trade deadline day – always a day of turmoil for clubs – and this could be a challenge for the Caps.  Not that it wouldn’t under other circumstances, six of the last eight meetings of these teams decided by one goal (two in extra time), but the circumstances make it important for the Caps to find a reservoir of focus and consistency to enable them to win a second consecutive game for the first time since they swept the home-and-home set with this team earlier this month.

Capitals 3 – Blue Jackets 2

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