The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The Washington Capitals, fresh off a win over the San Jose Sharks to wrap up a 1-2-0 California trip, return home on Monday night to host the Winnipeg Jets. The game kicks off an odd stretch of the schedule for the Caps, who will alternate home and road games over a five-game stretch before a three-game road trip at the end of the month.
If it has not occurred to you by now, these are not your father’s Winnipeg Jets (or Atlanta Thrashers, for that matter). The Jets come into this game with 41 wins this season in 68 games. Only two teams in franchise history – the 2006-2007 Thrashers and the 2014-2015 Jets – finished a season with more wins, 43 in both instances. Their 91 standings points are fifth best in the league as of Sunday morning.
And this is as complete a team as there is in the league, a top-five team in scoring offense (3.31 goals per game/4th), scoring defense (2.60/5th), and power play (24.4 percent/2nd); and they are just outside the group in penalty killing (82.9 percent/T-6th).
They Jets have been a dominating club on the road over almost two months, going 8-1-1 in nine road games dating back to January 20th. They have done it largely with defense and goaltending, holding opponents to two or fewer goals in six of those nine road contests, including two shutouts. Steve Mason has one of those shutouts, a 31-save win over the New York Rangers on March 6th. The other shutout, and the lion’s share of the road work over this stretch, was authored by Connor Hellebuyck, who is 5-1-1, 1.96, .944, and that one shutout (34 saves in a 4-0 over St. Louis on February 23rd) over this nine-game road stretch. Hellebuyck, in his third season with Winnipeg, has appeared in 56 games to date, tying his career high set last season. His 35 wins so far almost doubles his win total over his first two seasons (39 in 82 games), and his .923 save percentage overall is a career best. He has six shutouts this season, third most in the league and doubling his total over his first two seasons. In three career games against the Caps, Hellebuyck is 2-1-0, 2.26, .924.
Blake Wheeler leads the Jets in overall scoring this season (18-58-76, ninth in the league in points), and he has been particularly productive since his last set of consecutive games without a point in late January. Over his last 18 games he is 4-18-22 and has not gone consecutive games without a point (the last time he did was in late January), recording points in 14 of those 18 games. Wheeler, who has established himself firmly as a 25-goal a year scorer (average of 26.5 goals over his last four seasons), is not quite scoring at that pace – he is on a pace to finish with 22 goals – but his points production is solid. With 76 points in 68 games, he is on a pace to finish 92 points, which would eclipse his current career high of 78 points in 2015-2016. Wheeler is 5-12-17, plus-6, in 32 career games against the Caps.
The Jets get substantial contributions on offense from their blue line. Eight of the nine defensemen to have dressed for the Jets this season have goals, and six of them have at least ten points. Tyler Myers leads the group in goals with six. Myers, who won the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie in 2009-2010 with the Buffalo Sabres, went into decline as an offensive contributor over his next five seasons and was eventually traded to the Jets in February 2015 with Drew Stafford, Joel Armia, Brendan Lemieux, and a first round draft pick for Evander Kane, Zach Bogosian, and Jason Kasdorf. If the winner of a trade is the team that ends up with the best player, Buffalo (getting Evander Kane) might have been looked at early on as the winner. Things have not turned out that way. Kane is now in San Jose, Bogosian has been injury prone, and Kasdorf has one game in goal for the Sabres on his resume (that coming in 2015-2016; he currently plays in the ECHL with Cincinnati).
Drew Stafford has since moved on (currently in New Jersey with the Devils), but Joel Armia has 11 goals and 25 points for the Jets. And while Jack Roslovic (taken with that first round pick) has just 26 games with the Jets this season, and Lemieux is in the AHL, Myers has resurrected his career on the blue line. His 34 points in 68 games is the most he has in a season since he had 37 points in his 2010-2011 sophomore season in the league. The odd part of his season in his offensive statistics is that with six goals on 116 shots, his 5.2 percent shooting is the worst of his career to date. However, when he gets a point, the Jets win. They are 20-3-1 in games this season when Myers recorded a point. He is 2-4-6, minus-1, in 20 career games against Washington.
1. Only Carolina has fewer major penalties (seven) than the Jets (seven).
2. The Jets are tied with Toronto for the most wins in the league when leading after one period (24), and they lead the league in wins outright when leading after two periods (33).
3. Blowouts are the Jets’ thing. They have 21 wins this season by three or more goals, tops in the league. In fact, 31 of the Jet’s 68 decisions are by three or more goals (10 losses). No team has more such decisions.
4. In the Western Conference, only Vegas has more 5-on-5 goals scored (153) than Winnipeg (146). No Western team has more 5-on-4 goals scored (49), and no team in the league has more 5-on-3 goals scored (five, tied with Pittsburgh).
5. Winnipeg is tied with Toronto for most first period goals scored (76). The Jets and Tampa Bay are the only teams with more than 70 goals scored in each of the regulations periods this season. Winnipeg and San Jose are the only teams having allowed 60 or fewer goals in each of the regulation periods this season.
1. Only Carolina and Arizona have fewer shorthanded goals scored this season (two apiece) than Washington (three).
2. The Caps have averaged more penalty minutes per game (10:01) than any team in the Eastern Conference except the Florida Panthers (11:38).
3. Washington has taken fewer faceoffs (4,025) than all but two teams, Colorado (4,018) and Carolina (3,922).
4. Washington has outshot opponents 22 times this season. Only Anaheim has done it fewer times (20).
5. The Caps do very well when scoring first. Their .800 winning percentage is fourth in the league. They should do it more often; their 24 wins rank tied for 14th.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Winnipeg: Patrik Laine
Patrik Laine, more than any player in the game today (with the possible exception of Toronto’s Auston Matthews), appears to have the skill, hunger, and years ahead of him to challenge and eventually supplant Alex Ovechkin as the league’s most dominant goal scorer. The second overall pick in the 2016 entry draft comes into this game tied with Ovechkin for the league lead in goals scored (40) and has more goals over the past two seasons (76) than any player in the league. And he is coming into this game on fire. Laine has goals in his last five games (nine in all), including a hat trick in a 3-0 win over the New York Rangers on March 6th, and in ten of his last 11 contests (15 goals). He has goals in each of his last seven road games (11 goals). He is a remarkably efficient shooter. Among 301 skaters having recorded at least 100 shots on goal this season, Laine is second in shooting percentage (20.4) to Vegas’ William Karlsson (23.5). He has yet to record a point in three career games against the Caps and is a minus-6.
Washington: Lars Eller
When Lars Eller fired the puck into an empty net late in the Capitals’ 2-0 win in San Jose over the Sharks on Saturday, it was his 100th career goal and snapped a five-game streak without one after putting together a three-game goal streak. It was his 15th goal this season, inching him closer to his career high of 16 he had with the Montreal Canadiens in 2011-2012. It is part of a consistent run of seasons for Eller who, if you consider the 14-goal pace he was on in the abbreviated 2012-2013 season has finished with totals between 12 and 16 goals in each of the last six seasons before this one. His contributions being of the secondary scoring sort this season, it is helpful to note that when he did record a point in a game this season, the Caps are 17-8-1, while they are just 21-14-6 when he did not. And, as one might expect with most players, he has been much more productive on home ice, going 11-10-21, plus-10 at Capital One Arena (4-8-12, minus-7 on the road). Eller is 6-6-12, plus-4, in 18 career games against Winnipeg.
In the end…
More than most teams the Caps have played this season, the Jets are as complete a team as can be found in the NHL these days. What the Caps can’t let the Jets do is “get to four.” When Winnipeg scores four or more goals this season, they are 30-2-1. They have just enough defense to keep from losing high-scoring games. But those games are usually blowouts for the Jets. At the other end of the spectrum, the Jets have not lost a game when allowing one or no goals (20-0-0), but when allowing two or more, they are just 21-18-9. So, for the Caps the task will be grinding out a low scoring game against this club. Washington has allowed two or fewer goals in each of their last three home games, their longest such streak in the 2018 portion of the season (they had a five-game home streak in December). If they can make it four, they win.
Capitals 3 – Jets 2