Wednesday, March 07, 2018

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 67: Capitals at Kings, March 8th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Well, Game 1 of the California Experience did not go well for the Washington Capitals, losers of a 4-0 decision on Tuesday night to the Anaheim Ducks, their first shutout loss in Anaheim since they lost a 3-0 decision on December 11, 2002, a game noteworthy because two future head coaches in the NHL dressed for the Ducks that evening – Dan Bylsma (Pittsburgh, Buffalo) and Adam Oates (Washington). The Caps would follow up that 2002 loss with a win in Arizona against the Phoenix Coyotes.

The Caps hope to duplicate that pattern of following up a shutout loss with a win when they visit the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday night. As rough as the Caps record has been of late (10-9-4 in their last 23 games), they have not lost consecutive games in regulation on the same road trip since Games 19 and 20 back in mid-November, when they dropped decisions to the Nashville Predators (6-3) and Colorado Avalanche (6-2).

Meanwhile, the Kings can’t figure out if they are hot or cold. They had a six-game losing streak in early January (0-6-0) followed by a 6-1-1 run. Then they lost three in a row (0-3-0). Then they won three in a row…two losses…three wins. That they lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in their last outing, a 5-3 margin at home, might be viewed as an encouraging sign by Caps fans.

And frankly, the Kings are not an especially successful team on home ice. Their 16-15-3 record at STAPLES Center ranks 23rd in the league through Tuesday’s games. It might be worth noting that while the Kings cling to the last playoff spot in the Western Conference, they are the only team among the league’s bottom ten clubs in home points earned that is playoff eligible in either conference as of Wednesday morning.

The Kings are a club that can defend their ice well, having allowed the second fewest goals on home ice this season (76; Minnesota: 75). What they can’t seem to do is score. They have 89 goals scored on home ice this season, one of seven teams with fewer than 90 goals scored on home ice (only Columbus, among the six teams with fewer home ice goals, is eligible for the playoffs as of Wednesday morning).

Los Angeles’ difficulties scoring at home are a bit baffling, given that the team is in the middle of the pack in scoring offense over all (2.88 goals per game/16th in the league). It is a group led by Anze Kopitar, who has rebounded nicely from a difficult season last year in which he finished with a career low of 12 goals (not including the abbreviated 2012-2013 season in which he had 10 goals). In fact, he is on a pace to hit, if not exceed his career best of 34 goals in 2009-2010. Kopitar is that superstar who few recognize as a “superstar.” But there he is, near the top of every statistical category in Kings’ history: games (906/5th), goals (282/5th), assists (525/5th), points (807/5th), power play goals (85/6th), shorthanded goals (10/tied for 5th), game-winning goals (44/4th), plus-minus (plus-86/….yes, 5th). And consistency has been the word to describe his production since the calendar turned over to 2018. In 27 games since New Year’s, Kopitar has not gone consecutive games without a point, and he is 10-21-31, plus-4, in 27 games, averaging more than 22 minutes of ice time a game. In 15 career games against the Caps, he is 9-5-14, plus-4.

Another King having a rebound year is Tyler Toffoli. After finishing the 2016-2017 season with just 16 goals in 63 games (he missed 19 games to a lower body injury), he is second on the club this season with 21 goals in 66 games. A pleasant response, from a Kings perspective, for having signed a three-year contract extension last June. He has been a surprisingly, perhaps, prolific goal scorer who, in just his sixth season with the team, has a chance to jump into the top-20 all-time in goal scoring. He would need nine goals in his last 16 games to tie Tom Williams for 20th place on the Kings’ all-time goal scoring list. That he could do that, however, seems unlikely given his recent performance. He has only three goals in his last 24 games, although two of those have come in his last five contests. Toffoli is 1-4-5, minus-1, in nine career games against Washington.

Since he took over the majority of the workload in goal for the Kings in 2008-2009, only three goalies have appeared in more games and logged more minutes than Jonathan Quick (540/31,544) – Henrik Lundqvist (603/35,209), Pekka Rine (554/32,242), and Marc-Andre Fleury (552/32,089). Of the 70 goalies in team history, Quick stands alone at the top in games played, minutes, wins (285), save percentage (.916, minimum: 50 games), and shutouts (47). Only Peter Budaj has a better goals against average (2.15 in 54 games) than Quick (2.28). And, there are the two Stanley Cups and a Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP to add. His save percentage to date (.921) is among his career-best, topped only by the .929 he had in 2011-2012. His goals against average is good, if not spectacular (2.47), owing to the 31.2 shots per 60 minutes he has faced so far this season (his career average is 25.0 shots per 60 minutes).

Embedded in this year’s performance is an uncommon streakiness that divides Quick's season into three pieces. In his first dozen games, Quick was 9-2-1, 2.06, .937, with two shutouts. He followed that up by losing six straight decisions, then winning six straight decisions. Since then, he is 10-16-1, 2.74, .912, with one shutout in 27 games, and he has not won more than two straight games in that span. Quick is 8-2-0, 2.36, .916 in 10 career appearances against the Capitals.

1.  Only the Edmonton Oilers have had fewer power play chances on home ice (90) than Los Angeles (91). Maybe a good thing for the Caps; the Kings rank tenth in home power play efficiency (24.2 percent).

2.  Los Angeles has the second best penalty kill in the league overall (83.4 percent), but it ranks only seventh on home ice (84.8 percent).

3.  No team has allowed fewer shorthanded goals this season than the Kings. Their two shorthanded goals allowed is tied for fewest with San Jose and Pittsburgh.

4.  Think of the Kings’ offense like an old diesel engine. It takes a while to warm up (40 first period goals, 29th in the league), but once it does (82 third period goals/first in the league).

5.  Los Angeles might be just as happy for this game to go to overtime. The Kings have won nine of 14 extra time games this season, including both of their trick shot competitions. They have not lost an extra time in the 2018 portion of the season (2-0-0, last loss a 3-2 overtime loss to Vegas on December 28th).

1.   “Does not work or play well with others”… the Caps are tied for the league lead in misconduct penalties (eight).

2.  Only Toronto and Winnipeg have more wins when leading after one period (23 apiece) than do the Caps (22). And, the Caps remain one of just three teams not to lose a game in regulation when leading after one period (St. Louis and Vancouver are the others). Theirs is the top winning percentage in the league in such games (.957).

3.  The frustration continues. The Caps are just 2-for-31 on power plays on the road against Western Conference teams this season (6.5 percent). The last one was November 16th in Colorado against the Avalanche. Fat lot of good it did them; the Caps lost, 6-2.

4.  Tom Wilson is closing on an odd milestone of sorts. If he records four shots on goal in this game, he will hit 100 shots on goal in a season for the first time in his career.He had 99 in 2015-2016.

5.  No forward in the league averages more ice time per shift than Alex Ovechkin (0:57). Evgeny Kuznetsov is second among forwards (0:55).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Los Angeles: Dustin Brown

There might not be a player in the league who has skated harder minutes for more games than Dustin Brown. Now in his 14th season, all with Los Angeles, Brown has appeared in 1,029 games, more than any player in Kings’ history except Luc Robitaille (1,077) and Dave Taylor (1,111). He has been a gritty sort who has exhibited a remarkable durability. Since the 2005-2006 season, Brown has not missed more than four games in any season. Over that same span he established himself as a reliable secondary contributor, averaging a shade under 20 goals per season. Although that production dipped in recent seasons (51 goals over four years coming into this season), he has 19 goals in 65 games so far, his highest goal total since he had 22 in 2011-2012. He is also a plus-24, a career best for Brown. Over his last 19 games his goal scoring has been unremarkable (four), but he has nine assists, significant contributions in the Kings’ 12-7-0 record in that span. Brown is 2-7-9, even, in 17 career games against the Caps.

Washington: Andre Burakovsky

Here we go again. Just when you think Andre Burakovsky might be shaking off whatever it is holding him down, he slumps under the weight again. After one goal in his first 14 games this season, he had a pair against the Dallas Starts, and folks might have thought, “here we go.” Well, there he went…nine games after that without a goal. He had goals in consecutive games at Winnipeg and At Minnesota last month, only to go his next three without one before another set of consecutive games with goals against Florida and Buffalo. Since then, Burakovsky is four games without a goal and counting. If there is a silver lining with respect to the game at hand, it is that he has scored six of his eight goals on the road this season. Three of his eight goals have come against Western Conference teams (Dallas, his only two-goal performance, Winnipeg, and Minnesota). It certainly would be good to get him on a more productive path since the Caps are 8-2-2 in the 12 games in which he has a point this season. In four career games against Los Angeles, Burakovsky is 1-1-2, plus-4.

In the end…

The Caps have a game in hand to go with their one-point lead over Pittsburgh, and they have a two-point lead over Philadelphia with both teams having played 66 games. That’s hardly a cushion, especially since the Penguins and Flyers face one another on Wednesday night. Flat crust pizzas are thicker. Worse, there are eight teams with better records in their last ten games in the Eastern Conference than the Caps’ 5-5-0 record. Even Buffalo has a better record (5-4-1). These games with Los Angeles and San Jose to close the California trip, and a meeting with the Winnipeg Jets when they return home, make up a difficult part of the schedule for the Caps. But in it lies an opportunity, too. It is a chance to measure themselves against playoff-quality opponents, and after this stretch the schedule starts to open up a bit in terms of competitive strength. Winning such games can provide the Caps with the momentum they need to wrap up the season on a high note. But California being what it is to this team, it sure won’t be easy.

Capitals 3 – Kings 2