The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
If it is late October, it is time for the Washington Capitals to head west on their annual western Canada tour. On Monday night the Caps open their annual journey out west when they take on the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena. This will be the Caps’ 48 visit to Vancouver, and they will be looking to improve on their record of 18-23-1, with five ties in British Columbia.
Vancouver will enter this contest having won four of their last five contests, three of them against quality opponents – the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Pittsburgh Penguins, and the Boston Bruins. Going into Sunday’s games the Canucks were second in the Pacific Division, one point behind the Anaheim Ducks.
The Canucks are not an especially productive offensive team, ranking 18th in scoring offense. Bo Horvat is tied for the team lead in goals scored through eight games (five). Horvat has been a steadily more productive goal scorer in his four seasons preceding this one. Starting with his rookie season in 2014-2015 in which he had 13 goals, he has improved to 16, 20, and then to 22 goals last season. He opened this season with two goals in his first three games (both of them power play goals), but in doing so he was a minus-7. He has three goals in his last four games, in each of them going plus-1 to drag himself up to minus-3 overall. Two of his five goals this season are game-winners. Horvat is 2-3-5, minus-3, in six career games against Washington.
Before this season is through, Alexander Edler is likely to become the all-time franchise leader in games played by a Canucks defensemen. He had dressed for 766 games over his 13-year career in Vancouver, needing just 16 more games played to pass Harold Snepsts for the top spot in Canucks’ history. His 84 goals with the Canucks are second among defensemen in franchise history, trailing only Mattias Ohlund (93), while his 339 points are more than any defenseman in Canucks history. He has yet to record a goal this season, but he does have five assists to lead the club in that category. Edler is 4-4-8, even, in 12 career games against the Caps.
Goaltending duties have been split down the middle between Anders Nilsson and Jacob Markstrom so far, just over two minutes of ice time separating their respective workloads thus far. Nilsson has had the better numbers, a goals against average of 2.25 and a save percentage of .925, compared to 3.23 and .903 for Markstrom. Nilsson is in his second season in Vancouver, his fifth team in his sixth NHL season. The 31 games he has played for the Canucks is his high-water mark in games played for any of those five franchises (St. Louis, Edmonton, Buffalo, and the New York Islanders being the others). He opened this season with wins in his first three appearances, stopping 83 of 88 shots along the way (.943 save percentage), but allowed four goals on 32 shots in a 4-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets last Thursday. He is 1-3-1, 3.30, .890 in six career appearances against the Caps.
Jacob Markstrom is in his sixth season in Vancouver and is one of eight goalies in team history to reach the 50 win mark (50-56-14). He has been hot and cold in four appearances so far this season, starting the year with an impressive 33-save performance in a 5-2 win over the Calgary Flames on Opening Night, following that up with a pair of five-goal outings against the Flames and Carolina Hurricanes before rebounding with a 30-save performance against the Boston Bruins in a 2-1 win on Saturday. Both of his wins have come on home ice, his two losses coming on the road. He has yet to beat the Capitals in his career, going 0-6-0, 3.44, .895 in six appearances.
1. Only the Anaheim Ducks have averaged fewer shots per game so far (23.3) than the Canucks (25.1).
2. Vancouver has had only two home games so far, but even with that, their two power play chances on home ice – the lowest total in the league – is a really low number. They are one of three teams without a power play goal on home ice, Arizona and Florida being the others.
3. The Canucks are one of six team that have yet to allow a power play goal on home ice, killing ten straight shorthanded situations to start the season.
4. Vancouver blocks shots. Their 145 blocked shots as of Sunday are second in the league to Anaheim’s 146. And, they are adept at takeaways, their 75 recorded so far being second only to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ 76.
5. The Canucks are poor in the shot attempt category, their 42.26 percent shot attempts-for at 5-on-5 ranking 30th in the league, ahead of only the Anaheim Ducks (40.44 percent).
1. The Capitals are running more than a full goal ahead of last year’s scoring offense, 4.14 goals per game so far compared to 3.12 goals per game last season.
2. The Caps have improved their faceoff winning percentage to 45.9 percent, but they remain 29th in the league, ahead of only Colorado (43.2 percent) and Montreal (42.6 percent).
3. Washington ranks fourth overall in credited hits (188), trailing Montreal (192), Carolina (192), and Vegas (211).
4. Only Philadelphia and Toronto have scored more second period goals (14 apiece) than the Caps (12) so far.
5. Overtime has not been kind to Capitals special teams. No team has a larger negative ice time differential between power plays and penalty kills than the Caps in the extra session (minus-2:38).
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Vancouver: Loui Eriksson
Loui Eriksson is the grand old man for the Canucks, the oldest player on the roster at age 33. He is now in his 13th NHL season, his third in Vancouver. With age has come a certain vulnerability to injury, Eriksson having missed 49 games in the two seasons preceding this one after an eight-year stretch in which he missed a total of 25 games and appeared in every game five times. His production has dropped off considerably since joining the Canucks, going 21-29-50 in 123 games after posting a 30-goal season in his last year in Boston in 2015-2016. His ice time this season has been tightly managed, averaging just 12:08 per game, lowest among any Canuck forward appearing in more than three games. He is one of eight forwards to appear in all eight games for Vancouver so far, but the only one of that group without a goal, and he is without a point in his last six games. Eriksson is 3-4-7, minus-5, in 17 career games against Washington.
Washington: Evgeny Kuznetsov
Not many Capitals pad their stats against the Vancouver Canucks, but Evgeny Kuznetsov comes as close as any. Since 2005-2006, Kuznetsov is second on the team in points against the Canucks with 11 in nine games (4-7-11). His plus-10 is best among the Caps since 2005-2006. Kuznetsov goes into this game having recorded at least one point in six of the seven games he played in so far, and his 1.71 points per game ranks sixth in the league. Only Auston Matthews and Patrice Bergeron have more multi-point games so far (seven and five, respectively) than Kuznetsov (four), and over the past two seasons he has as many multi-point games (27) as Sidney Crosby. He has been on fire dating back to last season. In his last 49 games, regular season and playoffs, he is 27-45-72, a 45-goal, 120-point scoring pace.
In the end…
Road trips are for bonding, for sorting things out, for simplifying, for finding consistency, for exhausting every sports cliché one can think of. The Caps are looking for their first road win after an overtime loss in Pittsburgh and a whomping in New Jersey, so bonding or not, a win would be nice. A winning streak would be better. To do that, they will have to have better 60-minute efforts than they have displayed in most game so far in the young season, and they start this road trip in a particularly inhospitable place. The Caps are just 2-6-1 in their last nine visits to Vancouver. So hey, they’re due.
Capitals 4 – Canucks 3