Tuesday, February 19, 2019

A TWO-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 60: Capitals 3 - Kings 2

The Washington Capitals evened their record on their six-game road trip at two wins and two losses off a 3-2 win in Los Angeles over the Kings on Monday night.  The win allowed the Caps to close to within three points of the top spot in the Metropolitan Division held by the New York Islanders, who hold two games in hand on the Caps.  After a sluggish effort in Anaheim on Sunday in a 5-2 loss, this was a solid, workmanlike effort of the sort a team needs on the road.

First Period

The start to the game might have signaled a brewing disaster for the Caps, when they turned the puck over at their own blue line to Ilya Kovalchuk.  Breaking in alone on goalie Pheonix Copley, Kovalchuk tried to slip the puck through Copley’s pads, but Copley foiled the chance less than two minutes into the contest.

The Caps got in a bit of trouble when John Carlson, whose turnover led the the Kovalchuk break, was whistled for tripping in the eighth minute.  That set in motion a critical four minutes in the period.  The Caps killed off the Kings’ power play, but not without some difficulty as the Kings buzzed the Washington net and recorded three shots on goal.  Less than a minute after the Caps killed the power play, the Kings took a penalty, Derek Forbort going off for a tripping call of his own.  The Caps converted the opportunity when John Carlson and Alex Ovechkin played catch with the puck at the perimeter of the Los Angeles zone.  One more pass from Carlson to Ovechkin resulted in a one-timer that beat goalie Jack Campbell 11:48 into the period.

On the next shift, the Caps doubled their lead.  Andre Burakovsky circled off the right wing wall and snapped a shot that Brett Connolly redirected past Campbell’s glove, and just 20 seconds after the Ovechkin goal, it was 2-0.  That would be how the teams went to the first intermission.

-- The Kings had a 10-7 edge in shots on goal in the first period and a 20-19 edge in total shot attempts.

-- Fourteen of 18 skaters for the Caps had at least one shot attempt.  Oddly enough, all four who didn’t were forwards (Chandler Stephenson, Tom Wilson, Andre Burakovsky, and Travis Boyd).

-- The Caps struggled in the faceoff circle, but at this point it is hardly news.  Los Angeles won nine of 13 draws in the period 69.2 percent).

-- Michal Kempny was the only Capital with more than one shot on goal in the period (two).

-- Matt Niskanen had three blocked shots, half of the team’s total in the first period.

Second Period

Washington extended its lead early in the second period after Jakub Vrana drew his second penalty of the game, this one sending Jeff Carter to the box.  On the ensuing power play, John Carlson looked off the defense and laid out a pass to Ovechkin in the left wing circle for a one-timer that whistled past Campbell before he could set himself.  The Caps were up, 3-0, 5:27 into the period.  The Caps shortened up after that, not taking risky chances to give the Kings any break, and the teams went to the second intermission with that 3-0 score.

-- The teams split 14 shots in the period, seven apiece; Los Angeles had a 17-9 edge in shot attempts.  It was a pretty quiet 20 minutes for both goalies.

-- Through 40 minutes, the same four Capitals who did not have a shot attempt in the first period still did not have one through two periods – Stephenson, Wilson, Burakovsky, and Boyd.

Third Period

The Caps did a good job in the first eight minutes keeping the area in front of goalie Pheonix Copley clear of Kings, but they were burned in the ninth minute, Dustin Brown centered the puck for Alex Iafallo, who redirected it behind Copley before Nicklas Backstrom could tie him up, making it a 3-1 game 8:20 into the period.

The Kings started ramping up pressure over the last half of the period, but the Caps kept the net clean, even when the Kings pulled Campbell for an extra attacker on a power play to create a 5-on-3 situation.  However, the pressure bore fruit in the last minute when Ilya Kovalchuk buried a shot past a screened Copley to make it 3-2, at the 19:32 mark.

That would be as close as the Kings would get though, one last shot going wide just before the final horn, and the Caps evened their road trip at two wins and two losses, with two games yet to play.

Other stuff…

-- Alex Ovechkin’s power play goal in the first period was his 241st of his career since coming into the league in 2005-2006. That gave him exactly 100 more power play goals than the next players in line over that span – Evgeni Malkin and Steven Stamkos have 141 power play goals in that period.  He added to that total and margin with a power play goal in the second period.

-- Ovechkin recorded his 10th multi-goal game of the season, tying Chicago’s Patrick Kane for the league lead.  It was the 130th of his career, one behind Teemu Selanne for second-most all-time.  Brett Hull has 158 multi-goal games to top the list.

-- John Carlson’s assist on the Ovechkin goal was his 300th of his career, joining Scott Stevens (331) and Calle Johansson (361) as the only defensemen in Caps history to hit the 300 assist mark.

-- Carlson also recorded his 17th multi-point game of the season, second among defensemen (Brent Burns: 19).

-- Dmitry Orlov’s assist on the Connolly goal was his first point on the road since January 20th, breaking a four-game streak on the road without one.  It was his 13th point on the road this season (3-10-13); he has only four at home (all assists).

-- The two power play goals for the Caps made it the first multi-power play goal game on the road since October 22nd in Vancouver, a 5-2 Caps win.  It was their first multi-power play goal game at any venue since December 11th against Detroit, a 6-2 win at Capital One Arena.

-- Pheonix Copley broke out of an extended slump.  He had been 2-3-1, 4.22, .866 in six appearances before stopping 26 of 28 shots in the win.

-- There was a moment late when it seemed that Ilya Kovalchuk was going to lose his mind, and then some teeth when he got up in Tom Wilson’s face.  Wilson is an accomplished practitioner in the rougher aspects of the game, while Kovalchuk is…well, do Caps fans remember this?

-- That was the first win for the Capitals in Los Angeles since taking another 3-2 decision on December 14, 2005.  Alex Ovechkin had two assists in that game, including the primary helper on the game-winning power play goal with 63 seconds left by Jamie Heward.  The Caps had an 0-6-2 record in Los Angeles before this win.

-- The 21 shots on goal for the Caps was the second-lowest total in a road game this season.  They had 20 shots on goal in the 3-0 loss in Columbus one week ago.  It was the fewest shots on goal in a road win this season.

In the end…

This was another game that one could smile about, given the venue (where the Caps had not won in more than 13 years) and the circumstances (laying an egg the previous night in Anaheim).  It was a solid win, and Pheonix Copley deserves a tip of the cap for the sort of solid backup goaltending effort that has been missing from his game of late.  It puts the Caps in position to make this a more successful road trip than it seemed it might be when the horn sounded in Anaheim on Sunday.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 20

The Washington Capitals have 20 weeks in the books.  Week 20 was their 13th winning week this season and an odd one of sorts that had an “all or nothing” quality to it.  It that regard, the week was every bit in line with their performance over the last few weeks.

Record: 2-1-0

The Capitals, for a change, did not have a one-goal decision in Week 20.  When they beat the Los Angeles Kings, 6-4, to open the week, it broke a string of five straight one-goal decisions (3-1-1), two of which were settled in overtime.  That win over the Kings wrapped up a successful home stand for the Caps, who finished their longest home stand of the season with a 4-1-1 record.  That start to the home schedule in February was a far cry from the struggles on home ice in January, in which the Caps were just 1-2-2 at Capital One Arena.

Following the win over the Kings, the Caps took to the road for their longest stretch away from Capital One Arena for the season – six games.  The first two games of that trip wrapped up Week 20, and two more different games in succession would be hard to find this season.  A listless 3-0 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets might not have been surprising, the team’s third game in four nights, but it was disappointing.  The Caps rebounded with arguably their best game of the season, considering the opponent, the venue, and the circumstances.  They defeated a San Jose Sharks team that has given the Caps fits over the years, especially in San Jose, and was on a six-game winning streak, to boot.  The 5-1 win left the Sharks with only their second instance of scoring one goal on home ice this season and left the Caps with a 15-10-2 road record, fifth-best among Metropolitan Division teams.  This is of particular importance to the Caps, who will play 14 of their remaining 24 games on the road to close the regular season.

Offense: 3.67/game (season: 3.34/7th)

It was a productive week in the offensive end for the Capitals, where the team expressed most that recent “all or nothing” quality.  The Caps scored four or more goals in each of the week’s three games, and that brought to 11 the number of consecutive games in which the Caps scored three or more (eight), or one or fewer goals (three, including being shut out twice).

When the Caps recorded 31 shots on goal against Los Angeles to open the week, it was the fourth straight game in which they posted 30 or more shots on goal, tying their season high set on two other occasions, and the ninth time in ten games that they did so.  That streak came to an abrupt end when Columbus shut out the Caps on 20 shots in taking a 3-0 decision in the middle game of the week.  That the Caps fell one shot short of 30 against San Jose to close the week was perhaps more a function of taking a three-goal lead into the third period of what would end as a 5-1 decision.  The Caps had only five third period shots in that game, the last a goal into an empty net.

The Caps spread their goal scoring around, four players finishing the three-game week with two goals apiece (Jakub Vrana, Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie, and Alex Ovechkin).  Vrana had both game-winners in Week 20, tying Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom for the team lead this season (four).  Kuznetsov, Oshie, and Ovechkin led the team in points for the week, each of them going 2-3-5.  Kuznetsov, who had a four-point tame against Los Angeles to open the week, has been on a tear of late, going 7-9-16, plus-6, over his last ten games.

What the Caps did not get was scoring out of the fourth line.  Nic Dowd, Devante Smith-Pelly, Chandler Stephenson, and Dmitrij Jaskin went the week without recording a point.

Defense: 2.67/game (season: 3.16/T-21st)

The best that might be said of the Caps on the defensive side of the puck is that they improved over the course of the week.  In the first game of the week against the Kings, one might have expected little spark from Los Angeles, a team that went into the contest with the league’s 30th ranked scoring offense.  However, the Kings were finding the net with some more consistency in road games leading up to their contest in Washington.  They went into that game having scored three of more goals in four straight games on the road and extended that streak to five games when they scored four against the Caps.  What was worse for the Caps, though, was going minus-17 in shot attempts-for at 5-on-5 (39 for, 56 against), their fourth-worst performance on home ice this season and worst since late November.

The Caps were better against Columbus, which is not to say “good.”  Washington was still in minus double-digits in 5-on-5 shot attempts, going minus-11 against the Blue Jackets (28 for, 39 against).  On a percentage basis, they were barely better against Columbus (41.79) than they were against Los Angeles (41.05).  Even against San Jose to close the week the Caps were under water (minus-8/45.74 percent), but this is an area where the Caps have struggled on the road.  They are over 50 percent in shot attempts-for at 5-on-5 only once in their last six road games and only 11 times in 27 road contests this season.

Goaltending: 2.37 / .922 (season: 3.00 / .906 / 3 shutouts)

The good overall numbers for the week mask something of an emerging concern in goal.  Pheonix Copley opened the week in goal for the Caps and allowed four goals on 33 shots in earning a win.  It was the sixth-straight start in which he allowed three of more goals, and in his last five starts he has a save percentage of .863.  Since January 14th, when that five-game slump started, his save percentage is second worst among the 41 goalies logging at least 250 minutes.

On the other hand, Braden Holtby had a fine week, stopping 54 of the 57 shots he faced over two games (.947).  What stood out was his consistency.  He allowed only one first period, one second period, and one third period goal for the week and had a save percentage over .950 in first (.952) and second periods (.957) for the week.  And, where Copley has struggled over the last five games, Holtby has come on.  Over his last five games, Holtby has 148 saves on 158 shots faced.  His .931 save percentage over those five games (Games 37-41 on his record this season) is his best five-game save percentage since he also had a .931 save percentage over Games 22-26 on his record this season.  That .931 save percentage is 11th among the 40 goalies with at least 150 minutes played since that run started for Holtby (February 3rd).

Power Play: 2-for-9/22.2 percent (season: 21.1 percent/21st)

If you are not getting a lot of chances, you had better be efficient with the ones you do get.  That was the case for the Caps in Week 20 generally, but in the particulars it was a more interesting week.  Twice the Caps had four man advantages, against Los Angeles and San Jose, and in each they recorded a power play goal.  Those were the 19th and 20th instances this season in which the Caps had four or more power play chances, and in 14 of those games the Caps recorded at least one power play goal.  Conversely, in the 38 games in which the Caps had fewer than four power play chances, they have 15 games in which they recorded at least one power play goal.

The game against Los Angeles featured an especially dominant power play in two respects.  First, the Caps poured 11 shots on goal in only 6:57 of power play ice time.  Second, Alex Ovechkin recorded more power play shots on goal (six) than the rest of his teammates combined in that game (five).  Not surprisingly, the Caps could not sustain that level of shot intensity, scoring one goal on six shots in 7:39 of power play ice time.  Nevertheless, it was a good week for the man advantage, posting a 20-plus percent power play and 1.16 shots on goal per minute of power play time.

Penalty Killing: 7-for-8/87.5 percent (season: 78.7 percent/22nd)

The Caps were good on the other side of special teams, both in limiting chances and in penalty killing efficiency.  The eight shorthanded situations faced is the lowest number faced by the Caps in a week of three or more games this season.  It is also the third straight week in which the Caps did not allow more than one power play goal for the week, going 19-for-21 in that span (90.5 percent).

In its particulars, the week on the penalty kill resembled the week on the power play, only in negative, in that a low volume of power play shots on goal faced to begin and end the week sandwiched around a game in which the Caps found themselves facing a higher shot volume.  Washington faced three shorthanded situations against Los Angeles, killing off two, and faced only one against San Jose, skating that off with no harm done.  Washington faced only two shots on goal in those two games (both by Los Angeles) in 6:24 of penalty killing ice time.  In the middle game, though, the Caps fended off six Columbus power play shots on goal (no goal scored) in 7:28 of penalty killing ice time in skating off four Blue Jacket power plays.  Overall, it was a good week in limiting the three opponents to 0.58 shots on goal per power play minute.


It was a typical week in the circle for the Caps, which is to say, “poor.”  That might be a bit harsh, but only a bit.  The Caps won the faceoff battle in all three zones in their win over the Kings to start the week but did not win a zone in either end the rest of the week.  The Caps were particularly unsuccessful against Columbus in the middle game of the week, losing all three zones handily on their way to an 18-for-51 performance (35.3 percent).  They did win nine of 16 draws in the neutral zone against San Jose in the final game of the week to salvage something.

Individually, the Caps were all over the place.  Nic Dowd was the only Capital taking at least ten draws to top 50 percent for the week, but barely (7-for-13).  Nicklas Backstrom might have joined him, but he was frustrated into a 7-for-18 performance against San Jose.  Lars Eller managed only 40 percent for the week, largely on the basis of a dreadful 3-for-18 performance against Columbus. 

That the Caps finished at 46 percent for the week is a bit misleading.  They were under that number in the ends and were especially unsuccessful in the offensive end, where they finished at 43 percent.  The odd part of that was that the oft-struggling Evgeny Kuznetsov won half of his 14 offensive draws for the week.

Goals by Period:

Getting off to good starts was key in Week 20.  Twice the Caps scored a pair of goals in the first period, and twice they finished with wins.  Shut out in the first period of the middle game of the week, and they were frustrated henceforth in that game against Columbus.  The Caps managed to keep their foot on the pedal in the two wins, outscoring both the Kings and the Sharks in the second periods of their games.  The key to the week, though, might have been not succumbing to sluggishness in the third periods of games.  While they did allow two goals to the Blue Jackets in the third period of the middle game of the week, both came late, the latter into an empty net.  The Caps allowed Los Angeles a third period goal but not the equalizer and finished with a two-goal win.  They shut out the Sharks in the third period of the last game of the week, a team that finished the week with the seventh-highest total of third period goals in the league.


As the Caps approach the 60-game mark of the regular season, this season still looks a lot like last year in a lot of ways.  Through 58 games, the difference in their record is one fewer win and one more regulation loss.  Their goal differential of plus-11 is up over last year (plus-6), but so are the total goals scored (377 between the Caps and opponents this season and 352 last season).  Special teams are barely distinguishable from year to year, be it goals scored or allowed, chances, and efficiency.  At a more granular level, 5-on-5 shot attempts this season are almost where they were last year.

It is in the “grittership” numbers where most of the differences reside, and the results there are mixed.  Blocked shots and takeaways are up, a good thing.  But giveaways are up, too, and faceoffs are down, both being negatives.  That the Caps have 52 fewer penalty minutes this season over last is almost entirely a product of Tom Wilson’s suspension to start this season.  He has 77 minutes through 58 games this season (having played in 39 games), while he had 145 minutes through 58 games last season, 68 more than he has at the same point this season.

In the end…

Week 20 was a good week on balance.  It was disappointing to come short in the manner the Caps did against Columbus, a game in which they never seemed to have much energy.  But taking care of business against a struggling opponent in the Kings and coming up big in a tough setting against the Sharks have to be viewed as positives.  It was the kind of week that the Caps could use as a momentum-builder.  They will need it.  The Caps play 11 of their next 15 games on the road, and that will provide quite a challenge for a team trying to overtake the New York Islanders for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division.

Three Stars:

  • First Star: T.J. Oshie (2-1-3, plus-2, 500th NHL point, third multi-goal game of the season, five hits)
  • Second Star: Jakub Vrana (2-1-3, plus-2, two game-winning goals)
  • Third Star: Braden Holtby (1-1-0, 1.53, .947)

Saturday, February 16, 2019

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 59: Capitals at Ducks, February 17th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capital continue their road through California on Sunday night when they visit the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center.  The Caps are coming what might be their best game of the season, a 5-1 thrashing of the San Jose Sharks on Thursday night that broke a four-game losing streak on the road.

Anaheim is celebrating their 25th NHL season.  Well, celebrating might be too kind a word.  Their 22-26-9 record is their worst, by points percentage (.465), since the dark 2004-2005 season.  Dark would be an apt description of their season since mid-December.  Since they dropped a 3-1 decision in New York to the Rangers on December 18th to end a four-game winning streak, the Ducks were shot out of the sky as if they were hit by a shotgun from a duck blind.  They are 3-16-4 since that four-game winning streak, easily the worst record in the league over that stretch.

The Ducks’ biggest problem is that they cannot score.  They have managed only 35 goals in those 23 games (1.52 per game), 18 fewer than the team ranked 30th in goals scored (Dallas).  Only one player among the 34 to dress over those 23 games has more than five goals.  That would be Daniel Sprong, who has six goals over this tortuous stretch.  Sprong was traded to the Ducks on December 3rd from the Pittsburgh Penguins for defenseman Marcus Pettersson.  Sprong, a second round pick of the Penguins in the 2015 entry draft, had an up and down experience with the Penguins.  Injuries and the depth the Penguins had at forward limited him to 42 games over three seasons before he was traded to Anaheim.  He scored a goal in his first game with the Ducks, a 4-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks on December 5th.  In 29 games overall with the Ducks he is 9-4-13, minus-7.  In three career games against the Caps, Sprong is 0-1-1, minus-1.

Over the Ducks’ 3-16-4 run, they have one goal from among the 11 defensemen to have dressed.  That belongs to Josh Mahura, but he was re-assigned to the San Diego Gulls in the AHL on January 9th.  That doesn’t mean the defense has been entirely devoid of contributions.  Eight defensemen, including the departed Mahura, have points, led by Brandon Montour and Hampus Lindholm, both with five (all assists). 

Montour is the only Anaheim defenseman to dress for all 58 games this season.  A second-round pick of the Ducks in 2014, he is in his third NHL season and is displaying some promise as an offensive defenseman, the recent slim production notwithstanding.  After posting two goals and six points in 27 games in intermittent appearances in 2016-2017 stint, he was 9-23-32 in 80 games last season.  While he is likely to finish short of last year’s goal mark (he has five and has not recorded one in his last 25 games), his 19 assists are within four of last year’s mark, and with 24 points he is on a pace to eclipse last year’s point total.  Montour had a particularly productive string of home games in November and December in which he went 4-9-13, plus-10, over eight home games.  Since then, though, Montour has one assist in eight home contests.  In five career games against the Caps, he does not have a point and is plus-2.

When Ryan Getzlaf took the ice last Saturday against the Flyers in Philadelphia, he became the Ducks’ all-time leader in games played (967), passing Teemu Selanne.  It is not the only category in which Getzlaf ranks highly in Ducks history.  He ranks fourth in goals (258), first in assists (653), second in points (911), first in plus-minus (plus-143), tied for second in penalty minutes (812), fourth in power play goals (78), second in power play points (313), tied for fourth in shorthanded goals (eight), third in game-winning goals (50), and first in overtime goals (nine).  This season, his production is a reflection of the troubles the Ducks are having scoring goals.  Consider that last season, his 0.89 assists per game led the league.  This season, his assists per game are barely half of that (0.48).  It has been even worse over this dreadful 23-game run, Getzlaf averaging only 0.26 assists per game.  Compounding that, he is an incredible minus-29 over that span.  If there is a team against which he might return to some measure of productive health, it might be the Caps.  Getzlaf is 7-16-23, plus-5, in 17 career games against Washington.

1.  No team has fewer power play goals on home ice this season than the Ducks (eight).

2.  Anaheim’s goal differential on home ice this season (minus-17) is worst in the league.  Their goal differential in their 3-16-4 run is minus-50 (35 for, 85 allowed).

3.  In their recent 3-16-4 run, ten skaters are a minus-10 or worse, five of them minus-15 or worse.

4.  No team in the West has committed more minor penalties than the Ducks (204, tied with Vancouver).

5.  As poorly as the Ducks have played, don’t sleep on them.  Anaheim has six wins this season when trailing after two periods, tied for third-most in the league.  Then again, they get a lot of practice.  They have trailed at the second intermission 29 times this season, tied for tops in the league with New Jersey.

1.  The Caps have spread things out on the road.  So far this season, 20 skaters have scored at least one goal on the road.  Last season, that total was 17 skaters all season on the road.

2.  Of 24 skaters to dress for road games this season, 23 have points.  Only Nathan Walker, who dressed for only one road game, does not have a point.

3.  Evgeny Kuznetsov has been a bad luck shooter on the road.  He has one goal on 58 shots (1.8 percent).  That shooting percentage is 190th of 197 players recording at least 50 shots on the road this season and second-worst among forwards (James Neal is 1-for-60).

4.  The Caps have committed more penalties than any team in the Eastern Conference (231).

5.  Washington is second in the league in blocked shots (925), trailing only Ottawa (999). 

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Anaheim: Goaltenders

John Gibson is on the injured reserve list.  He will be there for the “foreseeable future.”  Chad Johnson is on the injured reserve list.  Ryan Miller was just re-activated off the injured reserve list.  Kevin Boyle has all of three games of NHL experience, although one of those games was a 35-save shutout of the Vancouver Canucks last Wednesday, his first NHL win, and he has stopped 85 of 89 shots so far (.955).  On a tram that cannot score, having this kind of churn in the net is not helpful, Boyle’s performance notwithstanding. 

It could mean that the Caps get to meet an old adversary in Miller.  Now in his 16th NHL season, Miller is the second oldest goaltender in the league at 38 years old (Roberto Luongo is 39).  Miller is in the last year of a two-year/$4.0 million contract with Anaheim, and his role with the Ducks has been primarily to backstop Gibson.  He has been effective in a limited role, going 16-8-7, 2.45, .926, with four shutouts in 38 games over the past two seasons.  He does have rust on him, though.  He has not dressed for a game since December 9th, when he was injured against the New Jersey Devils, and he has not played in a full game since November 27th when he stopped 34 of 35 shots in a 3-1 win over Tampa Bay.  What might influence the decision here is that in addition to his lack of game experience over the last couple of months, Miller’s record on home ice this season is spotty (1-2-1, 3.31, .915), while Boyle is 1-1-0, 1.01, .968 and that shutout.  Miller is 18-14-0, 2.54, .916, with three shutouts in 33 career appearances against the Capitals.

Washington: John Carlson

John Carlson seems to be suffering a bit in his production since the All-Star Game.  In eight games since the break, he is 0-3-3, even, in eight games.  He is not alone in his quiet play, though.  He is one of five defensemen to average at least 25 minutes per game since the break, record at least ten shots on goal, and fail to hit the back of the net.  The others include Ryan Suter, Drew Doughty, and Seth Jones; not a bad squad.  Nevertheless, Carlson is one of four defensemen in the league with 50 points (he is fourth, 8-42-50), and his 22 power play points ranks third among all league defensemen. 

Should Carlson light the lamp on Sunday, he will tie Larry Murphy for sixth place on the Caps’ all-time list of goals scored by a defenseman (86).  If he gets two assists, he will become the third defenseman in Caps history to hit the 300-assist mark, joining Scott Stevens (331) and Calle Johansson (361).  Carlson is 2-6-8, minus-2, in 12 career games against the Ducks.

In the end…

This game has the potential to be a “trap” game of sorts, the temptation to let down after a big win against a tough opponent, compounded by a two-day break between games.  And, the Caps are not a particularly effective team when getting two days off, going 4-3-0 this season when doing so.  Still, they are facing an opponent running out of things to play for, one that finds itself seven points out of a playoff spot and six teams to climb over with 24 games left to play.

Anaheim calls itself the “City of Kindness.”  The Ducks have been kind to visitors, not disturbing their net very much with pesky things like goals.  The Caps are coming off one of their best defensive efforts in memory.  The object here is not to let up and get careless against an opponent who has difficulty mustering offensive pressure, and is in the throes of turmoil with goaltender injuries and a coach who recently took over without having any prior professional coaching experience.

Capitals 5 – Ducks 2

Friday, February 15, 2019

A TWO-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 58: Capitals 5 - Sharks 1

Since NHL.com went dark in providing their game sheets and highlights, we just have some factoids for you to chew on after the thrilling, and quite unexpected 5-1 win over the San Jose Sharks on Thursday night…

  • How good was the Capitals’ defense/goaltending in this game?  This was only the second time this season that San Jose was held to one goal on home ice and the first time since they dropped a 4-1 decision to Columbus on November 1st.  It broke a string of 21 games in which the Sharks scored more than one goal on home ice.
  • T.J. Oshie had two goals and an assist.  It was on his second goal of the evening that he recorded his 500th career point.
  • Braden Holtby won his 20th game of the season.  It is his seventh 20-win season for the Caps, second in team history to Olaf Kolzig (nine).
  • The Caps took a lead into the first period, a rare occurrence for a visitor to San Jose.  It was only the 14th time that the Sharks trailed at the first intermission on home ice this season.  They are now 4-9-1 in those games.
  • Tom Wilson set a career high with an empty netter at the end, the 15th goal he has this season (in 39 games), surpassing the 14 he had (in 78 games) last season.
  • Wilson had a two-point night, giving him six for the season and 19 for his career, tying Joel Ward and Justin Williams for 13th place on the all-time franchise list.
  • Alex Ovechkin had a goal to get him to 39 for the season.  His next goal will make him only the fourth player in NHL history with at least ten 40-goal seasons, joining Wayne Gretzky (12), Mario Lemieux (10), and Marcel Dionne (10).
  • Ovechkin added an assist to give him 17 multi-point games this season, tops on the club.
  • Oshie had a three-point night, making him the fifth Capital to reach 10 multi-point games this season.
  • Jakub Vrana had a goal and an assist, giving him eight multi-point games this season, sixth-most on the club.
  • Add Nicklas Backstrom to the multi-point parade.  Two assists gave him 12 multi-point games this season.  He has 228 in his career, fifth-most in the league since he entered the NHL in 2007-2008. 
  • The two assists gave Backstrom 632 for his career, tops in the NHL since he entered the league.
  • Finally, this was the first time ever in the series history that the Caps defeated the Sharks by more than two goals in San Jose.

In the end…

Good win.  Goooooooooood win.  Reeeeeeeeeally good win.  This is a team that dominates on home ice, and they were wrapped up like a UPS parcel over the last 55 minutes.  And, it was a balanced effort of the sort that the team needs to be consistent and conserve effort.  No one player was called upon to carry too much of the load, and no player obviously played the role of passenger.  This was a game on which the Caps can build.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 58: Capitals at Sharks, February 14th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals start their annual California tour on Thursday night when they visit the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center.  Washington will be trying to even their road trip at a win and a loss after dropping a 3-0 decision to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday night.  San Jose will bring a six-game winning streak into this contest, a streak that started in Washington with a come-from-behind 7-6 win in overtime on January 22nd.

If you think about the Sharks and who might be their leading scorer on home ice, Joe Thornton might come to mind; he is the active leader in points overall (1,457) and on home ice (771).  Logan Couture, Brent Burns, or Erik Karlsson might get some consideration, too.  But Timo Meier?  That’s right.  Meier (10-16-26) leads all Sharks in home ice points this season.  Meier is in his third NHL season, the ninth-overall pick of the 2015 entry draft.  He was taken by the Sharks ahead of such young stars as Mikko Rantanen (10th overall by Colorado), Mathew Barzal (16th overall by the Islanders), and Brock Boeser (23rd overall by Vancouver).  What is odd about his scoring at home is that Meier goes into this game with points in five of his last six home contests, all of them assists (seven).  He has not scored a goal on home ice in two months, two goals in a 3-2 win over Dallas on December 13th.  Not that it has mattered much to the Sharks, who are 7-1-2 in the ten games at home since Meier last scored a goal there.  In three career games against the Caps, he is 1-2-3, plus-4.

The Sharks have played 16 games in the new year, and Brent Burns is the only defenseman among the nine to have dressed to record a goal.  The five he has are tied for fourth-most in the league since January 1st (with Kris Letang).  That is not surprising.  Burns was the only defenseman in the league over the last five seasons preceding this one to record three 20-goal seasons.  However, while Burns seems likely to surpass last year’s 12-goal total, having 11 in 57 games this season make it seem unlikely that he will make it four years in six with 20 or more goals.  If he records a point, that’s a sure-fire indicator of success for the Sharks.  San Jose is 13-1-3 in the 17 games in which Burns recorded at least one point on home ice.  Burns is 6-11-17, plus-2, in 17 career games against the Caps.

When last we saw goaltender Martin Jones, he was in the throes of a slump, having allowed 11 goals on 47 shots in losing consecutive games before facing the Caps.  And then, he allowed six goals in 46 minutes at Capital One Arena.  However, he shutout the Caps over the remainder of regulation, watched as his teammates scored a pair of goals in the last half of the third period (the latter with one second left in regulation), and escaped with a win, becoming only the fourth goalie in San Jose history to win a decision when allowing six or more goals.  He has been better since, going 4-0-0, 1.95, .936 in four appearances.  It is his longest stretch of games with a save percentage over .925 this season. 

If the Caps are going to get to him, they are going to have to get pucks to the net.  It is not that his save percentage deteriorates with high shot volumes, it does not.  But neither does it improve much.  When facing more than 30 shots on home ice, Jones has a save percentage of .914.  When facing 30 or fewer, it is .908.  That means his goals against average jumps when facing more shots because he is not significantly more efficient when facing more shots (from 2.21 when facing 30 or fewer shots to 2.96 when facing more than 30 shots).  Jones is 5-2-0, 2.15, .925, with two shutouts in seven career appearances against the Capitals.

1.  Only three times in 26 home games this season have the Sharks scored fewer than three goals on home ice.

2.  San Jose is one of three teams with at least ten wins by three or more goals on home ice.  Only Boston and Tampa Bay (both with 11) have more than the 10 that the Sharks have posted.  No team has fewer losses in regulation on home ice this season than the Sharks (four).

3.  The Sharks have allowed 25 or fewer shots on goal 13 times in 26 games and have a 10-2-1 record in such games.

4.  San Jose has allowed only 62 goals on home ice this season, tied with the New York Islanders for fewest in the league.  Not surprising, the 694 shots on goal allowed are fewest on home ice in the league.

5.  The Sharks are the top team in the Western Conference in shot-attempts for at 5-on-5 on home ice (55.86 percent).

1.  The Caps are an all or nothing team of late.  When they aren’t being shut out, they are abusing goalies.  In their last 11 games, the Caps have been shut out three times, while in the other eight instances they scored three or more goals.

2.  The Caps are the only team in the league with fewer than ten power play goals on the road (nine).  They also happen to have the fewest power play chances on the road so far this season (61).

3.  Odd fact… only two teams since January 1st have allowed more shots on goal than the Caps (632).  Both of them – Philadelphia and Winnipeg – have 11 wins.  Alas, the Caps have but seven.

4.  Only two teams have been shorthanded more frequently than the Caps (61) in the new year – Minnesota (63) and the New York Rangers (62).

5.  The Caps are third in the new year in another category.  They have been charged with 249 giveaways since January 1st, third behind Montreal (250) and Florida (284).  These last three random facts make it little surprise that the Caps have a 7-8-4 record since January 1st.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

San Jose: Joe Pavelski

When contemplating the top goal scorers in recent NHL history, it would be easy to overlook Joe Pavelski.  In the most recent ten seasons ending with last season, the top ten in goal scoring includes the expected suspects – Alex Ovechkin (1st/444), Steven Stamkos (2nd/348), Phil Kessel (5th/300), and Evgeni Malkin (8th/290) among them.  But that group also includes Pavelski, who finished tenth in that group with 284 goals.  He stands out among that group as a special teams producer, he and Patrick Marleau being the only two among the ten with more than 90 power play goals in those ten seasons (Pavelski has 96 to Marleau’s 91) and more than ten shorthanded goals (Pavelski has 14 to Marleau’s 18).

Pavelski is among the all-time franchise leaders in a number of categories: games played (945/third), goals (347/second), assists (400/third), points (747/third), plus-minus (plus-116/third), even-strength goals (220/second), power play goals (117/second), shorthanded goals (10/fifth), and game-winning goals (56/second), shots on goal (2,807/second).  He is having a typically “Pavelski” season this year, having posted 30 goals, the fifth time in his 13 year career he hit the 30-goal mark.  He has also appeared in all 57 games for the Sharks this season, a reflection of the uncommon durability to have missed one game over his past eight seasons.  Pavelski is 9-12-21, plus-8, in 18 career games against Washington.

Washington: Evgeny Kuznetsov

Baseball hall-of-famer Reggie Jackson was once quoted as saying about his New York Yankees team in the 1970’s, “This team, it all flows from me. I'm the straw that stirs the drink.”  One could make a credible argument that while Alex Ovechkin is the beating heart and the most accomplished player for the Caps, Kuznetsov is that straw that stirs the drink.  Consider that this season the Caps are 4-11-1 in the 16 games in which Kuznetsov did not record a point, 21-8-6 in the 35 games in which he did record a point.  It is not a lot different from last season in which the Caps were 36-9-5 in the 50 games in which he recorded at least one point, 11-16-2 in the 29 games in which he did not.

Kuznetsov has been on fire of late, going 7-8-15, plus-5, in his last nine games.  He has five multi-point games in that stretch.  And his scoring certainly has mattered.  The Caps are 4-1-2 in the seven games in which he had points, while they were shut out in both games in which he did not record a point.  Kuznetsov will bear watching as this road trip unfolds.  He is closing on a number of personal milestones.  He needs five goals to become the 28th player in team history to reach 100 goals with the club.  Caps fans might be more interested in the game-winning goals.  His next one will be his 20th, the 20th player in team history to reach that number.  And just for kicks, if he gets the game-winner in each of the remaining games on the trip, he would vault into a tie for 11th place in team history, joining Kevin Hatcher and Brooks Laich with 24.  Kuznetsov is 1-4-5, even, in 10 career games against the Sharks.

In the end…

It is a good thing that the rest of the Metropolitan Division is having a tough time.  The Caps have as many points as Columbus since January 1st (18) and one more than Pittsburgh (17).  Carolina leads the division (27), but all that has gotten them so far is to within a point of Pittsburgh for the second wild-card spot.  Even the Islanders, who are second in points since January 1st (26), have not yet pulled away, holding a three-point lead on the Caps in the Metro standings (with a game in hand).  In this respect, the Caps are fortunate to be where they are, safely ensconced for the moment in a playoff spot and with opening round home ice advantage. 

This can change quite quickly, though, given the schedule that the Caps face over the next ten days and five cities.  California is always a challenge, the Toronto Maple Leafs are good, and the Buffalo Sabres will be desperate with the trading deadline looming.  If the Caps put forth the sort of indifferent, unremarkable effort in San Jose that they did in Columbus, they will be plastered. 

So, in the currency of Valentine’s Day, in this game the Caps need to have their…

And that means Alex…Evgeny…T.J….Braden…

If that happens, everyone in Capitals Nation will…

Capitals 3 – Sharks 2

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 57: Capitals at Blue Jackets, February 12th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals take to the road on Tuesday night to wrap up their back-to-back set of games, facing the Columbus Blue Jackets in a Metropolitan Matchup between two teams fighting for postseason seeding.

The Caps go into this game fresh off a 6-4 win over the Los Angeles Kings on Monday night, while the Blue Jackets have been idle since beating the Vegas Golden Knights, 4-3, on Saturday.  The Caps will be seeking their first road win since they beat the Boston Bruins, 4-2, back on January 10th.  Of course, the Caps have spent a lot of time since at home, having played only three road games since that win.  The bad news there is that the Caps allowed 21 goals in the three losses.

Columbus goes into this game on a three-game winning streak, part of a streaky pattern for the Blue Jackets who, since January 10th, have had a four-game winning streak and a five-game losing streak before this latest winning streak.  And speaking of streaky, that has been Cam Atkinson of late for Columbus.  In 15 games since New Year’s Eve, Atkinson is 8-7-15 and has five multi-point games.  That recent push has propelled him past the 30 goal mark (31) and within four of the career best he set in 2016-2017.  And when Atkinson scores, Columbus wins.  They are 18-4-1 in games in which he scored a goal this season, 9-2-1 on home ice.  This will be a milestone game for Atkinson, who will become the sixth player in Blue Jackets’ history to appear in 500 games for the club.  In 24 career games against Washington, he is 10-7-17, plus-2.

Pierre-Luc Dubois validated his third-overall selection by the Blue Jackets in the 2016 draft (after Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine) with a fine rookie season last year, dressing for every game and finishing among the top-ten in the rookie class in goals (20/tied for seventh), assists (28/eighth), points (48/eighth), power play goals (six/tied for fourth), power play points (15/seventh), game-winning goals (four/tied for fifth), hits (127/sixth), and takeaways (38/tenth).  He has been on an extended hot streak of his own, going his last 21 games without consecutive games without a point and putting together an 8-14-22, plus-7, scoring line.  He is of particular interest in this game owing to his being the Blue Jjacket who started the goal celebration mocking Capital Evgeny Kuznetsov after the Blue Jackets beat the Caps, 2-1, in overtime on January 12th.  Dubois is 1-3-4, plus-1, in seven career games against the Caps.

One would not expect a defenseman to lead his team in power play goals, but Seth Jones does just that for Columbus.  His seven man-advantage goals is tied with Artemi Panarin for the team lead.  His 24 power play points leads all Columbus skaters.  Jones has not been lighting the lamp on his own of late, having gone 13 straight games without a goal.  But over that same span he does have nine assists.  Despite having played in only 47 of Columbus’ 54 games this season, Jones has logged at least 25 minutes 32 times, tied for fourth-most 25-minute games in the league this season (with Washington’s John Carlson).  Jones has already established himself as being among the most productive defensemen in Blue Jackets history, despite this being only his fourth season with the club.  He is third in team history among defensemen in goals (37), third in assists (116), third in points (153), sixth in power play goals (nine), and the all-time team leader in game-winning goals (10).  In 15 career games against Washington, Jones is 3-8-11, minus-1.

1.  This edition of the Blue Jackets is the most productive one in team history on offense, averaging 3.28 goals per game and only the second to average more than three goals per game (2016-2017: 3.01) since the franchise came into the NHL in 2000-2001.

2.  Despite their offensive production, this is one of the worst Blue Jacket teams in terms of converting home power play chances.  Their 13.2 percent power play at home is third-worst in team history (2010-2011: 12.7 percent; 2008-2009: 12.2 percent).

3.  This year’s version of the Blue Jackets is on pace to be the least penalized in the history of the franchise.  They have averaged only 6:39 in penalty minutes per game, besting their 6:53 per game last season.

4.  This is the best Columbus team in franchise history when scoring first.  Its .750 winning percent in such games (21-5-2) tops the 2014-2015 club (.730/27-9-1).

5.  The year’s team will not match the 2012-2013 team in its ability to close out games, that club going 13-0-0 in the abbreviated schedule when leading after two periods.   But this one is on pace to finish as the second-best in that regard with a .905 winning percentage to date (19-2-0).

1.  The Caps beat Los Angeles on Monday night while taking a lead into the third period, but holding those leads after two periods has been an issue.  This year’s team is the third-worst of the Rock the Red era in winning percentage when leading after 40 minutes (24-3-1/.857).  Only the 2005-2006 team (18-1-3/.818) and the 2006-2007 team (21-1-5/.778) – two teams that struggled to win all season – were worse.

2.  This year’s club is within whispering distance of being the worst road power play team in the post-2005-2006 era for the franchise.   It’s 15.0 percent road power play is barely ahead of the 2005-2006 and 2011-2012 teams, both of which were 14.8 percent on the road.

3.  It is unlikely that any club in the post-2005-2006 era will match, let alone eclipse the 2009-2010 team in scoring offense (3.82 goals per game, the highest scoring offense of any NHL team in this era), but this one is on a pace to finish second among Caps teams of the era (3.38).

4.  Alex Ovechkin has the last nine seasons of more than 40 goals in Caps history (Alexander Semin had exactly 40 in 2009-2010).  The last Capital not named “Ovechkin” with more than 40 goals?  Peter Bondra (45 in 2000-2001).

5.  Three players in Capitals history have recorded at least one 100-point season.  Almost all Caps fans these days know that Ovechkin is one of them (he has done it four times).  A lot of Caps fans could probably name Dennis Maruk, who set the team record with 136 points in 1981-1982. The third one might be a bit harder.  Mike Gartner was known as a big goal scorer, but not necessarily as a high volume point producer, at least to three digits.  He did it, though, going 50-52-102 in 1984-1985.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Columbus: Artemi Panarin

Will he stay, or will he go?  Artemi Panarin is almost certain to go at some point, but the question looms over the Columbus Blue Jackets as the trading deadline approaches.  Last Friday, Panarin, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, issued a statement that he was enlisting the services of a new agent, one also employed by teammate Sergei Bobrovsky, who is also on the verge of unrestricted free agency.  In a related media session, Panarin expressed his intention to test free agency, noting, "It's one life, one chance for free agency, and I want to test free agency.”  What complicates the situation for the front office is that Panarin is the team’s second-leading goal scorer (21, tied with Pierre-Luc Dubois) and its leading point-getter (63).  He is in his second season with the Blue Jackets, and in both of them he has averaged more than a point per game.   If he finishes the season (or is traded before season’s end) averaging more than a point per game, he will become the only player in Blue Jacket’s history to do it twice (Rick Nash did it once and in another season averaged 1.00 points per game).  For a club fighting for a playoff spot, the question becomes the classic one of whether they trade him and get something of value, or keep him for a playoff run and almost certainly lose him for nothing this summer.  Panarin is making the choice particularly difficult with his play, going 12-17-29, plus-12, over his last 20 games.  He is 4-4-8, plus-3, in 11 career games against the Caps.

Washington: Andre Burakovsky

The Capitals have their own, if quite different, personnel matter to consider as the trading deadline approaches.  Andre Burakovsky has been disappointing on the ice this season.  A player of considerable talent, his production simply has not come close to matching that talent level this season.  His 7-8-15 scoring line in 49 games has been another in a series of seasons of declining production since he went 17-21-38 in his sophomore season in 2015-2016.  Part of the problem has been injuries.  In each of the last two seasons he missed at least 15 games at a stretch to injury, and he missed another ten playoff games last spring to an upper-body injury.  This season it has been inconsistency.  When he recorded an assist against the Los Angeles Kings on Monday night, it was the first time this season he recorded points in three consecutive games.  Whether that is an indicator of his coming out of a season-long funk (he is 2-5-7 in his last nine games) or merely a tease is something the Capitals front office will have to consider as the trading deadline approaches.  Burakovsky is 4-3-7, plus-4, in 15 career games against Columbus.

In the end…

These are two teams that seem to have slowly developed a dislike for one another.  Be it the generally ornery nature of John Tortorella behind the Columbus bench, or the Caps climbing out of an 0-2 hole to win the opening round of last spring’s postseason, or the mock goal celebration by the Blue Jackets the last time these teams met, they seem to get on each other’s nerves.  It has not yet taken on the flavor of the “Patrick Division” rivalries against such teams as Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, or the New York Rangers, rivalries that took decades to become what they are.  But these teams are fighting for what might be the same playoff space, opening round home-ice advantage.  That should make both teams motivated and give this contest something of a playoff air to it.  The fault line might be the Caps playing in the back half of a back-to-back set of games versus the personnel distractions that Columbus has to deal with these days.

Capitals 3 – Blue Jackets 2