Thursday, February 27, 2020

A NO-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 64: Jets 3 - Capitals 0


The Washington Capitals headed west on Thursday night to wrap up the back half of a home-and-home set against the Winnipeg Jets after winning the first of the two meetings, 4-3, in a Gimmick on Tuesday.  The Caps had chances but could convert none of them, dropping a 3-0 decision to the Jets for a split of the home-and-home set between the clubs.




First Period

The Jets opened the scoring in the seventh minute of the game When Dmitry Kulikov took a pass at the left point from Blake Wheeler and, using Nicklas Backstrom as a screen, fired a shot past Backstrom’s right hip that sailed on through and over goalie Ilya Samsonov’s blocker to make it 1-0, 6:33 into the game.

The Caps would fend off two Winnipeg power plays, including 1:55 of a 5-on-3 advantage with defensemen Brenden Dillon and Radko Gudas in the penalty box, in keeping the game a one-goal affair as the teams went to the first intermission.

-- Winnipeg let in shots on goal, 9-7, while the teams fiished the first period with 17 shot attempts apiece.

-- Seven different Capitals had one shot on goal; Richard Panik led the club with four shot attempts.

-- Evgeny Kuznetsov had another hot start in the faceoff circle, winning all five draws he took.

-- The Caps held the Jets without a shot on goal over the 1:55 of a 5-on-3 advantage in the first period.

Second Period

The Caps opened with a chance when Jakub Vrana broke in alone in the first minute, but he was foiled by goalie Connor Hellebuyck.  Alex Ovechkin had a chance in the second minute when he accepted a pass from Tom Wilson between the hash marks, but his shot at what looked like an open net was kicked aside by Hellebuyck at the last moment.  Vrana had another mini-break nine minutes into the period and beat Hellebuyck with a shot, but it rattled off the post and out to keep the Caps from tying the game.

The Jets got their third power play of the game when Evgeny Kuznetsov was whistled for cross-checking at the 11:37 mark of the period.  The Caps killed off the penalty and had a chance shortly thereafter, Alec Ovechkin one-timing a pass from Kuznetsov, but Hellebuyck slid across to smother the shot without a rebound, and the Jets remained in front.

Ovechkin drew a hooking call on Neal Pionk 15:07 into the period to put the Caps on their first power play of the evening.  Half way into the man advantage, Dmitry Orlov fed Ilya Kovalchuk for a one timer ticketed for the far corner, but Hellebuyck gloved it down. 

Just after the Pionk penalty expired, the Jets went shorthanded again when Anthony Bitetto hooked Kovalchuk behind the Winnipeg net.  The Caps failed to convert the opportunity, and the game remained 1-0 in favor of the home team after 40 minutes.

-- The Caps out-shot the Jets, 13-11, in the period and out-attempted them, 25-22.

--Alex Ovechkin, who did not have a shot attempt in the first period, had five in the second, three on goal to tie Lars Eller and T.J. Oshie in shots on goal through two periods.

-- The Caps were 23-for-36 in faceoffs through two periods (63.9 percent); Nic Dowd was the only Capital under 50 percent (2-for-6/33.3 percent).

Third Period

The Caps went on their third power play of the night just over a minute into the period, Nick Jensen drawing a hooking call on Dylan Demelo.  Washington drew a blank on the man advantage and remained one goal back.

The Caps inability to take advantages of their chances bit them in the seventh minute when Mark Scheifele outdueled two Caps for a loose puck below the goal line, then fed Kyle Connor for a one-timer from the slot to make it 2-0, Jets.

The Caps pulled Ilya Samsonov with over two minutes left in regulation looking to end the shutout and get the equalizer, but Scheifele ended the Caps’ hopes with an empty netter with 1:28 left to make it 3-0.  That would be how the teams skated off, splitting the home-and-home set.

Other Stuff…

-- After posting a four-game winning streak on the road from January 18th through February 13th, this was the Caps’ fourth straight loss on the road.

-- In their four-game road losing streak, the Caps scored a total of five goals and were shutout in this game.

-- This was the Caps’ second instance of being shut out on the road this season, the first being a 3-0 whitewashing by the Columbus Blue Jackets on December 16th.

-- After winning the first ten road decisions of his career, Ilya Samsonov lost his second straight road decision in this game.

-- The Caps out-shot the Jets, 33-32, and held a 65-55 edge in shot attempts.

-- Washington finished the game winners of 32 of 52 faceoffs (61.5 percent), their second-best faceoff winning percentage of the season (67.3 percent against Boston on November 16th).

-- Evgeny Kuznetsov was 12-for-15 (80.0 percent) on draws.

-- Alex Ovechkin and Lars Eller led the Caps with four shots on goal apiece.  They also had seven shot attempts apiece to lead the team.

-- Dmitry Orlov led the team in ice time (23:28).

-- Every Capital had at least one shot attempt; Nic Dowd, Garnet Hathaway, and Tom Wilson were the only Caps without a shot on goal.

In the end…

It was an inconsistent performance by the Caps, who were dominated by the Jets, starting late in the third period of Tuesday’s game.  Winnipeg outscored the Caps, 6-0, over the last 86:27 of ice time between the clubs in the home-and-home.  The Caps managed a split of the two games, but it doesn’t even seem that good, frankly.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

A TWO-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 63: Capitals 4 - Jets 3 (OT/SO)

The final stretch run of the 2019-2020 regular season began in earnest on Tuesday night for the Washington Capitals when they hosted the Winnipeg Jets in the first half of a home-and-home set of games.  The Caps, who already welcomed new defenseman Brenden Dillon to the club last week, showed off their most recent acquisition – Ilya Kovalchuk – in the matchup with the Jets.  The Caps broke out to a 3-0 lead less than half way through the game, gave it all back, but then prevailed after a five-round trick shot competition, 4-3.

First Period

It took Alex Ovechkin less than two minutes to get started on his next hundred goals.  Evgeny Kuznetsov carried the puck through the right wing corner in the offensive zone and circled behind the Winnipeg net.  From behind the net he spun and fed the puck back and out to Ovechkin lurking to the left of goalie Laurent Brossoit.  Ovechkin took one swipe at the puck that was blocked, but when the puck popped into the air he took another swipe at it and whacked it past Brossoit on the far side to make it 1-0, 1:55 into the game.

Jakub Vrana doubled the Caps’ lead mid-way through the period on a spectacular individual effort.  Picking up a loose puck from almost a standing start in his own end, Vrana exploded out of the zone down the middle of the ice, split two Winnipeg defenders, and snapped a shot over the right pad of Brossoit at 10:07 to make it 2-0, Caps.

The teams settled into a back and forth affair over the last half of the period, and the Caps took a 2-0 lead into the first intermission.

-- Evgeny Kuznetsov won eight of 11 draws in the period.

-- Washington had a 10-6 edge in shots on goal, but the teams finished the period with 21 shot attempts apiece.

-- Deuces were wild with Dmitry Orlov… two assists, two points, plus-2.

-- Nicklas Backstrom led the team with four blocked shots.

Second Period

The teams continued their fruitless back and forth to open the second period, but then Radko Gudas was given the two-minutes of shame skate to the penalty box for high-sticking 8:03 into the period to put the Jets on the game’s first power play. The Jets were held to one unsuccessful shot on goal on the power play, and the teams played on.

Garnet Hathaway made it a 3-0 game 13:25 into the period when he collected the rebound of a Nic Dowd shot from the left point, circled around Brossoit, and snapped the puck into the open net.

Winnipeg got one back late in the period when Braden Holtby stopped a Cody Eakin shot in his pads.  The puck tricked free, though, and Nikolaj Ehlers was alert to pull the puck out and wrap it around Holtby to make it 3-1 at the 18:33 mark.  That was how the teams went to the second intermission.

-- Winnipeg dominated the shooting volumes in the second period, 17-12 in shots on goal and 28-20 in shot attempts.

-- Through two periods, five of the Caps’ six defensemen did not have a shot on goal.  John Carlson was the only one who did; he had a pair.

-- Three Caps had three shots on goal apiece through two periods – Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nic Dowd, and Ilya Kovalchuk.  Alex Ovechkin led the team with seven shot attempts.

Third Period

The Jets had an early chance when Dmitry Orlov was sent off on an interference penalty 2:13 into the period.  The Caps killed off the penalty without damage, denying the Jets so much as a shot on goal.

The Caps got their first power play chance of the game when Evgeny Kuznetsov drew a hooking penalty from Dmitry Kulikov 6:16 into the period.  The Caps failed to convert, posting one shot on goal.  It cost the Caps on the next shift when Kyle Connor interrupted a pass from Ilya Kovalchuk to John Carlson, collected the puck in the neutral zone and scored on a breakaway to make it 3-2, 8:39 into the period.

The Jets tied the game off a strange looking play.  Mark Scheifele took a pass at the Caps’ blue line and cut past Dmitry Orlov.  When Orlov tried to regain leverage on Scheifele, he merely managed to kick the puck under a falling Scheifele and under Holtby to make it 3-3, 16:46 into the period, Scheifele getting credit for the goal.

The Caps then went shorthanded when Lars Eller fired the puck over the glass for a delay-of-game penalty 16:59 into the period.  The Caps killed off the penalty, and tied would be how regulation would end, forcing overtime.

Overtime

Nothing doing…off to the Gimmick.

And then…
  • Oshie – yes
  • Connor – no
  • Kovalchuk – no
  • Laine – no (emphatically with the glove save by Holtby!)
  • Kuznetsov – no (off the post)
  • Scheifele – yes
  • Backstrom – yes
  • Wheeler – yes
  • Ovechkin – yes
  • Ehlers – NO!

Caps Win!

Other Stuff…

-- Garnet Hathaway’s goal snapped a 24-game streak without one since he scored in a 7-3 loss to Boston on December 23rd.

-- The Ovechkin goal was his 121st career “first” goal on the game, fourth all-time, trailing only Gordie Howe (127), Brett Hull (131), and Jaromir Jagr (135).

-- Ovechkin had the game-deciding goal in the trick shot competition, his 14th career game-deciding goal, breaking a tie he had with Ilya Kovalchuk.  He is now tied for 10th all-time in freestyle game-deciders.

-- Garnet Hathaway had the kind of solid game the Caps needed from a bottom-six forward – a goal, two shots, two hits, a takeaway, and a bout.

-- Ditto for Nic Dowd, who had an assist, five shots on goal (led the team), six shot attempts, four hits, a takeaway, and won six of 11 faceoffs.

-- After winning his first eight faceoffs in the game, Evgeny Kuznetsov lost seven of his last eight.

-- T.J. Oshie led the club with five blocked shots.

-- The Caps finished with a 37-33 edge in shots on goal, but Winnipeg led in shot attempts, 73-62.

-- Ilya Kovalchuk finished his first game as a Capital with three shots on goal, four shot attempts, two hits, two blocked shots, and was a minus-2 in 14:39 of ice time.

-- He will be charged with giving up three goals, but Braden Holtby was solid.  One goal came on a breakaway, another was kicked in by a teammate after he flubbed a defensive coverage.

In the end…

Well, they won.  Two in a row at home.  It was not pretty, but it does count.  On to Winnipeg.

Monday, February 24, 2020

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 63/64: Capitals vs. Jets, February 22/24

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals embark on their first and only home-and-home set of games this season when they host the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday and head out to Manitoba on Thursday to wrap up the set.  The Caps are coming off a come-from-behind 5-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday afternoon, breaking a season-high four game losing streak (0-3-1).  Winnipeg will wrap up a four-game road trip in Washington on Tuesday, dropping their last two games on the trip after opening the trip with a win in Ottawa over the Senators.

Then and Now…

Including games played by the Caps against the Atlanta Thrashers before the franchise moved to Winnipeg, these will be the 92nd and 93rd regular season meetings between the clubs.  Washington has a 50-27-0 (five ties) record against the Thrashers/Jets, 30-9-3 (three ties) at home and 20-18-6 (two ties) on the road.  Since 2005-2006, the Caps are 36-20-9 against the Thrashers/Jets overall, 21-8-3 at home and 15-12-6 on the road.  These will be the only regular season meetings between the clubs this season.

Active Leaders vs. Opponent…


Noteworthy Opponents…

Back on December 10th, beat the Detroit Red Wings in the home half of a home-and-home set, 5-1, and pushed their record to 19-10-2, the sixth-best record in the league at the time.  Since then, the Jets have fallen out of the playoff mix, going 13-17-3, the 26th-ranked record in the league over that span to drop one point out of a wild card spot in the West.

It is not as if the Jets have been all that lacking in offense, although their 3.03 goals per game rank just 18th in the league over that span.  The goal scoring leader for the Jets over those 33 games has been Kyle Connor, whose 19 goals over those 33 games pushed him to 30 for the year, his third straight 30-goal season.  Fun Connor Fact… if he gets three goals over these two games against the Caps, he will hit the 100-goal mark for his career.  His 97 career goals to date already place him fifth in his 2017 draft class, trailing only Mikko Rantanen (99), Sebastian Aho (118), Jack Eichel (136), and Connor McDavid (159).  And, with a big push at the end, he could challenge to jump into the top ten in franchise history in goals scored (Evander Kane currently tenth with 109).

Connor has shown no significant preference for playing at home or on the road, based on his home-road splits to date.  He is 16-15-31, minus-3, at home so far this season, 14-18-32, plus-1, on the road.  His six game-winning goals (tied for the team lead with Mark Scheifele) are evenly split between home and road as well.  Connor is not just counted on for his finishing ability.  He is the only Jet skater to average more than two minutes of power play ice time per game (3:21) and more than a minute of penalty killing ice time (1:08).  He has one of the five shorthanded goals scored by the Jets this season.  Connor goes into the games against the Caps on a run, going 5-6-11, minus-1, over his last nine games overall.  He is 1-2-3, minus-2, in six career games against the Caps.

Mark Scheifele is the points leader for the Jets this season (67) and over their 33-game slide (37).  The 67 points make this five seasons in a row that Scheifele hit the 60-point mark and make him just the sixth player in franchise history to post 400 or more points, his 438 points to date ranking fourth on the Thrashers/Jets all-time list.  So far this season, Scheifele has played against type.  Over his nine-year career, he has been a homebody in terms of his production, posting 100 goals and 245 points in 255 home games played in his career to date, compared to 77 goals and 193 points in 257 career road games.  However, this season, he is 15-23-38 in 31 games on the road and just 11-18-29 in 33 home games.

Scheifele has been a critical ingredient in what success the Jets have had this season.  Winnipeg is 14-7-2 in the 23 games in which he scored a goal, 18-20-3 in the 41 games in which he did not.  His goal scoring of late has dried up, though, with one notable exception.  Over his last 15 games, Scheifele has three goals, all of them in a hat trick performance in a 5-1 win in Ottawa over the Senators on February 20th to start the Jet’s current road trip.  Odd Scheifele fact… he has logged 24 or more minutes in a game nine times this season, but only once on the road, that in the Jet’s season opener in New York against the Rangers on October 3rd in a 6-4 loss.  He has only one goal scored in those nine games playing at least 24 minutes, and the Jets are just 2-4-3 in those games.  Scheifele is 6-3-9, plus-2, in 12 career games against Washington.

With Dustin Byfuglien taking indefinite leave for personal reasons last September, then being suspended from the club after failing to report to training camp, and now reported to be out for the rest of the season, it might be hard for the casual fan to name a Jets defenseman.  If you had “Neal Pionk” as the team leader in goals (six) and points (42) among defensemen, you get a lollipop.  Pionk is in his third season in the NHL and his first in Winnipeg after spending two years with the New York Rangers.  He arrived in Winnipeg from New York in a trade last June with a 2019 first round draft pick for defenseman Jacob Trouba (the Jets selected defenseman Ville Heinola with the pick).

Pionk is only the fourth defenseman in team history to record a 40-point season (Byfuglien did it seven times, Toby Enstrom twice, and Trouba last season).  He is on a pace to finish with 54 points, which would be the second-highest point total by a Jets defenseman in team history (Byfuglien has 56 points in 2013-2014).  Pionk has only one goal in his last 13 games, but he has been spreading the puck around, going 1-8-9, plus-2, in his last nine games with two multi-point games.  Five of his six goals have been posted on the road so far this season, while 24 of his 42 points have been recorded on home ice.  Fun Pionk Fact… he is the only Jets defenseman to dress for all 64 games so far this season.  Pionk is 0-5-5, plus-1, in six career games against the Caps.


1.  If Patrik Laine records one point, Winnipeg would become the first team with three 60-point players this season (Mark Scheifele has 67, and Kyle Connor has 63).  The Jets are currently one of eight teams with two 60-point players.

2.  Despite going 13-17-3 over their last 33 games, the Jets have the best net power play (accounting for shorthanded goals allowed) in the league at 25.5 percent over that period.

3.  Part of Winnipeg’s problem is falling behind early in games.  The have allowed the game’s first goal 19 times in 33 games since December 11th.  Only Ottawa has done so more (21 times).  They are 4-13-2 in those games.

4.  Related… the Jets have a minus-12 first period goal differential over those 33 games.
  
5.  Even outshooting opponents has not helped the Jets.  Over those 33 games, they are 5-9-0 when outshooting opponents and 6-8-3 when they were out-shot.  The trick might be in splitting the shot total; they are 2-0-0 when shots were even.

1.  The Caps have done a decent job in limiting shots.  The 35 shots that Pittsburgh had on Sunday was the first time the Caps allowed 35 or more shots in a game since Carolina recorded 41 shots in a 4-3 Caps win on January 3rd.  It broke a 19-game streak allowing fewer than 35 shots.

2.  First period goals…the Caps are 1-3-1 in the last five games in which they scored a first period goal.  Now, goals against in the first period?  They Caps are 2-6-1 in the last nine games they allowed at least one first period goal.

3.  Odd statistic… So far this season, the Caps have had positive net penalties (penalties drawn to penalties taken) 22 times, but they are just 11-8-3 in those games.  On the other hand, they are 5-2-0 in games where their net penalties were minus-3 or worse.

4.  Washington has had five or more power plays in a game 17 times this season with a 9-6-2 record.  They are 7-1-1 when getting one or no power play chances.

5.  When going shorthanded five or more times this season, the Caps are 9-4-1; they are 4-2-1 when going shorthanded one or no times.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Winnipeg: Connor Hellebuyck

He is second on the all-time franchise list of games played by a goaltender (264).  He is second in wins (143).  He is third in goals against average (2.67).  He is second in save percentage (.916).  He is Connor Hellebuyck.  He has become one of the real workhorses in the league as well.  Two seasons ago, he led the league in minutes played (3,966) on his way to tying Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy in wins (44).  Last season, no goalie faced more shots (2,051), and no goalie stopped more of them (1,872).  This season, he is second in minutes played (2,911) to Montreal’s Carey Price (3,141), has faced the most shots in the league (1,609 through Sunday), and has the most saves (1,477 through Sunday).

He has been very much an up and down goalie since the new calendar year started.  In 19 appearances in 2020, Hellebuyck has had save percentages over .930 eight times and save percentages of .875 or lower six times.  And, while he has been consistent as a home-road goalie this season overall, going 14-11-3/2.68/.917/2 shutouts at home and 12-9-2/2.77/.919/2 shutouts on the road, he has lost four of his last five road appearances (1-4-0, 3.28, .895), while posting a decent home record (4-2-1, 2.60, .924) over his last seven appearances on home ice.  He has thrived on work so far this season, going 8-1-3, 2.08, .949, with one shutout in the 12 games in which he faced more than 35 shots.  Hellebuyck is 3-2-1, 2.12, .928 in six career appearances against the Capitals.

Washington: Michal Kempny

It has not been easy for Michal Kempny coming back from surgery and missing the first two weeks of the regular season.  He did start the year with 11 points in his first 11 games (three goals, eight assists), but then he fell into a prolonged slump, posting only a pair of assists over his next 21 games.  It looked as if he was kickstarting his offensive game back into gear with a three-game points streak in early January, but he has just one point in his last 17 games.  Kempny does not have a goal in his last 47 games, dating back to a two-goal game in a 6-5 Gimmick win in Vancouver over the Canucks on October 25th.  That is no goals on his last 59 shots on goal.  He is one half of an odd pair of snake-bit defensemen for the Caps…


It makes one scratch one’s head.  You would think that as a product of the random element that runs underneath the game, that one or the other of these guys would have scored a goal by accident, a puck off a skate, a misplayed shot that squirts out of a goalie’s glove, sunspots.  It brings to mind the quote from Crash Davis in the film, “Bull Durham”…
“…if you get just one extra flare a week, just one, a gork, a ground ball — a ground ball with eyes! — you get a dying quail, just one more dying quail a week and you’re in Yankee Stadium.”

Kempny and Jensen have played in a lot of NHL arenas over the last four months without a “gork.”  What Kempny does have over his 47 games of goal scoring futility, though, is a dozen assists and a plus-11 rating, a rating topped only by Dmitry Orlov (plus-13) over the period and tied with that of Richard Panik.  It is top-25 among all NHL defensemen over the period, he being the only defenseman in that group not having scored a goal.  Kempny is 1-1-2, plus-1, in seven career games against Winnipeg.

In the end…

These are teams that play one another close.  Five of the last seven meetings ended in one-goal decisions, the Caps winning three of them, and four of those games went to extra time, the teams splitting the four decisions.  They have alternated wins over the last five meetings, each team winning on its own rink.  Expect more of the same in this week’s home-and-home set.  Well, except for the alternating wins part.

Tuesday: Capitals 4 – Jets 2
Thursday: Capitals 3 – Jets 2

Sunday, February 23, 2020

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

And now, we slump.  Week 20 was a lost week for the Washington Capitals, quite literally with three losses in three games.  At week’s end, the Caps found themselves in the unenviable position of looking up at the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Metropolitan Division standings and look down at the fast-rising Philadelphia Flyers in the Metro, now just three points behind the Caps for second place in the division.


Record: 0-2-1

A winless week.  It has not happened to the Caps since Week 17 last season when the club also went 0-2-1.  Three straight losing weeks.  That has not happened to the Caps since they opened the abbreviated 2012-2013 season with three straight losing weeks (note: they finished that season with 11 straight non-losing weeks).  As if to put an exclamation point on the week, the Caps lost to the New Jersey Devils, a team 24 points behind the Caps in the standings going into the game, leaving the Caps with a 5-8-0 record against Metropolitan Division teams since Christmas and a four-game losing streak within the division.  The Caps play seven of their last 21 games against division opponents, three of them against the Pittsburgh Penguins, starting on Sunday afternoon.  That schedule will bear watching.

Offense: 2.33/game (season: 3.44/5th)

Week 20 was a repeat of Week 19 at the offensive end of the rink for the Caps, which is to say, “not good.”  Seven goals in three games, coming in pairs.  T.J. Oshie had a pair, Tom Wilson had a pair, and Alex Ovechkin had a pair, the latter of which made some history:



Lars Eller had the other goal to round out the week’s goal scoring.  It was the group not scoring a goal that bears watching, though.  Jakub Vrana, 0-for-the-week and 11 straight games without a goal.  Nicklas Backstrom, 0-for-the-week and four straight without a goal.  John Carlson, 0-for-the-week and five straight without a goal.  Dmitry Orlov, 0-for-the-week, and 24 straight without a goal.  Evgeny Kuznetsov, 0-for-the-week.  The fourth line – Garnet Hathaway, Brendan Leipsic, and Nic Dowd – 0-for-the-week and two since Christmas (both by Dowd).  Backstrom was the only Capital to post three points for the week (all assists), the Caps getting a pair each from Vrana, Carlson, Oshie, Wilson, Ovechkin, and Kuznetsov. 

It was hardly a surprise that the Caps finished the week with seven goals.  Their offense at even strength shrank over the course of the week with diminishing shot attempts at fives – 50 against Vegas to open the week, 44 against Montreal, and 35 against New Jersey to end the week.  Worse, they did not muster the urgency to apply more pressure in games in which they trailed, finishing a minus-7 against Montreal in even strength shot attempt differential when trailing, minus-8 against New Jersey in that situation.

Defense: 3.33/game (season: 3.03/16th)

Week 20 was a repeat of Week 19 on the defensive side of the puck as well, ten goals allowed in three games.  The odd part here was that it was not so much a bad week as it was an uneven one.  The Caps allowed Vegas only 39 5-on-5 shots attempts for the week and 29 shots on goal.  Against New Jersey, those numbers were 40 and 29.  Not bad in the general scheme of things. 

In fact, the Caps allowed three goals in regulation in each of the three games for the week (they lost to Montreal, 4-3, in overtime), extending a streak of games allowing three or fewer goals in regulation to five after allowing 12 goals over two games earlier this month, their longest streak of three-or-fewer goals allowed since they went seven straight games in late November/early December.  Unfortunately, to the extent the scoring defense has improved, it has not translated into more win-loss success, the Caps going 1-3-1 in those last five games.

As for Capitals one would not want to have been this week, Dmitry Orlov and John Carlson might qualify.  Each were on ice for half (four) of the even strength goals scored against the Caps (eight) this week, and Carlson was on ice for half (five) of the ten total goals allowed.

Goaltending: 3.42 / .889 (season: 2.88 / .903 / 1 shutout)

Week 19 had a silver lining in this category with the solid play of Braden Holtby, who looked to be coming out of a significant stretch of uncharacteristically weak results.  Not so in Week 20.  Holtby took a step backward in Week 20, losing twice (once in overtime) and stopping just 54 of the 61 shots he faced (.885 save percentage).  It was, as much as anything, slow starts.  Holtby stopped 19 of 22 first period shots faced (.864) while stopping 35 of 38 shots over the second and third periods he played for the week (.921).  And, he stumbled back into a rut in which he has found himself for too much of this season.  Holtby stopped 49 of 56 shots at even strength, his .875 save percentage ranking 41st among the 56 goalies to dress for the week.  It brought his season save percentage at evens to .904, 51st among 55 goalies to appear in at least 20 games.

It was no better for Ilya Samsonov.  He got the last game of the week and took the loss in the 3-2 decision to the Devils.  It was his first loss on the road of his career after opening with ten straight wins (one no-decision) in his first 11 career appearances on the road.  It was not as if he played altogether poorly in the loss, which ended up being a bad present for his 23rd birthday, but it extended a string of mortal performances on his part.  He stopped 26 of 29 shots in that loss, bringing his totals to 96 saves on 111 shots over his last five appearances over which he is 1-3-0 (one no-decision).

Power Play: 2-for-10/20.0 percent (season: 20.5 percent/15th)

The power play was, like so much in Week 20, just enough to keep the Caps close in games without being the thing to push them over the top for a win.  The effort against the Devils to wrap up the week was especially frustrating.  The Caps had six power play chances against the Devils, the fifth time this season that they had six or more power plays in a single game and the first time they suffered a loss in regulation in such a game.

The shot frequency didn’t seem to matter much, either.  Washington managed two shots in 5:09 against Vegas and scored one power play goal.  They were shut out on shots in their only power play over two minutes against Montreal.  They followed that up with 14 shots in 10:27 of power play time on the Devils with one goal scored for a total of two goals on 16 shots in 17:36 for the week.  What was telling was that John Carlson and T.J. Oshie combined for 10 shots (fie apiece) of the 16 the Caps had in total, and Alex Ovechkin, who teams were favoring in their penalty kill schemes, managed just one unsuccessful power play shot on goal for the week.


Penalty Killing: 4-for-6/66.7 percent (season: 83.3 percent/4th)

The best that can be said of the penalty kill was that it had to be deployed infrequently.  The six shorthanded situations faced for the week stand as the fewest the Caps faced in any week to date this season.  And that, coupled with the Caps’ performance in the first two games, when they killed all three shorthanded situations they faced against Vegas and Montreal, had the makings of a great week of penalty killing.  But the Caps gave up two power play goals to the Devils, the 23rd-ranked power play in the league at week’s end, on just three shorthanded situations faced to close the week on a sour note.  All in all, the Caps allowed their three opponents 11 shots on goal in 11:24 of shorthanded ice time, but seven of those shots came in just over five minutes of shorthanded ice time against the Devils.


Faceoffs: 76-for-178 / 42.7 percent (season: 48.3 percent/28th)

At the rate they are going, it would hardly be a surprise if the Caps finished the season at the bottom of this statistical category.  They have some work to do to “catch” the league-worst Buffalo Sabres (46.2 percent), but they do seem intent of taking a run at it. 

Once more, the Caps were weak in each game.  They managed to hit 50 percent only against the Devils, one of the few teams ranked lower in this area (46.7 percent and 29th in the league at week’s end) and were under 50 percent in each of the three zones for the week.  They were under 40 percent against both the Golden Knights and Canadiens, making it four times in seven games that the Caps were under 40 percent in faceoff wins.

Among the six Capitals to take ten or more draws for the week, only T.J. Oshie finished above 50 percent (7-for-10/70 percent).  Evgeny Kuznetsov and Travis Boyd finished the week under 30 percent (28.6 percent and 27.3 percent, respectively).


Goals by Period:

It was another disturbing week for the Caps in this area, characterized by slow starts (four first period goals allowed) and furious finishes with no reward (four third period goals scored, but no wins).  In their 11-12-1 slide since December 23rd, the Caps have a minus-12 first period goal differential (18 scored, 30 allowed) and a plus-11 in the third period (34 scored, 23 allowed), a reflection of the poor start-furious finish that has led to such a mediocre record.


Year-over-Year:

Over 61 games, this year’s club still has advantages over last year’s in most categories, but the margin is shrinking.  Nowhere is this more important than in the top numbers: wins and losses, and goals scored and allowed.  In these respects, this year’s club and last year’s are losing their distinguishing characteristics, this year’s Caps with only a three-win/five-point advantage over last year’s club, and this year’s team holding a plus-15 goal differential advantage over last year’s team.  Even with the remaining significant advantages this year’s club has over last year’s team in shots and 5-on-5 shot attempts, these advantages are becoming more and more dissociated from win-loss success.


In the end…

The Caps are close to, if not already at a point no one might have expected as recently as a month ago.  They are playing poorly, and they seem to have no clear answer as to how to reverse this trend.  The question can be asked, does the coaching staff have an answer?  If not, are we at a point with a team where “win now” is not just a saying, where a change has to be considered.  This seems unlikely, given the patience with which this team has managed coaching and management personnel over the years, but that such a notion is even entertained, even in our lonely corner of Capitals Nation, is an indicator of how things have changed over the last two months for this club.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Alex Ovechkin (2-0-2, even, 13 shots on goal, 27 shot attempts, 11 credited hits, four blocked shots (led all forwards), became the eighth player in NHL history to post 700 career goals)
  • Second Star: John Carlson (0-2-2, minus-3, eight shots on goal, tied Calle Johansson for most career points by a Caps defenseman in team history (474))
  • Third Star: Tom Wilson (2-0-2, plus-2 (led team), 13 shots on goal, 18 shot attempts, 16 credited hits, four takeaways (tied for team lead))

Captain rates the week…








…blech

A Slumping Team in a Win Now League


There are times when the “NHL” stands for the “Now Hockey League.”  As in “win…NOW.”  The circumstances for each team chanting that mantra might differ, but the NHL is an impatient league, which is not surprising given the pace at which the game is played.

Our concern at present is with the circumstances that make “win now” something on the minds of Capitals Nation.  Those circumstances were brought into sharp relief this weekend when Alex Ovechkin posted his 700th career goal, the eighth player in NHL history to do so, yet the Capitals lost the game win which he did it, 3-2, to the lowly New Jersey Devils.  The loss gave the Caps an 11-12-1 record in 24 games since they dropped a 7-3 decision to the Boston Bruins on December 23rd.  That record ranks 26th in the league over that span in standings points earned.

As remarkable as Ovechkin’s achievement is, and he seems to be hitting career milestones every other week these days, he is playing on the back nine of his career.  He will almost certainly sign a new contract with the Capitals sometime before his current deal expires at the end of next season, but that is as equally almost certain to be his last NHL contract before he takes his records, trophies, and championships (hopefully plural) into retirement. 

Add to this the fact that Braden Holtby might be playing in his last games as a Capital before he leaves for a new club as an unrestricted free agent this summer, Two defensemen likely to get big minutes in the upcoming postseason (Radko Gudas and the just acquired Brenden Dillon) will be unrestricted free agents.  To add more to this smoldering fire, the Capitals are not particularly deep in their prospect pool, making it difficult to sustain, as it is for any team in a salary-capped league, the success level to which Caps fans have become accustomed over the past dozen years.

What has added a measure of urgency to the current situation is that 11-12-1 slump in which the Caps find themselves.  A question that might be asked, given how the Caps have avoided lengthy or crippling injuries this season, is whether the current coaching staff can lead this club back a level of performance that at least approximates the white-hot 26-6-5 start to the season before the current slump set in.  The shorter version – do the coaches have an answer?

As simplistic as it sounds, we have been a supporter of the notion that “offense is skill, defense is will.”  Looking at the Caps over the last 24 games, almost a third of a regular season, it is hard to find a consistent level of “will.”  Since December 23rd, only three teams have a worse scoring defense than the Caps (3.46 goals against per game) – Ottawa (3.48), Toronto (3.54), and Florida (3.59).  Their penalty kill (79.0 percent) and net penalty kill (80.3 percent) rank in the bottom half of the league.  They allowed seven shorthanded goals, tied with Detroit for most in the league in that span.  Their defensive zone faceoff winning percentage (45.2 percent) ranks 28th in the league.

It doesn’t get any better at the individual level, either, especially among the top-tier skaters.  Wins and losses are the ultimate measure to evaluate success, and that is a product of goal differential   In the 11-12-1 slide, a lot of Caps who get paid a lot of money to dominate opponents a lot of the time are not doing it.  Take the on-ice even strength goal differential, as basic as the “for and against” gets.  Tom Wilson: minus-5.  Lars Eller: minus-5.  John Carlson: minus-4.  Evgeny Kuznetsov: minus-3.  Alex Ovechkin: minus-2.  That group includes a big chunk of the top two forward lines and the presumptive Norris Trophy winning defenseman based on the first half of the regular season.

And let us not absolve the netminders.  True, both Braden Holtby and Ilya Samsonov have suffered some iffy play in front of them in recent weeks, but neither has done much to bail out teammates by lifting their respective games.  Since December 23rd, Holtby has stopped just 354 of 408 shots (.868 save percentage), and Samsonov has stopped 252 of 275 shots (.916), but just 96 of 111 shots (.865) in his last five appearances.

What makes things more confounding is that the same things seem to sabotage the Caps from game to game and week to week lately, especially on defense – giving up shorthanded goals, allowing teams to convert stretch passes out of their defensive zone into scoring chances at the other end, indifferent to ineffective play in front of their own net.  Throw in the odd offensive slumps and inconsistent power play, put it all together, and the persistence of poor results and the sameness with which the Caps seem to be losing of late has been met with little effective response on the part of the coaching staff.

The failure to win now in this league, whatever the circumstances, leaves the ice littered with the broken clipboards of coaches relieved of their duties.  There are 15 head coaches in the NHL who were hired into their current positions after the end of the 2018-2019 regular season.  The longest tenured head coach at the moment – Tampa Bay’s Jon Cooper, will celebrate his seventh anniversary of his hiring by the Lightning on March 25th, less than two presidential terms in the United States.  And the impatience that some teams have can manifest itself in odd ways with odd results.  Consider that the Pittsburgh Penguins won two of their last three Stanley Cups after making an in-season change behind the bench, Dan Bylsma replacing Michel Therrien for the last 25 regular season games of the 2008-2009 season before winning the Cup, and Mike Sullivan replacing Mike Johnston for the last 54 games of the 2015-2016 season before winning the Cup (and then winning it the next season for good measure).  And there are the St. Louis Blues, the most recent Cup winner, who replaced Mike Yeo with Craig Berube 19 games into the 2018-2019 season before skating to the Cup.

After last season’s first round exit from the playoffs at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes, this might have been thought of as the “do over” season for the Caps, players and coaches.  We might be past the point of no return for any changes behind the bench for the Caps this season with only 20 games left after facing the Penguins on Sunday.  But if the Caps lose on Sunday afternoon, or worse, lose badly, to an archrival in front of a national audience, all bets are off with a general manager in Brian MacLellan (assuming the decision would rest with him) who gives appearances of being unsentimental when making personnel decisions.  With the team’s stars in their late prime and an ever shrinking window of opportunity that will only accelerate as players age or leave, the “win now” notion takes on special meaning for this team, right now.  You don’t get a chance to do over your “do over.”

Friday, February 21, 2020

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 61: Capitals at Devils, February 22nd

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The bleeding continues for the Washington Capitals, who head to New Jersey on Saturday afternoon to face the Devils in a 1:00 pm start after losing a third consecutive game on Thursday night, a 4-3 overtime decision to the Montreal Canadiens at Capital One Arena.  The Devils will be trying to cobble together wins in consecutive games after edging the San Jose Sharks, 2-1, on Thursday night.

Then and Now…

The Capitals and Devils will meet for the 218th time in the all-time regular season series on Saturday afternoon.  Washington has a 113-76-15 (13 ties) record against the Devils, 47-46-7 (seven ties) in New Jersey.  Since 2005-2006, the Caps are 31-17-11 against New Jersey, 14-10-4 in the Garden State.  This game will complete the four-game season series between the clubs, the Caps having won twice (6-3 in New Jersey on December 20th and 5-2 in Washington on January 16th), while the Devils have one win (5-1 in Washington on January 11th).

Active Leaders vs. Opponent…


Noteworthy Opponents…

The sell-off has begun for the New Jersey Devils with Monday’s trading deadline approaching, long time defenseman Andy Greene sent to the New York Islanders and Blake Coleman, who was in his fourth season with New Jersey, sent to Tampa Bay.  It would not be surprising to see the Devils make more moves between now and 3:00 on Monday afternoon, which would mean that the Devils’ last 20 games would be left in the hands of what they hope will be a young core around which they can continue to build.

No one is more important to that young core than the youngest skater on the team, Jack Hughes, the number one overall pick in last summer’s Entry Draft.  Hughes has had a good, if not outstanding rookie season so far.  His seven goals in 52 games ranks tied for 14th in this year’s rookie class.  His 13 assists are good for a tie for 12th in that group, and his 20 points are tied for 11th.  With 0.38 points per game, Hughes ranks 14th among rookies appearing in at least 25 games.  One statistic he might not want to highlight is his minus-22, the price a top rookie pays for playing a big role on a bad club.  That minus-22 is tied for worst in this year’s rookie class with the New York Rangers’ Kaapo Kakko, the second overall pick in last summer’s draft. 

Hughes has dealt with intermittent injuries this season, a lower body injury that led him to miss three games in December and an upper body injury resulting in a five-game absence in January.  In 16 games since returning from the latest injury, his production has waned – 1-3-4, minus-12, in 16 games.  He has been shooting in some bad luck over that stretch, posting just the single goal on 34 shots (2.9 percent shooting).  He goes into Saturday’s game without a point in his last five games.  Hughes will be in search of his first career point against the Caps in Saturday’s game, having gone without one in two games to date.

Then there are the pair of 21-year old “Jespers,” Boqvist and Bratt.  The former played 34 games with the Devils, scoring four goals, before being sent down to Binghamton in the AHL, a move that the team might have made sooner but for his contract situation.  As for the latter, Jesper Bratt has dressed for 51 games this season, tying a career high in his third NHL season after being drafted in the sixth round (162nd overall) in the 2016 Entry Draft.  Fun Bratt Fact… no player taken later than the second round of the 2016 Entry Draft has appeared in more NHL games to date than Bratt (176).  Bratt ranks 11th in games played in his draft class to date (176), seventh in career goals scored (33), and is eighth in points (93).  With 12 goals this season he is within one of the career high of 13 he set as a rookie in 2017-2018.  Not that his goal scoring has mattered a lot; the Devils have been just good enough to lose in such instances, going 4-3-4 in the 11 games in which Bratt has a goal.  It is not a lot better when he posts points generally, the Devils going 9-4-7 in the 20 games in which he recorded points.

Bratt has had a distinct home-road split in terms of production.  In 26 games on home ice he is 10-9-19, plus-6, while on the road he is just 2-4-6, minus-12.  He has been productive of late, botin 4-5-9, plus-2, in 11 games overall.  In eight career games against the Caps, Bratt is without a point and has an even rating.

Miles Wood is a different kind of young player for the Devils.  Now in his fifth season with the club, the 24-year old Wood has compiled more penalty minutes in his first five seasons with the Devils (312) than any player since David Clarkson logged 554 penalty minutes in his first five seasons, from 2006-2007 through 2010-2011.  Wood’s five-year offensive production to date (47-46-93 in 260 games) also resembles Clarkson’s (52-48-100 in 298 games) and can resemble it more closely with 22 games remaining in the Devils’ season.

Wood has become, if not a prolific scorer, then a consistent one.  He has ten goals this season, matching his total from last year and is his third straight season in double digits (he had 13 in 2017-2018).  With 20 points this season, he seems likely to top last year’s 24 points, although reaching his career high of 32 points in 2017-2018 seems a stretch.  And, while his penalty minutes have been significant in the historical context of the franchise, they are down this year from 91 in 63 games last year to 51 minutes in 60 games to date this season, the first time in four full seasons that he has been under a penalty minute per game.  Keeping those penalty minutes to a minimum does not seem to have mattered much in the broader scheme of things, the Devils going 7-9-3 in the 19 games in which he served penalty box time, 16-18-7 in games where he spent no time in the penalty box.  Wood, who is without a goal in his last seven games and without a point in his last four, is 4-1-5, minus-6, in 13 career games against the Caps.


1.  New Jersey is the only team in the league with at least ten wins, at least ten losses in regulation, and at least ten losses in extra time on home ice (11-10-10).

2.  Only Edmonton has allowed more shorthanded goals on home ice (six) than the Devils (five, tied with Detroit, Montreal, and Toronto).

3.  The Devils finish games poorly on home ice.  Their minus-16 goal differential in third periods at home (26 for, 42 against) is second-worst in the league (San Jose: minus-19).

4.  No team has fewer wins when scoring first at home than the Devils (three), and their winning percentage (3-5-8/.188) is worst in the league by almost 250 percentage points (Detroit: 5-6-1/.417).

5.  New Jersey has the worst shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 on home ice in the league (46.3 percent).

1.  Since December 23rd, the Caps are 11-11-1.  Only seven teams have fewer standings points in that span, and the .500 points percentage is tied for 21st in the league with San Jose.

2.  Over that 23-game span, the Caps have the third-worst scoring defense in the league (3.48 goals against per game).

3.  Over that same span of games, the Caps net power play (accounting for shorthanded goals against) is third-worst in the league (10.7 percent).

4. In the “attention to detail” department, the Caps have the second-worst faceoff percentage (46.4 percent) in the league over their 23-game slide, the New York Rangers worse (46.4 percent) without rounding.

5.  Scoring first is a very good indicator of who wins and who loses.  That the Caps are 11-11-1 over their last 23 games despite being tied for last in the league in games in which they scored first (eight, with Dallas), might be encouraging.   

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New Jersey: Wayne Simmonds

By the time you read this, or perhaps by the time these teams take the ice, Wayne Simmonds’ brief stay in New Jersey might be over.  Vancouver is said to be interested in the veteran forward.  Perhaps the Penguins are as well.  Small wonder.  Simmonds is precisely the sort of asset teams looking to the playoffs might be interested in.  He is in his 12th NHL season with more than 900 regular season games (901) on his resume, so he checks the experience box.  He has appeared in 44 postseason games in his career, so he checks that box.  He brings a certain physicality and orneriness (21st among active players in credited hits (1,642), sixth among active players in penalty minutes (1,121)) that teams seem to crave.  He is an unrestricted free agent on a $5 million expiring contract, so the risk is low.

On the other hand, his production is in decline.  After posting 31 goals in 82 games in 2016-2017 with the Philadelphia Flyers, he dropped to 24 goals with the Flyers the following season, fell to 17 goals in a 2018-2019 season split between Philadelphia and Nashville, and again to seven goals in 60 games so far this season (a ten-goal pace).  He has a total of eight goals in his last 87 games played dating back to last February with the Flyers, and he has just three in his most recent 41 games this season with New Jersey.  It is as if his offensive game is drying up in pieces; he posted no shots on goal in five of his last nine games, despite averaging 15:34 in ice time per game.  In 36 career games against the Capitals, Simmonds is 10-11-21, even.

Washington: Ilya Samsonov

With the Capitals playing back-to-back afternoon games this weekend, it would be reasonable to expect that they split the goaltending duties between Braden Holtby and Ilya Samsonov.  The two goaltenders have had their performance trends reverse of late, Holtby playing better over his last five appearances (125 saves on 136 shots/.919 save percentage) than he did over his previous 11 appearances (229 saves on 272 shots/.842), while Samsonov has stumbled of late, stopping 70 of 82 shots over his last four appearances (.854) after an impressive 11-appearance run (253 saves on 269 shots/.941, with a shutout).

That .854 save percentage over his last four appearances is fourth-worst among the 65 goalies to dress over that span, and his even strength save percentage (.851) is lower than every goalie in the league except the Islanders’ Thomas Greiss (.848).  And, despite winning all four of his decisions in his last five road games (one no-decision), Samsonov carries a .907 save percentage in his last five road appearances going into this game.  Samsonov faced the Devils twice so far in his rookie season, earning wins in both games with a 2.50 goals against average and .918 save percentage.

In the end…

The Capitals are in a bad place right now, and it is tempting to think, while in the middle of the misfortune, that the team is headed for failure.  That might be true, but consider these two teams…

Team 1:
  • Record: 9-9-4
  • 1-goal games: 3-3-4
  • 2-goal games: 3-2
  • 3-goal games: 3-4
  • Scoring offense: 2.91/game
  • Scoring defense: 3.32/game
  • Power play: 27.1%
  • Penalty kill: 80.6%
  • SAT%: 47.1

Team 2:
  • Record: 11-11-1
  • 1-goal games: 4-5-1
  • 2-goal games: 5-3
  • 3-goal games: 3-4
  • Scoring offense: 3.35/game
  • Scoring defense: 3.48/game
  • Power play: 19.1%
  • Penalty kill: 80.8%
  • SAT%: 53.2

Team 1 is the 2017-2018 version of the Caps in Games 46-67 of the regular season, while Team 2 is the team that will take the ice Saturday against the Devils over Games 38-60.  The point is that the current slump might be a reflection of a team with deeper problems than a mere slump, but it also might be a reflection that good teams go through slumps.  Even teams that end up winning championships.  It would be nice if the Caps started playing more like potential champions, starting with this game.

Capitals 4 – Devils 3

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 60: Canadiens at Capitals, February 20th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals return home on Thursday evening after a three-game road trip to host the Montreal Canadiens.  The Caps will hope home cooking will help them snap a two-game losing streak and a stretch in which they went 3-6-0 to slip into second place in the Metropolitan Division behind the Pittsburgh Penguins.  Montreal has been worse of late, arriving in Washington with a five-game losing streak (0-4-1) in their baggage.

Then and Now…

This will be the 171st meeting of the Caps and Canadiens in the all-time regular season series.  The Caps are 74-74-5 (17 ties) and 39-34-2 (nine ties) on home ice.  Since 2005-2006, Washington is 31-15-5 against Montreal and 13-10-2 on home ice.  This game will complete the three-game regular season series for the teams this year, each winning on the other’s home ice in the first two games, the Canadiens winning in Washington, 5-2, on November 15th, and the Caps winning in Montreal, 4-2, on January 27th.

Active Leaders vs. Opponent…


Noteworthy Opponents…

The history of the Montreal Canadiens is brimming with names any hockey fan recognizes – Maurice “Rocket” Richard, Jean Beliveau, Guy LaFleur, Larry Robinson, Ken Dryden.  The Canadiens these days do not have many names that register with fans, especially when you look at the most productive players on the road this season.  Three Canadiens have posted 20 or more points in road games so far, led by Tomas Tatar (12-17-29 in 29 road games). 

Tatar is in his ninth NHL season after being drafted by the Detroit Red Wings in the second round (60th overall) in the 2009 Entry Draft.  In his seventh season with the Wings, he was traded to the Vegas Golden Knights for Vegas' first-round pick in the 2018 Entry Draft, a second- round pick in the 2019 Entry Draft, and a third-round pick in the 2021 Entry Draft.  After finishing the 2017-2018 season with the Golden Knights, he was traded to Montreal with Nick Suzuki and the Golden Knights’ second-round pick in the 2019 Entry Draft for Max Pacioretty.  In his first season with the Canadiens last year, he posted 25 goals and a career high 58 points.  In 62 games to date this season, he has 21 goals, and his 54 points put him on a pace (71 points) to top his career high with room to spare.

Tatar’s production on the road this season is a product of scoring in bursts.  In 29 road games to date he has seven multi-point games, including a four-point game (1-3-4) in Montreal’s 5-2 win over the Caps in November, his first and only career four-point game.  He is 3-6-9, plus-2, in his last seven road games.  Tatar is 7-9-16, plus-9, in 19 career games against the Caps.

Nick Suzuki, who came to Montreal with Tatar in the Max Pacioretty trade with Vegas, is the second of three 20-point road scorers for the Canadiens this season (7-16-23).  That road scoring output is what has helped vault him into a tie for third place in scoring among this year’s rookie class (40 points, tied with Buffalo’s Victor Olofsson).  He is also third in this rookie class in power play goals (six) and fourth in power play points (14).

Suzuki, drafted 13th overall by the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017, should not be a surprise as a leading point scorer in his rookie class.  It is a quite productive class so far, one that includes Colorado defenseman Cale Makar (second in this rookie class in points with 43), New Jersey’s Nico Hischier, and Vancouver’s Elias Pettersson among those first 13 overall picks in addition to Suzuki.

That Suzuki has been productive on the road has not translated into much success for the Canadiens, though.  Ove his last 14 road games dating back to December 19th, he is 5-12-17, but he is also has a minus-4 rating over those 14 games, and the Canadiens are just 6-8-0 over that span.  Suzuki has a goal and an assist, and has a plus-1 rating in the two games he has played against the Caps so far in his rookie season.

Phillip Danault is the third of the three 20-point skaters on the road for the Canadiens so far this season.  Danault actually has some roundabout history with the Caps.  You might remember that the Capitals traded their 2001 first round pick to the Chicago Blackhawks for forward Troy Brouwer.  It was with that pick that the Blackhawks took Danault.  And, there is another connection.  Danault was traded by the Blackhawks to the Canadiens in February 2016 with a 2018 second-round draft pick for Dale Weise and former Capital Tomas Fleischmann.

In his four full seasons in Montreal, including this one, Danault is the second-leading points getter (158 to 172 for Brendan Gallagher) and first on the team in even strength points (142), and his plus-35 rating is second over that period to Paul Byron’s plus-37.  As for his road game record, he is in something of a slump there at the moment.  Danault has gone his last 11 road games without a goal and has six assists over that span, half of them coming in Montreal’s 4-1 win in Philadelphia over the Flyers on January 16th.  He recently had an injury scare, taking a puck to the face on a shot from teammate Tomas Tatar in the second period of a 3-2 loss to Arizona on February 10th, but he did not miss any time, returning to the ice two days later against Boston.  Of his injury it was said, as only hockey can spin as good news, “No fractures or concussion. Only lost teeth and cuts.”  Only.”  This incident came just over two years after he was struck in the head by a shot by Boston’s Zdeno Chara. 

Danault is one of those skaters who have thrived with more ice time, or at least the Canadiens have been successful when he had it.  Montreal is 11-5-4 in the 20 games in which he skated at least 20 minutes, 16-22-4 in the 42 games in which he skated less than 20 minutes.  Danault is 1-8-9, plus-2, in nine career games against Washington.


1.  Montreal has the league’s best power play on the road (27.8 percent).  In 16 road games since December 10th, they are 14-for-41 (34.1 percent).

2.  In that span of 16 road games since December 10th, eight different Canadiens have power play goals, but Tomas Tatar (five) and Nick Suzuki (three) account for eight of them.  Six Canadiens have one apiece.

3.  Montreal is one of four teams in the league with a shot attempts differential at 5-on-5 of plus-400 or more (plus-404).  Los Angeles (plus-0657), Toronto (plus-474), and Carolina (plus-471) are the others.

4.  Montreal has allowed four goals in each of their last four road games.  Their 15 road games having allowed four or more goals are topped only by Detroit (22), Anaheim (17), and Los Angeles (16).

5,  The Canadiens are one of four teams not to have been shutout this season.  Tampa Bay, Toronto, and the New York Rangers are the others.

1.  Washington has the best penalty kill on home ice this season (87.6 percent).  They are 48-for-53 killing penalties in their last 15 home games (90.6 percent).

2.  The flip side of that penalty kill is that over their last 15 home games, the Caps have been shorthanded 3.53 times per game, most in the league, and have spent 6:18 in ice time per game killing penalties, also most in the league.

3.  The Caps have six players with 20 or more points on home ice this season: John Carlson (30), Alex Ovechkin (27), Jakub Vrana (25), Evgeny Kuznetsov (25), T.J. Oshie (23), and Nicklas Backstrom (23).  Next up could be Tom Wilson (18).

4.  The power play has a certain imbalance on home ice.  The Caps have 17 power play goals scored at Capital One Arena, but 11 of them are on the ledger of T.J. Oshie (six) and Alex Ovechkin (five).  Six other Capitals have one apiece.

5.  The Caps have allowed five or more goals in four of their last eight home games.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Montreal: Shea Weber

News of injuries is hard to come by in the NHL, the manner in which teams keep such information close to the vest rivaling the lengths to which security agencies protect “top secret” information, it seems.  But “The Shea Weber Saga” pushes the envelope a bit further.  Weber skated almost 25 minutes in a 5-4 Gimmick win over New Jersey on February 4th, but he suffered what was first described as a “lower body injury” and did not accompany the team for a game in Boston on February 12th.  The nature of the injury became equal parts more mysterious and more serious when it was reported Weber’s injury would keep him out of the lineup for 4-6 weeks, but then that his season was “likely over” and his career in jeopardy over what was by this time identified as an ankle injury.  But then, miracle of miracles, it was then reported that he could return to action as soon as this past Tuesday against the Detroit Red Wings.   Weber did precisely that and skated almost 22 minutes in a 4-3 loss to the Wings.

Weber has become injury prone since arriving in Montreal in a blockbuster trade from Nashville for P.K. Subban in June 2016.  After dressing for 78 of 82 regular season games in 2016-2017 with Montreal, he appeared in just 26 games in 2017-2018 (foot injury) and just 58 games last season (knee surgery).  It matters.  Despite being limited to 140 games over the past three seasons, he remains a top-20 defensemen in points per game (0.59) among the 198 defensemen to have dressed for at least 100 games in that span.  Weber is 5-8-13, plus-2, in 19 career games against Washington.

Washington: Nick Jensen

So, with the Caps having obtained defenseman Brenden Dillon from San Jose on Tuesday, who will be the odd man out on the blue line for the Capitals?  It could be Jonas Siegenthaler, who has barely a full season’s worth of regular season experience (84 games) on his resume.  But Siegenthaler averages more shorthanded time on ice per game (3:06) on a club that is fourth in the league in penalty killing.

The odd man out could be a defenseman who has struggled for much of the season – Nick Jensen.  Since he came to the Capitals from Detroit with a fifth-round pick in the 2019 Entry Draft for prospect defenseman Madison Bowey and a second-round pick in the 2020 Entry Draft, he has contributed little in offense (ten points, all of them assists, in 78 games), is a team worst minus-3 among defensemen over that span, is second worst among Caps defensemen in personal on-ice shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 (49.5 percent), and has the worst on-ice even strength goal differential among defensemen for the Caps over that span (minus-6).  An example of the frustration.  Since he first took the ice for the Caps on February 24, 2019, he is one of three NHL defensemen of 183 defensemen recording at least 50 shots on goal to fail to light the red light (he is 0-for-81; Matt Irwin is 0-for-54; and Anthony Bitetto is 0-for-52).  Of relevance to this game, Jensen has one point in his last 24 home games dating back to October 18th when this slump started (an assist in a 4-3 loss to Pittsburgh on February 2nd).  Jensen does not have a point and has a minus-9 rating in 12 career games against Montreal.

In the end…

The Capitals are no longer the hunted.  They lost their top spot in the league standings, they lost their top spot in the conference standings, and now, they trail the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Metropolitan Division standings.  This is what happens when a team goes 11-11-0 over a 22-game stretch after holding a five-point lead on the rest of the league after their first 37 games.  And it is not as if playing in front of the home folk have been an elixir.  The Caps are 1-4-0 in their last five home games and have lost ugly, giving up 23 goals, 16 of them in three losses to divisional rivals (Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and the Islanders).  The Tuesday trade for defenseman Brenden Dillon might be what the Caps need, personnel-wise and “shake things up”-wise, but really, a veteran team like this should not require this sort of a wake up call.

Capitals 4 – Canadiens 2