Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 23: Senators at Capitals, November 22nd

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals hit the ice for the third of their four-game home stand when they host the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday night at Capital One Arena. The Caps will be looking to prevent suffering consecutive losses on home ice since they endured a three-game home ice losing streak in mid-October.

The Senators will come to Washington looking for a measure of revenge after the Caps defeated them in Ottawa on Opening Night, 5-4, in the trick shot competition. This will be just the third road game for Ottawa this month and seventh of the season. The road has been a welcoming place for the Senators, who enter this game with a record of 4-1-1 outside of Canada’s capital.

Mark Stone has found the road an especially hospitable place, leading the Senators in goals (four, tied with Mike Hoffman) and points (eight), with a team-leading plus-6 (tied with Derick Brassard). Now in his sixth year with the Senators and fourth full-time season, Stone has become a very consistent goal scorer for the Sens. In his three full seasons preceding this one, Stone recorded 26, 23, and 22 goals. He also displayed an ability to contribute at both ends of the ice, having earned votes for the Selke Trophy as the league’s best defensive forward in each of the last three seasons, finishing sixth in the voting last year. He is threatening to demolish his career-best in goal scoring, having posted 13 goals in 19 game so far overall, tied with Washington’s Alex Ovechkin for third in the league. Only six of 443 skaters to record at least 20 shots on goal this season have a better shooting percentage than Stone (25.0). He is 3-1-4, plus-4, in ten career games against the Caps.

Erik Karlsson is the gold standard among NHL defensemen in this era. Over the previous six seasons he won the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defensemen twice, was a finalist on two other occasions and was in the top-ten in voting five times. Even when he appeared in just 17 games of the abbreviated 2012-2013 season he finished 18th in Norris voting. This season started slowly for Karlsson, missing the first five games due to an injury that he sustained at the end of the 2016-2017 season, two torn tendons in his foot. It took him a while to get into the lineup, but he hit the ice at full speed. His 17 points (1-16-17) is tied for third in the league in scoring among defensemen, despite his having played at least six fewer games than the six defensemen ahead of him or with whom he is tied. If there is an odd quality about his statistical profile this season it is in his ice time. Eight times this season he logged more than 25 minutes, but Ottawa has a record of just 1-3-4 in those games. Karlsson is 2-16-18, minus-6, in 24 career games against Washington.

1..Ottawa opened the season with three straight trips to the freestyle competition and lead the league with five shootout appearances. They are 1-4 in those games.

2.  The Senators deploy rookies in odd ways. Eight rookies have dressed for Ottawa so far this season but have appeared in a combined 21 games (none more than four). By way of comparison, Jakub Vrana has appeared in that many games for the Caps as a rookie by himself.

3.  Ottawa does not beat themselves in one respect. Their 62 minor penalties taken is third-fewest in the league, more than only Columbus (54) and Carolina (48). It means they have been shorthanded just 55 times this season, more than only the Blue Jackets (54) and the Hurricanes (47).

4.  If you can hang close, the Senators can be caught, or at least scored upon late. Montreal is the only team in the Eastern Conference to have allowed more third period goals (26) than Ottawa (25). Oddly enough, the Senators have not lost a game in regulation in which they led at the second intermission, although they do have three extra time losses in those games, tied with Buffalo for most in the league.

5.  One might think the Senators spend a lot of the post-game icing down and in the whirlpool. They are tied for second in the league in blocked shots (319, with Arizona).

1.  How is it that the Caps’ two top scorers for the month of November are “minus” players? John Carlson (2-8-10) is a minus-4, while Evgeny Kuznetsov (2-6-8) is a minus-2. They also happened to be tied for the team lead in power play points for the month (six apiece).

2.  Tom Wilson, who averaged 155 minutes in penalties per season over his first four years, is on a pace to finish this season with a career high 238 minutes.  He is also on a pace to finish with nine goals, which would be a career high.

3.  All eight defensemen to dress for the Caps this season have points, and five of them have at least one goal. All 14 forwards to have dressed for at least five games have at least one goal.

4.  This could be a high-scoring game late. The Caps are tied with Ottawa in allowing the sixth-highest total of third period goals in the league this season (25).

5.  Only Buffalo has lost more games when outshot by opponents (ten times, once in extra time) than the Capitals (nine times, once in extra time).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Ottawa: Craig Anderson

There have been 33 goalies to dress for the Ottawa Senators over their franchise’s history. None have done so more times than Craig Anderson (308 games). He is the all-time franchise leader in wins (158), losses (104), and losses in extra time (37). His .919 career save percentage is second among the 13 goalies in franchise history appearing in at least 50 games (Andrew Hammond: .923 in 55 games). Only Patrick Lalime has more shutouts for the Senators (30) than Anderson (25). Now in his 15th NHL season, Anderson has had a roller coaster of a year so far. It breaks down loosely into three parts. In the first, covering his first four appearances, Anderson was 2-0-2, 1.65, .937, with a shutout. He followed that up with a seven-game stretch in which he was 3-3-1, 4.07, .874. He since recovered, going 2-2-0, 2.01, .914 in his last four contests. What does seem to matter is shots faced. In nine games in which he played the entire contest and faced 30 or fewer shots, Anderson is 4-3-2, 1.97, .923, with one shutout. However, in four games playing the entire contest and facing more than 30 shots, he is 2-1-1, 4.28, .887. OK, small population size. In 20 career games against the Caps, Anderson is 11-7-2, 2.39, .922, with two shutouts.

Washington: Devante Smith-Pelly

Devante Smith-Pelly has had the sort of season – his first in Washington – that fans might have expected. He gets modest ice time as generally a bottom-six forward (13:10 per game), he plays with some edge (32 credited hits, sixth on the club), kills penalties (1:28 in shorthanded ice time per game), and makes the physical sacrifices the team needs from that position (22 blocked shots, most among forwards). But he also has had some time on the top line, a reflection of the very unsettled and inconsistent nature of the Caps lineup these days, where continuity has given way to trying to find chemistry among the lines to allow the Caps to sustain some level of success. He has been shooting in a bit of bad luck, compared to his career numbers. His two goals on 36 shots on goal is, so far, his worst career shooting percentage for a season (5.6 percent). While being a 20-goal scorer is not a requirement of his position, it would be nice for him and for the Caps to see that number tick up a bit. That might be a problem in this game, however. The Senators are one of three teams in the league against which Smith-Pelly does not have a career point (0-0-0, minus-3, in seven career games).

In the end…

We keep pounding on this point, but the Caps really need to stockpile wins and points in this home-weighted portion of the schedule. They currently occupy the second wild-card spot in the standings (pending Tuesday’s results), but there are three teams within a point of them, and all of them have games in hand: Carolina (three games), the New York Rangers (one game), and their opponent in this game, the Ottawa Senators (three games). No team in the East has completed more of their season schedule than the Caps, and at some point, the wasted opportunities to put distance between themselves and the also-rans could come back to haunt them and turn them into one of those very also-rans. The Senators are one of six teams in the league to have scored and allowed more than three goals per game, so for the Caps there is the opportunity of getting untracked offensively, but by the same token, the Senators have the ability to make the Caps pay for mistakes and too many trips to the penalty box, as Calgary did on Monday.

Capitals 4 – Senators 3

A NO-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 22: Flames 4 - Capitals 1

The Washington Capitals started fast, and maybe a bit too easily against the Calgary Flames last night at Capital One Arena.  But after scoring the game’s first goal just 62 seconds into the contest, the Flames slowly, deliberately, and relentlessly took over the game and dealt the Caps a 4-1 defeat.

First Period

It took the Caps precisely 62 seconds to grab a lead. Jakub Vrana showed that slick hand capable of sniping the puck aren’t his only gift. He used speed to beat Travis Hamonic to a puck sliding deep in the Flames’ end, circled around the net, and threw a pass into the slot where Lars Eller was filling in. Eller buried the puck over the blocker of goalie Mike Smith, and the Caps were off and running.

Calgary evened things up less than four minutes later when Johnny Gaudreau took a pass from Sean Monahan just outside the Caps’ blue line, worked his way to the right wing circle, and snapped a shot to the long side past the blocker of goalie Braden Holtby.

That would do it for the scoring, the Flames going 0-for-2 on the power play in the period, and the Caps drawing a blank on their lone chance. Washington had a 12-11 edge in shots, while Calgary had 24 shot attempts to the Caps’ 19.

Second Period

The third time was the charm for the Flames’ power play. With Lars Eller in the box for a hooking penalty, the Caps almost killed off the shorthanded situation. But late in the power play, Gaudreau had the puck at the side of the net to Holtby’s right. His shot was muffled by Holtby, but the goalie could not find it in his pads. The puck slid to Monahan, who roofed it to give Calgary a 2-1 lead 5:22 into the period.

That would do it for the scoring, and the Caps got off easy. Calgary outshot the Caps, 13-6, and they out-attempted them, 27-13.

Third Period

Calgary ended the competitive portion of the contest in short order, in a two-minute span early in the third period.  Mikael Backlund gave the Flames a two-goal lead on another power play goal 4:38 into the period, finishing up a flurry in which Calgary got several uncontested shots at Holtby from below and inside the faceoff dots. 

Mark Giordano finished things off for the visitors 2:01 later, whipping a shot at the Caps net through a maze of bodies, off the post to Holtby’s left and into the net leaving the clock to run out silently on a 4-1 loss that snapped the Caps’ five-game home winning streak.

Other stuff…

-- The score was no mirage in terms of the Flames’ dominance.  Calgary out-shot the Caps, 39-30, and they out-attempted them, 69-54.

-- Washington went 0-for-3 on the power play against the league’s worst penalty killing team, coming up empty on six shots in six minutes of power play time.  Calgary ended a five-game streak of their own in which they allowed at least one power play goal.

-- Alex Ovechkin continues to be snake-bit on the man advantage.  He was 0-for-3 shooting and extended his streak of games without a power play goal to seven, and he has just one power play goal in his last 14 games.

-- It’s one thing for Alex Ovechkin to lead the team in shots (he did, with five), but Alex Chiasson being second (four) was a surprise.

-- Nicklas Backstrom also had four shots on goal, none of which found the back of the net.  He is now without a goal in 15 games, over which he is 0-for-32 shooting.

-- T.J. Oshie didn’t have a point, but four hits, two blocked shots, and winning four of seven faceoffs was evidence of effort in other areas.

-- Tom Wilson skated a season high 18:05, including a team high 3:44 in shorthanded ice time among forwards, and contributed an assist.

-- The four goals allowed by the Caps tied a season high in goals allowed on home ice (a 4-1 loss to the Florida Panthers on October 21st) and was more goals allowed than in their last three home games combined (three).

-- The four goals allowed was a season worst for Braden Holtby on home ice.  Before last night, Holtby was 6-2-0, 1.61, .949 at Capital One Arena.

-- Jakub Vrana had a great first shift, using speed to get position and finding Lars Eller for the Caps’ lone goal.  After that, 15 shifts and 10:40 in ice time.  It seemed odd.

In the end…

Well, here we are in Thanksgiving Week, and the Caps might just be who we thought they were.  Certainly, they are not the team of the past two seasons, nor are they jaw-droppingly awful.  As this game, juxtaposed with the fine win over Minnesota in their previous game, illustrates, it is an inconsistent team that lacks depth and skill, at least compared to those last two editions that won Presidents Trophies.  At this point, it seems as if this is a club that will bounce on the edge of playoff eligibility all season.  They do not seem to have the sort of depth and consistency to get the sorts of contributions from up and down the roster that would fuel long winning streaks, but they have enough skill and goaltending to avoid long losing streaks.  As this game drove home the point, it is going to be a bumpy last 60 games for the Caps. Strap in, Caps fans.  Turbulence ahead.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 22: Flames at Capitals, November 20th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals will skate the second game of their four-game home stand on Monday night when the Calgary Flames visit Capital One Arena.  For the Caps, it is a chance to extend their home winning streak to six games.  The Flames will be looking to build on a road win against the Philadelphia Flyers last Saturday that evened their record on their current six-game road trip at 1-1.

Calgary has been rather leaky of defense as of late, allowing four or more goals in five of their last six games overall and averaging 4.67 goals allowed overall in that span.  And that means the goalies have been shelled.  It has been especially difficult for Mike Smith, who in five appearances over that span does have three wins in four decisions, but has a goals against average of 4.09 and a save percentage of .872.  It is quite a turnaround for Smith, who over his first 12 appearances this season had a goals against average of 2.19 and a save percentage of .936.  As it is, his .919 save percentage overall is still his best since he was .930 for the Phoenix (now Arizona) Coyotes in 2011-2012 and is his second best career mark in his 12-year career.  Smith has been an effective performer on the road this season, going 5-1-0, 2.13, .943 in six appearances.  In 13 career appearances against the Caps, he is 3-8-1, 3.42, .889.

As leaky as the Flames’ defense has been in their last six games, their offense has been productive, recording 27 goals in those six games (4.50 per game).  Johnny Gaudreau leads the Flames in goals (6) and points (13) over that six-game span. In fact, he leads the league in points over that span. Gaudreau might be one of the most prolific fourth round draft picks in the recent history of the league.  He certainly has been since he played his first NHL game in the 2013-2014 season.  Since then, no fourth round draft pick has more points than does Gaudreau (233).  And despite being a fourth-round pick in 2011,m he is sixth in his draft class in points and tied for eighth in goals (82, with Philadelphia’s Sean Couturier).  He brings a nine-game points streak into this contest (7-10-17, plus-5).  What he does not have against the Caps in his career is a goal.  He is 0-5-5, minus-1, in seven career games against Washington.

T.J. Brodie has not had a goal of his own in this six-game offensive explosion for the Flames, but he has spread things around enough to lead the defense in points in that span (0-5-5).  Brodie has been one of those below-the-radar players who suffer perhaps, reputation-wise, from playing out west for a franchise with modest success in recent years.  As it is, since he became a full-time player with the Flames in 2012-2013, he is in the top-30 in points among defensemen (27th, ranked between Ryan McDonagh and Justin Faulk).  Another example of a successful fourth-round draft pick for the Flames (114th overall in 2008).  Brodie is 0-4-4, minus-2, in nine career games against the Caps.

1.  Only twice in 19 games have the Flames taken a lead into the first intermission, fewest in the league.  They won both games.

2.  Only two teams have fewer first period goals this season than Calgary (13) – Nashville and Buffalo (12 apiece), and only three teams have allowed more third period goals than the Flames (25) – Dallas (26), Montreal (26), and Arizona (31).

3.  If Calgary holds the Caps without a power play goal, chances are they will win.  The Flames are 6-1-0 in games this season when they shut out an opponent on their power play.

4.  Looking at another threshold, this is a team that has to score to win, because they can be scored upon.  While the Flames are 7-0-0 in games in which they scored four or more goals, they are 4-8-0 in games in which they are held to fewer than four goals.

5.  Calgary is one of three teams without a loss in extra time this season (Toronto and San Jose are the others).  The Flames are 5-0-0 in extra time decisions.

1.  The Caps are similar to the Flames in one respect, their threshold for wins by goals scored.  Washington is 7-0-0 when scoring four or more goals, 4-9-1 when scoring fewer than four goals.

2.  Stay out of the box would be a good rule to live by.  The Caps are 9-4-0 when facing four or fewer shorthanded situations, 2-5-1 when facing five or more such situations.

3.  Only Calgary and Pittsburgh have allowed more power play goals this season (20 apiece) than the Caps (19).

4.  The Caps have nine losses this season when allowing the game’s first goal, tied with Edmonton for most in the league.  Part of the problem there is allowing the first goal 14 times in 21 games.

5.  The Caps are tied for third in the league in one-goal wins (6) but tied for third-worst in losses by three or more goals (5).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Calgary: Troy Brouwer

The former Capital is struggling to put puck in the net these days.  In fact, struggling might be too weak a term.  In 19 games, having recorded 32 shots on goal, Brouwer has yet to find the back of the net.  He has been a player of diminishing returns in terms of goal scoring in recent years.  Since posting a career-best 25 goals with the Caps in 82 games of the 2013-2014 season, his goal totals have been 21, 18, and 13, before his current year struggles.  It has started to affect his ice time.  When he skated 15:11 in Calgary’s last contest, a 5-4 overtime win over Philadelphia on Saturday, it was the first time he logged more than 13 minutes in seven games.  Three of the four instances in which Brouwer recorded fewer than 12 minutes this season have come in November.  In seven career games against the Caps, Brouwer is 1-0-1, minus-4.

Washington: John Carlson

No defenseman in the league has more points or power play points than does John Carlson in November (through Saturday’s games).  Carlson is the only defenseman in the league with ten points for the month (2-8-10), and his six power play points (1-5-6) tops the league as well.  He is one of four defensemen this month to record an overtime goal.  Overall, he ranks second in the league in ice time per game (27:00), and the heavy workload does not seem to bother him, at least in terms of the team’s wins and losses.  In 13 games in which he skated more than 27 minutes, the Caps are 9-4-0, and he is 2-8-10.  The odd part of his production is that he has points in six of the eight games in which he skated less than 27 minutes (0-7-7), but the Caps are just 2-5-1 in those games.  Carlson has an odd statistical quirk in his career splits.  He is a plus-55 in 397 career games against teams in the Eastern Conference, but he is a minus-4 in 150 career games against teams in the West.  He is 0-2-2, minus-2, in 12 career games against the Flames.

In the end…

In the previous meeting of these teams this season, the Caps were frustrated into scoring just one goal in what was the last of their three-game road trip through western Canada and a loss in what is a frustrating season for backup goalie Philipp Grubauer.  The skate is on the other foot for this game, the Flames coming to Washington for the third of six-game road trip and third of four straight against Eastern Conference opponents.

Meanwhile the Caps are looking to extend their five-game home winning streak using basic ingredients – defense and goaltending.  Over their five-game streak they have held opponents to a total of eight goals, the last three to a single goal apiece.  It sounds like a recipe for success.

Capitals 3 – Flames 1

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 7

Week 7 was a lesson in the kinds of games the Washington Capitals need to play to win and the kinds of games that can ruin their season. In the first and last games they played opponents close, were opportunistic on offense, and got fine goaltending.  Both ended in wins.  In the middle games of the week, the Caps were done in with speed and their own sluggish starts, fell into multiple-goal deficits in the first period, got less inspired goaltending, and lost without putting up much of a fight.

Record: 2-2-0

The best that could be said about Week 7, record-wise, is that it was the fourth straight non-losing week for the Capitals.  The next best thing is that the Caps won both home games, extending their home winning streak to five games after dropping three of their first four home games this season.  It might not seem like a lot, but after the franchise record 15-game home winning streak the Caps had to start the 2017 portion of last season, a four-game streak was their longest on home ice.

On the disappointing side, the Caps played four teams out of the Western Conference in Week 7, three of which were out of the playoff eligibility group.  Washington eked out a 2-1 Gimmick win against the Edmonton Oilers and held off a tough Minnesota Wild team playing their backup goaltender in a 3-1 win.  But the Caps were run over by the Colorado Avalanche in Denver, a surprise even if the Avalanche were a far better team on home ice (6-1-1 at week’s end) than on the road (3-7-0).  And when the Caps had a benchmark game, against the Nashville Predators (fourth-best record in the West at week’s end), the Caps came up short…very short, in a 6-3 loss.

Offense: 2.25 /game (season: 2.81 /game, 22nd)

The Caps had a double-whammy – well, “whammy” might not be the right term here – against them on offense in Week 7.  They managed only nine goals in four games, and only five of those came at even strength.  On top of that, seven of the nine goals were recorded by only three players: T.J. Oshie (3), Dmitry Orlov (2), and Evgeny Kuznetsov (2).  Missing on the goal register was Alex Ovechkin, who has been in a bit of a slump.  He has just three goals in his last 13 games and had his current streak without a goal extended to five games by the end of Week 7.  Nicklas Backstrom also had a goalless week, his streak without one reaching 14 games.  Backstrom finished the week having yet to score a goal on home ice this season.

The Caps did get points from 12 skaters in Week 7, led by Oshie (3-2-5).  Kuznetsov had four (2-2-4), as did John Carlson (0-4-4), who led the team in assists.

Defense: 3.50 /game (season: 3.14 /game, 21st)

By the standards of this season, holding four opponents to a total of 120 shots (30.0 per game) was not a bad week.  It brought down their season average to 32.5 shots per game (20th in the league).  What might have stood out most in Week 7 was that the Caps improved on shot attempts allowed over all four games.  They allowed Edmonton 64 attempts, 58 for Nashville, 54 for Colorado, and 52 to the Wild.  That might be something of a mirage, though.  On the other hand, Nashville lit the Caps up for 18 shots (two goals) in the first period of their 6-3 win over the Caps, and Colorado had two goals on ten shots in the first period of the Caps’ 6-2 loss to the Avalanche.

Goaltending: 3.43 / .883 (season: 2.98 / .907)

Uneven would be one way to describe the week in goaltending for the Caps.  One could say that against the speed and depth of Nashville, and the speed and skill of Colorado, that Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer were left on a deserted island too often to make saves, but it wasn’t a good week for the netminding tandem, either.

This is the same tandem that finished last season with a combined goals against average of 2.06 and a combined save percentage of .925.  With numbers in Week 7 that were among the worst they put up this season, their combined GAA is up almost an entire goal per game than that with which they finished last season, and their combined save percentage is almost 20 points lower.

It was a generally poor week for both Holtby and Grubauer.As a pair their save percentage was under .900 in each of the three regulation periods for the week.  Holtby fared a bit better individually with a .914 save percentage in the first period of games and a .955 save percentage in the third periods of the two games in which he played a third period (he was pulled after 40 minutes in the loss to Nashville). Holtby had an off night against Nashville (six goals allowed on 25 shots), but he came back against Minnesota to finish the week, stopping 30 of 31 shots, giving him a 7-1-0, 2.31, .928 record over his last eight appearances.

For Grubauer, the week was another in a difficult start to the season for him.  He was under .900 in each of the combined three periods for the week and was .824 in save percentage overall (28 saves on 34 shots).  He finished the week with a 3.86 GAA for the season (47th of 49 goalies with at least 250 minutes in ice time) and a .876 save percentage (47th) to go with an 0-5-1 record in eight appearances.

Power Play: 4-for-16 / 25.0 percent (season: 20.8 percent / 12th)

The Caps were shut out on the power play to open the week, but they recorded power play goals in each of their last three games in their best week since Week 2 (33.3 percent).  The week built on the success of Week 6 (3-for-13) to give the Caps a 24.1 percent power play (7-for-29) over the last two weeks.

The scoring was divided evenly between T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov, who had a pair of power play goals apiece in Week 7.  What they did not get was a power play goal from Alex Ovechkin, who went 0-for-7 shooting (leading the team in power play shots on goal).  He has gone six straight games without a power play goal and has just one in his last 13 games.

As a team, the Caps were efficient to a point, putting 24 shots on goal in 23:47 of power play ice time.  They were better late in the week (18 shots in 16:11 in the two games against Colorado and Minnesota) than they were early in the week (six shots in 7:36 against Edmonton and Nashville).

Penalty Killing: 11-for-15 / 73.3 percent (season: 77.6 percent / 25th)

The penalty killing is falling into a disturbing pattern for the Caps.  If they aren’t perfect (Weeks 1 and 6), they are bad (below 80 percent in the other five weeks).  Week 7 qualifies in the latter category.  And it might have been worse but for the fact that in the opening game of the week, the Edmonton Oilers did not have a single power play (the best penalty killing being the penalty you don’t have to kill).

As it was, the shots per minute were not bad (18 shots in 23:20 of shorthanded ice time), but allowing four goals on 18 shots (.778 save percentage) is an item in need of improvement.  Here is a disturbing fact about the penalty killers.  The 77.6 percent penalty kill is, at the moment, the worst number for the Caps since the 2004-2005 lockout.  It is the worst for the Caps since the 1994-1995 lockout that shortened that season, in fact.  It is the worst since the 1984-1985 season (77.1 percent; numbers form NHL.com).

Faceoffs: 130-for-252 / 51.6 percent (season: 51.3 percent / 12th)

The Caps had a decent week in the circle, finishing over 50 percent.  It was not quite as good as it looked, though, as the Caps were most dominant in the neutral zone (46-for-84/54.8 percent).  They did finish over 50 percent in the offensive zone (51-for-96/53.1 percent), but they were underwater in the defensive zone 33-for-72/45.8 percent).

In the “faceoff don’t matter” category, the Caps had their best game, in total (64.2 percent) and in each zone (offensive: 63.2 percent; defensive: 61.9 percent; neutral: 66.7 percent) against Colorado in a game they lost by four goals.  It happened to be the only game they “won” for the week, splitting 60 draws with Minnesota and under 50 percent against Edmonton and Nashville.

Individually, it was an odd week, Evgeny Kuznetsov winning 60 percent of his faceoffs and Jay Beagle with an uncharacteristic 47.2 percent wins.  T.J. Oshie (11-for-18/61.1 percent) and Nicklas Backstrom (34-for-60/56.7 percent) were on the good side of 50 percent, while Lars Eller was the fifth Cap with ten or more draws, but won just 42.6 percent of those faceoffs.

Goals by Period:

First periods killed the Caps in Week 7, the team getting out-scored by a 5-2 margin.  They allowed first period goals in three of the four games, allowing two first period scores in each of the two losses.  Those five goals allowed in the first period of the games of Week 7 make up more than 25 percent of the total they allowed in the opening 20 minutes this season (19).  They just about held their own in the last 40 minutes, in the aggregate, but falling behind was too much of a hole to dig out of to make this a successful week.  Those first period goals allowed left the Caps with a negative goal differently in all three regulation periods for the season.  And at the end of it, only two teams – Edmonton (6) and Montreal (8) – have more losses by three or more goals than the Caps.

In the end…

Week 7 showed the Caps at their best and at their worst, at least within the confines of this season.  A one-goal/Gimmick win and another win that was a one-goal game 57 minutes into the contest.  They have as many or more one-goal wins (6) than all but two teams – Pittsburgh (8) and Tampa Bay (7).  But they had two losses by three or more goals that left them with that disturbing ranking in such losses.  Having hit the 20-game mark, it is becoming clear that this team, until such time that the young guys become more consistent contributors and until they are fully healthy again, is going to be successful in 2-1 and 3-2 games.  In 5-2 games and 6-3 games, chances are they will be on the wrong side of those scores.

But now, the focus switches not to margin, but venue.  The win over the Wild to end the week was the Caps’ fifth straight at home and was the first game in a stretch in which the Caps play nine of ten games on home ice.  There is no more important stretch of the season so far, and perhaps none that will come later, than this ten-game stretch on which the Caps just embarked.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: T. J. Oshie (3-2-5, even, 7 shots on goal, 12 shot attempts, 14 hits, 61.1 percent faceoff wins, game-deciding Gimmick goal)
  • Second Star: Evgeny Kuznetsov (2-2-4 (all points on power play), minus-1, 14 shots on goal, 18 shot attempts, 60.0 percent faceoff wins)
  • Third Star: Dmitry Orlov (2-0-2, plus-1, 10 shots on goal, 17 shot attempts, game-winning goal, 24:23 in average ice time)

Saturday, November 18, 2017

A TWO-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 21: Capitals 3 - Wild 1

The Washington Capitals broke a two-game losing streak by doing what they have struggled doing this season – getting ahead of their opponent early – scoring first and last on their way to a 3-1 in over the Minnesota Wild at Capital One Arena.

First Period

After a quiet start to the game, the Capitals and Wild exchanged power play goals less than three minutes apart mid-way through the first period.  The Caps opened the scoring on a man advantage when Nicklas Backstrom took a pass from John Carlson and fed Evgeny Kuznetsov at the goal line.  Kuznetsov slid the puck to T.J. Oshie at the hash marks at the edge of the right wing circle, and Oshie one-timed it past goalie Alex Stalock.9:42 into the period to give the Caps a 1-0 lead.

Nino Niederreiter evened things up when he patiently waited for the puck to come to him off a scramble in front of goalie Braden Holtby and fired into the open side of the net to Holtby’s right to make it a 1-1 game at the 12:02 mark.

Less than a minute later the Caps had the lead back. From his knees, Oshie fed the puck from the left wing faceoff circle to Matt Niskanen at the left point.  Niskanen moved the puck across to Dmitry Orlov, who one-timed the pass off the near post and behind Stalock at the 12:46 mark to make it a 2-1 game, a lead the Caps took to the first intermission.

Minnesota had a 19-17 edge in shot attempts, but the Caps had a 13-12 edge in shots on goal over the first 20 minutes.

Second Period

Two minutes into the period the Caps had a glorious chance to add to their lead, Chandler Stephenson getting an edge on the Wild defense as he was circling to the net.  He fed the puck back to Backstrom trailing on the play, and Backstrom, from the left wing circle fired at what looked like an open net.  However, defenseman Jonas Brodin got his right foot out and blocked the shot away to foil the chance.

The Caps got a scare nine minutes into the period when an attempt pass from Chris Stewart rode up the stick of Alex Ovechkin and struck him in the face.  He went off under his own power, but bleeding quite a bit. 

There would be no scoring, though, and the Caps took their 2-1 lead to the second intermission.  Minnesota had a 9-8 edge in shots on goal and a 17-14 edge in shot attempts.

Third Period

The teams went back and forth with nothing to show for it over the first 15 minutes of the period.  Then, the Caps had a chance to extend their lead when Chandler Stephenson broke in around the Wild defense and was tripped, leading to a penalty shot.  However, his attempt to sneak one under the right pad of Stalock was stopped, and the teams played on.

The Caps finally broke through on the front-end of a four-minute power play, courtesy of a double-minor penalty taken by Ryan Suter for high-sticking.  Alex Ovechkin took a pass from Nicklas Backstrom at the top of the left wing circle, stepped up, and instead of shooting, passed to Evgeny Kuznetsov camped at the top of the paint.  Kuznetsov corralled the unruly puck and nudged it past Stalock to give the Caps a 3-1 lead at the 17:23 mark.  The Caps could not convert on the back half of the extended power play, but they had what they needed for the 3-1 win.

Other stuff…

-- T.J. Oshie got his tenth goal of the season in this contest, Game 21 of the season.  Last year, when he finished the season with 33 goals, he got his tenth goal in Game 22.

-- Oshie had two points (goal, assist), giving him 32 multi-point games as a Capital, breaking a tie with Dave Christian for 33rd place on the Caps’ all-time list and tying him with Ulf Dahlen for 32nd place.

-- Evgeny Kuznetsov also had a goal and an assist for his 47th career multi-point game as a Capital, breaking a tie with Jeff Halpern for 23rd place in team history.

-- The Caps finished the game with 43 shots on goal, a team high for the season, and the first time in four games with 40 or more shots that they won in regulation (they had two overtime wins).

-- For those asking the hockey gods to put the spirit of shooting more in Kuznetsov’s stick, he had seven shots on goal to lead the team.

-- The Caps did allow a power play goal, the third game in a row they did so.  That makes three times this season that the Caps have allowed teams power play goals in three or more consecutive games.

-- This was just the seventh time in 21 games that the Caps scored first in a game.  They are now 6-0-1 in such games.

-- Brooks Orpik was a real thumper in this game, credited with eight of the Caps’ 29 hits.  Taylor Chorney had four blocked shots to lead both teams.

-- John Carlson skated 24:55 in this game.  With the 24:53 he skated against the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday night, that give him consecutive games with less than 25 minutes in ice time for the first time this season and, in fact, only his third game all season under 25 minutes.

-- Braden Holtby shook off a poor performance against the Nashvill Predators to stop 30 of 31 shots.  Even with that off night against the Preds, Holtby is 7-1-0, 2.31, .928 in his last eight appearances.

In the end…

This was one of those games in which the losing team might say, “if it wasn’t for (insert name of goalie here), it could have been six or seven goals for the other guys.”  The Caps pressed all night with perhaps their most impressive night of the season in applying persistent pressure over three periods.  Alex Stalock was superb in goal for the Wild, who might have seen the competitive portion of the game end far sooner than it did but for his efforts.  He kept the Wild in it late into a third period that saw the Caps pour 22 shots on goal to the Minnesota net.

For all the eyeball and empirical analysis, hockey breaks down pretty simply.  If you score first, chances are you win.  It is something the Caps have not done enough of this season, but tonight it was a solid start that set the table for a solid three course meal of basic hockey.  It wasn’t fancy, but it was tasty and satisfying.  Keep this dish on the menu.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 20: Capitals at Avalanche, November 16th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Hoping the stink of their 6-3 loss to the Nashville Predators on Tuesday night does not follow them to Denver, the Washington Capitals visit the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday night, trying to get back on a winning path after having their modest two-game winning streak snapped.

The Avs will be trying to end a three-game losing streak of their own, dropping a 6-4 decision to the New York Islanders in Brooklyn before losing a home-and-home set to the Ottawa Senators (the first loss coming in overtime).

What Colorado has been is aces on home ice. They have a 5-1-1 record at Pepsi Center, outscoring opponents by a 31-21 margin, all of their wins by multi-goal margins, and both losses by one goal.

Mikko Rantanen leads the Avalanche in home scoring this season (3-6-9) and is coming off a solid year last season, his first full season in the league, in which he was 20-18-38 overall in 75 games. Rantanen also leads the team overall in power play points this season (eight) and is third among forwards in average ice time (8:07). He has been a consistent performer this season, going without a point in consecutive games just once and without a point on home ice in just one of seven games so far (in a 5-3 win over Dallas on October 24th). Rantanen has one goal in his only career appearance against the Caps, that in a 5-3 loss to Washington last March 29th.

Alexander Kerfoot leads Colorado in goals scored (seven), and it can be considered a surprise on several levels. First, Kerfoot was a fifth-round draft pick of the New Jersey Devils (2012) out of the Coquitlam Express, a junior “A” team out of British Columbia. He chose to join the hockey program at Harvard University, where he spent four years and went 36-87-123 in 121 games, serving as team captain and appearing in the Frozen Four in his senior season. At that point, he declined to sign an offer from the Devils and became a free agent, signing a two-year deal with Colorado last August.   He is one of seven rookie skaters to dress for the Avalanche this season, the only one to do so for all 16 games. But he has those seven goals while averaging only 13:11 in ice time per game. Compare that to the more celebrated Clayton Keller, who leads all NHL rookies in goals, but has averaged almost 20 minutes of ice time per night and has appeared in four more games. The key is his shooting percentage that, at 35.0 percent, leads the league among rookies with more than ten shots recorded. This will be his first appearance against the Caps.

Semyon Varlamov has been “the little girl with the curl” in goal this season. When he has been good, he has been very good (five appearances with a save percentage of .919 or better, going 5-1-0, 2.01, .950, with one shutout in those five games. But when he was bad…woof. Five other games with a save percentage under .900, going 2-2-1, 4.31, .850. That feast or famine pattern extends to his home performance where he has a pair of games with a save percentage of .919 or higher and a pair of .875 or lower. He has been more fortunate on home ice, though, where he has not yet lost in regulation time this season (3-0-1). If Varlamov gets the call against the Caps, it will be his 300th career appearance with the Avalanche, second in franchise history behind Patrick Roy (478). In five career appearances against the team that originally drafted him, Varlamov is 2-3-0, 2.03, .950.

1.  Colorado has a fine record at home (5-1-1), but they are tied for the fewest wins on the road in the Central Division (three, with Dallas).

2.  The Avalanche have dressed 25 skaters this season, and 23 of them have recorded points. Only Anton Lindholm (in nine games) and Gabriel Bourque (in six games) have yet to put a crooked number in the points column.

3.  Outshooting opponents is rare for the Avalanche (six times in 16 games), rarer still when the win such games. With two wins when outshooting opponents, only three teams have fewer wins – Arizona (1), New York Islanders (1), and Minnesota Wild (0).

4.  No team has fewer one-goal decisions than the Avalanche (four), games in which they have a 1-2-1 record.

5.  If you are going to get the Avalanche, maybe it will be in the period with the long change. Colorado has allowed 26 goals in the second periods of games this season, second-most in the league (Florida: 29). They have allowed a total of 28 in the first and third periods of games.

1.  Those six goals allowed by the Caps against Nashville was the third time in their last eight road games that they allowed six or more goals, although this was the first time in their last five road games that they allowed more than three goals).

2.  Washington is third in the league in total penalties taken (90), behind Nashville (104) and Pittsburgh (101).

3.  No team has been scored on first more often than the Caps. They have been victimized 13 times in 19 games (a 5-8-0 record in those games). Montreal also has been scored upon first 13 times in 19 games (5-7-1).

4.  It says a lot about Alex Ovechkin’s start to the season that he is still second in goals scored (13, behind only Nikita Kucherov with 16), but after scoring seven goals in his first two games and nine in his first five contests, he has only four in his last 14 games. He is without one in his last three games.

5.  Tom Wilson has 55 penalty minutes. The next three Capitals in that category (Brooks Orpik, Lars Eller, and Andre Burakovsky) have a combined total of 53 minutes.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Colorado: Nathan MacKinnon

It just seems that Nathan MacKinnon has been with the Colorado Avalanche forever. He is second on the active Avalanche roster among forwards in games played for the franchise (316, trailing only Gabriel Landeskog with 444). The first overall pick in what was a decent 2013 draft class (Jonathan Drouin, Seth Jones, Darnell Nurse, and Rasmus Ristolainen, among others, in the top ten picks), MacKinnon has never quite seemed to break through to the “elite” category expected of number one overall picks. He is second in that draft class in career goals scored (80, behind Sean Monahan’s 115) and second in points (221, behind Monahan’s 233). On his own team he is third in goals scored over the five years of his career (Matt Duchene had 96; Gabriel Landeskog has 92), and he is tied with Landeskog in points (221, both trailing Duchene with 235). This season might be one for him to break through, averaging almost a point a game (0.94) after never averaging more than 0.77 points per game in any of his previous four seasons (that high was in his rookie season in 2013-2014). MacKinnon has been putting up points on home ice of late, going 3-3-6 in his last three contests on Pepsi Center ice. He is 3-4-7, plus-2, in seven career games against Washington.

Washington:  Chandler Stephenson

Who leads the Capitals forwards in points per 60 minutes?  Who leads them in plus-minus?  In on-ice PDO?   In primary assists per 60 minutes?  If you said Chandler Stephenson, give yourself a pat on the back (numbers from Corsica.hockey).  Stephenson might be the early season’s most pleasant surprise.  His ascent to this level has been slow and sure.   Drafted in the third round in 2012, he spent the next two seasons with the Regina Pats of the WHL (four years with the Pats overall),  parts of four seasons with the Hershey Bears, and now in his third season with the Caps, some of those stops overlapping along the way.  He has been a bit of a good luck charm, the Caps going 6-4-0 in his ten appearances to date.  And, his home-road scoring has been balanced: 1-2-3, plus-3 in six road games; 1-2-3, plus-3, in four home games.  In all, he is second in total points among the six rookies to have dressed for the Caps, one point behind Jakub Vrana despite having played nine fewer games.  This will be his first career appearance against Colorado.

In the end…

Strange as it is to say, from a big picture standpoint these might be two teams headed in different directions. Washington, after winning consecutive Presidents Trophies, has taken a step back so far this season and might have a struggle to make the postseason. On the other hand, Colorado has delt with a lot of misfortune in recent years, making the playoff once in the last seven seasons and not winning a playoff series since 2009-2010. But they have improved, and while few outside Colorado (and perhaps few inside Colorado) would think of them as a contender, the progress is a good sign.

The differences between these teams extends to style as well. The Avalanche are one of that next generation of NHL teams that got younger, faster, quicker. The Caps are, if one wants to be charitable about it, in transition from a more veteran, positional team without a lot of foot speed to one that is trying to catch up – literally and figuratively – with this next generation. It will make for an interesting contrast as the Caps wrap up their two-game road trip, one that might hinge on whether the Caps can impose their will, to bend the pace of the game to their liking.

Capitals 4 – Avalanche 3

Monday, November 13, 2017

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 19: Capitals at Predators, November 14th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Fresh of a sweep of their first “home stand” of the season – ok, two games – the Washington Capitals head back out on the road for a two-game roadie beginning with a visit to Bridgestone Arena and the Nashville Predators.

The Caps head out on their road trip having buttoned things up nicely since suffering a 6-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks on October 26th. In eight games since then, the Caps have allowed to total of 16 goals and have allowed as many as three just twice.

They will need that defense against the Preds, who come into this game having scored 17 goals in their last four games, all of them wins to jump into third place in the Central Division. The scoring load over that four-game winning streak has a distinct Nordic quality. Viktor Arvidsson, a native of Skellefteå, Sweden, is tied for the club lead in goals in that span (three, with P.K. Subban) and leads in total scoring over those four games (3-2-5). It is no fluke, either. Arvidsson, in his second full season with the Predators last year, recorded 31 goals last season, tying him for the team lead with Filip Forsberg. His three goals in the Predators’ last four games has lifted him into second place on the club in goal scoring (six), behind Forsberg (eight), and two of the three goals he has in this run were game-winners. The odd thing about Arvidsson’s scoring line this season (6-4-10 overall) is that he gets points when he scores goals. He has just one game this season in which he recorded a point without it being a goal among them (an assist in Nashville’s 5-4 Gimmick win over Pittsburgh last Saturday). Arvidsson is 2-1-3, minus-1, in five career games against Washington.

Calle Jarnkrok is tied for second in points for the Preds in their four-game winning streak (2-2-4). The native of Gävle, Sweden, is in his fourth full season with Nashville and has demonstrated over the past two seasons his potential to be a dependable mid-teens goal scorer (he had 16 goals in 181 games two years ago and 15 in 81 games last year). His recent surge in points comes after a lengthy dry spell, one in which he opened the season with an assist in a 4-3 loss to the Boston Bruins, and then went his next eight games without a point. Jarnkrok is 3-3-6, plus-6, in his last seven games. The thing with Jarkrok is that more Jarnkrok seems to equal more success. Nashville is 6-1-2 in games in which he skated more than 15:30, 3-4-0 in games in which he skated less. He is 0-2-2, plus-1, in seven career games against the Caps.

Miikka Salomaki completes the Nordic trio at the top of the Predator scoring list over their four-game winning streak. The Raahe, Finland, native has hadan up and down existence with Nashville over his four-year NHL career. He had a one-game stint in 2014-2015 (he scored a goal in what was his NHL debut), followed up by a formal rookie season in which he was 5-5-10, minus-1, in 61 games. Last season his development was cut short as he missed all but five games to a hand injury. He started slowly this season, going without a point in his first nine games. However, he is 1-3-4, plus-2, in his last three games. Salomaki is without a point in two career appearances against the Capitals.

1.  Nashville is dead last in the league in first period scoring with eight goals in 16 first periods so far. Not that they give up a lot, though. Only the St. Louis Blues (nine, through Sunday’s games) have allowed fewer than the Predators (10). If you’re late to a Predators game, chances are you haven’t missed much.

2.  Nashville is one of five teams in the league who have yet to lose a game in regulation when scoring first (5-0-2). Washington is another (5-0-1).

3.  Only three teams have spent more time killing penalties than the Predators (117:53). New Jersey (120:45) and Anaheim (128:11) are ahead of the Preds.

4.  If you score on Nashville at 5-on-5, keep the puck. Only four teams have fewer 5-on-5 goals allowed than the Predators (27) – San Jose (25), Calgary (25), Philadelphia (24), and Vancouver (22).

5.  Nashville has quite a disparity in their home and road penalty kill, and not in the way you might assume.  On the road, the Predators have killed 47 of 52 shorthanded situations (90.4 percent), while at home they are just 18-for-25 (72.0 percent).

1.  The Caps have alternated wins and losses on the road since the start of the season (5-4-1). If the pattern holds, they will beat Nashville, having lost a 3-1 decision to the Buffalo Sabres in their last road contest.

2.  The Caps have tightened up in road games since the start of the season. In their first six road games, the Caps allowed 27 goals (4.50 per game). In their last four road contests they allowed just nine goals
(2.25 per game).

3.  The Caps have a 5-1-0 record in November, and the success might be a product of balance. Four players have two or more goals, Alex Ovechkin leading with three. Eleven players have at least one goal over the six contests. Six different Caps have four or more points, Lars Eller and John Carlson leading with six points apiece. Sixteen different skaters have points overall.

4.  In ten wins this season, seven different Caps have game-winning goals; T.J. Oshie the only one with two. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov have the Caps’ two game-deciding goals in the freestyle competition.

5.  John Carlson is one of 13 defensemen in the NHL to have been on ice for more than 20 goals scored by the Caps and more than 20 goals allowed (through Sunday’s games). The list includes Erik Karlsson, Aaron Ekblad, Kris Letang, and P.K. Subban, among others, so it’s not a list of stiffs.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Nashville: Pekka Rinne

Back to the Nordic theme. If Pekka Rinne gets the call against the Caps in goal for the Predators, he will do no worse than keep pace with Carey Price in a tie for seventh place among active goaltenders in games played (both currently have 520, and both of their teams play on Tuesday night). Rinne holds the seventh spot to himself in wins among active goalies (277), more than 100 more wins than the second-place winningest goalie in Nashville history, Tomas Vokoun (161). Rinne, a three-time Vezina Trophy finalist (never a winner), most recently in 2014-2015, has had an up and down career with the Preds, at least insofar as his save percentage is concerned. In ten full seasons with Nashville, including this one, that save percentage ranged from .902 on the low end (in 24 games of the 2013-2014 season, cut short due to hip surgery) to .930 on the high end (in 64 games of the 2010-2011 season).

This season appears, at least in the first quarter of it, to be one of his “up” years. His .929 save percentage to date would be, if sustained over the entire season, his second highest career mark for a full season. But even in the context of this season there has been a bit of that up and down quality. In his first two games he had a combined save percentage of .869, splitting a pair of decisions. Then, Rinne went on a 4-0-2 run in which his save percentage was .963 and included his only shutout so far this season. In his last four game, that save percentage is .906, but it includes a 19 save on 23 shots performance in a loss to St. Louis and a 26 saves on 30 shots performance in a win over Pittsburgh. Those games bookend a pair of performances over which he stopped 70 of 74 shots (.946) in wins over Anaheim and Columbus. Rinne is 3-1-0, 2.25, .920 in four career appearances against Washington.

Washington: Nicklas Backstrom

Among active Capitals, Nicklas Backstrom is the active leader in career points against the Nashville Predators (4-11-15 in 15 games).  In that respect, this opponent might be just the tonic Backstrom needs to shake off the cloak of a slump that has him with just one point (an assist) in his last nine games.  Backstrom has been especially unlucky – or just plain dry – scoring goals.  He is 11 games without a goal since he had one in the 8-2 pasting the Caps took from the Philadelphia Flyers on October 14th.  Over those 11 games he is 0-for-21.  He is still doing the little things, though.  He has at least one blocked shot in nine of those 11 games and is 52.6 percent in faceoffs.  Nevertheless, the Caps would like to get Backstrom going, seeing as how they are 4-2-1 in the seven games in which he registered a point.

In the end…

This will be a good opportunity for the Caps to take stock of where they are. They have improved lately, but they have not really dominated games with any regularity. They will be visiting a city in which their success has been uneven (5-6-1 with one tie, all-time). What they might improve upon is getting off on the right foot against opponents early, a challenge against a team like Nashville that plays the early parts of games so close to the vest. This is one of those games – w weeknight game on the road against a team that is neither a natural rival nor one they see often – that can cause the Caps to trip after some recent success. It is the sort of game they pushed through to wins over the past few years on the basis of depth and skill. This year, they will have to find motivation and will in greater supply in games such as this.

Capitals 3 – Predators 2

Sunday, November 12, 2017

A TWO-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 18: Capitals 2 - Oilers 1 OT/Gimmick

The Washington Capitals closed their two-game home stand on Sunday night with a surprisingly low-scoring 2-1 Gimmick win over the Edmonton Oilers.  It was a game that featured little scoring on both sides, but it was one that the Caps can be thankful for winning, for it was the Oilers driving play for much of the last half of the game.

First Period

The Caps had the benefit of two power plays in the first ten minutes but did nothing with either of them.  Despite the four minutes with a man advantage, the Caps took a 7-5 advantage in shots on goal to the first intermission, while the teams were tied in shot attempts at 13 apiece.  There were a couple of coincidental penalty instances late in the period involving the same players.  Tom Wilson and Patrick Maroon went off on coincidental roughing minors with 2:06 left in the period, and immediately upon exiting the penalty box at the end of their respective sentences, upped the ante and took coincidental fighting majors at the end of the period.

Second Period

What the second period lacked in scoring, and it was completely lacking in scoring, was made up for by the stellar play of Braden Holtby in goal for the Caps, especially late in the period.  He stopped all 13 shots he faced, seven of them in a 2:23 span as the period was winding down.  The Oilers out-shot the Caps, 13-7, for the period and out-attempted them, 25-12.

Third Period

Edmonton broke the ice 1:32 into the period when Jujhar Khaira dug a puck loose at the top of the crease and slipped it under the pad of Holtby.

Dmitry Orlov evened things up less than four minutes later when we worked a give-and-go with Tom Wilson, taking Wilson’s slick backhand feed from the left wing wall, stepping up, and snapping a shot over the glove of goalie Laurent Brossoit.

That would do it for the scoring though, Edmonton dominating the shots (29-19) and shot attempts (58-33) in regulation.

Extra Time

The five-minute overtime was entertaining, if you like games of keep-away, the Oilers recording the only shot on goal, pushing the contest to the trick-shot competition.  In the freestyle phase, T.J. Oshie got the only goal, that in the first round, and Holtby shut the door on three attempts by the Oilers at the other end to seal the 2-1 win.

Other stuff…

-- Interesting stat… no Edmonton forward averaged as much as 50 seconds a shift in the first period.  Six Caps forwards averaged at least 50 seconds per shift: Alex Ovechkin (0:57), Jakub Vrana (1:00), Nicklas Backstrom (0:53), Lars Eller (0:50), T.J. Oshie (0:52), and Evgeny Kuznetsov (0:51).  Chalk that up to power plays for the most part.

-- Alex Ovechkin did not have a shot on goal in the hockey portion of the contest (eight attempts – six blocked, two misses).

-- This was the Caps’ first trick shot competition since Opening Night, when they defeated the Ottawa Senators, 5-4. 

-- Jay Beagle had an uncharacteristically off night in the circle, winning just five of 15 draws (33.3 percent).

-- Braden Holtby stopped 29 of 30 shots and lifted his record over his last six appearances to 6-0-0, 1.79, .944.

-- Five Capitals did not have a shot attempt in this game: Nicklas Backstrom, Taylor Chorney, Brett Connolly, Chandler Stephenson, and Jay Beagle.

-- As many Capitals were credited with hits (13) as with shot attempts (13).  T.J. Oshie led the club with five credited hits.

-- John Carlson continues to pile up minutes.  He led the club with 29:03 in total ice time.  He had more even strength ice time (26:44) than any Capital had in total.

-- Brooks Orpik gets the coarse-grit sandpaper award for this one…four hits, four blocked shots.

-- The Caps are now just a tie-breaker behind Columbus for second in the Metropolitan Division and three points behind the New Jersey Devils for the top spot.

In the end…

To say, “it wasn’t pretty,” does not do this game justice.  With some of the most prolific offensive talent in the league, these two teams managed just one goal apiece and just one shot between them in overtime (that by Edmonton).  But standings points are not awarded on the basis of style, and two ugly points spend as well as two handsome ones.  If the Caps go into the last game of the season clinging to the last playoff spot by a thread instead of on the outside needing help to get into the postseason, fans might look back on this game as beautifully ugly.

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 6

Two straight weeks of taking two of three games in a week last season might have been taken by some Washington Capitals fans as a bit of a disappointment.  This season, it is progress.  It says a lot of the differences between that team as this one, but it is progress, and that is the theme that underlies this season for the Caps on a week-to-week basis.

Record: 2-1-1

The Caps put together a winning week for the second week in a row, the first time this season that they posted consecutive winning weeks.  And, the week included a convincing 4-1 win over the hated Pittsburgh Penguins in what might have been the most complete Caps effort on home ice this season.  However, it was not what one would call a convincing week.  The Penguin game might have been the outlier, as the Caps struggled to subdue the woeful Arizona Coyotes in overtime, 3-2, and that after spotting the Coyotes a 2-0 lead less than seven minutes into the game.  The Caps followed that game up with a 3-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres in what might have been their most somnambulistic effort of the season, even if it did feature a bout of fisticuffs.  But ending the week on a high note with a win over the Penguins never gets old or cliché.

Offense: 2.67 /game (season: 2.94 /game, T-13th)

The Caps recorded eight goals in three games for the second straight week, and it was worse than it looked.  That Washington managed just three goals in two games against the teams – Arizona and Buffalo – that finished the week ranked 31st and 28th in scoring defense, respectively, has to be something of a disappointment.  Not that the Penguins are any better, finishing the week 29th in scoring defense, but the Caps did score three on them with the benefit of a goalie in net.

Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson each had a pair of goals to account for half of the goals scored in Week 6.  Carlson’s goals were especially timely, the first of them being the overtime game-winner against the Coyotes to open the week, the second of them giving the Caps an early lead they would not surrender to the Penguins to close the week.  Carlson led the team in points for the week (2-2-4), while Evgeny Kuznetsov led the team in assists with three. Carlson’s four points and Lars Eller’s two (both assists) put them in double digits in points for the season, the fifth and sixth Caps to hit that mark.

Defense: 2.00 /game (season: 3.06 /game, T-19th)

After allowing 111 shots on goal in three games in Week 5, the Caps cut that total to 86 shots on goal in three games in Week 6.  Progress.  Yes, the Caps did it against three teams that finished in the bottom ten in scoring offense for the week (Pittsburgh: 24th; Buffalo: 30th; Arizona: 31st), but you can only play the opponents on the schedule, and the Caps did a good job of holding down the chances with that group.

It was part of a broader improvement in shot suppression for the Caps, who finished 11th in the league in shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 (52.07; numbers from NHL.com).  It might seem modest, but for a team that finished Week 6 in 22nd place in that statistic (48.35 percent), it was improvement indeed.

On an individual basis, the five goals scored against the Caps with a goaltender in net were fairly clustered among a few who were on ice for the misfortuen.  Lars Eller and Madison Bowey were on ice for four of those five goals scored; Jakub Vrana, Brooks Orpik, and John Carlson were on ice for three apiece.

Goaltending: 1.64 / .941 (season: 2.87 / .912)

The Caps had two portions of good and another of unlucky at the goaltending position in Week 6.  Braden Holtby started and ended the week with wins, his fourth and fifth wins in a row after going 4-3-0 in his first seven appearances.  He had a save percentage for the week of .944, lifting his save percentage over his five-game personal winning streak to .939, quite an improvement over his .913 in his 4-3-0 start to the season.  Holtby reached the 200-win mark in his career in his 319th career game, and the added benefit was his having done it against the Pittsburgh Penguins.  He became the second fastest to 200 career wins in NHL history, only Montreal’s Ken Dryden doing it more quickly, in 311 games.  Impressive?  Not to Holtby, perhaps, but yeah...impressive.

The “unlucky” was Philipp Grubauer, who took the loss in his only appearance in Week 6.  He was superb in the first period of the 3-1 loss to Buffalo, stopping all 15 shots he faced (by way of comparison, Holtby faced a total of 13 first period shots in his two games for the week) with an otherwise sluggish team in front of him.  As it was, stopping 29 of 31 shots should have been good enough for a win, but it merely extended a period of frustration for the netminder, who has stopped 66 of the last 70 shots he has faced (.943 save percentage), dating back to the third period of the 6-2 loss to Vancouver on October 26th, and he has nothing to show for it in the win column.

Power Play: 3-for-13 / 23.1% percent (season: 19.6 percent / 13th)

Going 3-for-13 for the week would not elicit much of a reaction if this was the 2016-2017 season, but the 23.1 percent week was the second-best week for the power play, efficiency-wise, since Week 2 (33.3 percent) and the second-best week of the season to date.  It was another case of the Caps making hay when the sun shined on comparatively weak penalty killing squads (Buffalo was the highest ranked of the three teams the Caps played with a 15th-ranked 81.3 percent penalty kill), but a whole season is built on facing weak and strong teams. 

You could say that the Caps got balance from places they needed it.  The three power play goals in Week 6 were scored by Alex Ovechkin, John Carlson, and T.J. Oshie, critical elements on the top power play unit.  Evgeny Kuznetsov had assists on two of them, also a welcome development.

While the overall efficiency (shots per minute) was not quite up to the power play’s effectiveness (3-for-13), it was a case of what happened in wins and what happened in losses.  In the two wins, the Caps had 17 shots in 20:05 of man advantage ice time; not great, but not bad.  And, it was in those games that they scored all three power play goals for the week.  In the loss to Buffalo, the Caps managed just one shot on goal on their lone power play.  Not many opportunities there, and they didn’t take advantage of the one they had.

Penalty Killing: 11-for-11 / 100.0 percent (season: 78.6 percent / 23rd)

Penalty killing was perhaps the highlight of the week from a team standpoint, the Caps going perfect in three games, their longest streak of shutting out opponents’ power plays so far this season and their first perfect week killing penalties since going 9-for-9 in Week 1.  Yes, Buffalo and Arizona are weak power play teams, finishing the week in 28th and 26th place, respectively, in the power play rankings.  But Pittsburgh was a top power play unit, especially on the road (they finished the week second in road power play efficiency: 31.9 percent).

It was an efficient penalty kill as well.  Over the three games, the Caps allowed just 14 shots on goal in 19:56 of shorthanded ice time.  What the Caps could have used less of was shorthanded situations late in games.  Four of their 11 shorthanded situations came in the third periods of games, two of them against that high-ranked Penguin squad.  It is not the sort of situation the Caps are looking to include in a recipe for success, but it is hard to quibble with the results in Week 6.

Faceoffs: 97-for-178 / 54.5 percent (season: 51.2 percent / 10th)

It was a good week overall in the circle, and the success tracked with the wins and loss, the Caps going over 50 percent against Arizona (58.6 percent) and Pittsburgh (56.7 percent), and finishing under 50 percent in the loss to Buffalo (48.3 percent).  What was a bit off was the performance in the offensive end, where the Caps finished the week at 48.4 percent, primarily on the 5-for-18 effort (27.8 percent) against Buffalo.  In fact, the 18 offensive zone draws, when compared to the draws in the defensive end (24 in all, of which the Caps won 12) was an indicator of how little the Caps pressed matters in that end compared to the other two games of the week.

On an individual level, Jay Beagle was superb, winning 20 of 41 draws overall (73.2 percent) and being beastly in the defensive end, where he won 16 of 22 draws (72.7 percent).  Of the other four Caps to take at least ten draws for the week, Nicklas Backstrom (26-for-43/60.5 percent) had a fine week, a winner in all three zones, over 60 percent in both the offensive (66.7 percent) and defensive (63.6 percent) ends. Evgeny Kuznetsov was at 50 percent for the week, continuing what is for him an up-and-down year.  His 42.1 percent  for the season is 106th of 117 skaters taking at least 100 draws this season, but that’s ok; it is the same percentage as Evgeni Malkin and better than Connor McDavid (40.6 percent).

Goals by Period:

It was a reasonably balanced week insofar as goals scored and allowed by period was concerned for the Caps.  The Caps got off on the wrong foot against Arizona to start the week, allowing a pair of first period goals, but then they did not allow another over the first 20 minutes in the other two games of the week.  The Caps also showed some improvement late in games in Week 6, allowing only two for the three games.  They still finished the week having allowed 19 third period goals, tied for ninth-most in the league, but it was a welcome improvement.  In an odd statistical result, the Caps finished the week as the only team having scored an equal number of goals in each of the regulation period played – 16 in each of the first, second, and third periods of games.

In the end…

Week 6 was something to build on for the Caps, making progress and inching up in the standings, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat in one game after spotting an opponent an early lead to open the week, and smacking a rival convincingly to end it.  It was not a week without its anxious moments, and the middle game of the week against the Sabres was a disappointment.  But the watchword for a team with so many new moving parts that got younger to start the season is “progress,” and the Caps certainly made that in Week 6.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Braden Holtby (2-0-0, 1.45, .944, 200th career win, second fastest to 200 wins all-time)
  • Second Star: John Carlson (2-2-4, three power play points, one game-winning goal, nine blocked shots, 27:19 in average ice time)
  • Third Star: Alex Ovechkin (2-1-3, plus-1, 1 PPG, 13 shots on goal, 21 shot attempts, 10 hits, 3 blocked shots)