Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 59: Capitals at Sabres, February 19th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals wrap up their four-game road trip with a matinee meeting in Buffalo against the Sabres on Monday.  And when the Capitals wake up to face the new day, they will be looking up at a team in the Metropolitan Division standings for the first time since December 29th.

The Pittsburgh Penguins passed the Caps in the Metro standings on Sunday night, the first team other than the Caps to occupy the top spot in the division since the New Jersey Devils sat atop the division on December 29th, but the Caps have the opportunity to reclaim that spot with a win in Buffalo.

The Caps will be facing a team that, in its own context, is on something of a good run.  Buffalo is 3-1-2 over their last six games.  They have done it largely with a consistent offense, scoring four or more goals in four straight games before they were held to a pair each of their last two games, a 3-2 overtime loss to the Ottawa Senators on Thursday and a 4-2 loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday.

It was an improvement for the Sabres, who still bring the league’s worst scoring offense into this game.  From that dim background, Jack Eichel shines.  Although Connor McDavid gets almost all the ink reporting on the 2015 draft class, it is Eichel who leads that class in goals scored (70 to 69 for McDavid through Saturday).  He has 22 of those goals this season, two behind his career high of 24 set in each of his first two seasons in the NHL.  He has displayed an odd habit of scoring goals in consecutive games this season.  Five times this season he recorded goals in consecutive games, but he does not have a three-game streak.  He will not have one if he scores against the Caps, his latest two-game streak stopped when he was held without one in a 4-2 win over the Boston Bruins on February 10th.  That was the result of his skating only 3:55 against the Bruins before sustaining a high-ankle sprain that has kept him out of the lineup since then.  He is listed as day-to-day, but the injury is reported to be serious enough to keep him out of the lineup for some time to come.  

In Eichel’s absence the goal scoring load falls largely to Evander Kane, second on the club with 18 goals this season.  Kane has been a 20-goal scorer in each of his two previous seasons with Buffalo (28 last season, 20 in 2015-2016), and he seems assured of hitting that mark again this season.  Provided he is not moved at the trading deadline, that is.  Kane is an unrestricted free agent after this season, and he is one of those players of whom reports concentrate these days on potential destinations as much as his performance with his current team.  Kane was mired in a 14-game streak without a goal until he scored in consecutive games against Boston and Colorado.  However, he is without a goal in his last three games heading into this game with Washington.  It matters, because the Sabres have at least a fighting chance when he lights the lamp.  Buffalo is 7-6-2 in the 15 games in which he has goals this season.  Kane is 13-6-19, minus-2, in 28 career games against the Caps.

Rasmus Ristolainen is in his fifth season on the Sabres’ blue line, and he is already 15th in franchise history in points scored by a defensemen.  He is no immediate threat to the player at the top of that ranking (Phil Housley with 558 points), but he has 136 career points heading into this game, including more than 40 in each of the past two seasons.  He has been on an extended run, going 4-12-16 in 20 games since the start of the new year, tied for fourth among all defensemen in points over that span.  Most of his production has come on the Sabres’ power play, 14 of his 27 points this season coming with the man advantage.  Ristolainen is 0-4-4, minus-2, in nine career games against the Capitals.

1.  Buffalo was last in the postseason in 2011.  Since then, they are 189-259-69, the worst record among  the 30 franchises playing over that span of seasons, and they have gone through five coaches: Lindy Ruff, Ron Rolston, Ted Nolan, Dan Bylsma, and current head coach Phil Housley.

2.  That Buffalo is last in the league in scoring offense should be no surprise.  They are last in scoring offense among all of those same 30 teams over the same span of years since they last made the playoffs (2.26 goals per game). 

3.  This season, the Sabres’ problem is getting off to decent starts.  They have only 29 first period goals scored in 59 games, last in the league by a healthy margin (St. Louis has 36 first period goals in 60 games).

4.  Overtime has not been kind to Buffalo, either.  The Sabres have allowed ten goals in the extra session, most in the league.

5.  Like most teams, leading after two periods is a pretty good indicator of success for Buffalo.  They have not lost a game in regulation when doing so (12-0-5).  However, if they are not leading at the second intermission, the outlook is bleak.  They are 5-31-6 when tied or trailing after 40 minutes.

1.  The seven goals allowed by the Caps against the Blackhawks was the third time this season they allowed seven or more goals, the first time they did so against a team not in Pennsylvania (eight in an 8-2 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on October 14th, and seven in a 7-4 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on February 2nd).

2.  The Caps would do better to take leads into the first intermission.  Only Toronto (22) and Winnipeg (20) have more wins when leading after one period than the Caps (19).

3.  Washington is 9-5-4 in the 2018 portion of the season to date.  That is good for 16th best record in the league over that span.  But after winning their first three games of the new year they are just 6-5-4.

4.  Their possession rankings are even worse.  Only the Ottawa Senators (44.27 percent) and New York Islanders (43.88 percent) have worse shot attempts-for percentages at than the Caps (45.77 percent) since the calendar turned over.  It is their “PDO” keeping them afloat (shooting plus save percentages).  At 1028, their PDO is second in the league (Colorado: 1033).

5.  That the Caps no longer find themselves, at least for the moment, at the top of their division is odd.  Seven times in the previous ten seasons they finished at the top of their division, five times in the Southeast and twice in the Metropolitan.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Buffalo: Robin Lehner

No goalie has lost more games this season than Buffalo’s Robin Lehner (30 – 22 in regulation and eight in extra time).  One might say it is a reflection of being a bad goaltender, but that would not be fair to Lehner.  Buffalo goalies get little goal support, and Lehner is facing almost 33 shots per 60 minutes.  The fact is, his numbers rather resemble those of the Caps’ Braden Holtby.  His goals against average is 2.95 (Holtby’s is 2.92), and his save percentage is .910 (Holtby’s is .911).  And, he has three shutouts, while Holtby has yet to record one this season.  He has been substantially better on home ice with a 2.66 goals against average and a .916 save percentage.  If there is a problem, it is in how his numbers have deteriorated in his three seasons in Buffalo after spending his first five NHL seasons with the Ottawa Senators.  His goals against averages have gone from 2.47 to 2.68 to 2.92 this season, while his save percentage has gone from .924 to .920 to .910 this season.  Lehner is 1-2-1, 2.25, .922, in four career games against Washington.

Washington: Brooks Orpik

Plus-minus is not a very good statistic on its own, but let’s start there with Brooks Orpik.  He is minus-8 on the season, worst among the Capitals’ defensemen and his worst individual plus-minus since his rookie season (second in the league) when he was minus-36 with the Pittsburgh Penguins.  He is in jeopardy of finishing in minus territory for only the second time in his last 12 seasons.  The odd part of it, at least on the surface, is that his plus-minus tracks with his ice time.  In 30 games in which he skated less than 20 minutes he is minus-8, while he is even in the 27 games in which he skated more than 20 minutes.  One can reason this away in thinking that as a defensive defenseman, he is not going to get a lot of late ice time in games in which the Caps are trailing.  And he has had quite a home-road difference in this number, going minus-16 in road games and plus-8 at home.  But he does not come upon these numbers accidentally, either.  Of 212 defensemen to appear in at least 25 games so far this season, his shot attempts-for percentage on ice (43.31 percent) ranks 205th.  His frequent partner, Madison Bowey, ranks 200th in that group (44.61 percent).  It is a situation that has not prohibited the Caps from enjoying success so far this season, but unless it – and he – improves these numbers, it is hard to see how the Caps go deep in the postseason.  Orpik is 0-8-8, plus-2, in 42 career games against the Sabres.

In the end…

The Caps could end their longest remaining road trip of the season with a 2-1-1 record.  In the bigger scheme of things, this is not a bad result. But how they get there matters.  There was the late-game collapse against Winnipeg and not showing up against a struggling Chicago Blackhawks team that left three points on the table.  It is not unreasonable to think that under the circumstances, the Caps should be playing for a road sweep instead of fighting to stay above water for the trip.

The Caps seem oddly disengaged at the moment.  This might be – finally – the effect of having things a bit too easy in the regular season the past two-and-a-half seasons, and focus could be wavering.  Just as it is that momentum, once lost, is hard to regain, one wonders if a team’s focus, once it goes wandering, can be sharpened again in time for the stretch run and the postseason.  This is the task at hand for the Caps as they wrap up their road trip and head into the home stretch.

Capitals 5 – Sabres 2

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

Last week we said, “hockey is a funny game.  Not often funny, ‘ha-ha,’ but funny, ‘strange.’  Week 20 was no exception.  Although the Caps earned points in three of four games and ended the week still in first place in the Metropolitan Division, one had a sense of foreboding.  In the Era of Bettman, a .500 week in standings points earned can be accompanied with three losses in four games.  And that is the week the Caps had, seeing their division lead dwindle to a single thin point.  Worse, the week ended with what was arguably the worst game they played this season and the worst performance in goal perhaps in the career of their number one netminder since he took over that position, not that he had any support – any support this week – in front of him.

Record: 1-1-2

Technically, in the way the league keeps score of such things (standings points), it was not a losing week.  The Caps did earn four points in four games, three of them in three road games.  Under normal circumstances, three-in-three would not be a bad week on the road.  This wasn’t normal.  The Caps sandwiched ghastly, in different ways, performances around a very good one.

What might be most noteworthy about the week, record-wise, is the realization that there just might be something to this whole concept of “regression to the mean.”   Washington lost two games in overtime this week, bringing their streak of overtime losses to four, dating back to January 18th.  This after starting the season 6-2 in extra time games.

The strange part about the two overtime losses was that they came in consecutive games.  It has not been unusual for the Caps.  It was the fourth time this season that the Caps played at least two consecutive games into extra time (they had a three-game streak of such games in December).

The loss in regulation to the Chicago Blackhawks to end the week brought the Caps’ total of regulation losses to 18, tying their total of two years ago and closing to within one of their total of last season.

Offense: 3.25 /game (season: 3.09 /game, rank: 9th)

The Caps did not lack for offense, at least early in the week.  And overall, an average of 3.25 goals per game, their second straight week at or over that average, is top-five level performance in the league this season (Boston was fifth at 3.27 goals per game at week’s end).  They did it efficiently, scoring 13 goals on just 101 shots (12.9 percent shooting).

There was the good and the bad individually, though.  On the good side, four Capitals registered multi-goal weeks.  Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson led the team with three goals apiece.  Backstrom seems to have settled into a decent goal scoring rhythm after struggling over much of the early part of the season.  He has goals in five of his last seven games, four of them at even strength and one of them a game-winner.  Finally getting to the 200-goal career mark seems to have taken the shackles off.

Wilson’s achievement was more a marker in his developmental arc.  When he scored in the first period against Chicago in the last game of the week, it was his tenth of the season, the first time in his five-year career that he reached double-digits in goals scored.

It was good to see Andre Burakovsky awaken, too.  He has a pair of goals in the four games, the pair coming in consecutive games against Winnipeg and Minnesota, the first time this season he scored goals in consecutive games.

Alex Ovechkin had a strange week.  On the one hand, he was the fourth Capital with a multi-goal week, and he had the 24th game of his career with four or more points when he recorded a goal and three assists in the 5-2 win over Minnesota on Thursday.  But in the 7-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks to end the week, he failed to record so much as a single shot attempt, the first time in his 13-year career.

Defense: 4.50 / game (season: 2.98 /game, rank: 20th)

Shots allowed is going to sink this team.  Twice in Week 20 the Caps allowed 44 shots on goal – in the 4-3 overtime loss to Winnipeg and the 7-1 loss to Chicago.  Those two games are the highest in shots on goal allowed against the Caps this season, bringing the total to four the number of games the Caps allowed 40 or more shots.  They have a 1-1-2 record in those games, all of them on the road.  At weeks’ end, the Caps allowed teams 35 or more shots 21 times.  Only five teams have had more instances, and of that group only the Toronto Maple Leafs is playoff-eligible at the moment.  This week, each game feature a single period in which the opponent recorded at least 15 shots, the high of 21 coming in the first period against Chicago to end the week.  In only four of 12 regulation periods did the Caps allow fewer than ten shots.

Overall, the Caps were out-shot for the week, 151-101.  How bad is that?  The Arizona Coyotes, 31st in the league standings, were out-shot by a 155-101 margin.  Arizona is not a club the Caps want or can afford to emulatre.  It was almost as bad in the shot attempts, where the Caps were out-attempted at 5-on-5 by a 206-149 margin, their minus-57 being the fifth worst number for the week, as was their shot attempts-for percentage at fives (41.97 percent).

Goaltending: 4.44 / .881 (season: 2.84 / .912 / 1 shutout)

You could call this the worst week of the season for the Caps in net, and you would not be far wrong, if you were wrong at all.  Braden Holtby had what might have been his worst week as a number one netminder in his career.  Not that he had much support in front of him (see the shot differential discussion above), but he was not above .900 in save percentage in any of the regulation periods overall for the week (he played two third periods and was .900 overall in those).  You could say he is, if not in a serious slump, then stuck in an inconsistent pattern.  In his last six appearances he is 2-2-2, 4.53, .884, and he allowed five or more goals in three of those appearances.

Holtby’s struggles have inspired a new wave of the fans’ biggest pastime, calling for the backup to get more time or take over the number one spot (with the number one guy getting traded).  This is a staple of football fans and quarterbacks, and it rears it head from time to time in hockey.  The other side of this occasional distress is the play of the backup, which has to be good to complete the thought.  And Philipp Grubauer has been playing well.  In Week 20 he stopped 42 of 45 shots in limited duty (.933) earning the Caps’ only win of the week in the 5-2 victory in Minnesota.  In his last dozen appearances, Grubauer is 5-2-2 (three no-decisions), 1.86, .940, with one shutout.

Power Play: 2-for-9 / 22.2 percent (season: 20.9 percent, rank: 13th)

Another week, another plus-20 percent effort with the man advantage.  Over the last four week, the Caps have been better than 20 percent in each week and are 9-for-31 overall (29.0 percent).  This was where the top guys were the top guys, Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin getting the two power play goals for the week and earning three of the six points awarded.  Ovechkin (1-1-2) and John Carlson (0-2-2) were the multi-point players for the week. The hard part of this is the opportunities.  Nine power play chances in four games put the Caps in the bottom third in the rankings overall for the week.  Only once in the last ten weeks have the Caps finished a week with ten or more power play chances (13 in Week 15).  While they rank in the middle third of the league in power play chances overall this season (177/19th), the lack of chances seems to be wasting one of, if not the most dangerous offensive weapons that the Caps have.

Things were not quite as good as they seemed, though, and there is an ominous quality to how the week progressed on the power play.  The Caps were 2-for-3 in 3:57 of power play time against Detroit to open the week, but they were 0-for-6 in 9:59 in power play time over the last three games of the week, and they were held without so much as a power play shot on goal in 2:44 with the man advantage in the 7-1 loss to Chicago to end the week. 

Penalty Killing: 13-for-15 / 86.7 percent (season: 79.9 percent, rank: 18th)

The Caps did not lack for opportunities to practice their penalty killing.  The 15 shorthanded situations they faced were more than the combined total of the previous two weeks (12 in five games).  It was the most opportunities faced since Week 2, when they were shorthanded 17 times (the Caps also were shorthanded 15 times in Week 7.

But here, too, things might not have been quite as good as they seem.  The Caps blanked Detroit and Winnipeg on six chances over 12 minutes, allowing only ten shots on goal.  Then, they stopped the first three power play chances the Minnesota Wild had in the third game of the week.  But the Caps allowed power play goals on two of the last six shorthanded situations they faced for the week (one in the last two the Wild had and one in four chances Chicago had).  And, the Caps were shorthanded nine times in the last two games, compared to six in the first two games.

Faceoffs: 118-for-244 / 48.4 percent (season: 50.3 percent, rank: 16th)

This is an area in which the Caps have been slipping in recent weeks.  This week was an instance in which the Caps were very good in one end and not so good in the other, almost mirror images of one another.  They managed to win less than 40 percent of their offensive zone draws for the week (27-for-71/38.0 percent), and no Capital taking more than one draw finished as well as 50 percent.  In the defensive end, things were much better, the Caps finishing 58-for-96 (60.4 percent).

Individually, the big four (those taking at least ten draws for the week) followed a similar profile – good in the defensive end, poor in the offensive end.  Jay Beagle was the only one of that group to finish the week over 50 percent (57.9), perhaps a function of taking 40 defensive end draws (winning 25) versus taking only nine faceoffs in the offensive end (winning four).  That offensive zone-defensive zone split for Beagle was certainly evident in the game against Winnipeg when Beagle took 18 defensive zone faceoffs (winning 12) and only one in the offensive zone (winning that one).

Goals by Period:

Third periods were the story in Week 20, and it was not a good one overall.  Yes, the Caps did score three third period goals to salvage a point in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Detroit Red Wings in the first game of the week.  However, the Caps gave up a pair of goals in the last 10 minutes of the third period to give back that standings point in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Winnipeg Jets, they gave up a pair of third period goals to the Minnesota Wild, and they played a lifeless third period after falling behind the Chicago Blackhawks, 6-1, after two periods of what would be a 7-1 loss to end the week. 

It falls into a patter with this team, one of allowing more goals as games go on.  They have allowed 49 first period goals this season, 56 in the second period, and 62 third period goals.  And there are those two overtime goals allowed this week that left the Caps with six overtime goals allowed this season, tied for fifth-most in the league.

In the end…

One wonders, is this club in a slump, or is it expressing its expected performance after overachieving for much of the season?  Consider that the Caps won their first three games of the new year, part of what would be a five-game winning streak.  Since then, though, they are 6-5-4.  There are 22 teams in the league with better records over that span.  If this is the team the Caps really are, and their possession numbers certainly suggest they might be (24th in the league in 5-on-5 shot attempts-for percentage), it could be time for a reality check, that this team might be what we thought it was when the season started, and not in a good way. 

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Tom Wilson (3-2-5, plus-2, nine shots on goal, 15 hits, five block shots)
  • Second Star: Alex Ovechkin (2-5-7, minus-1, 15 shots on goal)
  • Third Star: Nicklas Backstrom (3-1-4, minus-1)

Saturday, February 17, 2018

A NO-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 58: Blackhawks 7 - Capitals 1

The Washington Capitals are now working their way back east on their four-game road trip.  From Winnipeg and St. Paul, the Caps dropped in on Chicago to face the Blackhawks on Saturday night.  It started ugly, and then it got worse.  At the end, the Caps lost, 7-1, the second time this season they had a six-goal loss pasted on them.

First Period

The minutes were passing by relatively quietly when Brandon Saad and John Carlson fought for the puck along the wall on the left side of the Caps’ zone.  Neither could get control, and it squirted back to Jonathan Toews, who just threw a shot toward the net.  Goalie Braden Holtby looked unprepared for the shot, and it hit his right pad before sneaking into the net at the 6:19 mark to make it 1-0, Hawks.

Tom Wilson tied it up four minutes later.  Matt NIskanen dug a loose puck off the wall at the right point and floated a shot at the net.  Nicklas Backstrom waved at it on the way through, but it sailed all the way to the top of the crease where Wilson was camped out.  Wilson got enough of the puck to deflect it down and past goalie Anton Forsberg to make it 1-1, 10:03 into the period.

The tie lasted less than three minutes.  Vinnie Hinostroza fed Saad trailing behind him in the offensive zone.  Both Capital defensemen – Brooks Orpik and Madison Bowey – stood up on Saad, who had the puck roll off his stick, but right to Hinostroza.  His shot was stopped by Holtby, but Saad slipped in and fired the rebound past Holtby’s right pad to make it 2-1, 12:47 into the period.

It might have stayed that way going into the first intermission, if a period was 19:59 in length.  Regulation periods being 20 minutes, though, the Caps were victimized by a goal by Nick Schmaltz, who put back a rebound from Holtby’s left with eight-tenths of a second left in the period to give the home team a 3-1 lead.

The good thing might have been that the Caps were “only” down by a 3-1 score.  Chicago out-shot them, 22-6, in the first period and out-attempted them, 29-9, despite the fact that the Caps had the only power play of the period.

Second Period

It did not get better.  Oh, the Caps did keep the Blackhawks from scoring for a while, but three goals in 2:09 late in the period ended the competitive portion of the contest once and for all.  The details hardly matter, but for the record, Patrick Kane, Ryan Hartman, and Artem Anisimov were the scorers.

Third Period

Seriously…does it matter?  Was anyone paying attention at this point?

Other stuff…

-- There were 11 skaters for the Caps without a shot attempt in the first period, among them: Alex Ovechkin, Dmitry Orlov, Brett Connolly, Nicklas Backstrom, Lars Eller, and Evgeny Kuznetsov.

-- Through two periods, eight Caps did not have a shot attempt…not a shot, a shot attempt…

  • Brett Connolly
  • Nicklas Backstrom
  • Lars Eller
  • Alex Chiasson
  • Brooks Orpik
  • Jay Beagle
  • Evgeny Kuznetsov….and Alex Ovechkin.

-- Ovechkin finished the game without a shot attempt in 18:22 of ice time, one of four Caps who would finish the game without one (Chiasson, Orpik, and Beagle being the others).

-- The Caps had 15 players with hits, 14 with shot attempts.

-- Chicago had 44 shots on goal…the Caps had 40 shot attempts.  Only two Blackhawks did not have a shot on goal (Tommy Wingels, Jordan Oesterle).

-- Another odd dimension to this game…Beagle lost five of nine draws; Kuznetsov won 10 of 16.

-- This was the third time in six appearances that Braden Holtby allowed five or more goals.

-- Chicago had five special team shots on goal (three on their power play, two shorthanded).  The Caps had none.

-- Tom Wilson got to ten goals for the first time in his career and is the ninth Capital to get there this season.

-- Backstrom was the only Cap to finish in “plus” territory (plus-1).  He had been minus-9 over his previous 14 games.

In the end…

Friday, February 16, 2018

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 58: Capitals at Blackhawks, February 17th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals start the back half of their four-game road trip with a visit to the Windy City and a Friday night faceoff against the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center.  The Caps, fresh off their 5-2 win over the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night, are 3-0-2 in their last five games.  The Blackhawks, who lost at home to the Anaheim Ducks, 3-2, on Thursday night, are dragging an eight-game losing streak into this contest (0-7-1), dropping them 12 points out of a playoff spot with 24 games left to play.

For the Blackhawks, the eight-game losing streak is the tail end of a slide that has seen them drop 12 of 14 decisions since January 14th (2-10-2).  The slump has two main features.  One, the Blackhawks can’t score, averaging just 1.86 points per game over those 14 games, and two, they can’t keep opponents from scoring, allowing an average of 3.57 goals per game.  That pretty much covers the big issues.

On offense, the Blackhawks have spread the goals around in their 14-game slump – 13 different players have goals – but no one is providing consistent goal scoring other than Alex DeBrincat, who has seven of the team’s 26 goals in that span.  DeBrincat is having a rookie season worthy of Calder Trophy consideration.  His 21 goals overall ranks third among all rookies, trailing only Vancouver’s Brock Boeser (27) and Tampa Bay’s Yanni Gourde (22).  His 38 points are tied for fifth in this year’s rookie class.  He is the only rookie in this year’s class to record two hat tricks, one in a 7-3 win over the Anaheim Ducks on November 27th, the other in a 5-1 win in Detroit over the Red Wings on January 25th.  When he scored Chicago’s only goal in a 6-1 loss to the Arizona Coyotes last Monday, he became the 16th rookie in Blackhawk history to record 20 or more goals in his rookie season.  He had an assist in the Blackhawks’ 6-2 loss to the Caps on December 6th, his only appearance against Washington to date.

At the other end of the scoring, at least expectations-wise, is Jonathan Toews.  Talk about a slump.  Over this 2-10-2 span, Toews has one goal on 41 shots, a 2.4 percent shooting percentage.  Compare that to the 14 goals on 129 shots he compiled over his first 44 games (10.9 percent).  His shooting drying up is a big reason he has only three even strength points in those 14 games (he also has three power play assists).  Toews does seem to have come on a little bit of late, though.  His shooting efficiency has not improved (one goal on 31 shots), but he is 1-5-6 in his last ten games, and he is still firing shots on net with 16 shots on goal in his last four games.  What is odd about Toews goal scoring this year was how little bearing it seems to have on results.  In 14 games in which he recorded a goal this season, Chicago is just 7-5-2.  Compare that to a record of 13-4-2 when Toews recorded an assist.  Toews is 6-4-10, minus-4, in 12 career games against Washington.

And that brings us to the question… “who is Vinnie Hinostroza?”  You will be forgiven if you don’t know that Hinostroza is tied for second in goals scored in this 2-10-2 slump on which the Blackhawks find themselves.  Those three goals he has in those 14 games doubled his season output to date (six) and matches in 27 games this season the six he had last season in 49 games of his rookie season.  Hinostroza is hardly a household name outside of Blackhawk circles, but the center was a sixth-round draft pick of the Blackhawks out of Notre Dame in the 2012 entry draft.  He had decent, if not outstanding goal totals in previous stops, recording 19 in 76 career games at Notre Dame and 21 in 86 games over three seasons with the Rockford IceHogs of the AHL.  The odd part of his goal scoring profile this season is that only one of his six goals were scored on home ice.  That is a duplicate of last year, when Hinostroza also scored just one of six goals on home ice for the season.  In two career games against the Caps, Hinostroza is without a point and is minus-3.

1.  The Blackhawks have the worst record in the league over their last 14 games (2-10-2).  What makes it worse is that their six standings points earned in that span are three fewer than the Columbus Blue Jackets and Edmonton Oilers, despite the fact that Chicago has played three more games than both of those other teams.

2.  Chicago’s shooting percentage over those 14 games (5.3 percent) is worst in the league over that span, nullifying their shots on goal advantage of plus-4.29 per game (34.93 shots on goal versus 30.64 shots on goal allowed).

3.  You have to wonder if the Blackhawks are unlucky lately.  In their 2-10-2 slump, they have a shot attempts-for percentage of 53.16 overall, sixth best in the league over that span (numbers from

4.  And it is not as if the Blackhawks have lacked for special team opportunities.  Their 49 power play chances over this 14-game stretch is second most in the league, and the top team (New Jersey with 55) has played two more games than Chicago.

5.  Even strength offense is killing the Blackhawks.  In this 14-game slump they have only 18 even strength goals, fewest in the league (Buffalo has 21 in 14 games).

1.  When the New York Islanders’ Jaroslav Halak shut out the New York Rangers on Thursday night, it left the Capitals as the only team in the league not to win a game via shutout this season.  Oh, the Caps have a shutout, but Philipp Grubauer took a loss in that one via the Gimmick, 1-0, to the New York Rangers on December 27th.

2.  Not sure what to make of this, but the Caps have the third best 5-on-5 PDO (shooting plus save percentage) in the league this season (1024; numbers from  It’s their shooting percentage that put them there – 9.7 percent, best in the league.  Those numbers hold up on the road, too (1015 PDO/6th, 10.2 shooting percentage/1st).

3.  If you think of faceoffs as stoppages that interrupt the flow of a game, the Caps have flow.  Only two teams have taken fewer draws that Washington (3380) this season: Carolina (3364) and Colorado (3338).

4.  The Caps are one of four teams to have at least as many wins as regulation losses this season when the opponent scores first (14-14).  Vegas (15-12), Boston (13-11), and Tampa Bay (12-11) are the others.

5.  On the other hand, only Boston (1) and Winnipeg (2) have fewer regulation losses when scoring first than the Caps (3), although the Caps have scored first just 25 times in 57 games.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Chicago: Jean-Francois Berube

Corey Crawford has not appeared in the Chicago net since December 23rd, when he was pulled after giving up three goals on seven shots in 13 minutes of a 4-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils.  Four days later he went on injured reserve with an upper body injury.  Since then, Anton Forsberg and Jeff Glass have shared the goaltending duties, and neither has been an answer.  Forsberg is 4-7-0, 3.00, .905 in 11 appearances, and Glass was 3-6-3, 3.31, .898 before being waived earlier this week for the purpose of returning him to Rockford in the AHL (he cleared waivers and was reassigned).  

In Glass’ place Chicago called up Jean-Francois Berube, a former fourth round draft pick of the Los Angeles Kings who has 22 games of experience over three NHL seasons, two with the New York Islanders before moving to Chicago.  In his only appearance this season he allowed two goals on 14 shots in a no-decision in 44 minutes of work in Chicago’s 6-2 loss to the Caps in December, his only career appearance against the Caps.  If nothing else, Berube’s recall serves as an object lesson for Caps fans, that Philipp Grubauer should be appreciated for the fine level of play he has provided in a backup role.  Chicago’s goaltending situation with Crawford out might be the single most important reason the Blackhawks miss the playoffs this season, should it come to pass.

Washington: Matt Niskanen

Matt Niskanen has had an odd sort of year for the Washington Capitals.  Caps Nation looks at the defense and laments the play of Brooks Orpik, it watches anxiously as rookies Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos race the clock to see if they can develop into reliable contributors in time for the postseason, and it wonders if this is the farewell tour of free-agent-to-be John Carlson.  Meanwhile, there is Niskanen.  He has missed an unusually high number (for him) of games due to injury (14), but when he has been in the lineup, his performance has been, well, Niskanenesque.  His scoring line of 4-13-17, plus-15, through 43 games played is not out of line with his 5-34-39, plus-20, in 78 games last season or the 5-27-32, plus-10, in 82 games the year before that or the 4-27-31, plus-7, he posted in his first year with the Caps in 2014-2015.  What is a bit odd is that he has points in only four road games this season, going 0-5-5, plus-6.  Compare that to his having points in 15 home games this season (4-8-12, plus-14, in those games).  

What has been consistent this season is his being a rock in terms of ice time.  The Caps have yet to lose a game in regulation when he logged more than 24 minutes of ice time (10-0-3).  And while there is a school of thought that high hit volumes is a reflection of poor possession, the Caps do seem to do better when he is physically engaged.  They are 19-3-1 when Niskanen is credited with at least two hits in a game this season.  He is 1-9-10, minus-1, in 23 career games against Chicago.

In the end…

This is one of those games where you might get a good idea of where the Caps’ heads are at.  Yes, these are the Chicago Blackhawks, winners of three Stanley Cups over the past eight seasons.  Yes, this edition of the Blackhawks is fighting for their playoff lives, in jeopardy of missing the postseason for the first time since 2008 and the first time for head coach Joel Quenneville since he came to Chicago.  But this club is crippled.  They can’t score, and they are not getting very good goaltending in the absence of their number one netminder.  It is a club of which the Caps need to take advantage.  Getting a jump early would take the fans out of the game and perhaps kill whatever confidence whichever netminder brings to the contest.  Do that, and a sixth straight game with a standings point would seem to be in order.

Capitals 4 – Blackhawks 2

Thursday, February 15, 2018

A TWO-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 57: Capitals 5 - Wild 2

The Washington Capitals skated the second game of their four-game road trip, visiting the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night.  When it was over, the bad taste of the 4-3 overtime loss in Winnipeg to the Jets was cleansed, thanks to a 5-2 win.

First Period

The teams went back and forth unproductively in the first period, the teams going to the first intermission in a scoreless tie.  But the Caps might have been lucky to get out of the period in that scoreless tie.  They had one shot attempt in the last 8:33 of the period, that being a shot on goal by Tom Wilson with six seconds left in the frame. 

As a group, the Caps had just 12 shot attempts overall, five of them by Alex Ovechkin (three on goal), none of the other Caps with more than one.  Washington blocked more Wild shots (seven) than they had their own shots on goal (six).

And what’s up with the official scoring?  The teams combined for two credited hits in the first period, both by the Wild.

Second Period

Tom Wilson got the Caps off and running early in the second period.  Taking a pass from Alex Ovechkin, he wired a shot on the far side past the left arm of goalie Devan Dubnyk on the Caps’ first shot attempt of the period, 59 seconds in.

Alex Ovechkin doubled the Caps’ lead just under five minutes later.  Andre Burakovsky dug out a loose puck along the goal line to the right of Dubnyk, and he had room to slide a pass out to Ovechkin at the rim of the right wing circle.  Ovechkin snapped a shot that Dubnyk got some of, but not enough to keep it from slithering over the goal line at the 5:51 mark to make it 2-0.  That would how the teams went to the locker room after 40 minutes.

The Caps did a much better job getting shots off and getting them on net in the period, recording 21 shot attempts and nine shots on goal.  Ovechkin finished the period with nine of the Caps’ 33 shot attempts over two periods.

Third Period

The Caps had early success in the third period on a solo effort by Burakovsky.  Gathering the puck in his own end, he weaved his way through the neutral zone and crossed the Wild blue line in control.  Drifting to his left to get a better shooting angle, he had room to snap a shot past a baffled Dubnyk and it was 3-0, 2:29 into the period.

Minnesota got one back when Nino Niederreiter managed three whacks at a loose puck in the blue paint without a Capital (ahem...Dmitry Orlov) getting a stick or a body on him.  The third time was the charm from just off the post to goalie Philipp Grubauer’s left, and it was 3-1 at the 4:25 mark.

The Caps extended their lead late on an odd play.  Tom Wilson gloved a loose puck down in the offensive zone, and it might have ended up being a hand pass onto the stick of Alex Ovechkin, but Wild defenseman Ryan Suter intervened and got his stick on it.  Suter being unable to control the puck, Ovechkin stepped in an snapped a shot at the Wild goal.  Dubnyk stopped it but could not keep it from trickling off to his right.  Nicklas Backstrom stepped in, and just before the puck slid by the far post, he tucked into the net to make it 4-1, 15:06 into the period.

Minnesota did get one back just under two minutes later on an Eric Staal power play goal with Dubnyk pulled for a 6-on-4.  However, Tom Wilson put an end to any glimmer of hope of a miracle in Minnesota with an empty netter at the 17:46 mark for the final 5-2 margin.

Other stuff…

-- Alex Ovechkin had a goal and three assists, his four-point night giving him 1,100 career points.  He is the 61st player in NHL history to reach the 1,100 point mark and the third active player to reach it (Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau being the others, Jaromir Jagr now playing in Europe).

-- Ovechkin’s four points gives him 24 games with four or more points in his career, second only to Sidney Crosby (31) since the 2004-2005 lockout.

-- Tom Wilson had his third multi-goal game of the season and his second game with three or more points.  For Wilson, it is a career high in goals in a season (nine).

-- Nicklas Backstrom had a goal and an assist, his 11th multi-point game this season and his fifth goal in his last six games.

-- Andre Burakovsky had a goal and an assist for his third multi-point game of the season, all of them coming on the road (the others in Dallas and in Detroit).  He now has points in five of his last eight games (3-3-6).

-- Ovechkin had seven of the Caps’ 27 shots on goal and 13 of the club’s 49 shot attempts.

-- When the Wild scored a power play goal late, it broke a string of four straight games with the Caps not allowing a power play goal.  The Caps killed 15 in a row over those four games and this one until that goal.

-- The Caps were not credited with a hit in the first period, but they finished the game with 12.

-- Jay Beagle was the only Capital taking more than one faceoff who finished over 50 percent (10-for-16/62.5 percent).

-- Phillip Grubauer got five goals of goal support, the most goals scored by the Caps in front of him in any game this season.  With 32 saves on 34 shots, he now has a save percentage of .931 over his last 15 appearances.

In the end…

You could say that for one game, at least, the Caps applied a hard-earned lesson.  They got out to a lead and held it, unlike the late-game collapse against Winnipeg on Tuesday.  The strange thing about the Caps at the moment, though, is that they are 3-0-2 in their last five games.  And their offense has been rather potent over that stretch with 19 goals (3.80/game).  If they can take this result and close teams down late in the same fashion as they did the Wild, it will be a successful road trip.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 57: Capitals at Wild, February 15th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals did not find Manitoba to their liking, dropping a 4-3 overtime decision to the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday night.  They hope to find Minnesota a more hospitable destination when they face the Wild at Xcel Energy Center on Thursday evening.

The Caps won five in a row to close the 2017 portion of their season and open the new year, but since that streak they have stumbled and let an opportunity pass to put some distance between themselves and the rest of the pack in the Metropolitan Division.  They are 5-4-4 in their last 13 games, but despite that record have lost just one point of their lead in the division, although it is now the streaking Pittsburgh Penguins (7-2-1 in their last ten games) that now occupy that spot and not the Columbus Blue Jackets, who occupied it when the Caps slide began.

For the Wild, their trying to get traction has the appearance of one of those video clips in a snowstorm when a car goes sideways and slides into a snow bank.  They have not won more than two games in a row in two months, since winning four straight (three of them in extra time) in Game 28-31 from December 8th through December 14th.  They have still managed to chug along with a 14-8-3 record since that streak ended.  The Wild will get a chance to earn that first three-game winning streak in more than two months when they host the Caps.

In the 25 games since that December four-game winning streak ended, the Wild have averaged just over three goals per game (3.04).  Eric Staal, a name familiar to most Caps fans from his days with the Carolina Hurricanes, leads the team over that span with 13 goals, a large chunk of his team-leading 25 goals for the season.  Staal is approaching a personal milestone.  With his goal in the Wild’s 3-2 win over the New York Rangers on Tuesday, he closed to within three points of 900 for his career.  He is currently tied at 897 career points with Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin, so the race is on to see which will become the 109th and 110th players in NHL history to reach 900 career points.  No team has faced Eric Staal more often than the Capitals.  No team has allowed more points on Staal’s ledger than the Caps.  In 75 career games against Washington, Staal is 29-44-73, plus-4.  When he takes the ice on Thursday, he will tie Pat Verbeek for 16th all-time in games played against the Caps.  If he gets three points, he will tie Paul Coffey for 12th place in all-time points against Washington.

Matt Dumba leads the defense in goals scored over this 25-game stretch with seven, a total that propelled him into the team lead among defensemen in goals scored overall (10).  This is the third straight season in which Dumba hit the double-digit mark in goals. And if you think that is a trivial accomplishment, consider that at the moment he and Florida’s Aaron Ekblad are the only defensemen to hit double digits in goals in each of the last three seasons.  Home is where Dumba has found the back of the net most often, scoring seven of his ten goals at Xcel Energy Center and recording both of his two-goal games on that ice sheet.  And in your “Odd Dumba Fact” for this game, all of his seven multi-point games this season were recorded on home ice.  He is 1-1-2, plus-2, in seven career games against the Caps.

Over the last 25 games, it has been clear that as Devan Dubnyk goes, so go the Wild, or rather “if” Dubnyk goes, so go the Wild.  Dubnyk has 16 appearances in those 25 games (15 starts) and is 11-2-2, 2.43, .926, with one shutout on his record in that span, capped with being named the league’s third star of last week.  It is quite an improvement over the start to his season – 12-8-2, 2.69, .916, with three shutouts in his first 23 appearances, a stretch that ended with his suffering a lower body injury that kept him out of six games.  Volume does not seem to bother him.  In four games this season when facing more than 40 shots, he is 4-0-0 and stopped 167 of 170 shots (.982 save percentage) with two shutouts.  It is low shot volumes that seem to bother him.  Six times this season Dubnyk played a full game and faced 25 or fewer shots.  In those games he is 2-2-2, 2.50, .893 in those games.  The Caps have given him trouble, too.  Dubnyk is 2-4-1, 3.61, .879 in seven career appearances against Washington.

1.  Getting to 30 shots might be an effort for both teams.  This game matches the worst team in shots on goal per game (Washington: 28.6) with the fourth-worst in the Wild (29.8).  It is a match between the team with the fewest games with 30 or more goals this season (Washington: 20) and the team with the third-fewest (Minnesota: 26, tied with Los Angeles and Colorado).

2.  The Wild have the second-best home penalty kill in the league at 87.8 percent.  Only Colorado is better killing penalties on home ice (91.9 percent).  The Wild get a lot of practice, too.  They have the seventh-highest number of shorthanded situations faced on home ice this season (90).   On the other hand, Minnesota does not get a high number of power plays of their own on home ice.  Their 86 opportunities at Xcel Energy Center is sixth-fewest in the league.

3.  The first period could tell the tale here.  There are four teams in the NHL that have not lost a game in regulation when leading after one period this season.  Half of them play in this game.  The Caps are 19-0-1 in such games, while the Wild are 18-0-2.

4.  Minnesota can wilt late.  No team has allowed more third period goals this season than the Wild (72, almost twice as many as they allow in the first period (38)).

5.  Head coach Bruce Boudreau is the leader among active coaches in points percentage, and it’s not close.  His .654 points percentage on a record of 489-236-94 is 40 points better than Chicago’s Joel Quenneville (.614 on a record of 875-512-132 and 77 ties).  On the all-time list of coaches, he is just three points behind Scotty Bowman (.657) for eighth place.  We won’t go into that playoff thing.

1.  There is a certain consistency to the Caps’ offense this season.  They and the San Jose Sharks are the only teams with goals scored in the 50’s in each of the three periods this season.  The Caps have scored, by period, 52-56-28, respectively, while the Sharks have scored 50-58-51, respectively.

2.  The Caps are getting out-shot, 34.2 to 27.9 per game, on the road this season.

3.  One thing that the Caps have been able to do in this 5-4-4 stretch is manage their special teams opportunities fairly well.  They have 42 power play chances in those 13 games and only 38 shorthanded situations faced.

4.  One thing that the Caps have not been able to do well is the object of the exercise – win.  Since January 10th, the Caps’ five wins in the Metropolitan Division are fewer than any division team except Columbus (four).

5.  The Caps have been decent down the middle in scoring in this 13-game slump.  Evgeny Kuznetsov (14 points), Lars Eller (10), Nicklas Backstrom (7), and Jay Beagle (7) rank in the top six in points on the club over this span of games.  But Backstrom…minus-11?  Woof.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Minnesota: Daniel Winnik

Six skaters for the Minnesota Wild have appeared in all 56 games for the club this season.  One of them is former Capital forward Daniel Winnik.  Not bad for a player who went all of last summer as an unrestricted free agent, joining the Wild on a professional tryout contract for training camp and then signed to a one-year contract on the eve of the regular season.  Winnik is among the more travelled players in the NHL, the Wild being his eighth team in 11 NHL seasons.  But travel aside, Winnik occupies a special role in his draft class.  He was taken in the seventh round, the 265th pick of that draft.  But only five players taken in that draft have appeared in more games than Winnik (773): Alex Ovechkin (973; taken first overall), Andrew Ladd (896 games/fourth overall pick), Travis Zajac (818/20th), Mark Streit (786/262nd), and Mike Green (776/29th).  It is worth noting that four of the five players ahead of him were first round picks.  For good measure, the three players just behind Winnik in games played in that draft class are also first rounders (Drew Stafford (13th overall), Evgeni Malkin (2nd), and Blake Wheeler (5th). 

Winnik is not scoring at the pace he did with the Caps last season – five goals in 56 games so far versus 12 in 72 games last season – but then again, last season was a career year for Winnik in shooting percentage (14.6) and, as a result, goals scored, even though he had a career low in ice time per game (12:55).  You would think that even with the low goal total, Winnik would have punished old teams, but only one of his five goals to date has come against a former team (Pittsburgh).  As for his most recent former team, Winnik is 2-1-3, plus-6, in nine career games against Washington.

Washington: Braden Holtby

Chicken or the egg?  Horse or the cart?  Too many good scoring chances faced or too many soft goals allowed?  Wherever you come down, Braden Holtby does not have good numbers lately.  In the Caps’ 5-4-4 slump, Holtby has ten starts and a record of 4-2-4, 3.26, .904.  Of 45 goalies logging at least 250 minutes over that span, Holtby ranks 38th in goals against average (3.26) and 32nd in save percentage (.904).  But it is a complex record, too.  Holtby is 3-0-1 in the four highest shot total games he played in that stretch and stopped 144 of 154 shots (.935 save percentage).  He lost five of the six lowest shot totals he faced over the same span (1-2-3) and stopped just 157 of 179 shots (.877 save percentage), although he was pulled once in those six games.  Still, Holtby faced 33.9 shots per 60 minutes over those 13 games.  It is higher than the 32.6 shots per 60 minutes he has faced over the entire season to date.  Compare those numbers to last season, when he faced 27.4 shots per 60 minutes, and you get the feeling that he is facing too much rubber. 

More shots and less efficiency (lower save percentage) has resulted in his goals against average ballooning from 2.07 last season to 2.82 going into this game.  But if he was to match last year’s goals against average with the number of shots he has faced this season he would have to have a save percentage of .936.  Only one goaie among 44 with more than 1000 minutes played this season has a better save percentage, the St. Louis Blues Carter Hutton (.940 in 1293 minutes), but he is facing an average of just 30.3 shots per 60 minutes.  Holtby is 8-2-0, 2.29, .922, with one shutout in ten career appearances against the Wild.

In the end…

For the longest time, well, since the Wild were established in Minnesota in 2000, the Caps could not win in the Twin Cities (they weren't so great against the North Stars in Minnesota, either, before they moved to Dallas, going 10-13 with eight ties).  In their first seven games in Minnesota against the Wild, the Caps went 0-6-1.  However, Washington has wins in each of their last two visits to Minnesota, a 3-2 win in March 2015 and a 5-4 overtime win last March on a goal by T.J. Oshie, who played high school hockey in Minnesota.  That overtime win last year featured a hat trick by Alex Ovechkin (all three goals on power plays), and the March 2015 win had two Ovechkin goals.  Caps fans would like to see both players renew their pleasant familiarity with those surroundings, to win and to take some pressure of their beleaguered goaltenders.

Capitals 4 – Wild 2

Monday, February 12, 2018

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 56: Capitals at Jets, February 13th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals embark on their longest remaining road trip of the season this week, beginning with a trip to Winnipeg to face the Jets on Tuesday.  In the Jets, the Caps might be facing the most surprising non-expansion team in the league this season.  Through Sunday’s games, the Jets had the fifth-best record in the league (32-15-9), a record that was hardly a fluke, the Jets ranked in the top-ten in a wide variety of statistical categories.

The Jets have been consistently good, not a club of binges of wins.  Their longest winning streak this season is four games (Games 16-19 in mid-November), but they have had five other winning streaks of three games.  Only once this season have the Jets had a losing streak of as many as three games (Games 28-30 in early December, when they went 0-2-1).  Only five times this year have the Jets lost consecutive games in regulation, the fifth being the situation in which they currently find themselves. 

This is a club that gets balance in their high scoring volume.  Eight Jets have at least ten goals this season, led by Patrik Laine with 25. Laine, the second overall pick of the 2016 entry draft, has already established himself as a prolific goal scorer.  Only three players since the 2004-2005 lockout have appeared in at least 100 games over their first two seasons and averaged more goals per game than Laine (0.48): Alex Ovechkin (0.60), Auston Matthews (0.51), and Evgeni Malkin (0.50).  He is in the midst of a hot streak, too.  Since going seven games without a goal to end the old year and start the new, Laine has seven goals in his last 13 games, only once in that span going consecutive games without a goal.  He will be looking to avoid going consecutive games without a tally when he takes the ice against the Caps.  Laine does not have a point and is minus-3 in two career games against Washington.

While Laine at the top of the team’s goal scoring ranking is no surprise, Nikolaj Ehlers being the other Jet with more than 20 goals is a bit of an eyebrow-raiser.  But perhaps not much of one upon closer inspection.  Ehlers’ progress in his brief three-year career with the Jets has been striking for the level of improvement in goal scoring.  He had 15 goals in 72 games in his rookie campaign two seasons ago, and he almost doubled that total to 25 in 82 games last season.  With 21 goals in 56 games this season he is on a pace to top 30 goals this season.  Ehlers is more of a “bunches” scorer than Laine, his four multi-goal games (including a hat trick in a 5-2 win over the Edmonton Oilers on October 9th) leads the club.  And when he does score, the Jets do win.  Winnipeg is 11-2-2 in the 15 games in which he recorded a goal this season.  However, like Laine, Ehlers does not have a career point against the Caps, going 0-0-0, minus-2, in four career games against the Caps.

If there is one thing that can hold the Jets back this season, it might be goaltending.  Not that Connor Hellebuyck hasn’t been good; he has.  Among 43 goalies with at least 1,000 minutes of ice time this season, he is tied for second in wins (28), eighth in goals against average (2.35), and ninth in save percentage (.923).  He is tied for second in shutouts with five.  If he has an odd statistic, it is that he has as many losses in regulation (eight) as he does in extra time (eight, most in the league).  However, there are two concerns about Hellebuyck, one immediate and one looming in the future.  Of immediate concern is that in his last seven games he is 3-2-2, 2.68, .907, with one shutout.  In five of those seven games he allowed three or more goals.  A slump or a regression?  The issue looming in the distance is Hellebuyck’s postseason experience.  He has none.  Not in the NHL, not in the AHL, not in two years at University of Massachusetts-Lowell.  He does have two years participating with Team USA in the World Championships, backstopping the team to a bronze medal in 2015.  Hellebuyck is 1-1-0, 1.93, .938 in two career appearances against the Capitals.

1.  As mentioned above, the Jets are a top-ten team in a variety of statistical categories.  Through Sunday’s games, those categories included: scoring offense (3.16 goals per game/6th), scoring defense (2.66 goals per game/7th), power play (23.6 percent/4th), penalty kill (82.7 percent/T-7th), faceoff wins (52.4 percent/5th), wins by three or more goals (17/T-1st), wins when scoring first (25/6th), first-period goals scored (64/1st), fewest third period goals allowed (44/3rd), and wins when leading after the first (19/2nd) and second (25/T-4th) periods.

2.  This edition of the Jets will almost certainly set a franchise record for wins in a season.  With 32 wins in 56 games, they need only 12 in their last 26 contests to set the mark.  The 2006-2007 Atlanta Thrashers and the 2014-2015 Jets each won 43 games.

3.  Only the Pittsburgh Penguins have scored more 5-on-4 goals this season (44) than the Jets (42).

4. No team has fewer major penalties called against them this season than Winnipeg (six, tied with Vegas).

5.  The Jets have a fine win-loss record, but they don’t seem to be doing it by strength of possession.  Winnipeg ranks 12th in shot attempts-for percentage overall (50.99), 17th when tied (49.50), and 15th in close situations (50.93; numbers from

1.  The Caps have 12 “plus” players, but two of them have played in fewer than ten games: Aaron Ness (plus-2 in eight games) and Nathan Walker (plus-1 in seven games).  Another is a plus player in fewer than 25 games (Taylor Chorney, plus-8 in 23 games).

2. "Four" is the magic number for the Caps.  They are 24-1-1 when scoring four or more goals.  However, the 5-4 overtime loss to Detroit on Sunday was the second time in three games scoring four or more goals that the Caps lost (they lost to Pittsburgh, 7-4, on February 2nd).

3.  In each of their last seven road games the Caps allowed more than 30 shots on goal.  Five times, they allowed more than 35.  Over those seven games they are averaging 36.9 shots allowed per game.  They also happen to be 4-1-2 in those seven road games.

4.  Only four teams have more penalty minutes in road games than the Caps (295) and each of those four teams have played at least two more games on the road than the Caps through Sunday.

5.  The Caps have been credited with only 314 blocked shots on the road so far this season, fewest in the league and almost 50 fewer than the next team up the rankings (Carolina: 363).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Winnipeg: Mathieu Perreault

The Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets have neither a long nor a particularly outstanding history.  Nevertheless, it might surprise some to know that former Capital Mathieu Perreault ranks 15th on the all-time franchise points list (159) and is a good game away from passing Nik Antropov (161) for 14th place.  His 55 goals with the club ranks 18th all-time, one behind Ray Ferraro for 17th place, and his 104 assists ranks 13th in franchise history.  Perreault is a very efficient contributor on this year’s team, ranking fourth in goals scored (15, tied with Mark Scheifele), and his 2.98 points per 60 minutes ranks second among 23 skaters recording at least 100 minutes of ice time this season.  He has been hot of late, going 5-6-11, even, in his last 14 games.  However, when he was held without a point in the Jets’ 3-1 loss to the New York Rangers on Sunday, it marked the first time over those 14 games that he was held without a point in consecutive games.  Perreault is 2-0-2, minus-5, in six career games against Washington.

Washington: John Carlson

Tied for eighth in goals among defensemen, third in assists, third in points, tied for fifth in power play goals, third in power play points, tied for fourth in game-winning goals, fifth in shots on goal, sixth in average ice time, tied for ninth in takeaways, first in power play ice time per game, first in total special teams ice time per game.  His 35 assists and 44 points in 55 games are already the second highest totals in those categories of his career.  He has more points (44) than the next two Capital defensemen combined (Dmitry Orlov (20) and Matt Niskanen (17)) combined.  He is the only Capital defenseman to have recorded at least one power play goal (four) and he has all but one of the power play points scored by Caps defensemen this season (21 of 22; Orlov has the other).   He has almost as many shots on goal (165) as the next two Caps defensemen combined (Orlov (91) and Niskanen (76)).  John Carlson is having a career year.  And his contributions matter.  The Caps are 8-1-0 in games in which Carlson scored a goal, 25-5-3 in the 33 games in which he had at least one point.  Carlson has ramped up his offensive production of late.  Over his last 17 games he has points in 12 of them and is 6-11-17, even.  That Caps are 9-1-2 in those 12 games in which Carlson recorded a point.  Carlson is 1-10-11, plus-6, in 26 career games against the Thrashers/Jets.

In the end…

Winnipeg has been more hospitable than most road destinations for the Caps.  Washington has a 6-3-1 record in ten games in Winnipeg since the Jets moved there from Atlanta in 2011.  The odd part about this series in Manitoba is that four of the last nine games played between the teams ended in a shutout, the Caps earning three of them.  What makes this contest a bit different is that the Jets are coming off consecutive losses on home ice for the first time this season, last Friday in a 5-2 loss to the St. Louis Blues and Sunday in a 3-1 loss to the New York Rangers.  Winnipeg has not lost three consecutive games on home ice since last March when they lost to San Jose, Pittsburgh, and Calgary in consecutive outings.  Will the Jets’ string of 33 home games without losing three in a row come to an end?  What do you think?

Capitals 4 – Jets 3