The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The Washington Capitals complete their two-game season series against the Seattle Kraken on Friday night in Washington, looking to earn a split after dropping a 3-2 overtime decision to the Kraken in Seattle on December 1st. The Caps will be coming home after posting a 3-2-1 record in their season-long six-game road trip.
The Kraken have not been able to sustain the momentum they had when they beat the Caps last week. The win over the Caps was a franchise-record seventh in a row, but since then they have losses to the Florida Panthers (5-1) and the Montreal Canadiens (4-1, both on home ice. They will hope that the four-game road trip they start in Washington will regenerate that momentum.
The Kraken have been a very balanced team on the road offensively this season. Seventeen of 20 skaters have goals, and 19 of them have points (Shane Wright, who was just loaned to Team Canada for the World Junior Hockey Championship, is the only Kraken skater without a point on the road). Three skaters are tied for the lead in goals scored in road games – Matty Beniers, Andre Burakovsky, and Jared McCann each have six goals going into Friday’s contest.
McCann might seem a bit odd to be in this group, but he is something of an underrated goal scorer. A former first round draft pick of the Vancouver Canucks (24th overall in 2014), his NHL career did not start in impressive manner, goal scoring-wise, posting only nine goals in 69 games in his rookie year with the Canucks in 2015-2016. Then, after he was traded with a second round draft pick in 2016 and fourth round draft pick in 2016 to the Florida Panthers for a fifth round draft pick in 2016 and Erik Gudbranson, he posted ten goals in 97 games over two seasons with the Panthers. McCann broke out the following year, even while doing it for two teams. After posting eight goals in 46 games for the Panthers n 2018-2019, he was traded to Pittsburgh with Nick Bjugstad for a second round draft pick in 2019, a fourth round draft pick in 2019, a fourth round draft pick in 2019, Derick Brassard, and Riley Sheahan. In 32 games to close the 2019-2019 season he had 11 goals for the Pens, finishing with a total of 19 in 78 games for the season.
Starting with that split 2019-2019 season, McCann posted 74 goals in 261 games through last season, his first with the Kraken, a 23-goal pace per 82 games. That he would have 12 in 22 games overall and six in eight road games to date is unusual, but not entirely out of bounds given his progress into his mid-20’s (he is 26 years old). What does give one pause, though, is that his 24.2 shooting percentage is likely unsustainable over the remainder of the season. He has a career high of 15.1 percent in 2020-2021 with Pittsburgh and was a career 10.5 percent shooter coming into this season. McCann is 4-6-10, even, in 18 career games against the Caps.
Jordan Eberle is the grand old man of the Kraken among the skaters, 32 years old and now in his 13th NHL season, his second with Seattle. He has not slowed down all that much, going 6-16-22, plus-4, overall this season and 1-9-10, plus-2, in ten road games to date. Eberle is one of those nuggets of trivia connected to the Caps, being the player taken by the Edmonton Oilers one pick after the Caps selected Anton Gustafsson in the first round of the 2008 draft, among the biggest busts in Caps draft history. In 12 seasons before this one, Eberle demonstrated himself to be a consistent and reliable, if not quite elite scorer. He posted 20 or more goals seven times in those dozen seasons and had 50 or more points in five of them. He had at least one power play goal in all 12 of those seasons (a high of ten in 2011-2012 with Edmonton) and had at least one game-winning goal in 11 of those 12 seasons (a high of seven in 2017-2018 with the New York Islanders.
This season, Eberle ranks fifth on the club with six goals, second in assists with 16, and second in points with 22. He has had a severe split in goal scoring, though. In 15 games at home, Eberle has five goals on 27 shots (18.5 percent shooting) but just one goal on 24 shots in ten games on the road (4.2 percent). One thing that seems to have worked against him on the road is accuracy, or lack of it. He is third on the team in missed shots (eight) in ten games. Eberle has been hot of late, posting points in eight of his last 12 games overall, going 5-9-14, plus-12 in the process. That includes a four-point (all assists) effort in a 9-8 win over Los Angeles on November 29th. Eberle is 5-7-12, minus-10, in 32 career games against the Caps.
When one considers defenseman Jamie Oleksiak, the phrase “offensive defenseman” does not spring to mind. Coming into this season, Oleksiak had 25 goals and 89 points in 441 games, but he did have 344 penalty minutes with three teams (Dallas, Pittsburgh, and Seattle). He had a role, but it just wasn’t putting a lot of marks on the score sheet. But here he is, 25 games into the season, tied for the team lead among defensemen in goals scored (four, with Vince Dunn. And, he has done while recording only 13 shots on goal (sixth among the eight defensemen to play for the Kraken this season and fewest among those playing in at least five games). A 30.8 shooting percentage would seem unsustainable for even elite scorers, let alone one who came into this season with a career 5.1 shooting percentage. But the Kraken are 3-1-0 when he scored a goal, 6-1-0 when he posted at least one point.
Oleksiak’s offense has an opportunistic quality to it this season. While he does have those four goals in 21 games, he has shots on goal in only ten of those games, and only three times has he recorded as many as two shots on goal this season. While his offensive production is up, he has not had other aspects of his game tempered by that new-found offense. He does have 18 penalty minutes in 21 games, the 0.86 minutes per game ranking in the top half of his per-game season averages over his career and is higher than his career average of 0.78 minutes per game. He comes into this game without a point in his last five games tying his longest streak of the season (five games to open the season). Oleksiak is 1-2-3, plus-1, in 13 career games against Washington.Seattle has only ten road games in the book this season. Only Columbus has played fewer (eight).
2. The Kraken have been very healthy in road games this season, using only 20 skaters (the usual game complement is 18), 14 of which have appeared in every road game to date.
3. Seattle is the worst team in the league in faceoff winning percentage on the road (40.5 percent).
4. The plus-8 goal differential the Kraken have in the second periods of games on the road this season is best in the league, and despite playing four fewer road games, they are tied with Pittsburgh for most second period goals scored (21).
5. Seattle is 8-1-1 on the road this season, but five of those wins were by one goal.The six-game road trip covered 5,485 miles, roughly the distance between Washington, DC, and Ankara, Turkey. For Western Conference teams, that’s almost a day trip.
2. Washington has scored first in six of 12 home games to date with a 4-1-1 record; in six home games in which they trailed first they are 3-3-0.
3. Winning when leading after two periods is the norm in the NHL, but there are still just four teams with a worse winning percentage when leading after two periods at home than the Caps (4-1-1/.667).
4. Only Anaheim has a better winning percentage when trailing on home ice after two periods (3-1-0/.750) than the Caps (3-3-0/.500).
5. Only Detroit has a better net-penalty on home ice (plus-18, penalties drawn less penalties taken) than the Caps (plus-11).
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Seattle: Daniel Sprong
When a hockey fan hears the name Daniel Sprong, one might thing, “oh yeah, an offense-oriented guy.” And it is not unreasonable to think that. He is a skilled offensive player with a shooter’s instincts. Or is he? Coming into this season, he averaged 19 goals per 82 games, never recording more than 15 in any season. And, his 11.1 shooting percentage in six seasons coming into this one does not shout “sniper!” There is also the matter of his having played for four teams in six seasons in the NHL and still only 25 years old, yet never having played in as many as 65 games in a season and never as many as 100 games with any of the four teams for which he played (he played in 89 games for the Caps, most of any team with which he played). Although some fans might believe he did not get a full and honest chance to carve out a role with any of the previous three teams he played for – Pittsburgh, Anaheim, and Washington – folks who are paid to make hockey personnel decisions might have been more impressed with Sprong from afar than when they saw him close up on a daily basis.
But perhaps this year is different. Whether a factor or a passenger, the fact is that the Kraken are 13-5-0 in the 18 games in which he has played to date, 2-2-3 in the games he sat out. They are undefeated in those games in which he scored a goal (5-0-0) and undefeated in games in which he posted at least one point (9-0-0). He has not been a liability when getting more ice time, in fact far from it (7-3-0 when he logged ten or more minutes versus 6-2-0 when he skated less than ten minutes). And, if you think he is a defensive liability, he has been on ice for only three even strength goals against, third fewest among forwards playing in at least ten games, and his plus-8 goal differential at even strength is tied for third best among all forwards. He does remain something of a streaky player, though. He goes into this game having consecutive no-point outings after going 3-4-7, plus-4, in his previous six games. Sprong is 0-2-2, even, in four career games against the Caps.
Washington: Conor Sheary
Washington has been a good fit for Conor Sheary. In five seasons before arriving in Washington, Sheary averaged 18 goals per 82 game played for the Pittsburgh Penguins and Buffalo Sabres. Since arriving in DC, that average jumped to 23 goals per 82 games in three seasons. This season might turn out to be his best as a goal scorer. Through 28 games Sheary is 9-6-15, a 26-goal pace per 82 games that, should he keep up that pace and play in as many games, would far eclipse the career high of 23 goals he had for Pittsburgh in 2016-2017.
But there is an odd part about Sheary’s goal scoring. He has goals in nine games this season, but the Caps are just 4-3-2 in them (8-9-2 in games in which he did not record a goal). The Caps do somewhat better when he records points, going 7-4-3 in the 14 games in which he logged at least one point. Success seems oddly disconnected with his level of offensive engagement, the Caps having a record on 3-4-1 in games in which he recorded three or more shots on goal. And for a player with a reputation for feistiness within the rules, the Caps record of 5-7-3 when he was credited with one or more hits is discouraging, too. Then there is the ice time. When logging 17 or more minutes, the Caps are 2-7-4; they are 6-3-0 when he recorded less than 15 minutes. Whether an odd coincidence or not, when Sheary puts more marks on his line of the event summary, things have not worked out as well for the Caps as one might expect. Sheary comes into this game 2-2-4, even, over his last four games, and his only multi-point game of the season came against the Kraken in the 3-2 overtime loss on December 1st. He is 3-1-4, plus-1, in two career games against Seattle.
In the end…
Washington has a chance to do something in this game that they have not yet done this year – win a third consecutive game. Including the two-game winning “streak” on which they currently find themselves, the Caps have won consecutive games four times this season, but not a third. However, the Caps go into this game in perhaps a better frame of mind with a record of 5-2-1 in their last eight games. The Caps are undefeated at home in games decided by two goals (2-0). We will go with that.
Capitals 4 – Kraken 2