Thursday, December 08, 2022

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 29: Kraken at Capitals, December 9

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.

1.  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.

1.  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

 

Tuesday, December 06, 2022

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 28: Capitals at Flyers, December 7

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals wrap up their longest road trip of the season when they visit the City of Brotherly Love to face the Flyers in a rare Metropolitan Division contest for the Caps.  The Caps, whose injury list seems to grow by the day, gutted out a 3-2 win against the Edmonton Oilers on Monday night after number one goalie Darcy Kuemper and defensemen Martin Fehervary were added to the roster of the injured, while the Flyers are coming off a 5-3 win over the injury-plagued Colorado Avalanche.

Even with the win over the Avalanche, only five teams in the league have fewer wins than the Flyers (nine).  After starting the season with three straight wins, the Flyers are 6-12-5 since October 19th.  Their problems start with an inability to score.  Even after putting up five goals against Colorado, the Flyers have the worst scoring offense in the league over their 6-12-5 slump (2.30 goals per game). 

Eighteen of the 24 skaters to appear over the 23-game stretch since October 19th have goals, suggesting a certain balance, but only four of them have more than three goals over that stretch.  Kevin Hayes leads the club over that stretch with eight goals.  The news, though, is the games played.  Hayes has appeared in all 26 games for the Flyers to date after dressing for only 48 games last year, missing 34 games over three different stretches with abdominal and adductor injuries.  Perhaps this is the season that Hayes lives up to the seven-year/$50.0 million contract he signed with the Flyers in June 2019 after Philadelphia obtained him in trade from the Winnipeg Jets for a fifth-round draft pick earlier that month. 

Hayes’ contract might have been thought odd at the time, locking up a player for dollars and term who never posted more than 25 goals in a season and recorded more than 50 points once in five seasons preceding the trade.  In three seasons with the Flyers to date he has not been a dominant performer in the offensive end of the ice, going 45-58-103, minus-28, in 172 games coming into this season.  However, he is currently averaging more than a point per game (8-19-27, minus-09, in 26 games), suggesting it is better late than never to realize a level of production that reflects his contract.  Hayes has not had consecutive games without a point over his last 16 games (7-10-17, minus-10.  In 34 career games against Washington, Hayes is 7-13-20, minus-5.

Travis Konecny has appeared in only 17 of the 23 games of the Flyers’ slump, but he leads the team in points per game over that span (7-11-18).  Even though he is averaging more than a point per game over that stretch, he drags a minus-11 rating over those 23 games into Wednesday night’s contest.  He has been on ice for 23 even strength goals against in that span, fourth-most on the team, but first in goals against on-ice per game (1.35).  In 20 games played overall this season, there have been only three in which Konecny was not on ice for an even strength goal against, and only once in 15 games since October 22nd, that being in his last game, the win over Colorado.  Five times in 20 games he was on ice for more than one even strength goal against, including five goals he saw up close and personal in a 5-2 loss to Columbus on November 10th. 

Whether he is a cause or a symptom, Flyers fans have had to take the bad with the good with Konecny this season.  Except the good has not been all that good.  Unsurprisingly, given the Flyers’ struggles this season, the team is just 4-4-1 in the nine games in which he has goals and 6-7-2 in the 15 games in which he has points.  And when heavily engaged in the offense, it gets worse, the Flyers posting an 0-2-2 record in four games in which he had five or more shots on goal.  What Konecny has been is effective on home ice, going 8-6-14, minus-3 (and a 24.2 shooting percentage) in 11 games on home ice while going 2-6-8, minus-6 (a 6.9 shooting percentage) in nine games on the road.  He is 6-4-10, minus-5, in 27 career games against the Caps.

Carter Hart has gone from promising goaltending prospect to goalie-of-the-future to disappointment to…well, who knows what in his five seasons in the NHL.  As a rookie in 2018-2019, he was 16-13-1, 2.83, .917, and finished ninth in Calder Trophy voting for top rookie.  He followed that up with a 24-13-3, 2.42, .914 season with one shutout in his sophomore season.  It appeared that Hart would finally be that goaltender the Flyers have been searching for since the days of Ron Hextall, who retired from the Flyers after the 1998-1999 season.  A 9-11-5, 3.67, .877 season (one shutout) in 2020-2021 put those goalie-of-the-future thoughts on pause, especially when his season was cut short late with a knee injury.  Last season, his performance could not save the Flyers from a dismal season.  He did improve to 13-24-7, 3.16, .905, with one shutout, his 3.16 goals against average ranking 37th among 48 goalies with at least 1,500 minutes and his .905 save percentage ranking 32nd in that group. 

This season he has been one of the few bright spots for the Flyers (well, brighter), going 8-7-4, 2.83, .911.  He ranks 22nd in goals against average among 50 goalies with at least 500 minutes played, and his .911 save percentage ranks 20th in that group.  What seems to get lost in the noise of “is Hart the man” is the fact that he is still just 24 years old and has fewer than 200 appearances in the NHL to date.  Still, he is closing in on the top-ten in wins in franchise history, his 70 wins to date trailing Brian Boucher in tenth place (73).  There is room for improvement, though.  His 2.95 career goals against average with the Flyers ranks 22nd among 38 goalies to have logged at least 1,000 minutes with the club, although his .906 save percentage ranks 12th in that group.  He has struggled over the past four weeks.  Since November 10th, Hart is 2-7-2, 3.50, .877, and only once in that span allowing fewer than three goals (a 3-1 win over the New York Islanders on November 29th).  Hart is 3-4-1, 2.91, .905, in eight career games against Washington.

1.  The Flyers rank 31st in the league in scoring offense on home ice (2.57 goals per game); only Arizona averages fewer (2.25).

2. Philadelphia’s home power play has not been powerful on home ice; it ranks 30th in the league (16.3 percent), and it does not get many chances (3.07 power plays per game/24th in the league).

3.  In their last eight games on home ice, the Flyers scored a 5-on-5 goal once on six occasions.

4.  On the other side, four times in their last six home games they allowed three or more goals at 5-on-5.

5.  No team has lost more games by three or more goals on home ice than the Flyers this season (six, tied with Columbus),

1.  This will be only the sixth time in 28 games that the Caps face a Metropolitan Division opponent. They are 2-2-1 overall and 1-1-1 on the road.  Each of the three games that did not go to extra time were decided by three or more goals – a 6-3 win over New Jersey, a 4-1 loss to Pittsburgh, and a 5-1 loss to New Jersey in a rematch.  They lost in a Gimmick to Carolina, 3-2, and beat the Flyers in overtime, 3-2, in their first meeting of the season.

2.  The Caps have just one win this season on the road by one goal; only Columbus, Dallas, and Pittsburgh have fewer (none).  That win came on Monday night, 3-2 over Edmonton.

3.  Washington has three wins by three or more goals on the road this season; only three teams have more – Dallas (six), New Jersey (five), and Pittsburgh (four).

4.  The Caps have 3.73 power play chances per game on the road, fifth-most in the league, but their 16.1 percent power play on the road ranks 26th.

5.  Washington’s minus-8 goal differential in third periods of road games is tied for fourth-worst in the league (with Philadelphia; only Columbus (minus-9), St. Louis (minus-10), and Anaheim (minus-13) are worse.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Philadelphia: Tony DeAngelo

For a 27-year old in his seventh NHL season, defenseman Tony DeAngelo has had an eventful career.  Taken with the 19th overall pick in the 2014 Entry Draft, the fifth defenseman taken in that draft, by the Tampa Bay Lightning, DeAngelo never suited up for the Bolts.  In June 2016 he was traded to the Arizona Coyotes for a second round pick in the 2016 draft.  Six months later, on New Year Day 2017, he was suspended for three games for physical abuse of an official in a 4-2 loss to the Calgary Flames the day before.  Six months after that incident, he was traded to the New York Rangers with a first round pick in the 2017 draft for goalie Antti Raanta and forward Derek Stepan.  He displayed a scoring knack with the Rangers, going 19-73-92, minus-6, in 167 games with the Rangers, but once more his lesser angels did him in.  On Opening Night in 2020-2021 he took what his head coach, David Quinn, called an “undisciplined” penalty and sat for the next two games.  Things settled down, but after a 5-4 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in late January, he was reportedly involved in an altercation with Ranger goalie Alexandar Georgiev.  That was enough for the Rangers, who waived him, the team pronouncing that "he has played his last game for the Rangers."

DeAngelo cleared waivers, but the team was true to its word, and he did not play for the Rangers for the remainder of the 2020-2021 season.  In July 2021 he was signed as a free agent by the Carolina Hurricanes, and he had a productive 2021-2022 season, going 10-41-51, plus-30, in 64 games.  But it was not enough to keep the Hurricanes from trading DeAngelo with a seventh round draft pick in 2022 to Philadelphia for a fourth round draft pick in 2022, a third round draft pick in 2023, and a second round draft pick in 2024.  While he has not been as productive with the Flyer as he was with Carolina, he does lead the Flyer defensemen in goals (four) and points (13) in 25 games.  He also leads the blueliners in ice time (24:25 per game), shots on goal (57), power play goals (two), and power play points (seven). If there is an unexpected stat, given his colorful history, it is that he ranks last among seven defensemen in hits per 60 minutes (1.37).  DeAngelo goes into this game on a three-game points streak (1-2-3).  He is 1-5-6, minus-7, in nine career games against the Capitals.

Washington: Evgeny Kuznetsov

Maybe it’s the cheesesteaks, or perhaps the soft pretzels.  Whatever it is, Philadelphia has been a destination that has been kind to Evgeny Kuznetsov in his career.  Despite playing in only 17 games in Philadelphia, tied for 27th in Caps history, Kuznetsov is tied for 18th in all time goals on the road against the Flyers (four), tied for sixth in assists (11), and tied for 11th in points (15).  His six career power play points in Philadelphia is tied for 11th.  Not since his first two career games in Philadelphia has Kuznetsov gone consecutive games without a point.

It would be nice if he could find some of that scoring magic.  In 26 games to date, Kuznetsov has only three goals on 64 shots, a 4.7 shooting percentage than is, by far, the lowest of his career (11 goals on 127 shots/8.7 percent in 2014-2015).  He has yet to record a goal on the road this season in 14 games, part of a very divided home/road split this season – 3-9-12, plus-3, in 12 home games and 0-6-6, minus-9, in 14 road games.  One reason for the lack of goal scoring is that his shots on goal in road games has dried up.  After posting 30 shots on goal in his first nine games on the road, he has only seven in his last five road contests.  But here is the bizarre part of his road scoring to date.  Kuznetsov has single assists in six road games, and the Caps are 1-3-2 in those games, the only win coming Monday night in the 3-2 victory over Edmonton.  Ice time has not been kind to him on the road, either.  In six games in which Kuznetsov skated more than 19 minutes, the Caps are 1-4-1, the lone win once again was the 3-2 win over Edmonton on Monday night.  And another odd Kuznetsov fact.  It is no secret that faceoffs are a part of the game with which he has challenges.  But in 12 games in which he was 50 percent or better on draws overall, the Caps are 5-5-2.  In the 14 games in which he was under 50 percent, Washington is 6-6-2.  Kuznetsov is 5-19-24, minus-3, in 33 career games against the Flyers.

In the end…

The Flyers have been disappointing this season, and what is worse, they are missing some important pieces – Cam Atkinson (upper body), Sean Couturier (back), and James van Riemsdyk (finger) are injured.  It is not “Capitals” level of injury absences, but on a team that is not particularly deep in talent, they are keenly felt.  The question for the Caps is whether they have it in them to go for the jugular, jump on the Flyers early, and take their fans out of the game before the cheesesteaks get cold.  We think they will answer that question in the affirmative.

Capitals 5 – Flyers 2

 

Sunday, December 04, 2022

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 27: Capitals at Oilers, December 5

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals close out the Alberta portion of their schedule when they visit Rogers Place in Edmonton to take on the Oilers on Monday night.  The Caps lost the first game of the Alberta tour, a 5-2 loss to the Calgary Flames on Saturday night.  They will face an Edmonton team that is 4-1-0 in their last five games after a difficult ten-game stretch over which they were 3-7-0. 

The Oilers are a team known more for a prolific offense more than they are for a stout defense, but it is one that lacks a certain balance.  The Oilers are the only team in the league with two 40-point players through Saturday’s games.  In fact, they were the only team in the league with any 40-point players through Saturday’s games – Connor McDavid (21-26-47) and Leon Draisaitl (17-25-42).  McDavid, who has had five 100-point seasons in the last six years (and surely would have had the sixth if the 2019-2020 season had not been curtailed due to COVID – he was 34-63-97 in 64 games), is on a pace for a career season.  At his current pace of production, he would finish the regular season 69-85-154.  The goals, assists, and points would be career bests. 

McDavid already has seven three-or-more point games this season, most in the league.  But that is a double-edged sword.  The Oilers won all seven games in which McDavid recorded three or more goals, which is not surprising.  But it does mean that the Oilers are just 7-11-0 when he does not reach the three-point threshold.  And when he does not record a point, which has happened only four times in 25 games on his resume this season, the Oilers are 1-3-0.  Oddly enough, three of the four instances in which he failed to record a point came on home ice.  The Oilers also ask a lot of McDavid in terms of ice time.  In his 25 games to date, he skated more than 25 minutes four times and skated less than 20 minutes only four times. Those are numbers more likely to be logged by a top pair defenseman with special teams responsibilities.  In 11 career games against the Caps, McDavid is 7-9-16, plus-4.

Meanwhile, Leon Draisaitl, who would be a superstar of the first order if not playing for the Oilers, continues piling up points of his own.  He came into this season having posted more than 100 points in three of his last four seasons and likely would have had the fourth had not the 2020-2021 season been shortened by COVID issues (he was 31-53-84 in 56 games).  Draisaitl is among the most efficient goal scorers of this era.  Over his last five seasons, he has 196 goals on 979 shots, a 20.0 shooting percentage, best among all NHL skaters to record more than 50 shots over the period.  He is a bit above that mark so far this season with 17 goals on 84 shots (20.2 percent).

Draisatil also has a knack for scoring game-winning goals.  The volume of goals he scores contributes to that, but it remains that he led the league in game winners in two of the last three seasons coming into this one and currently leads the league in that statistic (six).  The difference between McDavid’s scoring in bunches and Draisaitl is the latter’s consistent production.  Draisaitl has goals in 16 games this season but only one multi-goal game (two in a 5-4 win over Chicago on November 30th, and yes, the second one was the game-winner).  He has been held off the score sheet entirely only three times in 25 games (all of them Oiler losses).  On the other end, he has 11 multi-point games, the Oilers having a 8-3-0 record in those contests.  In 12 career games against the Caps, Draisaitl is 6-5-11, plus-8.

The Oilers get balanced production from their defensemen – four of the eight to dress this season have goals, and six have points – but they do not have a dominant producer from the blue line.  It has been since 2008-2009 that the Oilers had a defenseman with 50 or more points, but Tyson Barrie came into this season with two consecutive 40-plus point seasons.  He currently leads the Oiler defense with 15 points, and he is tied for the team lead among defensemen in goals with four.  Barrie’s next goal will be his 100th in a 12-year NHL career over which he played for three teams, Colorado and Toronto being his stops before arriving in Edmonton in 2020-2021.  Barrie is well-acquainted with the offensive side of the position.  In his nine full seasons in the league coming into this one he topped 40 points six times and recorded more than 50 point three times.  He is on a pace to challenge the 50-point mark through 25 games this season. 

Barrie’s production has been tied to team success this season, the Oilers going 9-3-0 in the dozne games in which he has points and wins in all three games in which scored goals.  He has stubbed his toe lately though, going 10-2-3, minus-1, over his last nine games after going 3-9-12, plus-3, over his first 16 games.  In 13 career games against Washington, Barrie is 1-6-7, minus-4.

1.  Edmonton is 11-1-0 when scoring four or more goals this season, 3-10-0 when posting three or fewer goals.

2.  Things happen when the Oilers are on home ice.  The 7.23 combined goals per game for Edmonton and their opponents at Rogers Place rank third in the league.

3.  The Oilers have only ten first period goals in 13 games on home ice.  But they have 22 second period goals, most in the league on home ice. 

4.  An indicator that the Oilers offense is largely offset by their “defense” – Edmonton has only two wins this season by three or more goals.  Only Anaheim has fewer (none).

5.  Only four times this season have the Oilers taken a lead into the first intermission (3-1-0).  Only Philadelphia has fewer games with a lead after 20 minutes (2-0-0)

1.  The Caps are one of four teams without a win this season when trailing after one period (0-6-2).  Arizona, Florida, and Dallas are the others.

2.  Washington is just 3-2-4 in one-goal decisions overall this season.  They have more wins by three or more goals (five).

3.  The Caps have faced only 2.96 shorthanded situations per game this season, sixth-fewest in the league.

4.  Washington has recorded 353 missed shot attempts this season, third-most in the league.

5.  Outshooting opponents has not mattered for the Caps so far.  They are 5-5-1 in games when they outshot opponents.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Edmonton: Stuart Skinner

It has hardly mattered who was in goal for the Oilers so far this season.  Jack Campbell is 7-6-0 in 13 starts, and Stuart Skinner is 7-5-0 in 12 starts.  But there are differences.  While Campbell’s numbers seem consistent with, or even worse than expected for a goalie with a near-.500 record (4.12 goals against average, .872 save percentage), Skinner has a 2.91 goals against average and a .914 save percentage.  The difference is shots.  Campbell has faced 32.2 shots per 60 minutes, while Skinner has faced 33.8 shots per 60 minutes.  It might not seem like a lot, but it is almost a five percent difference per game.  That Skinner, the fifth goalie taken in the 2017 Entry Draft (third round/78th overall), would have the superior numbers is a bit surprising.  It is more surprising given that he has already equaled his career high in starts (12) and appearances (13).  He has already surpassed the six wins he posted last season, his third in the NHL. 

Skinner has been a more efficient goalie at home so far, posting a 2.68 goals against average and a .919 save percentage in seven appearances in Edmonton while recording a 3.18 goals against average and .908 save percentage in six appearances on the road.  He comes into this game on a personal three game winning streak, but what is odd about it is that he stopped just 76 of 86 shots in those wins, a .884 save percentage.  Skinner has one career appearance against the Caps, stopping 26 of 31 shots in the 5-4 loss to the Caps last November 7th.

Washington: John Carlson

John Carlson is having an interesting year, and not in an altogether good way.  As an offensive defenseman this season, he is tied for second in goals among blueliners (eight, with Buffalo’s Rasmus Dahlin) and is shooting a career-best 11.4 percent.  That is the good part.  On the other hand, he has only six assists in 20 games after posting 54 in 78 games last season.  He has a minus-11 rating, which at this pace would obliterate his career worst in this category (minus-15 in 2011-2012).  Only eight of 273 defensemen to play this season have worse ratings.  He has been on ice for 28 even strength goals, which would not be terrible but for the fact that he has played in only those 20 games.  He has had at least one even strength goal scored by opponents while on ice in 13 of those 20 games, and the Caps are 4-7-2 in those games.  Only six defensemen have a worse even strength on-ice goal differential than Carlson’s minus-12. And while he has those eight goals, he also has 37 missed shots, third-highest among defensemen in the league.  In 17 career games against Edmonton, Carlson is 1-14-15, plus-3.

In the end…

The Caps are having their mid-season swoon a month early, and that is a bad sign.  Since Halloween, they are 5-8-4, their five wins tied for 26th in the league, their 14 points tied for 24th, and their .412 points percentage ranking 27th in the league.  They haven’t been able to score, their 2.53 goals per game over that span ranking 30th in scoring offense.  If this doesn’t change soon, the Caps will be playing the second half of the season with little to play for other than draft position.  A defensively-challenged team such as Edmonton would be a good place to find their scoring touch.

Capitals 4 – Oilers 3

 

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 8

Week 8 was an odd week for the Washington Capitals.  The record will say it was a “break even” week, but there is the odd feeling that it was a disappointment and another nail being hammered into the Caps’ season, which is slowly dissolving into also-ran status.

Record (1-1-1)

The Caps earned three points in as many games in Week 8, but it did not seem even that good overall.  After hammering the Vancouver Canucks, 5-1, on the road to open the week, the Caps looked as if they would make it two in a row for the week when they took a 2-1 lead against the Kraken in Seattle into the final three minutes of regulation.  But the Kraken tied the contest with less than three minutes to go, then they won the game when the Caps fell all over their own skates off the opening faceoff of overtime to allow the game-winning goal seven seconds into the extra period.  That was followed by a disaster of a game against the Calgary Flames, a 5-2 loss in which the Caps lost number one goaltender Darcy Kuemper to an upper-body injury (apparently entering concussion protocol after an elbow to the head) and defenseman Martin Fehervary to another upper-body injury (suspected to be an arm injury).  The lackluster week dropped the Caps to sixth in the Metropolitan Division, six points behind Pittsburgh for fourth place with the Penguins holding a game in hand.

Offense: 3.00/game (season: 2.73 / 27th)

It was a week on offense that reflected the record – neither good nor bad, but very much uneven.  More than half the week’s worth of goals came in the opening contest, the Caps lighting up the Vancouver Canucks for five goals in a 5-1 win.  Only five Caps recorded goals in the three games, but they had balance with four of them recording two apiece – Alex Ovechkin, Martin Fehervary, Conor Sheary, and John Carlson.  Anthony Mantha had the other tally. Ovechkin led the team with four points, 12 Caps recording at least one overall.  The five goals that the Caps scored against the Canucks was the fifth time they recorded five or more goals in a game this season, the second time on the road (6-3 over New Jersey on October 24th).  On the other side, the two goals the Caps recorded against Seattle and Calgary were the 13th and 14th instances of scoring two or fewer goals through 26 games.  No team finished Week 8 with more such instances than the Caps this season (tied with Philadelphia, Anaheim, and the New York Rangers).

Defense: 3.00 / game (season: 3.12 / 15th)

Another not good/not bad week, just a mirror image of the offense.  The Caps allowed only two goals in the first 117:33 of the week, a superb record of defensive effectiveness.  However, in the last 62:34 of the week, they allowed seven goals (one empty-netter), not nearly as good.  It was a brutal week for John Carlson.  Of the seven goals scored at even strength (six at 5-on-5), Carlson was on ice for six of them.  Only one defenseman in the league appearing in three games in Week 8 was on ice for more goals (Seth Jones: seven).  At the other end, Martin Fehervary, who departed early in the final game of the week with an injury, was not on ice for any even strength goals.  Among the forwards, Aliaksei Protas, Nic Dowd, Garnet Hathaway and Anthony Mantha dressed for all three games and avoided being nicked for an even strength goal against while on ice.

Goaltending: 2.69 / .913 (season: 2.82 / .908 / 2 shutouts)

The performance was not bad, but that is not the takeaway coming out of Week 8.  Darcy Kuemper was elbowed in the head late in the second period of the Caps’ 5-2 loss to Calgary on Saturday night, and although he remained in the game briefly, he took himself out and did not return.  It would be no understatement that the Caps’ season might rest on how soon he returns to the lineup.  With apologies to backup Charlie Lindgren, there just is not enough in his resume to suggest he would be a reliable number one goalie over an extended stretch.  That is not to say he could not, it is just that with only 37 games on his NHL resume, there is not very much evidence one way or another.

As for the performance in Week 8, Kuemper had a very good week until his injury, going 1-0-1, 2.31, .928 in 155 minutes of play.  For his part, Lindgren was 0-1-0, 5.26, .778, in just under 23 minutes of action.  Combined, the Caps goalies were very good over 40 minutes, posting a combined .933 save percentage in the first periods of games (all from Kuemper), a .941 save percentage in the second period of games (both goalies getting minutes), but then dropping to a .889 save percentage in the third periods of games, and Kuemper allowed a goal on the only shot he faced in overtime in the 3-2 loss to Seattle.

Power Play: 2-for-9 / 22.2 percent (season: 20.7 percent / 21st)

It was a decent week for the man advantage, but a strange one.  In how many weeks would one find the Caps scoring multiple power play goals, Alex Ovechkin getting neither of them, and Conor Sheary doing the honors on both?  Those two power play goals for Sheary were his first two man-advantage goals this season and match his total for last year.  The two goals came on Sheary’s only two power ply shots for the week.  Five Capitals recorded power play points for the week.  In addition to Sheary’s two goals, Sonny Milano, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Marcus Johansson, and Alex Ovechkin added assists.  Six Caps recorded power play shots on goal, Ovechkin with five and T.J. Oshie with four.


Penalty Killing 7-for-8 / 87.5 percent (season: 80.5 percent / 7th)

The Caps had an effective penalty kill in Week 8, their second consecutive week over 85 percent and third in four weeks.  What might have been the best thing to come out of the week was that the Caps allowed only 2.67 power play chances per game and have allowed a total of 17 in their last six games.  The best penalty kill is the one you do not have to use.  If there was a nugget of strangeness on an individual level, it was that the only shorthanded shot on goal was recorded by defenseman Nick Jensen.  Another oddity was that the ice time leader was not a defenseman, but was center Nic Dowd, who skated 6:16 on the penalty kill for the week.


Faceoffs: 88-for-164 / 53.7 percent (season: 48.1 percent / 23rd)

The Capitals continue to improve in this area, but they are demonstrating that faceoff success and its influence on wins and losses is not a strong one.  This week’s overall numbers might have overstated the performance in the circle, though.  Washington did win a majority of draws in the offensive zone (52.6 percent), but they lagged in the defensive end (45.2 percent).  The neutral zone numbers (65.2 percent) pushed the Caps well over the 50 percent mark for the week.

On an individual level, two Caps finished over 60 percent overall for the week – Dylan Strome and Nic Dowd.  But their numbers were influenced by each of them going 7-for-9 in the neutral zone (77.8 percent).  Strome did win almost 70 percent of his offensive zone draws, though (15-22/68.2 percent).  Evgeny Kuznetsov won 57.1 percent of his offensive zone faceoffs.

Goals by Period

Things started well for the Caps in games, which is the best that can be said in this category.  But while they recorded six first period goals for the week, that was two-thirds of the goal total for the week.  The first period goal total was more than half what they had going into the week for the season (11).  They remain tied for 23rd in the league in first period goals scored.  What might be more important is the Caps’ inability to keep teams from scoring in the third periods of games.  They allowed four third period goals in Week 8, double what they allowed in the combined first and second periods for the week.  It left them with 33 third period goals allowed for the week, tied for sixth-most in the league.

Year-over-Year

Week by week, the Caps fall further and further behind last year’s team in terms of performance in discrete categories. Wins, points, scoring offense and defense, shots for and against, penalty kill, shot attempts-for at even strength, all worse this year than last.  And even those categories in which the Caps’ volumes exceed last year’s are in categories where less is probably better – hits, blocked shots, takeaways, and penalties – either evidence of not having the puck or playing in an undisciplined fashion.


In the end…

Caps fans would be forgiven if they think things are starting to slip away on this season.  There are still more than 50 games to go, but time goes by quickly when a team is chasing a playoff spot and finds itself having to climb over more than one team to get there, which is where the Caps find themselves.  This team just does not score enough, cannot seem to hold leads or sustain efforts over 60 minutes, and now is wondering if their number one goalie is going to be sidelined or perhaps of diminished performance for a spell after an injury.  Things started poorly for the Caps this season with the injuries to critical pieces to start the year, and things are not getting better.  Let’s hope Santa’s elves are working on more wins for the Caps up in the North Pole workshop.

Three Stars

  • First Star: Alex Ovechkin (2-2-4, plus-1, one game-winning goal, 11 shots on goal, 27 shot attempts)
  • Second Star: Conor Sheary (2-1-3, minus-2, 11 shots on goal, 14 shot attempts)
  • Third Star: Martin Fehervary (2-0-2, plus-3, four shots on goal, six hits, five blocked shots)

Friday, December 02, 2022

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 26: Capitals at Flames, December 3

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals took on one of the hottest teams in the league on Thursday night, and they could not cool them off.  The Caps gave up a late game-tying goal before losing seven seconds into overtime to the Seattle Kraken, 3-2, to allow the Kraken to extend their franchise-record winning streak to seven games.  The Caps take the ice on Saturday night in the fourth game of their six-game road trip when they face the Calgary Flames at Scotiabank Saddledome, trying to get back on a winning track.

The Caps will be facing the Flames for the second time in just over a week, having shut out the Flames, 3-0, in Washington on November 25th.  Things have not improved for Calgary since that loss in DC, losing two of three decisions to fall to 10-10-3 for the season.  The Flames will be playing the third game of a five-game home stand when the Caps come to town.  One would think the home cooking would do the Flames good, but they split their first two games on the home stand, thumping the Florida Panthers, 6-2, and following that up with a 2-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday.  The loss to the Canadiens snapped a three-game home wining streak, but the Flames remain one of the more frustrating teams on home ice this season, their 7-5-1 record ranking 18th in the league in points percentage (.577).

Calgary has not suffered an offensive drought on home ice, their 3.38 goals per game tied for 13th in the league in scoring offense. However, their scoring defense of 3.15 goals allowed per game ranks 18th in the league and is a far cry from the third-ranked scoring defense on home ice they had last season (2.39 goals allowed per game).

The defensive problems might not start in goal, but they end up there, and Flames netminder Jacob Markstrom evaluated his recent performance succinctly after the Flames’ 2-1 loss to the Canadiens on Thursday… “I just suck at hockey right now.”  It did not help that he gave up the game’s first goal just 13 seconds into the contest after wandering far from the crease to try to foil a breakaway. 


It has been a season of frustration for last season’s runner-up in Vezina Trophy voting.  Last season, Markstrom put together a career year in his second year with the Flames – 37-15-9, 2.22, .922, with a league-leading nine shutouts.  So far this season, he is 8-6-2, 2.97, .889, and he has yet to record a shutout.  He has been barely more effective on home ice.  While his 6-3-1 win/loss record is respectable, his 2.89 goals against average at home ranks 21st of 39 goalies with at least 250 minutes played on home ice, and his .893 save percentage ranks 29th in that group.  And he has been consistently inefficient in stopping pucks.  His 11 games this season with save percentages under .900 are tied for most in the league with Los Angeles’ Jonathan Quick.  Six of those 11 instances were on home ice, and overall, he is 3-5-2 (one no-decision) in those games.  In each of the three wins, his offense bailed him out, scoring four or more goals in each.  Markstrom is 1-8-1, 3.20, .896 in ten career appearances against the Caps and stopped 22 of 25 shots in the 3-0 loss to the Caps last month.

The Flames lost two important pieces from last season when Johnny Gaudreau signed a seven-year/$68.25 million contact with the Columbus Blue Jackets, and the Flames traded Matthew Tkachuk to the Florida Panthers. Calgary tried to fill the holes by signing Nazem Kadri to a seven-year/$49 million contract, and obtaining Jonathan Huberdeau from the Panthers as part of the return in the Tkachuk trade.  Neither have been quite the player they were last season.

Kadri, who was 28-59-87, plus-13, with the Colorado Avalanche in his walk year last season, is 8-7-15, minus-7, in 23 games overall with the Flames this season.  His goal scoring has been consistent in terms of its efficiency, his eight goals tied for second on the club and his 11.3 shooting percentage matching last season’ mark.  His rate performance in goal scoring has not been bad to date.  His 1.2 goals per 60 minutes through 23 games matches his goal scoring rate from last season.  It is in assists where his performance has dropped significantly, perhaps an indication that not all is his doing, that there has not been enough “finish” elsewhere on the roster.  His 1.1 assists pre 60 minutes ranks in the bottom half of his career results and are far fewer than the career-high 2.6 assists per 60 minutes his posted with the Avs last season with what was a roster deeper in scoring talent than his current club.

Strangely for a player on whom the team depends for offense to be translated into wins, the Flames are just 3-3-1 in the seven games in which Kadri has goals this season and 6-4-1 in games in which he recorded at least one point.  The team has been more successful when he’s been feisty, going 4-1-0 when he drew at least one penalty.  Kadri has been closer to a point a game player on home ice, though, going 5-6-1, minus-1, at the Saddledome, and the Flames are 5-2-1 when he recorded at least one point.  Of more concern with respect to this game is that Kadri will be dragging a seven-game streak without a point into the contest, over which the Flames are 3-3-1.  In 25 career games against the Caps, Kadri is 8-9-17, minus-1.

If Kadri has been something less than expected, Jonathan Hubedeau has been a disappointment to date.  Nothing could be more of a change than the change in locale Huberdeau made in going from south Florida to Alberta, Canada.  Except his performance last year to this.  With the Panthers last season, Huberdeau tied a career high in goals (30), led the league with a career-high 85 assists, set a career-high in points with 115, posted a career-high plus-35 rating, and recorded a career-high seven game-winning goals.  This season, he is 4-9-13, plus-5, in 20 games (he missed three games to a foot injury), his four goals tied for seventh on the club, and he has only seven even strength points, tied for sixth on the club.  Perhaps the strangest number of all on his resume this season is “17:19,” that being his ice time per game.  It is more than two minutes less than he skated last year in Florida (19:25) and his lowest ice time per game since 2014-2015, when he skated 16:45 a game for the Panthers.  His ice time has picked up of late, averaging 18:13 over his last seven games, and it has been accompanied by an improvement in performance (2-3-5, plus-5).  That performance has not been tied to team success, the Flames going just 3-3-1 in those games.  Huberdeau is 7-17-24, minus-2, in 26 career games against the Caps.

1.  Need a starting point for the Flames’ woes?  Try special teams.  Last season their 22.9 percent power play ranked tenth in the league, their 83.2 percent penalty kill ranked sixth, and their special teams index of 106.1 ranked sixth.  This year, the power play ranks 24th (18.9 percent), their penalty kill ranks 13th (79.5 percent), and their special teams index ranks 17th (98.4).

2.  Home ice has not helped special teams.  Last year, the power play ranked sixth on home ice (25.2 percent), the penalty kill ranked second (88.3 percent), and the special teams index ranked third (113.5).  This season, the power play on home ice ranks 25th (18.2 percent), the power play ranks 12th (82.4 percent), and the special teams index ranks 19th (100.2).

3.  The Flames do a good job of holding down enemy shots on goal, averaging 27.8 shots allowed on goal per game, fifth-lowest in the league.

4.  Calgary leads the league in first period goals scored on home ice (15).  They are also tied for worst in the league in allowing first period goals with Minnesota (17).  Don’t tune in late, you might miss some fun.

5.  Calgary is tied for third in the league in 5-on-5 goals scored on home ice (31, with Columbus).

1.  Last year, the Caps were 6-19-4 in games in which they scored two or fewer goals.  So far this season... 0-10-3.  Then again, they are 10-1-1 when scoring three or more.

2.  Of the 23 skaters to dress for the Caps in road games, 19 have points.  Connor McMichael, Sonny Milano, Connor Brown, and Matt Irwin have been shutout, but they have only 20 road games played among them.

3.  Of Capitals appearing in at least ten of the 13 road games played, Garnet Hathaway leads the team in credited hits per 60 minutes (12.53).  He also leads all forwards in blocked shots per 60 minutes (5.89), and is third in takeaways per 60 minutes (2.21).

4.  T.J. Oshie leads all Caps appearing in more than one game in penalties drawn per 60 minutes (2.89). He also leads the team in penalties taken per 60 minutes (2.89).

5.  John Carlson has struggled on the road. He has the worst on-ice goal differential at even strength (minus-9).  Only four skaters in the league are worse on the road (Ryan Strome (minus-14), Torey Krug (minus-13), John Klingberg (minus-11), and Frank Vatrano (minus-10)).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Calgary: MacKenzie Weegar

In six seasons with the Florida Panthers, defenseman MacKenzie Weegar was a feel-good story.  A seventh-round (206th overall) pick in the 2013 Entry Draft, the lowest drafted player in that draft to appear in the NHL to date, he grew into a dependable offensive contributor from the blue line, posting 27 goals and 121 points in 306 games with the Panthers, a career in Florida that culminate with a career best 8-36-44, plus-40 scoring line last season.  But when Matthew Tkachuk became available in a possible trade, he was packaged with Jonathan Huberdeau, Cole Schwindt, and lottery protected 2025 first round to Calgary for Tkachuk and a 2025 fourth-round draft pick.

The change in scenery has not gone well for Weegar.  In 23 games to date, he is 0-6-6, plus-4.  Not awful, but it slammed to a halt the momentum he built as a player whose career until this year had been one of consistent year-to-year improvement in offensive production.  What is worse, half of that meager offensive output came in the team’s first three games this season in which he had a pair of assists in a 5-3 win on Opening Night, and another assist in Game 3, in a 3-2 win over the Vegas Golden Knights.  If there is any positive to be gleaned from his performance to date that is relevant to this game, five of his six points have been recorded on home ice.

Weegar has also been unproductive with heavier workloads.  In nine games in which he skated more than 21 minutes, he has no points, and the Flames are 2-4-3, 1-2-1 at home.  In ten career games against the Caps, he is 0-2-2, minus-1.

Washington: Alex Ovechkin

The Capitals have an Alex Ovechkin problem.  Not in his performance, at least when he performs.  Ovechkin has goals in 11 of the 25 games played so far for the Caps, and the team is 7-2-2 in those games.  But when he his held without a goal, the Caps are 3-9-2. That just is not going to cut it; the team needs to be more than Ovechkin lighting the lamp to win games.  That he has been streaky in goal scoring, when coupled with the relationship of his goal scoring to Caps success, means neither he nor the club has been able to generate consistent, durable momentum of success.   

For instance, he started the season without a goal in his first three games, the Caps going 1-2-0.  That was followed by an 11-game run over which Ovechkin scored eight goals, and the Caps were 5-4-2, not a great record, but better.  Then there was a four-game streak without a goal, the Caps going 1-3-0.  Over his last seven games he has five goals, and the Caps are 3-2-2.  The problem is worse on the road.  Washington has yet to win a road game in which Ovechkin failed to record a goal (0-6-1), while they are 3-1-2 when he did light the lamp.  If there is a team against which he might add to his goal total, it would be Calgary.  Ovechkin is 15-16-31, plus-3, in 22 career games against Calgary, 6-8-14 in 11 games on the road against the Flames.

In the end…

The Caps are to get back into the playoff hunt, they are going to have to do better than alternating mini-winning and losing streaks.  They have yet to win more than two consecutive games this season and have not yet won consecutive games on the road.  They do show some signs of life recently, though, going 3-1-1 in their last five games, which is their best five-game stretch since they went 4-1-0 in Games 3-7 in October.  They will get a chance to start another winning streak and extend a points streak to three games when they visit the Flames.  As for this game, if this season’s brief history is a guide, the Caps need three or more to win. Let’s go with that.

Capitals 3 – Flames 2

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 25: Capitals at Kraken, December 1

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Fresh off a 5-1 thumping of the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday night, the Washington Capitals head down the road and back across the border to face the Seattle Kraken at Climate Pledge Arena to open the December portion of their schedule.  The Caps’ offensive barrage, the most goals they scored on the road in a game since beating the New Jersey Devils, 6-3, on October 24th, paled in comparison to the nine goals the Kraken posted in a 9-8 win over the Los Angeles Kings in LA on Tuesday night that extended the Kraken’s winning streak to six games.  That is a new franchise record, eclipsing the five-game winning streak the Kraken recorded in Games 10-14 to end October and begin November.

That outburst against the Kings continued an amazing burst of offense for the Kraken, who have now scored 26 goals in their last four games.  That’s six and a half goals per game, and no, it is not the year 1984 in The Emerald City.  It is not as if the Kraken offense over those four games has been dominated by a select few, either.  Of the 18 skaters to appear over that four-game span, 11 of them have at least one goal, and 17 of them have points.  The one player without a point – forward Karson Kuhlman – played in only one of those four games.

Perhaps the strangest thing to come out of this four-game run is that the leading point-getter is not a name with which Caps fans are likely familiar.   Matty Beniers is 4-5-9, plus-8, over those last four games, not bad in any circumstance, but he has done it averaging just 15:34 in ice time per game.  While he might not be a household name in these parts, Beniers came to the NHL with a solid background, the second-overall pick of the 2021 Entry Draft and the back half of a University of Michigan two-fer at the top of that draft (defenseman Owen Power was taken first overall by the Buffalo Sabres.  Beniers’s recent performance might have jump started his candidacy for the Calder Trophy as the league’s outstanding rookie.  He leads this year’s class in goals (nine), is second in assists (11), tops in points (20, six more than his nearest competitor – Winnipeg’s Cole Perfetti), tied for first in power play goals (three), fourth in power play points (five), and of 58 rookies with more than five shots on goal, he ranks second in shooting percentage (22.0).  Oddly enough, Seattle’s record is not dominating when Beniers recorded a goal (4-2-1), but they are 8-3-1 when he posted at least one point.  Beniers has never faced the Capitals.

The Kraken seems to be The Wayward Home for Former Capitals, with no fewer than four former Caps to have seen action for Seattle this season – skaters Andre Burakovsky, Justin Schultz, and Daniel Sprong; and goaltender Philipp Grubauer.  Schultz seems to have found a new life with the Kraken.  After going 7-43-50, minus-3, in 120 games over two seasons in Washington, Schultz signed a two-year/$6.0 million deal with Seattle, a deal that has paid off rather well so far.  Schultz leads all Kraken defensemen in points overall (3-13-16), even strength points (3-6-9), and in power play points (0-7-7).  He is the only Seattle defenseman with an overtime goal and one of only two to score an extra-time winner among defensemen in franchise history (Adam Larsson has the other).  He has been on a tear of late, bringing a six-game points streak into Thursday’s contest (2-8-10, plus-8), his ten points over that span tied for most in the league by a defenseman (Winnipeg’s Josh Morrisey is 4-6-10).  Schultz is second among all Seattle skaters in points (2-8-10) in the six-game winning streak for the Kraken.  Schultz is 3-13-16, minus-7, in 20 career games against Washington.

In six years with the Washington Capitals, goaltender Philipp Grubauer rose from something of an afterthought, assumed to have a future as a backup goaltender, to arguable the best backup in the league, and then challenging incumbent number one goaltender Braden Holtby for the top slot, ultimately starting the first two games of the opening round of the 2018 playoffs.  He faltered under the spotlight of the postseason, yielding to Holtby in the third period of Game 2 against Columbus as the Caps went on to win the Stanley Cup, but his postseason struggle did not deprive him of a substantial payday, a three-year/$10.0 million contract with the Colorado Avalanche as a free agent.  Unfortunately, however, his numbers started to slip a bit once he left DC.  In his six years with the Caps, Grubauer was 43-31-11, 2.29, .923, with six shutouts.  Of 34 goalies in Capitals history to log at least 1,000 minutes, his .923 save percentage ranks first.  But then he went 66-30-10, 2.38, .918, with 12 shutouts in three years with the Avalanche.  Despite finishing third in the voting for the Vezina Trophy in 2020-2021 off a 30-9-1/1.95/.922/seven shutout performance, it was not enough for the Avalanche to extend an offer more acceptable to the free agent than that which he signed with Seattle, a six-year/$35.4 million deal in July 2021. 

Like the rest of the team, Grubauer struggled last season, going 18-31-5, 3.16, .889, with two shutouts.  His goals against average ranked 38th of 48 goalies logging at least 1,500 minutes, and his save percentage ranked dead last in that group.  Further, as a reflection of the struggles of the team around him, only once among 55 appearances did he win as many as three consecutive decisions.  On the other side, he had two brutal stretches, the first running from December 6th through January 12th over which he was 0-6-2, 4,31, ,854; and another from February 9th through March 8th, going 0-8-1, 3.70, .886.  This season has been one of frustration for Grubauer, who was on injured reserve after suffering an injury against Colorado in late October.  Between the injury and otherwise iffy play, Grubauer has been limited to five appearances, going 1-1-1, 3.35, .870, and he has lost the number one spot to Martin Jones (12-4-2, 2.90, .893, one shutout).  He has one appearance since returning from injury, getting his first win of the season in 20-save effort the led the Kraken to a 4-2 win over the Vegas Golden Knights last Friday.  In four career appearances against the Caps, Grubauer is 2-1-1, 2.78, .920.

1.  Before the Kraken visited the Los Angeles Kings, they were averaging 3.57 goals per game, tied for sixth in the league in scoring offense.  After “Back to the Eighties” night in LA and a 9-8 win over the Kings, the Kraken saw their scoring offense jump to 3.82 goals per game, third-best scoring offense in the league.

2.  One would not say this often, but good thing this game is in Seattle.  That nine-goal strafing of the Kings in Los Angeles left the Kraken with the top scoring offense in the league in road games – 4.50 goals per game.  In contrast, their 3.25 goals per game at Climate Pledge Arena ranks 17th in home scoring offense.

3.  Again from the “good thing this game is in Seattle file,” while the Kraken are 8-1-1 on the road so far this season (third in the league in points percentage (.850)), they are just 6-4-2 at home (.583/T-15th).

4.  The strange home/road split extends to the power play for the Kraken.  On the road, the power play is at 29.7 percent (fourth in the league), while at home it is just 22.2 percent (T-19th).

5.  What Seattle does do well at home is finish strong.  In 12 home games to date, the Kraken scored 24 goals over the first 40 minutes of games and allowed 25.  In the third period, though, they scored 13 and allowed only eight (tied for sixth-fewest in the league).

1.  The Caps are 30th in the league in points percentage in road games (.333/3-7-2).

2.  Only three teams have fewer wins in road games than the Capitals (three) – Anaheim (two), Chicago (two), and Columbus (one).

3.  Special teams performance on the road has been poor for the Caps. Their power play ranks 30th (13.3 percent), their penalty kill ranks 16th (76.7 percent), and their special teams index – power play plus penalty kill percentages – ranks 26th (90.0).

4.  The Caps have not yet won a one-goal game on the road (0-1-2), one of four teams to have played at least one one-goal game on the road yet to win one (Columbus, Dallas, and Pittsburgh are the others).

5.  The Caps scored first against Vancouver in their 5-1 win on Tuesday night, only the fourth time in 12 tries they scored first on the road (2-2-0); they trailed first eight times (1-5-2).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Seattle: Andre Burakovsky

Has Andre Burakovsky, who left the Washington Capitals after the 2018-2019 season, found a home in Seattle?  Let’s back up a moment.  Burakovsky was traded after that 2018-2019 season to Colorado for a second-round draft pick in 2020 , a third-round draft pick in 2020, and Scott Kosmachuk.  On the Caps’ side, the second-round pick was packaged with another draft pick and sent to San Jose for defenseman Brenden Dillon.  The third-rounder was packaged with a first-round pick (24th overall) and traded to Carolina for the 22nd overall pick, which became Hendrix Lapierre.

But back to Burakovsky.  In 191 games over three seasons with the Avalanche, he posted 61 goals and 150 points with a 17.2 shooting percentage.  Compare that with his tenure in Washington during which he pasted 62 goals, 145 points, and a 12.8 shooting percentage – in 137 more games (391).  He was making progress and at least giving indications he could be a solid offensive contributor if given the responsibility that, frankly, he was not granted in Washington (he averaged 12:45 in ice time per game in DC while getting 15:37 in ice time per game with the Avalanche), although it would not be a stretch to say he skated with superior line mates.  But when his two-year/$9.8 million contract he had with Colorado expired, he was allowed to depart in free agency and was signed by Seattle to a five-year/$27.5 million contract last July 13th. 

Burakovsky is paying early dividends with his new team, suggesting that the third time – or third team – is the charm.  Burakovsky is averaging more than a point per game (9-14-23), although his minus-4 rating is the first time he has found himself as a minus player in nine seasons.  Burakovsky is another of those players whose goal scoring relationship to wins is not impressive (4-2-1 when he posted at least one goal), although the Kraken do better when he records points generally (10-4-2).  And, there is the matter of ice time.  When skating less than 18 minutes, Seattle is 9-2-2, but they are just 5-3-1 when Burakovsky skated more than 18 minutes.  He brins a four-game points streak into this game (5-3-8, plus-1).  Burakovsky is 1-2-3, minus-2, in four career games against the Caps.

Washington: Nick Jensen

The Caps have not done well on the road this season, but Nick Jensen is not high on the list of problem players.  In 12 road games this season, Jensen has the best plus-minus rating (plus-4), has the best even strength goal differential on ice (plus-3), has been charged with only three giveaways (0.73 giveaways per 60 minutes; fewest among Caps defensemen regardless of games played), and taken only one penalty to date while drawing five (the plus-4 net penalties is best on the team on the road).  Even his missed shots are, in their own way, a positive.  All of the 12 shots credited as missed were wide, not over the net, at least giving teammates an opportunity to redirect pucks sent to the net.

And Jensen has been a contributor on offense.  He is one of three Caps defensemen with at least one goal on the road, and his five points in 12 road games (1-4-5) rank second to John Carlson (5-3-8).  He leads all Caps defensemen in even strength points (1-3-4) and is one of two Caps defensemen with a shorthanded point (Carlson has the other one).  And he has done it while averaging 20:23 in ice time over those 12 road games.  And it is not as if his numbers skew that heavily to road performance.  Jensen is 1-4-5, plus-4 overall in 12 road games and 0-5-5, plus-1 in 12 home games.  Jensen has also spread the joy around in terms of divisional opponents.  He is 1-3-4, plus-2, in five games against Metropolitan Division opponents; 0-2-2, even, in eight games against the Atlantic Division; 0-2-2, plus-1, in five games against the Central Division; and 0-2-2, plus-2, in six games against the Pacific Division.

If there is a concern, at least with Jensen’s offense, it is that it tapered off after a hot start.  He was 1-6-7, plus-6, in his first ten games overall, over which the Caps went 5-4-1.  In his next nine games, he was 0-3-3, minus-2, over which Washington went 2-5-2.  And now, Jensen into the matchup with the Kraken without a point and a plus-1 rating over his last five games, over which the Caps are 3-2-0.  Jensen is 0-1-1, plus-2, in two career games against Seattle.

In the end…

The Caps did a lot of things right against Vancouver in the 5-1 win.  The first thing to note is first, as in scoring first.  When they scored first against the Canucks, it broke a four-game streak on the road over which the Caps allowed the first goal.  They did not win any of those games (0-3-1).  Second, there was the matter of leading late.  The win over Vancouver was the first time the Caps took a lead into the third period of a road game since October 29th when they led the Nashville Predators, 1-0, on their way to a 3-0 win.  It broke a streak of six road games in which they were either tied (twice) or trailing (four times).  The Caps were 0-4-2 in those games (three of the losses in regulation were by three or more goals).  In this area, it’s not hard.  You score first, you win more than you lose. You put pressure on teams to open up, creating chances for yourself that could likely force opponents to dig out of a third period hole, and teams trailing after two periods in this league rarely emerge as winners.  After the offensive fireworks these two teams lit in their most recent performances, it could be a low scoring game, putting a premium on getting that first goal and frustrating the other guys.

Capitals 2 – Kraken 1