Wednesday, April 21, 2021

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Games 47-49: Capitals vs. Islanders, April 22/24/27

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals are down to their last ten games of the regular season.  They head to the finish tied with the New York Islanders in standings points atop the East Division and are one point clear of the Pittsburgh Penguins.  The Caps begin this last ten-game stretch with what amounts to a pre-playoff series, a three-game set against the New York Islanders that starts with a pair of games on Long Island on Thursday and Saturday before wrapping up at Capital One Arena in Washington on Tuesday.

The Caps enter the series on a crazy run of late.  They are 3-2-0 in their last five games, and in all of them the winning team scored five or more goals.  On the other side, the Isles are 3-3-0 in their last six games. Going into their game against the New York Rangers on Tuesday night, the Islanders were having trouble scoring, posting a total of 13 goals in eight games and not scoring more than three in any of those contests.  In fact, the only time the Islanders scored more than three goals in regulation in a 13-game stretch was when they plastered the Caps, 8-4, on April 1st.  New York broke out of that scoring slump with a 6-1 win over the Rangers on Tuesday.

The April scoring slump (the Isles rank 24th in scoring offense this month) has not come at the expense of balance.  Eleven Islanders share in the 25 goals scored this month, led by Jordan Eberle and Brock Nelson with four apiece.  In a quiet, understated way Eberle is merely extending what for him has been a consistent scoring touch over time.  With a goal against the Rangers on Tuesday, he reached the 15-goal mark for the 11th time in 11 seasons.  He is also averaging 0.33 goals per game, which is his best per-game production since he averaged 0.36 goals per game with Edmonton in 2015-2016.  He has done his best to add to the Islanders offense in April, posting a point-per game over ten games played this month (4-6-10, plus-5).  Although the Islanders are not a team that scores in bunches, especially lately, either as a team or individually, only Mathew Barzal has more multi-point games this season for the Isles this season (eight) than Ebele (seven).  But like many offense-oriented players, more ice time is not necessarily an indicator of success, those players often getting more ice time when their team trails in games.  The Islanders are just 4-7-3 in the 14 games in which Eberle skated more than 18 minutes.  On the other hand, the Islanders are 25-6-1 in 32 games in which he skated less than 18 minutes.  Eberle is 2-2-4, plus-5, in five games against Washington this season and 5-7-12, minus-6, in 26 career games against the Caps.

Brock Nelson hails from Warroad, Minnesota, one of the more prolific producers of hockey talent in NHL history, from the Christian family (Bill, Gordon, Roger, and former Cap Dave) to current Capital T.J. Oshie, who spent a portion of his formative hockey development years in Warroad.  It was largely a product of his goal scoring (84 goals over 56 games in two years with the Warroad Warriors) that convinced the Islanders to draft Nelson 30th overall in the 2010 Entry Draft.  Since joining the big club in 2013-2014, he has been a reliable 20-plus goal scorer for the Isles, topping the 20-goal mark in five of seven seasons prior to this one, and with 16 goals in 46 games this season, he could add a sixth 20-goal season, even with the abbreviated 56-game schedule.  In addition to the offense he provides, Nelson is durable.  He has missed just two games in his last seven seasons, including this one, and has not missed a game since the 2016-2017 season.  His consistency has allowed Nelson to quietly climb the all-time lists in Islanders history.  His 166 goals rank 15th all-time, and with two more he would tie Zigmund Palffy for 14th place in team history.  His 321 career points ranks 21st in team history, and he could tie Palffy for 20th place (331) by year end if he records another ten points.  Nelson is tied for 13th in game-winning goals in Islanders history (with John Tonelli) and has six overtime goals with the Isles, tied for second place with Josh Bailey and Kyle Okposo behind John Tavares (11) in team history.  Nelson is 2-1-3, even, in five games against the Caps this season and 10-9-19, minus-3, in 33 career games against Washington.

Noah Dobson has had a difficult April, perhaps the aftermath of his losing five games in late March to COVID protocol.  Coming into this month, Dobson led the Islanders' defensemen in goals (three), was tied for second among Islander defensemen in points (12), and he did it while averaging just 16:58 in ice time, sixth among the team’s defensemen.  Since April 1st, though, Dobson is 0-1-1, minus-2, has seen his ice time drop to 14:17 a game, has been on ice for fewer even strength goals scored than any Islander defenseman appearing in more than one game (four), has the second worst even strength on-ice goal differential (minus-2), and was benched for a game.  Ice time has become an issue for Dobson.  In his first dozen games he averaged 17:45 per game, 16:24 in his next dozen, and 14:55 in his last 13 games heading into the series with the Caps.  It is all part of the learning curve for the second-year defenseman, even one taken 12th overall (the fifth defenseman taken) in the 2018 Entry Draft.  Dobson is 1-1-2, plus-1, in four games against the Caps this season and 1-1-2, plus-1, in six career games against Washington.


1.  Before the Islanders beat the New York Rangers, 6-1, on Tuesday night, six of their previous eight wins were in extra time (four in overtime, two in the Gimmick).  The only two regulation wins in that stretch were against the Caps.

2.  The Islanders have seven wins in April, five of them by one goal. They are one of five teams in the league with an unblemished record in one-goal games this month (5-0-0).

3. The other five decisions in April for the Isles came in three-or-more goal games, where they are 2-3-0.

4.  New York lost their first four games decided in extra time this season.  They have won their last eight decisions settled in extra time.

5.  The Islanders are 6-0-0 when scoring first in April, one of four teams with a perfect record when scoring first this month.

1.  Sixteen different Caps have scored goals this month, including the departed Jakub Vrana.  Seveteen different skaters have points for the Caps.  Garnet Hathaway is the only Capital to have recorded points (two assists) without the benefit of a goal.

2.  Plus-minus isn’t a statistic one dwells on these days, but being worst in any category stings.  And in April, Zdeno Chara and Alex Ovechkin bring up the rear in this stat for the Caps, both a minus-6.

3.  The Caps have 15 first period goals in April, most in the league.  They have 18 second period goals, most in the league.  They have eight third period goals, tied for 12th fewest in the league.

4.  Washington’s power play is humming along at 35.9 percent in April, second-best in the league (Minnesota: 44.1 percent).

5.  The Caps’ penalty kill has been almost as good for the month.  The 90.6 percent PK ranks fourth in the league for April.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New York: Matt Martin

Mathew Barzal gets the attention for his top-notch skill with the puck.  Brock Nelson and Anders Lee are the lunch pail foot soldiers who chip in offense on a regular basis.  Oliver Wahlstrom, Noah Dobson, and Anthony Beauvillier seem to be the next wave of contributors.  And that leaves Matt Martin as the rugged greybeard veteran.  Martin is the active leader on the Islanders in games played for the franchise (606) and ranks 14th in franchise history in games played.  He is also, by far, the active leader on the club in penalty minutes recorded for the Isles (804), almost 500 more than Anders Lee (315).  He is something of a complex character.  Twelve of his 59 goals have been game-winners, , while he is a minus-2 game from cracking the bottom 20 in career plus-minus rating in club history (he is minus-40; John Tavares and Brian Lavender are minus-42).  His 2.692 credited hits are more than 800 more than Cal Clutterbuck (1,832) in team history.  He has more takeaways (159) than giveaways (146) in his career with the Islanders.

Martin has toned the hitting and the coloring outside the lines down in recent years.  In his first tour with the Islanders – seven seasons covering the 2009-2010 through 2015-2016 period, he amassed 680 penalty minutes and was credited with 2,023 hits in 438 games.  After spending two seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs and returning to the Isles in 2018-2019, he has “only” 124 penalty minutes and 664 hits in 168 games over three seasons.  Offense has never been a bit part of his game, but this year he has been prone to long unproductive streaks – nine games without a point to open the season and three other streaks of six or more games without a point out of a total of 46 games played.  The latest of those streaks is an eight-game streak without a point that he takes into this series with the Caps.  Martin is without a point in five games against Washington with a minus-1 rating this season and is 3-2-5, minus-3, in 39 career games against the Caps.

Washington: Conor Sheary

Some players have well-defined roles, responsibilities, and linemates that allow them to flourish, even in what some might view a lesser roles.  The Islanders, for example, have been said to have the best fourth line of forwards in the NHL in Casey Cizikas, Cal Clutterbuck, and Matt Martin.   Others consider it among the worst, but the point is that it is a fixture in the Islander scheme. 

Then there are players like Conor Sheary, nomads in the night-to-night lineup who might find themselves skating on the fourth line one night and skating on a scoring line the next.  It is not just the versatility of Sheary that makes him a valuable commodity to the Caps this season, but his ability to produce in the context of that versatility that makes him one of the genuine pleasant surprises for the Caps this season.  It impressed the Caps enough to more than double his pay.  After signing a one-year/$735,000 deal December 2020 as an unrestricted free agent after spending last season in Buffalo and Pittsburgh, the Caps re-signed him to a two-year/$3.0 million deal on April 14th.

Sheary has spent his career as an under-the-radar, underrated offensive player.  He posted 23 goals in 61 games in his sophomore season with the Penguins in 2016-2017 and has ten or more goals and 20 or more points in each of his five full seasons in the league.  His 0.28 goals per game this season is second-best in his career, topped only by the 0.38 goals per game he had in that 2016-2017 season. His 0.47 points per game is his best since that same season in Pittsburgh (0.87).  The only thing he does not have yet this season is a game-winning goal among the 12 in 43 games he scored for the Caps.  Sheary has been something of a good-luck charm this season.  Despite not having a game-winning goal of his own, the Caps are 9-0-1 in games in which he scored a goal and 12-1-1 when he recorded a point.  His physical engagement, despite being one of the smaller players in the league (5’9”/179 pounds) is also an indicator of success, the Caps with an 11-2-0 record when he was credited with at least one hit.  Watch his ice time, too.  Washington is 24-6-1 in 31 games in which he logged more than 11 minutes of ice time.  Sheary is 2-1-3, minus-1, in five games against New York this season, 4-2-6, minus-5, in 21 career games against the Islanders.

In the end…

There is no mincing words here.  This three-game set will have the look of a playoff series.  The stakes are as high as a non-playoff series gets, with the two teams battling for the top spot in the division and each looking to send a message as potential playoff opponents down the road.  These teams could find themselves playing each other ten times (this set and a seven-game playoff series, should they meet in the first round) in the next month.  The Caps won the first three games of the season series – a one goal, a two goal, and a three goal win.  The Islanders won the last two meetings in as different a manner one might imagine – an 8-4 win and a 1-0 win five days apart earlier this month.  These are two teams that have played one another close in the regular season, the Caps holding a 7-6-0 record and a 37-36 edge I goals scored over that span.  Expect these games to be as close, but with the Caps holding first place in the division a bit tighter when the three-game set is completed.

Capitals 2 – Islanders 1

Capitals 3 – Islanders 2

Capitals 3 – Islanders 2

Sunday, April 18, 2021

A NO-Point Afternoon: Washington Capitals -- Game 46: Bruins 6 - Capitals 3

The Washington Capitals wrapped up their weekend slate of back-to-back games with a visit to TD Garden to take on the Boston Bruins in a matinee contest.  The Caps were coming off a 6-3 win in Philadelphia against the Flyers on Saturday afternoon, while the Bruins had a day of rest after sweeping the New York Islanders in back-to-back games on Thursday and Friday.  The Bruins were the better team, beginning to end, and exacted a measure of revenge for the 8-1 beating they took in the last meeting between these teams with a 6-3 win.

First Period

Boston got an early power play when Dmitry Orlov went to the box for hooking 35 seconds into the period.  Boston did not convert on either of their two shots.  Washington got a chance later in the period when Connor Clifton was sent off on a double-minor for high-sticking at the 8:53 mark.  It would be the Bruins who took advantage, though, when Brad Marchand hounded John Carlson trying to retrieve the puck behind his own net.  Separating Carlson from the puck, the biscuit found its way to Patrice Bergeron all alone in front.  Cutting across the low slot, he lifted a shot past goalie Vitek Vanecek’s right pad, and it was 1-0, Bruins, 12:02 into the period.

Boston doubled their lead in the 14th minute when Clifton slid a pass from the goal line to Vanecek’s left through the crease to David Krejci for a tap in from the far post at the 13:56 mark.

Washington got on the board in the last ten seconds when T. J. Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom abused the Boston defense.  Oshie started it by foiling a weak poke check try at the Caps’ blue line by Mike Reilly and getting the puck to Nicklas Backstrom skating through the middle in the neutral zone. Backstrom undressed Charlie McAvoy just inside the Boston blue line, cutting inside the defenseman to get a clear line to the net.  His shot was foiled by goalie Tuukka Rask, who got a glove on the shot, but he could not squeeze it tight enough to keep it from popping out where Oshie got inside position on Reilly to chip it over Rask with jut 9.9 seconds into the period, the Bruins heading to the intermission with a 2-1 lead.

-- Washington outshot Boston, 14-10, and out-attempted the Bruins, 21-15.

-- Twelve Caps were credited with hits in the period, led by Nic Dowd with three.

-- The Caps were dominated by the Bruins in the faceoff circle, losing 13 of 18 draws (27.8 percent wins).

Second Period

The teams went 4-on-4 early in the period when Garnet Hathaway and Curtis Lazar started the period in the penalty box for coincidental roughing calls that ended the first period.  The Caps got their second four-minute power play of the game, courtesy once more by Clifton, When he high-sticked Conor Sheary at the 2:53 mark.

Oshie made the chance count.  Running the triangle play, Nicklas Backstrom skated through the right wing circle to get a passing lane to Evgeny Kuznetsov at the goal line.  Kuznetsov one-timed Backstrom’s pass to Oshie, who one-timed the pass up and over Rask’s left shoulder at the 3:48 mark to tie the game.

The tie lasted less than a minute, the Caps converting the back half of the double minor to Boston when Dmitry Orlov fed Anthony Mantha at the top of the right wing circle.  Mantha took one step up and wristed a shot past Rask at the 4:54 mark.

The Caps’ lead lasted less than two minutes, the Bruins benefitting from confusion in front.  David Pastrnak looked as if he was going to get a shot off from the low slot, and Vanacek looked to think the same way, preparing to defend a shot that never came.  It was Marchand who ended up with the puck, and he curled to his right and deposited it in the open side of the cage to make it 3-3 6:33 into the period.

Boston scored late in the period.  Shortly after a penalty to Garnet Hathaway for holding expired, Craig Smith held the puck at the left wing wall before spying an open David Krejci on the right side.  Taking Smith’s pass, he held the puck until a sliding Dmitry Orlov cleared the ice in front of him, then fired a shot past Vanecek on the short side to make it 4-3, Bruins, at the 16:02 mark.

Patrice Bergeron put the Bruins up, 5-3, when he came in late as the third man trailing a 2-on-2 rush, getting a pass from Pastrnak and fought off a late backcheck from Kuznetsov to beat Vanecek past his blocker at the 17:45 mark.

Washington got a late power play when Mike Reilly was penalized for hooking at 19:47, but the Caps did not convert, leaving 1:47 oof power play time carrying over into the final period.

-- The Caps outshot the Bruins, 11-10 in the period, and out-attempted them  17-13.

-- Trevor van Riemsdyk was the only Capital with more than one blocked shot through 40 minutes (two).

-- John Carlson led the Caps in ice time through two periods (18:03).

Third Period

The Caps did not convert on the carryover power play, and Boston maintained its two-goal lead.  They got another chance with the man advantage when Jarred Tinordi was called for roughing at the 5:52 mark, but the Caps failed to convert this opportunity as well.

Tinordi was on the other end of a penalty when he was sent flying into the boards by Garnet Hathaway, leaving him bleeding from the nose and mouth.  There was no penalty called in real time, but after video review Hathaway was relieved of any further participation, earning a major penalty for boarding and a game misconduct at the 9:21 mark.  Boston did not score, but the damage might have been done with five minutes taken off the clock that the Caps might have used to get back into the game.

Boston put the Caps out of their misery when David Pastrnak dove and poked the puck out of the Bruin’s zone, and Brad Marchand picked it up and skated to the Caps’ empty net.  He looked for Patrice Bergeron to get him the hat trick, but Bergeron was covered, and Marchand finished the play into the empty net at 18:16, giving the Bruins a 6-3 lead and ending the scoring for the afternoon.

Other stuff…

-- This was the fourth time in seven games in this series in which the winning team scored five or more goals, the teams splitting the four decisions.

-- This was only the second time since October 2002 that the Caps allowed six or more goals to the Bruins (they allowed seven in a loss to the Bruins on December 23, 2019).

-- The Caps outshot the Bruins, 33-28, and out-attempted them, 54-45.

-- Alex Ovechkin led the team with five shots on goal and nine and shot attempts.

-- Garnet Hathaway, Justin Schultz (who played only 2:45 on four shifts before leaving with an injury), and Trevor van Riemsdyk did not record a shot attempt. 

-- John Carlson was minus-5, and Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov were minus-4 for the game.

-- T.J. Oshie recorded his 25th multi-goal game as a Capital and 32nd of his career.

-- Vitek Vanecek allowed five goals, matching a season high (January 19th against Pittsburgh) and the most he allowed in regulation time this season.

-- Van Riemsdyk and Nick Jensen led the team with three blocked shots apiece.

-- Nicklas Backstrom had a pair of assists, his 257th career multi-point game.

In the end…

What goes ‘round, comes ‘round.  The Caps played a better version of the Bruins than what they faced in their 8-1 win in the last meeting between these teams.  And the Caps did not help themselves with the lapses in discipline, both inside the rules (their defense) and outside them.  They get a few days off before starting a critical three-game set against the New York Islanders.  They’ll need them.

 

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 14

Week 14 for the Washington Capitals was one of those weeks where one looks at a 3-1-0 record and thinks, “not bad.”  But the next thought might be, “they are going to regret that loss.”  Perhaps it is the perpetual pessimism that comes with being a Caps fan, but in the midst of a fine week, there was that loss that should not have been.

 

Record: 3-1-0

You would think by now that the edges would start fraying for the Caps.  Week 14 was their third straight four-game week and fifth in the last six.  In eight four-game weeks this season, the Caps had winning weeks five times and break-even weeks three times.  Week 14 was the fifth winning four-game week of the year, and while a 3-1-0 week is something to cheer about, it is that loss that sticks in one’s mind.  The Buffalo Sabres are in the midst of a forgettable season, traded off valuable assets for futures, and were visiting a Caps team that went into the game 8-2-0 in their previous ten home games, outscoring opponents, 39-28.  The Caps lost, and it was not close, a 5-2 loss that was Buffalo’s first win on the road by three goals in almost two months.

Other than that, it was a very good week for the Caps, who beat their other three opponents by a combined 20-5 margin.  Granted, the Caps caught the Boston Bruins in a weakened state on defense and in goal due to injuries, and the Philadelphia Flyers have been fading for weeks, but both still have playoff hopes in mind and have something to play for.  

Offense: 5.50/game (season: 3.51 / 2nd)

It would be hard to have a week as good as Week 14 was on offense for the Caps.  Twenty two goals scored in four games, 11 different players with goals, 17 with points.  John Carlson had a big week, posting seven assists to take over the league lead in points among defensemen (42).  He has been on better than a point per game pace since early March, going 5-18-23, plus-7, in 22 games.  It might not be coincidence that the Caps are 16-6-0 over those 22 games. 

The team leader in goals for the week was a surprise.  Conor Sheary had four goals in the four games, but he had support with six other Caps having multi-goal weeks.  One of those other Caps with a multi-goal week was newcomer Anthony Mantha, who posted a goal in each of his first three games with the Caps and extended his personal goal streak to a career-high four games (he scored one in his last game with Detroit).

Alex Ovechkin was the other Capitals with a three-goal week, all of them on power plays.  The three goals for Ovechkin brought him to 730 career goals, one short of Marcel Dionne for fifth place on the NHL’s all-time goal scoring list.

Only Dmitry Orlov among defensemen recorded a goal (he had two), but the defense was contributing.  Four of the six defensemen to dress in Week 14 combined for 14 points in the four games.  For Orlov it was continuation of a productive run of late in which he has gone 4-6-10, plus-12, in his last 14 games.

Defense: 2.50/game (season: 2.96 / 19th)

Take out the Buffalo game, and it was a very good week for the Caps.  The Caps did allow the Sabres 25 shots in the first two periods of that game, a rather high volume for a team that has not generated a high volume of shots this season (27.8 per game/28th in the league).  But the Caps did limit the Sabres to 41 shot attempts at 5-on-5, in the middle of the pack of games with most shot attempts against by game for the season.  The Caps averaged 30 shots allowed against in the other three games, a bit above their season average (29.4 at week’s end).  The shot attempts at 5-on-5 were a bit odd.  In the first two games of the week, wins over Boston and Philadelphia, the Caps allowed 47 and 48 shot attempts at fives, respectively.  But then there was the win on Saturday in Philadelphia.  The Caps smothered the Flyers’ offense, allowing 24 shot attempts at 5-on-5, the lowest volume of shot attempts at fives in any game this season for Washington (they allowed 30 against the Rangers and 30 against the Bruins in games in March).

Goaltending: 2.28 / .924  (season: 2.74 / .906 / 2 shutouts)

As in other categories, it was a mostly very good week for the goaltenders.  In fact, but for one bad period, it would have been an excellent week.  But there was that period, the second period against the Buffalo Sabres in which Vitek Vanecek allowed three goals on nine shots and was relieved by Craig Anderson.  Take that period away, and the Caps goalies would have had a .945 save percentage for the week.  Even taking away Anderson’s contribution for the week (eight saves in as many shots faced), the Caps would have had a .941 save percentage.

Vanecek’s second period adventure against Buffalo was a dark spot on an otherwise bright week.  In his other four periods of play he stopped 45 of 47 shots (.957 save percentage).  But that second period against the Sabres in the midst of an otherwise good week highlights the hint of inconsistency in his game.  In 30 appearances this season he has seven in which his save percentage topped .950, and in six games it was under .850.  Only five goalies this season have more games with save percentages under .850 than Vanecek.

Ilya Samsonov had his own consistency issues in two appearances.  He stopped 29 of 30 shots in the Caps’ 6-1 win over the Flyers in the second game of the week.  But he took a few shots off his helmet in that one, and he was shelved for the next game against Boston.  He returned on Saturday in the Caps’ 6-3 win over Philadelphia, but the experience a few nights earlier might have affected his performance.  He stopped 22 of 25 shots (.880 save percentage) in the win.

Craig Anderson got some work in as well, relieving Vanecek in the 5-2 loss to Buffalo and stopping all eight shots he faced.  It was only his third appearance of the season and first since February 21st, a 4-3 win over New Jersey that is his only win of the season.

Power Play: 8-for-17 / 47.1 percent (season: 27.3 percent / 2nd)

The Caps did not finish over 50 percent for the week on the power play. That is about the worst you can say about the power play in Week 14.  The eight power play goals exceeded the total for the Caps over the previous four weeks (7-for-37), and the 17 chances is a high for any single week this season.  The 4.25 chances per game were second in the league for the week (Edmonton: 6.00).

Five different Caps shared in the power play goal scoring, led by Alex Ovechkin with three and Tom Wilson with a pair.  Conor Sheary, Nicklas Backstrom, and T.J. Oshie had the others.  Ten different skaters recorded power play points, led by Ovechkin (five) and Wilson (four).  Three Caps had three power play points for the week (Sheary, John Carlson, and Evgeny Kuznetsov).

The power play was both effective (the eight goals in 17 chances) and efficient.  Washington recorded 31 power play shots in 27:44 of power play ice time.  Ten different Caps recorded at least one power play shot on goal, led by Ovechkin (10), Oshie (five), and Backstrom (five).  Ovechkin’s three power play goals brought him to within five power play goals of the all-time leader, Dave Andreychuk (274).


Penalty Killing: 10-for-12 / 83.3 percent (season: 83.1 percent / 7th)

It was a decent week for the Caps on the penalty kill, but it also was the third consecutive week they had ten or more shorthanded situations.  While that is something to watch, their 3.00 situations faced per game ranked tied for 17th-fewest in the league.  Not good, not bad.  What helped was that the two power play goals allowed occurred in games in which the Caps had leads – 6-0 against the Bruins when they recorded one in an 8-1 Caps win, and the other against Philadelphia when the Caps had a 4-2 lead in the second meeting of the teams this week.

The Caps were stingy in allowing power play shots in the first three games, giving up eight shots in 14:59 of shorthanded ice time.  Against the Flyers to close the week, though, Washington allowed 12 power play shots in just 7:48 of shorthanded ice time.


Faceoffs: 122-for-241 / 50.6 percent (season: 48.8 percent / 22nd)

It was a good week overall in the circle, but uneven in the details.  There was a distinct difference between success in the defensive end (56.9 percent) and lack of it in the offensive end (44.6 percent).  Lars Eller (59.1 percent) and Nicklas Backstrom (54.5 percent) were the only Caps among the seven taking any offensive zone faceoffs to finish over 50 percent.  At the other end, in an odd turn of events, Nic Dowd was the only one of eight Caps taking defensive zone draws to finish under 50 percent (48.5 percent).  Backstrom led all Caps in overall winning percentage (65.7 percent; minimum: five faceoffs).


Goals by Period:

Getting out to leads has not been a big problem for the Caps, it is holding them.  This week was an exception.  They overwhelmed teams in the first periods of games, outscoring opponents in the four games, 9-3, in the first period.  They maintained that edge in the second periods of games (8-4) and even the third period (5-3), which has been a bit of a problem this season.  The Caps finished the week with the most first period goals scored in the league (47) and most goals in the second periods of games (66). The Caps still have work to do late in games, their 54 goals allowed tied for fourth-most in the league at week’s end.


Year-over-Year:

On a win-loss and scoring basis, this year’s Caps and last year’s through 45 games are almost indistinguishable, last year’s club having a slight edge in those categories.  This year’s club continues to trail last year’s significantly in shots on goal and shot attempts at 5-on-5.  This year’s club is significantly better in power play efficiency, but they are doing it with fewer chances.  Still, this year’s club does have an advantage in power play goals scored.


In the end…

It was a very good week, but one still cannot help but think the Caps left two points on the table against a weak team that could haunt them down the road in the ultra-competitive East Division.  But the Caps remain at the top of the division after 14 weeks, only now it is the Pittsburgh Penguins on their heels, three points back in second place.  It would be nice to have that bigger margin a win over Buffalo would have provided, what with the Caps now facing a difficult schedule over their last 11 games.  But any lead is a good lead, and the Caps have it.

Three Stars:

  • First Star: John Carlson (0-7-7, plus-6, three power play points, first career four-assist game, 22:21 average ice time, five takeaways and only two giveaways)
  • Second Star: Alex Ovechkin (3-3-6, plus-2, three power play goals, 24 shots on goal, 43 shot attempts)
  • Third Star: Conor Sheary (4-2-6, minus-2, three power play points, one of two Caps with no giveaways for the week (Garnet Hathaway was the other)

 

Saturday, April 17, 2021

A TWO-Point Afternoon: Washington Capitals -- Game 45: Capitals 6 - Flyers 3


The Washington Capitals headed up I-95 for a matinee matchup against the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday afternoon in the last game the Caps will play in the regular season in South Philly this season.  The Caps came into this game with a five-game winning streak against the Flyers after dropping their opening meeting of the season.  On the other side, the Flyers have fallen on hard times, going 9-13-3 in their last 25 games.  The hard times continued for the Flyers as the Caps won going away, 6-3.

 

First Period

The Captain got the Caps off and running early.  With Justin Braun in the penalty box for tripping at 2:42, Alex Ovechkin converted for Caps.  The Caps worked the puck around the perimeter, Nicklas Backstrom from the goal line to Evgeny Kuznetsov on the right wing wall, to John Carlson at the top of the offensive zone, and final a pass to Ovechkin for a one-timer from The Office that beat goalie Alex Lyon on the short side to make it 1-0, 3:58 into the period.

Washington got another power play when Sam Morin went off for unsportsmanlike conduct at 8:11 of the period.  The Caps did not convert and went short a man when Nick Jensen skated to the penalty box for a holding penalty at 11:35 of the period.  The Flyers did not convert, and the Caps held on to their one-goal lead.

They would not hold on to that lead going into the first intermission.  Ivan Provorov took a feed from Claude Giroux and from long range fired a one-timer past two Capitals skating across goalie Ilya Samsonov’s line of vision and past Samsonov’s glove with 1.0 seconds left in the period.

-- Philadelphia was held to two even strength shots in the period, scoring on the latter (three power play shots, one shorthanded). Ivan Provorov had both even strength shots.

-- The Caps outshot the Flyers, 11-6, and out-attempted them, 22-15.

-- Nicklas Backstrom led the team with three shots on goal in the period.

-- Nic Dowd led the Caps with three credited hits in the first 20 minutes.

Second Period

The Caps scored even earlier to start this period than they did in the first period.  Dmitry Orlov scored just 33 seconds into the period when he took a puck rebounding off the left wing wall and one-timed it past Lyon’s blocker on the short side to give the Caps their second lead of the game.

The Flyers tied it up when Conor Sheary and Lars Eller collided, leaving a loose puck for Nicolas Aube-Kubel to gather up and feed James van Riemsdyk on a breakaway.  Van Riemsdyk beat Samsonov through the five-hole at the 5:28 mark.

Washington went to the power play for the third time when Aube-Kubel was send off for hooking at 6:11.  The power play lasted four seconds.  T.J. Oshie tied up Sen Couturier on a faceoff to Lyon’s left, Evgeny Kuznetsov swooped in to kick the puck back to John Carlson at the right point.  Carlson fed the puck across to Ovechkin in The Office for a one-timer that beat Lyon on the short side at 6:15 of the period to make it 3-2, Caps.

Kuznetsov got a goal of his own late in the period. From the left point he fed the puck deep to Tom Wilson in the corner.  With Braun hanging on Wilson along the left wing wall, Wilson sent a lovely backhand pass to Kuznetsov strolling unmarked down the slot.  Kuznetsov had his choice of places to shoot at and dialed up “over Lyon’s right pad” to beat the Flyer goalie at the 15:02 mark to make it a 4-2 game.

-- Through two periods, the Caps outshot the Flyers at even strength, 26-10.

-- Washington outshot the Flyers, 19-10, in the second period and out-attempted them, 27-17.

-- Every Capital had at least one shot attempt through 40 minutes except T.J. Oshie.

Third Period

The Caps went short a man early, T.J. Oshie picking up an interference penalty at 1:09 of the period.  The Flyers did not convert, but they got another chance when Conor Sheary went off for tripping at 5:14 of the period.

Wade Allison converted for the Flyers for his first NHL goal, finishing off a well-executed passing sequence back and forth across the offensive zone for a lay-up into what became an empty net, making it a 4-3 game at the 7:02 mark.

Conor Sheary restored the Caps’ two-goal lead in the tenth minute of the period.  Off another faceoff win in the offensive end, the puck came back to Justin Schultz at the right point.  Walking the puck along the blue line to find a shooting lane, Schultz fired, his shot redirected by the heel of Sheary’s stick past Lyon at the 9:15 mark to make it 5-3, Caps.

Just over a minute later, the Caps went to the power play, Travis Konecny going to the box for goaltender interference at 10:42.  The Caps did not convert and skated on holding on to their two goal lead.  The Caps went right back to the power play, though, Kevin Hayes going off for slashing at 14:36 of the period.  The Caps tried to get Ovechkin the hat trick, and he was on the ice for the entire two-minute power play, but the Caps did not convert.

Anthony Mantha closed the scoring for the Caps, potting an empty net goal with 1:12 remaining to seal the 6-3 win.

Other stuff…

-- Alex Ovechkin’s first period goal against Alex Lyon made Lyon the 147th goalie against whom Ovechkin has scored a goal in his career.

-- When he scored on a power play in the second period for his second goal of the game, it was Ovechkin’s 149th career multi-goal game, fourth all-time behind Wayne Gretzky (189), Brett Hull (158), and Mario Lemieux (154).

-- John Carlson had four assists, a single game career high.  He is the fifth defenseman in Caps’ history with at least one four-assist game.  Scott Stevens (three times), Robert Picard (twice), Larry Murphy, and Bob Rouse are the others.

-- Anthony Mantha scored his third goal in three games as a Capital.  It extended his personal goal streak to four games (he scored in his last game with Detroit), a career high.

-- When Conor Sheary scored in the third period, it marked the fourth straight game against the Flyers that the Caps scored five or more goals.

-- The Caps outshot the Flyers, 41-25, and out-attempted them for the game, 68-48.

-- Every Capital recorded a shot on goal except Justin Schultz and T.J. Oshie.  Oshie was the only Capital without a shot attempt for the game.  Alex Ovechkin and Daniel Sprong led the team with five shots apiece; Ovechkin led the team with 12 shot attempts.

-- Nic Dowd had an uncharacteristically weak game in the faceoff circle, going 2-for-11 (18.2 percent), but he did lead the team in credited hits with five.

-- The Caps outshot the Flyers at even strength, 34-12.  The 12 shots at even strength were the second-fewest allowed by the Caps in a game this season.  They allowed 11 to the Flyers on March 11th in a 5-3 win.

-- With the win, Ilya Samsonov ran his record this season against the Flyers to 5-0.  He is the eighth goaltender to record at least five wins against the Flyers in a single season.  The others are Martin Brodeur (three times), Henrik Lundqvist (twice), Gerry Cheevers, Rick DiPietro, Marc-Andre Fleury, Glenn Healy, and Chris Terreri.

In the end…

A good win.  Not a great one, but a good one.  There were a few to many defensive lapses to qualify… oh hell, it was against the Flyers, in Philly, so it’s a great win.  Now, do it again in Boston.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 46: Capitals at Bruins, April 18

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

After visiting the Philadelphia Flyers for a matinee contest on Saturday, the Washington Capitals head north for another matinee matchup, taking on the Boston Bruins at TD Garden in a noon start on Sunday.  Pending Saturday’s results, the Caps are still leading the East Division, but only six points separate first and fourth place, and the fourth place Bruins have two games in hand on the Caps.

Boston comes into this game having won three games in a row after taking an 8-1 pasting by the Caps on April 11th.  One area that will be different for the Bruins in this game compared to that lopsided loss will be in goal.  Dan Vladar took one for the team in that one, charged with all eight goals against on 33 shots faced.  This time around, Tuukka Rask could be available to resume duties as the number one netminder.  Except for 20 minutes in a 4-3 overtime loss to the New York Islanders on March 25th, Rask was out of the lineup since March 7th with what appeared to be a back injury.  He returned to the lineup last Thursday and stopped 22 of 23 shots in a 4-1 win over the Islanders, the 300th win of his career.  Rask has had his struggles against the Caps, holding a 3-11-7, 3.03, .893 career record with two shutouts against the Capitals.  He lost his two most recent decisions against the Caps, both in extra time, a 4-3 overtime loss on January 30th and a 2-1 Gimmick loss to the Caps on March 3rd.

On the other hand, there is the goalie who has “some of that Tuukka in him.”  That would be Jeremy Swayman, who has stepped up in the absence of Rask and backup Jaroslav Halak (COVID protocol) to post a 4-1-0, 1.78, .938 record with one shutout in five appearances since April 6th.  He allowed as many as three goals only once in those five games, that coming in his only loss, a 3-2 loss to Philadelphia on April 10th.  His performance to date might strike some as surprising, Swayman being the 12th of 21 goalies taken in the 2017 Entry Draft.  What he has done at every level, though, is stop pucks.  In three seasons with the University of Maine he posted a save percentage of .927, and with the Providence Bruins of the AHL this season before his call-up, he had a save percentage of .933.  His save percentage of .938 with the Bruins this season is second-best among 71 goalies logging at least 300 minutes.  Swayman has faced the Capitals once, stopping 31 of 33 shots in a 4-2 Boston win on April 8th.

They come, and they go.  Over the last dozen years, several players were identified as the next great goal scorer to replace Alex Ovechkin.  After Steven Stamkos put together three seasons with a total of 156 goals, it was going to be him.  But since his 60 goal season in 2011-2012, he topped 40 only twice in eight seasons coming into this one, much of his production potential lost to injuries.  Then it was going to be Corey Perry, or Vladimir Tarasenko, or Patrik Laine, or Leon Draisaitl.  These days, Auston Matthews gets attention. Another one of the more recent entries in the “next” sweepstakes is David Pastrnak, who seemed to be on a career path that could take him to such heights.  Over a four season period ending with last season, Pastrnak posted, in order, 34, 35, 38 and 48 goals, the last of those seasons earning a share of the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy with Ovechkin.

This year has thrown sand in the gears of his goal scoring progress machine. After posting 14 goals in his first 21 games after missing the first seven games with a hip injury (a 55-goal pace over a full 82-game season), he was placed under COVID protocol. He returned to the lineup on March 25th, but in 14 games since his return he has only three goals.  One think head coach Bruce Cassidy felt Pastrnak needed to do was “he just has to get a little dirtier,” meaning he had to get to the interior more often, where the dirty goals are scored.   Pastrnak did light the lamp in his last game, scoring the game's first goal that would prove to be the game-winner in Boston’s 3-0 win over the Islanders on Friday.  He is 3-2-5, plus-4, in six games against the Caps this season and 8-10-18, minus-4, in 21 career games against Washington.


1.  Boston has had a strange year on home ice.  They started the season with four straight wins at TD Garden, and they come into this game with a three-game winning streak on that ice sheet.  In between, they were just 6-6-3.

2.  If Boston loses this game in regulation, it will be the 2,400th regulation loss in team history.  On the other hand, if they score five goals, they will reach the 21,000-goal mark in team history.

3.  Since the Caps scored eight goal in their last visit to Boston, the Bruins allowed a total of only three goals in three home games, topped with a shutout in their last game at home, a 3-0 win over the Islanders.

4.  Boston taking a lead into an intermission at home is just about a sure thing as far as wins go – 7-0-1 when leading after one period, 10-0-2 when leading after two periods.

5.  The Bruins punish opponents with shots on home ice. In 22 games on home ice, they outshot opponents 16 times (10-5-1) and were out-shot four times (1-1-2).  The other two games, in which the Bruins and opponents had an even number of shots, ended in Bruins wins.

1.  Washington leads the only division with four teams holding a points percentage of better than .600.

2.  The Caps are one of only four teams in the league to average fewer than 30 shots taken per game and fewer than 30 shots allowed (28.2/29.7).  The New York Islanders (28.1/27.6), New York Rangers (28.8/27.7), and Philadelphia Flyers (28.9/29.1) are the others.

3.  The Caps lead the league in scoring offense on the road (3.50 goals per game, pending the results in Philadelphia on Saturday).

4.  Washington has the second-best penalty kill on the road this season (87.1 percent).  They are 19-for-20 (95.0 percent) in their last eight road games, that power play goal allowed on the road coming in Boston in their last meeting at TD Garden.

5.  When the Caps went 3-for-6 on power plays against the Bruins in their last meeting in Boston, it was the first multi-power play goal game for the Caps this season and their first since they had a pair of power play goals in a 3-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche in Denver on February 13, 2020.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Boston: Taylor Hall

Taylor Hall might the “let’s try this again” player in the NHL.  Six seasons in Edmonton, then traded to the New Jersey Devils. Three and a half seasons with the Devils, then traded to Arizona.  Half a season in Arizona, then he signed as a free agent with Buffalo. A little over half a season with the Sabres, then traded to Boston.  And, has any former number one overall pick been traded for less value than Hall?  With all due respects to the players involved going the other way, Adam Larsson, Kevin Bahl, Nick Merkley, Nate Schnarr, Anders Bjork, and a draft pick that became Dawson Mercer (two other draft picks are in the 2021 Entry Draft) seem like meager returns.

Will this time be different?  Considering that Hall has as many goals in three games with Boston as he did in 37 games with Buffalo this season (two), there is cause for cautious optimism.  And, he seems to be impressing teammates, one in particular.  It is not as if Hall has been a stiff; his 222 goals rank 31st in the league since he entered the NHL in 2010-2011, and his 584 points rank 23rd, but since his Hart Trophy season with New Jersey in 2017-2018 (39-54-93, plus-14, all career highs), he has been a bit of a lost soul, going 31-79-110, minus-38, in 138 games with four teams, including the Bruins.  He was another casualty to COVID protocol this season, and that might have played a role in his 2-17-19, minus-21 scoring line with the Sabres.  If he has completely recovered from that and can use the move to a new city with a contender as inspiration, he would be a formidable asset for the Bruins.  Hall was 1-2-3, minus-1, in three games for Buffalo against the Caps this season; he is 4-7-11, minus-4, in 20 career games against Washington.

Washington: Zdeno Chara

Third in games played by a defenseman (1,023), third in goals (148), third in assists (333), third in points (481), third in power play goals (69), third in game-winning goals (24).  Being third behind Bobby Orr and Raymond Bourque in these categories (except in games played, where he is behind Bourque and Don Sweeney), is evidence of just how great a career Zdeno Chara had in Boston. 

What he is not, with the Capitals, is that player.  He was not that player in his last few seasons in Boston, statistically speaking.  He had his last 40-point season in 2013-2014 (40 points).  He had his last 20-assist season in 2015-2016 (28 assists).  He had his last ten-goal season in 2016-2017 (ten goals).  He has one power play goal in his last four seasons.  Which is not to say he is not missed.  In fact, a long-time reporter covering the Bruins thinks they could use him about now

What Chara provides the Capitals in his first season in Washington is not a matter of numbers, at least not entirely.  Those numbers have been solid, if not quite Chara-esque (2-7-9, plus-9, in 44 games with the Caps this season).  He will reach double digits in points for the 19th consecutive season, but he is unlikely to extend his consecutive seasons averaging 20 minutes per game to 21 seasons (he is averaging 18:22 per game).

What Chara does provide is stability and reliability (one of three of eight defensemen dressing for all 44 games for the Caps through Friday), and he complements Dmitry Orlov (6-7-13, plus-11) in terms of production from the left side of the defense this season.  As for the usual “intangibles” of being a Stanley Cup winner, a player with almost 1,600 games of regular season experience (1,597), almost 200 games of playoff experience, and a legendary work ethic, perhaps those attributes are overestimated among fans, but they don’t hurt.  Chara is 1-0-1, even, in six games against his former team and 8-6-14, minus-2, in 41 career games against Boston.

In the end…

This will be a tough game, both physically and mentally, for the Caps.  They get their second matinee start in as many days, with noon-ish starting times that the Caps have struggled with this season (2-1-1 in four games starting at or before 1:00pm this season).  And this will be the last game the Caps play before meeting the New York Islanders for a three-game set starting later next week.  It would be easy to look ahead, even against a team like the Bruins, who will be looking for revenge after the shellacking they took in their last meeting against the Caps.  The Caps might have scored eight goals in that last meeting, but don’t expect the teams to combine for that total in this one.

Capitals 4 – Bruins 3

Friday, April 16, 2021

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 45: Capitals at Flyers, April 17

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals try to shake the stench off their 5-2 loss to the lowly Buffalo Sabres on Thursday when they travel to Philadelphia to meet the sinking Flyers in a 12:30 start at Wells Fargo Center.  The Flyers return home after splitting a two-game road trip, a 6-1 loss to the Caps in Washington and a 2-1 Gimmick win over the Penguins in Pittsburgh.

These teams are playing their second game in five days, so we are going to provide you with nuggets (not the last minute McNugget kind, which seems to have become a thing for Caps games) to amaze your friends and confound your enemies…


-- Home ice has meant little to the Flyers this season.  After going 5-1-0 at Wells Fargo Center to start the season, the Flyers are 4-8-3 in their last 15 games at home.  That is the fourth-worst home record in the league since February 1st.

-- On the other side, the Caps have the third-best road record in the league by points percentage (14-6-2/.682).  Only Colorado (12-5-2/.684) and Toronto (14-5-1/.725) are better.

-- The Flyers have gone seven straight games on home ice without scoring more than three goals.  They haven’t scored more than three goals in a regulation win since February 24th (4-3 over the New York Rangers).  Since then, they scored four goals on home ice twice, once in a 5-4 Gimmick win over Buffalo on March 9th and again in a 5-4 loss to the Caps on March 13th.

-- The Caps have scored four or more goals in seven of their last ten road games and have outscored opponents, 41-30 over those ten games.

-- The Flyers scored seven goals in the first game of the season series against the Caps (a 7-4 win).  They scored only nine goals in the last four meetings between the clubs.

-- The Caps have scored five or more goals in each of the last three games against the Flyers, all in wins.

-- Ten of 24 skaters to dress against the Caps this season have goals.  Scott Laughton has a quarter of the 16 goals scored by that group (four) to lead the team.  Eighteen skaters have points, led by Sean Couturier (seven).

-- Eleven of 24 skaters to appear against the Flyers this season have goals, led by Alex Ovechkin (six).  It might surprise some that Nic Dowd is second with three goals.  Ovechkin leads the Caps in points against the Flyers this season (nine).

-- Philadelphia converted two of 15 power play chances in five games against the Caps this season (13.3 percent).  The Caps converted five of nine chances in those five games.  The 55.6 percent power play is the best the Caps have against any team this season.  The Flyers’ 44.4 percent penalty kill is their worst against any opponent.

-- If Alex Ovechkin gets the game winning goal, he will tie Peter Bondra as the all-time leader in game-winning goals against the Flyers in Caps history (five).  If Nicklas Backstrom gets it, he will tie Ovechkin, Mike Ridley, and Kelly Miller for second place (four).

-- With two penalty minutes, Tom Wilson would pass Craig Berube (97) for fifth place on the all-time list of Capitals penalty minutes against the Flyers.  Four, and he would become the fifth player to reach the 100 penalty minutes mark as a Capital against Philadelphia.

-- If he gets the win in Philadelphia against the Flyers, Vitek Vanecek would become the 23rd goalie in Caps history to record a win against the Flyers.  To date, he has one appearance against Philadelphia (0-0-0, 6.56, .714 in 37 minutes of play).  If Craig Anderson gets the win, he would be the 23rd goalie in Caps history to beat the Flyers as a Capital (0-1-0, 5.27, .750, in one appearance lasting 23 minutes).

-- Ilya Samsonov has the best save percentage in Caps history against the Flyers (.932; minimum: 250 minutes).

-- Only one goalie in Flyers history has ten or more wins against the Caps (Ron Hextall: 25). Then again, he appeared in almost three times as many games against the Caps (44) as the next goalie on the wins list (Pelle Lindbergh, eight wins in 16 games).

-- From the wayback trivia machine… Wayne Stephenson, who finished his NHL career as a Capital, is the only goalie ever to appear in at least five games against the Caps and post a perfect record (7-0-0).  Not even Ken Dryden did it, when the Montreal Canadiens were perennial Stanley Cup contenders, and the Caps were perennial…well, something else.  But he came close (19-0-1).

In the end…

Perhaps all the pre-game attention on Nicklas Backstrom’s 1,000th game was a distraction for the Caps in their 5-2 loss.  Perhaps it was not taking a weaker opponent as seriously as they should.  Perhaps it was just a bad night; it happens, even in a 56-game season.  Whatever the reason, recent history would suggest that the Flyers are a club against which the Caps can get well quickly.  But nothing is assumed at this level, and doing it two games in a row would be four points too many left on the table against teams the Caps have to beat as they prepare for a difficult stretch run after this game in which they face playoff eligible teams seven times in their last 11 games.

Capitals 5 - Flyers 3

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 44: Capitals vs. Sabres, April 15

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

We are the point of the season where season series are wrapping up, and some teams are fine tuning for the postseason while others are looking to the offseason to rebuild their rosters in hopes of being competitive next season.  This is where we are as the Washington Capitals prepare to host the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday in the eighth and final meeting of the clubs this season. 

The Caps come into this game with three straight wins, a streak that started with a 4-3 win over Buffalo last Friday, and hold the top spot in the East Division.  The Sabres have lost three of their last four, the last a 3-2 Gimmick loss to the Boston Bruins after tying the game in the third period.

When the smoke cleared on Deadline Day, Sam Reinhart, who appeared on more than one “will he be moved” list, was still a Sabre.  As bad as the Sabres’ season has been, it is hard to fathom what the last month would look like without their leading goal scorer (14), leading point producer (26), one of their top power play performers (6-10-16), and one of two Sabres with two game winning goals this season.

Better days might be ahead for the Sabres, and Reinhart might be a part of it, but it has been a difficult seven seasons for the 25-year old since he was taken with the second overall pick in the 2014 Entry Draft.  In those seven seasons, Reinhart has 440 regular season games played, but none in the postseason.  He has 123 goals over that span (second to Jack Eichel (139), 281 points (second to Eichel (355), 42 power play goals (first), and 16 game winning goals (second to Eichel (25).  But he has also been on ice for 228 even strength goals over those seven seasons (second-worst among forwards to Eichel (349) and has a minus-58 even strength goal differential (worst among forwards).  The trade speculation does not seem to have worn on Reinhart too heavily; he is 3-3-6 in his last ten games.  Against the Caps this season, he is 0-3-3, minus-9 (worst against any team against which he played), and he is 5-7-12, minus-14 (worst against any team against which he played), in 21 games against the Caps in his career.

It has been no picnic for defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen, either.  With 528 NHL games under his belt, he is about to crack the top ten in games played by a defenseman in Sabres history (Henrik Tallinder is tenth with 532), but he has no playoff games on his resume, either.  He has been an amazingly consistent producer for the Sabres in his eight seasons with the club after he was selected eighth overall in the 2013 Entry Draft.  In five seasons preceding this one, only once did he post fewer than 40 points, and that was in last year’s abbreviated season in which he had 33 points in 69 games.  In the last four seasons he posted five goals twice and six goals twice.  He has also been a minutes-eater from the blue line, averaging 25:11 in ice time in five seasons preceding this one. 

Ristolainen also plays with a physical edge.  He is the all-time leader in credited hits in Sabres history (a statistic that has been recorded only since 2005-2006), and it is not close.  He has 1,301 credited hits with Buffalo, almost 300 more than Marcus Foligno (1,023).  But he does so within the lines.  His 281 penalty minutes ranks 60th all time in Sabres history, while his 0:31 penalty minutes per game ranks 83rd of 123 players to skate in at least 200 games for Buffalo.  He comes into this game on a decent run of late, going 1-4-5, plus-8, in his last eight games.  Ristolainen is 1-4-5, plus-3, in six games against the Caps this season and 1-12-13, minus-5, in 22 career games against Washington.

If Jeff Skinner does not have the worst contract in the NHL, he is on a very short list.  Skinner is in the second year of an eight-year/$72 million contract.  It looked like a good idea at the time, Skinner coming off a 40-goal season with Buffalo in 2018-2019, but in two seasons under the new contract, he is 19-13-32, minus-33, in 98 games.  Of 15 forwards to dress this season with cap hits of $9.0 million or more, Skinner ranks 14th in goals scored with five (Jack Eichel has two, but he appeared in only 21 games to date) and last in points (15).  And even when he does put up points, it hardly matters.  The Sabres are 1-4-0 in five games in which Skinner had a goal this season and 1-4-3 when he recorded a point.  The only statistic that seems to matter with Skinner this season in its relationship to wins is ice time, or lack of it.  Buffalo is 4-3-1 in the eight games in which he skated 12:29 or less, 5-21-5 in the 31 games in which he logged more ice time.  Skinner is 2-3-5, minus-1, in his last seven games, which qualifies as a hot streak in season to date.  Skinner is 0-1-1, minus-2, I seven games against the Caps this season and 12-15-27, minus-6, in 49 career games against Washington.


1.  Since the Sabres last reached the playoffs in 2011, they are 270-368-95, their .422 points percentage last in the league in that span.

2.  Buffalo has allowed more goals at 6-on-5 (11) than any team in the league.

3. The Sabres have scored only 64 5-on-5 goals this season, fewest in the league.

4.  Sam Reinhart’s team leading 14 goals ranks only tied for 44th in the league.

5.  Buffalo has 26 first period goals scored this season, tied for fewest in the league, with Dallas.

1.  Through 43 games this season, the Caps have seven players with ten or more goals.  Through 43 games last season, the Caps had seven players with ten or more goals

2.  The Caps have not lost a game to Buffalo in regulation at home since November 22, 2014, a 2-1 loss.  Since then, they are 10-0-1 against the Sabres in Washington.

3.  Washington has the league’s best power play on home ice (36.8 percent).

4.  The Caps are tied with Colorado and the New York Islanders in one-goal wins on home ice (eight).  They are one of two teams not to have lost a one-goal game in regulation on home ice (Tampa Bay is the other).

5. The 14 goals in consecutive games scored by the Capitals against Boston and Philadelphia is their highest two-game total since January 2017 when they posted seven goals in consecutive games, an 8-7 overtime loss to Pittsburgh on January 16, 2017, and a 7-3 win over St. Louis on January 19, 2017.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Buffalo: Linus Ullmark

You are the number one goaltender for an historically poor team, yet you are 9-6-3, 2.63, .917.  The other three goaltenders to dress in your absence are a combined 1-19-4, 3.57, .891.  It is a career year in your six-year career to date, perhaps the lone bright spot in an otherwise dismal season for a team that has not reached the postseason since 2011.

This is the season Linus Ullmark has had for the Sabres.  He has been remarkably consistent behind a weak defense, allowing more than three goals only times in 20 appearances to date.  The only thing that slowed him down this season was a 15-game absence in March for a lower body injury and a two-game absence for personal reasons in January.  The Sabres went 1-15-1 in the 17 games he missed.  And he has picked up where he left off before the injury.  In eight appearances since coming back, Ullmark is 4-2-1, 2.95, .915.  That record has him tied for fifth in wins over that span and 17th in save percentage among 39 goalies with at least 200 minutes logged. It is unlikely the Sabres would have been contenders had he not missed those games, but that absence does seem to represent the difference between respectability and a lost season. 

But now, Ullmark’s availability is in question once more.  He lasted just 4:54 into the Sabres’ Gimmick loss to Boston on Tuesday before skating off with what looked like another lower-body injury following a stop on an innocent shot from Mike Reilly.  In the event he cannot go, and with Carter Hutton injured (his last game was March 22nd), the goaltending duties might fall to Dustin Tokarski, who would be looking for his first NHL win sinc December 2015.  While Ullmark is 1-2-1, 2.68, .895 in four games against the Caps this season, 2-4-1, 2.95, .895 in seven career games against Washington, Tokarski is 0-1-0, 4.14, .879 in one appearance against Washington this season and 1-1-1, 2.57, .916 in his career against the Caps.

Washington: Dmitry Orlov

It was a difficult start to the season for Dmitry Orlov (1-0-1, minus-3, in his first 18 games), but in 20 games since that rough start, he is 4-7-11, plus-12, in 20 games.  It is part of a very production run for Capitals defensemen, three of whom have recorded at least 11 points in that 20-game stretch (Orlov, John Carlson (5-13-18), and Justin Schultz (1-12-13).  No Capital defenseman has a minus rating in that span, and Orlov leads the group with his plus-12.  Only Carlson has more even strength points than Orlov over those 20 games (12 to Orlov’s 11), and Orlov has the best shooting percentage of the group (12.5 percent on 32 shots).

He is unlikely to reach last season’s production level (4-23-27, plus-5, in 69 games), but there are things in his overall season to date that are impressive.  For one, his five goals in 38 games is his best career goals-per-game (0.13) to date.  He is in the midst of a career year in shooting percentage (9.1 percent).  His 5.53 hits per 60 minutes is the second best average of his career (5.86 in 2011-2012).  His giveaways per 60 minutes (1.40) is a career low, while his takeaways per 60 minutes (2.06) is a career high.  When he puts up points, the Caps do well.  They are 9-1-0 when Orlov recorded at least one point.  And you want him getting minutes.  Unlike some other offensive defensemen, who get minutes shaved when their team is out front and protecting a lead, the Caps are just 2-5-0 when Orlov skated less than 17 minutes this season.  Orlov is 0-1-1, even, in five games against the Sabres this season and 1-7-8, plus-8, in 26 career games against Buffalo.

In the end…

The Caps have done what good teams do, pile up points against weaker division opponents.  They swept the eight-game series against the New Jersey Devils, and they have a chance at going 7-0-1 against the Sabres with this season-ending contest.  However, those records are deceptive.  The Caps had six one-goal wins over New Jersey in eight games (two in overtime), and they have four one-goal decisions in seven games against Buffalo (3-0-1, one of the wins in a Gimmick).  They might win, they should win, but don’t think a third straight rout in a foregone conclusion.

Capitals 4 – Sabres 2