Monday, October 18, 2021

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 3: Avalanche at Capitals. October 19

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals get an early opportunity to measure themselves against what is arguably the elite team in the Western Conference when the Colorado Avalanche visit Capital One Arena o Tuesday night.  They were the consensus pick of a panel of NHL.com analysts to win the Central Division,. And most picked them to represent the West in the Stanley Cup final.  The Avs split their first two games of the season, both at home, besting the Chicago Blackhawks in the opener, 4-2, and losing to the St. Louis Blues, 5-2, on Saturday.

What the Avs have been in their recent history is a good – sometimes very good – regular season team that disappoints in the postseason, when they get there.  Over the last 11 seasons, Colorado has won more than 40 games four times (in eight full 82-game seasons).  But over those same 11 seasons they reached the playoffs five times (the last four years in succession) reaching the second round three times but never reaching the third round. Colorado is an enormously talented team that should easily top the 100-point mark and perhaps post 50 or more wins, but it’s not about the regular season for this club.

The Caps are fresh off a three-point week, beating the New York Rangers in the season opener, 5-1, and dropping a 2-1 overtime decision to Tampa Bay on Saturday.


1.  Colorado is missing several players. Nathan MacKinnon will not accompany the team on its three-game road trip that begins in Washington, a victim of COVID protocol.   Jack Johnson is also out on COVID protocol, while the injured list (all on IR) includes Stefan Matteau, Valeri Nichushkin, Pavel Francouz, and Devon Toews.

2.  Colorado is 0-for-7 on power plays through two games, one of seven teams yet to score a power play goal.  The team finished eighth on the power play last season (22.7 percent).

3.  The Avalanche are not an especially physical team, or they dominate puck possession (they finished first in shot attempts-on ice at 5-on 5 last season). Their 18.0 hits per 60 minutes is tied for eighth-lowest in the league.

4.  Colorado ranks second in the league in takeaways-per-60 minutes (14.5).

5.  The Avs are tied for second in missed shots per game (15.0). Only Toronto ranks higher (17.7).

1.  It is only two games, but the Caps are tied for third in the league in scoring defense (1.50 goals allowed per game).

2.  The Caps are one of eight teams with a net power play of 100.0 percent, having allowed one power play goal and scoring a shorthanded goal of their own.

3.  Washington has allowed 24.0 shots on goal per game, second fewest in the league (San Jose: 23.0).

4.  Three skaters have sh0orthanded goals so far in league play, all whose first names start with the letter “A.”  Andrew Cogliano, Andrew Copp, and the Caps’ Alex Ovechkin.

5.  The Caps are the only team in the league that has yet to allow a goal in either the first or second periods of games.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Colorado: Darcy Kuemper

Goaltender Darcy Kuemper has been around.  The Colorado Avalanche, who obtained Kuemper in July via trade (the price was a first-round draft pick in 2022, a conditional third-round draft pick in 2024, and defenseman Conor Timmins), are Kuemper’s fourth NHL team.  He spent his first five seasons with the Minnesota Wild (a sixth-round pick by the Wild in the 2000 Entry Draft), a brief stay (19 games) with Los Angeles, and three-and-a-half seasons with Arizona before settling in with the Avalanche.  With the three teams he played for before Colorado, Kuemper never had a goals against average over 2.60 and never had a save percentage under .910.  He gets little notice among the goaltenders in the NHL, but he has been a solid performer in his nine NHL seasons preceding this one.  He has, however, gotten off to a slow start in Colorado, going 1-1-0, 3.09, .902 in his two appearances so far.  Kuemper is 1-1-0, 2.03, .939 in two career appearances against the Capitals.

Washington: Nick Jensen

Oh, if it had only counted.  Nick Jensen does not have a goal on his ledger so far this season, but his one-timer off a rush that was subsequently overturned for being offside was a thing of beauty, an Ovechkinesque drive from Ovechkin’s office that beat New York Ranger goalie Alexandar Georgiev cleanly over his glove on the far side.


But Jensen’s stock in trade is defense – anticipating opponents’ moves, moving the puck out of harm’s way, keeping opponents from doing what they want to do, where they want to do it.  Jensen does not have a point yet this season and has only three shots on goal, but he has averaged 20:30 in ice time over two games (third among Caps defensemen), has four hits (most among defensemen), has been on ice for only one even strength goal against, and has an unblocked shots at even strength differential of plus-2 (second best among defensemen).  Jensen made great strides with the Caps last year when partnered with Zdeno Chara. Whether the lessons have been etched permanently in Jensen’s game remains to be seen, but he is off to a good start, even without the highlight reel non-goal.  Jensen is 0-1-1, minus-3, in seven career appearances against Colorado.

In the end…

On paper, Colorado is better.  But then again, the Caps are 10-2-0 against Colorado over their last dozen meetings, outscoring them by a 44-32 margin and posting a 29.3 percent power play.  They even won 52.3 percent of the faceoffs between the teams, a bit odd given the Caps’ challenges in this area.  The Avalanche will be playing their first game of their first road trip of the season, a trip that will continue against the Florida Panthers on Thursday and the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday.  It is a challenging trip for Colorado, and the Caps are certainly in a position to get the Avalanche off to a poor start on their journey.

Capitals 5 – Avalanche 4

 

 

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 1

Week 1 for the Washngton Capitals was good.  Not as good a two-game start as last season, when they went 2-0-0, but then again, this year they were not opening against the Buffalo Sabres for a pair of games.  The Caps were facing a team that had their matchup circled on their calendar since their two-game brawl-a-thon last May.  and the defending Stanley Cup champions.  Easier opening weeks have been had.


Record (1-0-1)

For what it’s worth, this is the sixth consecutive season that the Caps did not lose a game in regulation in their first two games of the regular season schedule.  For the record:

  • 2021-2022: 1-0-1 (New York Rangers/win; Tampa Bay Lightning/overtime loss
  • 2020-2021: 2-0-0 (Buffalo Sabres/two wins)
  • 2019-2020: 2-0-0 (St. Louis Blues/win; New York Islanders win)
  • 2018-2019: 1-0-1 Boston Bruins/win; Pittsburgh Penguins/overtime loss)
  • 2017-2018: 2-0-0 (Ottawa Senators/Gimmick win; Montreal Canadiens/win)
  • 2016-2017: 1-0-1 (Pittsburgh Penguins/Gimmick loss; New York Islanders/win)

A good thing, too.  Six of the eight teams in the Metropolitan Division did not lose a game in regulation in Week 1.  But as we all know, it’s a long, long season.


Offense: 3.00/game (season: 3.00 / T-14th)

It might not have been a sparkling week for the Caps’ offense, but it was balanced.  Alex Ovechkin led the team with three goals and five points (tied for third in the league in goals, tied for fourth in points).  The three goals were half of the Caps’ output for the week (T.J. Oshie, Justin Schultz, and Hendrix Lapierre getting the others), but ten of the 18 skaters to dress for the week posted points.  The balance kept the plus-minus ratings manageable, only two Caps (Lars Eller and John Carlson, each at minus-1) in minus territory.  Justin Schultz had the game winning goal against the Rangers, the only GWG for the week.  The odd thing about the six goals scored by the Caps was how they were split by strength.  Three power play goals (all against the Rangers), a shorthanded goal (Ovechkin, against the Rangers), but only two even strength goals (Ovechkin and, with his first of his NHL career, Hendrix Lapierre).

Defense: 1.50/game (season: 1.50/T-3rd)

There is not much to say of a negative nature about the Caps’ defense in Week 1.  There is the scoring defense number of 1.50 goals allowed per game, but going further, there is the allowing only 24 shots on goal in each of the two games (24.0 shots allowed per game ranks second in the league).  They allowed 81 shot attempts at 5-on-5 for the two games, eighth-fewest among the 26 teams to have played at least two games in Week 1.  No Capital was on-ice for more than one even strength goal against, a reflection of the fact that the Caps allowed only one goal at 5-on-5 and a 3-on-3 overtime goal.  If there is a blemish on the week for the defense, it is that they did not allow a goal in either the first or second periods of the two games, but they did allow two third period goals and the overtime goal against Tampa Bay on Saturday.

Goaltending: 1.44 / .938 (season: 1.44 / .938)

The surprise here was Vitek Vanecek not only getting the Opening Night nod as starting goalie, but getting the call in Game 2 of the week as well.  Head coach Peter Laviolette explained giving Vanecek the Opening Night assignment as follows: “I thought his camp was really good.  He separated himself a little bit and for that, he gets the opportunity to start. Then the goalies will fight for the opportunity to play. I just think in camp he was a little bit more steady. It’s a starting point and a long year so that’s where we’re starting. I think just the consistency inside the games, inside practice, just a little bit more consistency.”  He explained giving him the second game this way: “I thought he played a good game last game.  He made a lot of big saves early and he was good, so we'll go back to him tonight."  Vanecek was superb in both games overall, but one might wonder if he could have, should have stopped the Steven Stamkos shot with less than 15 seconds left in overtime to deny the Caps a chance at sweeping the week. 

Vanecek’s performance makes one wonder at the status of Ilya Samsonov.  Perhaps he is still suffering some effects of an injury he sustained in pre-season.  Perhaps is it a simple case of Vanecek outplaying Samsonov.  Whatever the reason, watch Week 2 for clues; with a three-game schedule, Samsonov should be getting some work.

Power Play: 3-for-10 / 30.0 percent (season: 30.0 percent / 13th).

The 30.0 percent efficiency on the power play is good, generally, but going 3-for-6 in one game and 0-for-4 in the other diminishes the impact.  But one number does jump out for the week: “10.”  That is the number of opportunities the Caps had for the week (seventh most in the league), an encouraging number given the difficulty with which the Caps generated opportunities last season (153/24th in the league).

What lurks underneath, though, was a lack of balance in shots.  In this power play, Alex Ovechkin is always going to be the shot leader, and he led the team with seven power play shots in Week 1. But they got only one shot each from T.J. Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Anthony Mantha. John Carlson and Tom Wilson, both of whom also play important roles (Carlson had 10:27 in power play ice time, Wilson had 4:08 for the week), had none.


Penalty Killing 5-for-6 / 83.3 percent (season: 83.3 percent / 12th)

It was not a bad week for the Caps, but it was made better with allowing only six opportunities, tie for seventh fewest among 26 teams playing at least two games.  But the number that stands out is “4:47.”  That is the ice time Martin Fehervary skated shorthanded, most on the team.  The Caps spread the responsibility around on the penalty kill.  Twelve Caps logged at least one shorthanded minute for the week.


Faceoffs: 47-for-107 / 43.9 percent (43.9 percent / 30th)

We are back to this.  The Caps just are not very good at this part of the game.  Only Nic Dowd finished Week 1 over 50 percent (18-for-25 / 72.0 percent).  Three other Caps (Lars Eller, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and T.J. Oshie) were a combined 29-for-72 (40.3 percent).


Goals by Period

The Caps started slowly in the two games for the week, posting only one first period goal. But they were also stingy on defense, blanking their two opponents, not only in the first period, but the second period as well.  Those two third period goals, while not cause for concern (yet) are what sticks out in this category for the week. 


Year-over-Year

There is little of value to report here other than to note that in the year-over-year area, the Caps do not show much in the way of regulation losses.  They have not had a regulation loss in either of their first two games since.2015-2016, a 5-0 loss to the San Jose Sharks.


In the end…

Two games – one against a team that pointed to this game for months and the other against the defending Stanley Cup champions.  That they got three of four points is hardly a poor result, although missing the chance to win in a Gimmick in the last 15 seconds of overtime against Tampa Bay stung for a moment.  The Caps looked quicker, more disciplined, more structured than they did early last season, and that – their ability to dictate pace, possession, and position – will be something to watch for as Week 2 arrives.

Three Stars

  • First Star: Alex Ovechkin : 2-3-5, plus-1, passed Marcel Dionne for fifth place on the all-time goal scoring list, 11 shots on goal, 1-2-3 on power plays, one shorthanded goal.
  • Second Star: Vitek Vanecek: 1-0-1, 1.44, .938, no goals allowed in any of the first two periods of the two games this week.
  • Third Star: Evgeny Kuznetsov: 0-3-3, even, two power play assists, fo0ur shots on goal, 21:33 in average ice time.