Tuesday, January 28, 2020

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 51: Predators at Capitals, January 29th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals have 50 games in the books in the 2019-2020 season, and for Game 51 they return to Capital One Arena in the first home game since the All-Star Game break, hosting the Nashville Predators on Wednesday night in a nationally televised game.  The Caps will be looking to extend their winning streak to five games, while the Preds come limping into the contest with three losses in their last four games and their postseason hopes in serious jeopardy.

Then and Now…

This will be the 31st meeting of the Capitals and Predators in their all-time regular season series.  Washington is 13-14-2 (one tie) in the series overall and 8-5-1 on home ice.  Since 2005-2006, the Caps are 9-10-2 against the Predators overall and 5-4-1 in Washington.  In their only other meeting this season, the Caps took a 4-2 lead into the third period in Nashville, but they were outscored, 4-1, in the last 20 minutes to lose a 6-5 decision.

Active Leaders vs. Opponent…

Noteworthy Opponents…

Nashville has eight players with at least ten goals this season.  Of that group, one of them is a defenseman.  It is hardly unusual that Roman Josi is that defenseman.  With 14 goals this season (tied for second on the club with Nick Bonino), he has posted double digit totals in goals in each of the last seven seasons.  His 97 goals over that period rank fourth among defensemen overall.  He is one of four defensemen in the league in that span to post at least 70 goals and a rating of plus-70 or better (the others include: Mark Giordano (93 goals/plus-81), Victor Hedman (87/plus-108), and John Carlson (80/plus-70)).  It is worth noting that among that quartet, Girodano has won a Norris Trophy as top defenseman (2018-2019), as has Hedman (2017-2018), while Carlson was named by the Professional Hockey Writers Association as its mid-season winner of the award.  However, while Josi finished second in the PHWA mid-season voting, he has never finished higher than fifth in the PHWA year-end award voting.  He might qualify as one of the more underrated players in the league.

Josi has gone cold lately as far as goal scoring goes, but he has upped his assist rate.  He has gone his last 12 games without a goal, but he has 13 assists in that span to lift him into a tie for second in the league in assists by defensemen (34, with Florida’s Keith Yandle).  Goal scoring, though, does have its charms for Josi and the Predators, who have lost only once in regulation this season when Josi lit the lamp (7-1-2).  He also has a reputation as a minutes-eater (third in the league among defensemen at 25:52 per game), but this comes at a cost.  He has skated more than 26 minutes 26 times this season, but Nashville’s record in those games is just 8-12-6.  Josi is 5-7-12, plus-5, in 14 career games against the Caps.

Nick Bonino is one of those players who only seems as if he has been in the NHL since before helmets were mandatory.  But he has played in fewer career games (607) than Taylor Hall (608).  What he has done is get around.  He signed as a free agent with Nashville as an unrestricted free agent in July 2017, making the Predators his fifth NHL team after stops in San Jose (who drafted him in 2007, but for whom he did not play), Anaheim, Vancouver, and Pittsburgh.  He has been a consistent performer in a bottom-nine role as a forward, posting double digit goal totals in six of the last seven years (missing out in 2015-2016 with nine in 63 games with the Penguins) and 25 or more points in each of the last seven seasons, including this one (14-13-27).  He does it never having averaged more than 17 minutes of ice time per game in any of his 11 seasons.  With the Predators over the last three seasons, Bonino has taken on a more important penalty killing role.  He ranks 20th among all forwards over the last three seasons in total shorthanded ice time and ranks 26th in that group who have appeared in at least 100 games in shorthanded ice time per game (2:06).

Bonino is another Predator who has seen his goal scoring dry up of late. He has one goal in his last 15 games and only four assists to go along with it.  It matters as it often does with secondary scorers.  Nashville is 9-2-1 in the dozen games in which he has a goal and 14-5-2 in 21 games in which he registered a point this season.  Odd Bonino fact… Nick Bonino is the only active player in the league to have appeared in 600 or more games, record a rating of plus-70 or better, and do it while scoring fewer than 300 career points.  He is 7-4-11, minus-4, in 20 career games against the Caps.

Nashville has dressed five rookie skaters this season, and perhaps none of them have had more impact than defenseman Dante Fabbro.  The former 17th overall draft pick of the Predators (in 2016) ranks fifth among all rookie defensemen in ice time per game (19:32).  The odd part of that is he is the only rookie defenseman among the top nine in average ice time having played in at least 20 games to record fewer than 10 points (4-5-9).  There is a bit of a disconnect in his game, though.  While his personal shot attempts-for on ice at 5-on-5 of 51.6 percent ranks fourth among those rookie defensemen appearing in at least 20 games, bad things still happen, hi 46.1 percent goals-for-at 5-on-5 ranking sixth among the seven Nashville defensemen to appear in at least 20 games.

While Fabbro is not, at least at this stage of his development, an accomplished offensive defenseman, he has only one point in his last 15 games (a goal) and is a minus-8.  He has only two points (a goal and an assist) in the 15 games he logged at least 20 minutes this season, over which the Predators are 6-7-2.  And, his engagement in the offensive end has not been influential.  The Preds are just 4-10-2 in 16 games in which he recorded at least two shots on goal.  He is without a point and is plus-2 in his only game against the Caps in his career so far.

1.  Nashville can score and score often on the road.  Their 3.52 goals per game is the third-best scoring offense on the road so far this season.

2.  On the other hand, the Predators cannot seem to drive a stake into opponents’ power plays in road games.  Their 68.3 percent penalty kill on the road is worst in the league, as is their net penalty kill (also 68.3 percent).

3.  Only Colorado has allowed fewer goals at 5-on-5 on the road this season (35) than Nashville (40, tied with Tampa Bay).

4.  Getting a lead on Nashville when they are visiting is a chore.  Only Tampa Bay (10 goals) and St. Louis (17) have allowed fewer first period goals in road games than the Predators (18, tied with Boston).

5.  Only Vancouver has had more 5-on-3 power play chances (nine) than the Predators on the road (six, tied with Chicago).
1.  In their last ten games on home ice, the Caps are 32-for-34 killing penalties (94.1 percent), the best home penalty kill in the league over that span.

2.  The Caps have a power play goal in each of their last three home games, their longest home power play goal streak of the season.

3.  Only twice in their last 11 home games have the Caps carried a lead into the first intermission.  However, those two games were the last two the Caps played at Capital One Arena, against Carolina and New Jersey, both wins.

4.  Since 2005-2006, the Caps have hosted the Predators ten times.  In the first five, they were 4-1-0 against Nashville, but in the last five they are just 1-3-1.

5.  Goals allowed is as good an indicator of any in this series in Washington.  Since 2005-2006, the Caps are 5-0-1 when allowing three or fewer goals to Nashville, 0-4-0 when allowing four or more.  Consider this your “duh!” random fact.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Nashville: Pekka Rinne

At age 37, are we in sight of the end of Pekka Rinne’s run as Nashville’s number one goaltender?  His numbers are sufficient to pose the question.  Rinne’s 2.98 goals against average in 30 games is the worst of his career since he appeared in two games and allowed four goals in 63 minutes in 2005-2006 (3.80).  His .897 save percentage is the first time in his career he has been under .900 in save percentage for a season.  It has not improved for Rinne since Christmas, either, with a record of 3-6-0, 3.12, .900. If anything, though, the road has been a sanctuary for Rinne.  While his win-loss record (7-5-0) is not much different from his home record (9-6-3), his .914 save percentage on the road is substantially better than what he has at home (.885), and his goals against average (.267) is much better on the road than it is at home (3.20).

What will be interesting to watch with respect to Rinne is if his past history as a finisher continues.  Over his career, he has posted a 2.39 goals against average and a .919 save percentage in games after January 1st.  Last year, those numbers were a bit weaker (2.59/.915), and so far this season they are weaker still (2.88/.908 in seven games). 

Juuse Saros is presumably the number one netminder in waiting for the time being, but he has been coming up short of late, too, going 1-1-2, 3.63, .882 in his last six appearances, although his one win was a 28-save shutout in Winnipeg against the Jets on January 12th.

Rinne is 6-1-0, 2.86, .896 in seven career appearances against the Caps, while Saros is 3-0-0, 2.33, .919 in three career games against Washington.

Washington: Travis Boyd

Has Travis Boyd been a good luck charm for the Caps this season?  Well, they are 15-4-1 in the 20 games in which he has dressed so far this season.  If you think that is a fluke, the Caps were 36-13-4 in the 53 games he played last season, and they were 6-2-0 in the eight games he appeared in for his rookie season in 2017-2018.  That is a record of 57-19-5 in his 81 career games with the Caps, a 121-point pace over an 82-game schedule.  And is not as if he has been a passenger.  He is 8-22-30, plus-16 in those 81 career games, with three goals and six points in 20 games so far this season and aplus-8 rating, tied with three other Caps, including Jakub Vrana, for ninth on the team in that category.

Boyd's appearance against the Montreal Canadiens on Monday night was his first since getting a sweater on New Year’s Eve against the New York Islanders to close the 2019 portion of the schedule.  He might have gotten that nod as a result of Alex Ovechkin serving his required one-game suspension for withdrawing from the All-Star Game, but he did score a goal on his only shot of the game, a goal that gave the Caps a lead they would not relinquish in their 4-2 win over the Habs.  That a Boyd goal and an Caps win going hand in hand is not surprising.  He has goals in eight games in his Caps career, and the Caps won all of them.  The Caps have won the last 13 games in which Boyd recorded a point and are 23-3-1 in Boyd’s career when he recorded a point.

In baseball, Boyd would be a valuable bench player who spells a starter from time to time or pinch hits with barely, if any, drop off in production or performance.  The Caps have the pleasant luxury for the time being of having him serve as the “extra” forward who can jump in at a game-day’s notice to fill in and contribute.  It will make this upcoming off-season interesting, since Boyd will be an arbitration-eligible restricted free agent.  He does not have a point against Nashville in three career games and is a minus-1.

In the end…

Nashville is one of those teams that give the Caps fits. Washington is 2-8-1 in their last 11 games against the Predators have not beaten them since taking a 4-1 decision in Washington in March 2016.  On the other hand, Nashville is just 4-7-1 in their last dozen games, while the Caps are riding the crest of a four-game winning streak and 7-2-0 record since January 1st.  It would seem that this game will largely hinge on which Caps team – the one that can’t beat Nashville or the one that has beaten almost everybody (not Nashville) this season and especially lately.  You know where we are going with this.

Capitals 4 – Predators 3

Sunday, January 26, 2020

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 50: Capitals at Canadiens, January 27th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals start the new week with Game 50 on their schedule, a visit to Montreal to face the Canadiens at Bell Centre on Monday night.  The Caps will be continue the momentum they built going into their eight-day break, winning their last three games.  On the other side, the Canadiens will be looking to maintain some momentum of their own, having won four of five games (4-1-0) before heading out of town for their own eight-day break.

Then and Now…

The Capitals and Canadiens will meet for the 170th time in their all-time regular season series on Monday.  Washington has a 73-74-5 (17 ties) record in the series overall and a 34-40-3 (eight ties) record on the road.  Since 2005-2006, the Caps are 30-15-5 against the Canadiens overall and 17-5-3 on the road.

Active Leaders vs. Opponent…

Noteworthy Opponents…

Arturi Lehkonen is tied for the team lead in goals since the first of the new year for the Canadiens (four).  The four goals he has posted in ten games in January brought his total for the season to 11 in 50 games, matching his total for last season in 82 games.  Lehtonen was Montreal’s second pick in the second round of the 2013 Entry Draft, taken with the 55th overall pick (their first selection, goaltender Zachary Fucale, taken with the 36th overall pick, has since moved on to the Tampa Bay Lightning organization after spending some time in the Vegas Golden Knights organization and has yet to appear in an NHL game).  After spending the next three seasons in Europe, he joined the Canadiens in 2016-2017, posting 18 goals (a career high to date) as a rookie, tied with Tampa Bay’s Braden Point for ninth-most among rookies in the 2016-2017 class.

Despite the four goals in ten games this month, Lehkonen has struggled to find the net on home ice.  The two goals he posted in a 3-2 overtime loss to Pittsburgh on January 4th are his only goals on home ice over his last 12 games at Bell Centre.  Overall, Lehkonen’s goal scoring has an odd quality to it.  Montreal is just 3-5-1 in the nine games in which he has goals and has lost both games in which he posted two goals, both at home (a loss to the New York Rangers in November in addition to the overtime loss to Pittsburgh).  His ice time also has a strange aspect to it.  Overall, when skating more than 16:30, the Canadiens are 5-9-2 in 14 games.  However, when he skated more than 17:40, they were 5-1-0, while they were 0-8-2 in games in which he skated between 16:30 and 17:40.  Lehkonen is 1-3-4, even, in ten career games against Washington.

Jeff Petry is the points leader among Montreal defensemen in the new year (1-3-4).  He is reached or is closing in on some personal landmarks in his Montreal career.  With three more goals he will become the 15th defenseman in Canadiens history to record 50 goals with the club (unless Shea Weber, who has 49 goals, gets there first).  He is one of 15 defensemen in Canadiens’ history to record at least ten game-winning goals (he has ten).  Before the season is over, he is likely to become the 28th defenseman in team history to appear in at least 400 games for the Canadiens (he has 364 games played so far in Montreal).

Petry is one of two defensemen to dress for Montreal this season to have passed his 30th birthday (at 32 years of age, he is two years younger than Weber).  He has never been an especially prolific defenseman in the offensive end, but he did record his first two career 40-point seasons in the NHL in the two seasons preceding this one, and he is on a pace to make it three in a row this season and match his career high in points set last year (46).  Petry is 3-5-8, minus-1, in 17 career games against the Capitals.

Carey Price deserves mention among the best goaltenders in the history of a franchise known for excellence at the position.  He is the all-time leader in games played for the franchise, which is noteworthy on a personal level since the four goalies to trail him (Jacques Plante, Patrick Roy, Ken Dryden, and Bill Durnan) all are members of the Hockey Hall of Fame.  His 341 career wins for the Canadiens is also most in team history.  The same four hall of fame netminders trail him.  Since Price came into the league in 2007-2008, he ranks third in games played (664, behind only Henrik Lundqvist (759) and Marc-Andre Fleury (696)), fourth in wins (341), seventh in save percentage (.918; minimum: 10,000 minutes played), 16th in goals against average (2.49), and seventh in shutouts (46).

This season, Price is doing his best to keep the Canadiens afloat, leading the league’s goalies in minutes played (2,363), but his numbers reflect the struggles the Canadiens are having.  Among 39 goalies with at least 1,200 minutes played this season, Price ranks 19th in goals against average and 21st in save percentage (.908).  His numbers have been weaker on home ice, a 2.97 goals against average and a .895 save percentage in 21 games played at Bell Centre this season.  What he does have going into this game is a personal four-game winning streak, his longest of the season, over which he stopped 142 of 148 shots and posted a shutout against Calgary on January 13th.  Price is 8-14-5, 3.29, .892, with one shutout in 27 appearances against Washington in his career.

1.  Montreal is among the worst home teams in the league.  Their ten wins at home rank 29th, their 24 standings points earned are tied with Winnipeg for 27th, and their .462 points percentage at home ranks 29th.

2.  Small wonder that the Canadiens have fared so poorly at home.  Their scoring offense (2.73 goals per game) ranks 26th, and their scoring defense at Bell Centre (3.19 goals allowed per game) ranks 28th. 

3.  Montreal is also a bottom-ten dweller in special teams on home ice. They rank 27th on power plays (14.5 percent) and dead last in net power play (with shorthanded goals allowed factored in) at 7.9 percent.  Their penalty kill ranks 23rd at home (78.6 percent), but their net penalty kill (also at 78.6 percent) ranks 28th. 

4.  The poor net penalty kill at home is a product of the fact that they are one of two teams (St. Louis is the other) who have yet to score a shorthanded goal on home ice.

5.  The Canadiens have played in a bit of bad luck at home, or they have been just good enough to lose.  They are tied with Columbus for most one-goal losses in regulation at home (five), and they have lost another four games in extra time.

1.  No team has more one-goal wins on the road than the Caps (nine, tied with Calgary and Winnipeg).  Their .750 winning percentage in one-goal decisions (9-2-1) is tied with Calgary for third best in the league, behind New Jersey (1.000/6-0-0) and the New York Islanders (.778/7-0-2).

2.  Washington is one of just two teams to have lost a single game on the road in extra time (Vancouver is the other).  Toronto and New Jersey have yet to lose a game on the road in extra time.

3.  The Capitals are tied with Colorado for most wins on the road when scoring first (12), and they have the best winning percentage when doing so (.923/12-1-0).

4.  Washington is one of only two teams in the league with a winning percentage of .500 when allowing the game’s first goal on the road.  Both the Caps (6-5-1) and Boston (4-3-1) have .500 winning percentages in those games.

5.  When the Caps outshoot an opponent on the road, they win.  Their 11-3-0 record when outshooting opponents while on the road leads the league in both wins and winning percentage. 

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Montreal: Ilya Kovalchuk

Well, give the Canadiens credit for creativity.  In the midst of a dreadful 7-12-3 run that saw them sink from second in the Atlantic Division standings to sixth in the division and 13th in the 16-team Eastern Conference, Montreal went out and signed Ilya Kovalchuk to a one-year/$700,000 contract.  Kovalchuk started the season in his second year with the Los Angeles Kings, who signed Kovalchuk to a contract after he spent five years with SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL.  But he lasted just 17 games into the new season, going 3-6-9, minus-10, in 17 games before being effectively relieved of any further on-ice responsibilities in mid-November.  He deal with the Kings was terminated on December 17th, and his career was in limbo before the Canadiens came calling.

One would not call Kovalchuk’s arrival in Montreal the remedy to save the Canadiens’ season, but that is not Kovalchuk’s fault as much as it reflects the broader personnel issues the team has.  Kovalchuk has actually been something of a pleasant surprise.  Since joining the club he is averaging a point per game in eight games, and his four goals is tied for the team lead in January.  Those four goals already surpassed his total in 17 games with the Kings earlier this season (three).  Two of his four goals with Montreal are game-winners, and he scored his first goal at Bell Centre as a Canadien in Montreal’s 5-4 Gimmick win over Vegas just before the break (he added a goal to open the freestyle competition in that contest).  Kovalchuk is 29-30-59, plus-8, in 55 career games against Washington. 

Washington: Braden Holtby

No one wants to say it, at least too loudly, but Washington has a goaltending issue.  Yes, Ilya Samsonov has been electric in goal for the Caps so far, but the key phrase there is “so far.”  As a rookie who has not played in more than 37 games in a regular season since he began his career splitting time between Stalnye Lisy and Metallurg Magnitogorsk in Russia in 2014-2015, is there a wall he is approaching that he will struggle with and have to battle through as part of his development?

That question adds only more weight to the burden the Caps have trying to get Braden Holtby untracked.  Holtby, who trails only Olaf Kolzig for the top spot in just about every statistical category for goaltenders in franchise history, is in the midst of what is arguably his worst season in ten as a Capital.  His goals against average of 3.09 is the worst of his career, as is his save percentage of .897.  And, it has not been a sudden onset of iffy play.  Since he finished second in voting for the Vezina Trophy in 2016-2017 on a record of 42-13-6, 2.07, .925, and a league-leading nine shutouts, Holtby is 84-44-13, 2.94, .907, with three shutouts in 146 games over three seasons.

Holtby seemed to be climbing out of his doldrums earlier this season when he posted a record of 14-1-2, 2.42, .924 over a 17-appearance run from October 18th through December 6th.  Since then, however, he is 3-7-0, 3.75, .866, and he has been pulled twice in 11 appearances.  If there is a team and a place Holtby can find his game once more, it would be against the Canadiens at Bell Centre.  Since March 15, 2011, when he won in his first appearance in Montreal, a 24-save effort in a 4-2 Capitals win, no goalie has won more often there than Holtby (9-1-1), he ranks fifth among 34 goalies logging at least 200 minutes at Bell Centre in goals against average (1.66), he has the sixth-best save percentage in that group (.941), and he is one of five goalies with two shutouts in Montreal in that span.  If Holtby is going to find a spark in his game, Montreal would be the place to do it.  If he gets the call, and his troubles continue, the Capitals will have an issue with which they would prefer not to deal.

In the end…

The Capitals have 33 games left in the regular season, starting with this game.  And if there is one thing that has characterized this club in recent years, it has been their finishing kick.  Since 2007-2008, when the Caps put on a frantic rush to qualify for the postseason, the team has finished with 20 or more wins in their last 33 games ten times in 12 tries, including in the abbreviated 2012-2013 season.  Twenty wins in their last 33 games this season would place this club fourth in wins for a season in team history (53).  Matching their high in victories over the period (23) would tie them with the 2015-2016 team for wins in a season (56).  And in case you are wondering, yes, the 2017-2018 Stanley Cup winning squad did record 20 wins in their last 33 games (20-11-2).

Getting to those marks requires taking advantage of teams that are struggling.  Montreal qualifies as such a club, especially and strangely enough, on home ice.  Everyone is coming off a break, so there should be no falling back on that excuse for an indifferent effort or an unpleasant result.  They might be rusty, but the Caps have too much depth and skill for their hosts to let this one get away.

Capitals 4 – Canadiens 2

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 16

Week 16 for the Washington Capitals seemed to include a lot more than a week’s worth of action.  In three games Caps fans witnessed goals galore despite a struggling power play, stinginess in the defensive end despite the struggles of their number one goalie, a glimpse of the future in goal, and records falling like autumn leaves courtesy of The Captain.  When it was over, the Caps were once more atop the league standings, a good place to be as they start their eight day bye/All-Star Game break.

Record: 3-0-0

It was a perfect week in the record book for the Caps, but it did not quite seem like one.  They jumped out to a 2-0 first period lead on the Carolina Hurricanes to start the week, but they could not add to that advantage to put the Hurricanes away decisively.  They duplicated their first period effort against New Jersey, getting out to a 2-0 lead, but they let the Devils crawl back within a goal twice before putting that game away late. 

And then there was Saturday’s game against the New York Islanders. For the third time in three games the Caps scored first, but the Islanders came back to take a 2-1 lead into the first intermission and doubled their scoring output in the second frame to take a 4-1 lead and chase goalie Braden Holtby to the tunnel where backup goalies are seated at Nassau Coliseum.  It looked as if the Caps would post a winning week, but would end it with an effort that screamed “let’s get an early start on the break.” 

But then, Carl Hagelin scored less than three minutes into the third period.  Alex Ovechkin got his second of the game less than three minutes later with a highlight reel goal.  Nine minutes after that, Tom Wilson tied the game by putting his frame in front of a Dmitry Orlov drive and redirecting it in.  Less than two minutes later, the Caps took the lead again with some opportunistic work and a nasty wrister from Jakub Vrana.  Ovechkin put the icing on the cake with an empty netter to complete the comeback and give the Caps a perfect win-loss week, their first since going 3-0-0 in Week 10.  It gave the Caps 33 wins at the break, tied for the second-most wins through 49 games in team history, with the 2016-2017 team.  Only the 2015-2016 team had more wins after 49 games (36).

Offense: 4.33/game (season: 3.55/5th)

There was the good and the bad, even when averaging more than four goals a game for the week.  The good – the really good, in fact – was Alex Ovechkin posting eight goals in three games and recording three straight multi-goal games for the first time in his career, including a pair of hat tricks to end the week.  He scored the team’s first four goals of the week and had the game’s first goal in all three games.  With eight goals for the week, Ovechkin out-scored nine teams in the league for the week.

Jakub Vrana was the other Capital with a multi-goal week, putting the Caps up by a pair of goals in the third period of their 5-2 win over New Jersey in the middle game of the week and then potting the game-winner in the Caps’ stunning comeback win over the Islanders to close the week.  Both goals came at even strength, giving Vrana 21 of his 22 goals for the season at evens, tied with Buffalo’s jack Eichel for third-most in the league.

Carl Hagelin had a pair of timely goals, putting the Caps up by three goals in their 5-2 win over New Jersey and then starting the big comeback against the Islanders with an early third period goal.  The goals in consecutive games came at a welcome time for the Caps and for Hagelin, who had only one goal in his first 36 games before potting goals in consecutive games to end the week. 

Tom Wilson broke a cold snap of his own with the Caps’ other goal for the week, his goal against New York breaking a seven-game streak without one and a run of just one goal in 13 games.  But that would do it for the goal scorers, four players accounting for all of them and Ovechkin accounting for almost two thirds of them by himself.  Scoring balance is a term that cannot be used to describe the Caps’ offensive output, the other 14 skaters going 0-for-60 in shooting.

There was not a lot more balance in points for the week, either.  Eleven skaters did record points, but four of them were held to a single point.  Ovechkin led the team with eight points, all goals, while John Carlson was next in line with five points, all on assists.  Carlson finished the week not only as the only Capitals defenseman to post more than 50 points in the team’s first 49 games of a season in Capitals history (Mike Green had 50 points in 48 of the team’s first 49 games of 2009-2010), he became the only Capitals defenseman to hit the 60 point mark through 49 games and only the fifth NHL defenseman to do it since 1979-1980

In a more modest achievement, Nick Jensen recorded an assist in the win over the Islanders to close the week, snapping a 40-game streak without a point.

Defense: 2.00/game (season: 2.90/11th)

The Caps had a decent week on the defensive side of the puck, holding Carolina and the Islanders under 30 shots on goal.  Even with allowing New Jersey 34 shots, what might be viewed as a “score effect” outcome given the Caps holding a lead from the 15:17 mark of the first period through the end of the contest in a 5-2 win, the Caps extended their run of holding opponents under 30 shots to six of their last seven games and 14 of their last 16 contests.

The Caps also did a credible job in holding down even strength shot attempts.  They allowed 103 shot attempts by their three opponents at 5-on-5 for the week and extended their double-digit shot attempts differential to four games in the process (plus-51 overall).  The Caps did not finish the week with a negative shot differential in any situation (tied, close, ahead, behind) in any of the three games.

Goaltending: 2.00 / .930 / 1 shutout (season: 2.72 / .908 / 1 shutout)

“MedStar, we have a problem.”  It does not have quite the ring of the famous (apocryphal) message from Apollo 13 to NASA Mission Control in 1971, but there is a problem that the Caps are going to have to address out at MedStar Capitals Iceplex over the break, and it is at the most important position on the ice.  The good news is that Ilya Samsonov put his stamp firmly on Week 16 in a good way, pitching a shutout, providing a solid effort in the middle game, and then coming into the last game of the week in relief and keeping the Islanders off the board to give his teammates a chance to come back.  He finished the week with a record of 10-0-0 (one no-decision), 1.60, .941, with one shutout in his last 11 appearances.

On the other side there is Braden Holtby, who is firmly positioned in a slump of the sort that has been rare in his career.  Given a 1-0 first period lead against the Islanders in his only start of the week, Holtby was the victim of unfortunate bounces and his own play to give up four goals on 22 shots through 40 minutes before being relieved by Samsonov to start the third period of the Caps’ game against the Islanders on Saturday.  He was taken off the hook for the decision, but that does little to make things better regarding his play of late.  In his last 11 appearances he is 3-7-0 (one no-decision), 3.75, .866, and he has been pulled twice.  And here is a fact that might chill a Caps fan to the bone if you are looking ahead.  Holtby’s record against Metropolitan Division opponents this season is 2-7-1 (one no-decision), 3.48, .875.  If his numbers generally do not improve, and his Metro numbers specifically, it is going to be a lot of pressure on a rookie goalie to sustain his own numbers and not succumb to a “wall” he might face with a level of workload he has not yet seen as a pro.

Power Play: 2-for-15/13.3 percent (season: 20.3 percent/15th)

Another problem area that merits attention during the break is the power play.  Bouncing along at 15 percent or so is just something that should not happen with this skill level.  But there the Caps are, 10-for-71 (14.1 percent) over the last seven weeks, second-worst in the league (Columbus: 8-for-62/12.9 percent).

The Caps spread ice tie around a bit more in Week 16 on the power play, seven forwards and two defensemen logging at least nine man advantage minutes.  Seven players recorded shots on goal, John Carlson leading with five.  Alex Ovechkin had three shots on goal and the only two goals for the week. One of the power play goals came at 5-on-3, where the Caps spent 50 seconds for the week.  Overall, they managed only 14 power play shots on goal in 24:20 of total power play ice time.

Penalty Killing: 10-for-11/90.9 percent (season: 84.2 percent/2nd)

On the other side of special teams, the penalty kill returned to an efficient element after a couple of down weeks.  The ten kills in 11 shorthanded situations made the Caps 61-for-71 over the last seven weeks, the 85.9 percent penalty kill being second in the league in that span (Tampa Bay: 64-for-72/88.9 percent).  Even the Islanders scoring a power play goal, breaking a five-game streak without allowing one, did little to diminish the result.

The Caps were not particularly efficient in denying power play shots, giving up 15 in 16:42 of shorthanded ice time, but the plus-7:38 in special teams ice time differential made for a generally successful week.

Faceoffs: 101-for-178/56.7 percent (season: 49.4 percent/21st)

Week 16 was that rarity in the circle for the Caps.  They won all three zones in all three games.  They were especially productive in the ends, where they went 39-for-66 in the offensive end (59.1 percent) and 34-for-58 in the defensive end (58.6 percent).  It was not against the stiffest of competition in that regard, Carolina the only team of the three opponents to finish the week in the top ten in faceoff winning percentage (51.0 percent/10th), but one fights the opponent in front of them.

Individually, four of the five Caps to take ten or more draws for the week finished over 50 percent, led by Nic Dowd, who was 21-for-31 (67.7 percent).  Only Evgeny Kuznetsov among that group was under 50 percent, and that by only one draw (14-for-29/48.3 percent).

Goals by Period:

Overall, the Caps started and finished well.  They scored the first goal in all three games, and while they did not lead at the first intermission in all three (they trailed the Islanders, 2-1, after one period in that contest), they did have a plus-3 goal differential in the first period to pull themselves back into plus differential territory for the first period for the season overall.

Thanks to the five-goal outburst against the Islanders in the third period to end the week, the Caps finished with a dominating 7-1 edge in third period goals.  The 69 third period goals they finished with at week’s end for the season were most in the league, and their plus-20 third period goal differential was also best in the league.


The perfect win-loss week pushed the Caps well past where they were through 49 games last season – six more wins (33 to 27) and 11 more standings points (71-60).  That is, in turn, and product of a 22-goal improvement in net goals (plus-32 this season to plus-10 through 49 games last season).  And drilling down further, there is the net improvement of 231 shots (113 more shots on goal and 118 fewer shots allowed) and a particularly noteworthy improvement of 254 fewer shot attempts allowed at 5-on-5.  These might be thought of as the basic, the simple foundational elements that have contributed to the Caps’ improvement in wins, losses, and standings points over last season.

In the end…

Sometimes the differences from year to year are subtle movements, getting a win instead of an extra time loss, scratching out a point in an extra time loss instead of losing in regulation.  However, as the Caps head into their eight-day break, the differences are not all that subtle.  This year’s club has traded losses in regulation for wins.  True, the Caps do have three Gimmick wins, a total that is tied for fifth-most in the league, but this is also a club with 18 multi-goal wins; only Colorado (22) and Toronto (20) have more.  Although the Pittsburgh Penguins have replaced the New York Islanders as the Caps’ chief competition for another Metropolitan Division title, the Caps’ pre-All-Star Game performance makes it hard for the Penguins, or anyone else, to overtake them.  But they do have issues to be addressed – the power play and goaltending among them (what keep the Captain from rating this a perfect week) – over the break to ensure that the last 33 games – and beyond – are as successful as the first 49 contests.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Alex Ovechkin (8-0-8; plus-5; 12 shots on goal; 30 shot attempts; one game-winning goal; two hat tricks; moved past Teemu Selanne and Mario Lemieux to tie Steve Yzerman for ninth place in career NHL goals (692); moved past Cy Denneny to tie Maurice Richard for eighth place in career NHL hat tricks (26); three multi-point games to tie Peter Stastny for 25th place in career NHL multi-point games (356))
  • Second Star: Ilya Samsonov (2-0-0, 0.86, .969, one shutout, set record for consecutive road victories by a rookie at start of his career (nine)).
  • Third Star: Jakub Vrana (2-1-3, plus-1, game-winning goal, 6 shots on goal, 12 shot attempts)

Captain rates the week…

Three puppers

Saturday, January 18, 2020

A TWO-Point Afternoon: Washington Capitals -- Game 49: Capitals 6 - Islanders 4

The Washington Capitals took the ice for the last time before their bye/All-Star Game break for eight days, facing the New York Islanders at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, NY, on Saturday afternoon.  The Caps scored first, fell behind, fell behind further, pulled their goalie, and looked to be playing out the string before heading on their eight-day bye/All-Star Game break.  But then, things happened.  In the end, it would be one of the most bizarre wins in a season full of them, the Caps coming from three goals down to start the third period to win, 6-4.

First Period

The teams played cautiously to open things, but it would be the Caps who were beneficiaries of the game’s first power play, the Islanders’ Jordan Eberle sent off for tripping Michal Kempny at the 6:05 mark.  The referees quickly evened things up, giving hints that this would be more of a “touch” hockey game, sending Alex Ovechkin off for hooking at 6:40.

Neither team could score on their respective power plays or the 4-on-4 that overlapped, but the Caps did open the scoring.  Alex Ovechkin put the Caps on top, taking a superb long lead pass from Nicklas Backstrom, skating into the New York zone on a semi-break, and wristing the puck past goalie Semyon Varlamov’s blocker at the 10:22 mark.   It was Ovechkin’s 690th career goal, tying Mario Lemieux for tenth in NHL history. 

The Islanders appeared to score less than three minutes later on a Brock Nelson goal, but the Caps challenged the play for being offside.  The goal call was confirmed, and the Caps were charged with a delay-of-game penalty for losing the challenge.  The Caps then went two men short when Carl Hagelin was called for interference at the 6:26 mark. 

The Caps killed both penalties, but then they promptly gave up the go-ahead goal on a fluky redirect off the skate of Radko Gudas, Casey Cizikas getting credit for the goal 15:49 into the period.  That closed the scoring for the first period.

-- The teams finished the period tied in shots on goal with 11 apiece, and in shot attempts with 17 apiece.

-- The teams also split 22 faceoffs with 11 wins apiece.

-- T.J. Oshie led the team with three shots on goal and four shot attempts.

Second Period

The Caps started the period slowly, lucky to have kept the game a one-goal deficit.  They caught a break when Tom Wilson hit Casey Cizikas playing the puck, the Islanders’ Matt Martin took exception, and then Radko Gudas came to Wilson’s defense.  Gudas was sent off for roughing, but Martin was docked a roughing and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty to put the Caps on a power play.

Washington did not convert its man advantage chance, and they would take the next turn on the penalty kill, Brendan Leipsic going off for roughing at 8:27 of the period.  The Islanders did what the Caps could not, converting the power play on a Jordan Eberle goal 9:31 into the period to give the home team a 3-1 lead.

Washington was awarded their third power play of the game at the 11:11 mark when Leo Komarov was hit with a boarding penalty.  The Caps did not score and barely threatened, the Islanders escaping with their two-goal lead intact.  The Caps got another chance to go a man up when Nick Leddy was banished for slashing at the 14:37 mark.  The Caps once more failed to take advantage, and it burned them when the Islanders converted an odd-man rush at the other end after the penalty expired, Devon Toews finishing the play to make it 4-1, Islanders, 17:25 into the period.  That would, mercifully, end the scoring for the second period.

-- The Islanders had an 11-8 edge in shots on goal for the period, but the Caps had a 22-13 advantage in shot attempts.

-- John Carlson had 17:17 in ice time through two periods, almost three minutes more than the next Capital (Dmitry Orlov: 14:36).

-- Carlson led the team in shot on goal (five) and was tied in shot attempts (six, with Ovechkin) through 40 minutes.

Third Period

The Caps opened the period with Ilya Samsonov replacing Braden Holtby in goal.  Whether that was motivation or not, it was the Caps who scored first, Richard Panik feeding the puck to the top of the crease from the goal line to Carl Hagelin, who held off Ross Johnston long enough to slide the puck past Varlamov to make it 4-1, 2:33 into the period to make it a 4-2 game.

Ovechkin scored his second of the game when he undressed Islander defenseman Scott Mayfield, curling the puck around him and then circling to the net.  As he was tumbling to the ice he managed to get what looked to be a centering pass to Garnet Hathaway, but the puck was redirected into the net by Islander Ryan Pulock, and it was 4-3, 5:18 into the period.

The Caps came all the way back when Dmitry Orlov unloaded a bomb from the left point that was redirected by Tom Wilson and slithered through Varlamov at the 14:32 mark to make it 4-4.  And then, just 2:58 later, Jakub Vrana darted in from the left point and snapped a shot past Varlamov’s blocker to put the Caps on top for the first time since the 14th minute of the first period, 5-4.

The Islanders pulled Varlamov late, to no avail.  Ovechkin completed the hat trick, taking a pass from T.J. Oshie, pulling it around an Islander defender, and firing it from the neutral zone into the empty net to make it 6-4 at the 19:04 mark.  That would be more than enough for the Caps to complete the unthinkable, coming back with five unanswered goals after trailing, 4-1, after two period to go into the break with a 6-4 win.

Other stuff…

-- Ovechkin’s second goal of the contest made it three-straight multi-goal games, the first time in his career he accomplished that feat.

-- Ovechkin’s three goals allowed him to pass Mario Lenieux for tenth place on the all-time NHL goal scoring list and tied him with Steve Yzerman for ninth place.  Ovechkin also tied Yzerman for second place in career goals scored for one franchise (692), trailing only Gordie Howe (786 for Detroit).

-- The hat trick was Ovechkin’s 26th career hat trick, tying him with Maurice Richard for eighth-most in NHL history.  He trails Marcel Dionne and Bobby Hull, tied with 28 hat tricks for sixth place, by two.

-- Tom Wilson’s goal broke a seven-game streak without a goal. 

-- Ilya Samsonov stopped all seven shots he faced in the third period to record the win in relief of Braden Holtby.  He is now 10-0-0, 1.60, .941 (one no-decision) in his last 11 appearances.

-- John Carlson had a pair of assists to record his 19th multi-point game this season, tied with Auston Matthews for sixth-most in the league and most among defensemen.  The two points gave Carlson 102 career multi-point games, tied with Scott Stevens for most by a defenseman in Caps history.

-- Jakub Vrana scored the game-winning goal, extending his points streak to a career-high eight games (6-2-8).

-- The Caps finished with a 30-29 edge in shots on goal and a 63-40 advantage in shot attempts.

-- Dmitry Orlov had a pair of assists to record his first multi-point game on the road this season and first multi-point game not against Tampa Bay, who he victimized twice at Capital One Arena.

-- Nick Jensen had an assist, breaking a 40-game streak without a point.

In the end…

Stop doing this, Caps!  Just pound teams and put them out of THEIR misery instead of playing like wet burlap for two periods and then turning it on to put us out of OUR misery.  This game was “The Full Capitals Experience.”  Score first, suck for the next 35 minutes, look like mites on their own power play, fall hopelessly behind, and then just go, “ah, f*ck it…let’s just go win.”  They can do this against some teams in the regular season, but it is not a sustainable recipe for success when the weather turns warmer.

But still…this was a helluva ride, wasn’t it?

Friday, January 17, 2020

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 49: Capitals at Islanders, January 18th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals wrap up the pre-All-Star Game portion of their schedule, the symbolic half way point of the season, when they visit the New York Islanders at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Saturday afternoon in a 1:00 start.  The Caps will look to build on an impressive win over the New Jersey Devils, 5-2, on Thursday night to take a two-game winning streak into the break.

Then and Now…

Saturday will be the 221st time that the Capitals and Islanders have met in the regular season.  Washington has a 110-91-6 (13 ties) overall record against New York and a 54-51-3 (two ties) record on Long Island.  Since 2005-2006, the Caps are 33-19-6 against the Islanders overall and 17-9-3 on the road.

Active Leaders vs. Opponent…

Noteworthy Opponents…

Warroad, Minnesota, has prepared a number of NHL players well known to Caps fans – T.J. Oshie (who was born in Everett, Washington, but who moved to Warroad and played high school hockey there), Alan Hangsleben, and Dave Christian.  Warroad’s contribution to the New York Islanders is forward Brock Nelson, now in his seventh year with the Isles.  New York took Nelson with the 30th overall pick of the 2010 draft, and he has been an overachiever relative to his draft position, ranking 10th in games played in his draft class (526), seventh in goals (142), 18th in assists (135), 15th in points (277), 26th in plus-minus (plus-10), and 18th in penalty minutes (197).  Over his seven-year career with the Isles, Nelson leads the active members of the team in games played, is second in goals, second in assists, and third in points.

This season, Nelson is producing at rates that are the best of his career.  He is on a pace to finish the season with 33 goals, 31 assists, and 64 points, all of which would be career highs.  He has been an especially durable player as well, missing only two games over the last six seasons, including this one to date.  Nelson has been very productive on home ice lately, going 8-6-14, plus-2, over his last 14 games at home, a run that includes four multi-point games.  In 26 career games against the Caps, Nelson is 7-5-12, minus-5.

Matt Martin is one aggravation away from jumping into the top ten in Islander history in career penalty minutes.  He passed Islander legend Brent Sutter for 11th place last Monday in a 6-2 loss to the New York Rangers, and he did it quickly.  On just his first shift of the game, 2:13 into the first period and seven seconds into his shift, Martin locked horns with the Rangers’ Brendan Smith on a faceoff just after Micheal Haley and Ross Johnston dropped gloves.  It earned Martin a five-minute major and a ten-minute misconduct (Smith earned the same), both players excused from further action for participating in a “secondary” fight after the first one finished.  The 15 minutes Martin earned gave him a total of 762 minutes in his Islander career, 21 minutes behind Gerry Hart for tenth place in team history.

This is Martin’s stock in trade.  In nine years as an Islander (he also spent two with the Toronto Maple Leafs), he reached the ten-goal mark once (he has 51 in 538 games as an Islander) and has never recorded as many as 20 points.  He does have four seasons topping 100 penalty minutes, although he has been relatively behaved this season, recording only 14 penalty minutes in 33 games apart from his outburst against the Rangers.  In fact, Martin has penalty minutes in only three of 34 games to date, another 12 minutes against Chicago on December 27th and a minor penalty against New Jersey on January 2nd.  On the other hand, that is 29 penalty minutes in his last 11 games.  Martin is 3-2-5, minus-1, in 32 career games against Washington with 44 penalty minutes.

Eight skaters have dressed for all 46 games played by the Islanders to date, and Anthony Beauvillier is the youngest of the group at age 22.  Beauvillier was taken with the 28th overall pick in the 2015 Entry Draft by the Islanders and is already in his fourth NHL season with the club.  He had a good rookie season in 2016-2017, posting nine goals and 24 points in 66 games, ranking in the top-25 in both categories among rookies.  He followed that up with a solid sophomore season, going 21-15-36 in 71 games in 2017-2018.  But those 21 goals that season are a career best; he seems to have plateaued on his career arc for the moment.  He slid to 18 goals in 81 games last season, and his 12 goals in 46 games so far this season put him on a pace to match his career high of 21.

Beauvillier has been off his game of late.  After going 10-12-22, plus-8 in his first 32 games, he is just 2-2-4, minus-8, in his last 13 games.  He did break out in the Islanders’ 8-2 win over Detroit last Tuesday, posting a goal and an assist in the win, breaking a five-game streak without a point on home ice before posting a goal against the New York Rangers on Thursday.  Even with that slump at home, there has been a decided home ice tilt in his game.  He is 8-9-17, plus-4, in 24 games at Nassau Coliseum, but just 4-5-9, minus-4, in 22 road games this season.  Beauvillier is 0-4-4, plus-2, in 13 career games against Washington.

1.  The Islanders net goal differential on the power play at home (plus-7) is tied for third-worst in the league, ahead on only Montreal and San Jose (each at plus-6).

2.  No team spends less time per game on the power play than the Islanders (3:36), a product of having the fewest opportunities per game in the league at home (2.08).

3.  Only Vancouver and Pittsburgh have allowed fewer first period goals on home ice (13 and 12, respectively) than the Islanders (14).

4.  The Islanders are tied for the third-worst record in the league, by winning percentage, when leading after the first period on home ice (6-2-2/.600).  Detroit (4-4-0/.500) and New Jersey (2-4-2.,250) are worse.

5.  The Islanders have trailed on home ice after one period only four times this season (2-2-0).  Only Vancouver has trailed after 20 minutes less frequently (twice – 0-2-0).

1.  The Caps have eight wins on the road when leading after one period.  Only Toronto has more (nine).

2.  Carrying on in that vein, the Caps have 11 wins on the road when leading after two periods.  Again, that is second in the league.  Only Colorado (12) has more.

3.  Washington has scored 33 third period goals in road games this season, most in the league.

4.  Shot matter for the Caps on the road.  They have ten wins when outshooting opponents in their building, most in the league. And, only three teams have fewer regulation losses in road games when being outshot than the Caps (three): Chicago (once), St. Louis (twice) and Dallas (twice).

5. Only Carolina and the New York Rangers have spent more time shorthanded (6:21 and 6:52, respectively) than the Caps (6:18) in road games.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New York: Thomas Greiss

Very soon, Thomas Greiss will dress for his 188th game as a New York Islander goalie.  When he does, he will jump past Tommy Salo into fifth place on the all-time list of games played by Islander goaltenders, topped only by Kelly Hrudey (241), Glenn Resch (282), Rick DiPietro (318), and Billy Smith (674).  And, while it will not come against the Capitals, Greiss will soon become the fifth goalie in team history to reach the 100 win mark (he has 98).  He is fourth in team history in goals against average (2.67; minimum: 50 games), and he is tops in save percentage (.916; minimum: 50 games).  Rather remarkable numbers for a goalie who has never seemed to take a firm grasp of a number one job in any of his four NHL stops (he has played for San Jose, Phoenix/Arizona, and Pittsburgh in addition to the Islanders).

This season, Greiss was once more cast as a backup, or perhaps as a “1-A” goalie when Semyon Varlamov was signed as a free agent.  He made the job a competition early, going 9-1-0 (one no-decision), 2.07, .934 in his first 11 appearances.  In his last 11 appearances he has fallen off, going 4-6-0 (one no-decision), 3.16, .905.  He might be emerging from the slump, though.  In his has three appearances he stopped 67 of 72 shots (.931 save percentage) while posting a pair of wins and a no-decision.  He has been much more effective at home than the road in terms of record (8-2-0 versus 5-5-0), goals against average (2.22/2.86) and save percentage (.927/.915).  Greiss is 3-3-1, 2.15, .927, with one shutout in seven career appearances against the Caps.

Washington: T. J. Oshie

Warroad’s other entry in this game is T.J. Oshie.  If the Caps were a high-performance automobile, you might think of Alex Ovechkin as the engine, Nicklas Backstrom as the steering and suspension, and Oshie as the transmission (tortured metaphor, thy name is “Peerless”).  Oshie is a player who plays in several gears – high, higher, and higher still.  He is that rare “energy” player who provides that energy without resorting to playing outside the rules.  He plays above his weight class in terms of toughness, often goes into high-danger/high-reward areas to make plays, and scores important goals at important times in games.  Since he joined the Caps in the 2015-2016 season, he is second to Alex Ovechkin in goals scored (120 to 214 for Ovechkin), fifth in assists (121), fifth in points (241), fifth in plus-minus (plus-50), second in power play goals (40 to 82 for Ovechkin), fifth in power play points (70), and tied for third in game-winning goals (18).  Odd fact about those game winning goals… with his next one, Oshie will tie Craig Laughlin and Sergei Gonchar for 22nd on the all-time franchise ranking.

Oshie has been a bit streaky of late.  He had a stretch of six games in which he recorded a lone assist, and then he followed that up with three goals and three assists over a four-game span.  He goes into Saturday’s game without a point in his last three games.  Oshie has not scored a goal on the road since he potted one in a 5-2 win in Tampa over the Lightning on December 14th, a streak of six road games without a goal.  Oshie is 11-14-25, plus-9, in 24 career games against the Islanders.

In the end…

With a win, the Caps will go into their eight-day break with the best record in the league and would be no worse than six points clear of the rest of the Metropolitan Division.  The Caps can put the Islanders, already reeling with a 6-7-2 record in their last 15 games, into a deep hole in the division standings by putting 11 points between themselves and New York with a win in regulation.  The Caps still have the best road record in the league by wins (17, three more than any other team) and winning percentage (.729, the only team with a winning percentage over .700 on the road).  When you couple this with the Islanders’ 2-5-2 record on home ice in their last eight games, signs point to a Caps win.

Capitals 4 – Islanders 2

Thursday, January 16, 2020

A TWO-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 48: Capitals 5 - Devils 2

The Washington Capitals exacted a measure of revenge for a poor effort against the New Jersey Devils last weekend, jumping on the Devils with the help of an Alex Ovechkin hat trick and a 32-save effort from rookie goaltender Ilya Samsonov in a 5-2 win at Capital One Arena on Thursday night.

First Period

The Caps had early pressure that put the Devils on their heels, and they appeared to get the game’s first goal from Carl Hagelin in the fourth minute, but there was a lengthy review of whether Michal Kempny kept the puck in the offensive zone before Hagelin scored.  It was determined that the puck came outside the zone, rendering the play offside and negating the goal.

The Devils got the first power play chance of the evening when Tom Wilson was sent off for interference at the 10:42 mark of the period.  The Caps killed that one off, and then they went on a power play of their own 10:39 into the period when Travis Zajac was whistled for tripping at 13:39.  The Caps went to a 5-on-3 when John Hayden was sent to the box on a holding call at 15:12.

It took the Caps five seconds to covert the first half of the power play, Alex Ovechkin one-timing a pass from John Carlson over goalie Louis Domingue’s right shoulder and off the crossbar to make it 1-0, 15:17 into the period.  The Caps had an excellent chance at the end of the 5-on-4 with some nifty passing in deep, but a lay-up was denied when a centering pass was blocked in front of Domingue.

Ovechkin lit the lamp a second time in the last minute of the period.  Nicklas Backstrom won a faceoff to the right of Domingue, Ovechkin cut through the circle to collect the puck, and he snapped it past Domingue’s left pad to make it 2-0 with 51.9 seconds left in the period.  That would be how the period ended.

-- Alex Ovechkin was high-sticked by Miles Wood in the sixth minute of the period and went off with a bloodied mouth.

-- Ovechkin’s two goals gave him 30 on the season, making him the second player in NHL history to record 30 or more goals in each of his first 15 seasons.  Mike Gartner is the other.

-- Despite sitting for two minutes with a penalty, Tom Wilson skated the most shifts for the Caps in the period (nine).

-- Washington led in shots on goal, 15-9, through 20 minutes.  They also led in shot attempts, 25-11.

Second Period

The Devils opened the period with Cory Schneider in goal, replacing Domingue, and he was welcomed rudely.  Carl Hagelin took a feed from Lars Eller between the hashmarks and ripped a shot past Schneider’s right pad to make it 3-0 just 16 seconds into the period.

New Jersey got one back less than a minute later when Nico Hischier backhanded the puck from behind the net to the low slot, and Wayne Simmonds reached out to redirect it past goalie Ilya Samsonov at the 1:08 mark to make it 3-1, Caps.

Washington went shorthanded 3:16 into the period when Richard Panik went off for hooking.  He Caps killed the penalty without incident, and play continued.

Panik went off a second time, this time for cross-checking, 13:56 into the period to put the Devils on their third power play of the evening.  That power play was rubbed out when Sami Vatanen was hit with a double-minor for high-sticking Lars Eller 14:36 into the period.  The Caps were unable to convert, and the teams skated out the rest of the period with no further scoring, the Caps taking a 3-1 lead into the second intermission.

-- The Caps had a 15-13 edge in shots on goal in the second period, but New Jersey had the advantage in shot attempts, 28-20.

-- Through two periods, Nic Dowd won eight of nine faceoffs.

-- Jakub Vrana had only ten shifts, total, through two periods and 9:40 in ice time.

Third Period

The Caps got an early power play when Will Butcher was sent to the penalty box for holding Evgeny Kuznetsov at the 2:11 mark.  It would be the Devils who scored, though, Blake Coleman getting the shorthanded goal on a breakaway 3:34 into the period.  It would be the only scoring on that power play for the Caps.

Jakub Vrana restored the two goal lead in the seventh minute when Cory Schneider could not make a clean save on a shot, and Pavel Zacha could not clear the puck out of danger from the top of the crease, leaving Vrana to clean up the loose puck from between the hashmarks and send it under Schneider’s pads at the 6:42 mark to make it 4-2.

Washington went shorthanded 8:06 into the period, Nicklas Backstrom to the box for hooking.  The Caps killed off the penalty to preserve the two-goal lead.  There were some jitters shortly thereafter when Michal Kempny was charged with a double-minor high-sticking penalty, but video review determined that Kempny swatted the puck into Nikita Gusev’s face; he did not hit him with his stick, and the call was reversed.

Alex Ovechkin completed the hat trick 15:42 into the period, finishing a great piece of work by Tom Wilson.  Curling out of the corner to the right of Schneider, Wilson drew several Devils to him, then sent a no-look backhand pass to the low slot that Ovechkin batted in from the weak side before Schneider could even flinch.  That would end the scoring in the Caps revenge win, 5-2.

Other Stuff…

-- When Ovechkin scored his second goal of the game in the first period, it was his 140th career multi-goal game, fourth-most all time.  His third goal gave him 25 career hat tricks, tying Cy Denneny for ninth-place all-time.

-- Ovechkin’s first goal was his 118th career first goal of the game, breaking a tie for fifth place all-time with Joe Sakic and one behind Teemu Selanne for fourth-place all time.

-- Blake Coleman’s shorthanded goal was the third shorthanded goal the Caps allowed in four games (the others to Philadelphia and the Devils, both in losses).

-- John Carlson had a pair of assists.  He has 22 points in his last 21 games (5-17-22).  It was his 101st career multi-point game, drawing him to within one of Scott Stevens (102) for most among defensemen in Caps history.

-- Ilya Samsonov stopped 32 of 34 shots, bringing his record in his last ten appearances to 9-0-0 (one no-decision), 1.66, .939, with one shutout.

-- The Caps finished with a 38-34 shots on goal edge and a 66-60 advantage in shot attempts.

-- The Caps won 40 of 68 faceoffs (58.8 percent).  The 40 faceoff wins tied their season high (November 1st versus Buffalo); the 58.8 winning percentage was their second-best of the season (67.3 percent versus Boston on November 16th).

-- Tom Wilson led the team with six shots on goal; Ovechkin led with 11 shot attempts.

-- Nicklas Backstrom had a pair of assists giving him 241 career multi-point games.  That ties Dave Taylor for 73rd place all time in the NHL.

--  Radko Gudas was a very quiet plus-3, the only Cap to finish better than plus-1 for the evening.

In the end…

You mess with the bull, you get the horns.  The Caps restored a sense of order after losing to the Devils, 5-1, in what might have been their worst game of the season last weekend.  The Devils did not play as badly as the final score suggested, but the Caps had Alex Ovechkin and Ilya Samsonov, which was too much for the young Devils.  The Caps now have a chance to end the pre-All-Star game/bye break with a winning streak when they face the New York Islanders on Saturday, and with a win they can carry the league’s best record into their week-long break.  It would not be a bad way to earn some time off.