Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 33: Islanders at Capitals, March 26th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals return home the conquering heroes, having gone to the farthest edges of the Southeast Empire to vanquish Winnipeg Jets twice before taking their road campaign to Gotham to subdue the New York Rangers.

And now the conquering heroes led by their field general, whose theories of warfare appear finally to be taking hold, take up arms – well, sticks – once more in an effort to repel the Islanders of New York.  After spending the last week on the road,  the Capitals will be taking on an opponent desperately in need of a victory of their own. 

The New York Islanders come to Verizon Center in a foul mood, for they had a bad week last week. After climbing over the .500 mark with a win over Florida to close the previous week, the fishermen went 1-3-0 last week.  The joke here is that they lost all the games in which they allowed a goal.  Goalie Evgeni Nabokov recorded a 3-0 shutout over Florida (should games against the Panthers even count any more in the standings?) to salvage what had been an ugly week to that point.

In their first three games of the week the Islanders were outscored, 14-7, and their special teams might have been saved by lack of work.  The power play was a paltry 1-for-12 (8.3 percent) in the three losses, 2-for-14 for the week (14.3 percent).  The penalty kill was 5-for-7 in the losses (71.4 percent), 7-for-9 for the week (77.8 percent for the week).  As long as the penalty kill did not face more than two shorthanded situations it was fine (5-for-5 in three such games), but was 2-for-4 in a 5-2 loss to Montreal.

There was not a lot of punch in the Islander offense last week, just ten goals overall.  As might be expected, John Tavares led the team in goals overall (tied for the team lead, actually), but having two cannot be considered especially impressive.  Two was the number also obtained by Josh Bailey and Lubomir Visnovsky, while Matt Moulson led the Islanders in points with four (all assists).

If there is one thing that characterized the Islanders last week it was the third period collapse.  Nine of the 14 goals allowed by the Islanders in their three losses came in the third period.  They scored no third period goals in those three losses.  It is part of a larger trend.  No team in the NHL has allowed more third period goals than New York (47 in 32 games), and they have the worst goal differential in the third periods of games this season (minus-15).

Evgeni Nabokov tended goal in three of the those four games last week and had uneven results.  He was 1-2-0 with only a .902 save percentage.  However, he did have a respectable 2.36 goals against average and a shutout.  He benefitted from having to face only 24.2 shots per 60 minutes, a relatively light shot workload.  Here is how the two teams stack up, numbers-wise:

1.  The Islanders have not defeated a non-Southeast Division team in their last nine games.  They are 4-0-0 against the Southeast (including a 5-2 win over Washington on March 9th), 0-4-1 against everyone else.

2.  Giving up goals in the third period has been a problem for the Isles… so has scoring them in the first period.  Only three teams – Winnipeg, Columbus, and Phoenix have scored fewer than the 20 scored by the Islanders in the first period of games this season.

3.  Only Calgary and Florida have allowed more 5-on-5 goals this season than the 74 allowed by the Islanders.

4.  The Islanders have the most efficient power play on the road, by far, converting 31.4 percent of their opportunities (Montreal is second at 23.1 percent).  The flip side of that is no team has fewer power play opportunities on the road than the Isles (35 in 13 games).

5.  Whether it is the product of official scoring or not, no team other than the Islanders is in the top five in both giveaways (second) and takeaways (fourth) this season.  Okay, it’s a scoring thing…they rank in the top five in both at home and in the bottom ten in both on the road.

1.  The New York Islanders are now the only team in the Eastern Conference against which Marcus Johansson has yet to score a goal.

2.  Since Alex Ovechkin went without a shot on goal against Carolina on March 12th, he has recorded 35 shots on goal in seven games and has vaulted into a tie in shots on goal with Winnipeg’s Evander Kane (136).

3.  The Capitals are the only team in the league with two players among the top-five forwards in the league in assists.  Mike Ribeiro and Nicklas Backstrom (24 apiece) are tied for third in assists among forwards.

4.  Washington is one of two teams with three forwards in the top-15 in power play points.  Mike Ribeiro (17), Alex Ovechkin (15), and Nicklas Backstrom (13) are matched only by Pittsburgh with three forwards in the top-15.

5.  Alex Ovechkin is a team worst minus-9 in games outside the Southeast Division.  Only three Caps – Joel Ward (plus-3), Tom Poti (plus-1), and Dmitry Orlov (plus-1) are in plus territory outside the division.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New York: Matt Moulson

Matt Moulson must be the quietest 30-goal scorer in the recent history of the NHL.  Coming into this season he had 30 or more goals in each of the last three seasons (one of nine players to do it).  Through 23 games this season he was on a pace to take things to the next level, an 82-game pace of 48 goals.  However, Moulson is without a goal in his last nine games and has only one goal in his last 13 contests.  He has been piling up the assists, though, with nine in those same 13 games.  That might not sound extraordinary, but Moulson has not had more than 33 assists in any of his five seasons coming into this year.  His 22 assists to date has him on an 82-game pace for 56 helpers.  Moulson is 4-3-7, plus-1, in 13 career games against Washington.

Washington: Brooks Laich

After missing the first 28 games of the season (Caps’ record: 12-15-1), Brooks Laich has returned to the lineup.  It seems to have made a difference (Caps’ record: 3-1-0).  Laich is getting into game shape and is getting more and more time.  His ice time has jumped from 12:51 in his first game back, against Pittsburgh, to 16:54 in his last game, against the New York Rangers.  His shifts have risen from 19 to 25.  He is still a bit under his average ice time from last season (18:29), but he should be at that level shortly. Laich’s presence provides a certain stability among the lines that did not exist in his absence, in this case providing continuity on the second line on the left side.  His versatility has already manifest itself, his being on ice for only one goal against in the four games in which he played.  The ripple effects of his presence might be the secret ingredient in the Caps’ ability to compete for a playoff spot down the stretch.  He is 8-7-15, plus-1 in 27 career games against the Islanders.


1.  Pressure.  Islander goalie Evgeni Nabokov has not faced more than 30 shots in any of his last seven appearances.  Not that it has mattered much.  Nabokov’s save percentage in those seven contests is .894.  His third period save percentage has been even worse -- .846.  The Caps need to test him, pressure him.

2.  Make Tavares play defense.  John Tavares is having a very nice season – 19 goals in 32 games, tied for second overall.  But he also has been on ice for the ninth highest total of goals against on ice among NHL forwards, and his 47.2 percent faceoff winning percentage is not remarkable (he leads the Islanders in draws taken).  Make him play in his own end.

3.  Brick by brick.  The fear here is that after putting together a nice road trip, the Caps will come home, pay the bills, feed the dog, check their phone messages, and lose focus in their first game back.  This is the only home game they have in an eight-game stretch that ends next week.  They have to take advantage of the home cooking opportunity.

In the end… this is a bit of a novelty, a game the Caps should win.  They are at home against a team that has struggled of late.  But before anyone gets too cocky, the Islanders stuck it to the Caps with a three-goal third period in a 5-2 win on Long Island on March 9th, and the Caps are only 2-1-0 in their last three games against New York on home ice, both wins coming in overtime.  It will not be an easy task.  But the fans will no doubt be cheering their warriors later this evening.

Capitals 4 – Islanders 2