Thursday, October 30, 2014

A NO-point night -- Game 9: Red Wings 4 - Capitals 2

The Washington Capitals were dealt a 4-2 loss by the Detroit Red Wings last night in a game of streaks, but we’ll get to that in a bit.  The teams battled to a scoreless first period, but Detroit broke the deadlock midway through the second period when Gustav Nyquist took advantage of a turnover in the defensive zone by the Caps to record his fifth goal of the season.  The Caps got it back less than five minutes later by taking advantage of a power play and the “long change” of the second period.  As the Red Wings were swapping out players, goalie Braden Holtby sent a long pass to Joel Ward at the Detroit blue line.  Ward hit a streaking Evgeny Kuznetsov who caught defenseman Danny DeKeyser napping to dart past him. Kuznetsov broke in alone on goalie Jimmy Howard and sanpped a shot past Howard’s blocker for his first goal of the season.

In the final minute of the second period Troy Brouwer broke the tie.  It was a case of showing why speed through the neutral zone and gaining the offensive zone with control of the puck matters.  And, it took the youngster to show them how.  Late in a Caps’ power play Andre Burakovsky took a pass from Braden Holtby just inside his own blue line at the right wing wall.  As he turned up ice he cut to the middle, then carried the puck over the Red Wing blue line to the top of the left wing faceoff circle.  He took a couple of extra strides to the goal line and sent the puck around the boards to the right side as the power play was about to expire.  The puck came around to Mike Green at the right point, who backed off to the blue line, then sent the puck back down to Burakovsky, who came out from around the Detroit cage.  Burakovsky found John Carlson at the high edge of the right wing faceoff circle.  Carlson stepped up as if to shoot, but he found Troy Brouwer sneaking in off the weak side, having just stepped onto the ice on a line change.  Brouwer had a clear line of sight on the Detroit net and beat Howard before the goalie could step across to cut off the shot. 

That would do it for the Caps’ scoring, though.  Justin Abdelkader tied the game in the fifth minute of the third period, then scored what would be the game winner six minutes later.  Pavel Datsyuk added a power play goal in the final minute to give the Red Wings their final winning margin, 4-2.

Other stuff…

-- Like we said, “streaks.”  It was the second consecutive game that the Caps lost in regulation time after a 4-1-2 start to the season.  It was the fifth straight game in which Alex Ovechkin did not register a point, the longest streak of his career.  It was the fifth straight game in which the Caps allowed a power play goal.  It was the second straight game that the Caps allowed three goals in a period in a game – three in the third period of this one following a three-goal second period for Vancouver last Sunday.  It was their second straight loss by a 4-2 margin.

-- The Caps went all Jose Canseco and shot themselves – repeatedly – when they thought they had the puck.  First it was Marcus Johansson, who pulled the hockey equivalent of the received in football who takes his eyes off the ball to turn upfield before he catches it, only to drop the pass.  In this instance it was Johansson turning up ice as a loose puck was coming to him.  Instead of focusing on securing the bouncing puck, his momentum was already in the other direction, and the puck hit him in his skate boot.  Justin Abdelkader gladly accepted the gift on behalf of his teammates and threaded a pass to Gustav Nyquist  all alone in front of Braden Holtby.  He was so alone that he got two whacks at the puck, the first to chip it off and over Holtby’s right pad, and another to swat it out of the air and in for the score.

-- Then there was Brooks Orpik playing, “The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away.”  It started with Orpik blocking a drive by Henrik Zetterberg.  Seconds later, after Braden Holtby stopped a Kyle Quincy drive, Orpik collected the loose puck to Holtby’s left. Whereupon he “givethed.”  As he was about to take the puck around to the back of the net, he lost it off his stick with Pavel Datsyuk standing five feet away.  Datsyuk gladly accepted the gift on behalf of his teammates and tried to stuff the puck past Holtby’s pad.  Holtby made that save, the puck squirting out to the slot.  Andre Burakovsky swooped in to grab the puck, but then he left it behind for Abdelkader who wasted no time in firing the puck past Holtby.

-- Then there was the neutral zone turnover.  From his own blue line John Carlson tried to sent a long cross ice pass to Alex Ovechkin at the Detroit blue line.  Henrik Zetterberg knocked the pass out of the air and fed Datsyuk heading into the Caps’ end.  Four Caps converged on Datsyuk.  That’s right four… Nicklas Backstrom, Joel Ward, Brooks Orpik, and John Carlson.  Datsyuk being Datsyuk, he just knew there was an open Wing on the wing.  It was Abdelkader again, who trailed in Datsyuk’s wake, took the feed, and had a free shot on Holtby that he converted for the game-winning goal.

-- Burakovsky just keeps on chugging along.  His assist makes it points in seven of the nine games in which he has played and 2-6-8 overall.

-- At least Ovechkin was shooting the puck.  Seven shots on goal (13 attempts) was one off his season high – eight in the 6-5 Gimmick loss to San Jose in Game 3.

-- At least the Caps are back under 30 shots allowed.  Detroit managed only 22 shots on goal.  The Caps out-Corsi’ed the Red Wings, 58-42.  Is there a trophy named after this Corsi guy, because the Caps might have to settle for that one.

-- Tom Wilson saw his first action of the season, and in one respect he was in mid-season form.  He recorded four hits in 8:14 of ice time.

-- Orpik was on ice for each of the last three goals, as was John Carlson.  Of the 21 goals surrendered by the Caps this season, Orpik has been on ice for 12 of them, Carlson for 11.  Being on the wrong side of 50 percent of the goals scored against isn’t a great place to be.

-- Nicklas Backstrom… no points, a penalty, minus-2 (his first minus-2 of the season).  Hey, it happens.

-- Troy Brouwer’s goal broke a personal five-game streak without one.

No one is going to want to watch film of this one.  Defensive breakdowns, iffy goaltending (Holtby might want the last two goals back), general discombobulation overall.  It might have been the worst performance by the Caps this season so far.  Maybe it’s the infrequent hockey; the team has played only four games over the past 11 days (three three-or-more-day breaks) and lost three of them.  Whatever it is, they had better shake it off soon.  On October 18th they were 3-0-2, second in the Metropolitan Division and third in the Eastern Conference.  Today they are 4-3-2, in sixth place in the division and tenth in the conference.  You can’t win a Stanley Cup in October or November, but you can lose one.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 9: Red Wings at Capitals, October 29th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals return to Verizon Center on Wednesday night to host the Detroit Red Wings in a matchup of a pair of 4-2-2 teams. Both teams have lost two of their past three games. Both teams have beaten the Boston Bruins. Both teams have lost to the Montreal Canadiens in extra time. They’re pretty much the same team.

OK, except for the 11 Stanley Cups.

This edition of the Detroit Red Wings is a team in transition. Oh, sure, they are still Wayne County’s Geriatric Athletic Club, the fifth-oldest team in the league, and only one rookie has dressed for the team so far this season (center Andrej Nestrasil, for the record). However, it is a team that has iced nine skaters age 25 or younger, right wing Gustav Nyquist (28 goals last season), defenseman Danny DeKeyser (eighth in scoring among rookie defensemen last season), and Tomas Tatar (second to Nyquist in goals for the club last season with 19). That is where the future lies for the Red Wings.

For now, though, Detroit’s personality remains embodied in their “Old Guns:” Pavel Datsyuk (36 years old), Johan Franzen (34), Henrik Zetterberg (34), and Niklas Kronwall (33). All but Datsyuk (signed as a free agent out of Russia) were drafted by the club. All of them have their names on the Stanley Cup.

However, they are “old” guns, and with it bring the occasional physical issues. Franzen is on injured reserve with a lower body injury. Datsyuk missed the first five games of the season with a separated shoulder. Zetterberg has been healthy so far, appearing in all eight games for the Red Wings, but last year he missed 37 games to a herniated disc that required surgery.

Kronwall is the only one of the four who has not had some recent issue with injuries. In fact, he has missed only five games over the past four-plus seasons and is coming off a near career year in points (49, surpassed only by the 51-point season he had in 2008-2009). So far this season Kronwall has a respectable six points in eight games, good enough to be among the top dozen point-getters among defensemen (going into Tuesday night’s games). He had three of those points (two goals, assist), including the game-tying goal with nine seconds left in regulation, in a 4-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins last Thursday. He also leads the Red Wings in average ice time (23:55), almost three full minutes per game more than DeKeyser (21:02). In ten career games against the Caps, Kronwall is 1-4-5, minus-5.

If there is a surprise for the Red Wings so far, it might be Justin Abdelkader, who is tied for third in overall scoring for the club in eight games. Abdelkader, who has never recorded more than 28 points in a season, is already in his eighth season with Detroit, despite being only 27 years old. After recording points in three of his first four games of the season, he cooled off a bit, but he did have the game-winning overtime goal in the win over the Penguins. Six of his 41 career goals are game-winners (including four of his last 12 goals dating back to last season), which might not be especially impressive except he is used primarily as a checking forward.

Here is how the teams compare, numbers-wise:

1. Before there were “fancystats,” Detroit was regarded by many as the premier possession team in the league. While they might not be what they once were in that regard, they still are allowing the sixth fewest shots on goal in the league (26.9). They are also fifth in Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 (53.9) and tenth in Fenwick-for percentage (52.4).

2. Detroit has played games close. No team has more one-goal decisions than the six put together by the Red Wings (Chicago, Ottawa, and Florida also have six). The Red Wings are 3-1-2 in those games.

3. Scoring first or trailing first, it does not seem to matter to Detroit. They are 2-1-1 in each situation.

4. If there was a Lady Byng Trophy, team edition, the Red Wings might be a finalist. Only Chicago (7.2), Philadelphia (7.8…say WHAT?), and Nashville (8.1) have fewer penalty minutes per game than Detroit (8.5). A lot of that is attributable to the fact that only the Blackhawks and Red Wings are without a major penalty charged to them so far this season.

5. The Red Wings have allowed one power play goal in eight games so far this season. Not one per game…one. They are 25-for-26 when shorthanded. If there is consolation to be had in this, the Flyers broke a 25-for-25 streak to open the season when they scored a power play goal in the third period of a 4-2 win over the Red Wings last Saturday in Detroit’s most recent contest.  On the flip side, the Red Wing power play stinks on toast.  The are 0-for-19 over their last five games and are 2-for-30 for the season.  Detroit has yet to score a power play goal on the road.

1. Even having had their fewer-than-30-shots-allowed streak ended at seven games in the loss to Vancouver on Sunday, the Caps still rank third in the league in shots allowed per game (25.0). That is 8.5 shots per game fewer than what they allowed last season (33.5). It is by far the fewest they have allowed, on average, since the 2004-2005 lockout (2007-2008: 27.5).

2. From the odd-stat department… Nate Schmidt is plus-6 on the season. He is the highest ranked defenseman in that statistic who has yet to record a point this season (Jay Bouwmeester is plus-5 with St. Louis).

3. Troy Brouwer is 1-3-4, plus-2 in four games at Verizon Center; he is without a point on the road and is a minus-2 in four games.

4. This game will be Matt Niskanen’s 500th game in the NHL. With the Caps he is averaging 23:14 a game, almost two full minutes more than his career season in average ice time (21:18 with Pittsburgh last season).

5. Niskanen’s even strength ice time per game (19:35) leads the team by almost two minutes. However, the next four defensemen are tightly bunched in even strength ice time per game, ranging from 16:48 (John Carlson) to 17:55 (Mike Green), the difference being a little more than one shift per game.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder:

Detroit: Jimmy Howard

Consider three goaltenders and their records since 2009-2010:
  • Goaltender A: 269 games, 138-83-34, 2.38, .919
  • Goaltender B: 265 games, 145-82-31, 2.39, .919
  • Goaltender C: 282 games, 154-82-39, 2.40, .917
Not much difference there. Goaltender A is Nashville’s Pekka Rinne, and Goaltender B is Florida’s Roberto Luongo, two goalies generally thought of as being among the best in the NHL. Goaltender C is Detroit’s Jimmy Howard, who does not get much thought at all, at least as it pertains to the best goalies in the league. Part of the problem is Howard’s own consistency, or lack of it on a year to year basis. Since that 2009-2010 season his save percentage has yo-yo’ed: .924, .908, .920, .923, .910, and .929 in six appearances so far this season. In those six appearances he has yet to allow more than three goals in any of them, and he has yet to allow a power play goal this season (28-for-28 in saves). In five career appearances against the Caps, Howard is 2-1-2, 3.47, .871.

Washington: Brooks Orpik

Through eight games with the Capitals, Brook Orpik has been pretty much as advertised. He has been a punishing hitter, credited with the second highest number of hits among NHL defensemen (31; Toronto’s Roman Polak has 37). He logs significant minutes – 20:52 per game – and much of that on the penalty kill (2:57, second to John Carlson on the club). The flip side of that is that he can be solved; the nine goals against while on ice is the highest on the team, although that number does not rank among the top-30 in the league. Here is your odd Brooks Orpik number for this game: “0.” In 711 regular season NHL games, Brooks Orpik has never scored a game-winning goal. Maybe this game is the one. In ten career regular season games against the Red Wings, Orpik is 0-2-2, minus-1.

In the end…

Here are two teams with very similar profiles at this young stage of the 2014-2015 season. Caps fans will look at the 4-2-2 record and think, “hey, an improvement.” Red Wing fans might look at their club’s 4-2-2 record and think, “meh.” Even with the comparative lack of success in recent years (the Red Wings have not advanced to a conference final since losing the Stanley Cup final in 2009), expectations are high in the Motor City.

In Washington, the pedigree is not as renowned; they haven’t reached a conference final since former Caps coach Dale Hunter was still playing for the club (1998, in case you forgot). In that sense, the teams are alike only in their numbers. For despite having gone 4-0-1 in their last five meetings against Detroit and 6-2-1 in their last nine meetings (all three losses by one goal), there is probably the lingering feeling in these parts that the Wings are – and should be – the favorite. Yeah, well, we aren’t buying it.

Capitals 3 – Red Wings 2

Monday, October 27, 2014

A NO-point night -- Game 8: Canucks 4 - Capitals 2

The Washington Capitals played 58 minutes of pretty good hockey on Sunday night in Vancouver.  It took just 1:47 of something less than good hockey to make the difference, though, as the Caps dropped a 4-2 decision to the Canucks at Rogers Arena.

The good part was the first period, when the Capitals Justin Peters shut the door on the Canucks, turning away all 14 shots he faced in a scoreless period.  The good part continued early in the second period when the Caps started things by winning a faceoff in the Vancouver end.  The puck worked its way to Mike Green at the right point, and Green floated a wrist shot at the Canuck net.  The puck was deflected into the air to the right of goalie Ryan Miller.  Andre Burakovsky calmly gloved the puck down to his feet, then sent a pass through the slot to Marcus Johansson coming across the faceoff circle.  Johansson snapped a shot past Miller before the goalie could react, and it was 1-0, Caps.

The good feeling would end less than nine minutes later when Henrik Sedin converted a Vancouver power play, shooting the puck from a severe angle off goalie Justin Peters glove to tie the game.  Just 1:22 later the Canucks had the lead when Nick Bonino took a chip pass from Chris Higgins at the Capitals’ blue line, cut through the defense, and wired a shot over Peters’ glove, off the far post and in to make it 2-1.

Only 15 seconds later, the Canucks were on the board again, Luca Sbisa stepping into a slap shot from the top of the left wing faceoff circle to make it 3-1.  The Caps got one back less than two minutes after the Sbisa goal.  The Caps worked the puck in deep where Kevin Bieksa tried to move it along and up the wall.  Mike Green cut off the attempt and fed the puck to the slot where Liam O’Brien was setting up.  O’Brien redirected the puck over Miller’s blocker, and the Caps were back within a goal.

That was as close as the Caps would get, though.  Miller shut out the Caps the rest of the way, and Radim Vrbata potted an empty net goal for the final margin as the Caps sank to 4-2-2 after going 1-2-0 on the western road trip.

Other stuff…

-- Andre Burakovsky’s assist made it points in six of eight games this season (2-5-7).  He is tied for second among rookies in points.

-- Mike Green is quietly putting together a solid start to the season.  He had two assists and was plus-2 in almost 21 minutes of ice time against the Canucks.  It was his second multi-point game of the season, and he has yet to have a “minus” game (plus-6 overall).  Green is tied for second among the league’s defensemen in total scoring (3-5-8).  He and the currently injured Victor Hedman are the only defensemen among the top 20 in scoring to do it averaging less than 20 minutes of ice time (Green is averaging 19:50).

-- Against Calgary on Saturday night Marcus Johansson had his first game of the season without a shot on goal.  He made up for that against the Canucks with a goal on two shots. The goal was his third of the season and his second at even strength.  The two even strength goals in eight games match Johansson’s total for 80 games last season.

-- Liam O’Brien recorded his first NHL goal in this game, but he also led the team in shots on goal (5).  He is tied with Burakovsky and Joel Ward with 13 shots on goal for the season despite averaging barely half the ice time of Burakovsky (7:14 to 13:52) and not much more than a third of the average ice time for Ward (18:06).

-- The 34 shots allowed by the Caps was the first time this season any team reached the 30-shot mark against the club.  The Caps are still third in the league in shots allowed per game (25.0), behind St. Louis (23.4) and Minnesota (22.2).

-- The two power play goals allowed by the Caps (one an empty netter) made it four straight games that they allowed at least one power play tally.  Over that span they are 10-for-15 on the penalty kill (66.7 percent).

-- The Caps had only two power plays of their own, totaling just 2:35 in power play time.  It was just the third time in eight games this season that the Caps did not score a power play goal. 

-- Alex Ovechkin went without a point for his fourth straight game.  Not coincidentally, it was also his fourth straight game with two or fewer shots on goal.

-- Evgeny Kuznetsov also has gone four straight games without a point.  He had one shot on goal in 12:38 in ice time, the fourth time in five games he recorded only one shot on goal.  Only once this season has Kuznetsov topped 13 minutes in ice time (16:33 against New Jersey in Game 4).

-- More Capitals recorded hits (12 Caps with 25 hits) than shots on goal (10 Caps with 22 shots).  The Caps were out-attempted overall by a 52-50 margin, but 28 of their attempts did not make it on net (13 shots blocked, 15 misses). 

-- Not the best night for Matt Niskanen.  He was on ice for three of the four Canuck goals.

In the end…

The Caps never seemed to be in this game, even with holding the game scoreless in the first period.  Vancouver applied strong early pressure and outshot the Caps, 14-6, in the opening frame (the shot attempt differential was closer, 22-18 in favor of Vancouver).  Justin Peters kept the Caps in it early in the first period, but the Canucks solved him on the glove side three times on consecutive shots on goal in the second period. 

The Caps played just poorly enough in all three zones to lose what was essentially a one-goal game.  While one could take something out of the one-goal loss in Edmonton to open this road trip, given the Caps’ possession dominance, such is not the case with this game.  These are the “one-goal” decisions (empty netter notwithstanding) of the type that the Caps are going to have to win more often than they lose if they are to be a playoff team next spring.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 8: Capitals at Canucks, October 26th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Geez, another game?  Well, yeah.  There might have been only two games in Week 3, but Week 4 gets off to a quick start as the Caps head to Vancouver to meet the Canucks in the back half of a back-to-back set of games.

This is one of those dangerous games in which the Caps have clear edges in record and the underlying numbers, but face an opponent that has the ability to play better than its record to date.  The Canucks started the season well, winning their first three games.  However, they are just 1-2-1 in their last four games.  It is noteworthy that the lone win was a 4-1 decision over the St. Louis Blues, one of the stronger teams in the Western Conference.

Overall, the Canucks are a team that generally ranks in the bottom half of the general statistics. Scoring offense is the exception.  The usual suspects lead the team in offense – the Sedin twins.  Daniel leads the club in scoring with ten points, his brother Henrik is next with nine.  The Canucks have a good balance in goal scoring, too.  Radim Vrbata, who was signed away from the Arizona Coyotes to a two-year/$10 million deal last July, leads the team with four goals, which isn’t bad for the consolation prize in the Jarome Iginla sweepstakes  After that there is Henrik Sedin with three goals, then a group of seven players with a pair of goals.

Alexandre Burrows and Chris Higgins might be expected to be in that group of two-goal scorers.  Linden Vey, perhaps not so much.  He was traded to the Canucks from the Los Angeles Kings last June in exchange for a 2014 second round draft pick.  He had respectable goal totals in juniors (102 in 262 games) and in the AHL (55 in 191 games), so his presence among the Canucks’ goal scoring leaders might not be so surprising, but it is early in the season. 

What the Canucks have not enjoyed is scoring from the blue line.  Alexander Edler is the only Canuck blueliner with a goal.  As a group they have Edler’s goal on a total of 70 shots (1.4 percent).  As a group they have only six points at even strength, Edler with half of them.

Here is how the teams’ numbers compare:

1.  In one respect the Canucks should provide a stiff test for the Caps.  Vancouver is tied for second in the league with 33.7 shots on goal per game.  The Caps are third in fewest shots per game allowed (23.7).

2.  Vancouver doesn’t do close games.  In seven contests to date the Canucks have played in one one-goal decision, a 5-4 Gimmick win against Edmonton in Game 2.

3.  The Canucks have allowed more goals at 5-on-5 (18) than all but four teams: Buffalo, Carolina, Philadelphia, and Edmonton.  That is not a neighborhood in which one wants to travel.

4.  Hockey is not a dainty sport, but there are some teams more so than others.  Vancouver had been credited with 124 hits this season, fewer than any other team except for Chicago and Minnesota. 

5.  That low hit total might be a reflection of good possession numbers overall for the Canucks (if they have the puck, they don’t need to hit anybody).  Vancouver is sixth overall in Fenwick-for percentage in all situations (52.6), although that drops quite a bit at 5-on-5 (51.1; 15th in the league, according to

1.  For the Caps, the trick is avoiding one-goal games.  While the Caps are 1-1-2 in one-goal decisions, they are 3-0-0 in games decided by two or more goals.

2.  Only Minnesota and St. Louis have (one apiece) allowed fewer second period goals than the Caps (3); only Florida (2), Los Angeles (2), and Chicago (1) have allowed fewer in the third period than the Caps (3).  Only Minnesota has allowed fewer combined second and third period goals (5) than the Caps (6).

3.  One would like to see the Caps getting more opportunities to unleash their power play.  They are tied with Pittsburgh for 22nd in the league in man advantage opportunities (25).  Only Pittsburgh, New Jersey and San Jose have more power play goals on the road so far than the four scored by Washington.

4.  Seven games in, and the Caps have been outshot only once, 29-21 by Boston in Game 2, a 4-0 Caps win.  Since then, over a five game stretch, the Caps have outshot opponents by five or more shots in each game.

5.  Alex Ovechkin… tied for 13th in shots on goal?  Hey, the Caps are winning.  Who cares?

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Vancouver: Ryan Miller

Him again?  Well, he might be Ryan Miller, but maybe he’s not “Ryan Miller.”  Miller has not had a good start with his third team in the space of seven months (Buffalo, St. Louis, Vancouver).  He is 33rd in goals against average (2.71) and 36th in save percentage (.906), both significantly under his career numbers (2.59/.915).  He has alternated good and poor performances over his five appearances to date.   And, while his first two appearances against the Caps last season were excellent with the Sabres (2-0-0 in a pair of Gimmick wins that went a combined 18 rounds), he allowed four goals on 22 shots in his last appearance against the Caps, that one while tending goal for St. Louis in a 4-1 Caps win.  Miller is 15-12-0 in 28 career appearances against the Caps with a 2.50 goals against average and a .917 save percentage with three shutouts.

Washington: Troy Brouwer

One thing about these western Canada trips.  Guys get to play in front of hometown fans in an opportunity they do not get often.  Tonight it is Troy Brouwer’s turn.  Brouwer is off to a bit of a slow start with one goal in seven games, none in his last four and no points in his last three.  There is last season to compare it to, though.  In a year in which he set a career best mark of 25 goals, he had only one in his first seven games, too.  In 15 career games against the Canucks, Brouwer is 3-2-5, plus-6.

In the end…

A back-to-back should not pose the problems for the Caps that it might later in the season or under different circumstances.  The Caps have played in only two games over the past seven days leading up to this game, and any jet lag they might have felt going west should long ago have ceased to be a problem.  This will be a game of focus and discipline.  The Caps are playing better, but the Canucks do have talent.  If they have the former, the latter will make little difference.

Capitals 4 – Canucks 2

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 3

Week 3 of the 2014-2015 season for the Washington Capitals was as much for team building as it was for hockey.  The Caps held a team building exercise in Calgary between their two games of the week, a hard fought curling competition for the… what, Barry Trotz Trophy?  As for the hockey portion of the week, it was, despite the light workload, the usual mix of the good, the not as good, and the just plain odd.

Record: 1-1-0

The Caps had their first non-winning week of the season, enduring their first loss in regulation time when they lost to the Edmonton Oilers, 3-2, to start the week.  It was the first time that the Caps lost in regulation time since Game 77 last season, a 2-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils.  Since then the Caps went 7-0-3 before dropping the decision to the Oilers.  The Caps salvaged the week with a 3-1 win over the Calgary Flames that left them in second place, two points behind the New York Islanders in the Metropolitan Division.

Offense: 2.50/game (season: 3.14/game; rank: T-7th)

It was not the most prolific of weeks at the offensive end, but it was balanced.  Of the five goals of the week, only Joel Ward had more than one (2), John Carlson, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Green getting the others.  Ten different skaters shared in the 12 points that were distributed, Ward and Backstrom the only ones with as many as two points.  The odd part of the week was that Alex Ovechkin: 1) did not record a point, and 2) recorded only three shots on goal for the week (often a decent period for the winger).  Three straight games with two or fewer shots made it the first time for Ovechkin since he went four consecutive games January 15-February 4, 2012.  Don’t get too concerned, though.  He still has almost twice as many shots on goal for the season (29) as the next Capital in line (Mike Green and John Carlson; 16 apiece).

Defense: 2.00/game (season: 1.86/game; rank: T-3rd)

It says something when a team can allow two goals per game for a week, and its goals allowed per game goes up.  That was the case this week for the Caps, who allowed four goals in two games.  They still improved their scoring defense ranking from a tie for sixth last week to a tie (with Chicago) for third, behind only Minnesota (1.00) and Los Angeles (1.43).  Part of this, perhaps a large part of it, is denying opponents opportunities.  The Caps allowed only 42 shots on goal for the week, their consecutive games streak allowing fewer than 30 shots reaching seven games (and counting).  Last season the Caps had six individual games in which they allowed 42 or more shots.  The last time the Caps went seven straight games allowing fewer than 30 shots was October 27 – November 9, 2010 (24.9/game).  Oddly enough, that was two months before the Caps decided to employ a trapping defense after an eight-game losing streak.  The Caps are now averaging 23.7 shots allowed per game.

Goaltending: 2.00 GAA / .902 SV (season: 1.80 GAA / .922 SV / 1 SO)

This is the other side of the “shots matter” argument.  The save percentage put up by Braden Holtby, who played all 120 minutes for the week, was not sterling, but he faced so few shots in the process that his goals against average was still rather good.  The goals were so few that they deserve individual notice.  Justin Schultz scored for Edmonton when he was allowed to walk down the slot and take a centering feed from Teddy Purcell with all the Caps looking at the end boards.  Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored when he took advantage of an Alex Ovechkin whiff on a wrist shot from the left point, sped in on a breakaway, and beat Holtby.  Nikita Nikitin scored on a power play through a screen.  Dennis Wideman scored when the Caps suffered a sloppy clear attempt on an Calgary power play, the puck eventually making its way to Dennis Wideman, who faked Jay Beagle out of position, took a step to his right and fired the puck past Holtby from long range.  It was not a series of poor plays by Holtby (who might want that Wideman goal back) as much as breakdowns of varying sorts in front of him.  Even those, however, were few during the week.  If anything, the goals stand out because of their infrequency.

Power Play: 2-5 / 40.0 percent (season: 28.0 percent; rank: 3rd)

The Caps were not especially efficient on the power play in terms of shots per minute (five shots in 6:24 of power play time for the week), but they certainly effective with what they had – two goals on those five shots in a 2-for-5 week with the man advantage.  Your next odd development of the week – Alex Ovechkin had no power play shots on goal. The shots came from Troy Brouwer (0-for-2), Mike Green (0-for-1), John Carlson (1-1) and Joel Ward (1-1), Ward’s coming on the only power play shot on goal the Caps recorded against Calgary in their 3-1 win on Saturday.

Penalty Killing: 3-5 / 60.0 percent (season: 84.0 percent; rank: 11th)

It was not the shots per minute that was odd about the penalty killing for the week (seven shots allowed in 7:18 of shorthanded ice time), it was the scoring.  Both goals allowed for the week came from defensemen – Nikita Nikitin for Edmonton and Dennis Wideman for Calgary.  Both were scored  from long range, both more or less from the middle of the offensive zone.  Both represented lapses, the Nikitin goal scored when the Caps could not prevent either Teddy Purcell or Nail Yakupov from setting up in Holtby’s line of sight, Wideman’s goal when Jay Beagle took himself out of the play, biting on Wideman’s fake of a shot, allowing Wideman to reset his shooting angle.  On the other hand, the best penalty killer is not necessarily your goaltender but not taking penalties in the first place.  Five shorthanded situations faced for the week is a pattern one would hope for.

Even Strength Goals For/Goals Against: 3-2 / plus-1 (season, 5-on-5 goals for/goals against ratio:1.67; rank: 3rd)

Last season, if the Caps scored three even strength goals for the week, even if it was only over two games, they might have allowed four or five.  That they were still a “plus” for the week is another of those good signs.  Credit that in large part to a dominating week in possession numbers.  At 5-on-5 the Caps were a Corsi plus-30 (95-65) and had a Cors-for percentage of 59.4.  They were plus-25 in Fenwick at 5-on-5 (73-48) with a Fenwick-for percentage of 60.3 (numbers from  It helped the Caps hold Edmonton and Calgary to a combined 6.3 percent shooting at even strength for the week.  Overall, the Caps have outscored opponents by a 15-9 margin at 5-on-5 this season, almost a goal per game (0.86).

Faceoffs: 57-for-114 / 50.0 percent (season: 49.2 percent; rank: 19th)

In a week in which the record was split down the middle, the goals scored/allowed were almost split down the middle, the faceoffs were more of the same. The Caps split 114 faceoffs down the middle with 57 wins and 57 losses.  Nicklas Backstrom took more than a third of the draws and more than twice as many as any other Capitals for the week.  His was largely a split-down-the-middle week, too.  Although he was 25-for-42, he was at 50. 0 percent in both the offensive zone (4-for-8) and the defensive zone (8-for-16).  He was 13-for-18 in the neutral zone.  Jay Beagle saw his first action of the season this week and did a good job in the faceoff circle, winning nine of 13 draws.   After that, none of the other four Capitals – Andre Burakovsky (45.5), Eric Fehr (31.3), Evgeny Kuznetsov (28.6), or Michael Latta (50.0) – taking ten or more draws were better than 50 percent.

Goals by Period:

Nothing surprising here.  In a close-fought week the Caps battle Edmonton and Calgary to a combined draw over the first two periods of games.  The takeaway here is that having allowed no third period goals for the week, there are only three teams – Florida, Los Angeles, and Chicago – having allowed fewer third period goals for the season than the three allowed by the Caps.

In the end…

Not every week is a winning week.  The Caps certainly played well enough to beat the Oilers in the first game of the week; their possession numbers dominated (64.7 percent Corsi-for, 64.1 percent Fenwick for at 5-on-5; numbers from  It was the infrequent exception to the general rule that with possession dominance goes winning.  Over a season’s worth of games, if the Caps can continue something approaching that level of performance (fifth in the league in Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5, fourth in Fenwick-for percentages, according to, they will win a lot of games.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Mike Green.  Plus-19 Corsi at 5-on-5, plus-15 Fenwick, one goal, 39 minutes of ice time.
  • Second Star: Joel Ward.  Two goals (including game-winner) against Calgary.
  • Third Star: Nicklas Backstrom.  One goal, one assist, 25-for-42 in faceoffs, 500th career point recorded.

A TWO-point night -- Game 7: Capitals 3 - Flames 1

The Washington Capitals took care of business on Saturday night in a quiet, workmanlike way, defeating the Calgary Flames, 3-1, at Scotiabank Saddledome.

The scoring for the Caps came in expected ways, but not necessarily from the expected sources.  The first goal came mid-way through the first period.  With Joe Colborne off on a tripping penalty, the Flames were doing a credible job of nullifying the Caps’ power play. Lance Bouma got to a loose puck behind the Washington net and fired it along the boards and out of the zone.  The puck made its way all the way to the Calgary blue line where defenseman Derek Engelland was backing off to receive it.  He tried to collect the puck and make a D-to-D pass across the ice, but the puck was bouncing on him.  All Engelland managed to do was chip the puck out of his own reach and into the path of a hard-charging Joel Ward, who was pressuring Engelland.  Ward took up the puck and split the defense, rifling a wrist shot past goalie Karri Romo for the early lead.

Calgary tied the game on a Dennis Wideman power play goal with just ten seconds left in the first period, but that would do it for the Flames on the scoreboard.  The Caps regained the lead in the sixth minute of the second period when Ward struck again.  The finish was all about going hard to the net, but the start was a long exit pass from Brooks Orpik out of his zone to Michael Latta at the Calgary line.  Latta skated the puck down the right wing boards to the corner, then threw it in front where Liam O’Brien jumped up.  The puck slid past O’Brien, but not past Ward, who stepped up to the top of the Calgary crease.  With O’Brien occupied bv the Flames’ defense, Ward was clear to flip a backhand past Ramo to make it 2-1.

Nicklas Backstrom capped the scoring in the first minute of the third period.  It was another long exit pass that started the play.  This time it was Karl Alzner taking a pass from Matt Niskanen, then firing it up the middle to Backstrom as the Flames were completing a switch-out of defensemen.  Backstrom had a couple of steps on Kris Russell at the Flames’ blue line and had only Wideman in front of him to defend.  Backstrom used Wideman as a screen and snapped a shot over Ramo’s left pad to put the decision to rest – Caps 3, Flames 1.

Other stuff…

-- We noted in the prognosto that Alex Ovechkin had not gone three straight games with two or fewer shots on goal since he went four consecutive games January 15-February 4, 2012.  We also noted that the Flames could be a team he against which he could break out.  He did not.  Ovechkin had one shot on goal (9:05 of the second period).  He did, however, draw the penalty that led to Joel Ward’s power play goal.

-- Last year Joel Ward finished seventh in the league in shooting percentage (18.0 percent).  There he is lurking among the league leaders once more (28.6 percent; tied for tenth).

-- The Caps allowed 21 shots on goal, the seventh consecutive game allowing fewer than 30 shots (and counting) having done so.  The last time the Caps went seven straight games allowing fewer than 30 shots was October 27 – November 9, 2010 (24.9/game).  Oddly enough, that was two months before the Caps decided to employ a trapping defense after an eight-game losing streak.  The Caps are now averaging 23.7 shots allowed per game.

-- One of the odd occurrences that sometimes takes place in the flow of a hockey game took place in the first period.  Alex Ovechkin got no time on the Caps first power play.  Before anyone thinks it was a slight, Ovechkin had just stepped off the ice one second before the penalty to Joe Colborne was sent to the penalty box, Ovechkin having just completed a 54 second shift.  The Caps scored 29 seconds into the man advantage.  Last year, Ovechkin might have been there to start the power play anyway.

-- John Carlson is still a man, if not for all seasons, then all situations.  He recorded 18-plus minutes at even strength, two-plus minutes on the power play, and two-plus minutes in shorthanded ice time.

-- It might not surprise anyone that Brooks Laich and Joel Ward are tied for the team lead in blocked shots with seven apiece.  But Ovechkin next with six in seven games?  He had 22 in 78 games last season.  Last night he had two to tie for the team lead.

-- Mike Green might not be getting the minutes he was getting before all the injuries set in, but he might be packing more into what he is getting.  In 19 minutes and change last night he had four shots on goal and four other attempts that did not make it to (or past) Ramo.

-- Backstrom has a dominating night in the faceoff circle overall, but there was a strange lack of balance to it.  In going 15-for-23 he was 2-for-4 in the offensive zone and 4-for-8 in the defensive zone.  He was 9-for-11 in the neutral zone.

-- If you are only going to get one shot on goal on the power play all night, it’s best to score on that shot.  Joel Ward had the only power play shot on goal for the Caps.

-- Michael Latta was content to take one item each from the all-you-can-eat buffet: one assist, plus-1, one shot on goal, one missed shot, one shot taken that was blocked, one blocked shot of his own. He was 5-for-10 on faceoffs.

In the end…

In a light work week rust can set it.  The Caps did a pretty good job of fighting that off, especially after losing to Edmonton on Wednesday.   That the Caps would win through what was stifling defense is a recurring theme.  Holding the Flames to fewer than ten shots in all three periods make it 11 straight period in which the Caps have allowed ten or fewer shots, allowing as many as ten only once, dating back to the first period of the 6-2 win over New Jersey when they allowed 14 shots in the first period of that contest.  It is a welcome development, especially since it does not appear as if it is coming at the expense of offense (3.17 goals/game; tied for seventh in scoring offense).  This is a recipe for success.

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 7: Capitals at Flames, October 25nd

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals take the ice in the middle game of their three game western trip, facing the Calgary Flames at the Scotiabank Saddledome on Saturday night. 

Both teams are off to good starts.  The Caps went five games without a loss in regulation time before the Edmonton Oilers defeated them, 3-2, on Wednesday.  Even with the loss, the Caps went into Friday night’s games  two points out of the Metropolitan Division lead with a game in hand behind the New York Islanders. 

Meanwhile, the Flames hit a couple of potholes to start their 2014-2015 journey, losing two of their first three games.  Since then, they are 4-1-1 and are just one point behind the Anaheim Ducks for the Pacific Division lead.

Calgary has done it with defense – at both ends of the rink.  Their scoring defense (2.11 goals/game) ranks 11th in the league, but it is more than three-quarters of a goal per game better than how the Flames finished last season (2.90 goals/game) and almost half of what it was after nine games last season (4.00 goals/game).

Part of the improvement is a change in goal.  Jonas Hiller signed a two-year/$9 million contract with the Flames last July.  The club hoped that he would provide the stability that was missing between the pipes last season when Calgary employed four different goaltenders, three of them with a save percentage under .500.  Hiller has appeared in five games so far and has played better than his record indicates.  Although he is 3-2-0, his goals against average of 1.78 ranks eighth among goalies appearing in at least three games, and his .948 save percentage ranks fifth in that group.  In five career appearances against the Caps, Hiller is 2-1-1, 3.33, .890.  That save percentage is second worst among the team he has faced (.888 in five appearances against Buffalo).

At the other end, four of the top eight point-getters on the club are defensemen: T.J. Brodie (3-4-7), Mark Giordano (1-6-7), Dennis Wideman (4-1-5), and Kris Russell (0-5-5).  Those four represent four of the top 20 scorers in the league among defensemen (going into Friday’s games).  Brodie just signed this past Monday a five-year contract extension that will pay him a total of $23.25 million, and he’s already a bust.  Not really, but having gone without a point in his two games since signing the new deal, he interrupted a six-game points streak.  He is still, though, a minutes eater.  When he skated 19:44 in Calgary’s last outing against Carolina, it was the first time this season he skated fewer than 21 minutes.  He is 15th in the league in average ice time among defensemen.

Among the forwards, Joe Colborne has an odd scoring line.  All eight of his points so far have come via assists.  He and Columbus’ Scott Hartnell (also 0-8-8) are the only forwards among the 29 in the league with at least eight points and no goals.  Through nine games, Colborne is almost a third of the way to the point total he recorded in 80 games last season (28).

Here are the numbers and rankings (through Thursday’s games) for the teams as they head into this game:

1.  Calgary games have been nail-biters or blow-outs with not much in-between so far.  The Flames are 2-1-1 in one-goal games, three of them settled in extra time), 3-1 in games settled by three or more goals.

2.  Intermissions matter for Calgary, at least early on.  They have not yet lost a game when leading at either intermission (2-0-0 when leading after 20 minutes, 3-0-0 when leading after 40 minutes).

3.  The Flames have quite a finishing kick.  No team in the league has more third period goals (10), and they have allowed only three goals in the last 20 minutes of games.  That plus-7 goal differential is tied with Chicago for tops in the league.

4.  One thing the Flames do very well, or at least very frequently, is block shots.  They are far and away the league leader in that statistic with 159 (Buffalo has 141).  Then again, that is evidence of the other team spending a lot of time in the Calgary zone taking shots.

5.  Calgary might be doing it with mirrors.  At 5-on-5, the Flames are 26th in the league in Fenwick-for percentage (42.22), 29th in Corsi-for percentage (42.69; numbers from

1.  The Caps have done it with balance so far.  Nine different players are averaging at least half a point per game, and four players are tied for the team lead with six points apiece (Alex Ovechkin, Mike Green, Andre Burakovsky, and Nicklas Backstrom).

2.  Mike Green is “back” in one respect.  Only Dennis Wideman, with four goals, has more than Green among the league’s defensemen.  Green is tied for sixth overall in scoring among blueliners.

3.  No team has dressed more rookie skaters so far this season than the Caps.  Burakovsky, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Liam O’Brien, and Micahel Latta have appeared in games so far, all but Latta appearing in all six contests.

4.  The Caps have has a talent for putting the clamps to opponents late.  Only Chicago (5) and Minnesota (3) have allowed fewer goals over the last 40 minutes of games than Washington (6).

5.  At 5-on-5 so far this season the Caps are fourth in the league in Fenwick-for percentage (55.03) and fifth in Corsi-for percentage (54.62; numbers from

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Calgary: Karri Ramo

So far, head coach Bob Hartley has faithfully rotated Jonas Hiller and Karri Ramo in goal.  Hiller got the call against Carolina in the Flames’ 5-0 shutout win on Thursday, which suggests that Ramo will get the call against the Caps on Saturday.  Ramo is 2-1-1 in four appearances with a respectable 2.20 goals against average and a .917 save percentage.  There has been some slippage in his play of late though.  After stopping 38 of 40 shots in a 5-2 win at Edmonton in his first appearance on October 9th, he is 1-1-1, 2.25, .899.  He is 1-3-2, 3.11, .906 in seven career appearances against Washington.

Washington: Alex Ovechkin

It is not likely to last long, but Alex Ovechkin is “only” tied for seventh in the league in shots on goal.  He is on a pace for 383 shots, so he has not become a shrinking violet in that regard, but he also has only four shots on goal in his last two games after recording 24 in his first four games.  It might not be a coincidence that Ovechkin does not have a goal in either of those last two games.  He has not gone three straight games with two or fewer shots on goal since he went four consecutive games January 15-February 4, 2012.  This could be the team against which he can get back into the scoring column.  In eight career games against the Flames he is 8-7-15.

In the end…

The Caps should have beaten Edmonton and did in just about every way but on the scoreboard.  They should win this game – on the scoreboard.  The team they are facing has had a decent start, but the Flames have achieved that start in contradiction to their possession numbers, which are rather poor.  Washington has taken to whatever remedies coach Barry Trotz is applying, if their own possession numbers are an indicator.  If Hiller gets the start for the Flames in this game, he can keep it close single-handedly.  If Ramo gets the call, this game should end comfortably on the good side for the good guys.  We think it could come down to a couple of sons of Mother Russia look quite at home on the Canadian prairie.

You could almost imagine them singing of the old pioneer west…

Capitals 4 – Flames 1

Thursday, October 23, 2014

A NO-point night -- Game 6: Oilers 3 - Capitals 2

Washington Capitals fans knew that the team was not going to go 82 games without a loss in regulation time, but they probably did not anticipate that the Caps’ streak would end at the hands of the Edmonton Oilers, but that is just what happened last night as the Caps dropped a 3-2 decision to the Oilers at Rexall Place.

The teams exchanged first period goals, the Oilers drawing first blood on a goal by defenseman Justin Schultz 6:53 into the game, and the Caps tying it less than four minutes later. On a power play Nicklas Backstrom laid a pass out for John Carlson at the point, and Carlson one-timed the puck into the top corner of the net at the 10:15 mark.

The Caps took the lead less than five minutes into the second period. From the Edmonton blue line Mike Green flipped the puck into the right wing corner. Andre Burakovsky beat Nikita Nikitin to the puck and sent it back into the high slot where Green was filling in. Green hammered the puck past goalie Ben Scrivens, and the Caps took their first – and as it turned out, only – lead of the evening.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins took advantage of Alex Ovechkin whiffing on a wrist shot attempt from the left point to tie the game, picking up the puck, racing the length of the ice, and beating goalie Braden Holtby to the long side to make it 2-2.

Nikitin made up for his earlier blunder on a power play in the 17th minute of the second period when he one timed a puck past Holtby on a power play to make it 3-2 after 40 minutes. That would do it for the scoring as the Caps fell to 3-1-2 in the first game of their western tour of Canada.

Other stuff…

-- Corsi, schmorsi. The Caps had 66 shot attempts for the game to 36 for the Oilers. At 5-on-5 the Caps enjoyed a 64.7-35.3 Corsi-for percentage edge.

-- The difference was Ben Scrivens in goal, who stopped 32 of 34 shots overall and 29 of 30 at even strength. Thirteen of his total saves came in the third period.

-- Alex Ovechkin did not record a shot on goal until the 45th minute of the game. He had only two for the evening. After recording 24 shots on goal and five goals in his first four games, he had four shots on goal in his last two games without a goal.

-- The five games the Caps went without a loss in regulation time was the second longest in franchise history, eclipsed only by their 7-0-0 start in the 2011-2012 season.  Barely a month later in that season, Bruce Boudreau was relieved of his head coaching duties.  We do not foresee that happening to Barry Trotz.

-- Edmonton has a collection of skilled young forwards, but in this game they got two goals from defensemen.  It was the first time that the Oilers got two or more goals from defensemen this season and the first time since Oscar Klefbom and Andrew Ference tallied goals against the Anaheim Ducks in a 4-3 overtime win last March 28th.

-- Nicklas Backstrom gets the coupon for the all-you-can-eat buffet.  An assist (his 500th point in his 501st game), a shot on goal, four shot attempts, three hits, a blocked shot, and ten wins on 19 faceoffs.

-- Andre Burakovsky’s assist on Mike Green’s power play goal lifted him into second place in rookie scoring (six points), one point behind Los Angeles’ Tanner Pearson.  He has points in five of six games so far.

-- Every Capitals recorded a shot on goal except for Michael Latta, who did record three hits in eight minutes of play.

-- More on Burakovsky.  In his first three games he had eight faceoff wins on 29 draws.  In his last three games he has eight wins on 17 draws (2-for-4 in this game).  Progress.

-- Liam O’Brien got his money’s worth out of his minutes in this game.  In seven minutes and change he had seven minutes in penalties (interference, fighting) and six hits with a shot on goal on the side.

In the end…

It was not necessarily the three goals allowed that was disappointing, but allowing one on a power play to a team that was 0-for-11 with the man advantage in their previous four games.  At the other end, Ben Scrivens played a lot better than the defense in front of him, because he had to.  If the Caps get 66 shot attempts (34 on goal) in a game, they will win more than they lose, especially when they hold an opponent to 36 shot attempts (20 on goal).  The Oilers had only five in the second period, but two found their way in, and this seems to be a feature that creeps into goalie Braden Holtby’s game once in a while.  The lack of frequent work in a period occasionally results in his giving up the odd goal (or two).

It took the strange contradiction of shots taken and goals scored, plus the off-kilter period Holtby had, for the Caps to lose a one-goal game on the road.  Granted, Edmonton is not a very good team, and this is a game the Caps should have won, but there should be no gnashing of teeth over this one.  The trick will be to keep one from becoming two in Calgary on Saturday.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 6: Capitals at Oilers, October 22nd

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals take their 3-0-2 record on the road this week, their first stop being in Edmonton to take on the Oilers on Wednesday night. These are teams on different ends of the success spectrum at the moment. The Caps’ fast start is their best since starting the season 7-0-0 in 2011-2012 (Bruce Boudreau’s last season as Capitals head coach). The Oilers’ 1-4-0 start looks an awful lot like their start last season (1-6-1 in their first seven games), their start in 2012-2013 (4-4-3 in their first 11 games), their start in 2011-2012 (2-2-2 in their first six games), their start in 2010-2011 (2-4-2 in their first eight games), and so on, and so on.

For Edmonton, winning has been an infrequent indulgence in recent years. They have not reached the post-season since losing in the Stanley Cup final to the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006. In their last five seasons and five games into this one they have an aggregate record of 133-202-47. On an 82-game basis, that works out to 29-43-10. That is how, since 2007, a team gets seven top-ten picks in the space of eight drafts, three in succession being first overall draft picks (2010-2012).

This edition of the Oilers, even with the three first overall draft picks – Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Nail Yakupov – in the lineup, has had trouble scoring goals. Hall accounts for four of the 14 goals scored by Edmonton in five games. Yakupov and Nugent-Hopkins have one apiece; the other 19 skaters accounting for the other eight goals.

There are two faces that Caps fans will recognize. Matt Hendricks and Boyd Gordon were faithful foot soldiers for the Caps and play similar roles for the Oilers. Neither is expected to generate much offense, their games being more of feisty grittiness (Hendricks) and responsible steadiness (Gordon). One thing Caps fans might have expected is for Hendricks to employ the “paralyzer” trick shot he used to such effectiveness in Washington with similar results in Edmonton. The Oilers have participated in just one shootout so far, Hendricks not being called upon to join in. He took only one turn in the apres-hockey portion of the game in 33 games with the Oilers last season.

At the other end of the rink the results have been, well, less than hoped for. Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth each have goals against averaged north of 3.50 and save percentages south of .900. And, it is not as if the defense in front of them has shined. Plus-minus has limited utility on an individual basis, but when seven of eight defensemen are in “minus” territory (Martin Marincin is “even” in two games), it says something unkind. They’re not too good. And this is with a group that includes a free agent they sought (Mark Fayne), a quasi-free agent (Nikita Nikitin, whose rights were traded to Edmonton from Columbus for the right to negotiate a contract), and another of those top-ten draft picks (Darnell Nurse). For Oiler fans who clung to the hope of what so many high-end draft picks might bring, the last few years have been bitter medicine. Here is how the teams compare in their numbers to date this season:

-- One thing Edmonton has going for it is consistency. The benefit here for Caps fans is that some of that consistency is not kind to the Oilers. So far, Edmonton has a goal differential of minus-3 in the first period of games, minus-3 in the second period, and minus-6 in the third period. They have been outscored overall, 26-14, in six games.

-- The odd thing about that goal differential is that the Oilers have recorded 179 shots on goal and have allowed 179 shots on goal. What that means is that while the Oilers shooting percentage is fair to poor (7.8 percent), their save percentage is ghastly (.864). That’s a team overall PDO of 942. Hard to win games like that.

-- It’s bad enough to fall behind early in games often. It’s worse when you can’t win on those rare occasions when you do get ahead early. In six games the Oilers have scored first twice. They won neither game. They are one of three teams who have scored first in at least one game (Arizona has yet to do so) not to have won. Edmonton is 0-1-1, Philadelphia and Carolina both are 0-0-1. Geez, even Buffalo won the only game in which they scored first.

-- Only the Winnipeg Jets have fewer power play opportunities per game in the early going 2.80 per game) than the Oilers (2.83 per game). You might think that allowing only 3.50 power play chances a game (tied for 11th fewest) would help, but there is that 76.2 percent penalty killing to deal with.

-- Edmonton is still trying to settle on a lineup that works. They have dressed 22 skaters in six games. Only Boston (24) and the New York Rangers (23) have dressed more.

-- What a difference a year makes in terms of starts for the Capitals. Last year the Caps were 1-4-0 in their first five games and had to come back from three goals down to win in a shootout for their lone win. They were outscored, 20-12, and had a penalty kill of just 78.9 percent. Through five games this season the Caps are 3-0-2, outscored their opponents by an 18-9 margin, and have a penalty kill of 90.0 percent.

-- Starting well has been a theme for the Caps. They scored the first goal in four of their first five games and took a lead into the first intermission three times (tied once). The Caps are the last team in the Eastern Conference without a loss in regulation time and one of only three in the league going into Tuesday’s games (Nashville and Chicago are the others).

-- Seventeen of the 20 skaters to dress for the Caps have points through five games. Defenseman Nate Schmidt is the only player to have appeared in more than two of those games without recording a point (but he is a plus-3, tied for second on the team).

-- Of 23 goalies thus far appearing in four or more games (going into Thursday’s games), Braden Holtby is one of five with a goals-against average under 2.00 (1.85) and a save percentage above .930 (.932). Jimmy Howard (1.72/.934), Pekka Rinne (1.22/.948), Jonathan Quick (1.86/.951) and Frederik Andersen (1.38/.950) are the others.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Edmonton: Taylor Hall

It seems like a long time ago that Taylor Hall was drafted first overall by the Edmonton Oilers. It was only just in 2010 that it took place, though. Four years since his selection, his skill is not in question. He is third in his draft class in goals (96, one behind both Tyler Seguin and Jeff Skinner), first in total points (231, 18 more than Seguin and 46 more than Skinner). He was the first of three consecutive number one overall draft picks for the Oilers (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov being those next in line) and one of six straight top ten draft picks (and counting). By virtue of being the longest tenured in this chain (Marcus Paajaarvi, drafted 10th overall in 2009, is no longer with the Oilers), Hall is almost by default the go-to guy for ensuring success. He has not disappointed early. His four goals and six points lead the team, but unfortunately he has not led it very far, either early this season or over his four previous seasons with the club. At 22 (he will turn 23 in early November) the clock is not yet ticking on his career, but he is one of a collection of very skilled young forwards who have been unable to translate that skill into wins on the ice. He has faced the Caps only twice with a scoring line of 1-0-1, minus-3).

Washington: Jason Chimera

It’s back home for Jason Chimera, a native of Edmonton, who happened to be drafted by his hometown team in 1997 (5th round/121st overall). He played in four seasons with the Oilers, appearing in 130 games before he was traded to the Phoenix Coyotes in June 2004 in one of the busiest, if least consequential deals in recent history (Chimera and a third round pick for a second and a third round pick in 2004; of the three draft picks moved, only one yielded a player who appeared in an NHL game: Liam Reddox).  Of more recent relevance, Chimera, with one goal in five games, is getting off to roughly the same start he had last season (one goal in his first nine games), and the start he had in 2012-2013 (one goal in his first 40 games), and the start he had in 2010-2011 (three goals in his first 35 games). He is not the fastest of starters. Part of it is shooting; he has only nine shots on goal in five games. It’s early, of course, which means this is not a cause for worry, but it would be nice to see him breakout against the hometown team. In 20 career games against the Oilers, Chimera is 3-7-10, plus-4.

In the end…

Going west is always an issue, it seems, for the Capitals. Last spring’s successful California trip is the exception. The Caps are 2-8-0 in their last ten trips to Edmonton, although they have won two of their last three contests at Rexall Place. The Oilers won their first game of the season on Monday, a 3-2 win over highly-regarded Tampa Bay, so they cannot be overlooked as the feckless group that went 0-4-1 in their first five games and that was outscored, 24-11.

Ben Scrivens has been sharp in goal in his last two outings, allowing only three goals on 53 shots (.943 save percentage) while splitting two decisions. What he has not had is much experience against the Caps, and not very effective experience, either. In two career appearances against Washington he allowed seven goals on 63 shots (.889 save percentage) in 119 minutes, splitting his two decisions. For the Caps, who going into Thursday’s games have the third best scoring offense in the league, it will be a matter of reminding Scrivens and the Oilers that their defense has been often as bleak as their winters. The Caps have not scored more than four goals in Edmonton since taking a 6-5 decision on October 23, 1991. We’re thinking it’s about time.

Capitals 5 – Oilers 2