Sunday, November 30, 2014

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 8

Rarely do three games cover such a range of play as those that the Washington Capitals played in Week 8.  A close-fought game settled in overtime against the New York Islanders, a blowout in the rematch, and then a game that seemed to be an utter waste of the jet fuel used to transport the team to Toronto in a loss to the Maple Leafs.  It was a week that had something for everyone, unless you were looking for another winning week.

Record: 1-1-1

The Caps just cannot seem to get any traction. Since opening the season with a pair of winning weeks, they have failed to put together consecutive winning weeks in any of the six that followed, including Week 8.  In fact, they have not had consecutive anything weeks since Weeks 1 and 2.  A .500 week (standings points), a losing week, a winning week, a losing week, a winning week, and a .500 week this past week.  It could have been another week that looked really good in retrospect.  The Caps opened by losing to the Islanders in overtime, a game out of which, quite frankly, they did not really deserve a standings point.  They pasted the Isles in the rematch two nights later.  That set the Caps up for what could have been their best week since Week 2 (2-0-1).  They came out flat against the Maple Leafs and never really challenged in a 6-2 loss, dropping the Caps into fourth in the Metropolitan Division and tenth in the Eastern Conference.

Offense:  3.00/game (season: 2.75/game; rank: T-12th)

It was not a bad week for the Caps at the offensive end, but neither was it a good one.  What it was, was unbalanced.  Seven different Caps shared in the nine goals, but three of them were scored by Alex Ovechkin, including getting goals in consecutive games for the first time since Games 2-4 of this season.  Six other players had a goal apiece.  Ten different players had points, but of the seven of those players who had assists, Nicklas Backstrom and Matt Niskanen dominated with five and four, respectively.  And, neither had a goal.  Four players recorded at least one goal and one assist – Marcus Johansson, Troy Brouwer, Tom Wilson, and Evgeny Kuznetsov – but only one (Johansson) had more than one of one or the other (goal, two assists).

Defense: 3.67/game (season: 2.60/game; rank: 14th)

It was a deceptive week for the Caps in the defensive end of the rink.  Looking at the numbers from a high level, holding teams to an average of 28.7 (27.0 in regulation time) shots is a decent week.  However, the Caps allowed only 23 shots in their 6-2 loss against the Maple Leafs.  More to the point, the Caps allowed 60 shots in the first and second periods of games, an average of ten per period.  Drilling a bit further into the numbers, the Caps had middle-of-the-road decent Corsi numbers for the week at 5-on-5 (49.52 Corsi-for percent).  However, when tied, the Caps had a Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 of 44.00 percent and were a minus-15 overall (numbers from  The odd part of that statistic at first blush was that the Caps did not have their worst game against the Maple Leafs.  That can be explained away by spending so little time tied (14:15 in total time).  Their worst game was the first game against the Islanders, one in which the Caps were minus-19 with a Corsi-for percentage of 37.92.   The Caps were not able to keep the rink from being tilted in their direction when the decision was in the balance, and they really were fortunate to get that single standings point.

Goaltending: 3.57 GAA / .857 GAA (season: 2.65 / .900 / 1 SO)

It could have been a good week.  In the first two games of the week, Braden Holtby stopped 54 of 58 shots in regulation time, a .931 save percentage.  One would be happy with weeks like that.  Unfortunately, there was the overtime against the Islanders, one that the Islanders spent in the Caps’ zone, in no small part due to a power play that led to the game-winning goal.  Then there was the tire fire against the Maple Leafs in which Justin Peters started, was yanked after the first period after allowing two goals on six shots, then going back in for the third period after Holtby allowed three goals on 12 shots in the middle frame, only to allow another goal on five shots.  Even playing only 40 minutes, it was the fifth straight appearance in which Peters allowed three or more goals (.859 save percentage).   It made for an unbalanced week, despite the balanced win-loss record.

Power Play: 4-for-7 / 57.1 percent (season: 28.8 percent; rank: 2nd) 

Week 8 might have been the Caps’ best power play week of the season.  First, it was their best week in terms of conversions.  In making good on four of seven chances, the Caps recorded their first 50-plus percent week of the season (57.1 percent).  It tied their high for goals scored (Week 5: four goals on ten opportunities).  Then there was the efficiency.  The Caps scored their four goals on 13 shots.  Seven different players shared in the shots, four of them in goals.  Ovechkin had two goals on three shots against the Islanders in the first game of the week, the only power play shots on goal for the Caps in that game.  Andre Burakovsky scored on his only power play shot on goal, a tip-in of a Matt Niskanen drive.  Troy Brouwer got the fourth power play goal of the week on a one-timer from the middle of the 1-3-1.  When you add in that the Caps recorded their 13 shots on goal in just 9:34 of power play ice time (1.36 shots per minute), it was about as good a week as one could draw up.

Penalty Killing: 4-for-9 / 44.4 percent (season: 77.5 percent; rank: 23rd)

If the power play went as one might draw it up, the penalty killing was the same. If it was drawn up by kindergartners on a Hallowe’en candy rush.  The Caps had their first below-50 percent week on the PK in Week 8.  The odd part was, the Caps did almost everything right.  They limited chances, nine shorthanded situations faced for the week.  They limited shots, ten in nine opportunities.  They were stingy on a shots-per-minute basis, 0.55/minute for the week.  There were two problems.  First, there was that penalty taken against the Islanders in overtime of a 2-2 game.  Iffy as the penalty might have been (it was), killing penalties at 3-on-4 is a different animal from 4-on-5, and yet the Caps still came within two seconds of killing of that penalty and perhaps sending the contest to the Gimmick.  The game against Toronto was just generally awful.  Justin Peters allowed goals on both power play shots he faced; Braden Holtby allowed one on the three shots he faced.  The penalty killers were efficient, but they (including the goaltenders) were not effective.

Even Strength Goals For/Goals Against: 5-6 / minus-1 (season, 5-on-5 goals for/goals against ratio: 0.89; rank: T-20th)

Scoring even-strength goals had become almost as rare an occurrence in Washington as John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi having lunch at Ben’s Chili Bowl.  Failing to score an even strength goal against the Islanders in the first game of the week, the Caps went 18:27 into the rematch before Marcus Johansson scored the first even-strength goal for Washington in 148:59.  And even with that, the Caps gave both that goal and the power play goal they scored earlier back with two even strength goals allowed in a span of 66 seconds after Johansson’s goal.  It was part of a big night for the Caps – four goals on 23 even strength shots – but that was sandwiched around games in which the Caps went 1-for-53 shooting at evens (1.9 percent).  It made for a disappointing week even as the Caps held their opponents to 8.0 percent shooting (6-for-75). 

Faceoffs: 96-for-172 / 55.8 percent (season: 50.8 percent; rank: 13th)

It was a very good week in the circle for the Caps.  They won all three games in terms of being over 50 percent.  While they were one under 50 percent in the offensive zone for the week (30-for-61; 49.2 percent), they were dominant in the defensive zone (31-for-52; 58.5 percent).  Of the three Caps taking more than 20 draws for the week three finished over 50 percent (Nicklas Backstrom: 53.4 percent; Eric Fehr: 57.1 percent; Jay Beagle: 60.7 percent).  Even Evgeny Kuznetsov, the fourth player with more than 20 draws, was just one under 50 percent for the week (11-for-24).

Goals by Period:

First periods were consistent for the Caps, and not in a good way.  Washington allowed two goals in each of the games’ first periods for Week 8.  It is hard to win in the NHL when trailing at the first intermission, and the Caps lost both games in which they trailed after 20 minutes.  This is part of what is a slow and disturbing trend for the Caps.  They have allowed the 12th-most number of first period goals this season, which is largely negating some good first period work at the other end (tied for sixth in first period goals scored: 22).  

In the end…

Three games in four nights did not agree with the Caps, especially when the back-to-back portion of it came on the second half of the four nights, the second game of which was on the road, and at the end of a holiday week (these guys have lives, too, that might have their own brand of hectic activity).  Games like the one against the Maple Leafs are going to happen, one of those 20 games in a season that a club is going to lose, no matter what.* 

It was that game against the Islanders to start the week that was disappointing.  The Caps were fortunate to get out of that one with a standings point, which makes one wonder what might have happened had they playing the Islanders more evenly in terms of possession.  It ended up being a week in which issues the team had coming into the week remained issues at the end.  First, there is the lack of rhythm on a game-to-game basis.  The Caps have not put together consecutive winning weeks over the last six weeks and have a modest three-game winning streak as their longest of the season. 

Then there is the backup goaltending.  Justin Peters has not provided the capable relief that the Caps are going to need if they are to keep from riding Braden Holtby into the ground down the home stretch of the season if the Caps are fighting for a playoff spot.  Peters had not had an inordinate amount of time off between appearances – two games/five days to start the season, after which it was one/four, two/eight, two/seven, two/six, two/seven.  With his appearance against Toronto it was five games off and 14 days, his longest stretch of inactivity of the season.  If his performance does not improve, this might be a preview of things to come.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Nicklas Backstrom (0-5-5, plus-1, five-game points streak…we do not penalize him much for that iffy overtime penalty in the first Islanders game)
  • Second Star: Alex Ovechkin (3-0-3, plus-1, 17 shots on goal, 30 shot attempts, nine hits)
  • Third Star: Matt Niskanen (0-4-4, almost 24 minutes per game in ice time with three goals against on ice)

*  The Peerless’ Rule of 82: ”In an 82-game season, a team will win 20 games, no matter what, and they will win 20 games, no matter what; it is what the team does with the rest of the games that makes or breaks a season.”

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Games 21/22: Capitals vs. Islanders, November 26/28

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals celebrate Thanksgiving this week with a home-and-home set against a team that is hardly a “turkey.”  It is a team capable of “stuffing” the puck down their throats like your crazy uncle stuffing yams down his throat at holiday dinner, of "mashing" your hopes like a boiled potato. 

That team is the New York Islanders.  Yes, the New York Islanders.  A once proud franchise that has reached the playoffs only six times in the last 20 seasons before this one, one that has not won a playoff series in that span of years.  It is a team that has a win-loss record of 624-762 over those 20 years with 106 ties and 103 extra time losses.

This year, things are different.  The Isles are 15-6-0, their 30 points tied for third in the league through Monday’s games.  One wonders, though, what to make of their achievement to date.  On the one hand, the Isles are on a 9-1-0 run after a 6-5-0 start to the season, but six of the wins were by one-goal, and four of them came in the Gimmick, three in their last five wins (New York is 5-0 in the trick shot competition).

On the other hand, the Isles are a good possession team, fifth in Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 at 52.86 ( goals scored-to-goals allowed ratio of 1.15 that puts them in the top ten in the league.  And, with a PDO of 100.14 at 5-on-5 (14th in the league), the Isles might be underperforming against their possession statistics.

Then again (on the third hand?), there is the goaltending half of the PDO number, and for the Islanders it has been inconsistent, or at least different.  Over the summer the Isles swapped out Evgeni Nabokov (40 appearances; 15-14-8, 2.74, .905) and Anders Nilsson (19 appearances; 8-7-2, 3.11, .896) in favor of Jaroslav Halak, obtained for a 2014 fourth round draft pick from the Capitals, and Chad Johnson, signed as a free agent from the Boston Bruins.

Halak has been what the Islanders hoped for, sporting a 10-4-0 record with a 2.23 goals against average (11th in the league) and a .922 save percentage (tied for 12th).  He enters this home-and-home set against the Caps on a personal seven-game winning streak over which his GAA is 1.11, his save percentage is .957, and he has three shutouts.  If he is not the league’s hottest goaltender, he can still flash-boil an ice rink.  Halak is 4-4-0, 2.76, .893 in eight career regular season appearances against Washington.

Johnson, on the other hand (lots of hands in today’s post, eh?), has not been able to replicate the numbers he posted in Boston last season to justify his two-year/$2.6 million contract.  While he has a 5-2-0 win-loss record, his GAA of 3.33 ranks 43rd of 48 qualifying goaltenders, and his save percentage of .876 ranks dead last.  In his last five appearances he has allowed four or more goals four times, has a GAA of 3.87 and a save percentage of .858.  He still has a 3-2-0 win loss record in those games.  Johnson has one career appearance against the Caps, a 4-2 Boston Bruins win over the Caps last March 29 in which he stopped 31 of 33 shots.

Now, about that 9-1-0 record in New York’s last ten games.  They have outscored their opponents by a 29-18 margin.  Five of the goals allowed came in their lone loss, a 5-2 loss to Tampa Bay on November 15th.  In seven of the wins they allowed two or fewer goals, three of them those shutouts by Halak.  Their special teams have a certain asynchronous look to them, the power play converting a middling 16.7 percent of its opportunities, while the penalty killers have been very good, killing off 89.7 percent of their shorthanded situations.  The difference lies in the opportunities.  New York has enjoyed 36 power play chances over the ten games while facing only 29 shorthanded situations, only a total of three over their last three games.  That, and two shorthanded goals scored, go a long way toward accounting for the plus-5 in goals for/goals against on special teams.

Here is how the teams compare in their numbers through Monday’s games…

1.  In their 9-1-0 run the Islanders have had balanced scoring.  Fourteen different players share the 29 goals with John Tavares, Ryan Strome, and Brock Nelson each with four to lead the team.  Nineteen different players have points, Tavares and Strome each with eight (both 4-4-8).

2.  What the Islanders have not had in their 9-1-0 run is much by way of goal scoring from their defense.  Three of the 29 goals have come from blueliners, Travis Hamonic with one and Nick Leddy with a pair.  The group does have 17 assists, though, with all six defensemen playing over the ten games recording at least one helper.

3.  The Islanders have hardly been front-runners in their 9-1-0 run.  They scored first in only four of the games and took a lead into the first intermission on three times.  What they have done is win the late stages of games.  They have outscored opponents 10-5 in the third period and overtime of the ten games, and they have won five of the third periods outright (outscored in three games and held even in two).  New York has the best record in the league when trailing first (7-1-0).

4.  No team has won more games when outshooting the opposition than the Islanders.  Their 11-2-0 record is the third-best winning percentage in such games.  They are 7-0-0 in their current 9-1-0 run when outshooting their opponent.

5.  Back to the hands thing.  On the one hand, the Islanders are 9-1-0 in one-goal games, the best record in the league.  On the other, they are 6-5 in games decided by more than one goal.  Keeping in mind that through Monday there are 12 teams in the NHL who are between one game over and one game under .500 in winning percentage in one-goal games, the Islanders look like a club that, at least so far, has won more than their share of coin flips.

1.  The Caps continue to struggle with good fortune of their own making.  Despite outshooting opponents in 14 of 20 games, they have only a 5-6-3 record in those games.  What is almost worse, the Caps are just 3-2-3 in games in which they hold opponents to fewer than 25 shots on goal.  Five of those eight games have gone into extra time, the Caps having a 1-1 record in overtime decisions and a 1-2 record in trick shot competitions.

2.  The Caps have lost only one game this season when scoring first.  Only five teams have not lost such a game.  On the other hand (still with the hands?), the Caps have won just one game when allowing the first goal.  Only Buffalo has yet to win such a game.

3.   98.22.  That is Washington’s PDO at 5-on-5 through 20 games, 26th in the league.  Meanwhile, they have a Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 of 51.90, ranked 10th.  The rankings suggest that one or the other is, as they say, “out of whack,” “whack” being a technical term in data analysis meaning, “balance.”  Let’s look at the 15 games since the Caps started 3-0-2.  In those games, the Caps are 6-8-1.  As you might expect, the Caps did better in games with a high PDO than a low one.  In games where the PDO was 100.0 or higher they were 5-1-0; they were 1-7-1 in games where the PDO was below 100. Now here is the bizarre part.  When the Caps had a game Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 of 50 percent or better, they were 3-4-1.  In games in which their game Corsi-for percentage was less than 50 percent, they had a record of 3-4-0.  There was no “Corsi-for percentage” effect over this group of games.  In fact, nothing at 5-on-5 as far as shot attempts appear to have made much of a difference.  Total Corsi events?  When the “Corsi Pace/60” was 100.0 or better, the Caps were 2-4-1; they were 4-4-0 when it was below 100.  When their own Corsi-for/60 was 50 percent or better, they were 4-5-1; when below 50 they were 2-3-0.  On the other side, when Corsi-against/60 was 50 percent of lower the Caps were 4-4-1; when above 50 they were 2-4-0.  You would think that something has to give here (all numbers from

4.  If you think perhaps the Caps are drifting into old bad habits, look again at those last 15 games.  Taken in five-game chunks the Caps were over over 50 percent in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 in three of five games in the first five-game piece, over 50 percent in four of five games in the middle five-game piece, and over 50 percent in three of the five games in the last five-game piece.  Yeah, something just has to give here (all numbers from

5.  Perhaps the strange part of all the decent possession numbers is looking at the relationship of those numbers to the plus-minus numbers at an individual player level for the Caps.  There isn’t one.  There have been 22 skaters dressing for the Caps so far this season.  Of that group, 10 have “plus” numbers, and two of them (Chris Brown and Jack Hillen, both at plus-1) have appeared in five or fewer games.  Meanwhile, there are 11 skaters with “minus” numbers (Marcus Johansson is “even”).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New York: Mikhail Grabovski

The last in the revolving door of contestants to fill the Caps second line center position from outside the organization was Mikhail Grabovski, signed as a free agent by Washington in the summer of 2013.  In one season with the Caps he had a respectable 13 goals and 35 points in 58 games.  Then he moved on, signing a four-year/$20 million deal with the Islanders last July.  Grabovski has once more put up decent numbers, averaging a half-point a game in the 18 games in which he has appeared and marrying that to a plus-5 rating that is top-five on the team.  He has been a picture of consistency with four points in eight home games and five points in ten road games.  He is plus-2 at home, plus-3 on the road.  What he has not been lately is hot.  He was 3-3-6 in six games to open the season, but he is just 1-2-3 in his last 12 games.  In 17 career games against Washington he is 3-8-11, plus-8.

Washington: Barry Trotz

OK, so he’s not a player, but he has an interesting decision to make insofar as Wednesday’s game (at least) is concerned.  Alex Ovechkin left Tuesday’s practice early with an “upper-body tweak,” raising the question of his availability for Wedneday night’s opener of this home-and-home set.  If Ovechkin cannot go, Barry Trotz has to fill in that top line left wing, and he has a number of options.  He could move Marcus Johansson from the left side on the second line to the top line.  The charm of this is that the second line has been in a funk lately, and the change might do some good for its own sake.  Trotz could move Andre Burakovsky to that line to change things up on the second line (Burakovsky was on the top line after Ovechkin’s departure in practice), but he would have a second move to ponder, that of who to slide into the second line center spot (Evgeny Kuznetsov moved into that spot in practice).  He could move Kuznetsov into the left wing spot on the top line.  This might have less disruption than the Burakovsky move, with having to fill the fourth line center spot the other move.  With Mike Green and Brooks Laich out for at least the first of the two games against the Islanders, Trotz didn’t need another ball to juggle.  However, he has a lot of experience at this level.  This will provide an interesting in-game management test for Trotz if Ovechkin can’t go. 

In the end…

Folks seem to think of this home-and-home as a benchmarking exercise for the Caps, evaluating how they perform against a stout opponent.  That might be true, but it might be equally true that this is a benchmark set of games for the Islanders.  While the Islanders have a fine record, much of it has been earned playing on thin margins.  Only six of the Islanders 15 win are by two or more goals, and five of their nine one-goal wins are in the freestyle competition.  For the Caps, having perhaps 12 of their 55 goals scored out of the lineup for these games (Ovechkin with nine; Mike Green with three), this will be a stiff test.  The Caps will need all “hands” on deck for these games if they are to pull out a pair of wins.

Wednesday: Capitals 3 – Islanders 2

Friday: Capitals 5 – Islanders 3

Programming note: We will be dark until Sunday.  Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 7

You have enjoyed a nice dinner.  You are looking forward to your last course.  It comes to your table.  It looks wonderful.  You take a forkful… and spit it out.  What had been a lovely dinner to that point leaves a bad taste in your mouth as you leave for the evening.

That was Week 7 for the Washington Capitals.  Oh, it was a winning week.  Two road wins made it a fine start to the week.  When the Caps came home to face the Buffalo Sabres, it looked as if the Caps might have their first blemish-free week of the season.  But the Caps came up short, and a 2-1-0 week did not seem as good as a 2-1-0 week should.

Record: 2-1-0

The Caps started the week with a pair of one-goal wins on the road, in Arizona and Colorado. Not only were they one-goal wins, the games scored the game-winners late, an overtime game-winner by Eric Fehr in a 2-1 win over the Coyotes and a game-winner by Alex Ovechkin with 5:56 to play in a 3-2 win over the Avalanche.  Those two games put the Caps over .500 in standings points for the season in one-goal games, certainly no small consideration in a league with as much parity as the NHL (for comparison’s sake, the Caps were 21-10-14 in one-goal games last season, 11 standings points over.500).  They dropped a one-goal decision to the Buffalo Sabres to end the week, though, and fell to 5-5-3 in one-goal games, the 24th-best record in the league.

Offense:  2.00/game (season: 2.75/game; rank: T-12th)

It was a hard fought week, and goals were hard to come by.  Six different Caps scored the six goals for the week; ten different Caps had points.  Nicklas Backstrom led the team in points with a goal and two assists; four other players had two points.  The Caps struggled in two areas.  One, shot volumes.  The 44 shots they recorded against the Sabres in the last game of Week 7 papered over the fact that they managed only a total of 47 shots in the first two games of the week against teams that ranked in the bottom third in the league in shots on goal allowed.  Then there was the shooting percentage.  The Caps were 6.6 percent for the week, well below their 9.0 percent for the season. If there was a hole in the offense this week it was in the second line of Marcus-Johansson, Andre Burakovsky, and Troy Brouwer.  The trio combined for no even-strength points in three games (Johansson had a power play assist), and they were a combined 0-for-21 shooting.

Defense: 1.67/game (season: 2.60/game; rank: 14th)

The Caps continue to do one thing well on a consistent basis – limit shots.  Washington allowed three opponents a total of 79 shots, an average of 26.3 per game, slightly less than their season average of 26.8 shots per game (fourth-best in the league).  However, the Caps seem to have difficulty separating effective defense from sluggish offense; the two seem to combine to result in something that resembles “Hunter Hockey,” coin-flip games where offense – for either team – is difficult to realize.  The Caps had a positive Corsi week, a 55.0 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5.  However, this was skewed by an overwhelming Corsi advantage against the Sabres (67-39 in events, in favor of the Caps; 63.21 percent Corsi-for; numbers from

Goaltending: 1.65 GAA / .937 GAA (season: 2.51 / .905 / 1 SO)

Braden Holtby got the call in all three games in Week 7, and he shined.  He was over .930 in save percentage in each of the three games, extending a stretch of good play on his part.  Over his last six appearances he is 4-2-0, 1.67, .942.  Holtby did an especially good job of keeping the Caps in games early.  He stopped all 19 first period shots he saw for the week.  The flip side of that was that he allowed goals in each of the second period of games for the week (27-for-30 in saves overall). In the third period and overtime he was a solid 28-for-30 (.933 save percentage).  It might have been an even better week but for some odd events in the last game against Buffalo. He allowed one goal when a shot that sailed wide hit the end boards and took an odd rebound out the other side where Matt Moulson converted it into a score.  Then, on Buffalo’s second goal, Holtby made a fine save on the initial shot, but his defense did not tie up Torrey Mitchell before he could jump into the play and convert the rebound.  Still, Holtby is on a roll. 

Power Play: 1-5 / 20.0 percent (season: 25.4 percent; rank: 2nd)

It was not the efficiency, it was the frequency.  The Caps had only five power play opportunities for the week, including a game in which they had none and another in which they had one (which they converted).  In three of the last four games for the Caps they have had one or no power play chances.  Despite the second best power play in the league, they finished the week with the third-fewest opportunities in the league (59), behind only the New York Rangers (56) and Boston Bruins (54).  Looking at the efficiency alone, a week in which the Caps were 20 percent in opportunities (rebounding nicely from their only week below 20 percent) and shot 1-for-9 in 8:00 of power play ice time was a pretty good one.

Penalty Killing: 5-for-5 / 100.0 percent (season: 82.3 percent; rank: 14th)

It was the second straight clean week for the Caps’ penalty killers.  And, what was good for the goose (only five power play opportunities) was good for the gander (only five shorthanded situations faced).  One would have liked the Caps to be more efficient on the penalty kill in one respect, though.  In 9:32 of shorthanded ice time for the week the Caps allowed 12 power play shots on goal.  If it is true that the goaltender needs to be a team’s best penalty killer, that might have been true of Braden Holtby this week.  The week was helped, no doubt, by the fact that Colorado and Buffalo are poor power play teams, both ranking in the bottom five in the league.

Even Strength Goals For/Goals Against: 5-5 / even (season, 5-on-5 goals for/goals against ratio: 0.92; rank: 21st)

The even strength ratio for the week is more or less the product of the first two games.  Against Arizona and Colorado the Caps had a combined Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 of 49.4, the result of being a minus-2.  In that respect it was a very even week at even-strength.  Against the Sabres the underlying numbers looked marvelous – plus-28 Corsi at 5-on-5, but the Caps didn’t pass the “eye” test, an inability to follow up shots by creating havoc in front of goalie Jhonas Enroth.  When Buffalo got a couple of breaks, it resulted in a 2-0 win at even strength in the last game of the week.  Possession numbers can tell a story over large numbers of games, but on a game to game basis they can be subject to much more noise than signal.

Faceoffs: 86-for-167 / 51.5 percent (season: 50.1 percent; rank: 14th)

This is another case of a “winning” week not looking like as much of one from closer inspection.  The Caps won 51.5 percent of all faceoffs this week, but that was weighted heavily by a 63.8 percent winning percentage in the neutral zone. A 44.4 percent winning percentage in the offensive zone might have contributed to the difficulties the Caps had in scoring goals in Week 7.  Nicklas Backstrom, as he does most weeks, took the highest volume of draws and won one more than half (30-for-59).  His problem was in the defensive zone, where he was just 5-for-15.  Next up in volume was Jay Beagle, whose 58.8 percent winning percentage for the week looked better than it was.  He was 7-fo-r7 in neutral zone draws and 10-for-13 in the defensive zone.  But he was 3-for-14 in the offensive zone.  Andre Burakovsky couldn’t quite get to the 50 percent mark in the offensive zone, either, going 4-for-10.

Goals by Period:

It was a relatively even week in goals scored, six for and five against, but the distribution was a bit different.  The Caps spread their goal scoring across the periods, including one in overtime.  On the other hand, opponents squeezed all their goals into the second and third period.  That second period was the problem.  The Caps were a minus-1 for the week in the middle period (two for, three against).  This was a bit odd in that the Caps are among the most prolific goal scoring teams in the second period of games this season (they finished the week tied for eighth with 22 goals). 

In the end…

The two points that the Caps more or less gave away to Buffalo might be the two that haunt them in the end.  At the moment, those two points do not make a difference in their Metropolitan Division standing; they would have finished the week in third place with or without them.  But it is the difference between being eighth in the Eastern Conference (with the points) and ninth (without them).  It was an opportunity lost.  The good part was that the Caps earned that opportunity with two hard-fought road wins out west.  But to give a part of it back with a forgettable effort against Buffalo (44 shots on goal notwithstanding), makes one think than come April, that game might not be so forgettable after all.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Braden Holtby (2-1-0, 1.65, .937)
  • Second Star: Nicklas Backstrom (1-2-3, plus-1, Corsi-for/5-on-5: plus-23/62.4% for)
  • Third Star: Brooks Orpik (0-2-2, plus-3, 23:19 average ice time, 17 hits)

Saturday, November 22, 2014

A NO-point night -- Game 20: Sabres 2 - Capitals 1

The Washington Capitals have had a persistent problem in recent years of playing down to the level of their competition.  They did that, and then some as the Caps lost to the Buffalo Sabres, 2-1, at Verizon Center.  The Caps failed in an attempt to win their third straight game for the second time this season, while the Sabres skated off with their third win in succession.

The scoring was sparse, neither team lighting the lamp in the first period.  It was Buffalo who scored first, taking advantage of springy boards behind the Caps’ net.  A drive by Tyler Ennis went wide of the Caps’ net to the right of goalie Braden Holtby, but the puck rebounded hard off the end boards and out the other side.  Matt Moulson happily accepted the good fortune and chipped a shot that seemed to hit both John Carlson’s stick and Holtby’s before floating over the line at the 10:15 mark of the second period.

That would be the only scoring in the second period, but Matt Niskanen tied it for the Caps in the sixth minute of the third period on a power play.  With Mike Green out with an upper body injury suffered earlier in the game, the Caps were hemming the Sabres in their own end on the man advantage.  The puck finally made its way to Nicklas Backstrom at the top of the right wing faceoff circle.  Backstrom laid the puck out for Niskanen, who one-timed a shot that hit the shaft of defenseman Tyler Myers’ stick and was redirected past goalie Jhonas Enroth’s glove.

The Caps could not get that second goal though, and Buffalo made them pay for it.  With the clock running down past the eight minutes to play mark, Buffalo’s Mike Weber chipped the puck from the red line across the ice and into the far corner to the right of Holtby.  John Carlson and Torrey Mitchell got tangled up fighting for the puck, giving Brian Gionta a chance to step in and take control  Gionta circled out and darted across the crease hoping to tuck the puck around around Holtby’s left pad.  Holtby got a pad on the puck, but it squirted out to his right where Mitchell was lurking.  He cut between Carlson and Jason Chimera to stuff the puck into the open side of the net, and the Sabres had what was the game-deciding goal in the 2-1 win.

Other stuff…

-- The Caps had a season high 44 shots.  They out-attempted Buffalo, 76-46.  They won the faceoff battle, 36-24 (60.0 percent).  And they lost.  Whodathunkit?

-- Alex Ovechkin had eight shots on goal.  It was the first time that Ovechkin had as many as eight shots on goal without scoring one since he failed to score on 12 shots On December 29, 2013 in a 2-1 loss… to Buffalo (in a Gimmick).  Ovechkin also had 17 of the Caps’ 76 shot attempts.

-- Braden Holtby stopped 24 of 26 shots, making it six straight games in which he has allowed two or fewer goals, tying a career high.  He has a .942 save percentage in those six games, and his is also just 4-2-0 with this loss.

-- Evgeny Kuznetsov and the amazing shrinking ice time.  Kuznetsov came into this game having skated less than eight minutes in his previous two games.  He failed to reach the eight-minute mark for the third straight game, skating just 7:07.  He had five shifts in the first period, three in the second period, and two in the third period.

-- The Caps had one power play and scored on it.  They have had only five power plays in their last four games.  At the other end, they faced only one shorthanded situation and killed it off, making it 14-for-14 in their last six games.

-- Marcus Johansson, who had gone dormant shooting the puck in recent games, rediscovered his trigger finger.  He had five shots on goal, the most since he had a season high eight shots back on Veterans Day against Columbus.

-- This was the tenth time this season that the Caps held an opponent to 26 or fewer shots.  Their record in those games is 4-3-3.

-- From the 9:14 mark of the first period to the 7:40 mark of the second, a span of 18:26, the Caps held the Sabres to one shot on goal.

-- The fourth line of Kuznetsov, Michael Latta, and Eric Fehr had one shot on goal among them (Fehr).

-- This was the fifth consecutive one-goal decision between these two teams.  The Caps are 2-1-2 in those games.  The four previous decisions went to extra time, three of them to the Gimmick.

-- On the other side, the Sabres have allowed only four goals on 108 shots over their last three games, only two of those at even strength.

In the end…

What did we say in the prognosto?
There is no way… no way… that the Sabres should win this game.  What that means is that after passing a test of sorts on the road by scoring late goals to win one-goal decisions on the road, the Caps have to avoid a tendency of playing down to the level of their opponents.  The trouble with playing down to the level of the Sabres is that the dive will be so steep and so quick that they are likely to crash and burn.
The 44 shots was misleading.  Yes, Jhonas Enroth played very well, but for all the volume, the Caps didn’t pay much of a price to get those second chance, greasy goals.  The poor ice, a product of a basketball game played at Verizon Center earlier in the day, made getting the sweet tic-tac-toe goal more unlikely.  And absent that, the Caps didn’t have much of a “Plan B.”  And in the NHL, that’s a recipe for giving away points.  The Caps did just that tonight.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 20: Sabres at Capitals, November 22nd

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals return home from their 2-1-0 road trip to host the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night at Verizon Center.  The Caps were outscored on their trip, 7-6, a product of the 4-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues to open the trip.  The Caps won a pair of one-goal games to close the trip, the game-winning goals coming in overtime against the Arizona Coyotes, and late in the third period against the Colorado Avalanche. 

The Caps spread their scoring around on the trip, meager as it was.  The six goals were scored by six different players, and nine different players recorded a single assist apiece.  Five players had one of each – Alex Ovechkin, Joel Ward, Jason Chimera, Jay Beagle, and Nicklas Backstrom.  Special teams were an odd lot on both sides.  The common thread was the rare occurrence of a power play.  The Caps managed to limit their shorthanded situations to a total of six, none in their win over Colorado, skating off each one without damage.  For their own power play, there were only four opportunities, none against the Blues. They were blanked on all four chances.

As for the Sabres, they have shown recent signs of life after opening the season 3-13-2.  This past week they recorded wins over Toronto, 6-2, and san Jose by a a 4-1 margin.  They represent the first consecutive wins for the Sabres this season.  They missed a chance to make it three in a row when their game against the New York Rangers scheduled for Friday night was postponed due to the heavy snowfall in the Buffalo region this week.

Brian Gionta led the Sabres with two goals and an assist in their two wins.  Those two goals, both scored in the 4-1 win over San Jose were his first goals of the season, breaking a 19-game streak without one to open the campaign.  Gionta has not averaged less than 0.20 goals per game since his rookie season with the New Jersey Devils in 2001-2002.  Having lifted his scoring average to 0.10 goals per game with his two-goal effort against the Sharks, one might be concerned that he is starting on a correction.  In 35 career games against the Caps he is 10-13-23, plus-8.

The Sabres also got two goals from Zemgus Girgensons this past week, both in the 6-1 win over Toronto.  Girgensons, a 2012 14th overall draft pick now in his second NHL season, is tied for the Sabres’ team lead in goals (6).  He, like Gionta, seems to have emerged from a long slumber.  He had four goals in four games before he was held off the score sheet against San Jose.  It broke what had been a 13-game streak without a goal after opening the season with goals in each of his first two games.  In three career games against Washington he has not registered a point.

The Caps are not likely to see their former teammate Michal Neuvirth in goal.  Neuvirth was injured in a pile-up in goal in first period of the Sabres’ 4-1 win over San Jose and could not answer the bell for the second period.  He has been described as being “a little bit more than day to day” with his injury.  That led to a call-up of Nathan Lieuwen from Buffalo’s AHL affiliate in Rochester, but it would seem likely that the Sabres will call on Jhonas Enroth to tend goal against the Caps.

Enroth has had a tough go of it so far this season.  He has a record of 2-8-1.  His 3.63 goals against average ranks tied for 43rd of 46 qualifying goalies, and his .900 save percentage ranks tied for 35th (oddly enough, with former teammate and current Vancouver netminder Ryan Miller).  The problem, though, is not his.  He is facing a whopping 36.3 shots per 60 minutes.  To let you know how big a number that is, Enroth has faced the same number of shots as Miller and Anaheim’s Frederik Andersen, but Enroth has faced that volume in more than 200 fewer minutes than either Miller or Andersen.

Here is how the teams compare in their numbers so far this season…

1.  Buffalo is so far behind the eight ball to start games as to be in the parking lot outside the pool hall.  The Sabres have only seven first period goals this season; two of them coming in their win over Toronto last week. On the other side of the ledger they have allowed 16 first period goals.  It actually gets worse from there on a goal-differential basis.  Buffalo is minus-11 in the second periods of games and minus-15 in the third period of games.

2.  Buffalo has nine losses by three or more goals.  Only two of the other 29 teams have more than nine three-plus goal decisions.

3.  Buffalo is one of four NHL teams that have yet to pitch a shutout.  On the other hand, they have been shut out five times, most in the league.

4.  Buffalo has to score first to have a chance.  They have a respectable 5-2-1 record when doing so, the 19th best winning percentage in the league.  When they fall behind first, forget it. They are 0-11-1, the only team in the league yet to win a game when allowing the first goal, and their 11 losses in regulation lead the league.

5.  With a record as bad as that of the Sabres, they play a frustrated sort of game.  They are tied for the league lead in fights (12) with Anaheim and San Jose.

1.  The Caps have a chance in this game to win their third game in a row, which would tie a season-high winning streak.  They have only three instances this season in which they won two or more games in a row.   That said, the real hole in their record is that five-game losing streak from October 26 – November 4.  Take that away, and the Caps are 9-3-2.  You can’t just “take that away,” of course, but perhaps that was the aberration in play.

2.  The Caps still have work to do in that third period of games.  They have a plus-5 goal differential in each of the first and second periods of games.  They are minus-7 in the third period.

3.  The four power play opportunities on their road trip made it 18 in nine road games this season, the least frequently called upon road power play in the league.  At home it is a different story.  With 40 power plays at home the Caps are ninth in the league with 4.0 power plays per game at home.

4.  Scoring first matter to the Caps, too.  Not quite as much as Buffalo, but it matters.  Washington is 8-1-1 when scoring first, tied with Minnesota for the league’s fourth best winning percentage.  On the other hand, they are 1-6-2 when allowing the first goal, the third worst winning percentage in the league.

5.  The Caps have a bit of an odd dichotomy when it comes to scoring.  They have what amounts to a strong “top six” group of forwards (even if they are not, strictly speaking, deployed that way).  Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Marcus Johansson, Andre Burakovsky, Joel Ward, and Troy Brouwer all have double-digit point totals.  After that there is a considerable drop off to Evgeny Kuznetsov with six points and lower totals thereafter among the forwards.  On the defense the odd split is handedness.  The righties – Mike Green, John Carlson, and Matt Niskanen – are a combined 5-24-29.  The lefties – Karl Alzner, Brooks Orpik, and Nate Schmidt – are 0-11-11.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Buffalo:  Matt Moulson

Matt Moulson is another of those Sabre who had a slow start.  He went his first 14 games this season without a goal.  This from a player who in six full seasons never averaged less than 0.23 goals per game, who is a three-time 30-goal scorer.  He, like a few other Sabres, seems to be waking up lately.  Moulson is 2-4-6 in his last six games.  In addition to scoring his first two goals of the season, he is up to six assists for the year, which is tied for second on the club.  Against Washington he is 4-6-10 in 18 career games.

Washington: Braden Holtby

This is what folks might have had in mind when Braden Holtby was placed under the tutelage of the goalie whisperer, Mitch Korn.  Holtby is 4-1-0, 1.59, .947 in his last five appearances.  He has allowed two or fewer goals in each of those games, his longest such streak since he had a six-game streak in his first season in 2010-2011.  The schedule sets up well for Holtby this coming week with no back-to-backs until the Caps face the Islanders and Maple Leafs on consecutive nights next weekend.   However, one can’t look ahead of the Sabres.  Holtby’s record against them is something less than stellar.  His 3.53 goals against average against Buffalo is his worst among the 12 teams he has faced at least five times, as is his .872 save percentage.

In the end…

Their two wins in their last two games notwithstanding, Buffalo is having an awful time of it.  They are last in scoring offense, next to last in scoring defense.  They are last in 5-on-5 goal ratio, last on the power play.  They have a shot differential of minus-13.5 shots per game.  There is no way… no way… that the Sabres should win this game.  What that means is that after passing a test of sorts on the road by scoring late goals to win one-goal decisions on the road, the Caps have to avoid a tendency of playing down to the level of their opponents.  The trouble with playing down to the level of the Sabres is that the dive will be so steep and so quick that they are likely to crash and burn.  Better to fly high and take care of business.

Capitals 6 – Sabres 2

Getting Old Has Its Charms

When Alex Ovechkin barreled his way into the National Hockey League in 2005, he demolished anything in his path.  Whether it was scoring goals or delivering thunderous checks, it was done with energy and without apparent regard to his well being.

As with many of us, though, the years slow us down a bit, but they also bring a knowledge of how to get things done without all that tiresome expenditure of effort.  Let us consider two goals, one from Ovechkin's rookie season and one from last night.  Both were highlights; one for the ages and one for, well, until the next news cycle.  Both were scored by Ovechkin cutting similar paths to the net -- a rush down the right side, a cut to the middle where a defenseman was lurking who could impede his progress, an attempt at evasion, and then an improvised finish.

Here is the first one, from January 2006...

"The Goal."  Scored on his back, sliding away from the net, facing in the wrong direction.  The kind of goal a 12-year old might try to make up when he is skating by himself on the pond after school.

And now, almost ten years later, with a little bit of gray streaking through his hair, Ovechkin cut a similar path through the neutral zone, into the attacking zone, and improvised a big finish again...

Not quite "The Goal," but impressive nevertheless.  And all without all that twisting and falling and sliding and contorting.  He's getting too old for that stuff.  Or, he's too smart now to have to indulge in it.  Just bat the puck off the end boards, and clean up the rebound.  Same result, less effort, still a highlight.

Maybe in ten years or so, he scores that goal from a recliner.

A TWO-point night -- Game 19: Capitals 3 - Avalanche 2

The Washington Capitals are making a habit of playing games lately that are of the nail-biter variety.  For the eighth time in their last ten games, the Caps fought to a one-goal decision, beating the Colorado Avalanche, 3-2, at Pepsi Center in Denver last night.

The Caps and Avalanche battled to a scoreless first period, but zeroes did not last long into the second frame.  Washington opened the scoring when Coloardo’s Erik Johnson tried to move the puck up the right wing wall from just inside the center red line, but had the attempt intercepted by Alex Ovechkin.  Heading the other way, Ovechkin skated the puck down the wall to the hash marks at the edge of the faceoff circle in the Avalanche zone.  There he stopped and threaded a pass across the offensive zone to Nicklas Backstrom who wristed the puck past goalie Reto Berra’s glove to make it 1-0.

Less than two minutes later the game was tied when Daniel Briere put in a rebound of a Nathan MacKinnon shot.  That was how it remained until the 13th minute.  The Caps moved the puck smartly out of their own end, Jay Beagle to Joel Ward in the neutral zone, then to Jason Chimera at the Colorado line.  Chimera took a couple of strides into the zone and placed a wrist shot over Berra’s glove on the far side, just inside the post to give the Caps a 2-1 lead going into the second intermission.

Tyson Barrie tied the game for the Avs 6:44 into the third period on a play that started when Nathan MacKinnon skated into the Caps’ zone and dangled the puck just out of reach of Jay Beagle.  MacKinnon threw the puck into the middle where Gabriel Landeskog was cutting in.  Landeskog skated the puck into the left wing faceoff circle, then sent it across to Barrie, who beat Mike Green into position to the left of goalie Braden Holtby.  Barrie had only to redirect the puck into the open side of the net, and it was 2-2 and looking as if the game would go to overtime.

Alex Ovechkin put an end to that thinking with teams going 4-on-4 late in the third period.  It started with Brooks Orpik backhanding a pass to an open Ovechkin on the right wing exiting the defensive zone.  Ovechkin carried the puck up the right side of the ice and into the Colorado zone where defenseman Jan Hejda was waiting.  Ovechkin tried to curl and drag the puck through Hejda’s legs and did manage to thread it through to his backhand.  His shot went wide and off the end boards, but the rebound came right back to him.  He slid the puck through on a bad angle past Berra, and the Caps had their game winning goal, sending the Caps home with a 2-1-0 road trip.

Other stuff…

-- Jason Chimera’s goal – his second of the season – broke a 13-game streak without one.

-- This was the Caps’ 12th one-goal decision of the season (5-4-3).  Only Anaheim, Chicago, and Colorado have played more, all with 13.

-- Alex Tanguay had one blocked shot for the game for the Avs, and it came at a price.  He was struck in the face by an Ovechkin shot 7:29 into the second period and did not return to the contest.

-- For Nicklas Backstom, his goal and assist combined for his sixth multi-point game of the season.  Ditto for Alex Ovechkin, whose goal and assist made it six times in the multi-point column this season.

-- Don’t look now, but Jay Beagle has points in four of his last six games.  It is the most points be has accumulated over any six-game stretch of his career (regular season) spanning 206 games.

-- Is Andre Burakovsky hitting a wall?  He did not register a point last night, the fourth straight game he has been held off the score sheet.

-- At the other end of the prospect chart, Evgeny Kuznetsov spent his second consecutive game with less than eight minutes of ice time (7:34).  It was also his second consecutive game without a shot on goal; he has two shots on goal over his last six games, four of which he skated fewer than ten minutes.

-- The Caps were charged with just one giveaway for the game (Colorado was charged with 13).  John Carlson was in the giving mood, if you are keeping score.  Not that it mattered a lot.  Carlson finished plus-2 for the evening.

-- Until Ovechkin scored with 5:56 left, he had gone seven straight games against Colorado without a goal.  He had not scored a goal against the Avalanche since potting one in a 5-3 win in Colorado on October 25, 2006.

-- The Caps managed to draw just one non-coincidental penalty for the game’s only power play.  Joel Ward managed the only power play shot of the game.  It did lift them out of the basement in the league rankings for total road power plays (18, one more than the New York Rangers), although their average of 2.0 per game still ranks last.  Colorado had no power plays.

In the end…

All things considered, not a bad road trip.  The Caps lost to a team that was very hot in the St. Louis Blues, then they ground out two one-goal wins in unfriendly confines, allowing only three goals in the process.  Braden Holtby was solid and might be turning a corner.  His 27 saves on 29 shots faced is the fifth straight game in which he allowed two or fewer goals (4-1-0, 1.59, .947).  He has climbed to 14th in the goals against average rankings (2.28), although he remains 28th in save percentage (.913, still two spots better the Henrik Lundqvist, so there is that). 

The Caps now get the woeful Buffalo Sabres on Saturday, and that assumes the Sabres can even get out of snow-bound Buffalo for the game at Verizon Center.  The Caps have the look of perhaps finally going on a roll that rewards their tighter sense of play over their first 19 games.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 19: Capitals at Avalanche, November 20th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals hope to wrap up their three-game road trip in a winning fashion and with a winning record as they visit the Colorado Avalanche in Denver on Thursday night.

The Caps are coming off a 2-1 overtime win against the Arizona Coyotes, the second time this season they won a game when scoring two or fewer goals (the other being a 2-1 Gimmick win over the Florida Panthers on October 18th).  After going 0-25-7 last year in games in which they scored two or fewer goals (including shootouts), the Caps are 2-5-1 in such games this season.

As for the Avalanche, they come into this contest having a difficult month of November.  In eight games so far this month, Colorado is 3-4-1, although they have won their last two games – a 4-3 trick shot win over the Rangers and a 3-2 win in New Jersey – to complete a 2-2-0 road trip.

On offense, the Avs seem stuck on “3.”  That would be the number of goals they scored in four of their last five contests, part of the 18 they have in eight games this month.  They have yet to score more than three goals in any of those eight games of November.

If we asked you who was leading the Avalanche in scoring in November, you might be inclined to answer Nathan MacKinnon or Gabriel Landeskog or Ryan O’Reilly.  We doubt that the name “Tyson Barrie” would have occurred to you, but that would be the correct answer.  Barrie’s six points for the month (all assists) has vaulted him into a tie for the team lead in points (13) with Matt Duchene.  Barrie is probably not well known to Caps fans, but his performance is not particularly surprising.  Last year, his third in the NHL, he finished 13-25-38 to finish one point shy of Erik Johnson for the team scoring lead among defensemen.

Up front, the precociousness of youth remains on display for Colorado.  Their own version of the “Young Guns” – Duchene, O’Reilly, Landeskog, and MacKinnon – are all 23 years of age or younger.  They also account for 17 of the 45 goals scored by the Avs through 19 games and six of the 18 scored by the club in November.  As a group they are 3-8-11 against the Caps over their respective careers, O’Reilly the only one not to have yet recorded a career goal against Washington.

In goal, the Caps seem unlikely to see their old friend, Semyon Varlamov.  His season has had its issues with consistency, perhaps due to distractions, perhaps due injury problems of the sort that plagued him in Washington and that will keep him out of this game. 

In his place is likely to be Reto Berra, a goalie of limited experience (37 career games, eight of them with the Avalanche over the past two seasons) and limited success (career: 11-19-4, 3.02, .896).  Berra has appeared in six games so far this season and is 2-1-1, 2.70, .914.  He has been quite inconsistent in limited play.  In his four starts this season his save percentages are .964, .889, .921, and .852.  The next in the series would be a .920-plus outing; on the other hand he has not appeared in a game since November 8th.  Against the Caps he is 1-0-1, 3.30, .905 in three career appearances.

Here is how the teams compare in their numbers through Tuesday’s games:

1.  There have been 706 skaters dressing for at least one game this season in the NHL. Defenseman Nick Holden is dead last among that group in plus-minus (minus-15).  It not as if he has been much better in terms of possession.  Only six players have a worse Corsi plus-minus than Holden (minus-117).  Among 437 players with more than 200 minutes of ice time, he has the tenth worst Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 (37.94).

2.  Colorado is really struggling with the second period.  They are minus-2 in the first and plus-1 in the third periods of games, but they are a whopping minus-10 in the middle period.  That is the second worst second period goal differential in the league (Buffalo is minus-11).

3.  The Avs have the league’s worst record in the league when leading after one period (2-4-0).  Only they and Dallas have winning percentages below .500.  They are better, but only marginally so, when leading after the second period (.400), but they are the only team in the league with a winning percentage below .500.

4.  If Colorado has a strength, it is one that matches the Caps’ strength.  The Avalanche are fifth in the league in penalty killing (88.2 percent), but they are even better at home.  They have allowed only two power play goals at home this season.  No team has allowed fewer on home ice, and only Detroit has a better penalty killing rate at home (94.4 percent) than Colorado (93.8 percent).  It will be a challenge for the Capitals’ power play.

5.  Colorado is not a very good possession team.  They rank 28th of 30 teams in Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 (43.51) and are minus-206 in Corsi events (numbers from  They have been outshot in 13 of 19 games so far this season with a record in those games on 3-6-4, 27th in winning percentage.

1.  The Caps do a much better job of leading after 20 and 40 minutes than they do of leading after 60.  They have taken a lead into the first intermission seven times while they have trailed only three times.  They have led after 40 minutes ten times while trailing just four times.

2.  Following on that first fact, the Caps have the fourth worst goal differential in the third periods of games (minus-7), undoing much of their earlier work (plus-5 in the first period, plus four in the second period).

3.  Washington’s ability to hold opponent shot totals down (26.8 per game) is the reason that they have the sixth best shot differential in the league (plus 3.3 per game).  Last season they were 27th (minus-4.1)

4.  Even with all the shot suppression, the Caps are just tied for 18th in goals allowed at 5-on-5.

5.  Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom have not had a “plus” game since November 2nd (seven game streak).  Even with that, the Caps are 4-2-1 in those games.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Colorado: Alex Tanguay

For all the youth available to the Avalanche, it is the old man, Alex Tanguay, who leads the club in goals scored (7).  Tanguay spent his first six seasons in Colorado before heading off to Calgary, Montreal, Tampa Bay, and Calgary again before landing in Colorado once more in 2013-2014.  Now in his 15th NHL season, Tanguay is closing in on 1,000 games played (957) and 800 points (784).  He has been hot lately, going 3-2-5 in his last six games, even if he doesn’t shoot all that much (ten shots on goal in those games, half of them against Toronto on November 6th).  He is 4-5-9 in 17 career games against the Capitals.

Washington: Jason Chimera

Jason Chimera earned an assist in the Caps’ 2-1 overtime win over Arizona on Tuesday when he set up Jay Beagle for the Caps’ first goal.  It broke a seven-game streak without a point.  He is still working on a 13-game streak without a goal and has only one this season.  He has not been immune to slow starts.  Last season he started the year with one goal in his first nine games and finished with 15.  Two years ago he went the first 27 games of the season without a goal and finished with three.  So, it might be hard to ascertain whether he is victim of a slow start, or he is in what might be a painful season-long rut.  His shooting percentage has been an issue in terms of its consistency.  He has never been an especially efficient shooter (only twice in 11 previous full seasons has he finished over 10 percent; career: 8.7 percent), but his 4.8 percent is something to notice.  He is 6-8-14 in 28 career games against Colorado.

In the end…

This is not last year’s Colorado team.  Except for their penalty kill, this is a team that ranks in the bottom third of just about every other meaningful statistic, fancy or not.  They do come into this game on a mini-winning streak, having won their last two contests.  However, they are struggling to score, and their number one goaltender has a wonky groin.  However, this is also a team that skated rings around the Caps last season, and Washington has found its own difficulty in scoring in the thin air of Denver with one goal in each of their last two visits there, both of them losses.  Things are different this time though, the Caps have a new coach and a new approach, the Avs are paying for what seemed like a deal with the Devil last season.  You know how this will turn out…

Capitals 3 – Avalanche 1