Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 3: Sharks at Capitals, October 14th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

After a quick trip to Beantown to sample the chowder and whoop the Boston Bruins last Saturday, the Washington Capitals return to home ice on Tuesday to meet the San Jose Sharks at Verizon Center.

The Capitals return to the friendly confines with a 1-0-1 record, a modest start in the eyes of some, but it is their best two-game start since 2011-2012.  And while it is only a two game start, revel in the fact, Caps fans, that in the all-important “plus-minus” statistic (see: “what matters for some players and not others”), no Capital – not even Alex Ovechkin – is a minus player.  None, nada.

The same could be said of their opponent.  And on top of that, the Sharks have yet to allow a goal so far.  Two games, two shutouts.  There was one for Antti Niemi on 34 shots in a 4-0 over the Los Angeles Kings and one for Alex Stalock in a 30-save gem in a 3-0 win over the Winnipeg Jets.

That goaltending duel for the Sharks might be something to watch as the season unfolds.  Niemi slipped some last season, seeing his goals against average climb from 2.16 in 2012-2013 to 2.39 last season and his save percentage dropping from .924 to .923.  Niemi was 20th among 28 goalies playing in at least 40 games in even-strength save percentage (.919), down from third in 2012-2013 (.930).

On the other hand, there is Stalock.  He has only 28 games under his belt, but he carries a career 1.78 goals against average and a .934 save percentage in those games.  Last season he was 12-5-2, .932, 1.87 with two shutouts in 24 appearances.  That is not necessarily an expected (or even a sustainable) result.  Stalock was a fourth-round draft pick of the Sharks in 2005 and had, for the most part, an unspectactular minor league apprenticeship (145 regular season AHL games, 78-53-10, 2.60, .909).

Here is how the two teams compared in their final numbers from last season:

1.  It’s early, but San Jose has been putting it to teams early.  Of the seven goals they scored in two games, three have come in the first period, four in the second.  And in both games they scored goals before six minutes were gone, one against Los Angeles (5:43 into the game), two against Winnipeg (3:22, 5:12).

2.  Balance, balance.  San Jose has only employed the minimum 18 skaters so far, five of them sharing in the seven goals (Patrick Marleau and Tommy Wingels with two apiece), 12 of them sharing in the points (Marleau leading with four), and 17 of them recording at least one shot on goal).

3.  No team allowed fewer power play goals than did the Sharks last season (33).  The trick was not to go shorthanded.  No team faced fewer shorthanded situations than did San Jose (219, 13 fewer than the New York Rangers).

4.  San Jose, at least last season, could beat you close and could beat you big.  They were the only team in the NHL to finish in the top-five in one-goal (4th), two-goal (4th), and three-or-more-goal (5th) winning percentage.

5.  San Jose was a superior possession team last season, but they under-performed their possession metrics.  The Sharks finished fifth in Corsi percentage at 5-on-5 (53.53 percent) and third in Fenwick percentage (54.44 percent), but they were only eighth in team goal percentage (53.31 percent).  

1.  OK, so it’s two games, but 26.5 shots against per game?  After two games last season the Caps had allowed 36.5 shots per game. 

2.  More from the “it’s early” file… Andre Burakovsky and Evgeny Kuznetsov are among 18 rookies who have recorded points so far.  Only Columbus, with three rookies getting points (Michael Chaput, Alexander Wennberg, and Marko Dano) have more.

3.  So far, only defenseman Matt Niskanen is averaging as many as 50 seconds per shift.  Last season, 12 Caps finished the season averaging at least 50 seconds per shift, let by Alex Ovechkin and Mike Green, who averaged 57 seconds each.  This season Ovechkin is averaging 47 seconds, Green is averaging 44 seconds.

4.  The Caps have one win in regulation time against San Jose at home since February 1999, a 4-1 win at Verizon Center on October 15, 2009.  The Caps are 1-7-2 at home against the Sharks over that span.

5.  Only six Capitals currently on the roster have scored goals against San Jose.  Alex Ovechkin has five of them; Nicklas Backstrom, Chris Brown, Eric Fehr, Dmitry Orlov (currently on injured reserve), and Joel Ward have one apiece.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

San Jose:  Joe Thornton

He is 35 years old, was stripped of his captaincy last August and selected one of four alternate captains, has one point in two games so far, is averaging the second lowest amount of ice time in his career (17:02).  But it’s early.  Still, it seems a bit odd the way a guy on the first year of a three-year/$20.5 million contract would be used.  It is not as if his production was dropping off the table.  Over the past four seasons he has averaged 0.88, 0.94, 0.83, and 0.93 points per game.  His cumulative 0.90 points per game over those four seasons ranks 22nd among all players appearing in each of those four seasons and appearing in at least 150 games.  Is he being slowly eased out?  Against Washington he is 12-24-36 in 37 career games.

Washington: Mike Green

Mike Green has never scored a goal against the Sharks.  Okay, that’s only five games worth of career history.  Still, San Jose is one of only five teams, all in the Western Conference, against which Green has never scored a goal (Chicago, Dallas, Nashville, and Phoenix being the others).  He scored in his personal opener against Boston on Saturday, but he also had only two goals in his last 20 games to finish last season.  In that opener against Boston, Green was fifth among defensemen in even-strength ice time, third in power play ice time (he scored his goal), and fifth in shorthanded ice time.  It would be understandable if Green was brought along slowly after recuperating from an injury in pre-season that extended into the first week of the season.  With the Caps’ defensive depth, it will be interesting to see where Green falls on the depth chart in the weeks ahead.  He is 0-1-1 in five games against the Sharks.

In the end…

The season opening string of tough opponents continues.  And while the Caps finally slayed the dragon that lurked in SAP Center for more than 20 years, denying the Caps a win since October 1993 until they won there last March, the Caps still have a grim home record against this team to address.  On win in ten games over more than 15 years is not the stuff to scare a visitor such as the Sharks.  But the Caps looked effective, if not efficient (based on possession numbers), in their shutout of Boston on Saturday.  The first goal the Caps score will be the first scored against San Jose this season, the Sharks being one of two teams remaining not having allowed a goal.  But San Jose has a formidable offense to go with that unblemished scoring defense.  The challenges have gotten progressively stiffer for the Caps to open the season.  Think of it as an opportunity to measure themselves against the best.

Capitals 3 – Sharks 2