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