The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The Washington Capitals take the show on the road on Friday
night when they travel to Raleigh, North Carolina, to lock horns with an old
and familiar rival. The Carolina
Hurricanes, once of the Southeast Division, are no longer division-mates of the
Caps, but they remain familiar to the Caps and their fans.
One of the things that has become too familiar in Canes
Country is missing the playoffs.
Carolina has the fourth-worst record in the league and is all but
guaranteed to miss the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season. Carolina is on their third head coach (Bill
Peters, following Kirk Muller and Paul Maurice) since reaching the Eastern
Conference finals in 2009.
February has not been all that unkind to the Hurricanes, all
things considered, unless the object of the exercise is to maximize one’s
chances in the Connor McDavid Sweepstakes.
Carolina is 5-4-1 this month, although they have been outscored by their
opponents by a 30-28 margin. Special
teams have been just that in February for the Hurricanes, the power play going
8-for-33 (24.2 percent) and the penalty kill going 20-for-22 (90.9 percent).
Carolina’s February goal scoring is led by Jeff Skinner, who
has five for the month (5-0-5), all of them over his last seven games. His outburst comes after going ten straight
games without a goal and 19 games having scored only twice. Skinner has had something of an odd season in
that his points scoring at home has been comparatively sparse. While going 8-7-15 in 30 road games, he is
just 7-2-9 at home. On the other hand,
while he is a minus-1 at home, he is a minus-15 on the road. Fortunately for him, and the Hurricanes it
would seem, this game will be at home. In
23 career games against Washington, Skinner is 7-11-18, even.
It might be a measure of the Carolina scoring problems (they
rank 27th in scoring offense) that defenseman Justin Faulk leads the
team in February scoring (1-8-9) and for the season (11-27-38). He is tied for 12th overall in
scoring among league defensemen, but Faulk tends to get his points in
bunches. He is tied for third overall in
multi-point games by defensemen this season (11). It is his ability to distribute, though, that
makes the Hurricanes successful. He has
eight assists in 37 losses this season, but he has 19 helpers in 22 wins. Faulk is 2-5-7, even, in 16 career games
against the Capitals.
The Brothers Staal – Eric and Jordan – are not quite the
east coast version of the Sedins in Vancouver, but they have similar scoring
lines for February. Eric is 2-4-6, minus-3,
for the month, while Jordan is 3-3-6, minus-1.
Neither is having what one would consider close to a career year. Eric has 18 goals, which is on a pace to
leave him with more goals (27) than he has had since the 2010-2011 season (33),
but he is also on a pace for 27 assists, which would be his lowest total for a
season since his rookie year in 2003-2004 (20).
He is 16-15-31, minus-11, in 41 career games against the Caps.
Jordan is just 4-11-15, minus-1, in 23 games this
season. He lost the first 35 games of
the season to a broken right leg suffered in the preseason against the Buffalo
Sabres. He has been better of late, as
his February numbers attest, but he is still on a pace to finish with the
fewest goals in a season in his career (eight) and the fewest points for a
season (30) since he recorded 28 points in 82 games with Pittsburgh in
2007-2008. He is 7-3-10, minus-6, in 31
career games against Washington.
In goal, Carolina has alternated Cam Ward and Anton Khudobin
over the last seven games, but much of that is a product of back-to-backs,
Khudobin playing the back half of those sets twice in the space of a week. That suggests Ward will get the call. Ward was the goalie of record in the
Hurricane’s 4-1 win on Tuesday, his 500th game in the NHL and his
240th career win, all with Carolina.
He has won five of his last six appearances (5-1-0), posting a 1.98
goals against average and a .922 save percentage. He is 16-12-4, 2.56, .921, with four shutouts
in 33 career appearances against the Caps.
He has not faced Washington this season.
Here is how the teams’ numbers compare overall:
1. Carolina has a respectable
power play (18.5 percent/14th in the league) and an excellent
penalty kill (88.0 percent/1st).
So, what gives? The Hurricanes
are awful at even strength. More to the
point, they cannot score at 5-on-5. With
89 goals this season, they rank 28th overall in 5-on-5 scoring.
2. The even-strength
battle really has not gone any better in February for Carolina. They have been out-scored by a 28-19 (0.68
ratio of goals for/goals against) margin at evens, and only once in ten games
did they outscore an opponent at even strength (2-1 in the Hurricanes’ 4-1 over
Philadelphia in their most recent game, last Tuesday).
3. Scoring offense
has been a problem for Carolina over all 60 minutes. No team has a tighter spread of goals scored
in the three regulation periods than Carolina: 42 in the first period (24th
in the league), 44 in the second period (28th), and 43 in the third
4. You would think
that a team that has struggled as the Hurricanes have this season would have a
lot of three-or-more goal decisions, especially losses. They do not.
In fact, only four teams have fewer such decisions than Carolina (16): Florida
(12), Los Angeles (15), New Jersey (14), and Washington (12). Carolina does not even do all that badly, all things considered. Their 7-9 record in those games is 22nd
in winning percentage (.438).
5. There are things
that just do not make sense about Carolina, and possession is one of them. The Hurricanes rank 12th overall
in Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 (51.3 percent), although they do rank 18th
in Corsi-for in close score situations (50.4 percent). However, what stands out is their PDO number
(save percentage plus shooting percentage).
They rank 29th at 5-on-5 overall (97.1) and dead last in
close score situations (97.4).
1. When the Caps lost
to Pittsburgh on Wednesday night it marked the first time that they lost
consecutive games in regulation time since January 16/17 at Nashville (4-3) and
at Dallas (5-4). It was only the second
time they did so in almost three months, dating back to November 29/December 2.
2. The Caps are back
to their one-goal game ways. With three
straight decisions by one goal (1-2-0), the Caps once more lead the league in
one-goal games (38). Unfortunately, they
rank 22nd in winning percentage in those games (16-12-10/.421).
3. At the other end,
the Caps have the best winning percentage in games decided by three or more
goals (10-2/.833), and their two losses are less than half as many as the
closest team (Nashville: 5).
4. It seems clear
that to guarantee a win, the Caps need to finish a game with the same number of
shots on goal as their opponent. They
are one of seven teams with a perfect record when shots on goal are equal, and
no team has more wins (6). In fact, none
of the other six teams has more than three wins (Dallas).
5. The Caps could use
a little more puck luck on their end in close score 5-on-5 situations. Their PDO is in the middle of the pack
(100.2/15th), but the shooting percentage component of that is just
7.3 percent, 22nd in the league.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Carolina: Alexander Semin
Steve Austin was “The Six Million Dollar Man” of whom it was
said, “we can rebuild him…we have the technology…we have the capability…better
than he was before. Better…stronger…faster.” OK, so Alexander Semin is “The Seven Million
Dollar Man,” under contract with that average annual value through the
2017-2018 season. To date as a
Hurricane, Semin is 37-63-100, which would be an excellent scoring line over a
full season. Over 144 games, not so
much, especially since his points per game have gone from 1.00 in his first
season in Carolina to 0.65 last season to 0.40 this season. He has appeared in only 35 of Carolina’s 59
games this season. Fifteen of those
games were lost to a variety of injuries, but he has been sitting as a healthy
scratch from time to time as well. He
comes into this game with points in consecutive games (0-3-3) and five points
in his last six games. However, he has
just one goal in his last 15 games.
Semin is 3-6-9, minus-3, in 11 career games against his former team.
Washington: Brooks Laich
Brooks Laich had a modest two-game points streak stopped
when he went scoreless against Pittsburgh on Wednesday night. Even that modest streak could not hide the
fact that he is without a goal in his last 23 games. Part of it is getting shots on goal. His 34 shots in those 23 games is a shots per
game average (1.48) that is considerably lower than what his career average was
before that 23-game streak (2.02). It
has not, however, been that much different than it had been this season before
that 23-game run (1.46). For Laich, the
shots just are not coming. Whether it is
deployment, opportunity, or performance, his offensive production has been a
disappointment so far this season. He is
on a pace to finish the season with seven goals, which would be his lowest
total for a full season since his rookie season in 2005-2006, when he had seven
goals in 73 games. Laich is 8-9-17,
minus-1, in 48 career games against Carolina.
In the end…
We have a game that should provide a demonstration of the
Capitals’ ability to deal with an inferior opponent and move on. This game actually opens up a comparatively
weak portion of the schedule with games against Toronto and Columbus to follow,
then a game against Buffalo after hosting Minnesota. Still, Carolina is a team whose numbers look
better than their record, except for
that whole even-strength scoring thing.
The Caps should win the even strength battle in this game, which is
where it is likely to be settled.
Capitals 4 – Hurricanes 2