Friday, February 27, 2015

The Long and Winding Road of Jaromir Jagr

Oh, what miles he has traveled.  Even William Shatner is going, "whoa..."  Jaromir Jagr has been there, done that, over and over in the NHL wearing the jersey of seven different teams in his 24 year professional hockey career, with a detour to Russia along the way.  Now he will head to his eighth NHL team, the Florida Panthers, after the New Jersey Devils traded him for a pair of draft picks yesterday.

It is hard to believe that it was almost 14 years ago that Jagr dropped in on Washington for almost three of those 24 seasons (between Pittsburgh and New York, in case you have forgotten).

And who knows, with Jagr set to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season and showing no signs of hanging up his skates, perhaps there is a new city to add to his impressive resume.  There are, after all, 22 franchises for which he has yet to play in the NHL (some, mostly Caps fans, would argue that there are 23 on that list, that he did not really play for Washington, at least not seriously).  He might even become the captain, one day, of an expansion franchise in Las Vegas, which would be an interesting capstone to his career.

Until that day, however, if and when he moves on once more, we must be content to ponder with awe and humility the map he has traveled in his legendary career.

Safe travels and fair winds, Jaromir.  Long may your baggage arrive safely at your destination.

(click on picture for larger image)

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 63: Capitals at Hurricanes, February 27th

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 period (26th).

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

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

As the Trading Deadline Approaches, Beware What You Ask For

We are in the last week of the National Hockey League’s answer to the bazaar, the intra-league trading period that will expire at 3:00 p.m. (Eastern) on March 2nd.  Social and mainstream media are doing a volume business in passing along rumors, tid-bits, and opinions about who will go where, and for whom as the deadline approaches.

For the Washington Capitals, it likely means being a buyer in the 2015 market.  The Caps, who are in fourth place in the Metropolitan Division and hold the first wild-card spot in the playoff rankings as of February 25th, have holes to fill and decisions to make with respect to roster players.  The big roster decision involves defenseman Mike Green, who will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season.  Green’s destiny is no doubt an interesting topic of discussion, but not one that we intend to pursue in this space.  Our focus today is on the history of roster trades in the modern era of Capitals hockey.

The “modern era” of Capitals hockey, defined here as that which started with the signing of George McPhee in June 1997, has a rich trading history.  In 15 trading deadline seasons (there was no such thing in the lost season of 2004-2005), the Caps have participated in no fewer than 50 deals (trades made within four weeks of the trading deadline), based on information gleaned from the Capitals Media Guide.  What is noteworthy about them is how few of consequence involved moving a roster asset (or more) in order to obtain a roster asset (or more).

Such deals are of particular interest here, not for the possible return, but for the assets that might be moved and the effects, some of which might not be anticipated.  When moving a current roster asset for improvement at the trading deadline, there is more than numbers at play.  The player (or players) moved have banked a lot of games, made a lot of contributions (or provided a lot of disappointment), and have made a mark in the locker room that they were about to leave.  This raises the touchy subject of “chemistry,” and whether the trade that looks so good on paper has the potential of blowing up in the team’s face because insufficient attention was paid to the effects moving a player might have on locker room dynamics or the effects the new player might have on same.

When one looks back at the history of trading deadline deals in Caps history, one notices that there have been few “roster-for-roster” deals in that history.  We found four (from the Capitals Media Guide).  Let us take them in chronological order (all trade information from

March 13, 2001 Caps acquired Trevor Linden, Dainius Zubrus and a 2nd round pick in the 2001 Entry Draft (later traded to Tampa Bay, Andreas Holmqvist) from Montreal for Jan Bulis, Richard Zednik and a 1st round pick in the 2001 Entry Draft (Alexander Perezhogin).

This is, bar none, the poster child of deals that looked good on paper and were something else on paper as it played out.  The run-up to this deal and its aftermath provide an interesting, and cautionary, historical context.  Starting with a win in Tampa against the Lightning on January 23rd, the Caps went 17-2-2 up to the trading deadline, including one of the more inspirational regular season games in their history, a 6-5 win over the Ottawa Senators in which the Caps trailed, 5-2, entering the third period (this was the Caps’ last game before the trading deadline).

At the time, the Caps had young assets in Jan Bulis or Richard Zednik (the players sent to Montreal), who were 22 and 25 years old at the time, respectively.  More important to the moment, both were making contributions for the Caps at the time.  In the 21-game run up to the trade, Bulis was 1-9-10 in 16 games; Zednik was 8-7-15 in all 21 games.

However, with a playoff run looming, getting veteran help was attractive, especially veterans with playoff experience.  Dainius Zubrus, who was just 22 years old himself at the time, was a veteran of 24 post season games with the Philadelphia Flyers, including a Stanley Cup final in 1997.  Trevor Linden was in his 13th season in the NHL, despite being just 30 years old, and had himself appeared in 73 post season games with the Vancouver Canucks, including a Stanley Cup final in 1994.  Even though Bulis and Zednik were roster players, the Caps were clearly trading futures for a chance to win at the moment.

It did not turn out as hoped.  The Caps lost the first five games they played after the trade (scoring only six goals and getting shut out twice), went 4-7-2 to end the regular season, and succumbed to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the playoffs in six games.  As for the new guys, Zubrus went 1-1-2, minus-4 in 12 regular season games and did not record a point in six post season games.  Linden went 3-1-4, plus-2 in 12 regular season games and did not register a goal in six post season games (he did have four assists).  For Linden it would be his lowest points contribution in the post season in his eight trips to the playoffs to date.

Even the aftermath was checkered in this deal.  Linden lasted 16 games into the following season with the Caps before he was traded to the Vancouver Canucks (the team that drafted him in 1988) along with a second round draft pick for a 2002 first round draft pick (that become Boyd Gordon) and a third round draft pick that would be later traded to Edmonton with a second round pick for Mike Grier. 

Zubrus would play another four-plus seasons with the Caps, but he did not reach the potential envisioned for him as 15th overall draft pick in 1996 by the Flyers any more than he did with Phiadelphia or Montreal before arriving in Washington, or in Buffalo or New Jersey, for that matter, after he was traded to the Sabres in 2001 with Timo Helbling for Jiri Novotny and a first round pick (that first round pick would later be traded to San Jose for two second round picks that took on lives of their own to become, eventually, Eric Mestery, Phil DeSimone, and Dmitry Kugryshev).

What looked so good on paper at the time, trading futures for veterans of the playoff wars, ended up being one of the most consequential trades in team history, and not in a good way.

February 26, 2008 Caps acquired Matt Cooke from Vancouver for Matt Pettinger.

When Matt Pettinger scored 20 goals as a 25-year old winger with the Caps in 2005-2006, then followed it up with a 16-goal season in 2006-2007, Caps fans might have thought that the team had a player who could contribute at the offensive end and rile opponents at the other end with his hard-nosed style of play.  Then the 2007-2008 season came along, and while the Caps were finding their legs for a long run to the playoffs under new coach Bruce Boudreau, who took over in late November, Pettinger was a player being left behind in terms of his performance. 

After recording just two goals in 56 games he was traded to the Vancouver Canucks for deadline rental Matt Cooke.  It was another case of a deal looking good on paper, an underperforming forward for a veteran who had the “grit” a team could use in the post-season (Cooke’s brand of “grit,” which often crossed the line of gentlemanly play, notwithstanding).

Cooke ended up being a decent contributor in the 17 regular season games he played for the Caps, going 3-4-7, plus-5 in 17 games, but doing most of that scoring damage against the weak competition of the Southeast Division (two goals, two assists in eight divisional games).  In the post-season, he was a ghost. No points and a minus-1 in the seven game series loss to Philadelphia in which he recorded only eight shots on goal. 

And, as soon as he arrived, he was gone…to Pittsburgh…to win a Stanley Cup the following season.  That is about as bad as it gets for Caps fans in terms of return on trade.

March 3, 2010 Caps acquired Joe Corvo from Carolina for Brian Pothier, Oskar Osala and a 2nd round pick in the 2011 Entry Draft (later traded to Calgary, Tyler Wotherspoon).

If you looked at this trade through a polarized lens tilted a certain way at the time, it made some sense.  Brian Pothier, who was signed away from Ottawa to a four-year/$10 million deal (when the Caps could not come to terms with Pothier’s teammate, Zdeno Chara, on a free agency deal), would suffer a concussion in early 2008 that kept him out of the lineup for more than a calendar year, contributing to his never performing to the level his contract suggested.  Oskar Osala was once thought of as a potential power forward but appeared to have plateaued in the Caps organization at the AHL level.

The return – Joe Corvo – had a reputation as an offensive defenseman, but the magnitude of his problems in the defensive end of the ice could only be appreciated seeing him up close in a Caps jersey.  Corvo would go 2-4-6, minus-4 in 18 games with the Caps to close the 2009-2010 regular season and would go 1-1-2, minus-2 in the seven-game upset loss to the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the post season.  He would be on ice for 22 goals against in the 18 regular season games he played with the Caps and another five goals against in seven games in the post season, despite skating far fewer minutes and with lighter responsibilities than defensemen such as Mike Green, Tom Poti, Jeff Schultz, or rookie John Carlson.  At the end of the 2010 post season, Corvo returned to Carolina as an unrestricted free agent.

February 28, 2011 Caps acquired Jason Arnott from New Jersey for David Steckel and a 2012 second-round pick.

You would have had to have been sailing on an ice floe not to know that Jason Arnott was on the Caps’ radar leading up to the trading deadline in 2011.  Filling the second line center role behind Nicklas Backstrom was proving difficult.  Marcus Johansson…too young.  Mathieu Perreault…too inconsistent.  Brooks Laich…maybe better suited to wing.  Boyd Gordon…lacked the skill set to be a scoring line center. 

When Jason Arnott was acquired from New Jersey for checking line center David Steckel and a draft pick, it seemed like an eHarmony match.  When Arnott displayed talents at being the “Semin Whisperer,” communicating with and coaxing an additional level of performance out of the mercurial Alexander Semin, he seemed even more the perfect fit.  Then he suffered a knee injury that kept him out of the lineup for a brief spell but which bothered him through the playoffs.  Nevertheless, Arnott was 1-5-6, plus-4, in nine playoff games for the Caps.  That the Caps were swept by Tampa Bay in the second round could not be laid at his feet (0-3-3, plus-2, in four games), but neither was his effort enough to prevent that second round elimination.  Arnott would not return to the Caps when his contract expired at the end of the season, choosing to sign with the St. Louis Blues, where he played his final NHL season.

Perhaps the Washington Capitals were just not very good at this whole roster-for-roster deal making at the trading deadline in the modern era.  While there is a new brain trust to manage the run-up to this year’s trading deadline, it is not all that different from what preceded it, since general manager Brian MacLellan has been with the club for 14 seasons, seven of them as assistant general manager for player personnel before ascending to the first chair in the front office.

It might cause some trepidation among Caps fans when one hears that a Curtis Glencross or a Jordan Eberle might be available to the Caps, especially if a roster player (or more) is part of the price of the deal.  The delicate chemistry, so difficult to quantify, that takes place over 60 games of a regular season can be undone by deals that look good on the printed page.  When your team has a checkered history in making such deals in its recent history, it should make one stop and think whether moving a Troy Brouwer or a Karl Alzner, or even a Mike Green, is in the best interests of the club beyond what the box car and underlying numbers might say.  It is not to say that such deals are doomed to failure for this club, but neither should anyone think that they are slam dunk deals to be made.  The hockey gods are not to be trifled with by making such assumptions.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 62: Penguins at Capitals, February 25th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

We are getting to that portion of the season when season series are wrapping up, and teams are wanting to leave an impression with those they might face down the road in the post season.  Such is the case as the Washington Capitals host the Pittsburgh Penguins in the fourth and final meeting of the clubs this season.

Washington has won the first three games of the 2014-2015 series against the Penguins, holding their nemesis to a single goal in 180 minutes of hockey to date while scoring ten goals of their own.  The Caps are 2-1-0 since their last meeting against the Pens on February 17th.  Impressive wins over the Winnipeg Jets (5-1) and the New York Islanders (3-2 in a Gimmick), playoff teams both, were followed up by an indifferent 3-2 loss in Philadelphia to the Flyers.

Pittsburgh also comes into this game with a 2-1-0 record since facing the Caps, a loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets (2-1) followed by wins over St. Louis (4-2) and Florida (5-1).  The consecutive wins by the Penguins represent a breakthrough of sorts.  It is the first time they came out with consecutive wins in regulation since blanking Edmonton (2-0) and Calgary (4-0) almost three weeks ago.

The Penguins might be discovering an important part of their game at the right time.  In nine games to open February, Pittsburgh failed to score on the power play, going 0-for-20.  Against both St. Louis and Florida, the Penguin power play went 1-for-3, Patric Hornqvist doing the honors in each case.  What makes this especially important to the Penguins is that Hornqvist missed 11 games to injury in January, the Pens going 4-4-3 in his absence.  He has three goals in his last two games after scoring just two goals in 12 games after his return to the lineup in late January.  If he is warming up, it could spell problems for the Caps on Wednesday night and for the Metropolitan Division down the stretch.  In ten career games against the Caps, Hornqvist is 2-2-4, minus-3, although he does not have a point in three games against Washington this season.

Evgeni Malkin also has three goals and two assists since he faced the Caps last week, the Pens’ lone goal in their 2-1 loss to Columbus and a pair (including the game-winner) in the 5-1 win over Florida in his last outing.  It was a welcome jolt of offense from Malkin, from the Penguins’ point of view.  After opening the 2015 portion of the season going 4-7-11 in his first nine games, including four multi-point games, Malkin had just one point (a goal) over his next six contests before this recent outburst.  In 28 career games against Washington he is 9-30-39, plus-1, but is without a point in two meetings against the Capitals this season.

Pittsburgh’s defense does not contribute a lot of offense after Kris Letang, but Letang is an impressive contributor.  His 47 point this season equals the combined output of the next three defensemen in the scoring rankings for the Penguins; his ten goals equal the total of the next four Penguins on the list.  It is an impressive comeback for a player who just a year ago was recovering from what was a career-threatening stroke and the discovery of a small hole in a wall of his heart.  His offense is accompanied by a physical edge that seems a bit inconsistent with his average size (6’, 201).  He is third among Penguin defensemen in hits and is one of only 48 defensemen in the NHL (of 285 to have dressed this season) to record over 100 hits (106).  Letang is 4-6-10, minus-14 in 22 career games against Washington, including an assist in three games against the Caps this season.

Here is how the teams compare overall…

1.  Pittsburgh is one of two teams going into Tuesday night’s games with five players having recorded 60 or more penalty minutes.  For the record: Steve Downie (189), Robert Bortuzzo (68), Evgeni Malkin (60), Simon Despres (60), and Zach Sill (60).

2,  Only two teams have allowed more shorthanded goals than the six allowed by the Penguins this season: Buffalo (8) and Toronto (9). 

3.  Pittsburgh leads the league in goals scored in the first period (62).  Their plus-19 first period goal differential is third-best in the league, behind only the New York Rangers (plus-22) and the New Jersey Devils (plus-21).

4.  Pittsburgh is one of only five teams to have won and lost more than ten decisions by three or more goals (13-10 record).  Toronto (15-14), Vancouver (14-10), Anaheim (11-11), and Colorado (10-11) are the others.

5.  The Penguins are a good possession team at 5-on-5, ranking ninth overall in Corsi-for percentage (51.9) and 10th in Fenwick-for percentage (51.8).  They are better in close score situations, ranking sixth in Corsi-for (53.2) and seventh in Fenwick-for (52.7).  
1.  The Caps are an efficient shooting team.  They rank seventh overall in shooting percentage at even strength (9.0 percent).  Their save percentage at evens ranks sixth (.923), meaning their PDO (or SPSV% in the new NHL advanced stats parlance) is 1013, fifth in the league.

2.  If we told you that Andre Burakovsky and Tom Wilson were the top two forwards in shotattempts/for per 60 minutes among Caps forwards, would you believe us? 

3.  Despite the fact that the Caps have allowed 30 or more shots on goal in five of their last seven games, they rank ninth in fewest shots per game allowed (28.8)

4.  Washington has the best winning percentage in the league when scoring first (28-1-4/.848).

5.  The Caps have slipped some in their overall possession numbers.  At 51.0 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5, they rank 14th; they also rank 14th in Fenwick-for percentage (51.1).  They are doing somewhat better in close score situations, ranking tenth in Corsi-for percentage (51.8) and 11th in Fenwick-for percentage (52.0). 

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Pittsburgh: Sidney Crosby

For a player who is tied for fifth in points overall and tied for third in assists this season, it seems odd that a question that comes to mind is, “what’s wrong with Sid?”  Sidney Crosby has scored points in bunches this season; he has 16 multi-point games this season (tied for eighth in the league).  What he has lacked is a certain consistency hockey fans have come to expect.  He has been held without a point 24 times in 54 games this season; last season he was held without a point just 20 times in 80 contests.  Of recent concern, his power play scoring has almost dried up.  From January 20th through February 19th, Crosby had one power play point (an assist) in 14 games.  Overall, he is 4-6-10, minus-2, over his last 15 games.  In 32 career games against the Caps, Crosby is 17-33-50, plus-2.

Washington: Tom Wilson

Only four members of the 2012 draft class have played in more NHL games to date than the Washington Capitals’ Tom Wilson, taken with the 16th overall pick in that draft. He happens to rank 13th in that class in NHL goal scored and 12th in points recorded.  Still, it seems as if Wilson’s progress has been something less than expected, at least by Caps fans.  Perhaps part of it is his 264 penalty minutes recorded in 130 games, more than twice as many as the next two players from that class on the penalty minutes list – Edmonton’s Nail Yakupov (74 penalty minutes) and Montreal’s Alex Galchenyuk (71).  And those minutes have been hard earned, what with 115 of them earned in 23 fights over his two seasons in the NHL.  His goal against the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday afternoon broke a 34-game streak without lighting the lamp.  However, his ice time continues to be managed closely; he has gone 28 games without skating 15 minutes in a game and is averaging just 11:22 this season.  He is without a point in seven games against Pittsburgh in his brief career to date.

In the end…

The top of the Metropolitan Division is looking like the last five laps of a NASCAR race with cars (or in this case, teams) drafting one another and moving up or back in the pack, depending on the day of the week and who is playing that night.  The Caps can jump past the Penguins into third place in the division with a win, but perhaps more important, they can sweep the series against Pittsburgh for the first time since the 2009-2010 season.  For the Penguins, the Metro has been a struggle.  With seven wins in 22 divisional games, only Carolina (five) has fewer.  We don’t think Pittsburgh will add to that total.

Capitals 4 – Penguins 2

Sunday, February 22, 2015

A NO-Point Night -- Game 61: Flyers 3 - Capitals 2

The Washington Capital could not turn four into five this afternoon at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.  Their four-game winning streak came to an end with a 3-2 loss to the Flyers in an afternoon contest.  With the loss, the Caps lost the season series to the Flyers, dropping three of four contests (1-2-1).

It was special teams that let the Caps down against the Flyers.  Washington gave up two power play goals, their first since allowing a power play strike to the San Jose Sharks on February 11th, breaking a streak of five games of perfect penalty killing.

The first of those power play goals came just 4:39 into the game when Claude Giroux converted from the top of the left wing circle.  The Flyers scored their second power play goal less than two minutes into the second period just after a 5-on-3 advantage expired when Wayne Simmonds whacked a rebound out of mid-air and past goalie Braden Holtby to make it 2-0, Flyers.

The Caps crawled back into the game less than four minutes later when a heavy forecheck produced an opportunity.  Michael Latta pressured Brayden Schenn into a poor pass from below his own goal line that ended up on the stick of John Carlson, who found Tom Wilson alone in the left wing circle.  Wilson one-timed the puck past goalie Rob Zepp to halve the Flyers lead 5:23 into the second period.

The Caps tied the game late in the second period when neither team was able to corral a bounding puck in the Flyers’ end.  Joel Ward did not bother trying to settle the puck, choosing to turn and fire it from the left wing circle, beating Zepp over his left shoulder at the 15:22 mark.

It might have gone to extra time that way, but the Flyers would avoid that fate when Jakub Voracek avoided two Capitals along the right wing boards to find Michael Del Zotto entering the offensive zone late.  Del Zotto took the pass on the left side and ripped a shot over goalie Braden Holtby’s left shoulder for the game-winning goal with 4:13 left, the Flyers coming out on top by the 3-2 margin.

Other stuff…

-- Tom Wilson’s goal broke a personal 34-game streak without a goal and a seven-game streak without a point.

-- Joel Ward’s goal was his seventh career goal against the Flyers.  He has scored more goals only against the Detroit Red Wings (11) in his career.

-- This was just the 17th game out of 61 in which neither Nicklas Backstrom nor Alex Ovechkin registered a point this season.  The Caps are now 9-5-3 in those games.

-- This was the first game in the 2015 portion of the season in which the Caps allowed an opponent two power play goals.  The last time it happened was December 29th in a 4-3 overtime loss to the New York Islanders.

--  A Caps-Flyers game generally involves hitting, and this game was no exception.  Fifteen skaters for each team were credited with hits, of which there were 79 in all (42 for the Caps).

-- When Brooks Laich assisted on Joel Ward’s goal, it made it points in consecutive games for the first time since he had points in consecutive games on January 4/7.  In those instances the points came on goals in each game, the last time Laich has scored a goal this season.

-- When the Flyers took a penalty in the last minute of the contest, Caps fans might have been counting on overtime.  However, the Caps failed to register a shot on goal in the 58 seconds of power play time, four of the five shot attempts being blocked by the Flyers, the other a miss at the buzzer.

-- It was a difficult day on the power play for the Caps, who managed only two shots on goal on five power plays and 8:58 of power play ice time (Ovechkin, Niskanen).

-- Jason Chimera’s fight against Zac Rinaldo was his first fight of the season and his first in a game against the Flyers in his career.

-- Andre Burakovsky sat out this game, the 16th game he has missed this season and second straight against the Flyers.  The Caps are 8-4-4 in games he sat out this season.

In the end…

It was special teams not being special that did the Caps in against the Flyers.  Two goals allowed in four shorthanded situations was bad enough, but coming up empty with just two shots on goal in five power plays was arguably worse, given that the Flyers were the 28th-ranked team in the league on the penalty kill.  It was part of an overall lackluster effort following a hard-fought win over the division leaders the previous afternoon.  Fortunately, the Caps get two days off before they host the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday, and one hopes the special teams will be more up to the task when that opponent comes to town.

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 20

For the Washington Capitals, Week 20 was about as good as it gets, perhaps their best week of the season.  Four games, four wins, two of them against divisional rivals (one of them the division leader), and a win against one of the best teams in the West.  If weeks were graded on a “plus-minus” basis, it would be hard to find much in terms of minus in Week 20.

Record: 4-0-0

The Capitals came into Week 20 having posted six three-game winning streaks this season. Each time they failed to add a fourth win.  The seventh time was the charm in this case as the Caps cobbled together their first four-game winning streak of the season and their longest winning streak since an eight-game winning streak late in the 2012-2013 season.  The week left the Caps with an 8-2-0 record over their last ten games (currently the best ten-game record in the Metropolitan Division) and sitting in third place in the Metropolitan Division, tied with the New York Rangers in standings points (the Rangers have three games in hand) and four behind the New York Islanders. 

Offense: 3.75/game (season: 2.93 /game; rank: 7th)

It was a week for the big guns to lead coming out of the gate and for the support troops to end it on a high note.  Alex Ovechkin had his second four-point game of the season to open the week, a two-goal/two-assist game against the Anaheim Ducks in a 5-3 win.  Ovechkin had a goal and an assist in the Caps’ 3-1 win over Pittsburgh, then Nicklas Backstrom took over with a pair of goals and an assist in a 5-1 win over Winnipeg.  In the last game of the week it was Matt Niskanen getting his first even-strength goals with the Caps this season and Eric Fehr breaking an eight-game streak without a point to score a late goal in the Caps’ 3-2 Gimmick win over the New York Islanders.  In the trick shot phase of that game it was Evgeny Kuznetsov scoring the only goal, giving him four goals on seven freestyle attempts this season, the best shooting percentage (57.1) among Caps having taken more than one shot this season.

Defense: 1.75/game (season: 2.42 /game; rank: 5th)

It was a deceptive week in some respects.  The scoring defense was impressive, especially when considering that the Caps faced the fourth and ninth best scoring offenses in the league in the Islanders and the Ducks.  Add in Pittsburgh’s always dangerous Sidney  Crsoby/Evgeni Malkin duo (14th-ranked scoring offense), and it was quite a test for the week.

OK, so that is the context.  The Caps did allow an average of 29.5 shots against for the week, but that number includes only 20 shots allowed to the Winnipeg Jets in a 5-1 win.  But here is where it gets a bit strange.  The possession numbers for the week were middle of the road.  Overall the Caps had a Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 of 48.5 and a Fenwick-for percentage of 50.2.  The numbers improved, but not significantly, in close score situations (50.7 Corsi, 50.3 Fenwick).  But here is the thing.  That last game of the week against the Islanders, the Caps were Corsi plus-7 in close score situations (all numbers from 

That number includes some bizarre period-by-period results (if not unexpected, given how the game played out).  The Caps out attempted the Islanders by a 30-17 margin in the second period after out-attempting them 10-9 in close score situations.  Carrying that 40-26 advantage into the third period the Islanders flipped the switch and ended regulation with a 24-19 advantage in the third period.  Consider that in a span of 4:36 in the third period between Eric Fehr’s goal to put the Caps ahead, 2-1, and Ryan Strome’s goal to tie the game with 48 second left, the Islanders out-attempted the Caps, 14-0.  That is not a misprint.  The Islanders attempted 14 shots on goal (seven SOG, including the game-tying goal) to none for the Caps.  Fehr’s goal was the last shot attempted by the Caps in regulation time.  Too much “prevent” defense prevents wins in regulation time, and it took a bite out of the Caps at the end of regulation in Saturday’s game.

Goaltending: 1.71 / .942 (season: 2.36 / .917 / 6 shutouts)

It was a very good week, quantitatively and qualitatively.  As to the latter, Justin Peters got a start, opening the week against the Anaheim Ducks.  It was not the easiest of assignments, given that the Ducks were averaging 2.84 goals per game at the time.  Peters stopped 30 of 33 shots, including all nine in the third period and 24 of the last 25 shots he faced for the game in a 5-3 win.  Braden Holtby played in the other three games for the week and allowed only four goals on 88 shots (.955 save percentage).  He ended the week as the third-leading goalie in goals against average (2.14) and tied for fourth in save percentage (.925).

Power Play: 6-for-17 / 35.3 percent (season: 24.3 percent; rank: 2nd)

The Caps scored as many power play goals in Week 20 as they did in the previous four weeks combined (six).  It was their most effective week (35.3 percent) in a week with five of more power plays since Week 8 (57.1 percent) and their second best of nine weeks this season in which they had ten or more man advantages (Week 5: 4-10/40.0 percent).  It was an effective power play, fueled by the usual suspects. Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom had two power play goals apiece; Ovechkin had two assists and Backstrom three.  Mike Green added three assists. In all, seven players shared in the power play points for the week.  It was, perhaps, a bit of an unusual result, given that the Caps managed those six goals on 24 shots in 26:34 of power play time.  Averaging a bit less than a shot per minute of power play ice time is not particularly impressive, but the results for Week 20 certainly were.

Penalty Killing: 11-for-11 / 100.0 percent / (season: 81.4 percent; rank: 16th)

The Caps killed all 11 shorthanded situations for Week 20, the second time this season in 11 instances that they were perfect in killing ten or more such situations.  It was an especially good week given that three of the opponents were in the top half of the league power play rankings.  One might have liked the Caps to do it a bit differently, but one should not be too picky here.  As it was, Caps goalies stopped all 26 power play shots they faced in 21:08 of shorthanded ice time.  And it was not as if the Caps were confining shots to bit players.  Corey Perry recorded five power play shots for Anaheim.  Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby had a pair of shots apiece.  They did keep John Tavares from getting any shots on goal with the man advantage for the Islanders in the last game of the week and kept things to the outside against the Jets on Thursday, so one could see improvement in terms of keeping the more dangerous shooters in check.

Even Strength Goals for/Goals Against: 9-7 / plus-2 (season, 5-on-5 goals for/goals against ratio: 1.08; rank: 12th)

Win the even strength battle, win the week.  It was true for the Caps, who won two games outright (against Anaheim and Winnipeg) and held another opponent even (the Islanders) at even strength.  Only against Pittsburgh, against whom the Caps allowed just one even strength goal (their first goal against the Caps in three games this season), did the Caps lose the even strength game within a game.  They won the shots battle for the week at even strength (99-94) and split the games, recording more even strength shots against Anaheim (23-22) and Winnipeg (21-14) while losing that battle to Pittsburgh (23-24) and to the Islanders (27-29).

Faceoffs: 123-235 / 52.3 percent (season: 51.0 percent; rank: 13th)

It was a good week overall, if a bit uneven.  The Caps were under 50 percent in the offensive zone for the week (48.1 percent), but were over 50 percent in the other two zones (defensive: 54.1 percent; neutral: 55.0 percent).  It did not keep Washington from winning three of four games in the circle and holding a fourth opponent even.  On an individual level Nicklas Backstrom had a very good week – 59.5 percent overall and excellent in all three zones (offensive: 56.8 percent); defensive: 66.7 percent); neutral: 53.3 percent).  Eric Fehr also had a fine week, going 34-for-60 (56.7 percent).

Goals by Period:

What jumps out here, in more ways than one, is the fact that the Caps allowed only one third period goal all week.  That lone goal was the difference between a 4-0-0 week and a perfect 4-0-0 week in which all games were won in regulation time.  It was the goal that the Islanders scored with 48 seconds left in regulation that was the lone third-period blemish in Week 20.  Even with that goal, the Caps jumped into ninth place in the league in fewest third period goals allowed (48).

At the other end, the story was balance.  Six first period goals four second period goals, and five tallies in the third period made for a productive week.  Those six first period goals allowed the Caps to either take a lead into the first intermission (twice) or hold opponents even at the break (twice).

In the end…

It is really difficult to make up ground late in the season in the NHL.  Need convincing?  The Caps started Week 20 in fourth place in the Metropolitan Division, seven points behind the New York Islanders.  Despite playing four games, a generally heavy work load for a week, and winning them all, the Caps finished the week in third place, four points behind the Isles, who were 2-1-1 for the week.

Nevertheless, the 4-0-0 week, coming with just 22 games left in the season, might be an indicator that the Caps are ramping up their performance as the playoff approach.  This was always the hoped-for result, that whatever difficulties they might encounter with yet another head coach taking over at the start of this season would evaporate as they became accustomed to playing in the manner Barry Trotz wanted them to play.  The defensive shell the Caps retreated into at the end of the game of their last game of the week was something of a disappointment, not to mention frustrating, but these are wins in the bank against some difficult opponents, a couple of which they might be seeing down the road.  Week 20 was a very good week.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Alex Ovechkin (4-4-8, plus-4, one game-winning goal, 16 shots on goal, 41 shot attempts)
  • Second Star: Braden Holtby (3-0-0, 1.30, .955)
  • Third Star:  Nicklas Backstrom (2-5-7, 2 PPG, 47-for-79 on faceoffs (59.5 percent))

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 61: Capitals at Flyers, February 22nd

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals go right back at it after their 3-2 Gimmick win over the Neqw York Islanders yesterday when they head up I-95 to take on the Philadelphia Flyers in a nationally-televised matinee at CoreStates First Union Wachovia Wells Fargo Center.

The Caps head up to Large Banking Conglomerate Center with a four-game winning streak in their pocket, their longest of the season. They will be looking to extend it to five games, which would be their longest winning streak since authoring an eight-game winning streak to open April in the 2012-2013 season.

As for the Flyers, they continue to hang around the edge of relevance in the playoff race, starting the day in tenth place in the Eastern Conference, four points behind the Boston Bruins for the second wild card spot, but with the Bruins holding a game in hand.  Not that their record has shown much in the way of desperation lately.  The Flyers are 3-3-4 in February after closing January with a four-game winning streak.  One of those three wins have come at the Caps’ expense, though, a 3-1 win in Washington o February 8th.

With the quick turnaround in games we do not have the full prognosto treatment this morning, but we do have some facts with which to beguile and impress your friends and aggravate your foes.

-- This is the 12th back-to-back set of games for the Caps this season.  They have swept both ends of the games twice – wins in Chicago (3-2) and at Carolina (4-3 in overtime) on November 7/8 and at Ottawa (2-1) and against Anaheim (3-2 in a Gimmick) on February 5-6.

-- This will be the 11th back-to-back for Philadelphia (they defeated Nashville yesterday, 3-2 in a Gimmick).  They have lost both ends of the back-to-back six times and have three wins in ten tries in the back half of those games. The wins have come at Pittsburgh (5-3 on October 22nd), at Winnipeg (4-3 in overtime on December 21st) and at Pittsburgh in their last instance (3-2 in overtime on January 20th).

-- The Caps allowed the Islanders only a single power play chance in yesterday’s game.  It was the fourth time in their last ten games that the Caps held an opponent to one power play.  It matched their total number of games holding an opponent to one or no power plays over their first 50 games.

-- The Flyers have four players with 20 or more power play points (by way of comparison, the Caps have two).  Claude Giroux (27), Jakub Voracek (25), Wayne Simmonds (20), and Mark Streit (20) are the four.

-- Alex Ovechkin was held without a goal yesterday.  That is news, in and of itself, since he has 22 goals in his last 25 games.  However, over those 25 games it was only the eighth game in which he was shut out from goal scoring.  He has not gone consecutive games without a goal over his last 29 games (24 goals scored) since he had a four-game streak without a goal, December 11-18.

-- Claude Giroux does not have a goal for the Flyers in his last 11 games and has only four assists.  He comes into this game on a four-game streak without a point.  Jakub Voracek has a total of two goals in his last 16 games (including an empty-netter against the Caps on February 8th).

-- Nicklas Backstrom had a three-game streak without a point, November 11-18.  Since then he is 14-34-48 in 42 games and has only once had consecutive games without a point (February 5/6).

-- Wayne Simmonds has seven goals in his last 11 games for the Flyers.  He is 4-5-9 in 19 career games against the Caps.

-- If Justin Peters gets the start in goal against Philadelphia on Sunday, he will be swimming upstream against his career record.  He is 1-2-0, 3.66,.889 in four career appearances against the Flyers.  His career road record is 11-23-4, 3.27, .899, with one shutout.  That includes a record of 1-3-0, 3.89, .869 in five road games this season for the Caps.

-- Rob Zepp got the nod in goal for the Flyers yesterday against the Predators.  It would suggest that Ray Emery would get this afternoon’s start against the Caps, although Zepp faced only 22 shots in yesterday’s trick shot win.  Flyers fans might be secretly wishing Zepp can recover quickly.  In the 2015 portion of the season, Emery is 3-5-3, 3.31, .885.

In the end…

This could be the firewagon hockey game that was not played at Verizon Center yesterday (or at Huge Banking Firm Center yesterday).  Backup goalies, deep offenses, a rowdy crowd, national TV…what more could one ask for on Hockey Day in America?  Oh yeah… a Caps win.

Capitals 5 – Flyers 4

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 60: Islanders at Capitals, February 21st

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals take the ice on Saturday afternoon against the New York Islanders looking to do something they have not done this season.  Seven times this season the Caps have put together three-game winning streaks, and six times so far they have failed to make it four in a row.  On Saturday they get to try once more to get that fourth straight win, this time against the Metropolitan Division leaders in their last meeting of the regular season.

The six times the Caps went into a contest with a chance to win a fourth game in a row ended like this:
  • vs. New Jersey: 0-1
  • vs. Columbus: 2-3 (OT)
  • at NY Rangers: 2-4
  • at Philadelphia: 2-3 (OT)
  • at Nashvllle: 3-4
  • vs. Philadelphia: 1-3
This time, the Caps look for that fourth straight win having won seven of their last nine games (7-2-0).  In doing so, they outscored opponents by a 28-18 margin.  Much of that has been the product of special teams, where the Caps have put together a power play successful nine times in 31 chances (29.0 percent).  On the penalty kill they are 19-for 22 (86.4 percent) in those nine games and have empty net shorthanded goals in each of their last two contests.

For all their success in their last nine games, however, the Caps have not gained any ground on the Islanders, who are also 7-2-0 in their last nine games.  That nine-game run for the Isles started as if they were the kings of the 3-2 decision.  In the first five of those nine games New York played to a 3-2 decision four times, winning all of them.  Lately, however, they have been winning in a more convincing style.  In winning three of their last four games, all three wins have been of the three-or-more goal variety.

Special teams for the Islanders have been a bit uneven over those last nine games.  The power play was 2-for-7 in the first three of those games before going four games without a goal.  It came to life in the last two games, though, with a goal in each to make the power play 4-for-25 in the 7-2-0 run (16.0 percent). 

The penalty kill has been another story.  After going 7-for-10 in the first four of those nine games, the penalty kill is perfect over the last five games (13-for-13 over the last five contests for an overall 20-for-23 record (87.0 percent)).

Individually for the Islanders it has been a case of the old and the new doing the damage.  As for the “old,” John Tavares is 6-5-11, plus-4, in the nine-game run up to this game and has a four-game goal streak.  He has been a big-time player in the 2015 portion of the season, going 14-14-28 in 22 games with 10 multi-point games to his credit.  His recent production has lifted him into the top-five in both goals (29, tied for fifth) and points (60, fifth in the league).  Tavares is 10-8-18, plus-1, I 20 career games against the Caps.

The new is rookie Anders Lee, who is 4-6-10, plus-3, in this nine-game stretch for the Islanders, including a four-assist game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Valentines’ Day.  Lee, a former sixth-round draft pick who has played parts of two seasons with the Islanders before this season, ranks sixth among rookies in total scoring (30 points) and is third in goals (19).  He has appeared against the Caps four times in his brief career and has three goals, one in each of the three games played against Washington so far this season.

On the back end, defenseman Travis Hamonic has been something of an assist machine for the Islanders, recording seven helpers in the 7-2-0 run.  It is out of the ordinary for Hamonic, who has not been an especially prolific point producer in his five-year career.  The seven assists in his last nine games is part of a longer one in which he has 10 in his last 13 games, bringing his season total to 18 assists overall.  Goal-scoring is another matter.  Hamonic does not have one in his last 31 games, dating back to November 26 when he scored one against, who else, the Caps.  He is 3-5-8, minus-1, in 16 career games against Washington.

Here is how the teams compare overall:

1.  When the Islanders lost to the New York Rangers, 6-5, on February 16th it was their first loss in the Metropolitan Division since they lost to the Caps on November 28th and their first loss at home to a divisional opponent this season.  They are 19-3-0 against teams in the division.

2.  New York is the only team in the league to have scored 60 or more goals in both the first and second periods of games this season.  They would be the only team to score that many or more in all regulation periods, but they have only 59 in the third periods of games so far this season.

3.  Only Tampa Bay (142) has scored more goals at 5-on-5 than the Islanders (132).  That would be more impressive but for the fact that New York has allowed the ninth-most goals at 5-on-5 (114, tied with Minnesota).

4.  The Islanders do not put themselves in disadvantageous positions, at least with respect to man advantages.  Only five teams have been shorthanded fewer times this season than the Islanders (162), and only four teams have done so on the road (86).

5.  New York is a very good possession team, carrying into this game a Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 of 53.4 percent, fifth in the league.  They are better in close-score situations at 54.4 percent, second best in the league.

1.  The 13 goals scored by the Caps in their last three games is the most they compiled over a three-game stretch since Games 2-4 this season, when they combined for 15 goals over three games against Boston (a 4-0 win), San Jose (a 6-5 Gimmick loss), and New Jersey (a 6-2 win).

2.  Alex Ovechkin is 22-11-33 over his last 24 games, scoring 30.1 percent of the 73 goals scored by the Caps in that span on his own and having a hand in 45.2 percent of the total when his assists are added in.  Over that same span, Nicklas Backstrom is 7-20-27, his name appearing in 37.0 percent of the Caps’ scoring plays.  Backstrom (63 points) and Ovechkin (60) make the Caps the only team in the league with two 60-point scorers.

3.  Washington and Nashville are the only teams in the league with two defensemen with 36 or more points.  For Nashville it is Shea Weber and Roman Josi with 42 points apiece; for the Caps it is John Carlson (40) and Mike Green (36).

4.  When the Caps score first, they win.  No team has more wins than Washington when scoring first (28).  No team has fewer losses in regulation in those situations (one, tied with Nashville).

5.  One might like to see the Caps improve their possession numbers late in games.  In third period, close score situations the Caps have a Corsi-for percentage of 51.9, 12th in the league.  Their Fenwick-for percentage is somewhat better in those situations (52.9; ninth in the league). 

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New York: Jaroslav Halak

Jaroslav Halak is not assembling an especially impressive season, numbers-wise, in goal for the Islanders.  He is 22nd in goals against average (2.47)  and 30th in save percentage (.911).  What he does is do just enough to win; he is tied with Montreal’s Carey Price for second among goaltenders with 32 victories.  However, he has not improved with time this season.  Over his first 18 appearances, Halak was 14-4-0. 2.05, .926, with three shutouts.  Then he ran into a buzz saw called the St. Louis Blues, who lit him up for 11 goals on 72 shots in consecutive appearances.  Including those two games, Halak is 18-8-0 over his last 26 appearances, but his performance numbers have deteriorated, a 2.76 goals against average and .901 save percentage in those 26 games.  He is 6-4-0, 2.67, .896 in 10 career appearances against the Caps, including a pair of wins this season.

Washington:  Evgeny Kuznetsov

For what seems like forever, the Capitals have been searching for a consistent, reliable center to man the second line behind Nicklas Backstrom.  They have had one-year fixes and trading deadline fixes, but no one to take hold of the position from within the organization. Evgeny Kuznetsov might finally be that player.  Although he has been quiet of late (one point in his last five games), he is still 2-7-9, plus-5, over his last 13 games.  He is tied for ninth among rookies in overall scoring (24 points), tied for third in power play scoring (8 points), and sixth in plus-minus (plus-10), despite ranking 65th in average ice time (12:44/game).  Kuznetsov is 2-1-3, plus-1, in four career games against the Islanders.

In the end…

On the one hand, the Caps have not lost to the Islanders in regulation time this season.  On the other, they have only one win in three games.  That is what a pair of overtime power play goals against will do.  That makes this less a “statement” game than a “demonstration” game, the Caps demonstrating that they are a team superior to one that has built much of its record in the extra time portion of contests.  The Islanders have a 12-1 record in extra time this season (best record in the league), 7-1 in trick shot competitions.  These two clubs have been playing to similar records recently and have similar records in regulation time this season (Islanders: 27-19; Capitals: 26-17).  It should make for an entertaining contest, one that by game’s end should see the Metropolitan Division get just a little tighter.

Capitals 3 – Islanders 2