Friday, October 09, 2015

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 1: Devils at Capitals, October 10

The Peerless Prognosticator is BACK ON THE AIR!!!

When last we were together, we were in shock at the sight of Braden Holtby lying on his back in his own crease while a clot of blue-jerseyed New York Rangers were celebrating a game-winning, series-clinching overtime goal in Game 7 of the 2015 Eastern Conference semi-finals. 

Such endings, all too often in Caps history, make for early springs and long summers.  But autumn, in the inexorable march of time, is here at last, and a new NHL season dawns.  So much has happened between that end and this new beginning…
  • The Caps drafted a Russian goaltender in the first round – Ilya Samsonov.  Imagine that.  They haven’t done that since, oh, back in ought-six, when they took Semyon Varlamov.  Let’s hope it works out better this time.
  • We bid adieu to Joel Ward, Troy Brouwer, Mike Green, and Eric Fehr.  Among them, they compiled a total of 1,563 regular season and 178 playoff games with the Capitals.  They will be missed.
  • The team welcomed Justin Williams and T.J. Oshie to the club, the latter setting off one of the saddest reactions by a fan imaginable, and then a heartwarming reconciliation.

  • The Caps held development camp, an opportunity for fans to exclaim with certainty that all these young guys will be all-stars inside of three years.
  • New Horizons conducted a close fly-by of Pluto, the first spacecraft to visit that planet (ok, it’s NOT a planet, Dr. Tyson). 
  • Cuba and the United States reestablished diplomatic relations, ensuring that Havana is now on the list of potential NHL expansion cities.
  • Scientists announced the discovery of Homo naledi, a newly identified early human species. It was nicknamed, “Raffi Torres.”
  • NASA found water on Mars, setting off speculation that Mars would be actively explored as a potential NHL expansion site.
  • The Caps held rookie camp… Oh wait, they didn’t.  They took the rooks to Florida for a tournament.  They won one and lost a pair.
  • Pope Francis made his first visit to the United States and, while in Washington, managed to name a saint, end gridlock on the streets by forcing everyone to telework, inspired a Speaker of the House to quit, and do the impossible, get members of Congress to behave for an hour.
  • The U.S. House of Representatives had their Speaker quit in mid-session, have the presumptive replacement up and quit his campaign for the position, had a scandal bubble up over involving hanky-panky, then turn to a guy who lost an election as a Vice Presidential candidate.  He doesn’t want the job.
  • Washington did NOT shutdown.
  • Trevor Noah debuted as the new host of The Daily Show.  He’s got a lot of material to work with these days.
  • The Nobel Prize in Medicine was split and shared jointly by two researchers who made important discoveries in the fight against parasitic infections, and another researcher for her discovery of new therapies to combat malaria.  Guess we’ll have to wait until next year for the Prize to go to the researcher who finds a cure for the scourge of “lower body injuries.”
  • The Caps invited veteran Derek Roy to camp on a professional tryout contract.  He looked pretty good but was not tendered a contract by the club.  He signed with SC Bern in the Swiss National League A.  SC Bern, it is worth noting, has one of the creepiest hockey logos you’ll find…

We are not quite sure if that is a bear eating a hockey stick or something intended for adult audiences.

But here we are, Game 1 of the 2015-2016 regular season, the Capitals hosting the New Jersey Devils.  The Caps beat the Devils in four of five games last season.  It wasn’t pretty, if you were a Devils fan…

Last Season

Three wins by three or more goals, shutting out the Devils’ power play for the season.  The only Devils win was something of a fluke.  Braden Holtby looped around his net to stop a dump-in by the Devils.  He then turned to look for an outlet on the opposite side, but when he sent the puck along, he put right on the stick of Mike Cammalleri.  The results were predictable…

Absent that miscue by Holtby, he might have finished the year tied for the league lead in shutouts (he trailed by one), since this was the game’s only goal.

The History

This will be the 199th regular season meeting in this rivalry that dates back to 1974 when the Capitals and the Devils (then the Kansas City Scouts) were in their inaugural seasons in the NHL.  The Caps hold a 98-74-13-13 edge, but most of that occurred in the early days of the rivalry when the Caps went 52-20-4 against the Devils from 1980-1981 through the 1991-1992 season.

The last time the Caps opened their home season against New Jersey, they pasted the Devils, 7-2, back on October 9, 2010.  It was a game that had everything – power play goals (one for the Caps), shorthanded goals (one by each team), a penalty shot (missed by Alex Ovechkin), no fewer than four fights, including this memorable “sort of” scrap between Mike Green and Ilya Kovalchuk:

The Here and Now

Much is expected of the Capitals this season.  For the Devils, it is part of their Post-Brodeur/Post-Lamoriello rebuilding period.  It just is not a very good team.  They return only two players who recorded more than 40 points last season: Adam Henrique (43) and Mike Cammalleri (42).  Only one other returning player had more than 25 points last season, Patrik Elias (34).  It is a team that will depend, entirely too much in all likelihood, on goaltender Cory Schneider.  That he went 26-31-9 last season, despite posting a 2.26 goals against average (ninth of 30 goalies appearing in at least half of his team’s games), a .925 save percentage (fourth), and five shutouts (tied for eighth) speaks to the offensively-challenged nature of the Devils.

1. Adam Henrique’s team-leading 43 points last season tied for 127th in league scoring.  Troy Brouwer had 43 points for the Caps.  He was sixth on the team in points.

2. A total of 21 defensemen had more points than Adam Henrique last season.

3.  Cory Schneider played more than 3,900 minutes last year and recorded 26 wins.  Only one other goalie since 2005-2006 has played in at least 3,900 minutes and recorded 26 or fewer wins – Carey Price (3,944 minutes and 26 wins in 2011-2012). 

4.  The Devils had 20 players with at least 10 points last season.  Only 12 remain in the Devils organization.

5.  New Jersey was one of four teams with one 20-goal scorer last season (Cammalleri).  It was not a neighborhood in which one wanted to find oneself.  The other teams were: Arizona, Buffalo, and Carolina.

1.  Over a six-draft period (2004-2009), Caps players rank in the top-ten in points among four draft classes: Alex Ovechkin in 2004 (first), Nicklas Backstrom in 2006 (first), John Carlson in 2008 (ninth), and Marcus Johansson in 2009 (fifth).  Add to that Andre Burakovsky in 2013 (currently tenth) and that’s five Caps in ten draft classes (note: they did not have a pick until the fourth round in 2011).  Tom Wilson is just outside the top ten out of his 2012 class (11th).

2.  If Justin Williams (227 career goals) and T.J. Oshie (110) had played their entire careers with the Capitals, they would rank fourth and tied for 26th in team history in goals scored with the club.  Oshie would be tied with Craig Laughlin.

3.  Assuming Braden Holtby starts the opener, it will be his fourth straight call as the team’s goalie for the season opener.  The last time a goalie started the season opener in four straight seasons for Washington was 2003-2007 (Olaf Kolzig).

4.  The Caps and the New York Rangers were the only teams in the league last season to rank in the top-five in wins when leading after one period and when leading after two periods.

5.  While the Caps were good at holding leads, they were not so good in coming back when trailing.  The ranked in the bottom five in wins when trailing after one period (T-4th worst) and when trailing after two periods (T-3rd worst).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New Jersey: Mike Cammalleri

Mike Cammalleri has seen a lot in his 12 seasons in the NHL.  Five teams, 737 regular season games, and another 32 postseason games.  Now, in his second season with the Devils, he is the oldest player on the New Jersey roster (33).  Durability has been an issue with him over much of his career.  He played in more than 70 games just once in the last eight seasons.  It has not hampered his effectiveness too much.  Over those same eight seasons he is one of 31 players to appear in at least 500 games while averaging more than 0.30 goals per game and more than 0.70 points per game.  Last year had 27 goals in just 68 games.  There isn’t much reason to think he will slip much this season, health notwithstanding, and the Devils will need that level of production just to remain respectable.

Washington: Nate Schmidt

Here you go, kid… 68 games over two seasons, and you get to start on Opening Night for a team that’s thinking big thoughts this season.  Oh, and we still don’t quite know who your partner is, yet.  If any youngster can handle the new role and the uncertainty accompanying it for the time being, Nate Schmidt might be that youngster.  He comes from a storied NCAA program at the University of Minnesota and has spent parts of two seasons with the flagship franchise in the AHL, the Hershey Bears.  He’s played in places where much is expected. 

In the end…

It is easy to make too much of one game, but this game could reveal some hints about the Capitals.  Two issues spring to mind.  The first is the obvious one, how will Oshie and Williams mesh with their new teammates?  That they don’t on Saturday is no reason for Caps fans to inch their way to the ledge, but if they do, right out of the box, it would be a shot in the arm for a team missing its top line center. 

The second issue is a bit more subtle.  What is the “script” to which the Capitals are “sticking?”  Last year, the Caps were looked at as playing a “heavy” style of hockey.  The “heavy” part had a chunk of it removed in the off-season.  Joel Ward, Troy Brouwer, and Eric Fehr play elsewhere.  Oshie and Williams, while hardly shrinking violets, do not impress as being quite as "heavy" as those players they will be replacing. This will be, in all likelihood, a different style team from the one the Caps iced last season, and we’ll get a look at what that means early.  All things considered, though, this is one the Caps should put in the win column with some room to spare.

Capitals 5 – Devils 2

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