Sunday, November 29, 2015

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 7

The longest week of the season to date for the Washington Capitals was the best one to date.  The Caps had their first clean week since Week 2 and ended it by tying their longest winning streak of the season.  It truly was a week for Capitals fans to give thanks.

Record: 4-0-0

The Caps went into Week 7 having split the first two games of their season-long five-game home stand.  Their last three games of that stand would be against three teams of different pedigree.  There were the young and speedy Edmonton Oilers, there were the tough and gritty Winnipeg Jets, and there were the deep and experienced Tampa Bay Lightning.  The Caps amply demonstrated that they have the capacity to play effectively against such a range of styles, posting a shutout and two two-goal wins over the three teams.  Then, to cap things off in a holiday week to celebrate, the Caps visited Toronto to wrap up a back-to-back set of games (playing Tampa Bay the previous night) and pulling away from the Toronto Maple Leafs with another two-goal win.

Offense:  3.50/game (season: 3.22 /game; rank: 4th)

The Caps had trouble finding their stride in Week 7, held without a goal on 15 shots over two periods against the Edmonton Oilers and goalie Anders Nilsson in the first game of the week.  However, the Caps then scored 14 goals in their next nine periods.

The Caps spread things around, too.  Nine different players recorded goals for the week, five of them recording a pair – Dmitry Orlov, Alex Ovechkin, Justin Williams, Marcus Johansson, and Jason Chimera.  There were 14 players who finished the week with points, led by Evgeny Kuznetsov (1-4-5) and John Carlson (0-5-5).  What is noteworthy about the first two sentences in this paragraph is that no player’s name appears more than once.  Balance.

The Caps finished the week with three two-goal wins, giving them 11 multi-goal wins this season.  That ranks third in the league behind the Montreal Canadiens (15) and the Dallas Stars (12).  Their winning percentage in such games (.786) is second only to the Canadiens (.882).

Defense: 1.75/game (season: 2.22/game; rank: 4th)

The Caps spent the first six weeks of the season cultivating a reputation for being stingy with shots and shot attempts.  That reputation would be challenged in Week 7 against teams that, whatever their defensive issues, could score goals.  The Caps did allow the Edmonton Oilers to break the 30-shot barrier in the first game of the week, just the third time in 20 games any team recorded more than 30 shots against Washington.  After holding the Winnipeg Jets in check – 26 shots against in a 5-3 win – the Caps allowed more than 30 shot in consecutive games for the first time this season, 34 to each of the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Here is the odd thing about Week 7, though.  The Caps had what for them was a poor possession week.  Well, perhaps inconsistent.  Their Corsi-values at 5-on-5 overall (47.7 percent) and in close score situations (47.3) were a departure from their highly ranked possession numbers going into the week.  Their score-adjusted values (50.0 percent) were not poor, but certainly not up to their standard over the first six weeks.  What made it especially out of character was that the worst game of the week was against perhaps the weakest team overall – Edmonton.  The Caps’ 44.7 percent score-adjusted Corsi in that game was their second-worst game of the season (November 20th at Detroit: 43.2) and worst at home this season (numbers from

Goaltending: 1.75 /.945 / 1 shutout (season: 2.09 / .921 / 1 shutout)

Week 7 was the Braden Holtby Show.  Holtby got all the minutes in goal, and he made them count.  He started the week with a 33-save shutout, finished it with stopping the last 15 shots he faced over 33:34 in the 4-2 win over Toronto.  With the 4-0-0 week he extended his personal winning streak to seven games, his career best.  In those seven games he is 7-0-0, 1.85, .935, with one shutout.  In winning the first three games of the week at home, Holtby improved his home record this season 10-2-0, 1.84, .933, with one shutout.

Holtby was more efficient as games went on.  His save percentages by period were .932 in the first periods of games, .938 in the second period, and .961 in the third period of games.  The only two third period goals he allowed on a total of 51 shots faced came in a game the Caps led, 4-0.  Holtby had a typically fine week overall. At week’s end, he was ranked highly in a variety of categories (minimum: 500 minutes):
  • Wins: 15 (1st)
  • Goals against average: 1.95 (1st)
  • Save percentage: .926 (9th)
  • Minutes: 1136:13 (8th)

Power Play: 6-for-12 / 50.0 percent (season: 26.8 percent; rank: 3rd)

The Caps had their best week of the year on the power play in Week 7, both in goals scored (six) and efficiency (50.0 percent).  They did it with something old and something new.  The old was Alex Ovechkin, who recorded a pair of goals with the man advantage, his second and third power play goals of the season.  Ovechkin had been shooting in bad luck, recording only one power play goal on 33 shots (3.0 percent) entering Week 7.  He finished the week 2-for-11 (18.2 percent), much more in line with his career shooting percentage (14.6 percent) on the power play.

The new was Jason Chimera, who had a hand in half the team’s power play goals in Week 7 (1-2-3).  He doubled his power play point total for the season and has set a personal best in that category, his six points (3-3-6) surpassing his previous career best of five points, set twice.  Chimera is now fourth on the team in power play scoring, his six points trailing only Nicklas Backstrom (9), John Carlson (9), and Evgeny Kuznetsov (7).

Carlson had an interesting week.  He had three power play assists. That lifted him into a tie for fifth place among defensemen in power play assists for the season (7) and a tie for third in power play points (9).

Overall, the highlight was the Caps lighting up the Lightning for three power play goals on 11 shots on four power plays.  It was the highest power play goal total for a game this season to date and their highest since scoring three on four chances in a 5-4 Gimmick loss to Montreal last April 2nd.  The last time they had more power play goals in a game was November 5, 2013, when they had four in six chances in a 6-2 win over the New York Islanders.

For the week, the Caps managed six goals on 27 shots (22.2 percent) in 19:21 of power play ice time (1.40 shots per minute).  It was a very good week overall.

Penalty Killing: 7-for-9 / 77.8 percent (season: 83.3 percent; rank: 9th)

The penalty killers have slipped a bit of late.  After posting an 85.7 percent efficiency rate in Week 5, Washington has dropped in each of the last two weeks, a 77.8 percent rate in Week 7.  In fact, over the last four weeks the penalty killers are 21-for-27 (77.8 percent).  This week the key was holding down the opportunities.  Three times in four games they faced just two shorthanded situations.  Unfortunately, they allowed goals in two of those games.

The thing is, the penalty killing was not as bad as the outcomes suggest.  They penalty killers did a good job of keeping puck from getting to the net, allowing only ten shots in 13:06 of ice time (0.76 shots per minute).

Even Strength 5-on-5 Goals for/Goals Against: 8-5 / plus-3 (season, 5-on-5 goals for/goals against ratio: 1.31; rank: 3rd)

The bedrock number one might point to in terms of outcomes as the basis for success is winning the even-strength goal scoring battle.  The Caps won three of the games in that regard in Week 7, losing only the third game of the week when they allowed two even strength goals to Tampa Bay, scoring one of their own.  Only three teams have scored more 5-on-5 goals this season than the 47 such goals the Caps have (Dallas, Montreal, the Rangers).  If there is an odd number here it is that Alex Ovechkin did not record an even strength goal for the week.  Nevertheless, he finished Week 7 having scored more 5-on-5 goals than any player in the league (9; minimum: 250 minutes).

Faceoffs: 124-for-241 / 51.5 percent (season: 50.8% / rank: 9th)

It was a good week overall for the Caps in the circle, but as happens with such things at an individual game level, it was up and down.  The Caps alternated winning and losing games in the circle; their offensive and defensive end performances being almost mirror images of one another. 

Washington won the faceoff contest against Edmonton (58.5 percent) and Tampa Bay (55.4 percent) while losing it to Winnipeg (42.6 percent) and Toronto (48.3 percent).  The problem was not in the offensive zone, where the Caps won 46 of 81 draws for the week (56.8 percent) and did 50 percent or better in all four games.  Nor was it in the neutral zone, where Washington went 40-for-73 (54.8 percent) and also did 50 percent or better in all four games.  The defensive end was another story.  The Caps managed only one 50-plus percent performance for the week in their own end and won just 38 of 87 draws overall (43.7 percent).

Four Caps had more than 20 faceoffs for the week and three of them finished at or over 50 percent – Nicklas Backstrom (50.0), Jay Beagle (55.8), and Evgeny Kuznetsov (55.2).  Only Michael Latta finished under 50 percent (39.1 percent) an uncharacteristically low percentage of wins for a player who entered the week winning 58.5 percent of his draws.

Goals by Period:

The Caps won every period of the week overall.  In fact, at the individual level they only lost one period, that being the third period of their 4-2 win over Tampa Bay when they Caps were outscored, 2-1.  By period, their record was 6-1-5.  If nothing else, it is a reflection of the Capitals’ consistent effectiveness, their ability to beat or hold teams even on a period-to-period, game-to-game basis.

In the end…

Weeks do not get better than this often for teams at this level of play, even very good ones.  The perfect week catapulted the Caps to the top of the Metropolitan Division, one point ahead of the New York Rangers, who have lost three in a row and over whom the Caps hold a game in hand.  They have the second-best record in the Eastern Conference and are within the games in hand held over the Montreal Canadiens of tying the Habs (four point deficit, two games in hand).

The Caps did it in Week 7 with balance and an opportunistic bent.  They spread the points around, stepped up on the power play when the even strength scoring lagged a bit, and got superb goaltending from Braden Holtby.  It has been the formula for success all season.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Braden Holtby (4-0-0, 1.75 GAA, .945 SV, 1 shutout)
  • Second Star: Jason Chimera (2-2-4, even, 7 SOG, 1-2-3 on power play, set personal career high in power play points for season)
  • Third Star: Evgeny Kuznetsov (1-3-4, plus-4, 55.2 percent on faceoffs)

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Washington Capitals Recap: A TWO-Point Night: Capitals 4 - Maple Leafs 2

The Washington Capitals ended the November portion of their schedule on a high note, defeating the Toronto Maple Leafs, 4-2, for their fifth straight win.  With the win, the Caps jumped over the New York Rangers to grab the top spot in the Metropolitan Division.

Jason Chimera got the Caps off and running early when he collected a loose puck at the top of his own crease and headed up ice on what would eventually be a 2-on-1 rush with Andre Burakovsky on his right.  Chimera carried the puck in and called his own number from just inside the top of the left wing circle, beating goalie Jonathan Bernier to the long side past Bernier’s glove at the 3:43 mark.

Toronto tied the game less than three minutes later on a put-back goal by Peter Holland from the hash marks at the inside edge of the right wing circle.  That would be the way the first period ended, but the Caps would break on top early in the second, thanks to a gift from the hosts.  A dump-in by the Caps was stopped by Bernier, who left it for Morgan Rielly.  For just a moment, Rielly took a look back to see who was trailing, and it was enough to allow the puck to slide off the toe of his stick.  It was teed up nicely for Tom Wilson closing on the play, and Wilson made the Leafs pay, curling the puck back to his forehand and sliding it gently through the five hole and just over the goal line to make it 2-1 just over four minutes into the period.

The Leafs tied the game for a second time on a power play goal by Leo Komarov, but that tie did not last long.  With the Caps on their own power play mid-way through the period, John Carlson fed Alex Ovechkin for a one-timer from the left wing circle.  Ovechkin’s shot struck the shaft of Roman Polak’s stick, then caromed to the front of the net where it hit Marcus Johansson in the leg and popped into the back of the net to make it 3-2 at the 11:08 mark.

The Caps converted another power play just over two minutes later.  Chimera took a pass from Nicklas Backstrom and carried the puck down the right side. Heading down the wall after he crossed the Toronto blue line, he backhanded a pass to the middle where Justin Williams was filling in.  Williams one-timed a shot past Bernier’s blocker, and it was 4-2 at the 13:26 mark of the second period.

The Caps eschewed playing “prevent” defense with a two-goal lead and put on a clinic in playing keep-away with the puck below the Maple Leaf faceoff circles for long stretches over the last 26 minutes.  It did not make for much in the way of scoring chances of their own, but they kept the Leafs bottled up in their own zone, skating off with a 4-2 win in the end.

Other stuff…

-- This is the second time in team history that the Caps recorded 17 wins in their first 23 games.  The other time was in 1991-1992 when they went 17-6-0, making this their best 23-game start ever (17-5-1).  In their last 82 regular season games the Caps are 52-22-8 (112 points).

-- Braden Holtby won his seventh straight decision, a personal best.  In those seven games he is 7-0-0, 1.85, .935, with one shutout.

-- When Jason Chimera recorded an assist on Justin Williams’ power play goal in the second period, it was his sixth power play point of the season (3-3-6).  That is a career high in power play points for Chimera.  Twice before this season he had five, in 2007-2008 with Columbus and in 2013-2014 with the Caps.  Both times he had a goal and four assists.

-- The win was the Caps’ fifth in a row, tying their longest winning streak of the season (October 15-23).

-- Nine different players recorded points.  Chimera finished with two, his fifth multi-point game of the season and third in nine games.  Chimera matched his multi-point game total of each of the past two seasons.

-- How suffocating was the Capitals defense late (or perhaps more precisely, their offensive zone cycle)?  After Justin Williams’ goal, the Caps held Toronto to just 12 shot attempts at 5-on-5 over the last 26:34.

-- Marcus Johansson’s goal was his fifth of the season.  He is the seventh Capitals to reach five goals this season.

-- The win made the Caps 5-1-0 against the Atlantic Division and 9-3-0 against the Eastern Conference.  Their record against the East is the second best, by percentage of games won, to Montreal (14-0-2).

-- Tom Wilson’s goal was his first of the season and broke a 19-game streak without scoring one.

-- The Caps went 2-for-3 on the power play.  That makes them 6-for-9 over their last three games and has lifted the Caps into third place in power play efficiency (26.8 percent).  Their special teams goal differential (power play and shorthanded goals for less power play and shorthanded goals against) of plus-10 is second best in the league (Montreal: plus-11).

In the end…

As November inches toward its close, the Capitals and the Montreal Canadiens are the class of the Eastern Conference.  With the New York Rangers having lost their third straight game on Saturday, the Caps and Canadiens have the top two records in the conference (the Caps have a game in hand on the Rangers, two on the Canadiens).  They are the only teams in the conference – in the league, in fact – with a goal differential per game of 1.00 or greater.  They have the second and third best power plays in the conference; they rank sixth (Washington) and first (Montreal) in penalty killing.  They rank first (Montreal) and second (Washington) in score-adjusted Corsi in the East.

And now, as the calendar turns over to a new month, the Caps and the Canadiens will meet this coming Thursday in what might be a benchmark game for both teams.  The Caps have four days off to recharge and prepare for that game after finishing the month with a fine 9-3-1 November, three of the four losses by a single goal.  It is a rest well-earned...

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 21: Jets at Capitals, November 25th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals end the pre-Thanksgiving portion of their season on Wednesday night when they host the Winnipeg Jets at Verizon Center in the first meeting of the teams this season. 

The Capitals come into this game having posted the second-best 20-game record in team history.  Their 14-5-1 record is surpassed only by their 15-5-0 record to open the 1991-1992 season.  There are two important difference between that 1991-1992 club and this one.  The more recent version of the Caps reached the 20-game mark without having lost consecutive games. 

Not so, the 1991-1992 club, which lost consecutive games in Vancouver to the Canucks and in Winnipeg to the original incarnation of the Jets after an 8-1-0 start.  That leads into the second difference between the clubs, the Caps having swept their western Canada trip this season, defeating Vancouver, the Calgary Flames, and the Edmonton Oilers, while the 1991-1992 club lost two of three on their western Canada swing, beating only the Edmonton Oilers in the first game of that trip.

The current incarnation of the Winnipeg Jets arrives in Washington giving thanks that November is almost at an end.  The Jets are 3-7-1 in 11 games this month, and while they seemed to be climbing out of their downward spiral with a pair of wins last week in consecutive games against Vancouver and Arizona, they dropped a 4-1 decision in Colorado against the Avalanche, a team the Caps defeated by a 7-3 margin last Saturday.

Winnipeg’s problem this month has been that they do not travel well.  The Jets are 1-5-1 in seven road contests and have lost five in a row (0-4-1).  Those games have not been close for the most part.  In being outscored, 33-15, over those seven road contests this month.  Four of the losses have been by multi-goal margins, three of them by three or more goals.  And, their special teams have been borderline awful.  The power play is 1-for-22 in seven road games this month (4.5 (percent), while the penalty kill is 24-for-31 (77.4 percent).

If not for Bryan Little playing on the road portion of the Jets’ schedule this month, they would be a quite a bind.  Little has four of the Jet’s 15 goals in road games this month and seven points overall, both numbers leading the team.  The November spurt in away games this month has left Little something of a road warrior.  He is 7-4-11 in 12 road games this season, 2-5-7 in 10 games at home.  He is 11-6-17, even, in 38 career regular season games against the Capitals.

Dustin Byfuglien is next on the team in road goal scoring this month.  The 11-year veteran has a pair of road goals this month and six goals overall this season.  If there is an odd aspect to his offensive profile this season it is the absence of multi-point games.  Last season, Byfuglien had nine multi-point games in his last 44 contests of the season.  This season he has points in 11 of his 22 games (of his eight of his 12 road games), but all of them were single-point games.  Byfuglien is 5-7-12, minus-7, in 23 career regular season games against Washington.

Blake Wheeler does not get a lot of attention when it comes to listing the top right wingers in the NHL, but if you look at the list of right wingers who, since the 2010-2011 season, have averaged at least 0.75 points per game (minimum: 200 games), there is Wheeler, one among ten such right wingers. He is actually even more productive since being sent to the Winnipeg Jets (then the Atlanta Thrashers) with defenseman Mark Stuart by the Boston Bruins for Rich Peverley and Boris Valabik in February 2011.  In 334 games since arriving with the franchise he is averaging 0.82 points per game.  This year he has 22 points in 22 games, one of three right wingers averaging at least one point per game (Patrick Kane and Vladimir Tarasenko are the others).  Wheeler is 5-8-13, plus-2, in 27 career games against the Caps.

Here is how the teams compare overall:

1.  Dustin Byfuglien has more goals (six in 22 games) than the rest of the defensive corps combined (four in 110 combined man-games).

2.  Only New Jersey has scored the first goal of a game fewer times (six) than the Jets (seven).

3.  Only Montreal has more shorthanded goals scored this season (five) than Winnipeg (four).  It’s a good thing, since the Jets are tied for the most power play goals allowed this season (19, with Boston).

4.  The Jets can make a team pay at 5-on-5.  Only two teams in the west have more goals scored at 5-on-5 than Winnipeg (39) – St. Louis (41) and Dallas (45).

5.  Winnipeg is a rather good possession team on the road, at least better than their record suggests.  They have a Corsi-for in all situations of 50.7 percent, seventh in the league.  They rank 10th in score-adjusted Corsi-for (51.2) and 12th in close score situations (50.0; numbers from

1.  The Caps have had an odd pattern of late.  Over their last eight games they have alternated games with a power play goal and games without one.  If the pattern holds, they will have at least one in this game.

2.  The Caps have had six power play chances in two of their last eight games.  They had five such games all of last season.

3.  Washington has the largest positive shots on goal differential in the league -- plus-5.1 per game.

4.  The Caps are one of six teams that are perfect for the season when leading at the intermissions.  They are 5-0-0 when leading at the first intermission, 8-0-0 when leading after two periods.

5.  One home possession number than could use some shoring up... Corsi-for in close score situations.  The Caps' 50.5 percent ranks just 16th in the league (numbers from

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Winnipeg:  Michael Hutchinson

Last season, the Winnipeg Jets could not settle on just who was their number one goaltender.  Ondrej Pavelec got 50 appearances, but when the backup – Michael Hutchinson – gets 38 games without significant injury losses for the other goalie (Pavelec lost six games in March to a lower body injury), there are some unresolved issues at the position.  Well, things have taken a turn.  Pavelec is out until January with a “significant" knee sprain (undoubtedly another specie of “lower body injury”),” and Hutchinson will be the number one netminder for the foreseeable future.  He has not responded particularly well.  His record in November is 1-4-1, 3.62, .873.  The problem is that Hutchinson’s backup is Connor Hellebuyck, who has yet to appear in an NHL game and has only 68 games of pro experience, all in the AHL. Hutchinson, if called upon, would be making his first NHL appearance against the Caps.

Washington: Jay Beagle

Jay Beagle is something of a good luck charm for the Capitals this season.  He has points in six games (3-4-7), and the Caps are 5-0-1 in those games.  And it is not as if it is a new experience.  The Caps were 15-0-1 in the 16 games in which he registered a point last season.  Washington was 6-0-2 when Beagle recorded a point in 2013-2014.  The last time the Caps lost a game in regulation when Beagle recorded a point was back on January 27, 2013, a 4-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers when Beagle had an assist on the only goal.  Since then, Washington is 30-0-4 when Beagle puts a crooked number on the score sheet.  He is 1-1-2, plus-1, in 12 career games against the Jets.

In the end…

The turkey will undoubtedly taste better on Thursday with a win on Wednesday.  And for the Caps, getting served a team that has had as much difficulty on the road as the Jets, not to mention the inexperience in goal they will present, makes this a game that the Caps should win.  It offers a particular opportunity for Washington to find some success on its power play against a team that has allowed at least one power play goal in six straight games overall (19-for-28 on the penalty kill – 67.9 percent) and in five of their last seven road games.  A win would give the Caps their longest winning streak since a five-game streak in mid-October.  We’re thinking it’s going to happen.

Capitals 4 – Jets 2

Washington Capitals: 20 Games In, Then and Now

The Washington Capitals are 20 games into the season.  It is their second-best 20 game start in club history, their 14-5-1 record eclipsed only by a 15-5-0 start in 1991-1992.  We will not bore you with the details of how that 1991-1992 season unfolded (hint: poorly*).  This is a time to compare this fine 20-game start with last year’s.  First, let’s take a look at a team-wide level as some selected metrics comparing this year to last:

It certainly looks as if the Caps are more comfortable with the systems and approaches of head coach Barry Trotz than they were at this time last season when it was all still new to them.  Improving by almost a third of a goal a game in scoring offense, whittling the goals against by more than 15 percent, and expending the goal differentials from a plus-0.15 to a plus-0.85 are sure-fire ways, at the high level of metrics, to improve the 20-game performance by eight points, year-to-year.

That 0.85 positive goal differential is especially interesting, not only because keeping score is the object of the exercise.  The 2009-2010 Capitals, the gold-standard for regular season performance in the post 2004-2005 lockout era, had a plus-1.05 goal differential.  That team did it with overwhelming offense.  This team does it with balance.

They also do it at 5-on-5, a weakness in this club at this point last season.  The 1.29 goals-for/goals-against ratio at 5-on-5 is a 43 percent improvement on last season, and the Caps rank third overall in that metric among the league’s 30 teams.

The special teams are not a lot different, looking at the special teams index (power play plus penalty killing percentages), but they got to their respective 20-game marks in different ways.  The power play is a bit less efficient than it was last season, a reduction of 4.4 percentage points from this time last season, and that is largely a product of the odd drop-off in power play production by Alex Ovechkin (four power play goals through 20 games last season, one so far in 20 games this season).  If he had the same four power play goals this season as last, all other things equal, the Caps’ power play would be almost the same 25.8 percent) as last year’s at this point (25.4 percent).

On the other hand, the penalty kill has improved in two important respects.  First, there is the efficiency aspect of it. The current version, with a 2.9 percentage point improvement over last season, is ranked fifth in the league (through Monday’s games).  The second item is in the shorthanded instances faced.  The Caps are down by eight from last season, a 12.9 percent reduction.  Not having to face as many shorthanded situation not only lowers the number of opportunities for opponents to take advantage of man advantages, it allows the Caps more time to work at 5-on-5, where they have been very effective.

What is a bit odd in the team-wide numbers is the possession statistics.  Score-adjusted Corsi-for and Fenwick-for percentages are not much different this year than last (numbers from  Both sets of numbers are on the good side of 50 percent.   In an odd way, the lack of change here but the improvement of other numbers (goals-for-goals against ratio, for instance) might reflect a better understanding or roles and responsibilities this time around that influence the Caps’ ability to finish plays rather than just run them.

On an individual level, it is interesting to take a look at the top dozen scorers for the Caps this season who are returnees from last season (you will notice a noteworthy absence here, but we will get to that):

(click for larger image)

For this group, as a group and as individual, it is another case of what a difference a year makes.  Eight of the 12 have improved on their 20-game goal scoring performance over last season, although there are effects of differences in games played, year-to-year, among the players at the low end of the list (Wilson, Laich, Orpik, and to a lesser extent Burakovsky).  Eight players improved on their point totals (the same caveat about games applying).  The difference in plus-minus is dramatic, a 53-point improvement as a group, nine of the individuals improving on last year’s 20-game values.  Even shots on goal represents a group improvement, although one thing that is interesting is that Marcus Johansson, who adopted a “shoot-first” mentality to start last season, is off a bit on his shots on goal from last year’s 20-game start.

The possession numbers, reflected in score-adjusted Corsi-for percentages at 5-on-5 are broadly better.  Ten of the 12 players saw their numbers improve, last year to this, and in the case of Wilson and Laich there might be the effect of numbers of games played affecting the results (both missed a number of the first 20 games last season).

The one returnee not accounted for among the individuals is Evgeny Kuznetsov.  No Capitals has improved so dramatically, year-to-year, as has Kuznetsov.  Through 20 games last season, of which he appeared in 19, he was 1-5-6, plus-2, with 23 shots on goal.  This season those numbers are 7-14-21, plus-10, with 38 shots on goal.  Here is the thing, though.  His score-adjusted Corsi-for percentage is marginally lower this season (50.9) compared to last (51.6; numbers from  You might consider this the change in quality of linemates and ice time.  Last season, he had more than 15 minutes of ice time only three times in 15 games.  This season it is 19 times in 20 games.  And, getting a lot of first line minutes with Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie has not hurt.  If there is a difference among the skaters this season for the better, Kuznetsov is it.

At the other end of the ice, consider the year-to-year performance of goalie Braden Holtby:

A slow start last year has not been repeated this season.  His 12 wins is tied for the league lead (through Monday’s games).  Among goalies with 500 minutes played, Holtby is second on goals against average and tenth in save percentage.  He has allowed three or fewer goals in 15 of 16 appearances, two or fewer in 12 of them.  Compare that to last season when he allowed four or more goals in three of 15 appearances through 20 games and allowed three in just 9:34 before being pulled in a 6-5 shootout loss to the San Jose Sharks.  Perhaps more impressive is his rebound control – not shots, but rebounding after taking a loss on his ledger.  He was good after losses over the first 20 games last season: 6-1-1, 1.98, .928, but that is also seven instances of having to rebound from a loss.  This season, there have been fewer instances of having to rebound from a loss he sustained, but in those less frequent instances he has been extraordinarily stingy, a 1.25 goals against average and a .953 save percentage.

In the end…

Any way you look at it, this 20-game version of the Washington Capitals is quite an improvement over last season.  And if there is any validity to the idea that you get an idea of a team’s personality after 20 games, what Caps fans have is a very good team, but they knew that already.  What is more pleasant to consider is that they are much better than they were at a comparable stage last season, and there might be more improvement to come.

*  The Caps finished the 1991-1992 season with a 30-22-8 record in their last 60 games (it was an 80-game season), then took a 3-1 lead in games in their opening round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, blasting the Pens by a 7-2 margin to put them on the brink of elimination.  However, the Caps then dropped the last three contests of the series, all by multi-goal margins.  It was the first time the Caps were eliminated from the playoffs by the Penguins after taking a 2-0 or 3-1 lead in games.  It would not be the last.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Washington Capitals Recap: A TWO-Point Night: Capitals 1 - Oilers 0

Sometimes a game is “best in show,” and sometimes it’s a mutt.  But in their own way, all wins are lovable, and the Washington Capitals escaped their battle against the Edmonton Oilers with a 1-0 win at Verizon Center on Monday night in what would qualify as the latter sort of game.

For much of the game the Caps were out-shot, out-worked, and out-hustled by the speedy Oilers, but they would not be outscored.  That the Caps were not out-scored was a product of a howitzer of a shot by defenseman Dmitry Orlov late in the third period.  It started with Brooks Laich doing battle with Mark Fayne along the right wing wall in the offensive zone. Laich won the battle to move the puck down the boards to Tom Wilson, who sent a centering feed to Michael Latta closing on the Oiler net.  The pass was too strong for Latta and sailed all the way through to the left wing wall, off which the puck rebounded sharply.  It served to set up a shot from just inside the top of the left wing circle that Orlov leaned into, sending the puck over goalie Anders Nilsson’s left shoulder and into the top of the net.  That would be all for the scoring as Caps’ goalie Braden Holtby turned away all 33 shots he faced to seal the 1-0 win.

Other stuff…

-- The Oilers won the possession battle, launching 68 shot attempts at the Washington net to 54 for the Caps.  The edge was 54-43 at 5-on-5.  However, the 5-on-5 battle slowly turned the Caps’ way as the game wore on.  Edmonton had a 25-13 edge in shot attempts at 5-on-5 in the first period.  That edge was whittled down to 14-10 in the second period.  In the third period, the Caps flipped the script, out-attempting the Oilers by a 20-15 margin (numbers from

-- For Braden Holtby it was his first shutout of the season, coming in his 16th contest.  For those keeping score, he had one shutout in his first 16 appearances last year, too, on his way to nine for the season. 

-- Alex Ovechkin was plus-1.  We mention that because in some circles, that number still seems to be held important.  He has only two “minus” games this season and is a plus-11 overall, tied for eighth best in the league this season (tied for fourth-best among forwards), pending results of Monday’s games.

-- Orlov’s goal was his first game-winning goal since his first NHL goal, the game-winner in a 2-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes on January 15, 2012…

-- The 33 shots on goal allowed by the Caps was a season high by an opponent.  The San Jose Sharks had 32 shots on goal in a 5-0 win in Game 2 back on October 13th.

-- On the other side, the Caps recorded 30 shots on goal in this game, the third consecutive game they finished with 30 or more shots in a game and ninth in ten games this month.  Last season, their longest streak of 30 or more shots in a game was three, accomplished three times.

-- The Caps were 13-for-20 on faceoffs in the offensive end, and that includes a 1-for-4 effort from Evgeny Kuznetsov.

-- Washington was credited with 28 hits to just 14 for the Oilers.  Alex Ovechkin had a team-high seven.

-- The fourth line of Brooks Laich, Michael Latta, and Tom Wilson combined for just two shot attempts, both shots on goal by Laich, and one of Laich’s shots on goal was while skating with Evgeny Kuznetsov and Justin Williams on the ice.

-- This was the 48th 1-0 decision in Capitals history.  Their record improved to 25-20-3.  They are 1-1 in such decisions this season, dropping a 1-0 decision in Detroit on November 10th.

In the end…

In two games against the Oilers this season the Capitals demonstrated that they can win with offensive depth, and they can win with goaltending and defense (more goaltending than defense in this one).  It shows a certain ingenuity and opportunistic element to their game.  While there is a script to stick to, there is room for a bit of improvisation to accommodate the situation any given game presents.  And if that means winning ugly, then winning ugly is attractive enough.  Kanoobie would have approved...

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 20: Oilers at Capitals, November 23rd

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals take the ice on Monday night in the middle game of their five-game home stand when they host the Edmonton Oilers at Verizon Center.  The Caps are looking to sweep the season series against the Oilers, having defeated Edmonton by a 7-4 margin one month ago in Alberta.

In an odd way, that game might be the high point of the season to date for the Caps.  It was the fifth win in what would be a five-game winning streak, giving the Caps a 6-1-0 record at the time.  It also gave the Caps an almost unheard-of three game sweep on their Calgary-Vancouver-Edmonton road trip.  It was the first time in six tries since the 2004-2005 lockout that the Caps pulled off the three-game sweep.  Since then, the Caps are 7-4-1.  That is hardly a poor record (it is a 103-standings point pace over a full season), but it does represent a bit of a regression for the Caps after their hot start.

The Oilers have fallen on harder times since that loss to the Caps last month.  They are 4-7-1 since that loss, and they lost uber-rookie Connor McDavid to a broken clavicle in a 4-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on November 3rd.  McDavid was living up to the pre-season hype when he sustained the injury, going 5-7-12 in his first 12 NHL games before sustaining his injury in Game 13.  Since losing McDavid, the Oilers are 2-4-1 and have been outscored by a 22-19 margin in the process.

Nineteen goals in seven games is a respectable total (2.71 per game), especially when losing a leading scorer to injury.  But Edmonton’s 19 goals over their last seven games have come from a rather narrow band of players.  Four players share 13 of the 19 goals.  There are the expected, the unsurprising, and the head-scratching among them.  Those would be Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, and Oscar Klefbom, respectively, each of whom has three goals in the 2-4-1 stretch.

Hall might finally be taking the last step to place him among the elite offensive players in the NHL.  With nine goals in 20 games he is on a pace to finish with 37 goals, a total that would far eclipse his career high of 27 goals (set twice).  He comes into this contest with points in his last five games (3-4-7, plus-6).  He is 1-1-2, minus-1 in five career games against Washington, including an assist in the Oilers’ 7-4 loss to the Caps last month.

Jordan Eberle did not dress for the Oilers in their loss to the Caps last month and in fact did not dress for his first game this season until November 6th, Edmonton’s first full game without McDavid after his injury.  He was returning from a shoulder injury that kept him out of the Oilers’ first 13 games of the season.  He does have those three goals in seven games, though, and he is 1-2-3, minus-4 in six career games against the Capitals.

Defenseman Oscar Klefbom is a bit of a head-scratcher in his three-goal contribution over the Oilers’ last seven games. He has four goals for the season, more than his combined total in 77 career NHL games coming into this season (3).  Part of it is just shooting the puck.  In scoring those three goals in his last seven games, he did it with 16 shots on goal.  He had only 12 shots on goal in his first 13 games.  Klefbom has an assist in two career games against Washington and is a minus-4.

Here is how the teams compare overall:

1.  What a difference a year makes.  Last season, goalie Cam Talbot allowed four or more goals seven times in 36 games as a backup goaltender for the New York Rangers.  This season he has five such games in 12 appearances to date, including his last three games overall.  He has largely ceded the Oiler net to Anders Nilsson, who has taken the start in five of the Oilers’ last seven games.  Nilsson is 2-2-1 in those five games, with a 2.79 goals against average and a .899 save percentage.  And at the moment, he seems like the better option in goal.

2.  Only one team in the league has fewer wins when scoring first than the Oilers, who have five such wins.  The Toronto Maple Leafs have four such wins.  Only the Colorado Avalanche have a lower winning percentage in such games (.455) than Edmonton (.500).

3.  One area in which the Oilers have not beaten themselves, at least on the road, is penalty killing.  The have a fairly good road penalty kill (83.3 percent/10th), but the key has been minimizing chances.  They have been shorthanded only 30 times on the road.  Six teams have faced fewer shorthanded situations on the road.

4.  Edmonton has only one power play goal from a defenseman this season, that from Brandon Davidson in a 5-4 loss to the Calgary Flames on October 31st.

5.  Edmonton is not a bad possession team overall (49.1 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5), ranking 17th in the league.  They do struggle in tight situations, though.  Their score-adjusted Corsi-for (48.0) ranks 23rd; their close score situation Corsi-for (45.6) ranks 28th (numbers from

1.  When Matt Niskanen and Jason Chimera finished play on Friday night with points, the Caps increased the number of players with 10 or more points to eight.  Only three teams have more: Montreal (10), Boston (9), and the New York Rangers (9).

2.  The Caps posted seven goals against Colorado on Friday.  That was the second time they scored seven goals in a game this season (the other instance coming against Edmonton).  Nashville is the only other team with two seven-goal games this season.

3.  On Friday, Evgeny Kuznetsov had his third game this season with three or more points.  Only the Rangers’ Mats Zuccarello and Edmonton’s Taylor Hall have more (four apiece).

4.  Kuznetsov is one of three players with two overtime game-winning goals this season.  The others are Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau and Chicago’s Jonathan Toews.

5.  Alex Ovechkin leads the league in power play shots on goal (33).  He has, however, just one goal (3.0 percent shooting).  He also leads the league in missed shots on the power play (18).

5.  Only twice in 11 home games this season have the Caps finished a game under 50 percent Corsi-for in close score situations.  They beat Boston, 4-1, with a 39.2 percent Corsi-for in those situations, and they lost to San Jose, 5-0, with a 27.7 Corsi-for percentage (numbers from

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Edmonton: Leon Draisaitl

Leon Draisaitl is the fourth Oiler with three or more goals over their last seven games.  In fact, the second-year forward has four goals in his last five games and points in eight of the ten games in which he has appeared this season.  In ten games to date he is 7-10-17, plus-10, and has stepped up admirably in the absence of Connor McDavid.  He has already surpassed his goal total of his rookie season (2) and point total (9) in 37 games.  His plus-10 is a 27-point improvement over the minus-17 he posted last season.  He has an assist in his only career appearance against the Caps.

Washington: Karl Alzner

Karl Alzner is slowly and quietly becoming more of an offensive contributor from the blue line.  His two goals this season might sound like a modest number, but it ties the second-highest total in any of his eight seasons to date.  He has seven points, which is well on the way to becoming a career best.  He is on a pace to finish with 30 points, which would far surpass his 21 points that set a career hight last season.  In fact, over the last four full seasons entering this one, his point totals have been 12, 17, 18, and 21.  He is 1-1-2, plus-2 in nine career games against the Oilers.

In the end…

The Oilers pose a similar profile to the Caps that the Colorado Avalanche presented on Friday.  They are similar teams in terms of offensive production – 2.75 goals per game for Edmonton, 2.80 for Colorado.  They are similar defensively – 3.15 goals allowed per game for the Oilers, 3.05 for the Avalanche.  Their respective special teams percentages are similar as well, both on the power play (Edmonton: 19.7; Colorado: 19.7) and on the penalty kill (Edmonton: 77.8; Colorado: 76.8).  That really does not bode well for the Oilers.

Capitals 5 – Oilers 2

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 6

The Washington Capitals have yet to experience losses in consecutive games this season.  Keeping that streak going in Week 6 ensured that they would not experience consecutive non-winning weeks for the first time this season.

Record: 2-1-0

After a 1-1-1 week in Week 5 in which the fate of the week was determined by the last game of the week, the Caps repeated the pattern in Week 6.  Unlike the result in Week 5, in which they lost to the Calgary Flames in overtime to finish with their first non-winning week of the season, the Caps steamrolled another Western Conference team – the Colorado Avalanche – to end Week 6 on a happier note.  It left the Caps with a 5-2-1 record against Western Conference teams.  On a standings points per game basis, their record so far against the West (1.38 points per game) is hardly distinguishable from that against the East (1.45 points per game).

Offense:  3.67/game (season: 3.16 /game; rank: 4th)

Did someone say, “sample size?” In a three-game week, an outlier – good or bad – will influence results quite a bit.  Such was the case in Week 6.  After recording a pair of goals in each of the first two games of the week, the Caps matched that total in the first period of their game against the Colorado Avalanche to close the week, then they added three more to finish with seven of their 11 goals for the week in a 7-3 win.

There were eight different goal scorers for the week and 14 different players with points.  Justin Williams, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Alex Ovechkin each finished the week with a pair of goals.  Meanwhile, Kuznetsov (2-2-4) and Nicklas Backstrom (1-3-4) led the team in points for Week 6.  There were some surprises for the week, too, mostly on defense.  Four blueliners had goals for the week.  John Carlson, Nate Schmidt, Karl Alzner, and Dmitry Orlov all recorded goals in the Caps’ 7-3 win over Colorado to end the week.  Orlov’s goal snapped a 36-game personal streak without a goal dating back to March 2014.  He did it in fine style, too.

There were also the infrequently heard from Taylor Chorney, who recorded a pair of assists for the week (his first two points as a Capital), and there was also Jason Chimera, who recorded three assists in the win over Colorado, giving him two three-point games in his last five contests.

The big individual highlight of the week was Alex Ovechkin recording his 484th career goal, leaving him alone atop the list of Russian-born goal scorers in NHL history.  The goal came in the Caps’ only loss of the week, and it was a bit unusual in the way he scored it – a tap-in from the doorstep – but a goal off a Nicklas Backstrom feed has become quite a regular occurrence for the Caps over the past eight-plus years, and there should be many more to come.

Defense: 2.33/game (season: 2.32/game; rank: 6th)

The Caps continued their stinginess about allowing shots on goal in Week 6 with one exception.  After holding the Detroit Red Wings to 26 shots on goal in the first game of the week – the 15th consecutive game that Washington held an opponent to 30 or fewer shots – they allowed 31 shots on goal to the Dallas Stars in losing the middle game of the week, 3-2.

There was an odd sort of balance in the defense this week, and that was on the blue line.  The Matt Niskanen/Karl Alzner pair and the John Carlson/Nate Schmidt pair each were on ice for three of the seven goals scored against the Caps for the week.  The Taylor Chorney/Dmitry Orlov pair was on ice for the other one.  Brooks Orpik missed all three games with an injury.

It was not the best of weeks for the Caps, possession-wise.  In overall, score-adjusted, and close score situations, they were on the right side of 50 percent Corsi-for only in score-adjusted, and that was 50.2 percent (a plus-1 differential; numbers from  That was the problem with playing a good possession team themselves (Detroit) and a high-powered offensive team (Dallas).

Goaltending: 2.34 /.917 (season: 2.16 / .915)

Caps fans might be spoiled by the team’s goaltending if they thought it was a poor one in the nets.  As it was, it was a decent week.  Not a great one and not a disaster – a decent week.  It was also a week that illustrated the differences between last season and this.  With the Caps playing three games in Week 6, including a back-to-back, Braden Holtby almost certainly would have had all three starts if this was last season.  This season and this week, Philipp Grubauer got the middle game of the week, and he provided a good effort against a difficult opponent.  He allowed three goals on 31 shots against the top offensive team in the league, the Dallas Stars (3.55 goals per game at week’s end).  Unfortunately for him and the Caps, it was also the lone loss for the week. 

Braden Holtby bookended the week, beating the Detroit Red Wings in overtime and getting the win in the 7-3 win over Colorado on Saturday.  Overall he had a typically fine week (1.99 goals against, .925 save percentage), but while he was superb against the Red Wings (25 saves on 26 shots), he was uncharacteristically off his game a bit against the Avalanche, allowing three goals on 27 shots, the first time he allowed three goals in a game at home since he allowed three on 27 shots in a 5-0 loss to the San Jose Sharks in Game 2 of the season.

Power Play: 2-for-10 / 20.0 percent (season: 22.0 percent; rank: 7th)

The Caps are stuck on “two.”  They finished Week 6 with two power play goals, the third straight week they did so and for the fourth time in their last five weeks since recording five power play goals in Week 1.  In fact, over the last five weeks the Caps are just 8-for-46 with the man advantage (17.4 percent).

The best thing about the power play for the week was that the Caps recorded goals in both games in which they had power plays.  In the middle game of the week, against the Stars, the Caps were held without a power play opportunity for the first time this season.  In the other two games they had decent production, recording two goals on 18 shots in 19:03 of power play time.  It was a bit frustrating in two respects, though.  First, Alex Ovechkin drew a blank on six power play shots in 15:10 of total power play time.  He is 1-for-33 shooting on the power play this season (3.0 percent).

The other frustration was T.J. Oshie, who had two excellent opportunities from point blank one-timers against the Colorado Avalanche from the slot.  They were his only two power play shots on goal for the week.

Penalty Killing: 4-for-5 / 80.0 percent (season: 84.3 percent; rank: 8th)

The five shorthanded situations faced by the Caps in Week 6 was a season-low for a week and the fourth straight week in which they faced fewer than ten opponent power plays.  Washington has faced the fourth fewest number of shorthanded situations this season (51 in 19 games).  Only Buffalo, Minnesota, and Carolina have faced fewer.  No team has allowed fewer power play goals overall (8, tied with Carolina).

It was an efficient week for the penalty killers. They allowed only six shots on goal in 9:23 of power play time (0.64 shots per minute) and just the one power play goal, to the Avalanche in the week’s last game.  That goal was a bit disappointing, allowing the Avs to break down the Caps’ defense down low starting with what was the second instance of Jarome Iginla starting a play from low in the left wing corner on the same power play.  They Avs did better learning from the first instance than did the Caps.  Still, it was a pretty good week.

Even Strength 5-on-5 Goals for/Goals Against: 8-6 / even (season, 5-on-5 goals for/goals against ratio: 1.26; rank: 3rd)

What a difference one game can make.  The Caps were on their way to finishing the week under 50 percent of 5-on-5 goals scored (minus-2) when they took the ice against Colorado on Saturday.  Against the Avs the Caps won the even-strength battle, 6-2, on their way to a 7-3 win.  Seven different Caps shared in the 5-on-5 goals for the week, Alex Ovechkin the only player with two.  Add in a 3-on-3 goal in overtime by Evgeny Kuznetsov, and it was a pretty good week scoring at evens for the Caps.

Faceoffs: 88-for-171 / 51.5 percent (season: 50.6% / rank: 10th)

Week 6 in the faceoff circle looked a lot like Week 5 – good overall, but not so much in the particulars.  The Caps finished with the same winning percentage overall (51.5) that they did last week, but they were on the wrong side of 50 percent in two of the three games (pounding Colorado in the last game of the week for a 65.0 percent winning percentage) and struggling in the defensive zone (46.9 percent for the week).

Individually, four Caps took almost 90 percent of the draws overall.  Nicklas Backstrom (52.3 percent), Jay Beagle (55.0), and Michael Latta (65.6) had good weeks overall.  Evgeny Kuznetsov, on the other hand, had a pretty dismal week on the dot, finishing with just a 32.4 percent winning percentage on 37 draws.

Goals by Period:

It was an odd week for the Caps when you break the week down into its 20-minute increments.  Washington scored 11 goals for the week, none of them in the second period.  The middle period is also the only one in which the Caps were outscored for the week (0-2).  The best part of the week in this category was scoring six first period goals, including four in the first period against Colorado on Saturday.  Outscoring the Avs by a 4-0 margin in the opening 20 minutes broke a nine-game streak in which the Caps allowed the game’s first goal.  The four-spot also represented the first time the Caps opened a game with a four-goal first period since scoring four goals in the first 8:10 of the game in a 7-1 win over the Florida Panthers on March 7, 2013.

The big first periods for the week left the Caps tied for fifth in first period goals scored by week’s end.  But the third period was not bad, either.  It was only a 4-3 margin, but the Caps finished Week 6 with the fourth highest number of third period goals scored.  The disappointment here was in allowing the Dallas Stars to score the game-winner in a 3-2 loss in the third period after tying the game.

In the end…

This was the kind of week that had “big picture” written all over it.  In the “big picture,” the Caps might not want to overwork number one goalie Braden Holtby or at least subject him to 73 appearances as they did last season.  That argued for giving Philipp Grubauer a start, his fourth in 19 games.  At their respective paces, Holtby would finish with 65 appearances, Grubauer with 17, a much more manageable split between number one and backup than might have been the case last season.  And, while the Caps did lose Grubauer’s start to Dallas, it was not a case of succumbing to Dallas’ style of play.  They more than held their own in the possession numbers, a trait that has been consistent over the span of the entire season so far (the Caps are fourth overall in Corsi-for at 5-on-5).  It was one more week very much like the first five installments. 

The personality of the team is coming into focus as they reach the 20-game mark – consistent, fine possession characteristics, good goaltending, balanced scoring.  What more could one want at this stage of the season?  It will come in handy as the Capitals head into Thanksgiving Week and their first true four-game week of the season.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Alex Ovechkin (2-1-3, plus-3, 14 shots on goal, 69.2 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5; new all-time leader in goals by Russian-born players)
  • Second Star: Justin Williams (2-0-2, 55.1 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5)
  • Third Star: Evgeny Kuznetsov (2-2-4, plus-3, OT/GWG)