Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 42: Avalanche at Capitals, January 12th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals venture outside the Eastern Conference for an opponent – only the second time since December 2nd – when they host the Colorado Avalanche at Verizon Center on Monday night.  The Caps will be looking to sweep the season series against the Avalanche, having won the teams’ previous meeting, 3-2, in Denver on November 20th.   Doing so would return the favor done the Caps last season when Colorado swept both games, 5-1 in Washington and 4-1 in Denver.

Colorado came off last year’s first playoff appearance in four seasons full of promise when the 2014-2015 season began.  Chock full of young talent, the Avs were looking to make the next leap forward toward a place among the elite teams in the league.  Things did not work out that way to start the season.  Colorado lost six of their first seven games and 13 of their first 17 games before they won consecutive games for the first time this season, on November 13-15.  As late as December 9th the Avalanche had yet to reach the ten-win mark, a record of 9-13-6. 

Since then, however, they have bent the arc of progress forward more to their liking.  Colorado is 9-3-2 in their last 14 games and come into their game against the Caps on a three-game winning streak.  Over those 14 games the Avalanche’s leading goal scorer has been defenseman Erik Johnson (8-1-9).  The goal-scoring binge has Johnson leading all NHL defensemen in goals scored for the season (12).   The former first overall pick in the 2006 entry draft has already established a career best in goals scored, and with 22 points is on a pace (44 points) to set a career high in points as well.  Johnson is 2-4-6, plus-1, in six career games against Washington.

Gabriel Landeskog leads the Avalanche in overall scoring in their 9-3-2 run (1-9-10).  He is still on a pace, however, to fall far short of his 26-goal/65-point season of last year.  He was plagued by a slow start that left him with only four goals and six points in his first 18 games.  He is still on a sluggish goal-scoring pace (16, on a full season basis), owing in part to a shooting percentage (6.3) that is barely half as efficient as what he recorded last season (11.7).  In four career appearances against the Caps, Landeskog is 1-5-6, plus-4.

Another of the young cohort who has had a sluggish first half of the season is forward Ryan O’Reilly.  After posting career highs in goals (28) and points (64) last season, O’ Reilly is on a pace to finish this season with just 14 goals and 45 points.  He, too, has suffered a lack of shooting productivity, his shooting percentage resembling Landeskog’s in that it is barely half as good as last year’s mark (7.8 this season; 13.9 last season).  Where his performance differs from Landeskog’s is that he had not suffered a slow start as much as he has had a consistently mediocre output over the course of the season.  He does not have a points streak of more than two games, and he does not have a streak without a point of more than three games.  O’Reilly is 0-1-1, even, in six career games against the Caps.

In goal, Semyon Varlamov’s season would be familiar to Caps fans in that he has had three separate absences due to groin injury problems.  It has contributed to an inconsistency in his game this season in which he has a goals-against average about a third of a goal higher than last year (2.77 versus 2.41) while still posting three shutouts, one off his career best (four in 2011-2012).  Since returning from his latest bout with groin problems, Varlamov is 6-2-0, 1.97, .940, with two shutouts in eight appearances.  Varlamov is 2-0-0, 1.00, .973 in two career appearances against his former team.

1.  Colorado does fairly well in one-goal games (11-7-8) but are under .500 in games decided by more than one goal (7-9).  The Avs have a 4-1-0 record in their last five one-goal games.

2.  The Avalanche put themselves in a bind in one important facet of the game.  Only four teams have faced more shorthanded situations than Colorado.  While their 22 power play goals allowed is quite respectable (eighth-fewest in the league), spending so much time killing penalties (fourth most shorthanded ice time in the league) keeps them out of rhythm.

3.  Colorado does not have high end scoring; their leading scorers (Alex Tanguay and Jarome Iginla) are tied for 72nd in points.  But they do have balance.  The Avalanche have eight skaters with at least 20 points.

4.  Colorado often finds itself behind the eight ball early in games.  Only four teams have scored first in games fewer times than the Avalanche, and Colorado’s 9-7-1 record in those games is the sixth-worst winning percentage (.529) in the league.

5.  The Avalanche have not done especially well late in games, either, although in this case such things are relative.  Their 10-2-2 record when leading after two periods is the fourth-worst such winning percentage (.714) in the league.

1.  The Caps have three players with ten or more power play points: Nicklas Backstrom (1-14-15), Alex Ovechkin (9-5-14), and Marcus Johansson (1-9-10).

2.  The Caps are one of two teams (the Islanders are the other) with two players in the top-five in hits.  Brooks Orpik is fourth (160), and Alex Ovechkin is fifth (143).

3.  Orpik is also third in the league in blocked shots (110), making him the only player in the league in the top five in hits and blocked shots.

4.  Nicklas Backstrom is the epitome of consistency.  His home scoring line is 7-13-20, plus-2, in 19 games.  His road scoring line is 6-15-21, plus-2, in 22 games.  H has six power play points in 19 games at home, eight in 22 games on the road.  His shooting percentage is 15.6 at home, 15.4 percent on the road.

5.  Speaking of which, Alex Ovechkin comes into this game with a remarkable consistency of his own.  In 362 career road games his has 221 goals and shoots to a 12.2 percent rate.  In 358 career road games he has 222 goals and shoots to, wait for it… a 12.2 percent rate.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Colorado: Jarome Iginla

In the prognosto preceding the Saturday game against Detroit, we remarked that Pavel Datsyuk does not seem to age.  The same might be said for Colorado’s Jarome Iginla.  The Avalanche forward is on a pace to finish the 2014-2015 season with his 15th consecutive season with at least 20 goals (not including the abbreviated 2012-2013 season).   He is currently tied (with Alex Tanguay) for the team lead in points (27), and he is tied (with Tanguay and Erik Johnson) for the team lead in goals (12).  He has five goals in his last nine games, including a pair in the Avalanche’s 5-2 win over the Ottawa Senators last Thursday.  Iginla has shaken off a slow start (two goals in his first 20 games this season) to resume what, for him, is a normal goal scoring pace.  The concession to age in Iginla’s case is his ice time.  He is averaging 17:27 a game, which is his lowest average ice time since he averaged 16:30 a game in the 1998-1999 season.  In 22 career games against Washington, Iginla is 8-10-18, minus-3.

Washington: Jason Chimera

While Washington has put together a fine 12-1-4 stretch of games over the last five weeks, things have not gone nearly so well for Jason Chimera.  Over those same 17 games, Chimera is 1-2-3, plus-2.  In fact, Chimera has only one goal in his last 20 games on just 20 shots.  In 11 of those 20 games he did not register a shot on goal.  And, his ice time has been curtailed severely.  He skated fewer than ten minutes in three of his last five games.  Chimera has been a victim of wide swings in his goal-scoring over the past four seasons – 20 in 82 games in 2011-2012, 3 in 47 games the following season, 15 in 82 games last season, and he is on a pace for only six this season.  In 29 career games against Colorado, Chimera is 7-8-15, minus-1.

In the end…

Last season, the Caps plainly could not handle Colorado’s speed in being outscored by a 9-2 margin in two games.  In the teams’ first meeting this season the Caps negated the speed advantage for the Avs by playing a slow and steady game, relying on patience to lull the Avalanche into mistakes.  It didn’t hurt having the captain recording a goal and an assist, either.  It also happened to be a contest in which Chimera scored one of his three goals this season.  The Caps might need that formula again – getting their scoring lines to produce, but getting something out of the bottom half of the forward lines as well.  It is something that the Caps have had on a regular basis over the last five weeks, and that spells trouble for the visitors.

Capitals 4 – Avalanche 3

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 14

The Washington Capitals packed a lot into Week 14 of the 2014-2015 season.  Four games, three wins, two opposing goaltenders -- Florida's Roberto Luongo and Detroit's Jimmy Howard -- knocked out of games, and one of their best weeks of the season.  How did they get there?

Record: 3-0-1

The Caps had their first four-game week since Week 5, their first three-win week of the season, and their best standings points week of the season (seven).  Week 14 was the Caps’ sixth straight week in the green (winning week) and their eighth straight non-losing week.  In that respect, Washington has achieved a consistency about their game.  Only twice in 14 weeks have they been on the losing side of the ledger.

Wins over Florida, Toronto, and Detroit made it four straight wins and 6-0-1 in their last seven decisions against the Atlantic Division.  Those wins, plus an overtime loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, brought the Caps’ record to 12-1-4 in their last 17 games.  The 28 points earned over 17 games – more than one-fifth of the season – is the most the Caps have earned in a 17-game block of games since they earned 29 standings points in going 14-2-1 from March 21 – April 23, 2013.

Offense 3.75/game (season: 2.98/game; rank: 8th)

The Caps recorded 15 goals in the four games of Week 14.  Ten different players shared in the bounty, led by Alex Ovechkin with three.  Overall scoring had an odd, and welcome, aspect to it.  Eric Fehr continued his productive play of late, leading the Caps in points for the week (2-3-5). One of Fehr’s goals was Washington’s first shorthanded goal of the season, against the Toronto Maple Leafs in a 6-2 win, and it was part of an overall effort that left Fehr 6-3-9 over his last seven games.

Marcus Johansson had a pair of goals in the win over Toronto, his first two-goal game since Veterans Day against Columbus, and his fifth multi-goal game of his career.

Washington had points from six different defensemen this week.  John Carlson led the way with four points (1-3-4), and at week’s end he was fourth in the league in scoring among defensemen (5-26-31) and tied with Calgary’s Mark Giordano for second in assists.  Meanwhile, Mike Green had three assists, and at the end of Week 14 he ranked fifth among defensemen in assists per game (0.58; minimum: 20 games played).

Then there was Karl Alzner.  Never much of a scorer at the NHL level over his seven-year career to date, Alzner had a goal and an assist in Week 14, the goal giving him a career-high three goals for the season.

Defense: 2.25/game (season: 2.49/game; rank: 10th)

The Caps were out-shot in all four games in Week 14, the totals being 97 for the Capitals and 125 for opponents.  When Washington held Detroit to 27 shots in the last game of the week, it was the first time the Caps held an opponent under 30 shots holding the New York Rangers to 27 shots in a 4-2 loss on December 27th.  The Caps had allowed more than 30 shots in six consecutive games until the Detroit contest (the Caps went 4-0-2 in those games).

It was not an especially good week overall, possession-wise.  Washington had a 5-on-5 even strength Corsi-for percentage of just 46.07.  Part of that was score effect; the Caps had a Corsi-for of 57.25 for the week at 5-on-5 in tied-game situations.  Then again, part of it was not.  When leading by one goal the Corsi-for percentage was 37.65 percent.  But, here is the thing.  The Caps were good when they had to be.  Washington trailed for only 6:51 in Week 14, all of it in their contest against Florida to open the week (a 4-3 win).

Goaltending:  GAA 2.25 / .928 SV (season: 2.43 / .914 / 3 SO)

Braden Holtby had a record-setting week, smashing the franchise record for consecutive appearances.  When he took the ice against the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday, it was his 23rd straight appearance in goal for the Caps, breaking the record of 22 straight, set by Wayne Stephenson in the 1979-1980 season.  He extended that streak to 24 with his appearance against Detroit to end Week 14.

Holtby had a bit of an odd work week that reflected equal parts score effect and effective play.  In one respect he had a “sandwich” week in which the filling was a little meager.  In the first periods of games he stopped 29 of 30 shots (a .967 save percentage), and in the third periods of games he stopped 52 of 54 shots (.963).  In the second period, however, it was 34-for-39 (.872).  You could say he was effective when he had to be – early and late.  Then there were those shots – 30 first period shots faced, 39 in the second period, and 54 in the third period (he stopped one of two shots in the 3-2 overtime loss to Philadelphia).

The long string of appearances left Justin Peters with a lot of rust.  He has played only 40 minutes since November 15th.  That being the case, he was sent to Hershey for a conditioning stint with the Bears to sharpen his game.  That he does sharpen his game is going to be important.  The Caps will be playing in six back-to-back sets of games over the next  six weeks.  Peters stopped all 24 shots he faced in shuttingout the Albany Devils in his first appearance for the Bears on Friday night.  Pheonix Copley dressed as backup for the Caps in their 3-1 win over Detroit on Saturday in his first call-up to the big club.

Power Play: 3-for-9 / 33.3 percent (season: 23.8 percent  / rank: 4th)

With three goals on nine power play opportunities, the Caps had their first week with a power play over 20 percent since Week 8.  Alex Ovechkin had two of the power play goals on a total of five power play shots.  Troy Brouwer had the other man advantage goal on three shots for the week.  Overall, the Caps shot to a 20.0 percent rate (3-for-15) in 14:50 of total power play time.

It is that time on the power play that reflected a different issue – opportunities.  Nine opportunities in four games is a low participation rate.  It is part of a season-long issue; the Caps finished the week with the sixth-fewest number of power play opportunities per game (2.98).

Here is your odd power play fact for the week.  Each of the three goals the Caps scored for the week represented the game’s first goal.  Two of them were scored in the first two minutes of the game – 1:16 into the 4-3 win over Florida by Ovechkin, and 1:53 into the 3-1 win over Detroit.  The other was scored barely three minutes into the contest (3:08), by Ovechkin in the 3-2 overtime loss to Philadelphia.  

Penalty Kill: 12-for-13 / 92.3 percent (season: 79.4 percent / rank: 22nd)

Week 14 was the best week in penalty killing for the Caps since they snuffed out all five power plays by opponents in Week 7.  Week 7 also happened to be the last week this season that the Caps finished a week over 80.0 percent in penalty killing for the season (they are now at 79.4 percent).

It was an extremely efficient week for the Caps.  Twice they held an opponent without a power play shot – Toronto (in 4:00 of two power plays) and Detroit (in 4:00 of two power plays).  They held Florida without a goal on seven shots in 9:13 of power play time, and even in the one game in which they allowed a power play goal, the Caps did not do so at 4-on-5 (Philadelphia scored the overtime winner at 4-on-3).  For the week, the Caps allowed just one goal on 17 shots in 23:30 of shorthanded ice time.  That is the kind of efficiency one would hope for on a week-to-week basis.

Even Strength Goals for/Goals Against: 11-8 / plus-3 (season, 5-on-5 goals for/goals against ratio: 1.11 / rank: 8th)

Shoring up the 5-on-5 play has been a season-long project for the Caps and their coaching staff.  Last season it was among the weakest parts of their game (0.90 goals-for to goals-against ratio/23rd in the league).  This season it is among their strongest.  This week the Caps went plus-3 and won the even strength battle in each of their wins (they were minus-1 against the Flyers).

The improvement has been at both ends of the ice.  Goals for at 5-on-5 have increased from 1.69/game last season to 1.95 so far this season, while goals against have dropped from 1.89/game in 2013-2014 to 1.75/game through 41 games so far this season.

Faceoffs: 120-for-251 / 47.8 percent (season: 50.3 percent / rank: 13th)

The week started well for the Caps in the faceoff circle, but the air went out of that balloon quickly.  After winning 43 of 72 draws against Florida to open the week, Washington went 77-for-179 over the last three games of the week (43.0 percent) to finish the week under 50 percent. 

The Caps won the offensive zone for the week (53.8 percent) but were under 50 percent in the other two zones.  On an individual basis, Troy Brouwer had a good week (69.6 percent on 23 draws), as did Jay Beagle (53.1 percent on 32 faceoffs).  The other three Caps taking more than 20 draws for the week – Nicklas Backstrom (48.7 percent of 76 draws), Eric Fehr (37.7 percent on 61 faceoffs), and Evgeny Kuznetsov (46.4 percent on 28 faceoffs) – had less than stellar weeks.

Backstrom and Fehr had especially strange weeks.  The former was 29-for-54 in the defensive and neutral zones (53.7 percent), but won just eight of 22 draws in the offensive end (36.4 percent).  Fehr also was out of profile for the week in the offensive end, but in a different way.  He won 11 of 17 draws in the offensive zone (64.7 percent), but won just 12 of 44 faceoffs in the neutral and defensive zones (27.3 percent).

Goals by Period:

The Caps won every regulation period for the week, 3-1 in the first period of games, 8-5 in the second period, and 4-2 in the third period.  The three first period goals all represented the first goal of those respective games, and the Caps took a lead against Florida in the second period to make it a 4-for-4 week scoring the first goal.  That kind of early production left the Caps in second place at the end of the week in winning percentage when scoring first in games (21-1-3/.840, second to Montreal’s .889).  The Capitals finished Week 14 with Nashville as the only teams in the league with a greater than plus-5 goal differential in each of the three regulation periods for the season.

In the end…

The hits just keep coming for the Caps.  And, the contributions are coming from a variety of places.  Braden Holtby continues to be the rock in goal, but at the other end of the ice the Caps have had game-winning goals from seven different players in their last seven wins.  This week it was Andre Burakovsky, Brooks Laich, and John Carlson doing the honors.  They are doing it with offense – 3.43 goals per game over their last seven games.  They are doing it with defense – not allowing more than three goals in regulation over those same seven games and holding opponents to two or fewer goals regulation in five of those games.

One would have to look rather closely (and we are sure the coaches are doing just that) to find many flaws in the Caps’ game at the moment.  Unfortunately for the team, though, their 12-1-4 record since December 4th has been more than matched by the New York Rangers’ 13-2-0 over that same span of days.  It means that despite winning almost 83 percent of the available standings points over the last six weeks, the Caps have made up no ground on the Blueshirts in their battle for third place in the Metropolitan Division.  What the teams have done, though, is bootstrap one another so that both are bearing down on Pittsburgh and the Islanders at the top of the division.  At the moment, it is now a four team race in the middle of which the Caps squarely find themselves.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Eric Fehr (2-3-5, plus-5, shorthanded goal)
  • Second Star: Braden Holtby (2.25 / .928, set team record for consecutive appearances, tied for seventh in wins, ninth in save percentage)
  • Third Star: Alex Ovechkin (3-1-4, goals in three games, finished the week tied for fifth in goals)