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