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

The Peerless Prognosticator Presents: Your 2015-2016 NHL Postseason and Award Prognostos

Now that we have our divisional prognostos out of the way, it’s time to get right down to it.  Who is going to win the Stanley Cup?

Round 1

The Metro will send five teams to the dance, which means Columbus will get the pleasure of being pasted by Tampa Bay in the first round.  The only upset in the East is a mild one.  Detroit will end Montreal’s season.  Meanwhile, the Caps and the Islanders meet again.  This time, no seven game suspense.  The Caps advance…let’s say in six.

Over in the West, we’re picking a more robust upset.  Minnesota will defeat Chicago in the opening round.  The most entertaining series, though, might be Los Angeles and San Jose.  From 2011 through 2014, these two met in the postseason three times, the Kings winning twice.  Make it thrice.

Round 2

For seven years, NHL fans have wanted to see a rematch of the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins in the postseason.  In 2016 they get it.  Pittsburgh has Crosby, Malkin, and Kessel, but the Caps have a deeper roster, better defense, and better goaltending.  They will make surprisingly short work of the Pens.  In the other bracket, the Lightning methodically deconstruct the Red Wings.  If it goes five, it will be a surprise.

In the West, the upstart Wild add another year of postseason disappointment to the St. Louis Blues, who find that leaning so hard on Vladimir Tarasenko has its limits.  He can’t score all the goals.  In the other series, the Ducks and Kings meet for just the second time ever.  The first was in 2014, when Los Angeles beat Anaheim in seven games.  The Ducks return the favor this time.

Conference Finals

The two deepest, most skilled teams at both ends of the ice – Tampa Bay and Washington – will meet for the chance to go to the Finals out of the East. Tampa has been here before, just one year earlier.  The Caps have not been this far into a playoff tournament since 1998.  Washington will be the underdog here, but they are going to advance on superior goaltending and “sticking to the script.”

Meanwhile, Anaheim will get to face Minnesota in the Western Conference final.  It would be easy for the Ducks to peek past the Wild, and this will cause them problems.  This series will go further than expected, but the Ducks will paddle their way on. 

Stanley Cup Finals

This is really the series folks want to see.  Not another Chicago or Los Angeles team playing an “Original Six” team from the East.  Nope, it’s Caps-Ducks.  Bruce Boudreau coaching against the team that gave him his NHL start and for which he won a Jack Adams Award.  Alex Ovechkin wanting to silence critics who say he can’t stand up to the pressure of big games.

Anaheim has lost in progressively deeper rounds the past three years – the first round in 2013, the second round in 2014, and the conference final in 2015.  This year, they lose in the Cup final.

Washington Capitals – Stanley Cup Champions

(yeah, yeah…we’ve been here before


And now…the end-of-season awards

Calder Trophy (top rookie)
  1. Connor McDavid, Edmonton
  2. Jack Eichel, Buffalo
  3. Sam Bennett, Calgary

James Norris Trophy (top defenseman)
  1. Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay
  2. Erik Karlsson, Ottawa
  3. P.K. Subban, Montreal

Vezina Trophy (top goaltender)
  1. Braden Holtby, Washington
  2. Pekka Rinne, Nashville
  3. Carey Price, Montreal

Selke Trophy (top defensive forward)
  1. Patrice Bergeron, Boston
  2. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles
  3. Jonathan Toews, Chicago

Art Ross Trophy (leading scorer)
  1. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh
  2. Tyler Seguin, Dallas
  3. John Tavares, New York Islanders

Maurice Richard Trophy (leading goal scorer)
  1. Alex Ovechkin, Washington
  2. Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay
  3. Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis

Hart Trophy (most valuable player to his team)
  1. Alex Ovechkin, Washington
  2. John Tavares, New York Islanders
  3. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh

Ted Lindsay Award (outstanding player)
  1. Alex Ovechkin, Washington
  2. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh
  3. John Tavares, New York Islanders

Jack Adams Award (top coach)
  1. Mike Yeo, Minnesota
  2. Barry Trotz, Washington
  3. Todd Richards, Columbus

Conn Smythe Trophy (most valuable player, postseason)
  1. Nicklas Backstrom, Washington

And there you have it, our prognostos for the 2015-2015 season.  Just remember…don’t do this at home, kids.  And don’t wager cash money on these picks (that’s my job).

The Peerless Prognosticator Presents: Your 2015-2016 NHL Division Prognostos

The Washington Capitals have not played yet, so the season has not yet started.  That gives us barely enough time to present this year's prodigious prognostos, the only ones you'll ever need.

Eastern Conference

Metropolitan Division

1. Washington Capitals. What, you were expecting us to pick someone else? We’re picking them to win the division, win the Stanley Cup, and Barry Trotz to be elected Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. This could be the best chance ever for the Caps to win a Stanley Cup. It is the most balanced and stylistically varied team in its history.

2. Pittsburgh Penguins. Breaking…the Penguins signed Phil Kessel to play alongside Sidney Crosby. Oh, you knew? Well, isn’t that good for you. Only one thing matters to this team this year: health. If they have it, they can win the Cup. If they don’t, making the playoffs is iffy.

3. New York Rangers. We were torn here about which borough would finish higher, Manhattan or Brooklyn. In the end, the difference is Henrik Lundqvist. But don’t mistake this team for last year’s; it’s not as good.

4. New York Islanders. There is something about this team we just don’t like, and it’s not just because, well…they’re unlikable (which they are). John Tavares is a beast, but are there enough teammates to join him for the ride? And their goaltending…that’s going to be an issue. Write it down.

5. Columbus Blue Jackets. The Blue Jackets lost more man games to injury last season than General Lee lost at Gettysburg (there is our Columbus/Civil War reference for the day). Even if some guys (read: Nick Foligno) don’t quite finish with the numbers they had last year, Columbus will be better, if healthy.

6. Philadelphia Flyers. It’s going to be a long, long winter in Philadelphia. They have two too many Schenns, not a lot of forward depth, and a defense that will have goalie Steve Mason throwing his blocker at them before the season is 30 games old.

7. New Jersey Devils.  The Devils used to like to play a lot of 2-1 and 1-0 games. This year there will be a lot of -1 and -0 games, and they’ll be on the wrong side of them. The only reason they get the nod over Carolina is Cory Schneider in goal.

8. Carolina Hurricanes. The only excitement this season in Raleigh is going to be all the speculation on where Eric Staal will be traded. Brother Jordan will be heard to whimper, “can’t you take me with you, bro?”

Atlantic Division

1. Tampa Bay Lightning. Maybe the best one-two punch in the league. That would be general manager Steve Yzerman and head coach Jon Cooper. The Lightning are skilled and deep. About the only thing that might cause concern is if goaltender Ben Bishop is average…or worse.

2. Montreal Canadiens. Last year, Carey Price was just about the only thing separating the Canadiens from the playoffs and early tee times. He will have to be just about as good this year. “Just about” still makes the Habs a playoff team, but they are second best in a weak division outside of the Lightning.

3. Detroit Red Wings. The last time the Red Wings missed the postseason, “The Simpsons” was just ending its first season on television. Someday, that consecutive-years streak of playoff appearances is going to end (24 years and counting). It won’t be this year, but don’t mistake this team for your Daddy’s Red Wings.

4. Ottawa Senators. It is so easy to overlook this team. They took advantage of that to finish with 99 points last season. They could do it again.

5. Florida Panthers. There is a future for this team (maybe not in Florida, but that’s another matter). It just won’t be this year. At least we’ll have Jaromir’s Mullet , which we are surprised is not yet a Twitter name.

6. Boston Bruins. This is the NHL’s version of a vintage car that is rusting on the side of the road. Zdeno Chara is not “older” as much as he has become “old.” They lack scoring depth, and they have similar depth problems on defense. Tuukka Rask might the only thing saving this club from perhaps being a lottery contestant.

7. Toronto Maple Leafs. Looks like this year’s theme is “Be Patient.” Yeah, that’s going to be a winning slogan. Only once in 12 seasons as an NHL coach has Mike Babcock coached a team that lost 35 or more games. This year will make two.

8.  Buffalo Sabres.  Having Jack Eichel is nice.  Adding Evander Kane and Ryan O'Reilly...ditto.  It won't be nearly enough this year, though.  Talk to us next year.

Western Conference

Central Division

1. St. Louis Blues. These are regular season standings, right? The Blues are a great regular season team. Besides, they have Troy Brouwer.

2. Chicago Blackhawks. You do remember that the Blackhawks finished third in the division last year, right? Well, they’re still at least that good. Losing Brandon Saad will hurt, but not a lot. The only question here is how much that Patrick Kane thing might be a distraction.

3. Minnesota Wild. If the Capitals are the trendy Eastern Conference pick to do good things this season, the Wild might be that team in the West. The only question here is whether Devan Dubnyk was a one-hit (ok, four-month) wonder in goal.

4. Nashville Predators. The Predators have a lot of good pieces, but there are two questions on defense that merit examination. First, was last season merely a hiccup for Shea Weber (his performance numbers – goals, assists, points – dropped last season)? Second, is Sean Jones ready to take a big step upward?

5. Dallas Stars. If the Pittsburgh Penguins are going to be the “fun-to-watch” team in the East this season, the Stars will claim that title in the West. Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza, and new addition Patrick Sharp. They should be able to score. It’s the rest that will be the problem.

6. Winnipeg Jets. The Jets were a nice story last season, reaching the playoffs in their fourth season in Winnipeg. This year, cold reality sets in. They are not that strong in goal, and while Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien are playing for contracts, they might be doing it somewhere else in March.

7. Colorado Avalanche. When Patrick Roy took over as head coach for the Avalanche in 2013-2014 and led them to 112 points and their first playoff appearance since 2010, he was “fiery.” Last year, the Avs finished with just 90 points, last in the division and out of the playoffs. Roy was just “loud.” If Colorado doesn’t improve this season, whispers might be heard about Roy being “on the hot seat.”

Pacific Division

1. Anaheim Ducks.  Bruce Boudreau has had an interesting progression in his almost-four years in Anaheim.  Missed playoffs, lose in first round, lose in second round, lose in conference final.  Guess that means losing in this year’s Cup final.

2. Los Angeles Kings.  Missing the playoffs altogether after winning the Cup in two of the three previous years has a way of making players and coaches cranky.  That will be taken out on Kings’ opponents this year.

3. San Jose Sharks. Team Disappointment (Western Conference edition) finally gave up the ghost last season, missing the playoffs for the first time since 2003.  It cost Todd McLellan his job behind the bench.  Peter DeBoer will do better, but not all that much.  Key will be how Martin Jones copes with a bigger workload in goal, not that he’s out of Los Angeles.

4. Calgary Flames.  The Flames went deeper into the postseason last year than at any time since losing in the Cup final in 2004.  This could be a breakout year for Sam Bennett, just as last year was for Johnny Gaudreau.

5. Vamcouver Canucks.  After the Year of Tortorella, the Canucks returned to the postseason last year.  Their 48 wins was something of a surprise.  There will be no surprises this year.  The Sedins and Ryan Miller are all on the wrong side of 35 years old.

6. Edmonton Oilers.  You would think that someday, with as many top-five draft picks as this team has had over the last six years (five, four of them first overall) that they would be on their way to Oiler Dynasty 2.0.  Even with Connor McDavid, “The Best Prospect Since Sidney Crosby,” they are at least a year away from the postseason.

7. Arizona Coyotes.  Their whole season is based on two words: “Auston Matthews.” Woof.

Later…the postseason and awards.