Monday, October 12, 2015

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 2: Sharks at Capitals, October 13

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

One game, one win.  So far, so good.  The Washington Capitals try to make it two-in-two when the San Jose Sharks come to town on Tuesday.  The Sharks come into this game – this season, actually – as one true enigma in terms of their history.  Since the NHL went to a 30-team league in the 2000-2001 season, only one team has more wins than the San Jose Sharks (612), the Detroit Red Wings (656).  But despite that regular season success and reaching the postseason in 12 of 14 seasons since the league went to 30 teams, the Sharks have yet to reach a Stanley Cup final in their 24-season history coming into this season.

Last season, the Sharks missed the show for just the second time in 17 seasons, and it cost head coach Todd McLellan his job.  Enter Pete DeBoer, late of the New Jersey Devils and before that the Florida Panthers.  DeBoer, a low key sort, is the kind of coach who can be underrated.  However, he did bring a winning career record, based on standings points (217-200-77), into this season.

The team DeBoer inherits from last season is not radically different from last year’s edition of the Sharks.  Of the 18 skaters to dress for the team in their first two games, 15 of them skated for San Jose last season.  Two of the three additions reveal a bit about what the Sharks’ approach is this season. 

Defenseman Paul Martin signed a four-year/$19.4 million contract with the Sharks this past off-season.  Martin joined the Sharks having appeared in 697 career regular season games and another 85 postseason contests. However, he missed 65 games over the past six seasons, and at the age of 34, there are questions about his durability.  There is also the matter of declining production at the offensive end.  Once a reliable almost-half point a game performer in his years with the New Jersey Devils (0.45 points per game in his last three years with the Devils), his production dropped to 0.37 points per game in five seasons with Pittsburgh before moving on to San Jose.  He does remain a minutes-eater when he is in the lineup.  In 11 seasons entering this one he never averaged less than 20 minutes a game and has not averaged less than 22:30 per game since his rookie season.

The other veteran the Sharks signed in the off-season was former Capital Joel Ward.  He is coming off his two most productive seasons in the NHL with 43 goals recorded over those two years.  He became a quite efficient shooter with the Capitals, shooting to a 15.8 shooting percentage over his last three years in Washington.  As he prepares to return to Verizon Center to face the Caps, here is your odd Joel Ward fact.  The Caps are the only team in the league against which he has not recorded a point in his career.  Sure, it is only four games of history he has against the Caps, but still, it is the only one of 30 against which he is looking for his first career point.

In goal is where the Sharks might have made the biggest changes in the offseason. Last season, Antti Niemi took the bulk of the work, appearing in 61 games.  He was not especially impressive.  His 2.59 goals against average ranked  24th of 30 goalies appearing in at least 41 games; his .914 save percentage ranked 20th.  In nine of his 61 starts he had a save percentage of .850 or worse, tied for the fifth highest total of such games in the league in that group and the 10th highest share of starts.

Niemi is in Dallas now, with the Stars, and Martin Jones appears to have the number one duties.  Jones took a bit of a roundabout path to San Jose last summer, going from the Los Angeles Kings to the Boston Bruins last June, along with a 2015 first round draft pick (13th overall) for Milan Lucic.  The Bruins then turned around and sent Jones back to the west coast for a 2016 first round draft pick and a prospect from the Sharks.

Jones had a noteworthy first year in the NHL, going 12-6-0, 1.81, .934 with four shutouts in 2013-2014.  He slipped a bit last season, going 4-5-2, 2.25, .906 with three shutouts.  He is off to a fine start with the Sharks, though, winning both of his starts and allowing just one goal on 47 shots against the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings.  He has never faced the Caps.

Here is how the clubs fared last season…

1.  Since 2006-2007, only two teams have two players ranking in the top 20 in goals scored, all of those goals scored with just one team.  Pittsburgh is one (Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin), San Jose is the other with Patrick Marleau (7th with 271 goals) and Joe Pavelski (20th with 229 goals).

2.  Marleau needs just nine points to reach 1,000 for his career.  He probably will not reach this milestone against the Caps.

3.  No goalie has as many shutouts in as few career games as Martin Jones, ever.  Eight shutouts in 36 games played.

4.  Either the San Jose Sharks are a young franchise, they haven’t been very good for much of their history, or Logan Couture is one fine hockey player.  Call it “all of the above.”  Couture ranks seventh on the all-time list of Sharks goal scorers, despite being in the league for just six-plus seasons and 381 games.  He has 139 career goals.

5.  Joe Thornton reigns supreme among assist leaders since the 2004-2005 lockout.  His 641 assists are 39 more than the 602 by Henrik Sedin.

1.  The race is on.  Who will be the next and 43rd player in NHL history to reach the 500 goal mark?  Chicago’s Marian Hossa stands at 486 (he has none in three games so far this season), while Alex Ovechkin sits at 476 with the goal he scored in the opener against the New Jersey Devils.

2.  Ovechkin is three points shy of 900 for his career.  Only seven active players have hit that milestone: Jaromir Jagr (1,804), Joe Thornton (1,261), Jarome Iginla (1,228), Marian Hossa (1,058), Patrick Marleau (991), Henrik Sedin (916), and Brad Richards (904).

3.  The last time the Caps opened the season with two games at home, the Caps won both – a 4-3 overtime win over the Carolina Hurricanes and a 6-5 trick shot win over the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2011-2012.

4.  It was one game, but an offensive zone start share of 60.0 percent and a Corsi-for percentage of 47.1 at 5-on-5 against New Jersey qualifies as something to work on.

5. The Caps had five players record multi-point games in the opener.  That has already tied the high for players with multi-point games last season, accomplished twice -- a 5-4 win at Columbus on December 18th and a 6-1 win against the Buffalo Sabres on March 7th.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

San Jose: Joonas Donskoi

Joonas Donskoi is the third Shark skater new to the club this season so far.  Donskoi, a former fourth round draft pick (2010) of the Florida Panthers, is playing in his first season of pro hockey in North America after signing an entry level contract with the Sharks last May.  Until this season, the right winger has been playing in Finland, with Karpat Oulu, where he had 19 goals and 49 points in 58 regular season games and was the Finnish league playoff MVP last season.  He had a goal in his NHL debut against the Kings last Wednesday, and he is something of a gifted shootout performer (see his effort against Sergei Bobrovsky 4:30 into this clip). 

Washington: T.J. Oshie

Only two players for the St. Louis Blues since the 2004-2005 lockout have more four-point games than T.J. Oshie – David Backes (4) and Alex Steen (3).  OK, so Oshie has two, but one of those was against the San Jose Sharks, last January 3rd.  He had a hat trick – one of two in his career – in the Blues’ 7-2 win over San Jose.  Oshie did not record a shot on goal in the Caps’ 5-3 Opening Night win over the Devils, a repeat of his opener against the New York Rangers last season.  He had a bit of a slow start last season – no points in his first six games, no goals in his first eight contests, but he did go 19-35-54 in his last 64 games.  There are some fans who might obsess about his being silent in his opener with the Caps.  Don’t.  He’ll be fine.

In the end…

The Caps will move up in weight class with their opponent for this game.  San Jose has been good through two games, a pounding of the Kings (5-1) and a whitewashing of the Ducks (2-0) to open their season.  Then again, last season the Sharks were 7-7-2 in games played in the Eastern time zone (they beat the Caps in a Gimmick at Verizon Center).  You can think of this as the Sharks moving up in weight class as well, if not in terms of the opponent, then in terms of the circumstances.

For the Caps it is a chance to test their depth against a team that is better than the Devils team they faced on Saturday.  And, there will not be the distractions that go along with an Opening Night celebration.  This game might not have the offensive fireworks that the opener had, but it should have the same result.

Capitals 3 – Sharks 2

The Peerless Prognosticator Looks At... Team Themes

And now we take up the topic of “themes.”  Sports is an odd duck.  There are so many cheesy inspirational tricks teams use to inspire and motivate.  Locker room speeches, post-game game balls, signs on the walls offering an inspiring quote.  With the Internet, we have the opportunity to see what theme a team wishes to convey to its fans for the season at hand.  The NHL is no different.  If you browse through their Web sites, you will find that not all teams go down this path, but a fair number of them do.  Some of the themes teams are promoting this season…

Buffalo Sabres: “Next Chapter.”  The Sabres have finished out of the postseason the last four years and last in their division the last two seasons.  They switched coaches, bringing Dan Bylsma in to try to recreate that old Pittsburgh Penguin magic.  Well, you can’t spell “Bylsma” without “bile”…or something like that.  The “Next Chapter” might be written by Stephen King.

Columbus Blue Jackets: “March with Us.”  Oh, we get it…”march with us.”  A Civil War thing.  They’ve even got a whole speech.  We’re wondering, though…what’s up with “literally putting pucks in the net?”  What would “figuratively putting pucks in the net" be?  Oh, the Blue Jacket offense.

Detroit Red Wings: “It’s More Than Hockey.”  Really?  You’ve got 11 Stanley Cups, four of them in the last 20 years.  You’ve made the playoffs for 24 straight seasons.  The last time you missed the postseason, Jaromir Jagr wasn’t even in the NHL.  “More than Hockey? “  Maybe it’s weekend escapes to Zug Island

Los Angeles Kings: “We Are All Kings.”  All of us?  Even the women in the fan base?  Seems a bit un-California-like.  Maybe y’all should should be “happy we won two Stanley Cups in the last three years.”  But that’s a bit much to put on the banner of a Web page.

Minnesota Wild: “This is the State of Hockey.”  These folks are serious.  This “State of Hockey” thing… there’s a book about it.  There is a Twitter feed.   There’s even a freakin’ anthem about it.  “State of Hockey?” More like “State of Obsession.”

New Jersey Devils: "#relentless. If you click on the “#relentless” link on the Devils’ home page, you will be ushered to another “new chapter” thing.  Somehow, “new chapter” doesn’t capture what is going on in Jersey.  After three Stanley Cups and two other finals appearances in 17 seasons, the Devils have missed the playoffs in each of the last three seasons.  New chapter?  Maybe time for a new book.

New York Rangers: “We Are Rangerstown.”  If Guy Fieri was a hockey commentator, this would be his catch phrase for the Rangers.  But really, “Rangerstown?” And don’t forget the “Rangers”…with that “S” to provide the subtle sense of team and community.  It almost sounds Norman Rockwellian, if eight gazillion people on an island can be thought of as Norman Rockwellian.

Ottawa Senators; “United in Red.”  So, who got here first, the Senators or the Albany Devils?  OK, Ottawa has been doing this for a little while, but it still has the vague ring of a B-grade horror flick that should be starring Vincent Price.

San Jose Sharks: “25 Years of Teal.”  Uh, is this a Martha Stewart thing?  Now, keep in mind, a “teal” is actually a freshwater duck.  There seems to be some confusion out there among the California teams about their identity.  Or maybe “teal” is a synonym for “underachievement.”

Vancouver Canucks: “#PlayForThis.” This one is pretty sneaky.  If you click on the “#PlayForThis” link on the Canucks home page, you are directed to the “Tickets” page.  So, apparently, “This” in “PlayForThis” is hockey revenue.

And there you have it, a sampling of team themes for 2015-2016.  It makes you wonder what the Capitals might use, were they so inclined.  Oh sure, we’re all familiar with the whole “Rock the Red” theme, but it has a bit of age on it.  Perhaps something to freshen things up…
  • “#StartingOurFifthDecadeOfFrustration”
  • “#It’sAllYourFault”
  • “#We’reNotTheRedskins”
  • “#WhatISaCapitalAnyway?”
  • “#ThirdRoundOrBust”

It's a work in progress, but you get the idea.