Friday, November 20, 2015

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 19: Avalanche at Capitals, November 21st

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals take the ice for the second game in their five-game home stand when they host the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday night.

The Caps will be looking to avoid consecutive losses after their 3-2 loss to the Dallas Stars in the opening game of the home stand on Thursday night.  The Caps would like to start generating some momentum on this home stand; they have not won consecutive games in regulation, home and/or away, since their five-game winning streak in mid-October.

Meanwhile, the Avalanche are the epitome of the hot-and-cold team.  After going 4-9-1 in their first 14 games of the season, the Avs won three in a row for the first time this season (their first time this season with any wins in succession) and the first time they won three in a row since closing the 2014-2015 season with three victories.  However, they will head into Saturday’s contest having lost two in a row.

Colorado has spent a lot of time on the road recently.  They are coming to the end of seven-game road trip (this will be their sixth game in that itinerary).  So far they are 3-2-0 – that three-game winning streak followed by a two-game losing streak – outscoring their opponents 17-12.  The record on the trip and the goal differential masks some problems with their special teams.  The power play is 3-for-16 in their last five games (18.8 percent), while their penalty kill is 10-for-16 (62.5 percent), including a ghastly 1-for-5 in a 5-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs last Tuesday.

Matt Duchene has been lighting it up for Colorado on the road trip.  In five game he leads the Avs in goals (six), assists (five), and points (11).  It is part of a longer run of good fortune for the former third-overall draft pick.  Duchene has points in eight of his last nine games overall, going 9-6-15, plus-4 overall.  His hot streak comes amid rumors that he is available for trade.  If a team is going to slow him down, it might be the Caps.  Duchene is 1-2-3, minus-5 in seven career games against Washington and has just one point (a goal) in three career games at Verizon Center.

The only other Avalanche player with more than one goal on the current road trip is Nathan MacKinnon (2-3-5, plus-5).  He is on something of an extended run of productive play himself.  Only once so far this season has he gone as many as two consecutive games without a point, and he is 6-8-14, plus-8 over his last 13 games since he had those consecutive games without a point back in mid-October.  MacKinnon’s contributions have been timely, too.  Half of his eight goals for the season are game-winners, accounting for more than half of the club’s game-winning goals to date (seven).  He is 1-3-4, plus-2, in four career games against Washington.

It will be interesting to see who head coach Patrick Roy picks to serve in net in Saturday night.  Semyon Varlamov has not played since November 5th, suffering a groin injury during a morning skate in Philadelphia.  In his place, Reto Berra has played all but 6:51 in goal (Calvin Pickard got those minutes in a 5-1 loss to Toronto last Tuesday).  In six games since filling in for Varlamov, Berra is 3-3-0, 2.25, .928, but the wheels seem to be coming off his wagon.  He allowed four goals in each of his last two appearances, one of them an occasion when he was pulled for Pickard in the third period of the 5-1 loss to Toronto.  Berra has one career appearance against Washington, stopping 20 of 23 shots in a 3-2 loss to the Caps in Denver on November 20, 2014.

Here is how the teams compare overall:

1.  Mikhail Grigorenko was part of the return in the trade of Ryan O’Reilly to the Buffalo Sabres last June.  The former 12th overall pick of the Sabres is 1-4-5, plus-6 on this road trip, two of the assists coming on Matt Ducene goals, the other two on Nathan MacKinnon goals.  It is a first line that bears watching.

2.  Tyson Barrie is a defenseman that does not get a lot of attention, but he is tied for tenth in points among defensemen this season.  He does most of that damage – well, half of it – on the power play.  Half of his 12 points were recorded with the man-advantage, all of them assists.

3.  Going into the locker room at the first intermission (among other things) has been unkind to Colorado thus far.  Only once in seven tries when they trailed after one period did the Avalanche win.

4.  The Avs have the 28th ranked road power play and 29th ranked road penalty kill.  This is not generally thought of as a recipe for success.

5.  Not that their 5-on-5 play is a lot better outside Pepsi Center in Denver.  Colorado ranks 29th in Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 (43.1) and dead last in score-adjusted Corsi-for (44.6).  They have been a bit better on this road trip, but not much (47.3 overall/49.4 score adjusted; numbers from

1.  About that record-setting goal by Alex Ovechkin against Dallas.  Seems his milestone goals do not generally come in Capitals wins, at least not wins in the hockey portion of the contest.  Of the six big milestone goals of his career – “hundredth” goals, franchise record, and Russian-born player record -- only one in a game the Caps won in regulation, and that was an empty netter:
  • 100: 3-1 loss to the New York Rangers
  • 200: 5-4 loss to Los Angeles Kings
  • 300: 3-2 shootout win over the Toronto Maple Leafs
  • 400: 4-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes (empty net)
  • 473: 5-4 shootout win over the Montreal Canadiens (surpassed Peter Bondra as franchise leader)
  • 484: 3-2 loss to the Dallas Stars (surpassed Sergei Fedorov for most career goals among Russian-born players)
2.  Among NHL players with at least ten games played this season, 18 of them are averaging 1.00 or more points per game.  No team has more such players than the Caps (Evgeny Kuznetsov, Alex Ovechkin, and Nicklas Backstrom, who coincidentally each average exactly 1.00 points per game).  Only Dallas has as many.  Kuznetsov is the second-youngest of the group (23 years old); only Nathan MacKinnon, who the Caps will face in this game, is younger (20).

3.  If the Caps are to dominate this game, it would seem likely the second period will be key.  The Caps have outscored opponents by a 22-11 margin in the middle frame of contests this season.  Only Dallas and the New York Islanders have a larger goal differential (plus-12) than the Caps (plus-11) in the second periods of games.

4.  Five of the last six Caps games have been one-goal decisions, three of them in extra time, including both wins (2-2-1 in those games). The Caps’ last one-goal win in regulation was their 2-1 win over Columbus on October 30th.

5.  The Caps rank seventh overall in Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 on home ice (53.8).  They rank sixth in score-adjusted Corsi percentage on their own rink (52.8).  On the latter measure, only Tampa Bay is better in the Eastern Conference (54.3; numbers from

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Colorado: Jarome Iginla

With seven goals in 19 games this season, third on the club, one wonders if 38-year old Jarome Iginla has some “Jaromir Jagr” in him, the capacity to be a productive offensive player well into his 40’s.  He and Jagr are the oldest players in the league this season with seven or more goals (both have seven).  Oddly enough, both also have 15 points to date.  Iginla, the league’s second-leading active career goal scorer (to who else, Jagr), is enjoying a late career renaissance.  His numbers tapering off with Calgary in 2012-2013 and then traded to Pittsburgh late that season, his 14 goals in 44 games signaled what might have been the beginning of the end for the four-time 40 goal scorer (twice a 50-goal scorer).  However, over his last two-plus seasons (one with Boston and one-plus with Colorado), he has 66 goals in 179 games, a 30-goal pace per 82 games.  He is on precisely that pace this season.  In 23 career games against Washington, Iginla is 8-11-19, minus-3.

Washington: Braden Holtby

Over last season and so far this season, only five goaltenders have appeared in at least 50 games, posted a goals against average of less than 2.20 and a save percentage of .920 or better.  That list includes Carey Price, Henrik Lundqvist, Pekka Rinne, Devan Dubnyk, and Washington’s Braden Holtby.  That is quite a short list on which he finds himself, and he is doing it this year through sheer force of consistency.  All goalies must contend with slumps, but that is something Holtby has been able to avoid over the past two seasons.  Only once in his last 46 appearances dating back to last season has he had consecutive games allowing more than three goals.  In those games he is 29-14-2, 2.05, .926, with five shutouts (one no-decision, and he was pulled early from games twice).  In three career games against Colorado, Holtby is 2-1-0, 2.33, .929.

In the end…

On paper, this match-up certainly favors the Caps heavily.  They are a very good possession team, Colorado is not.  The Caps have very good special teams, the Avalanche do not.  The Caps have had a decent, if not great, November (4-3-2), Colorado is coming to town in the midst of a long road trip and losers of their last two contests.  The Capitals have stability and talent in goal, the Avalanche have less of both.  What is more, now that Alex Ovechkin has put the Russian-born player goal scoring record behind him, he could be in for adding more in bunches.  The forces are converging to suggest a blowout.

Capitals 6 – Avalanche 2

Washington Capitals Recap: A NO-Point Night: Stars 3 - Capitals 2

It might have made for a great story – a record-setting goal scored in the third period to tie a tense game on the way to victory. The goal was scored, but the victory was not in the cards as the Washington Capitals lost to the Dallas Stars, 3-2, at Verizon Center on Thursday night.

The goal that tied the game in the third period was Alex Ovechkin’s ninth of the season and 484th of his career, leaving him all alone at the top of the list of Russian-born goal scorers in NHL history. There were familiar and unusual aspects to the score. It did not come off a rush or a one-timer on a power play, two signature Ovechkin methods over the course of his career for lighting the red light. It came from some chaos in front of the Stars’ from which Ovechkin and the Caps benefitted.

Ovechkin started the sequence trying to take advantage of a sluggish Dallas line change. With the Stars still trying to get into defensive position in their own end, Ovechkin threw a shot from the left point toward the net with the aim of having T.J. Oshie redirect it. Oshie did get a stick on the puck, but it was turned aside by goalie Kari Lehtonen. Oshie recovered the puck and sent to across the low slot where is got caught up in a maze of bodies. It found its way to the stick of Nicklas Backstrom, and it was Backstrom’s no-look backhand pass that found Ovechkin on the doorstep to Lehtonen’s right. Ovechkin had only to stuff the puck into the open side of the net, and the record was his, the game now tied at 2-2 with just under 13 minutes left in regulation.

The Caps could not get that third goal, though. Dallas did, a little over four minutes after Ovechkin’s record-setter.  It came off a giveaway in front of the Capitals’ net when Jason Chimera collected a loose puck to the right of goalie Philipp Grubauer and tried to move it along to Jay Beagle at the top of the opposite faceoff circle.  Jason Spezza stepped in the way, intercepted the pass and snapped a shot past Grubauer, all in the blink of an eye for what would be the game-winning goal in the Stars 3-2 win.

Other stuff…

-- Before Ovechkin’s record-setting goal, the Stars sandwiched a pair of goals around a Caps tally.  Tyler Seguin scored the game’s first goal 9:28 into the game on a shot from between the circles.  The goal was reviewed but upheld.  Nicklas Backstrom tied the game when he backhanded a rebound of a Taylor Chorney shot past goalie Kari Lehtonen.  The tie lasted into the second period when former Cap Cody Eakin redirected a John Klingberg shot down and past a screened Philipp Grubauer.

-- Ovechkin almost set the record on a more conventional Ovechkin play in the second period.  Skating down the right side, he used a defender as a screen and snapped a shot that beat Lehtonen cleanly but hit the inside of the near post and caromed out the other side behind Lehtonen.

-- The goal by Dallas in the first period was the ninth consecutive time the Caps allowed the game’s first goal.  The Caps are 5-3-1 in those games.

-- The loss was the Caps’ first loss at home in regulation since dropping a 3-1 decision to the Pittsburgh Penguins on October 28th.

-- The Caps are no fans of the coach’s challenge.  Barry Trotz’ challenge of Tyler Seguin’s goal, claiming that Patrick Sharp interfered with Grubauer, was the seventh time the Caps have been a party to a challenge, and for the sixth time they lost.

-- Another almost… Tom Wilson had two chances to score less than five minutes into the second period.  He had his first chance – a one-timer off a drop feed from Nicklas Backstrom – turned away by Lehtonen, and then moments later had a loose puck at the top of the Stars’ crease that he was about to stuff in, but he stumbled over Lehtonen’s left pad and pushed the puck wide.

-- Dallas finished the game with 31 shots on goal, breaking a streak of 15 games in which the Caps held opponents to 30 or fewer shots.

-- For the first time this season, the Caps were not awarded a power play opportunity.  Dallas was not penalized in this contest.  The Caps took only two minor penalties, killing both shorthanded situations.

-- Taylor Chorney recorded his first point as a Capital with his assist on the Backstrom goal.  Backstrom recorded a goal and an assist, giving him his fifth multi-poing game this season.

-- Odd thing about this game for Ovechkin was that the absence of power plays meant he skated only 16:11 for the game, his lowest ice time of the season to date and his lowest since skating 16:10 in a 5-3 win in Anaheim last February 15th.  He had a four-point game (2-2-4) in that one.

In the end…

It was something of a bittersweet night – a record and a loss – and now it is time to move on with the business of the remaining 64 games of the season.  This was something of a test for the Caps, a game in which they get mixed marks. They held a high-scoring team largely in check, but they had a critical mistake late in a game that is not generally characteristic of their play lately.  They got solid play once more from Philipp Grubauer in a relief role, the goals being of the sort that would have been challenging for any goaltender to stop.

It was a disappointing start to a five-game home stand, but the next four games line up pretty well for the Caps in terms of schedule (no back-to-backs) and competition.  This is the part of the schedule where the sun shines on the Caps.  Time to make hay.