The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
Fresh off their 3-2 freestyle competition win over the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday, the Washington Capitals head south to start a three-game road trip with a contest against the Florida Panthers at BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida.
For the Capitals it will be their second and final visit with the Panthers this season (the teams face one another on February 2nd in Washington). The Capitals won the first meeting in south Florida this season, a 2-1 overtime win on Hallowe’en on what was described by Caps play-by-play announcer Joe Beninati as a “magical” play…
The win capped off a fine opening month for the Caps, who finished October with an 8-2-0 record. They have hardly slowed down since, going 11-3-2 since that meeting and 7-0-1 in their last eight games.
Meanwhile the Panthers have climbed to within a point of a top-eight spot in the Eastern Conference on the strength of a 5-2-0 record over their last seven games. That record would look a lot better if the losses were not a pair of 4-2 defeats in their last two games, losing at New Jersey to the Devils and dropping the next game – the Panthers’ most recent – to the Ottawa Senators on home ice last Tuesday.
Still, the 5-2-0 record is a big improvement over the Panthers’ 8-9-4 start to the season. In these most recent seven games the Panthers did not build a winning record with offense. Only once in those seven contests did they score more than two goals (a 3-1 win over St. Louis on December 1st), and they scored 14 in all. They did do it with defense and goaltending. The Panthers limited their seven opponents to an average of 25.9 shots per game, and the goalies did the rest. In allowing just 14 goals overall, Roberto Luongo was 4-2-0, 1.99, .924, and Al Montoya stopped 22 of 23 shots in his lone appearance in this stretch, a 2-1 Gimmick win over the Columbus Blue Jackets last Friday. Given Luongo’s considerable body of work against the Caps (36 games, 20-10-2 record, 2.29 GAA, .926 save percentage, two shutouts), he would seem likely to get the call for the Panthers in this game.
Florida is another of those teams that has a glass half full/glass half empty character to their offense in recent games. They have few goals (14 in their last seven games), but they do have balance. Ten different Panthers share in the goal total, four of them – Jonathan Huberdeau, Reilly Smith, Derek MacKenzie, and Brandon Pirri each with a pair.
Jonathan Huberdeau finally gave some glimpses last season at what his potential might be as a former third-overall draft pick (2011). He posted 15 goals and 54 points in 79 games, the 54 points leading the club. This season the goals have been harder to come by; he has only three in 28 games. But he is still averaging more than half a point a game (15 in 28 games). In this 5-2-0 stretch for the Panthers, Huberdeau is recording points every other game. Extending the pattern would put him in line to record a point against the Caps, but patterns do not last in perpetuity. Huberdeau is 2-3-5, minus-3, in 11 career games against Washington.
Derek MacKenzie is at the other end of the development path from Huberdeau. A former fifth-round pick of the Atlanta Thrashers, the 34-year old forward is with his third club, spending the last two seasons in Florida after seven years with the Columbus Blue Jackets after four seasons with the Thrashers. Offense has not been a feature of his game. In 417 career games, MacKenzie has just 39 goals. He is one of 13 active forwards with more than 400 career regular season games played and fewer than 40 goals. He is a decent faceoff competitor (55.1 percent, tops on the club) and will get tough defensive assignments (he has been on ice for only nine goals against in 28 games). He is 2-1-3, minus-3, in 11 career games against the Capitals.
Here is how the teams stack up against one another overall:
1. Winning and power play success have not gone together in the Panthers’ 5-2-0 run. The power play is 1-for-16 (6.3 percent) over its last seven games. The penalty kill has been a different story. Florida was perfect in the first six games of this stretch (16-for-16) before giving up two in five chances last Tuesday in the 4-2 loss to Ottawa.
2. Florida has shown a certain adeptness for scoring first in games that might be surprising for a club on the outside looking in at the playoff eight. The Panthers scored first in 16 of 28 games to date. Their problem has been sustaining the momentum. They rank 16th in winning percentage in game in which they score first (.688 with a record of 11-3-2).
3. It gets a lot worse for the Panthers when they allow the first goal. While difficulty in scoring first is a decent predictor of a lack of success in the NHL overall, Florida pushes those limits. The Panthers are 2-8-2 when the opponent scores first, a winning percentage (.167) that ranks 29th of 30 teams.
4. No team has more players on its roster older than 35 to have appeared in ten or more games than the Panthers, who have four – Jaromir Jagr, Shawn Thornton, Willie Mitchell, and Brian Campbell. Three of them (Jagr, Mitchell, and Campbell) average more than 15 minutes a game, and Campbell leads the team in average ice time (20:59).
5. Florida is not an especially effective possession team. Their Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 overall (46.8/ranked 26th), score adjusted (46.9/28th), and in close score situations (46.4/T-25th) are all bottom-five in the league (numbers from war-on-ice.com).
1. For a while, Alex Ovechkin could not find the back of the net on the power play with a map and a flashlight. He had just one power play goal in his first 19 games this season. However, his last three goals scored have come on the man advantage. He has five goals in his last nine games, inching slightly closer to a 50-goal pace overall (currently a 42-goal pace).
2. Nicklas Backstrom went consecutive games without a point on Hallowe’en and in his next contest on November 3rd. It is the last time he has gone consecutive games without a point. Backstrom is 5-10-15 in his last 15 games and comes into this game on a personal six-game points streak (2-5-7).
3. Six teams have two defensemen with more than ten assists, and the Capitals are one of them. John Carlson (15) and Matt Niskanen (11) are the Capitals’ entries.
4. The Caps are the only team in the league to have allowed 20 or fewer goals in each of the first (18), second (17), and third periods (20) of games.
5. Washington still has not done much to improve their possession numbers on their eight-game points streak. Their Corsi-for numbers are teetering on the 50-percent line: 48.2 percent overall, 50.1 percent in score adjusted, and 48.0 in close score situations (numbers from war-on-ice.com).
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Florida: Jaromir Jagr
When Jaromir Jagr was in the midst of a five-game points streak late last month he was a fine story of achievement well into his 40’s. He has just two points in his last six games and does not have a goal in his last eight contests. What is more, the shots are drying up. He has two or fewer shots on goal in his last eight games, and only once in his last 18 games (24 shots on goal overall). At the age of 43 it would be reasonable to wonder if the run is starting to come to an end. His possession numbers have been uneven, too. Overall, his score adjusted Corsi-for percent at 5-on-5 is 50.8. On an individual game basis his Corsi-for/Relative has been all over the place with seven of nine games in negative territory followed up by seven of eight in positive territory. Part of it is that Florida is still a developing team, but those numbers will bear watching in the weeks and months ahead, too. Jagr has played almost a full season’s worth of career regular season games against the Caps (78 in fact) and is 30-60-90, plus-14.
Washington: Karl Alzner
It is a good thing Karl Alzner has been given the green light to play on Thursday night after sitting out a practice on Wednesday. Alzner, who has appeared in 402 consecutive games for the Caps, has two career goals against Florida. It might not sound like a lot, but he does not have more against any other NHL team (he also has two against the Boston Bruins and the New Jersey Devils). But seriously, with Brooks Orpik having missed 12 games with a lower body injury and who is expected to be out for the foreseeable future, having Alzner on the blue line taking his usual ice time workload and defensive responsibilities is important for the Caps to maintain the success they have had, even in Orpik’s absence. Alzner is 2-4-6 (the point total also a high among NHL teams he has faced), plus8, in 27 career games against the Panthers.
In the end…
The Panthers are no push over, especially in Florida, where the Caps and Panthers have played in seven straight one-goal games dating back to February 2012, four of them settled in extra time. The positive spin on that is that the Caps have a 5-0-2 record in those games. If Roberto Luongo starts in goal it will be his first appearance against the Caps this season. The last time the Caps faced him in Florida, this happened…
Let’s not have a repeat performance.
Capitals 3 – Panthers 2