Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 30: Senators at Capitals, December 16th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals come roaring back home on Wednesday night to face the Ottawa Senators at Verizon Center.  The Capitals, who wrapped up a 2-1-0 road trip with a 4-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday night, will meet the Senators with a 9-1-1 record in their last 11 games.  It is good enough to lift the Caps into the top spot in the Eastern Conference, pending the result of the Montreal Canadiens contest with the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday night.

The Senators come to Verizon Center in somewhat different straits.  After posting a four-game winning streak leading up to Thanksgiving, Ottawa is 4-5-0 in their last nine games, and two of their wins were earned in overtime.   They have been outscored by a 26-24 margin in those nine games, and their special teams have left something to be desired.  Their special teams index of 97.9 reflects mediocrity on both sides of special teams – a 17.9 percent power play (5-for-28) and an 80.0 percent penalty kill (20-for-25).

If there is a hotter player in the league than Mike Hoffman, the Caps do not want to face him.  Hoffman has nine goals in this last nine game run since Thanksgiving and 13 goals in his last 14 games overall.  He has climbed into fourth overall in goals scored.  It hardly seems to be a fluke.  Hoffman has 36 goals in his last 82 regular season games played, and only ten players in the league have more goals since the start of the 2014-2015 season.  He accomplished this as a remarkably efficient shooter.  Over the past season and a third, Hoffman is shooting to a 15.4 percentage and is shooting 19.8 percent this season.  That latter mark is fifth in the league among players to have recorded at least 50 shots on goal this season.  In three career games against Washington, Hoffman is 0-1-1, even.

The flip side of the scoring in the 4-5-0 run – assists – has been largely led by Erik Karlsson, who is 2-8-10 over that span of games, the assist total tied for the team lead.  Karlsson, as any Caps fan knows, is “Mike Green 2.0,” a defenseman who can, and does put up gaudy offensive numbers.  He currently leads all NHL defensemen in points (34) and assists (27).  He is tied for fifth in goals (7).  Since he joined the Senators to stay in the 2010-2011 season, Karlsson leads all other NHL defensemen in total points, and by a wide margin, 311 to 255 for Dustin Byfuglien (a part time forward) and 252 over Keith Yandle.  At his current points pace, Karlsson would become the first defenseman to finish an 82-game season at better than 1.00 points per game since Green did it in 2009-2010 (76 points in 75 games; minimum: 60 games; Kris Letang had 38 points in 35 games in the abbreviated 2012-2013 season).  Karlsson is 2-14-16, plus-1, in 18 career games against the Caps.

In what might be an unexpected turn, goaltending has been an issue for the Senators.  Perhaps it should not be considered unexpected, though.  Over his last five seasons, including this one, Craig Anderson has alternated very good and not so good save percentages:
  • 2011-2012: .914 (63 games)
  • 2012-2013: .941 (24 games)
  • 2013-2014: .911 (53 games)
  • 2014-2015: .923 (35 games)
  • 2015-2016: .915 (26 games to date)

Part of his issue might be workload.  He has been the goaltender of record for the last 15 games played by the Senators, over which he has a record of 8-5-2, 2.62, .922, with two shutouts.  That save percentage is actually an improvement over his season start, but it is that 33.5 shots per 60 minutes that is a problem.  It looks as if he will be getting a break soon, though.  Andrew Hammond was recalled form a conditioning assignment in Binghamton in the AHL after being out since November 15th upon taking a puck to the face mask in practice.  Anderson is 11-6-1, 2.27, .928, with two shutouts in 18 career appearances against Washington.  Hammond, who is expected to get the start in Washington, is 2-0-2 overall this season with a 2.42 goals against average and a .930 save percentage.  He has a win in his only career appearance against Washington, a 4-3 overtime win last April 4th.  Oh, and there is this.  Hammond's NHL record to date is 22-1-4.  That is not a typo.  What is it with goalies whose last names begin with "H?"

Here is how the teams compare overall:

1.  Back to the shots issue.  No team has allowed more shots per game than the Senators (34.0).  Their shot differential is, by far, the worst in the league.  Their minus-6.1 is a full two shots worse than the 29th-ranked team, the Arizona Coyotes (minus-4.1) and more than three shots worse than the 28th-ranked teams, the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers (both at minus-2.8).

2.  Only the Winnipeg Jets have allowed the first goal of games as often as the Senators (20).  They do have a 6-9-5 record in such games, but the six wins is as many as the Caps have in almost twice as many games as the Caps faced that predicament (13).

3.  There have been 277 skaters to dress for the Senators in club history, but only two have appeared in more than 1,000 games.  Chris Phillips is one of them, the franchise record holder in games played (1,179).  However, back surgery this past summer has kept him out of the lineup, and it is unlikely that he will play this season Among current Ottawa defensemen, only Erik Karlsson has more than 250 games of experience with the club (428), and only Marc Methot has experience comparable to Karlsson (470 games).

4.  If there is a danger zone for the Caps in this game, it is the second period.  Ottawa leads the league in goal differential in the second periods of games (plus-13).  Then again, the Caps are fourth at plus-7.

5.  Senator fans might want to turn away looking at their club’s possession numbers – 29th in Corsi-for percentage overall (46.1), 29th in score-adjusted Corsi-for (45.8), and 27th in close score (46.2; numbers from war-on-ice.com).

1.  The Caps are among the more efficient shooting teams in the league with an overall 9.8 shooting percentage, eighth in the league.  Trouble is, they will be facing the top shooting team in the league in Ottawa (10.9 percent).

2.  The Caps have scored power play goals in 15 games this season.  Their record in those games is 14-0-1.  No other team has avoided a loss in regulation time when scoring a power play goal (Montreal is 12-1-3).

3.  On the other hand, the Caps have the second best record (10-2-1) in games when they allow a power play goal.  Only one team has more wins in those situations – Ottawa (11). 

4.  To complete the tour of random special teams facts, Washington is the only team in the league with a perfect record when scoring a power play goal and shutting the opponent out on the power play (6-0-0).  Three other teams have extra-time losses when scoring a power play goal and denying opponents a power play goal – Montreal (8-0-3), Calgary (0-0-2), and the New York Rangers (5-0-2).

5.  Here is an obscure random fact.  The Caps have allowed more than 50 Corsi events (shot attempts) at 5-on-5 in seven games this season.  Three of them came in the Caps’ last six games.  This is not a trend one wants to pursue (numbers from war-on-ice.com).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Ottawa: Bobby Ryan

Once upon a time, Bobby Ryan was thought to have the potential to be among the top goal scorers in the NHL.  The second overall pick in the “Sidney Crosby Draft (2005),” Ryan scored 133 goals in 249 games of Canadian juniors, then followed that up with 33 goals in 70 games in the AHL.  He began his NHL career as if he would fulfill that promise, posting more than 30 goals in each of his first four full seasons in the league.  Then came the abbreviated 2012-2013 season.  Ryan, who was in the midst of a five-year/$25.5 million contract with the Anaheim Ducks, finished with just 11 goals in 46 games.  He was traded to Ottawa the following summer for Jakob Silfverberg, Stefan Noesen and Ottawa's 1st round choice in 2014 Entry Draft.  And, it set in motion a slippage in Ryan’s goal scoring overall.  Since those four 30-plus goal seasons, he has 61 goals in 225 games, a 22-goal pace per 82 games.  It hardly seems to merit the seven-year/$50.75 million deal he signed in October 2014 to extend his stay with the Senators.  With nine goals in 31 games so far this season, he is on a pace to finish 24 goals.  Ryan is 5-4-9, minus-5, in 11 career games against Washington.

Washington:  Matt Niskanen

Matt Niskanen has quietly put together an interesting year on the power play for Washington.  Not generally thought of as a power play force, he does have 69 career power play points, which ranks in a tie for 33rd among defensemen since his rookie season in 2007-2008.  This season he has five power play points in 53:19 of power play ice time.  On a points-per-minute basis, his efficiency is roughly the same as the number one quarterback on the power play, John Carlson (11 points in 105:12).  Niskanen has never finished with fewer than six power play points in a season; he has five so far this season (1-4-5).  He is 2-1-3 (one of those goals being a power play goal), minus-1, in 15 career games against Ottawa.

In the end…

This game poses an interesting challenge for the Caps.  Ottawa might be an elite team, or at least a much better one, but for their ghastly possession numbers (and other than the disturbance in your seats, how did you like the play, Mrs. Lincoln?).  They do not lack for scoring in a league that does; they do not have a superior penalty kill, but they seem to find ways to overcome that problem.  They do, however, put entirely too much pressure on their goaltenders with shot attempts and shots on goal allowed, both ranked worst in the league. 

If the Caps are to come out of their own possession funk (49.3 in score adjusted Corst-for over their last 18 games; 46.2 over their last six contests), this might be the team to serve as the cure.  If they lose the possession battle to this team, even if they win the game, it will signal a problem that needs to be addressed expeditiously before a slump in the standings plays out.

Capitals 4 – Senators 2

Washington Capitals Recap: A TWO-Point Night: Capitals 4 - Penguins 1

The Washington Capitals gave new Pittsburgh Penguin head coach Mike Sullivan a rude welcome to the NHL on Monday night as the Caps defeated the Penguins, 4-1, at Consol Energy Arena in Pittsburgh.

The Caps scored early, and they scored late, and goalie Braden Holtby did the rest to wrap up the Capitals’ three-game road trip in successful fashion.  With the win, the Caps went to 9-1-1 in their last 11 games.

Nicklas Backstrom got the Caps going just before the four-minute mark on a simple case of a smooth offensive zone entry.  With the Penguins having numbers on defense at their own blue line, T.J. Oshie still managed to carry the puck on the right side over the line and curl off.  Backstrom filled in the middle, and Oshie hit him with a pass in stride.  With the Penguins still backing off, Backstrom stepped up and snapped a shot over goalie Marc-Andre Fleury’s glove and under the crossbar to make it 1-0.

Just over three minutes later the Caps struck again.  Working the puck below the Penguins’ goal line, Jason Chimera and Jay Beagle exchanged passes, Chimera eventually working the puck out and around the corner to Fleury’s left.  He sent the puck across on what looked like a pass to Tom Wilson in the slot.  The puck slid through, though, to John Carlson pinching in on the weak side.  His initial shot was stopped by Fleury, but the puck came back to Carlson.  Without having a defender close on him, Carlson was free to put the rebound back and past Fleury to make it 2-0 just over seven minutes into the game.

Pittsburgh got one back just before the 14-minute mark when they caught the Caps on a sluggish line change.  Phil Kessel carried the puck down an open right wing and as he gained the offensive zone dropped it off for Ben Lovejoy at the point.  Lovejoy fired a slap-pass into the middle where Evgeni Malkin redirected it past Holtby and off the pipe to give the Penguins some life.

It would not be much, though.  The 2-1 score held up for the rest of the first period and through the second.  In the third period, T.J. Oshie took over.  With the clock ticking toward the nine-minute mark, Oshie tried to flip the puck into the Penguin zone, but the attempt was blocked.  Backstrom collected the loose puck just outside the blue line and carried it in, where he slid a pass to Oshie on his right.  Oshie took the puck off the wall and skated down the right wing with defenseman Ian Cole on his hip.  Oshie carried him all the way around the back of the net, and with Fleury unable to get from the left post to the right, Oshie completed the wrap-around to give the Caps a 3-1 lead.

Oshie capped the scoring in the final minute when, with Malkin off on a tripping call joining Olli Maatta, who was in the penalty box on a hooking penalty, he one-timed a pass from Backstrom through the slot past Fleury’s blocker.  Fleury could only whack his stick on the end boards in frustration as the Caps skated off with a 4-1 win.

Other stuff…

--  Nice view…

-- Oshie had his second two-goal game in his last six contests.  He became the third Capital to reach the ten-goal mark this season.  Nicklas Backstrom also joined the ten-goal club earlier in the game, joining Alex Ovechkin (14) as Caps with ten or more.

-- John Carlson had a two-point game (1-1-2), extending a nice little run for him.  He has points in eight of his last 11 games (2-9-11) and is now tied for fourth in scoring among defensemen (5-18-23) with Rasmus Ristolainen of Buffalo and San Jose’s Brent Burns.

-- The 79 combined shots recorded by the teams – 45 for Pittsburgh and 34 for the Caps – are the most in any game played thus far by the Caps this season.  The 45 shots allowed was the first time this season Washington allowed more than 40 shots on goal.

-- At an individual level, the shooting was odd for both teams.  John Carlson led the Caps with eight shots on goal, a personal high this season, tying a career high he set twice before.  On the other side, Matt Cullen was the only Penguin not to record a shot on goal.

-- Evgeny Kuznetsov skated just 13:41 in this game.  That is a season low in ice time for the center.  He also lost 12 of 16 faceoffs, including eight of ten in the defensive zone.

-- Nate Schmidt continues to do well even when not getting on the scoreboard himself.  In just over 20 minutes of ice time he had six shot attempts (three on goal) and seven blocked shots to lead both teams.

-- The win was the Caps’ tenth on the road this season.  They joined the Boston Bruins as the only clubs in the Eastern Conference with ten road wins.

-- Braden Holtby just keeps rolling along.  This was his seventh straight game allowing two or fewer goals.  In his last 15 appearances he is 13-1-1, 1.64, .945.

-- The rivals were held off the scoreboard in this one.  Neither Alex Ovechkin nor Sidney Crosby recorded a point and fired blanks on nine combined shots on goal, but Ovechkin was a plus-1 (plus-13 for the season), while Crosby finished minus-1 (now a minus-7, although it was his first “minus” game in his last seven games).

In the end…

It is never bad beating Pittsburgh.  But really, 45 shots on goal?  A total of 79 shot attempts allowed?   This was the second straight game in which Washington’s Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 overall was below 40 percent, and it was their worst of the season (36.6).  They barely escaped their worst score-adjusted Corsi-for of the season.  It was another case of lots of Holtby and taking advantage of opportunities (and in this case, a weak and depleted defense).  The Caps sit atop the Eastern Conference, but not in a way that suggests a long term stay there.  Still…