Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 35: Capitals at Sabres, December 28th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals take to the road on Monday night for the first half of a home-and-home series against the Buffalo Sabres, looking to extend their current run of good fortune.  Their seven-game winning streak stands as the longest current streak in the league at the moment.

The Caps have been a remarkably stingy club during this seven-game winning streak, allowing only 11 goals scored by opponents while scoring 25 of their own.  It has enabled the Caps to jump to second in the league in scoring offense (3.12 goals per game) while holding down the top spot in goals per game allowed (2.12).

Meanwhile, the Sabre enter the home-and-home series as a team in a rebuilding mode, but one with dangerous pieces at both ends of the ice.  They took a six-game losing streak into the Thanksgiving holiday, but since then, Buffalo is 7-4-2.  During that span of games they outscored opponents by a 39-30 margin, and five of their seven wins have come by margins of three goals.

For a player who has had a spotlight shined upon him as the second overall draft pick last June, Jack Eichel has handled the attention quite well.  Even more so since the number one overall pick, Connor McDavid by the Edmonton Oilers, went down to injury in early November.  Eichel is fourth among rookies in total points (20) and is second among that group in goals scored (11).  He is 4-3-7 in the Sabres’ 7-4-2 run since Thanksgiving, going 2-2-4 in his last contest, a 6-3 win in Boston over the Bruins on Saturday.  He comes into this game looking to extend his points streak to four games, which would be a personal best in his rookie season.  This will be his first career appearance against the Capitals.

Lost in the Eichel-mania is the fact that Ryan O’Reilly is putting together a fine season.  O’Reilly, who was trade to the Sabres from the Colorado Avalanche last June for Nikita Zadorov, Mikhail Grigorenko,a nd J.T. Compher, leads the team in goals (14) and total points (32), and he is well on his way to setting career bests in both.  His 33-goal pace would eclipse his 28 goals in the 2013-2014 season, and his 75-point pace would top his 64 points in that same 2013-2014 season.  O’Reilly is 7-8-15 in the 13 games since Thanksgiving, and he has four multi-point games in that span.  In seven career games against Washington, he is 0-1-1, even.

It has taken more than a third of the season, but the goaltending situation for the Sabres might be settling out at last.  Chad Johnson was a fifth-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2006 entry draft, then bounced around the AHL and various NHL organizations, once the property of the Penguins, the New York Rangers, and the Phoenix Coyotes before he was signed as a free agent by the Boston Bruins in July 2013.  As a backup for the Bruins in 2013-2014 he appeared in 27 games, going 17-4-3, 2.10, .925, with two shutouts.  That season got the attention of the New York Islanders, who signed Johnson away from the Bruins on a two-year contract.  He could not repeat his performance of the previous season, going 8-8-1, 3.08, .889 before being traded to the Sabres for goalie Michal Neuvirth.  Johnson has largely split time with Linus Ullmark in goal this season, but he got the call in each of the Sabres last three contests, going 2-0-1, posting a 44-save shutout of the Anaheim Ducks along the way, setting a club record for saves in a shutout.  He is 1-1-1, 2.61, .907 in three career appearances against the Capitals.

Here is how the teams compare overall:

1.  Buffalo had one of the top power play squads in the league with a 23.4 percent success rate through their first 30 games.  However, they come into this game without a power play goal in their last five contests, tying their longest streak of games without a power play tally this season.  The Sabres are 0-for-14 over those five games.

2.  The Sabres have a lot of young talent at forward, but on the back line Rasmus Ristolainen is having a good season as well.  The 21-year old, third-year defenseman is tied for eighth in the league in points among defensemen (7-17-24).  He has 11 of those points in 13 games since Thanksgiving (3-8-11).

3.  The Sabres struggle with their early-game performance.  Only the Philadelphia Flyers have taken a lead into the first intermission fewer times (3) than the Sabres (6). And only four teams have scored the first goal of a game fewer times than Buffalo (14): the Ottawa Senators (13), the New Jersey Devils (13), the Winnipeg Jets (12), and the Toronto Maple Leafs (11).

4.  The Sabres’ problems in the early parts of games is attributable to their offense.  No team has fewer first period goals scored than the Sabres (14), and their first period goal differential of minus-14 is second worst in the league (Philadelphia: minus-17).

5.  Buffalo is “Team Score Effect” when it comes to possession.  They are not awful overall, with a 48.7 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5 that ranks 20th in the league.  However, in close score situations that number deteriorates to 46.9 percent, which is 27th in the league (numbers from

1.  If defense wins championships, the Caps are following the right path.  In their seven-game winning streak they have allowed only 11 goals, holding opponents to a single goal five times.

2.  At the other end of the ice, only the San Jose Sharks have scored five or more goals in a game more times (9) than the Caps (8).

3.  It might surprise you to know that in franchise history the Caps have lost more games in regulation to the Sabres among teams not in the Caps’ division than they have to any other team (81).  In fact, the Caps’ franchise record against Buffalo is awful: 48-81-15-5.

4.  Evgeny Kuznetsov’s next goal will set a career best.  He currently has 11 goals, including the only two overtime goals scored by the Caps so far this season.

5.  Washington has had possession issues for quite some time now, but they seem especially pronounced early in games.  The Caps rank 18th in Corsi-for percentage overall in the first periods of games (48.6 percent; numbers from

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Buffalo: Evander Kane

Evander Kane’s first season in Buffalo has been challenging.  He missed ten games earlier this season to a knee injury, and even in those early games in which he did appear he was not particularly effective.  In his first 13 games of the season, Kane was 2-2-4, minus-5.  He has been more effective lately, though, going 6-3-9, plus-1, over his last 12 games, including points in his last three contests coming into Monday night’s game against the Caps.  Just when he seemed to be sorting things out on the ice, though, he now faces off-ice issues.  He has been something of a Cap-killer in his career, going 10-5-15, minus-5, in 21 career games against Washington.

Washington: Marcus Johansson

Anyone have Marcus Johansson as the team leader in game-winning goals more than a third of the way through the season?  We didn’t either.  Johansson has been quietly putting together a solid season, one of seven Caps with 20 or more points (7-13-20).  He is on a pace to finish with a career best in points for a season (49; current: 47) and power play goals (7; current: 3).  And then there are those team-leading four game-winning goals, already a career best.  His “shoot first” approach has carried over from last year (1.68 shots per game) to this one (1.70 shots per game, another career-best pace).  Johansson is 3-4-7, minus-1, in 16 career games against Buffalo.

In the end…

You could call this a “trap week” for the Capitals.  Coming in on a seven-game winning streak and 14-1-1 in their last 16 games, having beaten their closest Eastern Conference pursuers last week, and the new calendar year approaching, this week has the potential to be a pothole on the smooth road the Caps have been on over the past month.  Two games against the Sabres, a New Year’s Eve date with the Carolina Hurricanes, and a Saturday contest with the Columbus Blue Jackets might look like “W’s” on paper, but one hopes the “W” doesn’t stand for “whoops” by week’s end.  The Caps have done a good job of tending to business, whether at home (14-3-1, best record in the league) or on the road (12-3-1, third best record in the league).  This week will test their focus.

Capitals 4 – Sabres 1

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 11

‘Twas the night after Christmas, and over at Kettler, another week was in the books, the Caps’ record getting better."

When the Washington Capitals defeated the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night, the Caps completed their second consecutive perfect week and extended their season-high winning streak to seven games. 

Record: 3-0-0

What made the second consecutive 3-0-0 week important for the Capitals was the “who” the wins came against as much as the “how many” wins they recorded.  The Caps opened the week by falling behind the New York Rangers, 3-1, before roaring back with six unanswered goals in a 7-3 win.  The win helped the Caps finish Week 11 a full ten points clear of the Rangers in the standings with two games in hand.  The last game of the week, a solid 3-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens, might have come against a depleted and struggling club, but that win enabled the Caps to finish the week 11 points ahead of a club that started the year 9-0-0.  At the moment, those two clubs are the closest pursuers of the Caps (the Canadiens tied with the Detroit Red Wings, and New York Islanders with 43 points).

Offense:  4.00/game (season: 3.12 /game; rank: 2nd)

Sure, the Caps had that seven-goal game against the Rangers to open the week, but Week 11 was a solid week offensively for the club.  It was the first time since Week 2 that the Caps scored three or more goals in each of a week’s games (edit: as a careful reader points out, the Caps didn't score three or more in all three games of Week 11...too much egg nog led me to write that, I suspect; it was still a solid week).

Illustrating how deep the club is, it was Jason Chimera who led the Caps in goals for the week and who was tied for the team lead in points (3-1-4).  Eight different Caps recorded goals, Justin Williams and Evgeny Kuznetsov with the other multi-goal weeks (two apiece).  Marcus Johansson tied Chimera for the team lead in points (1-3-4).

And more evidence of depth.  Tom Wilson recorded his second multi-point game of the season with a pair of assists in the 3-1 win over Montreal to end the week.  Dmitry Orlov also recorded his second multi-point game of the season, posting a pair of assists in the 7-3 win over the Rangers to start the week.  His three assist overall tied Wilson, Johansson, and Nicklas Backstrom for club-high in Week 11.  That is a lot of names noted for a three-game week.

Defense: 1.67/game (season: 2.12 /game; rank:1st)

Washington started Week 11 as if chickens would come home to roost, poor possession numbers over more than a month finally being reflected by a poor result on the scoreboard.  By week’s end, the Caps did not cure their possession ills, but they did bend the possession curve a bit more in their favor. 

The shots against remained a problem, the Caps allowing all three opponents 30 or more shots on goal.  But even there, progress was made.  After allowing 36 shots to the Rangers in the first game of the week (15 of them in the first period, when the Rangers scored their three goals), the Caps allowed 32 shots to the Carolina Hurricanes in the middle game of the week, then 30 shots on goal in the 3-1 win over Montreal to end Week 11.

The possession numbers looked a bit better.  Washington could not crack the 50 percent level in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 overall for the week, but they did a better job in close score situations.  After a grisly 35.6 percent Corsi for in close score situations to open the week, the Caps were 53.2 percent in those situations against Carolina and 52.9 percent against Montreal to close the week (numbers from  It was the first time the Caps cleared 50 percent Corsi for in close score situations in consecutive games since they did so in Games 21 and 22 against the Winnipeg Jets and Tampa Bay Lightning in late November.

Goaltending: 1.67 /.949 (season: 1.99 / .929 / 1 shutout)

Washington passed a noteworthy threshold in Week 11.  For the first time this season – 34 games into the season, mind you – team goals against average fell below 2.00.  It did not look possible the way the week started.  Braden Holtby allowed three goals on the first 15 shots he faced in the first period against the Rangers to start the week.  It was a performance that almost resulted in his second consecutive game being pulled for Philipp Grubauer.  Holtby returned to the ice for the second period and stopped the last 21 shots he faced in a 7-3 win.  When he stopped 29 of 30 shots against Montreal in a 3-1 win, he ended the week turning away 50 of the last 51 shots he faced.  At the end of the week, among 28 goalies logging at least 1,000 minutes of ice time, Holtby led the league in wins (22, four more than Jonathan Quick and Corey Crawford), goals against average (1.92, 0.08 better than Ben Bishop), and save percentage (.932, .006 better than Bishop and Jake Allen).

The middle game of the week belonged to Philipp Grubauer, who was solid in a 31-save, 2-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes.  Going back to the third period of his appearance against the Florida Panthers on December 10th, Grubauer has stopped 41 of 42 shots on goal, an 0.60 goals against average in just over 100 minutes of ice time and a .976 save percentage.  

Power Play: 2-for-7 / 28.6 percent (season: 25.2 percent; rank: 2nd)

If there was one place in which the Caps started the week better than they finished it, it was on the power play.  In the first game of the week, the Caps scored power play goals on their last two man advantages of the contest (of three opportunities in all).  They went 0-for-2 in each of the last two games of the week, the first time they had two or fewer power play opportunities in consecutive games since Game 10 and 11 of the season on October 21st and November 3rd, part of a three-game streak of two or fewer man advantages (they were blanked in all three instances).

The Caps were effective, their 28.6 percent success rate for the week lifting their season success rate to 25.2 percent, but they were better in terms of efficiency.  Washington recorded 15 shots on goal in 11:31 of power play ice time (1.30 shots per minute), and it was not as if the shots were coming from odd players.  Alex Ovechkin had six shots of the team’s 15 on the power play for the week.  The odd part there was the balance.  Ovechkin had five of those shots on goal against the Rangers in the first game of the week, scoring one of the power play goals.  Justin Williams had the other power play goal for the week, also against the Rangers, in his only power play shot on goal for the week.

Penalty Killing: 9-for-10 / 90.0 percent (season: 84.7 percent; rank: 5th)

Week 11 would qualify as a good week for the penalty killers.  It was the second consecutive week that the Caps finished a week over 85 percent, the first time this season they accomplished that feat.  It was also a 90 percent week, the first time they hit or surpassed that mark since Week 3 when they killed off all nine shorthanded situations they faced.

One might have liked finishing the week with less time spent killing penalties, the Caps skating 18:20 in shorthanded situations, 6:49 more than they spent on the power play.  But they made up for it with killing off penalties in an efficient manner, allowing only 17 shots on goal in that 18:20 of shorthanded ice time (0.93 shots per minute).

Even Strength 5-on-5 Goals for/Goals Against: 9-4 / plus-5 (season, 5-on-5 goals for/goals against ratio: 1.42; rank: 1st)

If the Capitals did not dominate at 5-on-5 in terms of possession, they certainly did on the scoreboard.  What possession did not provide, persistence did.  In getting to the net, that is.  Of the nine 5-on-5 goals scored by the Caps in Week 11, only two were officially scored from beyond 15 feet (Marcus Johansson, 18 feet in the 7-3 win over the Rangers; Jay Beagle, 31 feet in the 3-1 win over Montreal).

The week made for an odd juxtaposition of 5-on-5 possession and 5-on-5 scoring.  While the Caps now sit in 15th place in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (numbers from, they are third in total goals scored at 5-on-5 and have allowed the second fewest of 5-on-5 goals.  Their goals for-to-goals scored ratio of 1.42:1 leads the league by a wide margin (Rangers: 1.28).

Faceoffs: 81-for-166 / 48.8 percent (season: 49.91% / rank: 17th)

The Caps slipped below 50 percent on faceoffs for the season in Week 11 on a 48.8 percent week.  It was another case of a tale of two ends.  The Caps went just 22-for-50 in the offensive end (44.0 percent) but went 34-for-63 in the defensive end (54.0 percent).  The odd part of the week on a team basis was its only winning effort in the circle.  The Caps won 26 of 43 draws in their 2-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes in the middle game of the week.  Compare the 43 draws in that game to the 65 in the win over the Rangers and the 58 in the win over the Canadiens.  The 43 faceoffs was a reflection of the hectic pace of the game, a lot of end to end action with very few whistles.

On an individual basis, it is no surprise that Jay Beagle led the Caps for the week with a 54.3 percent winning effort.  Among players taking at least 250 draws, Beagle ranks sixth in the league at 58.0 percent.  He was especially effective in the defensive end in Week 11, winning 14 of 20 faceoffs (70.0 percent).

If there was a surprise, it was Evgeny Kuznetsov credited with a 53.8 winning percentage for the week on 21 wins in 39 draws taken.  Most of that was a function of his neutral zone performance – 11-for-15 (73.3 percent).

Goals by Period:

More evidence of solid offense; the Caps scored goals in eight of nine periods for the week.  And, except for that three-goal first period to open the week, the Caps were stingy at the other end, allowing goals in only two of the other eight periods of hockey.  After catching the Rangers at the 7:01 mark of the second period in the first game of the week, the Caps played the last 152:59 of the week either tied or ahead in games.

The Caps are the only club in the league to have allowed 25 or fewer goals in each of the three regulation periods this season.  How impressive it that?  There are 14 teams in the league to have allowed more than 25 goals in each of the three regulation periods this season.

In the end…

It was another fine week in a season full of them for the Capitals so far this season.  Ten winning weeks in 11 tries, fastest club to 26 wins (34 games, beating the 1991-1992 club that did it in 40 games).  The Caps lead the league in scoring defense and are second in scoring offense.  Only the Caps and the Dallas Stars have an average goal differential of 1.00 goals per game.  The Caps are top five in power play (second) and penalty killing (fifth).  While there are possession issues that point to a lingering “productivity” problem, the performance of this club to date is little short of remarkable.  Week 11 had it all on display, an ability to comeback in games, a stifling defense that can win one-goal games, an opportunistic offense that can take advantage of a team with its own injury and performance issues.  This is not just a dominant team at the moment, but a versatile one.  It can beat opponents in a variety of ways and in a variety of game styles.  Can it last?  At the moment, the Caps offer little evidence that is cannot.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Jason Chimera (3-1-4, plus-4, shorthanded goal, game-winning goal, goals in three consecutive games, points in four straight games and five of six contests)
  • Second Star: Tom Wilson (0-3-3, plus-5, reached double digits in points for the season (12th Capital to do so), answered challenge to scrap with Montreal’s Jarred Tinordi)
  • Third Star: Philipp Grubauer (31-save effort in 2-1 win over Carolina, first time he won in consecutive appearances since his first two appearances of the season)