Saturday, December 31, 2016

A TWO-Point Afternoon -- Game 35: Washington Capitals 6 - New Jersey Devils 2

The Washington Capitals ended 2016 on a high note, avenging their 2-1 Gimmick loss to the New Jersey Devils on Thursday night with a 6-2 win at Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, on Saturday afternoon.

The Caps scored early, late, and in-between in downing the Devils.  Brett Connolly was the “early,” scoring just 2:36 into the contest, driving hard to the net from the left wing and redirecting an Andre Burakovsky backhand pass past goalie Keith Kinkaid.

Jay Beagle scored late in the first period, the product of hard work establishing position at the top of the crease in front of Kinkaid.  Battling with Damon Severson for advantage, Beagle managed to get his stick free to redirect a shot from Brooks Orpik down and to Kinkaid’s right to give the Caps a 2-0 lead at the 19:01 mark.

New Jersey halved the Caps’ lead early in the second period when Kyle Palmieri collected a loose puck in the right wing faceoff circle, caught the Caps cheating a bit leaning out of the defensive zone, and stepping up to roof a shot over the shoulder of goalie Philipp Grubauer at the 6:53 mark.

After that, it was all Caps in the second period.  It started with T.J. Oshie jumping on a rebound of a shot from Nicklas Backstrom and snapping a shot from the slot past Kinkaid, who was unable to get back into position after making the initial save. 

After Oshie’s goal at the 11:05 mark, the Caps scored again just 33 seconds later.  Matt Niskanen picked up a sliding puck at the right point and fired a shot wide to the left of Kinkaid.  The puck caromed off the end wall and out the other side of the net onto the stick of Alex Ovechkin, who buried the opportunity from the bottom of the left wing circle past Kinkaid at 11:38 to make it a 4-1 game.

Justin Williams closed the scoring late in the second period on another play started by Niskanen.  Taking a pass from Dmitry Orlov at the right point, Niskanen took a moment, then wristed a shot at the Devils’ net that Williams reached back to deflect down and past Kinkaid at the 16:34 mark of the period.

Beau Bennett made the score a little more respectable late in the third period when he duplicated Williams’ redirect from the same spot on the ice, this time getting his stick on a Ben Lovejoy drive to make it 5-2, 14:52 into the period.  The Caps responded less than a minute later when Williams and Evgeny Kuznetsov executed a give and go, Williams eventually getting the puck low in the right wing faceoff circle where he sent it across to Marcus Johansson driving to the net.  Johansson redirected the puck over Kinkaid’s right pad to close the scoring and give the Caps a 6-2 win to close the 2016 portion of their season on a high note.

Other stuff…

-- Thirteen of 18 skaters recorded points for the Caps.  Five of them had multi-point games (Matt Niskanen, Alex Ovechkin, Justin Williams, Brooks Orpik, and T.J. Oshie).

-- What a difference two days makes.  The Caps had fewer shot attempts (41) in this game than they had shots on goal (44) on Thursday night against the Devils, but they had six goals to one on Thursday.

-- Nine power plays allowed sounds like a lot, and it is.  But the Devils had only 12:17 in power play ice time owing to a number of overlapping penalties.  And the Caps continue to stymie opponents on their power plays.  The Devils had only seven shot on goal for their 12:17 in power play ice time. 

-- The 9-for-9 penalty kill made it six straight games without allowing a power play goal and 25-for-25 going back to the third period of the Caps’ 4-3 Gimmick win over the Carolina Hurricanes on December 16th.

-- Every Capital was a “plus” player in this contest, save one – Alex Ovechkin (even).

-- The Caps had two fighting majors in this game (Tom Wilson, Daniel Winnik), the first fighting majors they had in a game since November 26th.  It was the first time the Caps had two fighting majors in one game since March 9th of last season when Tom Wilson and Mike Weber had five-minute majors against the Los Angeles Kings.  Winnik’s fighting major was the first for a Cap other than Wilson this season.

-- Nicklas Backstrom’s assist on T.J. Oshie’s goal was his 498th career assist.  In addition to putting him within two of 500 for his career, he passed Vyacheslav Kozlov for 141st all-time in assists and put him one behind Randy Carlyle and Marc Savard on the all-time list.

-- Six goals is a season high for goals in a road game for the Caps, topping the five they had in a 5-2 win in Vancouver against the Canucks on October 29th.

-- Alex Ovechkin had four assists in his first 19 games this season.  His assist in this game was his seventh in his last 16 games.  Okay, so he’s not Gretzky.

-- Philipp Grubauer is putting together quite a season as a backup goalie.  With the win, he is now 6-1-1, 1.86, .932, with one shutout.

In the end…

The nine power plays allowed is a problem, even if one accounts for the odd manner in which this game was officiated (how does a retaliation two-handed check to the back of Dmitry Orlov not get called in a game with 19 penalties called, for instance?).  But six goals and points from 13 players against a goalie who was all but impenetrable on Thursday night was a good sign, too.  Although the Devils are a struggling team, this game was evidence that the Caps are a very good team when properly motivated. 

Friday, December 30, 2016

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 35: Capitals at Devils, December 31st

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Washington Capitals wrap up their home-and-home set with the New Jersey Devils in Newark on Saturday afternoon, looking to clean up the mess of sorts they left on the ice at Verizon Center on Thursday night.  Against the Metropolitan Division’s weakest team, the Caps left a standings point on the table when they managed to put just one puck past backup goaltender Keith Kinkaid on 44 shots in the hockey portion of the contest and another two shots in the freestyle competition.

For the Devils part, they scored only one goal of their own, which made it six times in the last ten games that New Jersey’s offense was held to one or fewer goals.  Over those ten games, the Devils are 2-7-1 and have averaged just 15 goals in the process.  This is a team with severe scoring issues, even without considering the absence of second-leading scorer Taylor Hall (lower body injury).

P.A. Parenteau’s fifth goal in the ten-game stretch, most on the club over that span, was the Devils’ only goal in their 2-1 Gimmick win on Thursday night against the Caps.   Parenteau has been a consistent goal scorer over his nine-year career, averaging just under 20 goals per 82 games.  If there has been an issue about his play, especially in recent years, it is availability.  Since appearing in all 48 games in the abbreviated 2012-2013 season, Parenteau has missed 60 games over just under three-and-a-half seasons.  The absences were the product of a myriad of causes – knee, upper body, concussion, upper body injury again.  He did appear in 77 games for the Toronto Maple Leafs last season and has missed only two games for the Devils so far this season.  If he can continue his good health, he is on a pace to record his third 20-goal season of his career.  He is 5-7-12, plus-6, in 15 career games against Washington.

Adam Henrique leads the Devils in total scoring over their last ten games (3-4-7).  With nine goals this season, he remains below his goal scoring pace of last season (30 in 80 games, his first 30-goal season), but his points pace ((46) would be right in line with his career points pace per 82 games coming into this season (48).  It would be hard to replicate last year’s goal scoring pace based on his shooting percentage.  Last season, Henrique potted 30 goals on 149 shots, a 20.1 percent efficiency.  That mark was second in the league among 319 players recording at least 100 shots.  This season his shooting percentage is down to 14.8 percent, a bit lower than his career shooting percentage going into last season (16.6 percent).  Henrique is 4-4-8, minus-11, in 19 career games against the Caps.

Also contributing three goals over the last ten games is forward Miles Wood.  Known more recently as a fan of Alex Ovechkin as a youngster, Wood has made a decent impression in his rookie year.  The 100th pick taken in the 2013 entry draft, has four goals in just 17 games so far this season, which makes him almost a reincarnation of Patrik Elias (the leading goal scorer in Devils’ history) on this team.  If there is an odd part to his goal scoring, it is that three of his four goals have come on the road (good news for Caps fans, given this game will be played in Newark).  Wood showed an early propensity to take penalties (minor penalties in four of his first five games this season), but he had toned that down to a degree, the only blemishes on his compliance with the rules over his last dozne games being one minor penalty and a fighting major stemming from a scrap with former Cap Steve Oleksy in the Devils’ 4-1 loss to Pittsburgh on December 23rd.  He did not have a point in his first career appearance against the Caps on Thursday.

1.  The trend of scoring one or no goals by the Devils is a recent one.  While they have those six games in their last ten in which they recorded one or no goals, they only have ten such games all season.  They are 1-8-1 in those games, the only win coming against the Caps.

2.  Shooting is a more persistent issue for New Jersey.  No team has had more instances of games with 30 or fewer shots on goal than the Devils (25).  While ten of those instances have come on home ice, it has not been too much of a burden in terms of wins and losses being a result.  New Jersey is 6-3-1 in home games in which they recorded 30 or fewer shots.

3.  New Jersey might suffer from low scoring on their part, but they have not been able to consistently apply tight defense.  Only Colorado and Arizona have more losses this season by three or more goals than the nine such losses suffered by the Devils.

4.  The Gimmick win by the Devils over the Caps on Thursday night was the 14th time in 36 games that a game was decided in extra time.  New Jersey has a record of 7-7 ion extra time games this season, the trick shot win over the Caps being the first time this season they won in the Gimmick on the road.

5.  The Devils are not among the better possession teams on home ice.  They rank 21st in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (49.42 percent; numbers from and are 28th in Corsi-for at fives when trailing on home ice (50.98 percent).

1.  Fifth goaltenders have faced at least one shot in the freestyle competition this season.  Braden Holtby ranks 48th among that cohort in save percentage (.357).  He trails 47th-ranked Peter Budaj by more than 100 percentage points (.462).  Let’s try to avoid this part of the game.

2.  On the other hand, Holtby ranks fifth in even-strength save percentage among 34 goaltenders facing at least 400 even-strength shots (.937).

3.  In their first 14 games this season, the Caps allowed eight power play goals in 41 shorthanded situations, an 80.5 percent penalty kill rate.  Over their last 20 games, the Caps have allowed eight power play goals, but in 72 shorthanded situations, an 88.9 percent penalty kill rate.  They have not allowed a power play goal in their last five games, their longest such streak of the season.

4.  There is a certain balance to the ice time the Caps have had at the player level.  No forward on the club is averaging as much as 19 minutes of total ice time per game (Alex Ovechkin: 18:45).  No forward is averaging less than ten minutes per game.

5.  The Caps are struggling in possession numbers on the road in an important respect.  While they are seventh overall in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (52.13 percent), they rank 26th in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 when trailing in road games (50.31 percent).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New Jersey: Cory Schneider

Although his career has been split between the Vancouver Canucks and the New Jersey Devils, there is a hint of Olaf Kolzig in the career of Cory Schneider.  A 26th-overall draft pick of the Canucks in 2004 (remember that Kolzig was a 19th-overall pick of the Caps in 1989), it would be another four years until Schneider reached the NHL and didn;’t appear in more than 20 games in a season until six years after his draft year (while Kolzig reached the NHL sooner, relative to his draft year, it was seven years until he has a season with more than 20 appearances).  Schneider, like Kolzig, played for a club that reached a Stanley Cup final, but soon after, again like Kolzig, found himself toiling for a club that had seen better days.  

 Despite being among the most talented goalies in the game, this is where Schneider, the heir to Martin Brodeur, finds himself.  His numbers with the Devils (2.25/.921) are almost indistinguishable from those he posted with the Canucks (2.20/.927) but his win loss record in New Jersey (79-83-32) is far less successful than that which he had in Vancouver (55-26-8).  Such is the case with a team with scoring issues trying to bring along younger players.  But Schneider remains a formidable presence in goal, capable of stealing a game out from under an opponent.  On the other hand, there have been cracks in his armor lately.  In his last eight games, Schneider is 1-6-1, 3.61, .885, and he has allowed four or more goals six times in that span.  He is 3-5-2, 2.36, .915, with out shutout in 10 career appearances against the Caps.

Washington:  T.J. Oshie

Okay, so T.J. Oshie was stopped on a trick shot attempt on Thursday night, the first time in four attempts this season he was denied a score.  But what is of more concern is the goal scoring in the hockey portion of the game.  Since he had a pair of goals and a pair of assists in a 7-1 win over Pittsburgh on November 16th, he is 2-1-3 in his last 11 games and is on a five-game streak without a point.  One gets the feeling he might be coming out of that funk, though.  What characterized the early stage of this slump was a lack of shots on goal.  After the Penguin game he has just seven shots on goal in five games.  However, he has 16 shots in his last six games, and has had shot totals increase on a game-to-game basis over his last five games (he had four shots on goal on Thursday against the Devils).  Oshie is 1-1-2, minus-1, in nine career games against the Devils.

In the end…

One has the uncomfortable sense that resourcefulness is going to be an issue that the Caps will need to address in the last half of the regular season and as they prepare for the playoffs.  When the Devils threw up a wall at the blue line or collapsed back to protect their net on Thursday night, the Caps seemed to have no answer.  The goal the Caps scored was of the shorthanded variety, not the product of well-implemented offense.  The Caps have too many tools and weapons to have this be a lingering problem, and it suggests that this is going to be a coaching issue as much as anything.  The first order of business in that regard is to take the lessons learned from Thursday and find ways to penetrate what is likely to be another case of stifling defense and boring strategy employed by the Devils.  The Caps need to find a way to impose their will on an opponent rather than settle into playing their game.

Capitals 3 – Devils 1

Thursday, December 29, 2016

A ONE-Point Night -- Game 34: New Jersey Devils 2 - Washington Capitals 1 (OT/Gimmick)

For a game that had just two goals scored in the hockey portion of the contest, the Washington Capitals and the New Jersey Devils had their moments in the Devils’ 2-1 trick shot win.

The scoring was sparse, initiated by the Devils after a scoreless first period.  It was PA Parenteau doing the honors, taking advantage of a giveaway by Evgeny Kuznetsov out of his own corner, trying to find Dmitry Orlov with an ill-advised no-look pass.   The puck slid out to the high slot where Parenteau was filling in.  His shot appeared to nick Orlov on the way through, and it was just enough of a change in direction to elude goalie Braden Holtby to make it 1-0, just 1:05 into the second period.

It took the Caps until the third period to solve Devils goalie Keith Kinkaid, and it came while shorthanded.  It was the product of superb effort by Daniel Winnik to start and end the play, and by Jay Beagle to keep the play alive.  It started with Winnik collecting a loose puck at his own blue line and skating it up the right wing.  Winnik shielded the puck away from Adam Henrique as he closed on the net and managed to get a shot on Kinkaid.  As Kinkaid fought off the shot with his right pad, Beagle was closing on the left side.  He outdueled Yohann Auvitu for the puck, and from his knees he found Winnik at the top of the crease.  Winnik’s first whack at the puck was stopped by Kinkaid, but not the second one. Winnik slid the puck past Kinkaid’s right pad, and the score was tied, 1-1, 3:50 into the third period.

That would be all the scoring, though, and the game went to the freestyle competition.  T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov came up empty, while Mike Cammalleri and Jacob Josefson scored to give the Devils the extra standings point.

Other stuff…

-- The 44 shots on goal was a season high for the Caps, topping the 41 they recorded in on Opening Night in a 3-2 Gimmick loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.  High shot volumes have not been the Caps’ friend this season.  With this loss, the Caps are 5-3-4 when recording 35 or more shots on goal.

-- It’s not often that any Capital record more shots on goal in a game than Alex Ovechkin, but it is very rare when three Caps do it.  Dmitry Orlov (6), Daniel Winnik (6), and Nicklas Backstrom (5) all had more shots on goal than Ovechkin (4).

-- Winnik’s six shots came in just 12:36 in ice time, and he managed to get all of his shot attempts on net.

-- The Caps had as many shots while shorthanded as the Devils had on their power play (4).

-- That Brooks Orpik was credited with five hits is not unusual.  That Evgeny Kuznetsov was credited with four is.

-- Coming into this game, the Caps were 9-0-1 when allowing one or no goals.  This made it two Gimmick losses in such situations, their first this season on home ice.

-- All of a sudden, the power play has gone cold again.  After recording power play goals in five straight games and seven of eight contests, the Caps extended their current drought on the man advantage to four straight games, going 0-for-4 against New Jersey.

-- Meanwhile, the penalty killers are doing just fine.  After shutting out the Devils on four man advantages, the Caps have run off five straight games without allowing a power play goal (15-for-15) and seven of their last eight games (27-for-28).

-- This was the sixth time in 16 appearances on home ice that Braden Holtby allowed one or fewer goals this season.  He is 10-5-1, 1.81, .928, with three shutouts on home ice.

-- The loss dropped the Caps to 4-5-3 in the Metropolitan Division.

In the end…

There was a glass-half-full/glass-half-empty quality to this game.  In the full half of the glass was getting 44 shots on goal.  In the empty half was Keith Kinkaid seeing first shots all too clearly and the Caps not doing, or being prevented from doing much about getting to rebounds.  The Devils played to keep shooting lanes clear for Kinkaid to focus on the puck while boxing out Caps from setting screens or jumping on loose pucks.  For a team as offensively-challenged as the Devils (27th in scoring offense) and missing Taylor Hall to boot, it would seem to be the style that gives them the best chance to win.  The Caps did not do enough to shake the Devils out of their protect-the-house style, making a 44-shot volume seem more impressive than it was.  The Caps will get a chance to show if they learned anything when they face the Devils in the back half of the home and home on Saturday afternoon.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

A NO-Point Night -- Game 33: New York Islanders 4 - Washington Capitals 3

The Washington Capitals resumed play on Tuesday night after their holiday break, but they appeared to be suffering the lingering effects of egg nog overindulgence as they fell behind three times before succumbing to the New York Islanders, 4-3, at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

The Caps fell behind for the first time in the contest mid-way through the first period when Cal Clutterbuck scored off a rebound of a Nikolai Kulemin shot, tapping a loose puck past goalie Braden Holtby’s right pad at the 8:02 mark.

Justin Williams tied the game for the Caps five minutes later. Dmitry Orlov won a battle along the boards to free the puck to Alex Ovechkin at the top of the left wing circle. Backing around the circle, Ovechkin wristed a shot to the Islander net that was knocked down by goalie Jaroslav Halak. The puck lay in the crease, where Williams was free to poke it past Halak to make it 1-1, 13:24 into the period.

That would be how the teams went to the first intermission, and the score remained tied through much of the second frame. With just under six minutes left, though, Thomas Hickey took a pass from Alan Quine and worked himself down the left wing wall. As he approached the goal line, Hickey fired a pass across to Andrew Ladd at the opposite side of the Caps’ net. Ladd settled the puck with his skate, then whacked it off the post and Holtby’s left skate into the back of the net to make it 2-1, 14:03 into the period.

That set things up for a more active third period. Alex Ovechkin got it started just 1:17 into the period, finishing a Caps rush. Ovechkin started it, skating the puck through the neutral zone before sending it forward to Evgeny Kuznetsov at the Islander blue line. Kuznetsov fed the puck to Williams on his left, who wristed a shot on goal. Halak made a pad save, but he left the puck at the top of the crease where Ovechkin was waiting by himself, Clutterbuck unexpectedly peeling off to his right rather than cover him. Ovechkin made quick work of the loose puck, backhanding it past Halak, off the post, and in to tie the game.

Then came a 43-second span of time that changed the game. It started with Andrew Ladd getting his second of the night, redirecting a pass from Quine from a spot low to Holtby’;s right behind the goalie at the 4:41 mark. Then it was Anders Lee providing some insurance, muffling an attempted cross-ice pass by Matt Niskanen, picking up the puck just outside his own blue line, and skating off on a breakway that he finished, beating Holtby low through the pads 5:24 into the period.

It was time enough for the Caps to mount a comeback, and Andre Burakovsky got them half-way there 13 minutes into the period when he finished a play started by Niskanen just inside the Islanders’ blue line. His drive was altered in its path by Jay Beagle, the puck finding its way to Burakovsky streaking for the net. From the top of the crease, Burakovsky had only to get the blade of his stick on the puck sliding through to redirect it past Halak to make it 4-3.

That would be as close as the Caps would get, though. New York kept the Caps off the scoreboard over the last 6:55 to escape with the win.

Other stuff…

-- Ovechkin finished with a goal and an assist, putting him within eight points of the 1,000 mark for his career. It was his first multi-point game of the year on the road.

-- Nicklas Backstrom, who is closing on a milestone of his own (500 career assists) did not record a point and was minus-3 for the night (as was Marcus Johansson).

-- Andre Burakovsky, who went 26 games without a goal after scoring a pair on Opening Night, now has goals in two of his last three games.

-- Justin Williams had a goal and an assist, resuming his assault on the score sheet after going consecutive games without a point. He is 6-3-9 in his last ten games.

-- Giving up goals early and late have been infrequent occurrences for the Caps, but they did both in this game. The goal allowed in the first period was just the 14th allowed by the Caps this season in the opening frame, still fewest in the league. The two goals allowed in the third period made it 29 such goals allowed, still tied for ninth fewest in the NHL.

-- The four goals allowed to the Islanders was the first time since November 26th that the Caps allowed as many as four goals in a game, breaking an eleven-game streak of allowing fewer than four goals. It was just the fifth time this season that the Caps allowed more than three goals in a game.

-- The Caps scored three goals. Usually, this is all but a lock for a win; they were 18-0-0 this season when scoring three or more goals this season. Now, they are 18-1-0.

-- Ovechkin had nine shots on goal, a season high and the most he had in a game since he had ten shots on goal last February 18th in a 3-2 win over the Islanders on this same ice sheet.

-- Beginning with the penalty taken by Dennis Seidenberg for slashing at the 14:45 mark of the third period, the Islanders spent 4:59 of the last 5:15 of the contest down at least one skater, taking two penalties (the other by Thomas Hickey at 17:01 for high-sticking) including the last 2:06 when the Caps took goalie Braden Holtby off the ice for an extra attacker (they had two extra skaters for the last 1:07 of Hickey’s penalty).

-- The four goals allowed by Holtby equaled the number he allowed in his previous 213:11 of ice time spanning his four previous games, back to the second period of the Caps’ 4-2 win over the Islanders on December 13th on the same ice sheet.

In the end…

About the best one can say about this game is, “it could have been worse.”  Four penalties taken in the second period left the Caps shorthanded for almost seven minutes of the period (there was some overlap with an Islander penalty taken).  That the Islanders managed only three shots on goal on four power plays over a total of 7:09 in man advantage time for the game speaks well of the penalty killers.  But on the other hand, six inconsequential shots on four power plays of their own in 7:09 of man advantage ice time hints at the power play losing the spark it had when it recorded goals in five straight and seven of eight games earlier this month.  Going into this game, this was just the fifth team in Capitals history to reach the 20-win mark in 32 games.  Only two teams – the 1991-1992 team with 22 wins and the 2015-2016 team with 24 wins – had more at the 32-game mark than this one.  It suggests that this is a pretty good team.  Pity that in Game 33 there was not a lot of evidence of that.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 31: Capitals at Flyers, December 21st

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

For the first time this season and the 208th time in the respective histories of the teams, the Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers will meet on the ice, this inaugural edition of the 2016-2017 series to be played In the City of Brotherly Love on Wednesday night.  Both teams will be coming off losses, the Caps having their six-game winning streak snapped by the Montreal Canadiens, 2-1, on Saturday night, while the Flyers dropped a 2-1 trick shot decision to the Nashville Predators, their second straight loss since putting together a ten-game winning streak of their own, tied for third longest in club history.

The Flyers’ ten-game winning streak was largely fueled by forward Jakub Voracek, who went 4-12-17, plus-6 during the streak and posted consecutive four-point games (a 6-5 win over the Edmonton Oilers and a 4-2 win over the Dallas Stars in what are the most recent home games for the Flyers).  The surge has lifted Voracek into a tie for third place in the league points rankings (34), trailing only Connor McDavid (40) and Vladimir Tarasenko (38).  If there is an odd fact attached to Voracek’s streak and his scoring in general, it is that despite the fact that he recorded points in eight of the Flyers’ ten straight wins, the Flyers are just 12-5-2 in the 19 games in which Voracek has recorded a point this season, 6-3-1 in his multi-point games.  In 25 career games against the Caps, he is 11-7-18, plus-5.

Defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere’s sophomore season has not been the uninterrupted progress of success his rookie season was.  After finishing second to Artemi Panarin in last season’s Calder Trophy voting for the league’s top rookie for a team reaching the playoffs, he and the Flyers got off to a slow start this season.  For Gostisbehere is was not so much his offense as his defense.  In his first 17 games he was 3-7-10, not far behind his points-per-game pace last season.  However, he was a minus-4 in those 17 games, and he was inching deeper into head coach Dave Hakstol’s doghouse.  Finally, Hakstol banished Gostisbehere to the press box for a game, a 5-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets on November 17th.   Whether his defense has improved is an open question, given that he is 1-5-6, minus-2, in 15 games since his benching, and he missed a game in that stretch on December 11th against the Detroit Red Wings with a hand injury.  Gostisbehere is 0-3-3, even, in three career games against Washington.

It might be hard to believe that in this, the 50th anniversary season of Flyers hockey, they have had just four goaltenders appear in at least 200 games for the club.  Steve Mason became the fourth member of that club in his last appearance, the 2-1 Gimmick loss to Nashville last Saturday (the others are Ron Hextall (489), Bernie Parent (486), and Doug Favell (215)).  And when you have been around that long, weird things happen.  Take Mason’s during and after phases of the Flyers’ ten-game winning streak.  Mason got the call eight times during that streak and went 8-0-0, 2.33, .926.  Very good numbers, indeed, although not extraordinary, but for the wins.  In the two games – both losses – he has played since the streak, he allowed just three goals on 58 shots, a .948 save percentage.  In 16 career games against the Caps, Mason Is 8-5-2, 2.71, .908, with two shutouts.

1.  It was not as if the Flyers’ special teams were lights out in their ten-game winning streak.  They were good (20.0 percent power play, 85.7 percent penalty kill), but not extraordinary.  In fact, the power play underperformed their level outside the streak (24.4 percent; 22.4 percent overall for the season), although the penalty kill outperformed their season outside the streak (81.7 percent; 82.8 percent overall for the season).

2.  Winning and losing often takes place on the margin in the NHL.  In the Flyers’ ten-game winning streak, six games were decided by one goal, four of them in extra time.  Two other wins featured empty net goals, effectively leaving the Flyers with eight “one-goal-ish” decisions in their ten wins during the streak.

3.  As one might expect, the Flyers rank high in one-goal games.  With 20 such decisions (11-5-4), they trail only the Chicago Blackhawks and Carolina Hurricanes (21 apiece) in one-goal decisions so far this season.

4.  Outshooting opponents does not pay off well for the Flyers.  In 19 games in which they outshot opponents this season, they are just 9-8-2.  When outshot, they are 10-3-2. 

5.  Philadelphia is a middle-of-the-road possession team, ranking 14th in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (50.82 percent) and 14th on home ice (51.05 percent; numbers from

1.  Do power play opportunities matter for the Caps?  Maybe…maybe not.  In 12 games in which they were awarded four or more opportunities, they are 8-3-1, while in the 18 games in which they had three or fewer chances, they are 11-5-2.  Ditto for penalty killing.  The Caps are 9-3-0 in games in which they faced four or more shorthanded situations, 10-5-3 in those contests in which they were shorthanded three or fewer times.

2.  Scoring on the power play is a different story.  When the Caps lost to the Montreal Canadiens, 2-1, despite scoring a power play goal, it was just the second loss in regulation time this season when scoring on the man advantage.  The Caps are 12-2-1 in games in which they score at least one power play goal, 7-6-2 when they do not.

3.  That special play success applies to penalty killing, too.  Washington is 11-3-1 when shutting out opponents on the power play, 8-5-2 when they do not.  They are 10-0-0 when scoring a power play goal and shutting out their opponent on the man advantage, but that should not be all that surprising.

4.  One-goal games are not so much a feature of Caps games.  In 30 contests this season, they have 14 one-goal decisions.  Only six teams have fewer, and four of those teams have 13 such decisions.  The Caps are 9-2-3 in one-goal decisions, two of the three extra time decisions coming in the Gimmick.

5.  Washington continues to be a good possession team on the road, ranking fourth overall in Corsi-for at fives away from Verizon Center (52.58 percent; numbers from

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Philadelphia: Claude Giroux

“When the best player in the world comes up to you and tells you, ‘I don’t know who you plan on starting tonight, but I want that first shift.’ That says everything you need to know about Claude Giroux right there.”  Best player in the world?  That’s a lot to live up to, even if you are Sidney Crosby.  The thing is, that line was uttered by then-Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette back in 2012, just after Giroux' Flyers disposed of Crosby’s Penguins in the postseason.  Since then, however, Giroux has been a very good player, averaging 25-53-78 per 82 games, but he does not have a 30-goal season, and only once did he top 75 points (for the record, Crosby has two 30-goal seasons and three seasons with more than 80 points since then).  Giroux does remain one of the better players in the game, though.  While not in the class of Crosby or Connor McDavid, he does rank in the top dozen point getters this season (30) and is on a pace to finish with 72 points this season.  He was a key ingredient in the Flyers’ ten-game winning streak, going 5-7-12, plus-10.  In 29 career games against the Caps, Giroux is 15-16-31, plus-1.

Washington:  Lars Eller

Shayne Gostisbehere has the nickname, “Ghost,” for the Flyers, a play on his last name.  Lars Eller might have that nickname for the Caps for his being hard – at times impossible – to see on the ice.  His top end numbers are not particularly impressive, even for a third-liner: 2-2-4, minus-5, in 29 games.  That minus-5 is tied for worst on the club (with Justin Williams), and he is 18 games (and counting) without a goal.  His two goals and four points in 29 games are far behind his career-low goals and scoring pace (seven goals and 17 points in 77 games for Montreal in 2010-2011).  However, his possession numbers are outstanding.  He leads all Caps with at least 100 5-on-5 minutes in individual Corsi-for (58.14 percent), and among forward lines with at least 20 5-on-5 minutes together, Eller is a member of the top two combos (Eller, Williams, and Brett Connolly with a 65.62 percent Corsi-for in 33 minutes; Eller, Connolly, and Daniel Winnik with a 64.71 percent Corsi-for in 26 minutes; numbers from  He is 1-4-5, minus-11, in 21 career games against the Flyers.

In the end…

“Brotherly love” has hardly been a hallmark of this series, especially in Philadelphia, where the Caps have a record of 34-60-6 with six ties in the history of this series.  Worse, the Caps have lost five of their last six games in Philadelphia.  An odd feature of this series in Philadelphia since the Caps beat the Flyers, 7-0, back on November 1, 2013, a game in which the teams combined for 164 penalty minutes and included a goalie-on-goalie fight, is that the teams have combined for just 209 penalty minutes in six games since and only 86 in their last four.  Not that they will be exchanging holiday gifts at center ice in this game, but two teams with this recent penalty history against one another and their league rankings (17th and 18th in minor penalties taken) is an odd feature of this series and something to watch for.

Capitals 3 – Flyers 2

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 10

The Washington Capitals entered Week 10 playing well with little reward for it in the standings, looking up at four teams in the Metropolitan Division, despite a 16-7-3 record.  When Week 10 ended, the Caps found themselves with another good week in the win-loss department (but not quite as good as it looked…we’ll get to that) and this time, a little in the way of advancement in the standings, jumping over the Philadelphia Flyers into fourth place in the division and within the two games in hand they hold over the Pittsburgh Penguins for the top spot in the division. 

Record: 3-1-0

The Caps did finish the week with a 19-8-3 record, but it might surprise Caps fans to know that Week 10 was just the second time this season that they had a winning week for a second consecutive week, the first time since Weeks 1 and 2.  They opened the week with three straight wins, extending a winning streak to a season-long six games, their longest streak since stringing together nine straight wins last season in Games 28-36, December 12-30.

But here’s the thing.  The three wins with which the Caps opened the week came against teams that finished the week non-qualifiers for the postseason.  The loss to the Montreal Canadiens to end the week came at the hands of a team they might face in the postseason.  Through ten weeks and 30 games, the Caps have done a good job beating up on the weaker teams in the league, going 14-3-1 against teams that would not qualify for the playoffs.  However, their 5-5-2 record against teams that are currently playoff qualifiers should give no one a sense of comfort that this team is destined for a deep playoff run.  On a more ominous note, three of the five losses in regulation came by at least three goals (two of them at home), while three of the wins were of the one-goal variety, two of them in overtime.  Then again, there are more than 50 games remaining to establish themselves as a team to be feared in the postseason.

Offense:  2.75/game (season: 2.67 /game; rank: 14th)

While the Caps did not enjoy as prolific a week on offense that they did in Week 9, they did have another balanced week.  Seven players shared the 11 total goals scored, and 14 skaters recorded points.  Justin Williams led the way in goals scored with three.  To that number he added an assist, giving him points in all four games for the week and extending what is a good scoring run of late.  Williams is 5-2-7 in his last seven contests.  Matt Niskanen led the club in points for Week 10, going 2-3-5, one of his goals being the game-winner in the 4-2 win over the New York Islanders, and one of his assists coming on the goal that sent the game against the Carolina Hurricanes to overtime, where the Caps won in the trick shot competition.

One of the things that the Caps didn’t do on offense in Week 10 was score first. Only in their 3-0 shutout win over the Vancouver Canucks to open the week did the Caps score the game’s first goal.  The Caps came into the week having opened the scoring in 19 of 26 games and made it 20 of 27 in the win over Vancouver (sending their record to 15-3-2 when scoring first).  Giving up the first goal in the last three games of the week dropped them into a tied for second-fewest instances of allowing the first goal (10, with Montreal), one more than the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Defense: 1.75/game (season: 2.13 /game; rank: 3rd)

The Capitals have become known as a team with a quick-strike offense in recent years, but what should not be lost this season is that the team is among the best in franchise history in limiting their opponents’ offense.   The seven goals allowed by the Caps in Week 10 dropped their scoring defense to 2.13 goals against per game, third-best in the league and a number that is far and away the best they have had since the 2004-2005 lockout (in 2010-2011 and 2015-2016, they averaged 2.33 goals against per game). 

Part of that is limiting opponent opportunities.  In Week 10 the Caps limited opponents to 30 or fewer shots in all four games, only the Carolina Hurricanes reaching the 30-shot mark, and that coming in overtime (the Caps held them to 25 shots in regulation).  It is part of a year-long trend for the Caps as one of the best clubs in stifling opponents’ chances in recent memory.  They have held opponents to 28.1 shots on goal per game, sixth-fewest in the league this season and the second-fewest the team has allowed in the post 2004-2005 lockout period (2007-2008: 27.5).  The stinginess shows up in their 5-on-5 play, too.  The 51.64 shot attempts per 60 minutes is the fifth-fewest in the league through Week 10 and the second fewest in the post 2004-2005 lockout period (2007-2008: 47.91; numbers from

Goaltending:   1.73 / .932 / 1 SO (season: 2.02 / .927 / 3 SO)

It is a remarkable week when one goal sticks out, but in a week where goaltending was very good and, at times, excellent, this one goal stands out:

It was one of those things were a lot of little things went wrong from the drop of the puck on a faceoff – losing a battle in the corner, letting the puck carrier get position and an open skating path, no one supporting the play as it unfolded behind the Caps’ net – but the big thing was a garden variety wraparound with the goalie hugging the post hitting the heel of the goalie’s stick and caroming into the net.  It was not a typical goal scored on Braden Holtby, and when you look at his week (2-1-0, 1.35, .945, one shutout, even with that goal), it makes the goal look stranger in context.  If there was a better part of Holtby’s week, it was that he did not allow a third-period goal on 25 shots faced over three games.  And, with the .945 save percentage for the week, Holtby climbed into the top-ten in save percentage among 36 goalies facing at least 400 shots (.925).

Philipp Grubauer got the other start, that coming in the third game of the week, against the Carolina Hurricanes.  Although it was not among his best performances of the season; it was only the second time in seven appearances he allowed more than two goals.  However, it was good enough to get the Caps to overtime against the Hurricanes, and he did shut out Carolina on five shots in the extra time, then stopped two shooters in the freestyle competition to secure his fifth win.  Grubauer finished the week with 198 shots faced this season.  With two more, the Caps would have been the only team in the league with two goalies facing at least 200 shots with save percentages of .925 or better (Holtby: .925; Grubauer: .934).

Power Play: 5-for-13 / 38.5 percent (season: 19.6 percent; rank: 12th)

Week 10 found the Caps continuing their march up the league rankings on the power play.  After Week 5, the Caps were stuck at 12.5 percent for the season and ranked 24th.  With the 5-for-13 week in Week 10, they are 14-for-57 over the last five weeks (24.6 percent) and have climbed into 12th place overall with a 19.6 percent conversion rate. 

Week 10 saw the Caps finished with highs in goals for a week (five) and conversion rate (38.5 percent) for the season.  That’s what one gets for scoring power play goals in each of the week’s games, extending their streak to five straight games with a power play goal and seven of their last eight contests.

Four different Caps shared in the five power play goals: Alex Ovechkin (2), Matt Niskanen, Justin Williams, and Nicklas Backstrom.  The shots on goal were not extraordinarily efficient (18 shots in 20:36 of power play ice time), but they were spread around.  Eight Caps accounted for the 18 shots on goal, seven of those players recording at least two each, and Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson getting three apiece.

Penalty Killing: 14-for-15 / 93.3 percent (season: 84.0 percent; rank: 7th)

That 93.3 percent kill rate on power plays faced is a good number.  Facing 15 shorthanded situations is not a good number.  It is the fourth time in the last five weeks that the Caps faced more than ten shorthanded situations, and while the efficiency is there (86.4 percent penalty kill over the last five weeks), there is the matter of eight goals allowed.  That only the Carolina Hurricanes, a team that finished the week eighth in power play efficiency, was the only team to score a power play goal against the Caps says something about the Caps effectiveness, but then again, Vancouver and the Islanders are bottom-five power play teams, too. 

The problem remains volume.  The Caps are only tied with the Florida Panthers for 15th most shorthanded situations faced through ten weeks (100 apiece), but 59 of them have come in the last five weeks (3.69 per game versus 2.93 per game in the first five weeks).  If there was one thing that stands out on the penalty kill this week it is the Caps’ efficiency.  They held the four opponents to a total of 14 shots in 27:21 of shorthanded ice time (0.51 shots per minute), held Vancouver and Montreal to one power play shot apiece, and almost unbelievably held the Canucks without a power play shot on goal on their first four power plays and for the first 9:23 of power play ice time for Vancouver before recording their only shot on goal.  If “will over skill” is a thing, here is where it is in full flower.

Faceoffs: 117-for-246 / 47.6 percent (season: 50.6% / rank: 11th)

It was not a poor week in the faceoff circle as much as it was uniformly unimpressive.  The Caps hit the 50 percent mark once in four games and only topped that mark in the neutral zone for the week.  In the offensive zone (47.0 percent) and the defensive zone (44.2 percent), things were comparatively grim.  Among those Caps taking at least ten draws for the week, only Nicklas Backstrom (54.9 percent) and Jay Beagle (60.3 percent) finished over 50 percent).  Lars Eller (30.3 percent) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (35.6 percent) had rather forgettable weeks in this phase of the game.

Then there is the matter of faceoffs taken after penalties, and here there was an odd pattern.  The Caps won three of four faceoffs immediately following an opponent penalty in the first two games of the week, but they went just 1-for-5 in draws immediately after an opponent taking a penalty against Carolina and Montreal.  If losing a draw costs a team on the power play 20-30 seconds, the Caps left some time on the table in the last two games of the week, one an extra time win, the other a loss.

Goals by Period:

Week 10 was a week in which the Caps finished games strong on offense, with five goals scored in the second and third periods of games, respectively.  Conversely, there was the first period of games, in which the Caps finished the week a minus-2 in goal differential.  The three first period goals allowed was unusual for their volume and frequency (one allowed in each of the last three games of the week).  The Caps came into the week leading the league in fewest first period goals allowed (10), and they left it leading the league in that number (13), but the fact that the Caps did so is what made a 30 percent increase in that number in one week so unusual.

In the end…

The Caps finished up their third four-game week of the season in Week 10, the second time they finished in the winning column (they were 4-0-0 in Week 4).  Still, only two teams in the league – the Colorado Avalanche and Columbus Blue Jackets – have played in fewer games than the 30 the Caps completed through Week 10.  That means the Caps have games in hand, but those will have to wait.  The immediate task facing the Caps is a two-game week in Week 11 featuring games against divisional rival Philadelphia and a club against which the Caps might find themselves fighting for a wild-card spot, the Tampa Bay Lightning.

It will not be as easy a week as the one the Caps just completed, at least in quality of competition.  The Caps made hay against comparatively weaker teams in Week 10, but they still show evidence of struggling against teams at their competition level.  Part of the problem is not getting much offensive push against better teams.  Through 30 games, the Caps have played 12 contests against currently playoff-eligible clubs.  In nine of those games the Caps had fewer than 30 shots on goal.  In 18 games against teams below the postseason cut-off, the Caps recorded 30 or more shots 10 times.  The Caps seem to have the defensive part of the game managed well.  They need to pose a more persistent threat on offense against better teams than they have displayed so far, and they get a chance to do that in Week 11.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Justin Williams (3-1-4, even, seven shots on goal, three hits, five blocked shots, 4-for-8 on faceoffs)
  • Second Star: Braden Holtby (2-1-0, 1.35, .945, one shutout)
  • Third Star: Matt Niskanen (2-3-5, plus-3, one game-winning goal, seven hits, four blocked shots)

Saturday, December 17, 2016

A NO-Point Night -- Game 30: Montreal Canadiens 2 - Washington Capitals 1

It is said that all good things come to an end, and for the Washington Capitals and their fans, the goodness of a six-game winning streak came to an end on Saturday night at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens, 2-1, at Verizon Center.

The Canadiens drew first blood late in the first period when Arturri Lehkonen finished a play on which all the little things went wrong for the Caps.  It started with the Caps “winning” a faceoff to the right of goaltender Braden Holtby.  The “winning” is in quotes because the Caps promptly lost control of the puck in the corner to Lehkonen, who then got position on defenseman Matt Niskanen to take advantage of a skating path along the end wall.  Lehkonen followed that path behind the Caps’ net, then wrapped the puck around the post and off the heel of Holtby’s stick into the back of the net to make it 1-0 14:41 into the contest.

That would be all of the scoring for the next 20 minutes of ice time, but late in the second period, the Caps took advantage of some outside-the-rules play by the visitors.  With Nathan Beaulieu and Alexei Emelin in the penalty box to give the Caps a 5-on-3 power play, an attempted clear by Andrei Markov up the wall was claimed by John Carlson before the puck could exit the zone.  From his knees, Carlson whipped the puck across to Alex Ovechkin, who fed it down to Justin Williams at the bottom of the left wing faceoff circle.  Williams took a moment, then slipped a pass under Markov’s stick to the opposite faceoff circle, from which Nicklas Backstrom one-timed the puck over goalie Carey Price’s left pad, tying the contest at the 14:16 mark.

Barely two minutes later, though, the Canadiens had what would prove to be the game-winner.  Max Pacioretty skated the puck over the Caps’ blue line and left it for Phillip Danault along the left wing wall.  Danualt eased the puck forward, back to Pacioretty, who threw a pass to the low slot where Jeff Petry was closing.  Petry redirected the puck past Holtby, and the Habs had their final 2-1 margin.

Other stuff…

-- Talk about record one doesn’t necessarily want to set.  With the loss, Barry Trotz became the losingest coach in the history of the regular season in the NHL.  The loss was Trotz’ 653rd in his coaching career (531 in regulation time, 122 in extra time), breaking a tie with Ron Wilson.  Trotz might not hold that spot for long, though.  Dallas’ Lindy Ruff has 651 career losses, and Winnipeg’s Paul Maurice has 647 career losses.  Maurice leads all active coaches in losses in regulation time (550, fourth all time), while Trotz and Ruff are tied with 531, tied for sixth all-time (thanks to Dirk Hoag, formerly a blogger for the Nashville Predators, for unearthing that nugget).

-- Carey Price’s record went to 29-1-1 in his last 31 games played on Saturday for the Canadiens.

-- Justin Williams’ assist on Nicklas Backstrom’s goal made it four straight games with a point and points in six of his last seven contests (5-2-7).

-- Backstrom continued his hot play over the last five weeks.  With his goal, he is 8-10-18 in 16 games since November 15th.

-- Tom Wilson had marks in only one column of his line of the score sheet.  He had six hits in 10:43 of ice time.

-- Wilson’s line of the score sheet was almost crowded compared to Brooks Orpik’s… one shot attempt blocked in 16:22 of ice time.

-- In the Younger Guns category, Jakub Vrana and the just-recalled Zach Sanford combined for two shots on goal (both by Vrana), eight shot attempts, one hit (Sanford), and two blocked shots.  Unfortunately, no points between them.

-- The Caps out-hit the Canadiens, 43-18.  The Canadiens had the puck a lot…

-- …but they did so little with it.  Montreal finished the game with just 44 shot attempts (the Caps had 58), but…

-- …the Caps went 15:32 without a shot on goal, from 17:23 of the second period to the 12:55 mark of the third period.

In the end…

The Caps never seemed to be in this game, and with the Caps matching their shot of goal total (21) with shot attempts blocked by the Canadiens (21), the game looked hauntingly like the 2010 playoffs.  From the start, it seemed as if Carey Price was just a bit in their heads, the Caps frequently opting for one more pass when a shot might have been a better option.  Neither goalie was called upon often to do much in the way of big saves, and the score reflected that. 

The good part of this loss, to the extent there is one, is that the Caps still held what was the league’s fifth best scoring offense to two goals.  The bad part is that the Caps let a team that hadn’t won a road game in regulation time in almost two months off the hook.  But the bottom line is that on a night when the Caps saw a six-game winning streak come to an end, two of the teams with which the Caps are fighting for position in the Metropolitan Division lost – the Pittsburgh Penguins in overtime to the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Philadelphia Flyers to Dallas Stars – although another (the New York Rangers) won in a Gimmick.  It was not a good night for the Caps, but it wasn’t a total wash out in the bigger scheme of things.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 30: Canadiens at Capitals, December 17th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals finish up a weekend back-to-back set of game when they host the Montreal Canadiens at Verizon Center on Saturday night.  The Caps, fresh off a 4-3 trick shot win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday night, carry a six-game winning streak into the contest.  Montreal , who will be playing their own second game in two nights after a 4-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks on Friday night, will be bringing a two-game losing streak into their meeting with the Caps.

Montreal was once 13-1-1 this season, but since that sizzling 15-game start, they are 6-6-3.  Over those 15 games the Canadiens are averaging a reasonably healthy 2.87 goals per game, but that number is somewhat inflated by the 10 goals they pinned on the Colorado Avalanche in a 10-1 win last Saturday.  Take that one away, and the Canadiens are averaging 2.36 goals per game in the other 14 games.  Their goals allowed per game over their last 15 games is a respectable 2.47 per game, and they haven’t allowed more than four goals in any of those 15 games.  It has been a consistently decent scoring defense, but not a stifling one.

And that brings us to goalie Carey Price, expected to get the start in this contest.  He, like the team in front of him, has had two very different seasons so far.  In his first ten appearances, Price was 10-0-0, 1.40, .957, with two shutouts.  He was the early favorite to win this season’s Vezina Trophy and might have been on a few early Hart Trophy ballots, too.  His last 12 appearances, though, showed him to be a bit more mortal, if a bit unlucky, too.  In those 12 appearances he is 6-4-2, 2.41, .938.  The unlucky part for Price has been that in eight of those 12 appearances he allowed two or fewer goals but is 5-2-1 in those games (he was 9-0-0 when allowing two or fewer goals in his first ten games).  If there is an odd part about his season to date, it is that he has just five appearances in road games, 16 appearances on home ice.  Only two of those road games have been played east of the Mississippi (at Boston and at Detroit, both wins).  Price is 3-2-0, 2.17, .928 in those five road games.  He is 5-9-4, 3.08, .898, with one shutout in his career versus Washington.

Montreal has just one player with more than ten goals so far, and that is Max Pacioretty.  He has been a very consistent scorer in recent years for the Canadiens, posting 30 or more goals in each of his last four full seasons (not including the abbreviated 2012-2013 season) coming into this one.  His 12 goals in 30 games so far puts him on a pace for another 30-plus goal season, although that 12-goal total includes a four-goal outburst in the 10-1 win over Colorado last Saturday.  On the other hand, that four-goal game is part of a run in which Pacioretty has seven goals in six games.  In 23 career games against the Caps, he is 2-8-10, minus-3.

Shea Weber was one-half of one of the biggest player-for-player trades in the NHL in recent years when he was traded to the Canadiens from the Nashville Predators for defenseman P.K. Subban.  Weber, who was coming off his second 20-goal season with the Predators, was seen in some quarters as a risk, given that he still had ten years remaining on a contract with an average annual value of $7,857,143 per year.  That risk aside, Weber has been a valuable commodity this season.  He is second in the league among defensemen in goals (eight, to Brent Burns’ 13) and is tied for 12th in points (18).  His seven power play goals leads all league defensemen, and his ten power play points is tied for third.  He does not have a goal in his last ten games, though, and has just one point in that span.  Weber is 3-7-10, plus-2, in 12 career games against the Caps.

1.  Shea Weber’s seven power play goals are more than any team’s total complement of defensemen except St. Louis (nine goals).

2.  Weber has a thing for the number “18” at the moment – 18 points, 18 penalty minutes, and plus-18.

3.  Montreal is tied for the second-best third period goal differential in the league (plus-15, with Columbus), trailing only Pittsburgh (plus-24).

4.  The Canadiens lead the league in wins when scoring first (16), one ahead of the Caps.  When opponents score first, though, Montreal is 3-5-2, ranking just 20th in winning percentage (.300).

5.  Montreal is among the better teams overall in shot attempt dominance, with a 51.97 Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (eighth in the league).  On the road, the Canadiens rank fourth overall (52.60 percent; numbers from

1.  Washington’s trick shot win over Carolina on Friday night was their first such win of the season, becoming the 25th team this season to win in that phase.  It was their first win in the Gimmick since they beat the Anaheim Ducks, 2-1, last March 7th.

2.  The Caps are on a six-game winning streak, but that is just the third longest current streak in the division.  The Philadelphia Flyers are on a ten-game winning streak, and the Columbus Blue Jackets extended their streak to eight straight wins with a 4-1 win over the Calgary Flames on Friday night.  Pittsburgh had a seven-game streak ended on Friday night, but their 1-0 loss to the Los Angeles Kings extended their points streak to eight games.

3.  The Caps have just one one-goal loss in regulation this season.  Only the Pittsburgh Penguins are without one among the 29 other teams.

4.  Washington has the second-best first period goal differential in the league (plus-13).  Only Columbus’ is better (plus-15).

5.  There is an odd discrepancy in Washington’s possession numbers.  While the Caps rank fifth in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 overall (52.54 percent), they rank just 13th in Fenwick-for at fives (51.24 percent; numbers from

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Montreal: Paul Byron

What is just five-feet, nine-inches tall, weighs 160 pounds, and is second in goal scoring for the Montreal Canadiens.  If you answered, Paul Byron, good for you.  Byron is one of those happy stories of a low draft pick (sixth-round in 2007 by Buffalo) who knocks around from team to team (Buffalo and Calgary) finds a measure of success after a long, slow climb up the professional ladder.  Byron, who has ten goals in 30 games for Montreal this season (second on the club), has never had more than 11 in any of his previous six seasons (that total coming in 67 games with the Canadiens last season).  But if there is an odd statistic Byron has in addition to his goal scoring, it is that he is fifth on the team in hits despite being only 13th in ice time per game.  Byron is 0-2-2, even, in six career games against Washington.

Washington: Alex Ovechkin

The last time Alex Ovechkin did not lead the league in shots on goal was in 2011-2012, when he finished sixth with 303 shots on goal in 78 games.  Ovechkin currently ranks second in the league with 107 shots (Brent Burns has 133).  Perhaps not coincidentally, that 2001-2012 season is the last one in which Ovechkin did not lead the league in goals; he finished with 38, his second-lowest for a full season in his career.  He scored his 14th goal on Friday night, placing him in a tie for seventh in the league in goals and putting him on a pace to finish with 40 goals.  The odd thing about Ovechkin’s shooting frequency is that the Caps have done better when his shot total is light.  When he records four or more shots, the Caps are 9-6-3, but when he finishes with three or fewer shots, the team is 10-1-0.  Ovechkin, who averages 4.3 shots per game over his career against Montreal, is 22-18-40, plus-6 in 39 career games against the Canadiens.

In the end…

The Caps might be catching the Canadiens in an ornery mood.  They lost at home on Friday night in a game in which Carey Price was pulled after giving up four goals on 18 shots in 26:44 of ice time, and have not had a win in regulation time on the road in almost two months (a 3-2 win on October 26th against the New York Islanders).  They are 2-5-1 on the road overall in their last eight road contests.  On the other hand, the Caps have been a model of consistency in their six-game winning streak, scoring three or four goals in each game and allowing two or fewer in four of them.  The oddest part of this game is that if the Caps extend the Canadiens’ frustration on the road, they would jump over the Canadiens in the conference standings, giving the Metropolitan Division the top four spots in the Eastern Conference (and if the Philadelphia Flyers beat Dallas, the Metro will own the top five spots). 

Capitals 3 – Canadiens 2