Sunday, December 04, 2016

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 24: Sabres at Capitals, December 5th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Looking to avoid a fourth consecutive loss, the Washington Capitals return home to face the Buffalo Sabres on Monday night at Verizon Center.   It has been almost 23 months since the Caps last lost four consecutive games, that being when they dropped Games 44-47 of the 2014-2015 season, January 16-27 in the 2015 portion of that season.

Buffalo had a two-game winning streak snapped in their last contest, a 2-1 loss to the Boston Bruins on Saturday.  If there has been a bright spot this past week for the Sabres, coinciding with their recent 2-1-0 record, it is that star sophomore Jack Eichel saw his first game action this season after sustaining a high-ankle sprain in practice the day before the Sabres’ season opener.  Eichel seems to be trying to make up for lost time, having scored a goal in his first game, a 5-4 win over the Ottawa Senators, and then following that up with a pair of goals in a 4-3 win over the New York Rangers last Thursday.  He was held off the score sheet in Saturday’s game 2-1 loss to the Boston Bruins, making the Sabres 22-30-10 in games in which Eichel does not score a goal, while they are 15-6-1 in games in which he does light the red light.  In three games against the Caps last season, Eichel had two assists and was minus-2.

At the other end of the scoring spectrum for the Sabres is Kyle Okposo.  The ten-year veteran is in his first year with the Sabres after spending his first nine seasons with the New York Islanders.  Okposo is tied for the team lead in goals with Matt Moulson (seven) and leads the team in points (16).  He has stepped up his point production lately, going 2-4-6 in his last six games.  If there is a bit of an odd number attached to Okposo, it is that he does not have a game-winning goal this season for the Sabres and has only one such goal in his last72 games dating back to last season.  Caps fans will be hoping that is extended at least one more game.  Okpopso is 8-11-19, plus-4, in 26 career games against the Caps.

Rasmus Ristolainen is in a small community of players with an odd statistic.  Only four players in the league – all defensemen – have no goals scored, but have at least 12 assists (Ristolainen is 0-12-12).  Ristolainen was the eighth overall pick of the 2013 entry draft and the third defenseman selected, behind Seth Jones (fourth) and Darnell Nurse (seventh).  Ristolainen is second in that class of 69 defensemen in games (218), goals (19), assists (58), and points (77), trailing Jones in each of those categories.  Ristolainen started the season fast with four assists in his first three games and five in his first five contests.  Then, he tapered off, but he has three assists in his last three games for the Sabres.   Ristolainen is 0-2-2, minus-3, in seven career games against the Caps.

1.  The Buffalo Sabres won the Presidents Trophy with the league’s best record in 2006-2007.  Since then, the only teams with more losses than the Sabres are the Edmonton Oilers (450 – 365 in regulation and 85 in extra time) and the Toronto Maple Leafs (423 – 327 in regulation and 96 in extra time.  Buffalo has lost 412 games, 320 in regulation and 92 in extra time.

2.  The Sabres are struggling to score goals.  The rank last in the league in scoring offense (2.00 goals per game).  They have been held to two or fewer goals 16 times in 24 games, although that happened only once in their last three contests. 

3.  More evidence of the Sabres’ offensive struggles… they are the only team in the NHL to have scored fewer than 20 goals in each of the regulation periods this season (15 in the first, 16 in the second, and 17 in the third periods of games).

4. Only the Carolina Hurricanes, New Jersey Devils, and New York Rangers have fewer fighting major penalties  (two apiece)than the Sabres (three, tied with six other teams, including the Caps).

5.  Buffalo ranks 20th in the league in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (49.05 percent; numbers from  On the road, though, they rank 25th (47.70 percent).

1.  We noted Buffalo’s losing record since they won the Presidents Trophy in 2007.  Well, since then, the Caps – starting with the 2007-2008 season – are tied with the Chicago Blackhawks for the fewest losses in regulation (224).

2.  With five minor penalties in his last four games (four in his last two), Alex Ovechkin now finds himself among the top dozen forwards in the league in minor penalties (10, tied for 12th with Paul Stastny and Blake Comeau).

3.  The Caps scored a 5-on-4 power play goal in their 2-1 Gimmick loss to Tampa Bay on Saturday night, but they are still tied for last in the league (8, with the Islanders).

4.  Karl Alzner still leads Caps defensemen in goals (2).  With 23 games gone in the season, who would have thought that to be the case?  At the other end, John Carlson has no goals on 57 shots.  Only St. Louis’ Colton Parayko has more shots on goal among defensemen (66) with no goals (Carlson is tied with Ristolainen at 0-for-57).

5.  The Caps are continuing to do well in possession, especially at home.  They rank fourth in the league in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 on home ice (53.66 percent).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Buffalo: Robin Lehner

One might look at the record of Sabres goalie Robin Lehner this season, see his .922 save percentage, and think, “nice, but what’s the point?”  The point is, that .922 save percentage happens to be equal, accounting for rounding, with the defending Vezina Trophy winner, Washington’s Braden  Holtby.  Lehner, who is the heaviest goalie in the league at 239 pounds, is building on a 2015-2016 season with the Sabres in which he finished fourth in the league in save percentage (.924) among goalies playing at least 1,000 minutes.  He has been streaky, though.   In his first three games this season he was 1-1-1, 3.33, .890.  He followed that up by going 3-2-0, 1.41., .953 in his next five appearances.  Then, he was 0-4-1, 3.15, .904 in five appearances.  In his last four games, Lehner is 2-1-1, 1.79, .936.  One thing he has not done has been create much of a body of work against the Caps.  He has one career appearance against Washington, stopping 27 of 29 shots in a 2-1 loss to the Caps on February 5, 2015, when he was tending goal for the Ottawa Senators.

Washington: Marcus Johansson

For a while it looked as if the early season goal-scoring binge for Marcus Johansson was going to quietly fade.  After posting six goals in his first nine games, Johansson went ten games with but a single goal on his game log.  He does have goals in two of his last four games, though, so perhaps the goal scoring isn’t going to go quietly after all.  What has been apparent, though, is that Johansson’s shooting frequency is dropping.  In those first nine games in which he posted six goals, he recorded 18 shots on goal (2.0 per game).  In the ten games that followed, in which he had only one goal, he averaged 1.7 shots per game.  And, although he does have two goals in his last four games, he has only six shots on goal for an average of 1.5 shots per game.  Johansson is 6-5-11, even, in 20 career games against the Sabres.

In the end…

These teams met just ten days ago, the Caps taking a 3-1 decision, but not after some treacherous moments when the Sabres closed to within a goal in the third period.  And there is a problem the Caps need to resolve, their propensity for giving up third period goals.  There is just too much loose play going on in the final 20 minutes that suggests to the casual observer that the Caps are a team than just isn’t buckling down and maintaining their focus through games.  If the Caps continue this unfortunate trend against a club that is having troubles of their own scoring in any period, then it will be time for Capitals Nation to be more than a little concerned about the path the team is taking.

Capitals 3 – Sabres 2

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