Wednesday, February 03, 2016

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 49: Islanders at Capitals, February 4th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The NHL is settling into its schedule rhythm after the All-Star game break, and that means the Washington Capitals get an opportunity to wash the taste of their 5-2 loss to the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night when the New York Islanders visit Verizon Center on Thursday night.

The Capitals will be looking to avoid consecutive regulation losses for the first time this season and a third straight loss for the first time this season, while the Islanders look to build on their 5-3 win over the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday.

For the Islanders, that win over the Wild extended a pattern of alternating wins and losses over their last five games (3-1-1).  In outscoring opponents 16-11 in those five games, it was plainly a case of scoring to win.  In the three games the Islanders recorded three or more goals, they won.  In those in which they did not, they lost.

John Tavares leads the overall scoring over the last five games for the Islanders (2-4-6).  In what has been an off year for him, compared to last season, Tavares has been streaky of late.  In five games from December 21st through January 2nd, he was 2-4-6, plus-1.  He followed that up with a three games stretch without a point, going minus-4 in the process.  In his last six games he is 2-5-7, plus-3.  An odd Tavares fact…four of his first 11 goals this season were game-winners, recorded in 21 games.  He does not have a game-winning goal among the six he has in his last 24 games.  Tavares is 10-10-20, plus-2, in 22 career games against the Capitals.

Brock Nelson leads the goal scorers over the Isles’ last five games with three.  Those three tallies got him to the 20-goal mark, tying a career-best set last season in 82 games.  He has done it by ramping up his shooting percentage.  Among 391 players recording at least 50 shots on goal so far, his 17.8 percent shooting ranks eighth in the league.  He has seven goals (including a hat trick against the Columbus Blue Jackets on January 12th) over his last eight games on 24 shots (29.2 percent).  Nelson is 1-2-3, even, in eight career games against Washingon.

Is there a goaltender controversy brewing in Brooklyn?  For the Islanders’ last contest against the Minnesota Wild, head coach Jack Capuano reached past Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss to pluck Jean-Francois Berube out of Bridgeport in the AHL and send him between the pipes.  There was some speculation that this was prelude to a trade, but Berube acquitted himself well in stopping 40 of 43 shots in the Islanders’ 5-3 win.  He was the fourth goaltender to appear in a game for the Islanders this season (Christopher Gibson appearing in one game on January 2nd, a 5-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins).

It would seem, though, that one of the two principals will get the call in this game.  If it is Greiss, the Caps will be facing a goalie they have no book against, a goalie with one career appearance against Washington (a 39-save effort in a 5-3 win in February 2012 when he was tending goal for the San Jose Sharks).  However, he is the sort of player who Caps fans might familiar in his off-ice experience

If it is Halak, the Caps will be facing a goalie who has been steady, if not spectacular, since the calendar turned over.  In his last four appearances he is 2-1-1, 1.72, .940.  It might seem a bit surprising to Caps fans that he has only 11 regular season career appearances against the Caps in which he is 6-5-0, 2.70, .899.

Here is how the teams compare overall:

1.  Look out for those last 20 minutes.  Of the 16 goals scored by the Islanders over their last five games, 10 came in the final 20 minutes.

2.  Power plays are an unfamiliar concept to the Islanders on the road.  Only the Anaheim Ducks have had fewer power play opportunities on the road (54) than the Islanders (57) this season.

3.  Still on special teams facts, only four teams have allowed more shorthanded goals overall than the Islanders (5): Colorado (6), Dallas (7), New Jersey (7), and Arizona (9).

4.  Those ten third period goals in their last five games is no fluke.  Only three teams have scored more in the third period this season than the Islanders (54 goals): the New York Rangers (56), the Caps (60), and the Dallas Stars (68).

5. New York is not a particularly adept team on the road in terms of possession.  They rank 19th in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 overall (47.5 percent), 16th in score-adjusted Corsi (49.5), and 22nd in close score situations (46.6; numbers from

1.  The Caps went 0-for-8 on the power play against the Florida Panthers in their 5-2 loss on Tuesday.  What a difference just one power play goal might have made.  The Caps are 22-0-2 in the 24 games in which they recorded at least one power play goal.

2.  More on the power play… the Caps have more games played this season with two or more power play goals scored than any other team.  Their 11-0-1 record in those 12 games is better than the 8-2-0 record the second-ranked San Jose Sharks have, the only other team with ten or more games of multi-power play goals scored.

3.  The Caps and the Minnesota Wild are the only teams in the NHL to have allowed fewer than 40 total goals in each of the three regulation periods this season.

4.  Washington has the best record in the league in one-goal games this season (13-2-4/.684).  They have the second-best record in games decided by three or more goals (15-5/.750).  They can win close or win big.

5.  The Caps finished their 5-2 loss on Tuesday with a Corsi-for of 67.2 percent, their highest such mark of the season.  Seven times they have hit or passed the 60-percent mark, and their record in those games is 4-2-1.  They accomplished the feat five times at home, going 3-1-1 in those games.  Oddly enough, the only team against which they did it twice was the Florida Panthers, and the Caps recorded an overtime win and a regulation loss in those games (numbers from

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New York: Mikhail Grabovski

When the Capitals signed Mikhail Grabovski as a free agent before the 2013-2014 season, it was to give the center a bigger role than the bottom-six role he was chained to with the Toronto Maple Leafs.  Oddly enough, his average ice time with the Caps was barely distinguishable in his only season in Washington (15:45) than what he averaged in his last season in Toronto (15:34).  Now, having moved on to the Islanders, his ice time is shrinking once more – 14:16 in average ice time last season and 13:54 in 48 games so far this season.  If he continues on that pace it will be his lowest average ice time for a full season in his career (he averaged 13:18 in three games in his first season in 2006-2007 and 11:14 in 24 games the following season).  Despite the comparatively limited exposure, Grabovski is fifth on the team in total points (23) and sixth in goals (8).  He and Kyle Okposo are the only Islanders to record an overtime goal this season.  Grabovski is 3-10-13, plus-7, in 21 career games against Washington.

Washington: Braden Holtby

Except for a brief stint in the first round All-Star game against the Atlantic Division, Braden Holtby will have had an eight-day break since his last serious action (a 28 save effort in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on January 27th), and that game will have been his only game in 16 days.  He has a career 25-13-4 record on three or more days rest, a somewhat lower winning percentage (.595) than his record in other games (106-43-17/.639).  The Caps will be looking for him to play the role of stopper in this game to prevent the team from losing its third consecutive game for the first time this season.  In 11 career appearances against the Islanders, Holtby is 8-1-2, 2.11, .936.

In the end…

The Caps are entering a part of their schedule that features more intra-divisional matchups.  Starting with this game, the Caps play three straight against Metropolitan Division opponents.  Beating the Islanders would be a good start on driving a stake through any hopes any Metro team has of overtaking the Caps this season.

Capitals 4 – Islanders 2

A Picture is Worth...

...a thousand words.  So let's get right to it.  See anything odd about last night's Capitals shot chart on the power play (thank you,

No??  How about NOW?!

What seems to be missing??

Washington Capitals Recap: A NO-Point Night: Panthers 5 - Capitals 2

It was a contest between two teams that could lay claim to being the hottest club in the NHL over the last month. When the final horn sounded, one team could still make that claim. The other was left wondering what hit them. Unfortunately, it was the Washington Capitals looking around and doing the wondering as the Florida Panthers scored two goal in each of the first two periods to take a 4-0 lead, then coasted to a 5-2 win at Verizon Center.

The Panthers got on the board with goals a little more than four minutes apart in the first period, first when Jonathan Huberdeau scored from point blank range off a pass from Jaromir Jagr, then on a 5-on-3 power play with Aleksander Barkov taking a behind the back pass from Nick Bjugstad and snapping the puck past goalie Philipp Grubauer.

Florida doubled their lead in the second period, first just 21 seconds into the period on a what might be termed a softie as Vincent Trocheck snapped a harmless looking shot from deep along the right wing wall under Grubauer’s pads. Huberdeau got his second goal of the game just over 15 minutes into the period on a power play when he snapped a shot from the top of the right wing circle off the pipe to Grubauer’s left and in.

The Caps had their fans inching up in their seats in the first two minutes of the third period when they struck for two goals.  Nicklas Backstrom notched his 17th goal of the season as a power play was expiring just 34 seconds into the period.  Evgeny Kuznetsov, still occupying the low position to the left of goalie Al Montoya, tried to thread a pass through the crease to T.J. Oshie, but the pass was interrupted by defenseman Erik Gudbranson.  The puck bounced to the edge of the crease near the post where Backstrom gathered it up, pulled it to his forehand, and tucked it past Montoya’s left pad to make it a 4-1 game.

Andre Burakovsky struck 79 seconds later.  Kuznetsov controlled the puck below the Panthers’ goal line and slid a pass between two defenders to Burakovsky in the left wing circle.  Burakovsky drew the puck to his forehand and whipped a shot past Montoya’s blocker on the near side to make it 4-2 just 1:53 into the period.

That would be as close as the Caps would get, though.  Quinten Howden scored into an empty net with 1:53 left to give Florida a 5-2 win and put the Caps off on the wrong foot to begin the post-All-Star game portion of the season.

Other stuff…

-- Andre Burakovsky’s goal (his eighth of the season) bumped his goal-scoring streak to three games, over which he has doubled his season’s production.  He also has points in six of his last seven games (4-6-10, plus-5).

-- If you didn’t look at the scoreboard, you would swear the Caps beat the Panthers by a touchdown.  They doubled Florida’s shots on goal (38-19) and out-attempted the Panthers, 65-30.  That’s right, the Caps had eight more shots on goal than the Panthers had total attempts.  Stick that in your Corsi.

-- Stanislav Galiev did not do himself any favors in this game.  Playing in place of Alex Ovechkin (suspension) on the left wing of the top line, he recorded one shot on goal, two attempts, and two giveaways.  He recorded three shifts in the third period, only one in the last 13:14 of the game, that coming in the last minute with the game decided.

-- The new calendar year certainly agrees with Evgeny Kuznetsov.  Already named player-of-the-month for January, he started February as if he wanted to make it two months in a row.  His two assists made it four multi-point games in his last six contests, and he is 4-14-18, plus-8, in 11 games so far in 2016.

-- It was going to happen sooner or later. The life of a backup goalie is not easy, not being able to get into a regular playing rhythm.  In his first start in more than three weeks, Philipp Grubauer was as sharp as a cheese spreader, which is to say, “not much.”  He allowed four goals on the first 13 shots he faced over 35 minutes and change.  Low shot volumes faced, getting a start for the first time since people were still thinking of going to the gym to honor their New Year’s resolutions?  Bad mix.

-- With his goal in the third period, Nicklas Backstrom extended his points streak to four games.  That, in and of itself, is not unusual for Backstrom, but four of the five points he has in those games being goals is.  He has six goals in his last nine games and is now on a pace to record his second career 30-goal season (he had 33 goals in 2009-2010).

-- Back to Burakovsky.  Ten shot attempts, ten shots on goal.  This guy would be something at a state fair shooting arcade.

-- Matt Niskanen also had ten shot attempts.  His five shots on goal is a season high for him.

-- Wouldn’t you know it?  The Caps were awarded eight power play opportunities – a season high (all in the first two periods) – and Alex Ovechkin is in the press box serving a suspension.  The Caps went 0-for-8, including drawing a blank on a 1:17 5-on-3 opportunity.  Florida scored two power play goals in four chances, including one on a 5-on-3 advantage.  There was your game.

-- Think the Panthers went into a shell late?  They recorded five shot attempts from Burakovsky’s goal at the 1:53 mark in the third period until Quinton Howden’s empty net goal at the 18:07 mark, a span of 16:14.

In the end…

Repeat after me…”it’s only one game…it’s only one game.”  One game, indeed.  It was the first game for the Caps in six days, only their second in two weeks.  That’s a beer league schedule.  And for all that, the Caps outplayed the Panthers, but the visitors did better as, well, predators (it’s a big cat thing).  They scored on the man advantage, the Caps did not.  Some of that can be attributed to their big power play weapon being out of action, but eight chances and no goals?  The guys who were on the ice own a big piece of that result.

The Caps get a chance to get back on track on Thursday against the Islanders, who are looking to leap over the New York Rangers as the closest divisional pursuers to the Caps.  If Washington “plays” as well as they did against the Panthers, they should have a happier result, but nothing is guaranteed in this league, not even for the team with the league’s best record.