Friday, February 05, 2016

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 50: Capitals at Devils, February 6th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Fresh off their 3-2 win over the New York Islanders on Thursday night, the Washington Capitals head to the Prudential Center in Newark to take on the New Jersey Devils on Saturday afternoon.  This will be the Capitals’ first visit to “The Rock” this season, and they will be looking to improve their record against New York City area teams from the 3-1-0 mark they have against the Rangers and Islanders on their ice so far this season.

The Caps got back to business in an important way in the win against the Isles on Thursday, holding an opponent to fewer than three goals after three straight games of allowing three or more, the first time they did so this season.

The stinginess might be returning just in time for Washington.  They will be facing a team that is 5-1-1 in their last seven games, outscoring their opponents by a 20-12 margin.  Over those games the Devils are 6-for-20 on the power play (30.0 percent) and 19-for-24 on the penalty kill (79.2 percent).

Holding their opponents to 12 goals in seven games is largely the product of the performance of Cory Schneider in goal.  He appeared in six of the seven games, posting a record of 5-1-0 with a 1.98 goals against average and a .946 save percentage.  Schneider, like his counterpart Braden Holtby for the Caps, ranks highly among the league’s netminders.  Among 36 goalies with at least 1,200 minutes played, Schneider ranks as follows:
  • Games Played: 43 (T-2nd)
  • Minutes: 2,569 (2nd)
  • Wins: 23 (T-6th)
  • Shots Faced: 1,224 (4th)
  • Saves: 1,137 (4th)
  • Goals-Against Average: 2.03 (3rd)
  • Save Percentage: .929 (6th)

Schneider has found New Jersey to his liking.  Since moving their from Vancouver for the 2013-2014 season, his .925 save percentage is second among 31 goalies appearing in at least 100 games (Carey Price is first: .931).  His goals against average of 2.11 tops that group.  What he has not done is beat the Caps with any regularity.  In eight career appearances against Washington, Schneider is 3-4-1, 2.22, .918, with one shutout.  He has had particularly bad luck against the Caps in a Devils’ sweater.  In six appearances he is 3-3-0, 1.93, .933, but he has held the Caps to one or no goals in four of those six appearances.

In their 5-1-1 run, 16 different skaters recorded points for the Devils.  And it is a bit of an odd list, one with names the might be unfamiliar to Caps fans who have followed this rivalry over the years.  Take Joseph Blandisi.  A sixth-round draft pick of the Colorado Avalanche in 2012, he was ultimately not offered a contract by the Avalanche and was re-entered into the 2014 draft.  He was not selected, but he signed a three-year entry level deal with the Devils in January 2015 and later that year had the honor of finishing second to Connor McDavid in voting for the Ontario Hockey League’s most outstanding player.  He worked his way up to the Devils this past December, and after a slow start has come on of late.  His five assists over the last seven games ties for most in that span with Travis Zajac, and he is 2-5-7 overall in those games.  This will be his first career appearance against the Caps.

Then there is David Schlemko.  An eight year veteran who spent his first seven seasons knocking around the Western Conference (six seasons with the Phoenix Coyotes, then three teams – the Coyotes, Dallas Stars, and Calgary Flames – last season), the defenseman had not produced much in the way of offensive numbers.  In 231 games coming into this season he was 9-41-50.  However, in 44 games with the Devils he has a career high in goals (six) and points (15).  Over the Devils’ last seven games he is 2-4-6.  In three career games against Washington, Schlemko has one assist.

Here is how the teams compare overall:

1.  New Jersey is the only team in the league this season not to have lost a game in regulation when scoring first.  The odd part of that is they rank only eighth in winning percentage in those games (17-0-4/.810).

2.  Only one team has more losses in regulation when allowing the first goal than the Devils.  Their 20 losses in 35 such games is one less than the Columbus Blue Jackets in 30 such games.

3.  New Jersey has had only 76 power play opportunities on home ice, the fifth fewest in the league.

4.  Only the Arizona Coyotes (10) have allowed more shorthanded goals against than the Devils (7).

5.  New Jersey is probably going to struggle making the playoff-eight in the Eastern Conference if they do not improve their possession numbers, particularly on the road.  The Devils rank 28th of 30 teams in Corsi-for overall in road games (45.1 percent; numbers from

1.  This will be the 200th regular season meeting between these two clubs.  In 199 previous meetings the Caps hold a 99-74-13-13 edge.

2.  It has been almost 18 years since the Caps won as many as five games in a row in this rivalry.  They did it in December 1987 – March 1988.  They can do it again on Saturday afternoon.

3.  Both of these teams came into the NHL in the 1974-1975 season, the Devils doing so as the Kansas City Scouts before becoming the Colorado Rockies, then moving to New Jersey in 1982.  Strangely enough, the Capitals have more franchise regular season wins than the Devils (1,451 to 1,372).  The Caps also have more 50-win seasons (3-1).  The Devils lead the Caps in Stanley Cups, 3-0.

4.  The Caps have scored more power play goals on the road this season (38) than any other team in the league, despite having the ninth fewest number of chances (152).

5. The Capitals have shown a glimmier of lifting themselves out of the possession funk they have been in for a couple of months, at least at home.  In their last seven home games they have an aggregate overall Corsi-for of 53.4 percent, an improvement over the 48.0 percent they had in the preceding eight home contests (numbers from

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New Jersey: Lee Stempniak

New Jersey has been the fountain of youth for right winger Lee Stempniak.  In 52 games with the Devils this season he has 15 goals (third on the club), as many as he had last season in 71 games with the New York Rangers and Winnipeg Jets, and more than he has had in any other season since he had 19 for the Phoenix Coyotes in 2010-2011.  His 38 points this season is eclipsed only by his 52-point campaign with the St. Louis Blues in 2007-2008.  He is the leading goal scorer and point producer for the Devils in their recent 5-1-1 run (5-3-8).  In 16 career games against the Capitals, Stempniak is 4-6-10, plus-1.

Washington: Jason Chimera

It would surprise no one to know that since the 2004-2005 lockout, Alex Ovechkin leads all current Capitals (and non-current ones, too) in goals scored against the New Jersey Devils (18 in 38 games).  It might surprise some folks that Jason Chimera is second on that list (nine goals in 21 games).  This game might set up nicely for Chimera, and not just for the opponent he will be facing.  Of his 13 goals scored this season, ten have been on the road, including six of his last seven tallies.  Oh, and the Caps are 12-0-1 in games in which he recorded a goal so far this season.  Career-wise, Chimera is 9-2-1, plus-6, in 26 games against New Jersey.

In the end…

The Capitals prevented a Metropolitan Division rival from inching closer when they dispatched the Islanders on Thursday night.  They have the chance to do so once more on Saturday afternoon against a team that is tied with the Isles in points (although the Islanders have three games in hand against the Devils).  However, if not exactly a “trap” game, this contest does pose a challenge as the first in a set of back-to-back games, the second of which will be played against a Flyers team that beat the Caps ten days ago.  If the Caps look past this team just the slightest, they could be in for a Devil of a time.

Capitals 2 – Devils 1

Washington Capitals Recap: A TWO-Point Night: Capitals 3 - Islanders 2

The Washington Capitals went into Thursday night’s contest with the New York Islanders trying to avoid their first three-game losing streak of the season. The matter of that result was in some doubt as the teams were tied with three minutes left in regulation, but Alex Ovechkin broke a 2-2 tie with 2:40 left to give the Caps a 3-2 win.

It was the Islanders getting off to a lead in the second minute of the contest. John Tavares walked the puck around the back of the Capitals’ net, and when he came out the other side he worked the puck to Travis Hamonic at the left point. Hamonic fired a one-timer that was blocked in front. Josn Bailey took an unsuccessful whack at the rebound, but Mikhail Grabovski stepped up and stuffed the puck past Braden Holtby to make it 1-0 just 1:55 into the game.

Washington tied the game less than six minutes later. The Islanders’ Ryan Strome fired a shot that went wide on the far side of Holtby and rattled around the boards out of the zone. Nicklas Backstrom caught up with the puck and skated down the right side and into the Islanders’ zone. Putting on the brakes at the bottom of the right wing circle, he found T.J. Oshie filling in behind him. Oshie one-timed Backstrom’s pass past goalie Jaroslav Halak to tie the game at the 7:28 mark.

Late in the second period, the Caps took their first lead. Dmitry Orlov poke checked the puck of the stick of Brock Nelson just inside the Caps’ blue line, then kicked the puck to himself to start a 3-on-2 break. Orlov fed Jason Chimera, who skated the puck up the right side. Chimera and Orlov worked a give-and-go, but Chimera received the return pass too deep and fanned on his shot. Chimera recovered the puck behind the Islander net and threw it in front. It slid under Halak and stopped in the blue paint where Andre Burakovsky was waiting. Burakovsky tapped it into the net, and it was 2-1, Caps with 1:18 left in the period.

New York tied the game in the sixth minute of the third period. The Isles did a good job of keeping possession of the puck in the Caps’ end, and it eventually found its way to the stick of Marek Zidlicky. With Tom Wilson hounding him from behind, Zidlicky skated the puck through the right wing circle, then left it in front where Josh Bailey found some room in a clot of Capitals to snap it past Holtby to make it 2-2 at the 5:38 mark.

That left things to Ovechkin in the late stages of the game, although it was the result of some hard work along the boards by Oshie and Backstrom. Oshie outdueled Calvin deHaan for the puck along the end wall and slid it to Backstrom along the right wing boards. Backstrom spied Ovechkin in the high slot and fed the puck to him for a one-timer. Red light…game, Capitals winning by a 3-2 margin.

Other stuff…

-- The Capitals had just 43 shot attempts for the game, Ovechkin had ten of them (five on goal, one goal).

-- The Islanders had 71 shot attempts. They had a whopping 58-34 edge in shot attempts at 5-on-5 (that would be a Corsi-for of 37.0 percent for the Caps).

-- T.J. Oshie extended his points streak to four games with his goal. It was his first two-point game since January 10th.

-- Andre Burakovsky’s goal made it five games in a row with points, four straight with a goal. He is 5-6-11 in his last eight games.

-- Nicklas Backstrom had a pair of assists, extending his points streak to five games (4-3-7).

-- The Caps had almost as many blocks of Islanders shots (33) as they had their own shot attempts (38). Fifteen of the 18 skaters recorded at least one blocked shot. Matt Niskanen, T.J. Oshie, and Nate Schmidt each had four to lead the club.

-- With an assist in this game, Dmitry Orlov is within a point (4-14-18) of his career high in points (3-16-19) set in his rookie season in 2011-2012.

-- The 37.0 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5 was the second worst such performance of the season for the Caps, surpassed only by a 36.6 percent result in the Caps’ 4-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on December 14th (numbers from

-- Maybe it’s just the Islanders.  The teams split four power plays, the first time the Caps and their opponent each managed just a pair of man advantages in a contest since January 7th…when the Caps beat the Islanders, 4-1.

-- After a string of iffy performances, Braden Holtby was solid in goal.  He allowed 12 goals on 105 shots in his last four appearances (.886 save percentage), but he stopped 24 of 26 shots against the Isles (.923).

In the end…

It was a solid, workmanlike effort by the Caps.  Not dazzling, but that was not needed or called for.  A win was.  And the Caps managed that to avoid losing their third consecutive game for the first time this season (Washington remains the only team in the league not to have lost consecutive games in regulation time).  They got scoring from players who came into and left the game on hot streaks, and they reminded the Islanders, bidding to become the Caps’ closest pursuers in the Metropolitan Division, that there is still a substantial gap between these two teams.  They now have an opportunity to send a similar reminder to another Metropolitan Division pursuer on Saturday when they head to Newark to face the New Jersey Devils.