Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 58: Coyotes at Capitals, February 22nd

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals look to extend their current winning streak to four games on Monday night when they host the Arizona Coyotes in the second game of their four-game home stand. 

While the Caps come into this game one of the hottest teams in the NHL, 8-2-0 in their last ten games (second best ten-game record in the league), the Coyotes are stumbling through this portion of their schedule.  It wasn’t always this way this season.  Back on January 12th, the Coyotes were on a four-game winning streak and were sixth in points in the Western Conference.  Then the Coyotes suffered a four-game losing streak that set in motion a 5-9-2 record over 16 games that leaves them in fifth place in the Pacific Division and five points out of a playoff spot.

The Coyotes might be coming out of their funk, though.  They are 3-2-0 in their last five games, including a 6-3 win over the Dallas Stars (who the Caps have not beaten in two decisions this season) and a 6-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens, a squad that a lot of teams beat these days, but not as soundly.

In those most recent five games, the Coyotes have not lacked for offense.  They scored 21 goals in those games, recording four or more four times.  Their defense, on the other hand, has lacked stinginess and consistency.  The Coyotes did have games in which they allowed one goal (a 4-1 win over the Calgary Flames) and two goals (the win over Montreal), but they allowed a total of 16 goals in those five games, including six in a 6-4 loss to St. Louis in their most recent game on Saturday.

The Coyotes are led in scoring over the last five games by Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Martin Hanzal, both with seven points.  Defenseman Ekman-Larsson (2-5-7 in his last five games) is one of those players who, if he played in the East or for a more accomplished team, might get more attention than he gets with the Coyotes.  He is among the more durable players in the game, at perhaps it most difficult position, having missed two games in his last five seasons.  He has already topped the 40-point mark for the third straight season (45, a career high) and had achieved career bests in assists (28), power play goals (11), and game-winning goals (7).  So far this season, only Erik Karlsson has had more games with three or more points among defensemen (6) than Ekman-Larsson (5).  He could miss this game, though, having sustained a lower-body injury in the Coyotes’ loss to St. Louis on Saturday.  He is 1-2-3, minus-2, in five career games against the Capitals.

Hanzal has not had the kind of production over his career that a 17th overall draft pick (2005) might have been expected to have.  Only once has he had as many as 40 points in a season (40 in 2013-2014), and only once has he had more than 15 goals in a season (16 in 2010-2011).  He is on a pace to challenge both of those career highs this season.  He would probably be a lock to surpass his career highs but for missing 13 games to lower body injuries this season, injuries being a recurring theme in his career.  He has not appeared in more than 70 games in a season since the 2009-2010 season and will not this season with 13 games already missed.  Hanzal is 1-3-4, plus-1, in six career games against Washington.

Goaltending has been an issue for the Coyotes this season, but out of adversity has come opportunity.  Mike Smith has been on injured reserve since early December after undergoing surgery for a core muscle injury.   That injury might have opened the door for Anders Lindback, a six-year veteran of 111 NHL games, to step up.  But instead, the opportunity was snatched up by Louis Domingue, a fifth round draft pick of the Coyotes in 2010, who had just seven games of NHL experience coming into this season.  In his first 16 decisions taking over in goal, Domingue was 9-4-3, 2.08, .931, with two shutouts.  However, he has fallen to earth since, going 3-5-1, 3.76, .882 in his last nine appearances.  He has never faced the Capitals.

Here is how the teams compare overall:

1.  Scoring first is a reliable predictor of wins and losses in the NHL for most teams.  Not so for the Arizona Coyotes, though.  The Coyotes have the third-worst winning percentage in the league in games in which they score first (.552/16-9-4).

2.  Part of the Coyotes’ problem is giving up first period goals.  Only five teams in the league have allowed more first period goals than Arizona (50).

3.  No team has allowed more shorthanded goals than the Coyotes (10).

4.  Arizona leads the league in total power play opportunities (217).  However, they rank only 11th in power play opportunities on the road (91).

5.  Arizona has issues with respect to possession.  They rank 28th overall in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (46.7 percent), 27th in score-adjusted Corsi-for (46.4 percent).  Their road numbers are not much different, 45.7 percent overall (25th) and 46.7 in score-adjusted Corsi-for (25th, numbers from

1.  The Caps have 90 standings points this season, tops in the league.  If they took a month-long team vacation in Fiji, the second-ranked team in the East, the Florida Panthers, could not catch them at the earliest until March 10th, and only after putting together an eight-game winning streak.

2.  Sure, the Caps have the most wins in the league when leading after two periods (32-0-1), but they also have the best record in the league when trailing after two periods (5-6-2).

3.  The Caps have the smallest difference in the league between their home power play efficiency (23.3 percent) and their road power play efficiency (23.1 percent).

4.  Only five teams in the league have allowed fewer power play goals at home than the Caps (11).

5.  In their last 10 home games, the Caps have an aggregate Corsi-for at 5-on-5 overall of 52.5 percent (numbers from

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Arizona: Max Domi

Max Domi is tied for fourth among all NHL rookies in goals scored this season (17) and tied for third in total points (41).  He’s keeping good company, since the player with whom he is tied in both categories is 2015's second-overall draft pick Jack Eichel.  Domi, the 12th overall pick of the 2013 entry draft.  He started this season with a rush, going 8-7-15 in his first 16 games.  Then he skidded off the road, recording goals in just two of his next 40 games (a two-goal game on December 4th against Buffalo and a hat trick against Edmonton on January 12th).  He does have a pair of goals in each of his last two games, though, suggesting he might be getting a second wind.  This will be his first appearance against the Caps.

Washington: Matt Niskanen

Matt Niskanen has put together a quietly steady season, at least on the surface.  He leads the Caps in average ice time – 24:38 per game, a career high.  He is third among Caps defensemen in goals (3), second in points (24), second in power play points (11), third in plus-minus (plus-15).  He is on a pace to record the second highest number of shots on goal in his career.  However, he has been struggling recently at both ends of the ice.  He has one point in his last six games, and he was a minus-3 in the 4-3 win over the New Jersey Devils on Saturday.  No Capital has been on ice for more goals this season than Niskanen (57), although these things are relative, too.  There are 41 NHL defensemen who have been on ice for more goals than Niskanen, and he ranks 44th among 202 defensemen with at least 300 5-on-5 minutes in goals against/on ice per 60 minutes.  He is 2-6-8, minus-5, in 27 career games against the Coyotes.

In the end…

On paper, the Coyotes are a team the Caps should dispatch handily.  Arizona allows too many goals, has a weak penalty kill, they haven’t won a road game in regulation since January 7th, and they haven’t won a road game in the Eastern time zone since November 19th (3-2 at Montreal).  Then again, it’s a game on a weeknight in February against a team the Caps do not have much of a rivalry with, having faced the Coyotes only five times at Verizon Center since the 2004-2005 lockout (3-2-0).  This is a game that will test the team’s focus and attention, and with the Caps playing with fire recently, allowing the game’s first goal in each of their last four games, this could be a tougher battle than the records of the teams might suggest.  Or not…

Capitals 5 – Coyotes 2

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 19

Week 19 for the Washington Capitals was a bit like a commute in late winter. A lot of potholes along the way, some of them avoided, others making for a bumpy ride.  But just like the earnest commuter, the Caps got past the potholes and made it to their destination – a perfect week.

Record: 3-0-0

OK, it was an imperfect week in a number of ways, and we will get to that.  But, the Caps did have their seventh perfect week this season as far as record is concerned.  Compare that to last season, when through 19 weeks the Caps had yet to record a perfect week (they had one all of last season).  The three games in Week 19 provided a significant test for the Caps.  Facing the Los Angeles Kings in the first game of the week, they were up against the league’s best possession team at 5-on-5.  In the New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils, the Caps were facing a pair of teams on the playoff margins, desperate to put some space between themselves and the teams outside the playoff mix (the Islanders) or desperate to climb into the playoff mix (the Devils).  As it was the Caps’ wins over the Islanders and Devils boosted their record to 16-3-2 against the Metropolitan Division, while the win over the Kings lifted their record to 11-3-2 against the Western Conference.

Offense:  3.33/game (season: 3.30 /game; rank: 1st)

Three games, ten goals, an “average” week for the Caps.  In another way, though, it was not.  The Caps scored three or more goals in all three games, bringing their season total to 38 games with three or more goals, second in the league to the Dallas Stars (41 games).  The Caps finished Week 19 with a 34-1-2 record when they score three or more goals, the best winning percentage in the league.

On an individual level, Alex Ovechkin led the team with three goals. He finished the week leading the league with 38 goals and raised his career total to 513, tying Jeremy Roenick for 37th place on the all-time list.  He finished the week with ten goals in his last nine games, 17 in his previous 17 games, and 24 in his last 26 games. 

Evgeny Kuznetsov tied Ovechkin for the team lead in points (2-2-4).  He extended quite a run of production of his own.  Kuznetsov finished the week on a four-game points streak and is 8-24-32 in his last 26 games.  He also added a two-point game in Week 19, a goal and an assist in the Caps’ 4-3 win over the New Jersey Devils to end the week.  It was his 17th multi-point game of the season, tied for fourth-most in the league.

Overall, the Caps had goals from seven different players and points from 15 different players.  Over such a limited span of games, that was rather good balance.  One of those goals came from Brooks Orpik, his second of the season, and as the final goal in the Caps’ 4-3 win over the New Jersey Devils it was the first regular season game-winning goal in Orpik’s 798-game career.

Defense: 2.00/game (season: 2.28 /game; rank: 3rd)

When the Capitals faced the Los Angeles Kings to open the week, they knew they would be facing a superior possession team – tops in the league, in fact.  The Kings did not disappoint, dominating in shot attempts at 5-on-5, 56-39, and out-shooting the Caps by a 40-32 margin, the first time the Caps allowed 40 or more shots on goal in over two months, since the Pittsburgh Penguins recorded 45 In a 4-1 Caps’ win on December 14th.

The Caps won that game, though, then they rebounded at the defensive end in the last two games of Week 19.  They held the Islanders to 35 shot attempts at 5-on-5 and just 22 shots on goal.  After a slow start, the Caps were similarly stingy against the Devils to close the week, holding them to 44 shot attempts and 24 shots on goal.  The Caps were able to get out of the week with a 50.9 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5 overall.

It was a rough week for the Matt Niskanen/Karl Alzner defensive pair, which was on ice for four of the six goals scored against the Caps.  Nicklas Backstrom also had an uncharacteristically difficult week with four goals scored against the Caps while he was on ice.

Goaltending: 1.96 /.930 (season: 2.16 / .925 / 2 shutouts)

A week with a goals against average as low as the Caps had (1.96) and a save percentage as high (.930) would normally be considered a good week.  But all of the “good” might have come in the opening game of the week.  Philipp Grubauer stopped 39 of 40 shots on goal in the Caps’ 4-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings.  It has not been irregular instance, either.  Grubauer finished the week with a record of 4-2-0, 1.64, .945 in his last nine appearances.  In the meantime, he took over the team lead in save percentage for the season (.925).

That was because Braden Holtby had, for him, a rather forgettable week.  In two games, he allowed five goals on 46 shots.  It was not so much the goals against average (2.42) as the save percentage (.891), a product of his facing just 46 shots for the week.  Three of the five goals he allowed for the week were first period scores, both times allowing the game’s first goal.  He had a first period save percentage of .870, not "Holtbyesque," but his third period save percentage was worse (.857), made better by facing so few shots (14 over the two games).  He finished the week with an odd set of numbers.  In games in which he faced 30 or more shots, he had a save percentage of .948.  In those in which he faced fewer than 30 shots, the save percentage was .904.  Maybe it is a function of quality of shots, perhaps it is a function of focus.

Power Play: 1-for-13 / 7.7 percent (season: 23.2 percent; rank: 1st)

Maybe it was facing three of the top-ten penalty killing teams in the league in Week 19.  Maybe it was just part of a longer slump.  Whatever the reason, the Caps’ 1-for-13 performance on the man advantage extended an 11-game run over which the Caps are 4-for-41 (9.8 percent).  It gets worse.  Even though the power play’s first option is for an Alex Ovechkin one-timer from the left-wing faceoff circle, it – or rather, he – cannot be the only option.  Ovechkin has all four power play goals in those 41 opportunities, including the goal in Week 19 scored against the Islanders.  The last Capital not named “Ovechkin” to record a power play goal was Nicklas Backstrom, 4:47 into the second period of the Caps’ 6-3 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on January 19th.  Ovechkin had a power play goal in that game, too.

Overall, the team was just as inefficient as it was ineffective.  The Caps managed one goal on just 16 shots in 23:11 of power play ice time (0.69 shots per minute).  The shots had an interesting geography to them.  Ovechkin had 10 of the 16 shots on goal, Evgeny Kuznetsov had four, and T.J. Oshie had two, the three players comprising the “3” in the 1-3-1 Caps power play.  Add in allowing a shorthanded goal (Anze Kopitar of the Kings), and it was not a very good week for the power play.

Penalty Killing: 6-for-6 / 100.0 percent (season: 84.3 percent; rank: 5th)

The week was much better on the other side of the special teams divide.  The Caps limited opportunities (six), limited chances (eight shots on goal), and limited the damage (no goals).  The six shorthanded situations faced in three games is the lowest power plays faced per game since Week 6, when the Caps faced five shorthanded opportunities in three games.  The Caps were efficient in killing penalties, too, allowing just eight shots on goal in 11:34 of shorthanded ice time.  And it was not a case of facing softies on the power play.  The Kings were the second-ranked power play when they faced the Caps, the Devils were sixth, and the Islanders were 11th.  Week 19 was good to the Caps on the penalty kill.

Faceoffs: 85-for-174 / 48.7 percent (season: 49.7% / rank: 19th)

Week 19 was an uneven week in the circle for the Caps.  They topped 50 percent in one of the three games (57.1 percent against the Islanders) and managed to top 50 percent only in the offensive zone (57.8 percent).  That was an unexpected result, at least in losing two of the three games of the week, because the Caps won just 45.3 percent of their draws against the Devils, the second-worst team in the league in faceoff winning percentage.

On an individual basis, five Caps took at least ten draws for the week, and only two – Marcus Johansson (57.7 percent) and Mike Richards (54.5 percent) – topped 50 percent.  Nicklas Backstrom had an odd week, going one draw under .500 in each of the three zones to finish 18-for-41 (43.9 percent).  Evgeny Kuznetsov won 60.0 percent of his draws in the offensive end (15-for-25) and still finished the week under 50 percent (48.2/27-for-56).

Goals by Period:

On a goals-by-period basis, the Caps spent too much time chasing teams in Week 19.  They allowed the first goal in all three games and were outscored, 4-1, in the first period overall.  The Caps are weakest in goal differential in the first periods of games this season, starting Week 19 with a plus-7 differential.

As has been the case over much of the season, though, the Caps dominated the last 40 minutes, outscoring teams by an 8-2 margin.  That raised the Caps’ goal differential to plus-26 in the second periods of games and plus-27 in the third period, both tops in the league.

In the end…

The Week 19 had a show title, it would be “The Late Show.”  The game winning goals for the week came as follows:
  • 17:58 of the third period against the Kings (Kuznetsov)
  • 4:16 of overtime against the Islanders (Williams)
  • 16:02 of the third period against the Devils (Orpik)

That is cutting things a little too close to the margin of victories and defeats than Caps fans might like.  But it does seem to reflect an ability to avoid panic, to stick to the task at hand.  Whether this sort of squeezing out wins in the dying minutes of games is good preparation for the crucible of the postseason, or it is a prelude to disappointment when the Caps find themselves unable to produce a rabbit out of their helmets in the late stages of playoff games is just something we are going to have to wait and see about.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Evgeny Kuznetsov (2-2-4, plus-5, 1 GWG, finished week tops in plus-minus (plus-30, six points ahead of Los Angeles’ Tyler Toffoli)
  • Second Star: Alex Ovechkin (3-1-4, even, 41 shot attempts, 1 PPG)
  • Third Star: Brooks Orpik (1-2-3, plus-5, 12 hits, eight blocked shots, first career regular season GWG)