Thursday, March 03, 2016

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 64: Rangers at Capitals, March 4th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals return to the ice on Friday night for the first in a set of back-to-back games when they host the New York Rangers at Verizon Center.

The Caps have completed three games in their five-game week and have won the last two – against the Pittsburgh Penguins and Toronto Maple Leafs – after dropping the first game of the week to the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday.  The Rangers are coming to D.C. on quite a run of late.  It has been more than two months – since December 18 and 20 (the last two in a three-game losing streak) – that the Rangers have lost consecutive games, and they are 10-2-1 in their last 13 contests.  They bring a three-game winning streak into this game, pending the results of their game in Pittsburgh on Thursday night.

In that 10-2-1 run, the Rangers have outscored their opponents by a 35-27 margin.  They are 6-for-31 on the power play (19.4 percent) while going 27-for-36 killing penalties (75.0 percent).

Although the Rangers are not, Mats Zuccarello is not.  He has one point in his last five games, a goal against Columbus in the Rangers’ 2-1 win over the Blue Jackets on Monday.  It is unusual, coming on the heels of what was a eight-game stretch in which he was 2-9-11, plus-7.  He is 0-7-7, minus-1 in 14 career games against the Caps.

Keith Yandle is the prototypical playmaking, power-play quarterback sort of defenseman.  At least he is this season. In 63 games he has just four goals, but his 31 assists is tied with Andrei Markov for 11th among the league’s defensemen, and 12 of his total points have come on Ranger power plays.  His goal scoring has been in decline in recent years since he set a personal high of 12 goals with the Phoenix Coyotes in 2009-2010.  Since then he either repeated his previous year’s goal total or saw it drop in every season.  He is on a pace for five goals this season, which would continue that trend.  Yandle is 0-10-10, even, in 15 career games against Washington.

Only one goalie over the past 11 seasons has more than 300 wins, a goals against average under 2.50, and a save percentage over .920. Toss in 59 shutouts, and Henrik Lundqvist has a claim on being the best goaltender of the post-2004-2005 lockout period. What he has not been lately is consistent.  In his last 12 appearances he has good overall numbers – 9-3-0, 1.91, .931, with two shutouts.  Underneath, he has five games in which he had a save percentage under .900.  When he was good, though, he was superb – two shutouts and three other games in which he allowed a single goal.  He remains the rock on which Ranger success depends, and his smoothing off the rough edges while maintaining those strong overall numbers will be the most important factor as the Rangers chase the Cup.  Lundqvist is 9-4-3, 2.65, .906, with four shutouts in 32 career appearances against the Caps.

Here is how  the teams compare overall:

1. Despite their 10-2-1 record since February 3rd, the Rangers have lost three points to the Caps in the standings in that span (the Caps are 12-3-0 over the same span).

2.  In that 13-game span, the Rangers allowed five goals in each of the three losses (5-4 in overtime to Los Angeles, 5-2 to Chicago, and 5-2 to New Jersey).  They did not allow more than two goals in any of their ten wins.

3.  The Rangers have done well lately when avoiding penalties.  In their last 13 games, they faced two or fewer shorthanded situations seven times, although it has not been a measure of success.  The Rangers were just 3-for-9 killing penalties in those games (33.3 percent), and twice they avoided any shorthanded situations at all.   Probably a good thing.

4.  The Rangers have the worst penalty kill on the road in the league (72.4 percent).  They have allowed at least one power play goal in 20 of 31 road games and two power play scores seven times.  In their last 15 road games they are just 28 for 42 (66.7 percent).

5.  The Rangers are not an especially effective possession team on the road, either.  Their 46.3 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5 ranks 24th in the league.  They have been below 50 percent in eight of their last nine games and under 40 percent three times (numbers from

1.  The Caps have 13 wins this season in games that ended by a 3-2 margin, the most in the league, four more than the New Jersey Devils.  Eight of the Caps' 26 wins at home this season have been by 3-2 margins.  Each of the last four Caps wins have been by that margin, and eight of their 12 wins since the All-Star Game break have been by that margin.

2.  One-goal decisions agree with this team, and it might be the biggest difference between this team and the 2009-2010 team that won the Presidents Trophy.  This team is 23-5-4; that 2009-2010 team lost 21 of 41 one-goal decisions (eight in regulation and another 13 in extra time) and ranked just 17th that season in one-goal winning percentage.

3.  Power play efficiency for the Caps manifests itself in ways other than the share of chances they convert.  The Caps lead the league in 5-on-4 goals scored (45), but they spent just 323:50 in power play time doing it.  The Caps have, by far, the best minutes-to-goals scored ratio in the league.  They have spent an average of 6:57 of power play time for each goal scored; the Los Angeles Kings are next at 7:23 of power play time per goal scored.

4.  Only two teams in the league have two goaltenders who have appeared in at least 15 games, have a goals against average under 2.25, and have a save percentage of .90 or better.  Florida (Roberto Luongo and Al Montoya) and the Caps, with Braden Holtby (2.22/.923) and Philipp Grubauer (2.26/.926).

5.  The Caps rank just 11th in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 in the third periods of home games (52.7 percent), but they have a goal differential of plus-18, tops in the league (numbers from

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New York: Eric Staal

Eric Staal was traded to the Rangers by the Carolina Hurricanes for prospect Aleksi Saarela and second round draft picks this year and next.  In one game so far with the Blueshirts he has yet to register a point.  But it’s early, or so you would think.  Perhaps the change and the possibility of a playoff run will reenergize him, but Staal has been in productive decline for several years now.  After going 18-35-53 in 48 games for the Carolina Hurricanes in the abbreviated 2012-2013 season (a 31-60-91 scoring pace over 82 games), he had 21 goals an 61 points the following year, 23 goals and 54 points in 2014-2015, and he has 10 goals and 33 points in 64 games this year (a 13-30-43 scoring pace).  Having more talent around him in New York will no doubt take some of the pressure on him from facing the opponents’ best defenders in Carolina, but it remains to be seen just what effect he will have on the Rangers in the home stretch. Staal is 27-44-71, plus-5, in 71 career games against the Caps, the team he has faced more than any other in his career.

Washington: Barry Trotz

OK, we’re doing coaches again.  When the Caps defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday night, Barry Trotz won 649th game as an NHL head coach, passing Ron Wilson for eighth place on the all-time list of NHL leaders in wins among head coaches.  He already had established a first in Capitals coaching history earlier in the season that not a lot of people took notice of.  When the Caps beat the Minnesota Wild on February 11th for their 40th win of the season, Trotz became the first coach in Capitals history to win 40 or more games in each of his first two seasons behind the bench (including partial seasons).  And, if the Caps win 13 of their last 19 games, a longshot perhaps, but not an impossible task, Trotz would set a franchise record for wins by a Caps coach in consecutive years (currently held by Bruce Boudreau, who won 104 games over the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 seasons).

In the end…

We get ahead of ourselves with talk about games left and records to be chased, but that is a luxury fans can indulge.  As for the Caps, they will face a Ranger team with serious flaws (i.e., their penalty kill) and serious strengths (best 5-on-5 goal ratio in the league), but one that is also on a serious run of successful games.  The Caps lead the season series, winning three straight after dropping the first game between the clubs.  The Caps have faced challenges such as those presented by the Rangers, and they have offered no indication that they will do anything but handle this one successfully, too.

Capitals 3 – Rangers 2

Washington Capitals Recap: A TWO-Point Night: Capitals 3 - Maple Leafs 2

It was a bittersweet evening for fans of the Washington Capitals as they said goodbye to an old friend, then watched their team capture another win in what is becoming an historic season as the Caps defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs, 3-2, on Wednesday night at Verizon Center.

Fans had their chance to say goodbye to Brooks Laich, traded to the Maple Leafs last weekend after appearing in 807 regular season and playoff games over 12 years with the Caps. Then the Caps tended to business.

They opened the scoring late in the first period from a very unexpected source. Martin Marincin tried to bang the puck up the wall and out of danger, but the attempt was flagged down by Evgeny Kuznetsov, who worked it to T.J. Oshie skating around the top of the right wing circle. Oshie kicked the puck to his stick, then slid it over to Taylor Chorney skating down the left side. Chorney wristed a shot that sailed over goalie Jonathan Bernier’s left shoulder, and it was 1-0 at the 18:15 mark.

The Caps made it 2-0 just 27 seconds later, this time from a much more familiar source. Oshie got it started when he beat a Leaf to a loose puck and directed it to the right wing wall. He followed it up, pestering Nazem Kadri long enough for Nicklas Backstrom to grab the puck and move in through the faceoff circle. With two Leafs bracketing him, he slid a pass past a third Leaf where Alex Ovechkin one-timed it past Bernier at the 18:43 mark.

Toronto got one back early in the second period when Nikita Soshnikov rang a shot off the pipe and behind goalie Philipp Grubauer for his first NHL career goal at the 1:37 mark. The Caps held off the Leafs for the rest of the period, but Toronto tied it in the third when Colin Greening took a pass from Peter Holland in the high slot and fired a shot over Grubauer’s glove to make it 2-2 at the 8:16 mark.

Then a Toronto rookie made a mistake.  Soshnikov, who scored his first NHL goal earlier in the game but also took a double minor penalty in the second period, was sent to the box for his third minor penalty of the game for boarding Karl Alzner.  The Caps needed just 11 seconds to make Soshnikov and the Maple Leafs pay.  Oshie, who had an excellent game in all, won the ensuing faceoff, and the puck found its way to the stick of Nicklas Backstrom.  Looking to thread a pass across to Ovechkin on the other side of the ice and finding that path blocked by a Toronto defense leaning in that direction, Backstrom eased the puck out to Matt Niskanen at the top of the zone. Niskanen fired a shot that Marcus Johansson, screening at the top of the crease, jumped away from at the last instant, and the puck sailed over Bernier’s glove to put the Caps ahead for good, and the Caps skated off with a 3-2 win. 

Other stuff…

-- After Matt Niskanen scored with 10:29 left in the game, the Caps would record the next nine shots, depriving the Maple Leafs of a shot on goal for 9:01 after the Niskanen strike.  Toronto did close with a flurry – three shots in the final 1:28 and a lot of commotion around the Washington net in the last seconds – but it was too little, too late.

-- Brooks Laich logged 14:17 in his return to Verizon Center, 4:10 of it on the power play.  It was the first time this season he recorded any power play ice time.

-- Nicklas Backstrom had two assists.  That makes 15 multi-point games this season, tied for tenth in the league.  It was the 109th time in his career he recorded a multi-assist game.  Since he came into the league, only Sidney Crosby (111), Joe Thornton (115), and Henrik Sedin (126) have more.

-- Maybe you can see the signs that the Caps are starting to get ready for the playoffs by not pushing their big guns too hard.  Case in point.  Alex Ovechkin logged 17:40 in ice time in this game, the second consecutive game he finished with less than 19 minutes of ice time.  The combined 36:17 of ice time over his last two games is his lowest in consecutive games in almost two months, having logged 35:45 in consecutive games on January 5th and 7th against Boston and the New York Islanders.  It is something that bears watching.

-- What a game T.J. Oshie had – three assists (a personal best as a Capital), plus-2, two shots on goal, a shot attempt blocked, a missed shot, a hit, three takeaways, a blocked shot, and he won two of three draws.  He gets the all-you-can-eat buffet coupon.

-- Daniel Winnik played in his first game for the Caps and had modest success against his old club.  He logged 13:11 in ice time, 2:07 of it killing penalties, had a shot on goal, three hits, and a takeaway.

-- Evgeny Kuznetsov might get a buffet coupon of his own.  He was not quite as evident in his all-around impact as Oshie, but he was all over the ice.  An assist, a shot on goal, two shot attempts blocked, a missed shot, a hit, a takeaway, and he won half of the 12 draws he took.  He has points in four of his last five games and has not gone consecutive games without a point since January 7th and 9th against the Islanders and Rangers.  Since then he is 7-22-29, plus-11, in 22 games.

-- Connor Carrick recorded an assist against his former Capital teammates and recorded a pair of hits in 14:18 of ice time, 1:57 of it on the Maple Leaf power play.

-- Philipp Grubauer continues to shine when called upon.  His 27-save performance was solid, continuing a fine run.  In his last 11 appearances he is 4-3-0, 1.68, .943.

-- The Caps seemed to fight off a touch of boredom, or perhaps distraction given they were facing former teammates for the first time.  They dominated possession in the first period with 12 shot attempt to five for Toronto at 5-on-5.  Toronto turned the tables in the middle frame, out-attempting the Caps 19-10 at fives.  Washington carried the third, 14-13, aided by a fine defensive effort after the Niskanen go-ahead goal (numbers from

In the end…

No, it wasn’t as pretty at one might have expected against a team as young and struggling as much as Toronto is.  On the other hand, this is the sort of the “we can’t seem to get up for teams like this” kind of game the Caps would have lost outright in previous years.  They got a chance to give Brooks Laich a proper send-off, and they won the game.  Frankly, that’s usually considered a pretty good night.  But now it’s time to stiffen up and buckle down.  Back-to-back games against the Rangers and in Boston against the Bruins are sure to pose a considerable challenge.  The “B” game won’t do against that pair of opponents.