Sunday, March 06, 2016

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 66: Capitals at Ducks, March 7th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals head west for a three-game trip through California this week, starting with a contest against the Anaheim Ducks on Monday night. 

Washington has the best record in the league over the season so far, but their record does not compare to that of the Ducks over the last two months.  No team’s record does.  As late as January 10th, the Ducks were 17-17-7, fourth in the Pacific Division, and 11th in the Western Conference.  Since then they are 20-2-1, first in the Pacific Division, fourth in the Western Conference, and they are on an 11-game winning streak coming into this game.

It has not been a fluke for the Ducks.  Of their last 20 wins, 13 were by multi-goal margins, and seven of them were by three or more goals.  They have been an overwhelming force at one end, averaging 3.70 goals per game in their 20-2-1 run, and an impenetrable wall on the other, allowing just 2.13 goals per game on defense. 

Ryan Getzlaf has been at the forefront of the Ducks’ charge over the last two months.  Over a 22 game span from January 8th through February 28th, he had points in 20 games, going 6-22-28, plus-15.  Getzlaf has not had a “minus” game since January 23rd, a string of 17 straight games.  His personal performance has been a good barometer with respect to how the Ducks are doing, the club having a 26-6-2 record when he records a point, 8-1-0 when he records a goal.  Getzlaf is 3-7-10, minus-1, in 10 career games against Washington.

The Ducks might not have a squad of defensemen that are household names, but it is a solid group led in scoring by Sami Vatanen.  With nine goals so far this season he is closing in on a career best (12 goals, set last season), and his 37 points ties a career high set last season.  Vatanen has not gone consecutive games without a point in more than a month (February 2nd and 4th), going 3-11-14 in his last 15 games.  He does not have a point in either of his two career games against Washington.

Anaheim has been rotating goalies Frederik Andersen and John Gibson through the schedule lately, each goalie getting two games on and two games off over the Ducks’ last ten contests.  If the rotation holds, it will be Gibson getting the call for Anaheim on Monday night.  Now in his third NHL season after being taken in the second round of the 2011 entry draft, he has established career highs in appearances (28) and wins (16).  He has been, if not a hot goalie of late, then he has been one capable of doing what is needed to win.  Over his last nine appearances he is 7-1-0 (one no-decision), 2.47, .907.  Gibson lost his only career decision against the Caps, allowing five goals on 28 shots in a 5-3 loss to Washington on February 15, 2015.

Here is how the teams compare overall:

1.  Anaheim’s power play has been a juggernaut.  The Ducks have power play goals in 11 straight games, over which they are 19-for-43 (44.2 percent…no, that is not a typo).  In their 20-2-1 run they are 25-for-85 (29.4 percent).

2.  The Ducks have not lost a game in regulation at home since January 17th (2-1 to the Detroit Red Wings).  They are won eight in a row on home ice.

3.  Anaheim is 29-1-3 when scoring three or more goals, their only regulation loss in such games coming back on October 27th to the Dallas Stars (4-3).

4.  Anaheim possesses a certain balance when it comes to scoring.  The Ducks have 17 players with at least 10 points this season (by way of comparison, the Caps – the top scoring offense in the league – have 15 such players).

5.  Anaheim is one of the top possession teams in the league, ranking third overall in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (52.8 percent).  They also rank third in score-adjusted Corsi-for (53.2 percent).   The odd part of that is that their goal differential at 5-on-5 is minus-7 for the season.  They come into this game with numbers that are not indicative of their overall standing, a 40.5 percent Corsi-for over their last three games (numbers from

1.  The Caps have the top scoring offense in the league at 3.22 goals per game, but they have gone eight straight games without scoring more than three goals.

2.  The Caps have a better all-time record against the Ducks on the road (7-6-1) than they do at home (7-7-0).

3.  Only four teams in the league have allowed fewer power play goals on the road than the Caps (18): St. Louis (16), Boston (15), Pittsburgh (15), and the New York Islanders (15).

4.  Most Caps fans know that Alex Ovechkin has 30-goal years in each of his 11 NHL seasons.  What they might not know is only one other player currently with the team has a 30-goal season as a Capital – Nicklas Backstrom (333 goals in 2009-2010).  Evgeny Kuznetsov currently in second place on the club with 20 goals, that number of 30 goal scorers other than Ovechkin since the 2005-2006 season is not likely to change.

5.  The Caps have been under 50 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5 in four of their last five road games, going 48.2 percent overall.  They rank 14th overall in Corsi-for in road games (49.1 percent; numbers from

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Anaheim: Rickard Rakell

It probably surprises no one that Corey Perry leads the Ducks in goal scoring (28).  It might surprise a fair number of people that Richars Rakell is second on the club with 17 goals.  Coming into this season, Rakell had just nine career goals in 93 career games, all of them coming last season.  What makes it a bit more surprising is that he has done so while averaging a little over 16 minutes of ice time a night, fifth among forwards on the team.  It has not been the product of bursts of goal scoring; Rakell has goals in consecutive games only once this season (January 17th and 20th against Los Angeles and Minnesota).  And, Rakell has shown little preference for home or road, scoring nine of his goals at home and eight on the road.  He does not have a point in either of his two career appearances against the Caps.

Washington:  T.J. Oshie

Last week, T.J. Oshie reached the 40-point mark for the fifth time in his eight-year career.  His next goal will give him 20 for the second time in those eight seasons.  What has been a bit of surprise is his assist total.  He has 21 assists in 65 games, his lowest assists-per-game output (0.32) in his career to date and by a relatively significant margin (0.39 assists per game in 2009-2010 with St. Louis).  He did have a three-assist game against the Toronto Maple Leafs last Wednesday, but that is the only game in his last nine games in which he has any assists.  His assists per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 (0.99) is not so much greater than that of Tom Wilson (0.90) than one might have thought.  Oshie is 8-7-15, plus-5, in 17 career games against Anaheim.

In the end…

Anaheim head coach Bruce Boudreau just became the fastest coach in NHL history to reach the 400 win mark.  The Washington Capitals are the fastest team to 100 points in franchise history.  What many thought might be the Stanley Cup final matchup when the season started will be featured on Monday night, and with the two teams on a fast track to the postseason in what are historic seasons for both, this might be a preview of such a final after all.  The west coast has not been kind to the Caps over the course of their history, but last year the Caps did go 2-1-0 on their trip through Anaheim, San Jose, and Los Angeles, and they went 2-0-1 on that trip in 2013-2014.  You probably suspect we are thinking along the same lines this season, despite the scalding record the Ducks have posted recently.

Capitals 4 – Ducks 3

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 21

Week 21 was like no other for the Washington Capitals this season.  In the space of seven days the Capitals would play five games, courtesy of their adding a game that was rescheduled when Winter Storm Jonas blew through Washington in late January.  But when it was over, it was like just about every other week this season – a winning week.

Record: 3-2-0

The Capitals played in two separate back-to-back sets of games in Week 21, their 11th and 12th such sets this season.  Winning three of the four games in those back-to-backs should not be considered unusual.  Through Week 21, the Caps have a record of 10-2-0 in the first games of those back-to-back sets and a record of 9-3-0 in the back half of those sets.  They swept the first back-to-back set of the week, against the Pittsburgh Penguins and Toronto Maple Leafs, their sixth sweep of the season.  They have yet to be swept in any back-to-back with three more sets of such games yet to play in the regular season.

The Caps also have yet to lose consecutive games in regulation time this season, thanks to their 2-1 overtime win over the Boston Bruins to end the week.  The Caps have gone 78 games since last losing consecutive games in regulations time, dating back to March 11th and 13th of last season when they lost decisions to the New York Rangers and Dallas Stars in Games 68 and 69 of the 2014-2015 season.

By the end of Week 21 the Caps had 48 wins and 100 points, the earliest the Caps have ever reached either number.  The hit the 100 point mark in the 2009-2010 season in Game 65 and the 48-win mark in Game 72 of that same season.

Offense:  2.40/game (season: 3.22 /game; rank: 1st)

In a way, it was the Matt Niskanen Show on offense in Week 21.  The defenseman scored the game-winning goals in the Caps’ wins over the Maple Leafs and the Bruins, and his power play drive late in the third period against the Penguins became the game-winning primary assist when T.J. Oshie got a piece of it as it sailed by for the game-winning goal.

The Caps did not have a lot of volume on offense this week, only 12 goals scored in the five games, but they did have balance.  Nine different players had goals for the week.  In addition to Niskanen, Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie had a pair.  There were 14 different players recording points, Oshie (2-3-5) and Nicklas Backstrom (0-5-5) leading the way.

What they lacked was accuracy.  Even though the Caps finished the week with four games with 30 or more shots on goal, they managed just the 12 goals.  With a total of 154 shots on goal for the week, they had only a 7.8 percent shooting percentage.

Defense: 2.20/game (season: 2.29 /game; rank: 3rd)

The Caps did a lot of things right on defense in a week in which they faced three top-ten offenses and four of the top-12 teams in scoring offense.  That the Caps lost two of three games to those top-ten offenses was not a product of leaky defense.  They held all three  of those teams – the Chicago Blackhawks (5th in scoring offense), New York Rangers (8th), and Boston Bruins (3rd) to a total of 80 shots on goal in the three games, and they held the 12th-ranked Penguins – the top team in the league in shots on goal per game (32.7) – to 30 shots.

Overall, the Caps won the 5-on-5 battle for the week, finishing with a combined Corsi-for of 51.5 percent.  That, however, might not be as good as it looks.  Washington finished under 50 percent in two games (against Toronto and Boston) and split the shot attempts for the game against Chicago.  The game against the Rangers bordered on the bizarre.  After splitting the 5-on-5 shot attempts in the first period (13-13), after which the Rangers led, 2-0, the Caps out-attempted the Rangers at 5-on-5 by a 53-25 margin over the rest of the contest but managed only a pair of goals in dropping a 3-2 decision (numbers from

If anyone had a difficult week for the Caps on the defensive side, it might have been Brooks Orpik, who was on ice for six of the 11 goals against, including both power play goals against.

Goaltending: 2.20 /.915 (season: 2.19 / .924 / 2 shutouts)

It was a good, not great week, and in what is becoming a bit of a concern, the performance was quite different between the Caps’ netminders, and not in a good way.  Braden Holtby had a difficult week.  In three appearances he was 1-2-0, 2.71, .895.  Breaking it down by period did not make it look any better.  He stopped 23 of 27 first period shots in the three game he played (.852 save percentage), and his third periods were largely saved by very low shot volumes (12 saves on 14 shots/.857).  It is part of a longer rut in which he finds himself.  In his last 18 appearances, he has a 12-4-1 record, but his goals against average is 2.96, and his save percentage is .899.

At the other end, Philipp Grubauer had a fine week.  In his two appearances, both of them in the second of back-to-back games, he won both games, stopping 50 of 53 shots (.943 save percentage).  He almost single-handedly kept the Caps in their game against Boston to close the week when he stopped seven shots in a 5-on-3 Bruin power play that lasted 1:49.  In his last 12 appearances, he is 6-3-0, 1.60, .946.

Power Play: 5-for-17 / 29.4 percent (season: 23.8 percent; rank: 2nd)

For the first time in quite some time, the Caps did not finish a week with the league’s top power play (Week 14, in fact).  This was despite the Caps having their most effective power play since Week 15, when they were 4-for-6.  They had power play goals in the first four games of the week, extending their streak of games with at least one power play goals to five, their longest streak of games with power play goals for the season, and their longest since they had a five-game streak last March 1-11.

The Caps were a reasonably efficient team in terms of shots recorded on the power play, finishing the week with 22 shots on goal in 24:02 of power play time 0.92 shots per minute).  On an individual level, Alex Ovechkin led the club in shots on goal, which is not surprising.  His share, however (six of the 22 shots on goal) might not have been as high as his usual output.  And, he did not have a power play shot on goal against either Toronto or the Rangers, nor did he have a power play goal in Week 21.  He has gone five games without a power play goal.

Penalty Killing: 15-for-17 / 88.2 percent (season: 84.5 percent; rank: 4th)

Week 21 was a good week for the Caps.  It was, in fact, the best week the Caps have had this season when facing more than ten shorthanded situations (Week 18: 17-for-20/85.0 percent).  Then again, perhaps it should have been.  The Caps faced two top-ten teams on the power play (Chicago, ranked third at the end of the week, and Boston, ranked ninth), but they faced two bottom-ten teams, too (Toronto, ranked 30th, and the Rangers, ranked 21st).  In-between they faced the 17th-ranked team in the Penguins.

The Caps did a good job of holding down shots over the first four games of the week, allowing only 13 shots in 12 shorthanded situations over 19:28 of ice time (0.67 shots per minute).  The Caps might have saved their best for last, though, when they shutout the Bruins – the number three team in the league on the power play – on nine shots on five power plays, including seven shots on goal on a 5-on-3 power play that lasted 1:49.  That might have been a product of the old adage that your goaltender often has to be your best penalty killer. Philipp Grubauer was that on Saturday against Boston.

Faceoffs: 147-for-275 / 53.5 percent (season: 49.9% / rank: 17th)

It was a good week for the Caps in the faceoff circle.  They surpassed 50 percent in three of the five games, and they were better than 50 percent in the offensive and neutral zones for the week.  The defensive end draws were something of a problem, the Caps failing to do better than 50 percent in any of the five games.

Of the six Caps to take at least ten draws for the week, four of them finished over 50 percent.  Nicklas Backstrom took about a third of the total faceoffs for the week, going 53-for-93 (57.0 percent).  Evgeny Kuznetsov took another 55 draws, winning 32 of them for a 58.2 percent result.  Jay Beagle returned to action, but one of the league’s best faceoff men is being eased back into that role. He took just 15 draws for the week, winning eight (53.3 percent).  With Mike Richards on that fourth line with Beagle (he was 27-for-59 for the week), the Caps have the luxury of two experienced players in that role on that line.

Goals by Period:

Slow starts have been a problem for the Caps for a while now, and it carried over into Week 21.  Washington allowed the first goal of the game three times this past week.  The Caps won two of the games (against Pittsburgh and Boston), but this is a trend that needs to be addressed.  The Caps finished the week with a minus-2 in goals for and against in the first periods of games and are now a minus-1 for the season. 

As they have done all season, the Caps were better in the second and third periods of games, going plus-2 and even, respectively, for the week.  Their plus-27 in the second period is better than the goal differential of 27 other teams (not including credit for shootout goals).  Their plus-32 in the third period is better than the total goal differential of every other team in the league.  That is all very nice, but when the competition is stiffer in the postseason, can the Caps count on their ability to grind teams down in the last 40 minutes as they have done this season?

In the end…

Five games, five one-goal decisions.  Only four teams have played games to more one-goal decisions than the Caps (34), and no team has a better winning percentage in those games (24-6-4/.706).  If you think this a good thing, consider this.  A team’s record in one-goal games might not be a determining factor in postseason success, but only one team since the 2004-2005 lockout has had the best winning percentage in one-goal games and gone on to win the Stanley Cup.  The Carolina Hurricanes of 2005-2006 (28-5-8) was the only team to do it.

There is more to this point.  Two teams that led the league in one-goal game winning percentage over the last ten seasons did not qualify for the postseason, and four other teams lost in the first round of the playoffs.  Teams finishing with the best winning percentage in one-goal games over that span won a total of nine playoff series, the Hurricanes winning four them on their way to the Cup in 2006.

The Caps might be a different case, and that is because they have been such a dominating team, whatever the goal margin.  They are 9-2 in games settled by two goals, second in the league in winning percentage (to Anaheim), and they are tied for first in winning percentage in games settled by three or more goals (with Tampa Bay). 

The Caps had a good week in Week 21, a history-making one for the franchise, in fact.  But that does not obscure the fact that there are some things that bear watching over the next  few weeks.  Their slow starts, dependence on one-goal victory margins, and Braden Holtby’s dip in the road are among them.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Matt Niskanen (2-1-3, even, 2 GWG, 25:07 in average ice time, 13 credited hits, 10 blocked shots)
  • Second Star: Philipp Grubauer (2-0-0, 1.47, .943, 15 saves on 15 shots faced on the power play)
  • Third Star: T.J. Oshie (2-3-5, minus-1, 2 PPG, 3 PPA, 11 shots on goal)

Washington Capitals Recap: A TWO-Point Night: Capitals 2 - Bruins 1 (OT)

The Washington Capitals looked for all the world like a lost cause in their battle against the Boston Bruins on Saturday night.  But a disallowed Bruins goal, some spectacular goaltending from Philipp Grubauer, and an overtime howitzer from Matt Niskanen, and the Caps escaped Boston with a 2-1 win to kick off their four-game road trip.

The Caps once more got off to a slow start, this time allowing the game’s first goal in the eighth minute of the first period.  It was a case of an inability to get the puck out of their own end and then chasing Bruins.  Kevan Miller started the scoring play when he flagged down an attempted clear just inside the Caps’ blue line.  He turned and sent the puck down to Lee Stempniak, who turned and tried to get the puck on net.  Nicklas Backstrom got a skate on the puck for the Caps, but it turned him around, and he could not locate the biscuit to get the Caps out of danger.  It found its way to the stick of Brad Marchand at the bottom of the left wing circle, where he spun and found Patrice Bergeron in the low slot.  Bergeron had only to snap the puck into the far side of the net past Grubauer’s left pad, and it was 2-1, Boston, 7:11 into the game. 

That would do it for the scoring in the first period, and it looked as if Boston added to their lead with barely three minutes gone in the second period when Torey Krug worked the puck past Grubauer.  But the Caps challenged the play for being offside, and they won the challenge, depriving the Bruins of that second goal. 

Whatever momentum the Caps could derive from the favorable call on the review was gone a little over two minutes later when Alex Ovechkin was sent off on a five-minute major penalty for boarding Miller.  It got worse for the Caps three minutes later when Tom Wilson was sent to the box for an interference penalty, giving the Bruins 1:49 of a 5-on-3 advantage.

The game turned in that 1:49 when Grubauer turned away seven shots on the 5-on-3.  It allowed the Caps to get a little more settled in their game, and they finally broke through 13 minutes into the period.  Karl Alzner started and finished the play.  He started it by hunting down the puck in the corner to the right of goalie Tuukka Rask.  Outdueling Dennis Seidenberg for control, he worked it out to Alex Ovechkin in the left wing faceoff circle. Ovechkin move the puck along to Nicklas Backstrom at the edge of the right wing circle, and with Alzner darting down the goal line to the net, Backstrom slid the puck through Zdeno Chara’s legs to Alzner to redirect it into the net past Rask.

Neither team could find paydirt over the rest of regulation time, making it a victory of sorts for the Caps, who put themselves behind the eight ball all too often in the 60-minute portion of the contest.   Mid-way through the extra frame, Andre Burakovsky skated the puck around the top of the offensive zone, drawing Ryan Spooner with him.  It opened up space for Burakovsky to lay the puck off for Matt Niskanen, who had time to wind up for a blast that beat Rask on his glove side to give the Caps a 2-1 win that seemed so improbable for most of the evening.

Other stuff…

-- The win put the Capitals at the 100-point mark at Game 65.  It is the earliest they ever reached the 100-point mark, the 2009-2010 team having done it in Game 69.

-- The 48th win of the season ties the Caps with the 1983-1984 and the 2010-2011 teams for fourth-place in all time wins in a season.

-- Matt Niskanen scored the game-winning goal on his only shot on goal of the game.  It was his second game-winning goals in three games, the other (against the Toronto Maple Leafs) also coming on what was his only shot on goal of the game.

-- This was the tenth straight one-goal decision for the Caps, over which their record is 7-3-0. 

-- The win allowed the Caps to avoid consecutive losses in regulation.  They still do not have consecutive losses in regulation time this season.  They have now gone 78 games since the last time they did so, on March 11th and 13th last season against the New York Rangers and the Dallas Stars.

-- Evgeny Kuznetsov tied a season high with seven shots on goal (versus Edmonton on October 23rd).  It was one off his career high of eight shots on goal, set last March 16th against the Buffalo Sabres.

-- Boston had 27 shot attempts in the second period, 20 of them on goal.  Of those totals, 11 shot attempts came on power plays, eight of them shots on goal.

-- Once upon a time, it seemed Tom Wilson was in a fight a week.  Now, it’s one a month.  He had his “March” fight against Adam McQuaid.  He had one in February and one in January.  It was only his fifth fight of the season.

-- This was the fourth time in his last seven games that Philipp Grubauer allowed just one goal in a game he played from start to finish.  He is now fourth in save percentage among goalies appearing in at least 750 minutes (.930 to Robin Lehner’s .931).

-- It was another case of the Caps lagging in possession numbers early an coming on late.  Boston led in 5-on-5 shots attempts in the first period, 18-16, and held a 16-8 edge in the second period.  The Caps had the edge in the third period, 14-8 (numbers from

In the end…

This was one of those games the Caps looked destined to lose, and a lot of it was their own doing in the first two periods.  But Philipp Grubauer was the difference, holding the Bruins off the scoreboard when the game could have slipped away in the second period.  It might have been enough, under the circumstances, to call it a moral victory just getting to extra time, but Matt Niskanen once more showed that he is capable of raining pain on goaltenders with his cannon of a shot from outside.  It made for a good start to the four-game road trip and a happy end to a long week.