Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 75: Blue Jackets at Capitals, March 28th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals take to the ice on Monday night to wrap up their brief two-game home stand, facing the Columbus Blue Jackets in a Metropolitan Division matchup.  The Caps will be looking to clinch the league’s best record for the 2015-2016 season, while the Blue Jackets will be trying to fend off the Toronto Maple Leafs to avoid having the worst record in the Eastern Conference.

The Caps settled the matter of who would be the top seed in the Eastern Conference for the postseason long ago, and their recent play reflects the lack of urgency such certainty provides.  They come into their game with the Blue Jackets with a 4-3-1 record over their last eight games, all three of the regulation losses by margins of three or more goals.

For the Blue Jackets, urgency was never really a part of their season.  They lost their first eight games and never got within shouting distance of .500 thereafter.  The closest they have come was when they reached 28-31-8 after beating the Detroit Red Wings, 5-3, on March 8th.  Since then, however, the wheels have come off the wagon, Columbus limping along with a 2-6-0 record since that win over the Red Wings.

Columbus has had their troubles lighting the lamp in those last eight games, scoring a total of 15 goals while allowing 25.  Boone Jenner leads the team with four goals over those eight games, bringing his career-best total to 28 for the season.  Jenner has been something of a barometer of success for the Blue Jackets of late.  Columbus is 7-1-1 in the last nine games in which Jenner has a goal.  In just three seasons he is already among the all-time franchise leaders in goals scored, his 53 goals tied for 14th with Manny Malhotra.  In nine career games against the Caps, Jenner is 1-4-5, minus-2.

Cam Atkinson is even further up the list of all-time Blue Jacket goal scorers than Jenner (fifth all-time with 85 goals), three of them coming in the Blue Jackets’ last eight games.  Atkinson has improved on his season goal totals in each of his five seasons in the league, reaching a career high of 26 goals this season.  Those three goals in the Blue Jackets’ 2-6-0 slide is part of a longer run of personal success for Atkinson in which he is 7-2-9 in his last 11 games.  Atkinson is 6-4-10, plus-4, in 12 career games against Washington.

Eight goaltenders have appeared in 50 or more games for the Columbus Blue Jackets over their 15-year history, and Sergei Bobrovsky is arguably the best of them all. He ranks third on the all-time games list for Columbus (180), but he ranks first in goals against average (2.45) and save percentage (.921), and he is tied for second in shutouts (12) with Marc Denis, seven behind Steve Mason.  Add in his first team NHL All Star berth and Vezina Trophy in 2012-2013, and he can make a claim as the top goaltender in the history of the franchise.  The 2016 portion of the season has not been kind to him, though.  Twice battling through groin injuries, Bobrovsky is just 2-5-0, 3.34, .885 in eight appearances in the new year.  In 12 career games against the Caps, Bobrovsky is 4-4-3, 3.25, .900.

Here is how the teams compare overall:

1.  This is the sixth season in 15 in which the Blue Jackets have employed more than one coach.  After losing the first seven games of this season, Todd Richards was relieved by John Tortorella.  Columbus has employed as many as three coaches in a season, in 2006-2007 when they had Gerard Gallant, Gary Agnew, and Ken Hitchcock behind the bench.

2.  Score  That’s a thing in the NHL.  Not for the Blue Jackets, though.  Only three teams have fewer wins when scoring first than Columbus (21) – Buffalo (18), Vancouver (15), and Toronto (13).

3.  Lead after two periods…win.  That’s a thing in the NHL, too.  Seems this one passed Columbus by as well.  Only five teams have fewer wins when leading after two periods than the Blue Jackets (19) – Buffalo (18), Detroit (18), Edmonton (17), Vancouver (16), and Toronto (15).

4.  The Blue Jackets can be had late in games.  Only Vancouver has allowed more third period goals (90) than Columbus this season (89), and if the game goes to overtime, Columbus is likely to struggle.  No team has fewer goals scored in overtime than the Blue Jackets (1).  Their lone overtime goal in 15 games going to extra time came back on November 27th in a 2-1 win over Pittsburgh, the first time this season they went to extra time.

5.  Does Corsi matter?  On a game-to-game basis, not so much for Columbus.  In overall 5-on-5 situations, the Blue Jackets are 18-21-5 when they under 50 percent, Corsi-for, while they are 12-16-3 when finishing a contest at 50 percent or better (numbers from

1.  This will be the 16th time this season the Caps are coming off a regulation loss.  In the previous 15 instances they are 14-0-1 and have outscored opponents by a 53-27 margin (3.53 goals per game scored to 1.80 allowed).  Their power play in those games was 12-for-44 (27.3 percent), while the penalty kill was 36-for-43 (83.7 percent).  The only blemish on their record in those 15 games was a 5-4 Gimmick loss to Columbus on January 2nd after dropping a 4-2 decision in Carolina on New Year’s Eve.

2.  Washington is one of three teams to have two players with seven or more game-winning goals.  Alex Ovechkin and Marcus Johansson have seven apiece for the Caps.  Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews have eight apiece for Chicago, and Steven Stamkos (8) and Tyler Johnson (7) reached that threshold for Tampa Bay.

3.  There are 140 players in the NHL with 15 or more goals so far this season.  Of that group, Marcus Johansson has the highest percentage of goals being game-winning goals (7 of 15 goals/46.7 percent).

4.  Here’s a fact from the back of the closet… only two teams in the league have taken fewer faceoffs than the Caps – the New York teams.  The Caps have taken 4,334 draws this season, while the Rangers took 4,297 going into their game with Pittsburgh on Sunday night, and the Islanders took 4,227 faceoffs.

5.  Looking at Caps and Corsi, Washington is 25-9-3 in games in which they out-attempt their opponents or hold them even.  They are 28-7-2 when they are out-attempted by opponents (numbers from  An argument to look for score effects and score adjustment.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Columbus: Seth Jones

In 33 games since being traded by the Nashville Predators to the Columbus Blue Jackets for forward Ryan Johansen, defenseman Seth Jones has become the foundation on the Blue Jacket blue line.  Jones leads Columbus in ice time per game (24:29) and is the only Blue Jacket defenseman to log at least 2:30 a game on both the power play (2:30) and penalty kill (2:38).  Getting almost five minute more per game than he was getting in Nashville, Jones has more goals (two), more assists (15), and more points (17) than he did in Nashville (1-10-11), despite playing in seven fewer games with Columbus (33) than he did with Nashville (40) to start the season.  Jones, who is still just 21 years old, leads his 2013 draft class in games played (232), and he leads all defensemen from that class in points (80).  In four career games against the Caps, Jones Is 1-3-4, plus-3. 

Washington: Braden Holtby

Braden Holtby became the sixth goaltender in NHL history to win 45 games in a single season when he shut out the New Jersey Devils, 1-0, in overtime last Friday night.  He is now within sight of the all-time win total for goaltenders, 48 wins by New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur in 2006-2007.  It is quite rarefied air Holtby inhabits.  But it comes with a warning.  In the other six instances in which a goaltender won at least 45 games in a season (Brodeur also did it in the 2009-2010 season, winning 45 games), only Bernie Parent won a Stanley Cup, doing it with the 1973-1974 Philadelphia Flyers after winning 47 games in the regular season.  As a matter of fact, of the five instances apart from Parent, none of the goalies advanced to a conference final.  Only three of them won a series – Roberto Luongo in 2006-2007 with the Vancouver Canucks, Brodeur in 2006-2007 with the Devils, and Evgeni Nabokov in 2007-2008 with the San Jose Sharks.  Miikka Kiprusoff and his Calgary Flames were ousted in the first round in 2008-2009, while Brodeur’s 2009-2010 Devils were taken out in the first round. 

This is not to say that the Caps and Holtby are doomed.  Of those five teams that failed to reach a conference final, only the 2007-2008 Calgary Flames playing in front of Kiprusoff ranked higher than 19th in scoring offense (tied for seventh).  Brodeur’s 2006-2007 team on which he set the record ranked 27th in scoring offense for the season.  The Caps are a much more formidable offensive club, ranking second in scoring offense overall.  They are more than their goaltender.  They just happen to have a very good one.  In 12 career games against Columbus, Holtby is 7-2-2, 2.96, .899.

In the end…

We are now in the last ten percent of the regular season – eight games left to play.  It is time to dig the big boy pants out of the closet and get ready for the postseason.  The Caps “played” better than they “scored” against St. Louis on Saturday night, but there is no parade for winning a Corsi championship.  The performance of Jake Allen in goal was a not-so-subtle reminder of what it is that has confounded Caps teams in the postseason since dinosaurs roamed the earth – good, if not great goalies playing as if they were Georges Vezina, George Hainsworth, and Patrick Roy rolled into one.  The Caps will have to finish much better than they did against St. Louis, and finish the last eight games of the season better than they did the last eight games (4-3-1).  This is a game the Caps are supposed to win.  Of course, you know where we stand on such things…

Capitals 4 – Blue Jackets 2

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 24

Week 24 was a full week of four contests for the Washington Capitals.  With so much on the plate for the hockey fan, it still seemed unsatisfying as the club continued to display a disturbing lack of consistency and an inability to raise their game against opponents of a caliber they are likely to find in the postseason.

Record: 2-2-0

For the second time in three weeks the Capitals did not have a winning week.  They avoided their first losing week of the season, but barely, making sure about that when they scored the game’s only goal in overtime against the New Jersey Devils on Friday for their second win of the week.  By week’s end the Caps had 53 wins for the season.  That tied the club for the 18th-highest win total in NHL history and tied them for seventh in wins in the post 2004-2005 lockout era.  It also left this team within one of the franchise record for wins (54 in the 2009-2010 season).

What is creeping into the minds of Caps fans, perhaps, is a sliver of doubt about just how good this team is.  Or more to the point, whether they can raise their game to the heights they enjoyed over the first four months of the season when they compiled a 35-8-4 record.  The two losses in Week 24 made it four losses for March, the second consecutive month in which the Caps will have had four or more losses in regulation.  By this team’s standards, that is an avalanche of losses.  But on the other hand, that also means that the Caps’ combined record of 18-8-1 in February and March work out to a 112-point pace per 82 games.  If that’s just a slump, it is one that is certainly bearable.

Offense:  1.75/game (season: 3.08 /game; rank: 2nd)

Seven goals in three games, none in the last six periods of regulation for the week.  The second-ranked scoring offense in the league had a bad week.  It happens.  Alex Ovechkin had one of them, but while he still maintains a lead in the goal-scoring race with 43 goals to 39 for Chicago’s Patrick Kane, he has just three goals in his last 13 contests.  With eight games left and being seven goals short of 50, it seems unlikely that Ovechkin will finish with his seventh 50-goal season, although it seems likely that he will capture his sixth Maurice Richard Trophy as the league’s top goal scorer.

It was a team-wide slump in Week 24, shooting-wise.  It was not enough that the Caps shot just 7-for-98 for the week (7.1 percent) and only 4-for-80 at 5-on-5 (5.0 percent), it was their goal scoring core that had a collective tough time of it.  Look at the four 20-goal scorers.  Ovechkin was 1-for-15 (6.7 percent), Justin Williams was 0-for-9 (seven of those shots on goal recorded against St. Louis), and Evgeny Kuznetsov was 0-for-8.  T.J. Oshie scored on his only shot on goal for the week, but he missed the last two games with flu-like symptoms.  That made the Caps’ four 20-goal scorers 2-for-33 (6.1 percent).  It was a team effort.

If there was a goal-scoring highlight, it was John Carlson scoring in overtime to give the Caps a 1-0 win over the Devils on Friday night.  It was a lot of first wrapped into one.  The goal came in Carlson’s first game back after missing ten games to a lower-body injury and recovery from surgery, it was his first career overtime game-winner, and it was the first time in franchise history that a defenseman scored an overtime game-winning goal in a 1-0 game for the Caps.  Jason Chimera was the only Capital to post as many as three points for the week (1-2-3), while Jay Beagle and Marcus Johansson joined Chimera with a pair of assists apiece.

Defense: 3.00/game (season: 2.34 /game; rank: T-2nd)

This section this week is pretty much all about possession numbers.  One thing that the Caps have been guilty of in recent weeks is getting off to poor starts but winning in spite of it.  Week 24 was very different.  The Caps had a good possession week overall, but it was also very uneven.  A 51.4 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5 overall is a good week, but how the Caps got there was unsettling.  In four games they posted a 56.8 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5 in the first periods of games.  They also managed to win the scoring chance battle, 33-27, and the high-danger scoring chance battle, 15-10.  All they had to show for it was two goals scored and two allowed.

The second and third periods were a different story.  The Caps were under 50 percent in combined Corsi-for at 5-on-5 in both the second period (48.6 percent) and in the third (47.9 percent).   As one might expect, they lost the scoring chance numbers, too.  For the second periods of games it was a 21-29 difference, while in the third it was 21-23.  The Caps did manage a slight edge in high-danger scoring chances in the second periods of games (9-8), but they lost the third period (7-12).  It should have been no mystery, even with the Caps’ poor shooting percentages for the week, that they ended up with a minus-2 goal differential in the second periods of games (two for, four against), and had a minus-3 differential at 5-on-5 in the third periods of games (none scored, three allowed; all numbers from

Goaltending: 2.97 /.893 / 1 shutout (season: 2.23 / .922 / 3 shutouts)

For Braden Holtby, Week 24 was a case of having a bad game, shaking it off, and putting together a decent week overall under the circumstances.  When he allowed five goals on 26 shots in 47:18 to the Pittsburgh Penguins and yielded to Philipp Grubauer, it was the sixth time this season that he was relieved before finishing a start and the fifth time it happened over 23 appearances up to that game.

Holtby came back to win the middle two games of the week, stopping 50 of 52 shots in 122 minutes in wins over Ottawa and New Jersey.  The win over the Devils gave Holtby 45 wins on the season, making him the sixth goaltender in league history to hit that mark, three short of the league record of 48 wins set by the Devils’ Martin Brodeur in 2006-2007.  Of the other six instances of a goaltender winning at least 45 games (Brodeur did it twice), none of the goaltenders appeared in fewer than 73 games (Bernie Parent, who won 47 games for the 1973-1974 Philadelphia Flyers).  Holtby, who has 45 wins in just 60 games, can appear in a maximum of just 68 games this season.  Parent also happens to be the only one of the other five goaltenders to have won a Stanley Cup in the year he broke the 45-win barrier.

Philipp Grubauer had a relief appearance and a start in Week 24 to put on his record.  It was not exactly a memorable week.  Grubauer faced just five shots in mop-up duty against the Penguins in the 6-2 loss to open the week and allowed the final Pittsburgh goal.  Against the St. Louis Blues to end the week he was occasionally sharp, but he was let down by his defense on a pair of Blues’ goals, leaving shooters alone against him from point-blank range, and he was leaky on what might have been the game’s pivotal goal, the second St. Louis goal scored by Colton Pareyko from long range under his pads.  It was an example of the sort of inconsistency he had not displayed since early in the season.  Slumps happen, even for goaltenders who get infrequent work, and Grubauer’s .853 save percentage for the week reflected that.

Power Play: 1-for-8 / 12.5 percent (season: 22.8 percent; rank: 2nd)

Four games, four instances of two power play opportunities.  And the Caps did not do much with the few opportunities they had, getting a power play goal from Alex Ovechkin against the Ottawa Senators in the Caps’ 4-2 win last Tuesday.  The power play has been quite streaky over the last nine weeks, very much in a feast (four weeks over 23 percent) or famine (four weeks under ten percent).  Over those nine weeks the Caps are just 14-for-88 (15.9 percent).

In addition to the less-than-noteworthy performance level of the power play in Week 24, it was not especially productive, either.  Ten shots on goal in 15:00 of power play time.  Ovechkin had half of those power play shots on goal (five) and scored his first power play in almost a month, going 11 games without a power play strike since recording a man advantage goal against the Minnesota Wild in a 3-2 win in February 26th.

Penalty Killing: 13-for-14 / 92.9 percent (season: 84.6 percent; rank: 4th)

The Caps had one of their best weeks of the season in killing penalties.  It was the first week in which the Caps faced ten or more shorthanded situations that they killed more than 90 percent of the situations they faced.  The thing of it, though, was that it was not pretty.  The Caps allowed 22 power play shots on goal in 24:32 of shorthanded ice time, a good (but not great) shots-per-minute rate (0.90 shots per minute). 

The Caps did face two top-ten teams in power play efficiency in the New Jersey Devils (ninth-ranked) and the St. Louis Blues (sixth), shutting them out on three power plays, and shutting out the Blues entirely from any opportunities (the first time this season the Caps did not face an opponent’s power play).  Against two bottom-half power plays, the Caps did allow a power play goal to the Penguins (19th-ranked), although the Pens also had seven opportunities.  The Caps shut out the 28th-ranked Ottawa Senator power play on four chances.  In a week that had its ups and downs, the penalty killing might have been the best part of the week.

Faceoffs: 115-for-219 / 52.5 percent (season: 49.9% / rank: 18th)

Up-down-up-down.  That was Week 24 in the faceoff circle, alternating games of more than 50 percent winning performance with games under 50 percent.  And, as if to complete the roller-coaster nature of the week, the Caps were over 50 percent in the defensive zone (58.1 percent), under 50 percent in the offensive zone (49.3 percent), and right at 50 percent in the neutral zone.  It made for a good week overall – 52.5 percent for the week.

On an individual level, Mike Richards (63.0 percent of 46 draws)) and Jay Beagle (56.8 percent of 37 faceoffs) ruled all they surveyed within the confines of the circle.  Evgeny Kuznetsov also finished over 50 percent among Caps taking at least ten draws (21-for-40), but he really shined in, of all places, the defensive zone, going 10-for-12 for the week. 

Goals by Period:

The Caps displayed an inability to close teams down as games wore on.  The five goals allowed in the second periods of games represented more than ten percent of the total they had allowed over the first 23 weeks of the season (10.2 percent).  The five goals allowed in the third periods of games was almost ten percent of the total coming into the week (9.3 percent).  It was a result of letting close games get away from them, allowing the Penguins three third period goals in the space of 9:19 to allow a 3-2 deficit balloon to 6-2, then allowing three second period goals in 8:00 to the St. Louis Blues to allow a scoreless game go to 3-0 and essentially end the competitive portion of that contest.

Even the 3-2 edge in first period goals was deceptive.  The Caps scored all of them in a 12-minute span against the Ottawa Senators, then held on as the Senators went on to make a game of it before the Caps scored an empty-netter in the last minute of a 4-2 win.

In the end…

Week 24 was not a good week, but neither was it a bad one.  There is the gnawing question of whether the Caps can “flip the switch” and raise the level of their game to that which they displayed over the first four months of the season.  Even with an 18-8-1 over the past two months, the Caps are good, but they have been less than extraordinary.  Of greater concern, the Caps are now 1-3-1 in their last five games against playoff-eligible teams, getting outscored by a 19-11 margin over those contests. 

The Caps enter the last three weeks of the regular season with eight games to find their rhythm and get everyone back to good health, or as good as a team can expect at this time of year.  The team has been in something of a broad-based sleepwalk over the past several weeks, the top scorers not scoring, the best defenders not defending, and the goalies not…ok, “goalie-ing” isn’t a word, but you get the point.  Week 25 is another four-game week, one that provides a different sort of opportunity for the Caps to raise their game.  A Columbus team that is difficult to play against, a Philadelphia  team fighting for their playoff lives, and a final road swing out west to Colorado and Arizona.  It never stops.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Jason Chimera (1-2-3, plus-1, 4 shots on goal)
  • Second Star: Nicklas Backstrom (1-1-2, minus-1, 4 shots on goal, 49.2 percent on faceoffs)
  • Third Star: Braden Holtby (2-1-0, 2.48, .910, 1 shutout)