Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 77: Capitals at Avalanche, April 1st

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Well, we are getting down to it.  The Washington Capitals are down to their next to last weekend of regular season games for the 2015-2016 season.  And, they have to play them in back-to-back fashion, starting with a visit to Denver to face the Colorado Avalanche on Friday night.

The Caps are 5-2-2 in games played west of the Mississippi River this season, and they will look to improve on their 5-7-1 all-time record in Denver against the team that moved there from Quebec in the 1995-1996 season. The Caps are 4-2-1 in their last seven contests, while the Avalanche are desperately trying to make up a five-point deficit with the Minnesota Wild with five games to play after having lost three of their last four contests.

Scoring has become an issue for Colorado.  It is not a team that has filled nets with pucks over the course of the season (2.61 goals per game, tied for 17th), but they are averaging just 2.45 goals per game in their last 11 contests and have just five goals in their last three games, four of them in a 4-3 win over the Nashville Predators on Monday.

Colorado just is not getting much in the way of top-end goal production.  Matt Duchene (29) and Nathan MacKinnon (21) are the only Avs with 20 or more goals this season.  Duchene has been productive of late with four goals in his last ten contests, but MacKinnon has been in a slump with just two goals in his last 15 contests.  Both are nursing injuries, Duchene with a knee injury that caused him to miss six games (he is expected to return against the Caps) and MacKinnon with a knee injury as well, keeping him off skates for the time being.  Get past those two, and you find a pair of players at 19 goals, one with much of his career ahead of him, the other in sight of the end of his playing days.

Gabriel Landeskog has been a young man in a hurry since he was taken with the second-overall pick in the 2011 entry draft by the Avalanche.  We skated directly into the Colorado lineup, winning the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie after posting 22 goals and 52 points in the 2011-2012 season.  Before the next season started, on September 4, 2012, he was named Captain, the youngest player ever named a team captain (11 days younger than Sidney Crosby was when he was named captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins in May 2007). 

But Landeskog seems to have been in a hurry to stand in place.  He’s been a very consistent player, averaging between 0.25 and 0.32 goals per game in his five seasons, including this one.  What he has not done is take that next step up the production ladder.  He is on a pace to finish this season with 20 goals, which would make it four times in four full seasons he reached the 20-goal mark (not counting the abbreviated 2012-2013 season), and he will certainly pass the 50-point mark for the fourth time in four full seasons (he has 49 coming into this game).  But with more than 350 regular season games under his belt, one might start to wonder if he has that next step in him.  Landeskog has four goals in his last nine games, and in six career games against the Caps he is 1-6-7, plus-2.

Jarome Iginla is in the home stretch of his career.  Now in his 19th season with exactly 1,300 regular season and playoff games on his resume, he will be 39 years old in July.  He is not the productive curiosity that Jaromir Jagr is with the Florida Panthers at his advanced age, but Iginla is not going quietly into his good night, either.  His next goal will give him 20 for the season, making it 16 straight full seasons (again, not counting that 2012-2013 season) in which he reached the 20-goal mark and 17 in 18 full seasons of his career (he had 13 in 70 games in 1997-1998, his second year in the league).  His recent performance does not provide a lot of comfort that he has much left in the tank.  Iginla is without a goal in his last dozen games and does not have an even strength goal since February 17th in a 3-2 win over Montreal, an even strength goal-less streak of 17 games and counting.

Here is how the teams compare overall:

1.  After the four players mentioned above, no other Colorado player has more than 13 goals (defenseman Tyson Barrie).

2.  Colorado is allowing the second highest number of shots per game this season (32.1, to Ottawa’s 32.8)

3.  The Avalanche score first a lot.  Only five teams have opened a game with the first goal more times than the 44 by Colorado. They just don’t seem to win a lot.  Their .614 winning percentage (27-15-2) ranks 24th in the league.

4.  If the Avs win, don’t count on it being a blow-out.  Colorado is tied for the fourth-best winning percentage in one-goal games (.600/21-10-4), but they are just 18-24 in games decided by two or more goals.

5.  Colorado is the worst possession team in the league.  They are at 44.2 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5 overall, but that isn’t the half of it.  They have allowed 178 more shot attempts than the Ottawa Senators, and their Corsi plus-minus of minus-784 for the season is 361 points worse than the New Jersey Devils (minus-423; numbers from

1.  While the Avs have only those four players with more than 13 goals, the Caps have eight players north of that number (Ovechkin, Oshie, Williams, Kuznetsov, Backstrom, Chimera, Burakovsky, and Johansson).

2.  While the Avs have allowed the 29th-fewest shots per game, the Caps have allowed the sixth fewest (28.7).

3. The Caps sustained their first extra time loss of the season when scoring the first goal when they lost in the Gimmick to Philadelphia on Wednesday night, but they still have the best winning percentage in the league when scoring first (.917/33-2-1).

4.  The Caps also held on to their league-best winning percentage in one-goal games despite the loss to the Flyers (.692/27-6-6).  They are also 27-10 in games decided by two or more goals, their .730 winning percentage in such games also best in the league.

5.  The Caps are not likely to finish this game over 50 percent in Corsi-for on the road this season (they would have to go plus-51 in shot attempts), but they can improve on their 14th-best 49.2 percent at 5-on-5 on the road (numbers from

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Colorado: Semyon Varlamov

Assuming he starts in goal for the Avalanche and lasts until at least the second intermission, Semyon Varlamov will have recorded his third straight 3,000 minute season (fourth straight full season, not counting the abbreviated 2012-2013 season).  It is not an insignificant accomplishment for a goalie that had frequent injury issues with the Capitals, the team that drafted him and with whom he spent his first three seasons in the NHL.  He has had a borderline bizarre record of late, though.  He has allowed three goals in each of his last five appearances.  His 3.03 goals against average in those games does not look as good as his .913 save percentage, which while far from elite is respectable.  Only Ottawa’s Craig Anderson has faced 35 or more shots in more games (25) than has Varlamov (17), and Anderson has appeared in five more games and has almost 400 more minutes played.  In three career games against the Caps, Varlamov is 2-1-0, 1.35, .965.

Washington: Nate Schmidt

Oh yeah, that guy.  Nate Schmidt does not get much attention, but there he is taking his regular turn night in and night out (he has not skated less than 13 minutes in any game he played in this season).  He is one of five Caps defensemen with at least 15 points (2-14-16), and he is one of five defensemen at plus-13 or better (plus-13).  It would be nice to see him get a goal, though.  He hasn’t had one since January 7th, leaving him without one over his last 32 games.  This game might be a good sign.  The goal he recorded previous to the one he scored on January 7th – his other goal this season – was recorded against Colorado on November 21st.  It is his only point in four career games against the Avalanche.

In the end…

There just is no way the Caps should lose this game.  Colorado gives up too many opportunities at 5-on-5.  Their power play is having a rough go of it (1-for-14 in their last seven games).  They do not pose many threats on offense, and among those they do have, there are players who are either injured or struggling.  Washington has not scored more than four goals against a goaltender in a game since they beat Columbus, 6-3, on January 19th (they had five against Nashville on February 9th, but the fifth goal was an empty-netter).  That’s 30 games and counting.  They will not get to 31.

Capitals 5 – Avalanche 2

Washington Capitals Recap: A ONE-Point Night: Flyers 2 - Capitals 1 (OT/Gimmick)

It might have been a preview of an Eastern Conference quarterfinal playoff matchup when the Washington Capitals visited the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday night. It certainly played like one as the Flyers and Capitals failed to settle things in regulation or the five-minute overtime, needing to go to the freestyle competition before the Flyers skated off with a 2-1 win.

It was a contest of special teams in the hockey portion of the game. The first two periods went scoreless, but early in the third the Caps broke on top with the man advantage. Evgeny Kuznetsov took a pass from Justin Williams and skated the puck down the right wing wall. He turned and looked for a passing lane to Alex Ovechkin. Failing to find one on the ice, he elevated a pass through the middle of the ice to Ovechkin in the left wing circle. Ovechkin settled the puck and wristed it over the glove of goalie Steve Mason to make it 1-0, 1:28 into the period.

That goal held up until Marcus Johansson took a hooking penalty 13 minutes into the period. The Caps skated most of the ensuing shorthanded situation off, but the Flyers worked the puck around the Caps’ zone late in the power play, Wayne Simmonds taking it behind the Caps net and banking a pass off the boards to Claude Giroux at the left point. Giroux fired a slap shot that clipped the shaft of Brayden Schenn’s stick and sailed over the glove of Braden Holtby to make it 1-1 at the 14:32 mark.

That did it for the scoring in the hockey portion of the show. In the Gimmick, Mason denied T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov, while Nick Cousins and Same Gagner scored for the Flyers, giving the home team the extra standings point in the 2-1 decision.

Other stuff…

-- It was something we noted in the prognosto, that the Caps came into this game as the most efficient shooting team in the league when it came to the Gimmick (8-for-15/53.3 percent). Going 0-for-2, the Caps fell to third at 47.1 percent. They fell to 19th in save percentage in giving up two goals on two shots (11-for-17/.647).

-- Alex Ovechkin’s goal, his league-leading 44th, was just his third in his last 13 games.

-- Nicklas Backstrom had a rough night in the faceoff circle, going 1-for-15 (6.7 percent).

-- Jay Beagle led the Caps in shots on goal (6).

-- When Marcus Johansson was sent off on a hooking penalty in the third period, it was the first penalty he took since February 9th, breaking a 22-game streak without one. Nevertheless, in taking the penalty he set a career high in penalty minutes taken in a season (12).

-- Braden Holtby has 17 career penalty minutes, 11 of them have been taken against the Flyers after the two minutes he was charged for roughing in this game.

-- Dmitry Orlov…no charged giveaways in 15:54.  Keep it up, kid.

-- Maybe it’s scoring in a venue in which the official scorer is more inclined to look for such things, but the teams combined for 64 hits (Caps: 30, Flyers: 34).  Compare that to Monday, when the Caps and Columbus Blue Jackets combined for 33 hits (Caps: 18, Blue Jackets: 15).

-- After going five games without a penalty minute, his longest streak since opening the season with a six-game penalty-free streak, Tom Wilson picked up his third minor penalty in two games with a roughing call in the third period (coincidental with Sam Gagner).

-- The Caps held the Flyers to a virtual draw in possession at fives, scratching out a 50-49 edge in shot attempts.  More to the point, and consistent with what they do when they are successful, they ruled the third period with a 14-9 edge in shot attempts at 5-on-5, and they had a 11-7 edge in high-danger scoring chances (numbers from

In the end…

OK, it was a loss.  But the Caps played a decent road game.  If anything, this game was one more in what is something of a shooting funk in which the Caps find themselves.  In their last 17 games they are shooting 5.7 percent at 5-on-5; they were 0-for-25 in this game.  A team with the depth of skill the Caps have cannot be expected to stay in this rut for much longer.  The takeaway, then, is the play of Braden Holtby, who was 22-for-22 in saves at 5-on-5, bringing his 5-on-5 save percentage to .934 over his last 17 games (numbers from  As has been noted, you might say he’s back in “beast” mode.  And that’s the best sign for the Caps coming out of this game.