The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The Washington Capitals wrapped up the Eastern Conference portion of their season on Thursday night with a 4-3 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. They have two games against Western Conference teams remaining, the first of which will be played on Saturday night in St. Louis against the Blues.
Washington comes into this game dragging their first three-game losing streak of the season with them. That is also four losses in five games and five losses in seven contests. On the other side, the Blues are humming along with a three-game winning streak and wins in eight of their last nine games, including a 4-0 shutout win over the Caps on March 26th.
In the five games played by the Blues since they faced the Caps, they are 4-1-0, outscoring their opponents by a 20-11 margin, more than half of those goals allowed coming in an uncharacteristic 6-5 loss at home to Boston on April 1st. Their power play has been a fine 5-for-19 (26.3 percent), while their penalty kill is 12-for-14 (85.7 percent) over the same five games.
Vladimir Tarasenko leads the Blues in goals (four) and points (eight) over the last five games. It is part of a longer hot streak for Tarasenko. Since March 1st, he is 10-9-19, plus-7, in 16 games. For Tarasenko the goal-scoring binge vaulted him to a career-best 39 goals for the season, two more than the 37 with which he finished last season. He is one of just four players with more than 75 goals over the past two seasons, Jamie Benn (76), Steven Stamkos (79) and Alex Ovechkin (100) being the others. He and Benn are the only players with at least 75 goals and 70 assists over the past two seasons. Tarasenko is 2-1-3, plus-6, in four career games against Washington.
Alex Pietrangelo leads the defense in scoring over the last five games (2-4-6) in a season that looks a lot like his previous two in terms of goal scoring, but not in assists. His goals per game this year (0.10) are similar to what he recorded last season (0.09) and in 2013-2014 (0.10). His assists follow a somewhat different pattern – 0.40 per game this season compared to 0.48 last season and 0.53 in 2013-2014. He is now on a four-game points streak, his longest since putting four straight games together in early January. Pietrangelo is one of only five defensemenover the past three seasons to record at least 20 goals, at least 100 assists, and post a plus-minus of plus-25 or greater. He has one assist and is a plus-1 in seven career games against the Capitals.
As far as goaltending in concerned, the Blues have an embarrassment of riches, or at least hot goaltenders at the moment. Brian Elliott seems to have the inside track on starting in goal for the postseason based on a longer period of superior play. In his last 21 appearance dating back to mid-January he is 15-2-2, 1.64, .943, with four shutouts, three of those coming in succession against Vancouver (twice) and San Jose in late March. However, Jake Allen has provided solid minutes lately. He shut out the Caps on March 26, and he has allowed just one goal in his last 120 minutes. Elliott is 6-2-0, 3.17, .886 in ten career appearances against the Caps, while Allen has the shutout on March 26th in his only career appearance against Washington. He is listed as day-to-day with a lower body injury.
Here is how the teams compare overall:
1. Over the last five seasons through Thursday night, no team – not Chicago, not Los Angeles, not Pittsburgh, not the New York Rangers – has won more regular season games than the St. Louis Blues (230).
2. This year, the Blues are tied for the second highest number of wins (49) through Thursday’s games, but the odd part of it is that they have a better record on the road (25-11-5) than they do at home (24-12-4).
3. St. Louis protects the puck well, even if one acknowledges the arbitrary nature of awarding takeaways and giveaways. No team has been credited with fewer giveaways this season than the Blues (443).
4. Only three teams have had more shorthanded situations faced on home ice this season than the Blues (137) – Detroit (138), Anaheim (140) and Arizona (151).
5. It might strike one as surprising that the Blues have an “even” goal differential on home ice this season (59 goals for, 59 goals against; numbers from war-on-ice.com).
1. The Capitals have more standings points earned in just the Eastern Conference portion of their schedule (83 on a record of 39-10-5) than 11 teams have in total for the season through Thursday night’s games. Those 39 wins are more than 13 other teams.
2. The Caps’ recent record is as much frustrating as it is disappointing, perhaps more so. No team has more one-goal victories than the Caps (27, tied with Los Angeles and Detroit), and they have the best winning percentage in such games (.658/27-6-8). However, three of their last four losses were by one goal, all of them in extra time.
3. In the same vein, earlier in the season the “3-2” score was one that the Caps liked seeing. All in all, they have a 13-3-1 record in games ending in a 3-2 score. The “4-3” score? Not so much. The Caps lost their last two games by that margin, both in overtime. The Caps have a 3-2-4 record in games ending in a 4-3 score this season.
4. No player since the 2004-2005 lockout has more game-winning goals than Alex Ovechkin (87). However, he has only one game-winning goal in his last 31 games, the overtime game-winner in a 2-1 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes on March 15th.
5. The Caps have had a good run of it as far as their road possession numbers are concerned. Over their last four road games, their Corsi-for at 5-on-5 overall is 59.1 percent. They do not have much to show for it, though. Their goal differential is “minus-2,” two for and four against (numbers from war-on-ice.com).
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
St. Louis: Troy Brouwer
The former Capital forward is 3-3-6 over his last four games, putting him within striking distance of recording his third consecutive 20-goal season (he has 18) and one point away from his third straight 40-point season. Brouwer’s goal-scoring success has coincided quite nicely with team success. The Blues are 14-2-2 in the 18 games in which Brouwer has a goal (he does not have a multi-goal game this season), and the Blues have won each of the last six games in which he has one. He is doing it in a somewhat less efficient manner than has been customary in his career. His 12.8 percent shooting percentage is his worst since his first full season with Chicago when he had a 7.9 percent shooting percentage in 69 games. He does not have a point and is minus-1 in three career games against Washington.
Washington: Dmitry Orlov
If there is a player that opponents are going to look to exploit for the Washington Capitals in the postseason, it could be defenseman Dmitry Orlov. The 24-year old has never appeared in an NHL postseason game, and he has not appeared in a postseason game of any kind since he appeared in four post season games with the Hershey Bears in 2013. It is going to be important that he be prepared for what awaits him in the playoffs. It means he is going to have to contribute more than he has recently. He has had a rough go of it as the season winds down, going 0-0-0, minus-5 over his last nine games, and his 10:42 in ice time against Pittsburgh on Thursday night was his lowest ice time since February 13th against Dallas (10:19). Orlov has an assist and is minus-1 in three career games against the Blues.
In the end…
The Caps have hardly been a good team over the last month, but their misfortune might be a bit overstated. Yes, they are 11-7-4 in their last 22 games, but of the 11 losses, seven of them were by one goal, four of them in extra time. For the Caps it is now a matter of finding that one shot, that one save, that one extra bit of effort that will propel them past those frustrating one-goal losses and back to winning with something approaching the regularity with which they did so earlier in the season.
Capitals 3 – Blues 2