Friday, April 08, 2016

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 81: Capitals at Blues, April 9th

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

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

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

Washington Capitals Recap: A ONE-Point Night: Penguins 4 - Capitals 3 (OT)

When Sidney Crosby took a pass from Kris Letang late in overtime on Thursday night against the Washington Capitals and scored on a breakaway to give the Pittsbugh Penguins a 4-3 win, it might have been a play fraught with symbolism.  The Caps spent the first two-thirds of the season running away from the pack in the NHL standings, but they have spent the last six weeks watching the Penguins slowly and methodically chipping away at their status as the league’s favorite to take the Stanley Cup.  The breakaway might have been a symbol of the Penguins breaking free of the Caps as the favorite to represent the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup final.

Then again, maybe it was just a game.

And what a strange game it was.  For 37 minutes, the Caps sleepwalked through what should have been, for them, a game with which they could make a statement that they were still the class of the conference.  It was Pittsburgh who scored the game’s first three goals, all of them coming from unexpected sources.

Matt Cullen scored a pair, one coming in the first minute of the first period, the Caps getting caught facing a 3-on-2 rush.  Tom Kuhnhackl led the rush and fed Cullen on the left side just as the Penguin trio reached the Capitals blue line.  Cullen had an open lane to skate and shoot, and he did both effectively, snapping the puck past goalie Braden Holtby’s blocker to make it 1-0 just 44 seconds into the game.

Cullen struck again in the first minute of the second period with the Caps on a power play.  He led Eric Fehr on a 2-on-1 break into the Caps’ end.  As he closed on Holtby, he tried to slide the puck over to Fehr, but the puck struck the skate of defenseman Matt Niskanen and slid past Holtby to make it 2-0 just 28 seconds into the period.

When Conor Sheary made it 3-0 at the 9:03 mark on another rush after the Caps made a sloppy line change, it looked as if the only team making a statement was the Penguins, and it wasn’t a pleasant one to the ears of Capitals Nation.

Then, the Caps discovered the charms of going to the net.  Late in the second period Andre Burakovsky threw a shot at the Pittsburgh net that was blocked aside to the far wing.  John Carlson collected the puck and fired a slap pass to the slot where Marcus Johansson was set up.  Johansson redirected the puck past goalie Matt Murray, and the comeback started at the 17:19 mark of the period. 

Washington inched closer mid-way through the third period when Johansson caught the Penguins standing around.  Evgeny Kunetsov fended off Justin Schultz behind the Penguin net and passed the puck in front.  Niskanen flagged it down and slid it over the Johansson cutting across the high slot.  Johnasson took a stride and fired just before Fehr could reach out and poke the puck away, the puck sailing under the right arm of Murray to make it 3-2 at the 10:05 mark. 

Less than three minutes later the game was tied on some fine stick work all around for the Caps.  Kuznetsov settled a bouncing puck at the blue line before it could escape into the neutral zone, upon which he pivoted and fed it to Justin Williams, who wasted no time chipping it to John Carlson in the left wing circle.  Carlson settled the puck and drew it back from a closing Ben Lovejoy and sent it to the far side of the Penguin net.  Burakovsky moved the stick from his forehand to his backhand, reached out, and redirected the puck out of mid-air past Murray’s left pad to make it 3-3.

That would be it for the scoring in regulation, and it looked as if the teams might need the freestyle portion of the evening to settle things, but the Penguins – and Crosby – ended that thinking with just 60 seconds left in the extra session, giving the Penguins the 4-3 win.

Other stuff…

-- Marcus Johansson scored two goals in a game for the first time this season and for the first time he had a pair in a 6-2 win over the Maple Leafs in Toronto on January 7, 2015.  He broke an 18-game streak without a goal and gave him five points in his last two games after a three-assist effort in the 4-3 overtime loss to the New York Islanders on Tuesday.

-- Andre Burakovsky also had a two-point game with a goal and an assist, breaking an eight-game streak without a point.  It was his seventh multi-point game this season.

-- John Carlson had a pair of assists, giving him his first multi-point game since he had a goal and an assist in a 4-1 win over the Penguins on December 14th.

-- The Caps faced four power plays, the most they faced on home ice since they faced four in a 3-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on March 2nd.

-- This was the rubber match in the season series between the team, the Penguins taking a 3-2 edge.  The Penguins outscored the Caps, 16-13 in the series, but they were just 1-for-18 on power plays (5.6 percent), while the Caps were just 2-for-16 (12.5 percent).  The shorthanded goal scored by the Pens in this game was the only one of the series this season.

-- Tom Wilson had a rough night.  He was on ice for the game’s first goal by Matt Cullen, he took a major penalty for boarding Nick Bonino, had no shot attempts, and he took just two shifts in the last 32 minutes of the game, eight in all for just 5:50 in ice time, his low for the season and his lowest ice time since he skated 4:14 on April 2, 2015 in a 5-4 Gimmick win over the Montreal Canadiens.

-- Matt Niskanen recorded his 27th assist of the season, matching his total last season in his first year in Washington.

-- Back to Johansson… he was on ice for all four Pittsburgh goals.  It was the first time he finished as poorly as a minus-2 since he recorded such a plus-minus in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Calgary Flames last November 18th.

-- Braden Holtby is not going to be sad to see this 3-on-3 overtime thing end once the regular season ends.  Among 25 goalies with at least 25 minutes played at 3-on-3 this season, Holtby ranks 23rd in save percentage (.792; numbers from

-- The Caps, who came into this game as the substantially inferior possession team overall, acquitted themselves well in that regard, out attempting the Penguins, 39-35, at 5-on-5 and winning the scoring chances, 24-20 (numbers from 

In the end…

If this game had been played in December, instead of it being Game 80 of the regular season, Caps fans might find solace in the comeback after a ghastly start to the game.  But it is Game 80, and this could be a second round playoff matchup if both teams advance past the first round.  The takeaway from this game, if you are a Caps fan, is that the game did not turn on the play of the Penguins.  You cannot look at the raw possession numbers and conclude that the visitors took it to the Caps.  It was how the Caps played that dictated the pace and momentum.  They were awful early, especially prone to giving up odd-man rushes.  They found a spark late in the second period, and it served to give them momentum through the third period.  You could conclude that if the Caps play like they did in the first 35 minutes, their postseason will be short.  If they play as they did in the last 25 minutes of regulation, theirs could be a deep playoff run.  It’s really up to them which way the road takes them.