Monday, October 31, 2016

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Games 9 and 10: Home and Home -- Capitals vs. Jets, November 1/3

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

On Tuesday night the Washington Capitals take the ice for an end and a beginning.  When they face the Winnipeg Jets at MTS Centre in Winnipeg, it will be the last of their four-game road trip to western Canada.  It also will be the start of a home-and-home set of games with the Jets that will move to Washington on Thursday.

The Caps and the Jets are teams headed in opposite directions.  Washington won two in a row after dropping their first game on this road trip and has climbed back into third place in the Metropolitan Division (through Sunday’s games), two points behind first-place Pittsburgh with a game in hand.  On the other hand, the Jets are 2-3-0 in their last five games and have slipped to fifth in the Central Division and ninth in the Western Conference.

The Jets have been outscored, 10-8, in those last five games, half of those goals coming in a 4-1 win over the Dallas Stars last Thursday.  It is an offense that is struggling, especially once one gets past rookie phenom Patrik Laine, who has six of the Jets’ 22 goals thus far.  Even in his just-started career, the second overall pick in last summer’s entry draft is exhibiting a certain streakiness to his goal scoring.  Among his six goals he has a hat trick (against Toronto on October 19th in a 5-4 Jets win) and a two-goal game (against Dallas on October 27th in a 4-1- win). The season is young, but so far, as Laine goes, so go the Jets.  The Jets are 3-0-0 in games in which he scored a goal, 1-5-0 in games in which he did not.  Through Sunday’s games he is tied for the rookie scoring lead (six, with Auston Matthews), and is third in points (eight, behind Matthews and William Nylander, both of Toronto).  He is showing himself to be an efficient shooter, second among rookies in shooting percentage (20.7 percent, among rookies with at least ten shots on goal), and he leads all rookie forwards in ice time per game so far (19:22).  These games will, of course, be his first against the Caps.

Mark Scheifele is second on the team in goals (four) and tied with Laine for the team points lead overall.  Scheifele is a top-ten draft pick in his own right (seventh overall in 2011), and his progress has been more the sure and steady kind that the explosive start Laine has had.  He got a cup o’ coffee in the NHL in each of the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 seasons (11 games between the two seasons), then stuck with the big club in the 2013-2014 season.  Scheifele recorded 13 goals in 63 games of his rookie year and built upon that, recording 15 in 82 games in 2014-2015 and 29 in 71 games last season to lead the club.  He has stumbled a bit after a hot start, going his last three games without a goal after recording one in four of his first six contest.  In seven career games against the Caps, Scheifele is 2-2-4, even.

Winnipeg might lead the league in letters among the last names of goaltenders, but what Michael Hutchinson and Connor Hellebuyck do not have is much in the way of experience.  Between them they have a total of 107 games of NHL experience.  In that respect you could call both (or one of them) the goaltending of the future for the Jets.  It is hard to come to any conclusions about either of these netminders other than to say that at the moment both are headed in the wrong direction.  Hutchinson is perhaps the more troublesome.  This is his third full season with the Jets, and his save percentage and goals against average have been moving in ways not conducive to a long-term stint as a number one goalie. Two season ago he was 21-10-5, 2.39, .914 with two shutouts in 38 games.  Last year he was 9-15-3, 2.84, .907 in 30 games.  So far this season, Hutchinson is 2-3-0, 3.09, .906, alternating good and poor performances over his five appearances.

Meanwhile, Hellebuyck is in his second season after posting a 13-11-1, 2.34, .918 record last season with two shutouts.  He is 2-2-0, 2.55, .919 in five appearances this season, and he stopped 51 of 52 shots (.981 save percentage) over his last two appearances over 83 minutes of ice time.  Based on recent performance, it would appear Hellebuyck would get the nod in this one.  He won his only other appearance against Washington, stopping 37 of 38 shots in a 2-1 win over the Caps last December 5th in Winnipeg.

1.  Winnipeg has five power play goals so far this season, four of them by Laine, who seems to like that left wing faceoff circle spot that Caps fans associate with being Alex Ovechkin’s domain.

2.  The Jets do allow a lot of shots on goal.  At 31.7 shots on goal per game, they allowed the sixth highest volume on a per game basis so far.  The odd part of that is that their possession numbers are not bad at a high level.  The Jets are 16th in the league in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (49.36 percent; numbers from

3.  Killing penalties at home has been an issue for the Jets.  Winnipeg ranks just 25th in the league in home penalty killing (73.7 percent), and only five teams have been shorthanded more times than the Jets at home (19).

4.  Winnipeg is one of just three teams yet to win a game when outshooting their opponent.  The Jets, Buffalo, and Toronto are all 0-3-0 in those situations.

5.  Only the Philadelphia Flyers (15) and the Los Angeles Kings (14) have allowed more second period goals than the Jets (13).  Those 13 goals allowed equals the total the Jets have allowed in the first, third, and overtime periods combined.  Sound familiar, Caps fans?

1.  Then again, the second period of this game might be a bit duller than Caps fans are used to.  The Caps have scored the fewest second period goals this season (3), one fewer than the Jets (4).

2.  Washington has allowed the fewest shots on goal per game in the league (25.0 through Sunday’s games) and has the second-best Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (54.21 percent, behind the Kings at 56.38 percent).

3.  The Caps have allowed only three third period goals through eight games, fewest in the league, and one of those was an empty-netter.

4.  No team has taken a lead into the first intermission more often than the Caps so far this season.  In six such occurrences, Washington is 4-1-1.

5.  Nineteen skaters have dressed for the Caps this season, and 19 skaters have points.  Eleven of them have goals already.  Only Jay Beagle, Zach Sanford, and Nicklas Backstrom do not have a goal among the forwards.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Winnipeg: Alexander Burmistrov

You score 22 goals and record 65 points in 62 games in your first year of Canadian junior, and then you are taken with the eighth overall pick in the 2010 entry draft.  It looks as if you might have a bright future.  So what happened to Alexander Burmistrov?  That was his introduction to North American hockey, but since then the results have been underwhelming.  Perhaps jumping right into the NHL was a mistake in his developmental strategy.  He had six goals and 20 points for the then Atlanta Thrashers in his first year out of amateur hockey.  It has not gotten appreciably better.  In this, his fifth season, he has 30 goals and 80 points in 283 career games.  That works out to a 9-14-23 pace per 82 games.  That is not the profile of a high-scoring, top-six forward.  And he is not off to a hot start this season.  Burmistrov has one assist in eight games, having gone his last six contests without a point and just four shots on goal (his only four shots on goal this season).  Burmistrov has already had a rocky start to his career, having interrupted his NHL career with a temporary move to the KHL (in 2013-2014).  He has had less than ten minutes of ice time in three of his last five games.  In 18 career games against the Caps, Burmistrov is 2-2-4, even.

Washington: Nicklas Backstrom

Seeing no goals next to Nicklas Backstrom’s season-to-date so far might cause Caps fans some concern, but it is not all that unusual.  Yes, last year he had four goals in his first four games.  But in 2014-2015 he had two in his first seven games.  He had one in his first nine contests in 2013-2014.  He had one in his first 17 games in 2012-2013.  He has had slow starts before in terms of personal goal scoring.  He does have five assists in eight games, though, which is not far off his pace per 82 games over his career (60.0), and he has helpers in each of his last two games.  It is reasonable to think that Backstrom is being Backstrom, a player of uncommon consistency whose game has been as dependable as the sunrise over his previous nine seasons.  If he breaks out, it could be against the Jets, against whom he is 15-27-42, plus-8 in 40 career games.

In the end…

The Caps appear to have shaken much of the early season inconsistency and, frankly, apparent disinterest off their sticks.  They have been more impressive in their last two games, building on what has been a consistently stifling defense.  Winnipeg poses an interesting test, especially in the first of the home and home games.  MTS Centre is a very difficult venue in which to play for visitors.  And Patrik Laine certainly will get the attention of players, coaches, and fans watching from Caps Nation. But there is the air of an unshakability about this club at the moment.  And it is a team deeper and more skilled than that which the Jets will ice, either in Winnipeg or in Washington.

Tuesday: Capitals 3 – Jets 1
Thursday: Capitals 4 – Jets 1

A TWO-Point Night -- Game 8: Washington Capitals 3 - Calgary Flames 1

The Washington Capitals scored early and hung on late on Sunday night to capture a 3-1 decision from the Calgary Flames at Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary. The win extended the Caps’ modest winning streak to two and ended Calgary’s three-game winning streak.

Washington opened the scoring barely two minutes into the game. Zach Sanford chased down a sliding puck deep in the Calgary zone. Out-dueling defenseman Mark Giordano for long enough to keep it alive for Jay Beagle to gather up below the Flames’ goal line. Beagle moved behind the Calgary net and feathered a soft backhand past out between the hash marks for Brett Connolly to one-timer past goalie Brian Elliott at the 2:01 mark.

Five minutes later the Caps scored again. With the Caps on a power play, a John Carlson drive went wide, rebounded off the end boards, and was redirected to the side boards by the Calgary defense. Nicklas Backstrom settled the puck and found Alex Ovechkin on the other side of the formation. Ovechkin one-timed a pass to the Flames’ net where Marcus Johansson was waiting to redirect the puck behind Elliott to make it 2-0 just 7:14 into the period.

Later in the first period the Flames halved the lead on an odd play. Nate Schmidt tried to bat the puck out of harm’s way at the Capitals’ blue line, but the clearing attempt was blocked by Matthew Tkachuk. The skating momentum of Tkachuk carried him into Schmidt at the top of the right wing circle. Schmidt was taken to the ice by Tkachuk as Mikael Backlund gathered up the loose puck. The collision between Tkachuk and Schmidt, arguably an interference penalty on Tkachuk, might have been enough of a distraction for goalie Braden Holtby to allow just enough room on the far side for a Backlund snap shot to sneak through to make it 2-1 13:44 into the period.

That would be all the scoring either team could muster through 59 minutes. Marcus Johansson got his second goal of the game into an empty net in the last minute. Jay Beagle timed a pass from Giordano to John Gaudreau just inside the Washington blue line perfectly, getting his stick on the pass to block it into the neutral zone. Beagle ran it down, and with Giordano trying to interrupt his progress down the left wing, Beagle floated a pass to the middle where Johansson was skating all alone. Johansson tapped the puck into the empty Calgary net with 24.1 seconds left to clinch the Caps’ 3-1 win.

Other stuff…

-- Brett Connolly’s goal was his first as a Capital. Zach Sanford’s secondary assist on the play was his first point in the NHL. Now, all 19 skaters dressing for the Caps this season have at least one point. Those two were the last.

-- Alex Ovechkin had a point before he had a shot attempt. He assisted on Johansson’s power play goal at 7:17 of the first period but did not record his first shot attempt until the 6:10 mark of the second period, a power play shot on goal. He finished with three shots on goal and five shot attempts.

-- The two-goal game by Johansson was his second straight, the first time in his career that he posted consecutive multi-goal games.  With two two-goal games this season he ties a career best for a season.  This is the third season in which he had two multi-goal games, the last one recorded in the 2014-2015 season.

-- Jay Beagle had a two-assist game, his first multi-point game of the year.  His last three multi-point games have come on the road, and five of his last six have come away from Verizon Center.

-- Brooks Orpik was the only Capital not to record a shot on goal.  He had two missed attempts.

-- Only the three members of the fourth line – Beagle, Connolly, and Sanford – had less even strength ice time than Ovechkin (12:46) in this game.

-- The Caps held the Flames to 22 shots on goal, the third time in eight games they allowed opponents 25 or fewer shots and the eighth straight game they denied an opponent more than 30 shots on goal.  The Caps now top the league in fewest shots on goal allowed per game (25.0).

-- This was the seventh time in eight games so far that the Caps scored the game’s first goal.  They are 5-1-1 in those games.

-- Washington held the anemic Calgary power play to one shot on goal in four minutes of two unsuccessful power plays.  The Flames are still 0-for-the-season at home on the power play (0-for-24), the only team yet to score a home power play goal.

-- Among 30 goalies with at least 250 minutes played this season, Braden Holtby lifted himself into the top ten in save percentage with his 21-for-22 effort.  He is now at .917 for the season.

In the end…

Another solid road effort.  The Caps are doing it a little differently this season, at least in the early going.  They are choking the life and spirit out of teams by denying them scoring chances and shots.  It has been just the thing as the offense tries to find some consistency.  And now, the Caps could make it a very successful road trip if they can handle the Winnipeg Jets in the first of a home-and-home set that will close the four-game road trip.