Thursday, December 08, 2016

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 26: Capitals at Sabres, December 9th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

On Friday night, for the third time in a space of seven games and 15 days, the Washington Capitals and Buffalo Sabres will face one another.  The difference in this third meeting is that it will take place in Buffalo at MarineMidlandHSBCFirstNiagaraKeyBank Center.  The Capitals won the first two meetings at Verizon Center, 3-1 on November 25th and 4-2 in overtime last Monday.

There is little to report since the last time these teams were about to face one another.  Both clubs played one game since that meeting, and both teams eked out 4-3 overtime victories at home.  Washington beat the Boston Bruins on a Nicklas Backstrom strike in the extra period,  and the Sabres knocked off the Edmonton Oilers on Rasmus Ristolainen’s first goal of the season. 

While there hasn’t been much movement in the standings by either of these teams over the past four days, there are a few random facts we can offer up.

-- Buffalo lacks for scoring (30th in the league in scoring offense), but they have more goal scorers this season (15) than the Caps (14).

-- Rasmus Ristolainen finally got his first goal after going 25 games without one, and with 16 points on the season he has almost as many points as the rest of the Sabres’ defensemen combined (17, spread among four defensemen).

-- Capital defensemen have not scored many goals, but Sabre defensemen have fewer goals on their record this season.  Ristolainen’s goal was only the second goal by a Buffalo defenseman this season.  Cody Franson has the other one.

-- The Sabres allowed the Oilers a pair of power play goals in their 4-3 overtime win.  That makes five games in six that the Sabres have allowed at least one power play goal, and they are just 11-for-19 killing penalties over that span (57.9 percent).

-- Buffalo does not do a very good job in the trade off of taking and drawing minor penalties.  Their differential of minor penalties taken and drawn per 60 minutes ranks 25th in the league (minus-0.15)

-- When the Caps beat Boston on Wednesday night, it was their 15th win in their 25th game this season.  It is just the fifth time in team history that the Caps reached the 15 win mark in 25 or fewer games.  The seasons at the 25-game mark:
  • 2016-2017: 15-7-3
  • 2015-2016: 18-5-2
  • 2010-2011: 17-6-2
  • 1991-1992: 18-7-0
  • 1985-1986: 15-7-3
While four of this year's wins (and three of last year's at the 25-game mark) came in extra time, with different rules than the pre-2004-2005 lockout era, it is still an accomplishment worth noting.

-- The four goals the Caps scored against Boston was as many as they had in their previous three games combined, and it was the first time in six games that they scored more than three goals, dating back to their 4-3 win over St. Louis on November 23rd.

-- After 25 games last season the Caps allowed 55 goals. This year, through 25 games, that number is 56 goals. The bigger difference in is goals scored, where the Caps have scored just 65 goals through 25 games to date compared to 78 through 25 games last season, a drop of more than half a goal per game.

-- Only six teams have failed to win in the trick shot phase of the game, the Caps being one of them having lost both of their appearances so far.  Then again, only the New York Rangers and Colorado Avalanche have appeared in fewer freestyle competitions (one apiece).

-- There are 169 forward combos that have skated at least 50 minutes together at 5-on-5.  Of that group, the Capitals combo with the most minutes together is the Daniel Wionnik/Jay Beagle/Tom Wilson trio that has 69.5 5-o-5 minutes together, ranking 103rd.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Buffalo: Evander Kane

Evander Kane has had an odd last four seasons.  And that is not “odd” in a good or charming way.  In 2012-2013 with the Winnipeg Jets he appeared in every game (the only time he has appeared in every game in his eight-year career), and went 17-16-33, a respectable 29-27-56 pace per 82 games.  Since then, however, his durability and production have been in decline: 19-22-41 in 69 games in 2013-2014, 10-12-22 in 37 games in 2014-2015, and 20-15-35 in 65 games last season, his first with the Sabres.  This season, Kane is just 3-4-7 in 15 games, having missed 11 games to a cracked rib.  His injury issues over the years make it a bit less remarkable that the former fourth-overall draft pick (2009) has only one 30-goal season on his resume (with Winnipeg in 2011-2012).  He might be getting on a run, though.  Kane has points in four of his last five games (3-2-5) and is seven straight games an even or plus player.  In 26 career games against the Caps, Kane is 11-6-17, minus-3.

Washington: John Carlson

John Carlson’s goal scoring over the course of his seven seasons preceding this one have not quite been a straight line of improvement, but it has been close.  His goals per game over those years look like this:
  • 2009-10: 0.05
  • 2010-11: 0.09
  • 2011-12: 0.11
  • 2012-13: 0.13
  • 2013-14: 0.12
  • 2014-15: 0.15
  • 2015-16: 0.14
So far this season he has a nice round number: 0.00.  He has not lacked for shooting the puck, though.  He is on a pace to finish the season with 200 shots on goal, which would be his second highest career season total (208 in 82 games in 2013-2014).  It is part of a long dry spell for Carlson, who has just two goals on 107 shots (1.9 shooting percentage) over his last 51 games.  He does have ten assists, which ranks in the top-20 among defensemen going into Thursday’s games, and his four power play assists ranks in the top-25.  There is just that odd hole in his record so far this season with respect to goals scored.  Carlson is 0-4-4, minus-3 in 20 career games against the Sabres.

In the end…

All of a sudden, the Caps are in position to record their first three-game winning streak since they cobbled together a five-game streak in Games 7-11 back in late October and early November.  And, although they are fourth in the Metropolitan Division, they are just two points out of first place with a game in hand on the Pittsburgh Penguins and two games in hand on the New York Rangers, both with 35 points.  They are right in the middle of the mix of a division that is the only one in the NHL to date with six teams having earned 30 or more standings points.  And, with Buffalo, Vancouver, the New York Islanders, and Carolina coming up on the schedule, it is a chance to stash away some more standings points as the 2016 portion of the season winds down.  As streaky as the Caps have been, though, it will be interesting to see just how the Caps make use of the schedule they have coming up.

Capitals 4 – Sabres 2

A TWO-Point Night -- Game 25: Washington Capitals 4 - Boston Bruins 3 (OT)

The Washington Capitals made it two straight overtime wins on Wednesday night with a 4-3 victory over the Boston Bruins at Verizon Center.  It was a game not without its tense moments, and it was one that reflected much of what the Capitals’ season has been to date.

The Caps got out of the gate quickly when Justin Williams scored just 23 seconds into the game.  Alex Ovechkin started the play skating the puck up the left side to the red line, where he sent it cross-ice to Evgeny Kuznetsov skating past the player benches.  Kuznetsov carried the puck into the Bruins’ zone, stopping at the edge of the right wing circle.  Drawing back just a bit to create space between himself and Bruin defenseman Zdeno Chara, Kuznetsov floated a shot at the Boston net.  William, going to the front of the net, got position on Brandon Carlo just enough to get his stick on the puck as it was sailing by.  The deflection tumbled past goalie Tuukka Rask, and the Caps were off and running.

Seven minutes later, it was Williams again.  It started with Dmitry Orlov keeping the puck in the offensive zone at the left point, then feeding it to Ovechkin circling behind him.  Ovechkin moved it to Kuznetsov entering the zone down the left wing.  Kuznetsov circled through the left wing circle in the direction of the Bruin net, put he lost control of the puck on a lift check from Chara.  Williams pounced on the loose puck, spun, and snapped a shot past Rask’s pads to make it 2-0, 7:57 into the period.

That was how the teams went to the first intermission, but the Caps picked up where they left off when they returned to the ice.  Jay Beagle collected a loose puck at the red line and skated it up the right wing wall.  Daniel Winnik jumped up to make it a 2-on-1 rush for the Caps, and when Beagle snapped a crips pass past Carlo onto Winnik’s blade, it was only for the latter to rip the puck past a lunging Rask to make it 3-0 at the 5:51 mark.

If Caps fans’ memories were starting to drift back to March 3, 2008, when the Caps beat the Bruins, 10-2, on this ice sheet,  the Bruins put that notion to rest with goals 2:25 apart late in the second period to get within one.  Dominic Moore got the first one when the Caps lost a faceoff in their own end (details!...details!!), didn’t get to a loose puck in front of their own goal (goalie Braden Holtby and defensemen Brooks Orpik and Dmitry Orlov finding it just out of reach), allowed Anton Blidh (just off the set as an evil villain in a new James Bond movie) to get a shot off, then lost track of Moore following up to tuck the rebound past Holtby.

David Pastrnak got the B’s within a goal when he muscled Evgeny Kuznetsov off the puck on the Bruins’ side of the red line, earing himself a breakaway on Holtby.  Pastrnak skated in and, with Orlov desperately trying to close the gap, tucked the puck between Holtby’s legs to make it 3-2 with just one minute left in the period.

Boston made it all the way back when the teams returned for the third period.  With Boston on a power play, Brad Marchand occupied Nicklas Backstrom and Karl Alzner as he skated the puck through the right wing circle toward the corner.  He left it for Austin Czarnik, who relayed it to Colin Miller for a one-timer at the top of the zone that beat Holtby through a screen and into the top of the net to make it 3-3, 8:19 into the third period.

That would be all for the scoring in regulation for the two teams, and the Caps needed less than 100 seconds in the extra session to end it.  Nate Schmidt started the play by moving the puck up and out of the Caps’ end to Marcus Johansson at the red line.  Johansson backhanded a pass cross-ice to Backstrom on the right wing at the Boston blue line.  He skated in and, from the top of the right wing circle, fed Schmidt charging down the middle into the zone.  Schmidt returned the puck to Backstrom, who looked over his options and dialed his own number, snapping the puck through Rask’s legs to give the Caps the 4-3 overtime win.

Other stuff…

-- Nicklas Backstrom’s goal in overtime was his 17th game recording a point in his career against the Bruins.  The Caps are 17-0-0 in those games.  Backstrom is 5-26-31, plus-15 in those games.

-- Williams’ two-goal game was his third multi-goal game as a Capital and his first this season.  It was also his first multi-goal game as a Capital against a team that was not the New York Rangers.

-- Evgeny Kuznetsov had a pair of assists, his first multi-assist game since the Caps beat the Winnipeg Jets, 3-2, back on November 1st, and his first multi-point game since he had a goal and an assist against the St. Louis Blues in a 4-3 win on November 23rd.

-- The Caps had only 20 shots on goal.  It was not their low for the season, but they could see it from there.  They had 18 shots on goal in a 3-0 win over the Colorado Avalanche on October 18th.

-- The Bruins might be feeling as if they let one get away instead of the Caps barely escaping that fate.  Owing, no doubt, to score effects, the Bruins enjoyed a 72-47 advantage in overall shot attempts, and a 57-40 edge in shot attempts at 5-on-5 (58.76 percent Corsi-for; numbers from

-- In a scoring oddity, Brooks Orpik was the only Capital to finish in minus territory (minus-1).

-- Tom Wilson… six hits, a minor penalty, no shot attempts.  Is this the player, or the role the player is being asked to play?

-- It wasn’t all unicorns and accordions for Nicklas Backstrom in this game.  He won just four of 16 faceoffs (he was 4-for-11 against Patric Bergeron, but Bergeron does that to a lot of guys).  And speaking of which, Kuznetsov did have the infrequent over-50 percent game in the circle (9-for-16/56.3 percent), but he did lose the defensive zone draw that led to Dominic Moore’s goal.

-- Nate Schmidt’s assist broke a six-game streak without a point, and he displayed an interesting transition aspect to his game, going from “puck-moving defenseman” to clear the puck out of his own end onto a teammate’s stick, then becoming “forward charging hard to the net” when the Caps gained control in the offensive zone moments before Backstrom’s game-winner off the pass from Schmidt.  It might be too much risk-versus-reward for the Caps to tolerate, but he might be an intriguing overtime addition when teams are 3-on-3.

-- Braden Holtby’s win makes him 10-2-0 in 12 career appearances against Boston, the last six wins coming consecutively with the win last night.  As if that isn’t impressive enough, his career numbers against the Bruins are a goals-against average of 1.20, a save percentage of .948, and he has three shutouts.  In those last six consecutive wins, he has those three shutouts and has a 1.00 GAA with a .966 save percentage.

In the end…

So this is the Washington Capitals.  As Nicklas Backstrom pointed out in the post-game interview on the bench, the Caps are a team that plays well for 20 minutes here and there, but they don’t do it for 60 minutes often enough.  Last night was an example.  The Caps, even though the two early goals were a bit fluky, threatened to run the Bruins out of the building.  They built a 3-0 lead 26 minutes into the game, then they seemed to let their minds wander.  It cost them, almost to the point of giving away at least one point and possibly two.  Twenty five games into the season, we are at the point where we might ask ourselves, can this team turn its focus on when it has to down the road, or is this the team they are?  The former is the hope, but the latter is the fear.  Something to watch going forward.