Saturday, December 17, 2016

A NO-Point Night -- Game 30: Montreal Canadiens 2 - Washington Capitals 1

It is said that all good things come to an end, and for the Washington Capitals and their fans, the goodness of a six-game winning streak came to an end on Saturday night at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens, 2-1, at Verizon Center.

The Canadiens drew first blood late in the first period when Arturri Lehkonen finished a play on which all the little things went wrong for the Caps.  It started with the Caps “winning” a faceoff to the right of goaltender Braden Holtby.  The “winning” is in quotes because the Caps promptly lost control of the puck in the corner to Lehkonen, who then got position on defenseman Matt Niskanen to take advantage of a skating path along the end wall.  Lehkonen followed that path behind the Caps’ net, then wrapped the puck around the post and off the heel of Holtby’s stick into the back of the net to make it 1-0 14:41 into the contest.

That would be all of the scoring for the next 20 minutes of ice time, but late in the second period, the Caps took advantage of some outside-the-rules play by the visitors.  With Nathan Beaulieu and Alexei Emelin in the penalty box to give the Caps a 5-on-3 power play, an attempted clear by Andrei Markov up the wall was claimed by John Carlson before the puck could exit the zone.  From his knees, Carlson whipped the puck across to Alex Ovechkin, who fed it down to Justin Williams at the bottom of the left wing faceoff circle.  Williams took a moment, then slipped a pass under Markov’s stick to the opposite faceoff circle, from which Nicklas Backstrom one-timed the puck over goalie Carey Price’s left pad, tying the contest at the 14:16 mark.

Barely two minutes later, though, the Canadiens had what would prove to be the game-winner.  Max Pacioretty skated the puck over the Caps’ blue line and left it for Phillip Danault along the left wing wall.  Danualt eased the puck forward, back to Pacioretty, who threw a pass to the low slot where Jeff Petry was closing.  Petry redirected the puck past Holtby, and the Habs had their final 2-1 margin.

Other stuff…

-- Talk about record one doesn’t necessarily want to set.  With the loss, Barry Trotz became the losingest coach in the history of the regular season in the NHL.  The loss was Trotz’ 653rd in his coaching career (531 in regulation time, 122 in extra time), breaking a tie with Ron Wilson.  Trotz might not hold that spot for long, though.  Dallas’ Lindy Ruff has 651 career losses, and Winnipeg’s Paul Maurice has 647 career losses.  Maurice leads all active coaches in losses in regulation time (550, fourth all time), while Trotz and Ruff are tied with 531, tied for sixth all-time (thanks to Dirk Hoag, formerly a blogger for the Nashville Predators, for unearthing that nugget).

-- Carey Price’s record went to 29-1-1 in his last 31 games played on Saturday for the Canadiens.

-- Justin Williams’ assist on Nicklas Backstrom’s goal made it four straight games with a point and points in six of his last seven contests (5-2-7).

-- Backstrom continued his hot play over the last five weeks.  With his goal, he is 8-10-18 in 16 games since November 15th.

-- Tom Wilson had marks in only one column of his line of the score sheet.  He had six hits in 10:43 of ice time.

-- Wilson’s line of the score sheet was almost crowded compared to Brooks Orpik’s… one shot attempt blocked in 16:22 of ice time.

-- In the Younger Guns category, Jakub Vrana and the just-recalled Zach Sanford combined for two shots on goal (both by Vrana), eight shot attempts, one hit (Sanford), and two blocked shots.  Unfortunately, no points between them.

-- The Caps out-hit the Canadiens, 43-18.  The Canadiens had the puck a lot…

-- …but they did so little with it.  Montreal finished the game with just 44 shot attempts (the Caps had 58), but…

-- …the Caps went 15:32 without a shot on goal, from 17:23 of the second period to the 12:55 mark of the third period.

In the end…

The Caps never seemed to be in this game, and with the Caps matching their shot of goal total (21) with shot attempts blocked by the Canadiens (21), the game looked hauntingly like the 2010 playoffs.  From the start, it seemed as if Carey Price was just a bit in their heads, the Caps frequently opting for one more pass when a shot might have been a better option.  Neither goalie was called upon often to do much in the way of big saves, and the score reflected that. 

The good part of this loss, to the extent there is one, is that the Caps still held what was the league’s fifth best scoring offense to two goals.  The bad part is that the Caps let a team that hadn’t won a road game in regulation time in almost two months off the hook.  But the bottom line is that on a night when the Caps saw a six-game winning streak come to an end, two of the teams with which the Caps are fighting for position in the Metropolitan Division lost – the Pittsburgh Penguins in overtime to the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Philadelphia Flyers to Dallas Stars – although another (the New York Rangers) won in a Gimmick.  It was not a good night for the Caps, but it wasn’t a total wash out in the bigger scheme of things.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 30: Canadiens at Capitals, December 17th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals finish up a weekend back-to-back set of game when they host the Montreal Canadiens at Verizon Center on Saturday night.  The Caps, fresh off a 4-3 trick shot win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday night, carry a six-game winning streak into the contest.  Montreal , who will be playing their own second game in two nights after a 4-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks on Friday night, will be bringing a two-game losing streak into their meeting with the Caps.

Montreal was once 13-1-1 this season, but since that sizzling 15-game start, they are 6-6-3.  Over those 15 games the Canadiens are averaging a reasonably healthy 2.87 goals per game, but that number is somewhat inflated by the 10 goals they pinned on the Colorado Avalanche in a 10-1 win last Saturday.  Take that one away, and the Canadiens are averaging 2.36 goals per game in the other 14 games.  Their goals allowed per game over their last 15 games is a respectable 2.47 per game, and they haven’t allowed more than four goals in any of those 15 games.  It has been a consistently decent scoring defense, but not a stifling one.

And that brings us to goalie Carey Price, expected to get the start in this contest.  He, like the team in front of him, has had two very different seasons so far.  In his first ten appearances, Price was 10-0-0, 1.40, .957, with two shutouts.  He was the early favorite to win this season’s Vezina Trophy and might have been on a few early Hart Trophy ballots, too.  His last 12 appearances, though, showed him to be a bit more mortal, if a bit unlucky, too.  In those 12 appearances he is 6-4-2, 2.41, .938.  The unlucky part for Price has been that in eight of those 12 appearances he allowed two or fewer goals but is 5-2-1 in those games (he was 9-0-0 when allowing two or fewer goals in his first ten games).  If there is an odd part about his season to date, it is that he has just five appearances in road games, 16 appearances on home ice.  Only two of those road games have been played east of the Mississippi (at Boston and at Detroit, both wins).  Price is 3-2-0, 2.17, .928 in those five road games.  He is 5-9-4, 3.08, .898, with one shutout in his career versus Washington.

Montreal has just one player with more than ten goals so far, and that is Max Pacioretty.  He has been a very consistent scorer in recent years for the Canadiens, posting 30 or more goals in each of his last four full seasons (not including the abbreviated 2012-2013 season) coming into this one.  His 12 goals in 30 games so far puts him on a pace for another 30-plus goal season, although that 12-goal total includes a four-goal outburst in the 10-1 win over Colorado last Saturday.  On the other hand, that four-goal game is part of a run in which Pacioretty has seven goals in six games.  In 23 career games against the Caps, he is 2-8-10, minus-3.

Shea Weber was one-half of one of the biggest player-for-player trades in the NHL in recent years when he was traded to the Canadiens from the Nashville Predators for defenseman P.K. Subban.  Weber, who was coming off his second 20-goal season with the Predators, was seen in some quarters as a risk, given that he still had ten years remaining on a contract with an average annual value of $7,857,143 per year.  That risk aside, Weber has been a valuable commodity this season.  He is second in the league among defensemen in goals (eight, to Brent Burns’ 13) and is tied for 12th in points (18).  His seven power play goals leads all league defensemen, and his ten power play points is tied for third.  He does not have a goal in his last ten games, though, and has just one point in that span.  Weber is 3-7-10, plus-2, in 12 career games against the Caps.

1.  Shea Weber’s seven power play goals are more than any team’s total complement of defensemen except St. Louis (nine goals).

2.  Weber has a thing for the number “18” at the moment – 18 points, 18 penalty minutes, and plus-18.

3.  Montreal is tied for the second-best third period goal differential in the league (plus-15, with Columbus), trailing only Pittsburgh (plus-24).

4.  The Canadiens lead the league in wins when scoring first (16), one ahead of the Caps.  When opponents score first, though, Montreal is 3-5-2, ranking just 20th in winning percentage (.300).

5.  Montreal is among the better teams overall in shot attempt dominance, with a 51.97 Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (eighth in the league).  On the road, the Canadiens rank fourth overall (52.60 percent; numbers from

1.  Washington’s trick shot win over Carolina on Friday night was their first such win of the season, becoming the 25th team this season to win in that phase.  It was their first win in the Gimmick since they beat the Anaheim Ducks, 2-1, last March 7th.

2.  The Caps are on a six-game winning streak, but that is just the third longest current streak in the division.  The Philadelphia Flyers are on a ten-game winning streak, and the Columbus Blue Jackets extended their streak to eight straight wins with a 4-1 win over the Calgary Flames on Friday night.  Pittsburgh had a seven-game streak ended on Friday night, but their 1-0 loss to the Los Angeles Kings extended their points streak to eight games.

3.  The Caps have just one one-goal loss in regulation this season.  Only the Pittsburgh Penguins are without one among the 29 other teams.

4.  Washington has the second-best first period goal differential in the league (plus-13).  Only Columbus’ is better (plus-15).

5.  There is an odd discrepancy in Washington’s possession numbers.  While the Caps rank fifth in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 overall (52.54 percent), they rank just 13th in Fenwick-for at fives (51.24 percent; numbers from

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Montreal: Paul Byron

What is just five-feet, nine-inches tall, weighs 160 pounds, and is second in goal scoring for the Montreal Canadiens.  If you answered, Paul Byron, good for you.  Byron is one of those happy stories of a low draft pick (sixth-round in 2007 by Buffalo) who knocks around from team to team (Buffalo and Calgary) finds a measure of success after a long, slow climb up the professional ladder.  Byron, who has ten goals in 30 games for Montreal this season (second on the club), has never had more than 11 in any of his previous six seasons (that total coming in 67 games with the Canadiens last season).  But if there is an odd statistic Byron has in addition to his goal scoring, it is that he is fifth on the team in hits despite being only 13th in ice time per game.  Byron is 0-2-2, even, in six career games against Washington.

Washington: Alex Ovechkin

The last time Alex Ovechkin did not lead the league in shots on goal was in 2011-2012, when he finished sixth with 303 shots on goal in 78 games.  Ovechkin currently ranks second in the league with 107 shots (Brent Burns has 133).  Perhaps not coincidentally, that 2001-2012 season is the last one in which Ovechkin did not lead the league in goals; he finished with 38, his second-lowest for a full season in his career.  He scored his 14th goal on Friday night, placing him in a tie for seventh in the league in goals and putting him on a pace to finish with 40 goals.  The odd thing about Ovechkin’s shooting frequency is that the Caps have done better when his shot total is light.  When he records four or more shots, the Caps are 9-6-3, but when he finishes with three or fewer shots, the team is 10-1-0.  Ovechkin, who averages 4.3 shots per game over his career against Montreal, is 22-18-40, plus-6 in 39 career games against the Canadiens.

In the end…

The Caps might be catching the Canadiens in an ornery mood.  They lost at home on Friday night in a game in which Carey Price was pulled after giving up four goals on 18 shots in 26:44 of ice time, and have not had a win in regulation time on the road in almost two months (a 3-2 win on October 26th against the New York Islanders).  They are 2-5-1 on the road overall in their last eight road contests.  On the other hand, the Caps have been a model of consistency in their six-game winning streak, scoring three or four goals in each game and allowing two or fewer in four of them.  The oddest part of this game is that if the Caps extend the Canadiens’ frustration on the road, they would jump over the Canadiens in the conference standings, giving the Metropolitan Division the top four spots in the Eastern Conference (and if the Philadelphia Flyers beat Dallas, the Metro will own the top five spots). 

Capitals 3 – Canadiens 2