Tuesday, January 31, 2017

A NO-Point Night -- Game 50: New York Islanders 3 - Washington Capitals 2

The Washington Capitals got started on the downhill side of their regular season on Tuesday night with a visit to Brooklyn to take on the New York Islanders.  It was not a happy night for the Caps, who dropped a 3-2 decision to the Isles.

Evgeny Kuznetsov got the Caps off on the right foot before the game was five minutes old.  Brooks Orpik got the play started by sending a pass up to Justin Williams exiting the defensive zone on the right side.  From the red line, Williams fed Kuznetsov charging down the middle.  Splitting the Islander defense, Kuznetsov ripped a shot from the high slot that beat goalie Thomas Greiss low on the blocker side to make it 1-0 at the 4:41 mark.

That score would hold up until the second period when the Islanders tied the contest on a power play.  Off a faceoff win in the offensive zone, the Islanders worked the puck to Andrew Ladd, who rang a shot off the junction of the crossbar and post to the far side of goalie Philipp Grubauer.  The puck ricocheted out to Grubauer’s left, where Alan Quine stuffed it home at 2:41 of the period.

Ryan Strome gave the Islanders the lead 6:31 into the third period.  A drive went wide of Grubauer and skittered behind the goal to the stick of Jay Beagle.  He could not control it though, and gave it up to Anthony Beauvillier.  A pass across to Strome was all that was left for the Islanders to finish the scoring play off the turnover, and it was 2-1.

Johnny Boychuk added an empty net goal with 1:08 left to make it 3-1, but the Caps made it a bit more interesting in the last minute as Alex Ovechkin wired a shot from the top of the offensive zone past Greiss to make it 3-2.  Washington put pressure on the New York net in the last half minute but could not get the equalizer, taking their 11th regulation loss on the season.

Other stuff…

-- The power play goal scored by the Islanders made it five straight games in which the Caps allowed a power play goal and eight games in their last 11 contests.

-- Thomas Greiss has been very good of late in goal for New York, but the Caps could have made things tougher on him by getting more pucks on net.  They put only half of their 60 total shot attempts on net.

-- Ovechkin’s late goal, his 24th of the season, gives him 549 for his career and lifts him into a tie with Ron Francis for 27th place all-time.  Next up on the list is John Bucyk with 556.

-- John Carlson returned to the lineup, but he was the only defenseman not to record a shot on goal for the contest.

-- Evgeny Kuznetsov recorded a goal and an assist, his 11th multi-point game of the season and the first one in which the Caps lost (10-1-0).  It was Kuzetsov’s tenth goal of the season, giving the Caps eight ten-goal scorers and tying them with Minnesota for most in the league.

-- The Caps had one power play opportunity, the sixth time this season they were held to one or fewer power play chances.  They are now 3-2-1 in those games.

-- Nicklas Backstrom had an assist to avoid going without a point for his third straight game.  He has not gone three games without a point since Games 12-14 back in early November.

-- Pending the results of the Los Angeles/Arizona game, Ovechkin’s 24 goal lifted him into a tie for second in the league in goals scored, trailing only Sidney Crosby (28).

-- Even though the Caps led for just 14 minutes and not at all after the third minute of the second period, the ice time was rather evenly distributed.  Matt Niskanen led the team with 22:30 of ice time, but just 14 minutes of that came after the first period.  No forward skated 20 minutes.

-- Philipp Grubauer did what a backup goalie has to do.  He kept his team in the game, allowing a goal off a rebound off the iron behind him and another off a turnover.  Finishing with 26 saves on 28 shots faced broke a personal streak of three games in which he allowed three goals in each.

In the end…

The Caps looked rested, smooth, and dangerous for 20 minutes.  Then…plink.  The air went out of the balloon over the last 40 minutes, save for a late flurry.  And they did it to themselves by playing an increasingly perimeter game while piling up the “Corsi’s (they out-attempted the Isles at 5-on-5, 54-42; numbers from Corsica.hockey).”  No one should be happy with this level of effort, especially after a long break, but neither should it be a cause for despair.  The trick will be keeping it from becoming two in a row tomorrow night against Boston.

Monday, January 30, 2017

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 50: Capitals at Islanders, January 31st

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

With the NHL All-Star Game in their rear-view mirror, the Washington Capitals begin the “second half” of the NHL regular season on Tuesday night when they head to Brooklyn to take on the New York Islanders in the last of a six-game home stand for the New Yorkers.  The Caps will be looking to resume their blistering run that carried them to a 20-3-3 record over their last 26 games going into the break.  Meanwhile, the new-look Islanders and their new interim coach, Doug Weight, will bring a 5-0-1 record in their last six games into this contest.

Weight took over the bench duties when Jack Capuano was relieved of his head coaching responsibilities following the Islanders’ 4-0 win over the Boston Bruins on January 16th.  Capuano spent seven seasons behind the Islander bench, compiling a record of 227-192-64 (the win total second only to Al Arbour in club history) and taking the Islanders to the post season three times.  Twice he led the team to 100-point seasons.  Weight was named to an assistant coach position by the club in 2011-2012 after a 19-year NHL career with six clubs in which he played more than 1,200 games and recorded 1,033 points, winning the Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006.

In the five-game Weight Era to date, the Islanders are 4-0-1, outscored their opponents by a 16-8 margin, converted four of 19 power play chances (21.1 percent), and killed off nine of 11 shorthanded situations (81.8 percent).

John Tavares has been on a very productive run of late, straddling the change in coaches.  Since December 23rd, he is 10-7-17, plus-6, in 15 games.  He is their leading goal scorer and point getter under Weight so far (3-5-8 in five games).  It is something of a turnaround that had him with a rather sluggish (for him) 9-14-23, minus-1, in his first 32 games.  His next goal will be his 20th of the season, giving him eight in his first eight-NHL seasons.  It would also break a tie with Bob Nystrom for the sixth-most 20-goal seasons in Islander history and lift him into a tie for fifth place with Clark Gillies.  Bryan Trottier has the most 20-goal seasons in club history (13).  Tavares is 12-13-25, plus-5, in 29 career games against the Capitals.

Nick Leddy brings a four-game points streak into this contest (1-5-6, plus-3) and leads the Islander defensemen in goals (8), assists (19), and points (27) this season.  He is also the leader in ice time per game among defensemen (23:00), as well as power play goals (2) and points (10).  Leddy has been something of a bellwether for the club, and not in a good way.  He has goals in eight games this season, and in those games the Isles have a record of 1-4-3.  Leddy is 1-5-6, even, in 16 career games against the Caps.  That goal came in his first game against Washington, in 2011 when playing with the Chicago Blackhawks.  The Hawks lost in overtime.

Ex-Capital Jason Chimera might not have been the happiest Islander to see the All-Star break come. In eight games leading up to the break, Chimera scored five goals, four of them in Islander wins.  The outburst doubled Chimera’s goal total for the season to ten and might have been an indicator that the odd sawtooth year-to-year progress in goal scoring (up on year, down the next, up the next, and so on) over the last seven seasons is going to be interrupted after he recorded 20 goals for the Caps last season.  The odd part of his recent production is that he is doing it without getting a lot in the way of ice time.  Chimera averaged just 11:39 in ice time over his last nine games and was under ten minutes twice.  He is 2-2-4, plus-4, in nine career games against the Caps.

1.  No team in the Eastern Conference has played in more home games to date than the Islanders (28).  Only Chicago has had more games on home ice so far (29).

2.  The Islanders are the second-worst team in the league at home on the power play, converting just 12.7 percent of their opportunities.  Add to that the fact that the Isles are 24th in the league in penalty killing at home (78.5 percent), and that home special teams index of 91.2 percent looks rather weak.  And how bad is the power play overall?  The Isles have more 5-on-3 power play time than any team in the league (10:37), and they have just one goal to show for it.

3.  New York is the worst team in the league in one-goal games, carrying a winning percentage of just .286 into this contest (6-6-9).  One of those six one-goal wins is against the Caps (4-3 on December 27th).

4.  No team in the East has allowed more third period goals than the Islanders (55, tied with Philadelphia).  Only Dallas and Vancouver have allowed more (57).

5.  As if to complete the misery, the Islanders rank 29th in the league in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (46.61 percent).  Their CF% is only slightly better adjusted for score, zone, and venue (47.16 percent, ranked 27th; numbers from Corsica.hockey).

1.  With three winning streaks of five or more games this season (five, six, and nine), the Caps are a good portion of the way to matching last season, when they had five such streaks (five, six, ten, five, and five).  In their other Presidents Trophy-winning season (2009-2010), they had four such streaks (six, six, 14, and five).

2.  Only Minnesota – yes, Minnesota – has more ten-goal scorers (8) than the Caps (7, tied with several teams).

3.  Only two teams in the league have spent more time killing penalties than the Caps (299:52), Calgary (330:15) and Anaheim (308:18).  No team has a larger time deficit on special teams (power play time less penalty killing time) than the Caps (minus-54:55).

4.  No team has more wins this season by three or more games than the Caps (15, tied with Montreal).

5.  The Caps have the second-worst penalty differential in the league in road games.  Their minus-20 differential is only better than the Boston Bruins (minus-25).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New York: Thomas Greiss

It has taken a while, but Thomas Greiss would appear to finally be a number one goalie in the NHL.  Until this season, Greiss had never appeared in more than half of his team’s games, and he accomplished that feat just once in seven seasons, that being last year in his first year with the Islanders (23-11-4 in 41 games).  With Jaroslav Halak in Bridgeport in the AHL, and the club taking a slow approach in the development of Jean-Francois Berube, Greiss is the man of the moment, having appeared in 11 of the Islanders last 12 games, over which he has a record of 6-2-3, 1.99, .936, with two shutouts.  He is 1-1-1, 2.65, .924 in three career appearances against Washington.

Washington: Taylor Chorney

Quick…how many games this season have the Caps lost in regulation time this season with Taylor Chorney in the lineup?  The answer is “one.”  The Caps are 11-1-2 in the 14 games in which Chorney dressed this season, the regulation loss coming to Ottawa last Tuesday.  Over two seasons, the Caps are 51-11-7 in games in which Chorney appeared.  This might be the poster child of “correlation is not causation” as it applies to hockey, but Chorney is not, at least on a performance basis, the liability his personal stats would indicate on a production basis.  For example, among Capitals defensive pairs with at least 50 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time, the two pairing including Chorney (with Brooks Orpik and with Nate Schmidt) are the worst on the team (numbers from Corsica.hockey).  Only 18 of 231 defensemen appearing in ten or more games have fewer than the three points Chorney has.  But hey…winning.  In four career games against the Islanders, he is 0-0-0, minus-2.

In the end…

If you are thinking that the Caps are especially susceptible to an All-Star break induced let down, then you really are a Caps fan.  Here’s a tip from your Uncle Peerless…30 teams are coming out of the All-Star break, and there is little to hint that any team more or less than any other will behave differently than they did going into the break.  The thing here is, both teams were doing well going into the All-Star Game break, but the Caps haven’t lost in regulation to an NHL team in an American city in their last 16 games, their only regulation loss in that 13-1-2 stretch coming against the Ottawa Senators.  Then again, the last team in an American city they did lose to was the Islanders in Brooklyn on December 27th.   Guess it’s time to address that matter.

Capitals 4 – Islanders 2

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 16

Week 16 brought the pre-All-Star Game portion of the NHL regular season to an end.  At the end of it, we knew a lot about the Washington Capitals.  They are talented and deep, consistent and resilient.  Another winning week made it 11 times in 16 weeks they finished with a winning week.  Their fourth winning week in a row is their longest string of winning weeks this season.

Record: 2-1-0

The Caps did finally lose their tenth game of the season in regulation time in Week 16, but they finished as the team with the best record in the league, nevertheless.  They also finished the week as just the fifth team in franchise history with 30 or more wins before reaching Game 50 of the season.  That three of the teams, and the last two, would do it in the “Gimmick” era of no-ties, is perhaps unsurprising, but this is also a very good team, one that has more wins over the last two and a half seasons (134) than any other team in the league (the New York Rangers have 130).

Through 16 weeks it would be hard to duplicate last year’s record of 14 winning weeks and two .500 weeks in standings points.  However, this year is not all that far behind with the team posting 11 winning weeks, three .500 weeks, and two losing weeks among their first 16 weeks of the season.

And it is not as if the Caps have dined entirely on tender struggling teams.  They are 13-6-4 against teams currently eligible for the postseason, 8-4-4 (two of the extra time losses coming on the road in trick shot competitions) against Eastern Conference eligibles and 5-2-0 against playoff-eligible teams in the West.

Offense:  3.67/game (season: 3.24 /game; rank: 5th)

It is a reflection of just how powerful the Caps offense has been lately that scoring 11 goals in three games is a drop in production.  But even that is a bit deceptive.  The Caps potted six against the Carolina Hurricanes and another five against the New Jersey Devils.  It was against the Ottawa Senators, a club that held the Caps to a total of three goals in their previous two meetings this season, that shut out the Caps in the middle game of the week.

That shutout by the Senators broke an eight-game streak scoring four or more goals, a streak that started after the Caps posted a 1-0 shutout over those same Senators.  As it is, only the Pittsburgh Penguins have scored four or more goals in a game more frequently this season (24 times) than the Caps (23, tied with the New York Rangers).

The goal scoring was dominated by an eclectic trio.  Evgeny Kuznetsov led the team with three goals for the week, increasing his season total by 50 percent.  While he was pleased the team was going into the break in a good mood, fans might be hoping that “good mood” does not dull his game.  He went into the break 6-22-28, plus-12, over his last 26 games.

Lars Eller and Dmitry Orlov each had a pair of goals for the week.  For Eller, he went into the break with four goals in his last six games after recording only four in his first 42 games this season.  Orlov’s two-goal game against Carolina to open the week was his second tw0-goal game of his career (he had two in a 5-4 overtime loss to Philadelphia on March 2, 2014).

Andre Burakovsky led the team in total points for the week (1-4-5), posting the first three-assist game of his career in the 6-1 win over Carolina.  He was another of the hot Caps as they went into the break, going 5-7-12, plus-8, in his last eight games.

Defense: 2.00/game (season: 2.08 /game; rank: 1st)

Week 16 was a bit of a glass half full/glass half empty sort of thing.  Sure, allowing only six goals while holding two opponents under 30 shots is a good thing.  Then again, the three opponents for the week finished in the bottom 13 in scoring offense (Ottawa 18th, Carolina 19th, and New Jersey 28th).

What it was not was a good week in denying attempts.  For the week, the Caps finished at 46.03 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5   This was a product of attempts allowed.  Washington allowed 58.24 attempts per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 for the week, an unexpected result for a club that still finished Week 16 with the eighth-best CA/60 in the league at 5-on-5.  And, considering that Ottawa and New Jersey finished the week 19th and 30th in the league in CF/60 at fives, and it was a bit of an off week for the Caps, possession-wise.

Nevertheless, the Caps did hold opponents to just two 5-on-5 goals in Week 16, suggesting that combination of the skills gap they enjoy over a lot of teams, including Carolina and New Jersey, allowing low-quality attempts, randomness, or some combination of the three yielded the disparate results between possession productivity and goal-scoring performance.

Goaltending:  2.00 / .933 (season: 2.01 / .928 / 8 SO)

Goaltending was good in Week 16, but not without its concern that might make the break a good thing for at least one of the netminders.  Braden Holtby had the first and last games of the week and gave the impression of being back in his customary groove.  Allowing three goals on 55 shots (.945 save percentage) in just under 120 minutes of ice time (1.50 goals against average) made for a very good week that left Holtby second among 44 qualifying goaltenders in goals against average (1.96 to Devan Dubnyk’s 1.88) and second in save percentage (.930 to Dubnyk’s .936; minimum: 1000 minutes).

Philipp Grubauer had the middle game of the week against Ottawa and allowed three goals on 23 shots over the first two periods in the 3-0 loss.  He rebounded to shut out the Sens on 11 shots in the third period of that game, but it still marked his third straight appearance (since he shut out the Philadephia Flyers on 24 shots on January 15th) in which he allowed three goals.  He stopped 71 of 80 shots in those three appearances for a .888 save percentage, dropping his overall save percentage to .924 for the season.

Power Play: 3-for-12 / 25.0 percent (season: 20.7 percent; rank: 13th)

Another instance of how well the Caps have been of late is a power play in Week 16 that was successful at half the rate (25.0 percent) it was over the previous two weeks (50 percent on 8-for-16).  And the odd part of that was the fact that the Caps went 0-for-6 in their 3-0 shutout loss to Ottawa in the middle game of the week, but were 50.0 percent (3-for-6) in the other two games of the week.  The Caps closed the pre-All-Star Game portion of the season going 11-for-28 (39.3 percent) over their last ten games, scoring at least one power play goal in eight of those ten games.

It was youngsters dominating the power play results for the week.  Evgeny Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky, and Dmitry Orlov each recorded a power play goal and power play assist.  Alex Ovechkin had the other assist on the man advantage.  Overall, the Caps were reasonably efficient getting pucks to the net, recording 17 shots on goal in 19:07 of total power play time, but eight of those shots were recorded in 9:47 of man advantage ice time against Ottawa, and we saw how that turned out.

Penalty Killing: 8-for-11 / 72.7 percent (season: 85.1 percent; rank: 4th)

Penalty killing has slipped a bit over the last three weeks, Week 16 being the latest in a stretch in which Washington is just 27-for-35 (77.1 percent).  The Caps allowed one power play goal in each of the week’s three games, making it eight games in the last 13 in which they allowed at least one power play goal.

That the Caps would allow each of the opponents in Week 16 a power play goal was of some concern, given that the three rank in the bottom half of the league’s power play rankings (Ottawa 19th, Carolina 23rd, and New Jersey 28th).

The odd part of the week in this area was that the Caps continued their productive denial of shots on goal.  Three opponents managed just 12 shots on goal in 18:48 of man advantage ice time.  The Caps have been a very efficient team at denying opponents chances, ranking second in the league in fewest shot attempts allowed per 60 minutes at 4-on-5 (77.33) and have allowed the fewest shots per 60 minutes at 4-on-5 (36.31; numbers from Corsica.hockey).

Faceoffs: 94-for-180 / 52.2 percent (season: 50.6% / rank: 12th)

The Caps won the week in the circle, sandwiching a pair of winning efforts in wins around a less-than-50 percent effort in the loss for the week.  They were solid in the ends, going 31-for-60 in the offensive zone (51.7 percent) and 36-for-55 in the defensive end (55.4 percent).  They were one under 50 percent in the neutral zone (27-for-55). 

There were a couple of surprises for the week.  One was that so many Caps took at least ten draws in just three games.  Six players took at least ten faceoffs, five of them finishing at 50 percent or better (Evgeny Kuznetsov, to no one’s surprise, was the outlier at 42.5 percent).  The bright spot might have been Chandler Stephenson, who was called up this week from Hershey to see his first action with the big club this seaaon.  He was 6-for-11 overall, but 5-for-7 in the defensive end in two games.  Stephenson became the fourth rookie to dress for the club this season, joining Zach Sanford, Jakub Vrana, and Liam O’Brien.  Only five teams have dressed fewer rookie skaters this season: Carolina (3), Colorado (3), Los Angeles, (2), Pittsburgh (2), and St. Louis (1).

Goals by Period:

When Chris Kelly scored a shorthanded goal for the Ottawa Senators just 106 seconds into their game against Washington last week, the Caps became the last team in the league to allow 20 first period goals this season.  They finished the week allowing three first period strikes, pushing their total for the season to 21, still the fewest allowed in the league. 

What deserves almost as much attention is that the Caps did not allow a third period goal in Week 16, and their 37 goals allowed in the third period for the season is second-fewest in the league, tied with Ottawa and Pittsburgh, and trailing only Anaheim (33) for fewest third period goals allowed.  Add in the fact that the Caps have allowed only two overtime goals this season, and they have allowed fewer goals after the second intermission (39) than any team in the league. 

That leaves the second periods of games, in which the Caps allowed three goals in Week 16.  Even with that performance, they finished the week having allowed the seventh-fewest second period goals in the league (42).

In the end…

Since losing three in a row to end November and begin December, the Caps went into the All-Star Game break on a 20-3-4 run.  Playing what amounts to a third of the season at a 130-plus point clip is not a fluke, but neither is it an assurance that the Caps are, or should be favorites to win when the stakes are higher in the spring.  What will be of immediate concern will be how a team as hot as the Caps were going into the break will sustain that momentum coming out of it.  Remember that last season, the Caps came out of the All-Star Game break going 14-4-0 (all of their losses by one goal) before losing consecutive games.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Evgeny Kuznetsov (3-1-4, plus-3, 10 shots on goal, 18 shot attempts)  
  • Second Star: Andre Burakovsky (1-4-5, plus-2)
  • Third Star: Dmitry Orlov (2-2-4, plus-4, two hits, four blocked shots)

Overheard at the NHL All-Star Game

Salute to JapersRink for the picture.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

A TWO-Point Night -- Game 49: Washington Capitals 5 - New Jersey Devils 2

The Washington Capitals completed the pre-All-Star Game portion of their season on Thursday night, defeating the New Jersey Devils, 5-2, in Newark.  The Caps wrapped up this portion of the season on a 20-3-4 run that puts them at the top of the league’s standings at the break.

Alex Ovechkin opened the scoring for the Caps.  It started with Devils’ defenseman Kyle Quincey trying to move the puck forward from his own blue line, but all he managed to do was bat the puck off Ovechkin where it popped into the air.  Ovechkin waited as Quincey glided past, then collected the puck and broke in alone on goalie Keith Kinkaid.  Ovechkin got Kinkaid to bite on a forehand look, pulled the puck to his backhand, and roofed it under the crossbar to make it 1-0, 6:14 into the game.

Andre Burakovsky got on the board late in the first period on a power play, converting some good forechecking by Evgeny Kuznetsov.  Hounding Jon Merrill in the corner, Kuznetsov got Merrill to send the puck to the middle where Adam Henrique was waiting.  The puck was too hot for Henrique to handle, and it ended up on Burakovsky’s stick in the low slot.  Burakovsky curled the puck around a sprawled Kinkaid and fired it into the open net at the 18:28 mark to make it 2-0.

New Jersey got their first of the game early in the second period when Stefan Noesen converted a centering feed from Pavel Zacha, depositing the puck past Braden Holtby from the low slot at the 3:19 mark.  It was Noesen’s first goal with the Devils in his first game with the club after being claimed on waivers from the Anaheim Ducks.

Washington recovered its two-goal lead five minutes later.  A drive from Dmitry Orlov was muffled in front of Kinkaid, but Lars Eller was johnny-on-the-spot to turn, collect the puck, and wrap it around Kinkaid to make it 3-1, 8:29 into the period.

Less than two minutes later, the Caps lit the lamp again on another power play.  Alex Ovechkin dropped the puck in his own end for Dmitry Orlov circling deep.  Orlov curled around the net and headed up the middle of the ice.  From just inside his own blue line, Orlov fed the puck ahead to Kuznetsov angling to the Devils’ blue line.  Kuznetsov took control of the puck, walked it around defenseman Steven Santini, and slid it between the pads of Kinkaid, ending the Devils goaliie’s night at the 10:19 mark.

New Jersey got back within a pair late in the second period when Adam Henrique deftly redirected a Mike Cammalleri drive behind Holtby to make it 4-2 with just 1:44 left in the period.

The third period was quiet until Kuznetsov potted an empty netter with 1:53 left for the final 5-2 margin.

Other stuff…

-- For the Caps, it was the 12th time in 15 games that they recorded four or more goals.  See if you can spot the odd fact of the three times they didn’t…

(salute to Ben Raby, who tweeted this fact during the game).

-- Alex Ovechkin’s goal was his 548th career goal, tying him with Michel Goulet for 28th place on the all-time list.  Next up…Ron Francis with 549.

-- Ovechkin’s assist made it helpers in eight of his last 12 games and his 22nd of the season, surpassing his total of 21 last season.

-- Two power plays made it eight games in the last ten in which the Caps have at least one power play goal (three times with multiple power play games), over that span going 11-for-28 (39.3 percent).

-- Lars Eller’s goal was his fifth in his last nine games (5-3-8).

-- Andre Burakovsky was 1-1-2, his goal making him the seventh player on the club in double digits in goals.  It was his seventh multi-point game this season, tying his career high, set last season.

-- Dmitry Orlov had a pair of assists, his fourth multi-point game of the season.  He is also on quite a quiet scoring run.  Over his last 26 games, he is 3-15-18, plus-16.

-- For just the eighth time in 49 games, the Caps enjoyed five or more power plays in a game.  In those eight games, the Caps scored eight goals in the five games in which they had that volume of power plays.

-- Evgeny Kuznetsov recorded his third and fourth goals (the latter an empty netter) in his last five games, alternative goal-games (against St. Louis and Carolina) with no-goal games (against Dallas and Ottawa).

-- Braden Holtby was solid in goal for a second straight game after a couple of off nights.  With 27 save on 29 shots in this one, he is 52-for-55 in his last two games (.945 save percentage).

In the end…

This game was so “business-like,” the post-game report should be a balance sheet.  The Caps scored early, applied consistent pressure, didn’t let the Devils get much in the way of momentum, then closed the deal smartly.  And this was no ordinary game.  It was the fourth game in six nights, on the road, and the Caps played without John Carlson and T.J. Oshie.  It is testimony as to just how deep this team is, and that might be the best thing going for this team as they get a well-deserved break.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 49: Capitals at Devils, January 26th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals head back to the ice on Thursday night in an effort to start another winning streak and head off to the All-Star Game break on a high note as they visit the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center in Newark.

The Caps saw their 14-game points streak (12-0-2) snapped on Tuesday night in a 3-0 shutout by the Ottawa Senators. The Devils have alternated wins and losses over their last four games, although they are 4-2-0 in their last six contests to draw within four points of a playoff spot through Tuesday night’s games. Over those six games, the Devils have outscored their opponents, 14-12.

Kyle Palmieri leads the Devils with three goals in the team’s last half dozen games. It is something of a wake-up call from his scoring slumber this season, one in which he has 11 goals in 47 games after posting his first 30-goal season last year. If anything, that 30-goal campaign (his first with New Jersey after five seasons with the Anaheim Ducks) looks like an outlier for a player who never finished with more than 14 goals in any of his previous five seasons, although he does have seven goals in his last 17 games. His goals do seem to be impactful. Of his 84 career goals to date, 19 of them are game-winners. Palmieri is 2-2-4, plus-2, in nine career games against the Caps.

Perhaps conspicuous by his absence among the goal leaders over the 4-2-0 run of late is the team’s leading goal scorer for the season, PA Parenteau. He is dragging a nine-game streak without a goal into this contest, and only one since he potted one against the Caps back on December 29th, but he still has 12 to top the club overall. In the last six games he does have four assists, tied for most on the club. The odd part about his goal scoring is that the Devils are just 5-3-4 in the 12 games he has a goal. Parenteau is 5-7-12, plus-6, in 16 career games against Washington.

Only two Devils defensemen have played in all 49 games this season – Damon Severson and Ben Lovejoy. Saverson leads the team’s blueliners in points (3-19-22), but he has a ghastly minus-22 to go along with that scoring line. Of 275 defensemen to dress this season in the NHL, only Colorado’s Tyson Barrie is worse (minus-23 for the worst team in the league, standings-wise). In his favor, he has run off a five-game streak of even or better. On the other hand, he has been a minus player in almost half (22) of the games he has played this season. He is 2-0-2, minus-8, in seven career game against the Capitals.

1.  The odd part about the Devils’ situation is that while they are just four points out of a playoff spot through Tuesday night’s games, they have played more games than any other team in the Eastern Conference (49) except the Boston Bruins (51). When coupled with their 17 wins in regulation and overtime, second fewest in the East, the Devils are last in the conference standings, meaning that before Wednesday night’s games, they have eight teams to climb over to get a wild card playoff spot.

2.  That the games over the Devils’ 4-2-0 run should be, on average (2.33 – 2.00), low scoring should be no surprise to anyone who has paid even casual attention to Devils hockey in recent years. Or for a couple of decades, for that matter. In the 21 seasons since the 1994-1995 lockout season, New Jersey is 29th of 34 franchises (including multiple incarnations of current franchises) in scoring offense (2.63 goals per game) and first in scoring defense (2.38 goals per game). Goals just aren’t a frequent occurrence with this team, for or against. It is their signature.

3.  Only two teams in the NHL have outshot their opponents less frequently than the Devils – Buffalo (14 times) and Arizona (ten times). New Jersey is 10-3-3 in 16 games when outshooting their opponent.

4.  Only Colorado has scored fewer goals at 5-on-5 (60) than the Devils (70, tied with Florida). Having allowed 88 goals at fives, they are minus-18 in 5-on-5 goal differential.

5.  The Devils are a poor possession team. Overall, they rank 28th in the league in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (46.54 percent), and they are 27th when adjusted for score, zone, and venue (47.12 percent; numbers from Corsica.hockey).

1.  The 14-game points streak just ended for Washington began with a Gimmick loss to the Devils back on December 29. In the 12-0-2 run starting with that game, the Caps outscored their opponents, 65-27, and average of 4.64-1.93 per game. Their special teams were just as impressive, going 10-for-36 on the power play (27.8 percent) and 51-for-59 on the penalty kill (86.4 percent) for a special teams index of 114.2.

2.  The alarming thing about that points streak is that in 14 games, the Caps faced 23 more shorthanded situations (59) than they had power plays (36).

3.  In the “you can see it coming” thought about the end of the streak, the Caps were out-shot in each of the last five games of the streak by a combined total of 32 shots.

4.  The Caps have 16 players with ten or more points this season through 47 games. Last season, they finished with 16 skaters with ten or more points. Tom Wilson and Karl Alzner are one point short of making it 17 and 18 skaters in double digits in points.

5.  The Caps seem to be slipping in their road possession numbers. They rank 11th in overall Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (50.73 percent), owing to some sluggishness in their Corsi-against per 60 minutes, which ranks 13th.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New Jersey: Taylor Hall

No team in the NHL has a leading team scorer with fewer points than New Jersey’s Taylor Hall (11-20-31, tied with Vancouver’s Bo Horvat and Henrik Sedin, and Buffalo’s Kyle Okoposo in total points). Not that this has been entirely Hall’s fault, he has missed ten games this season to knee and lower body injuries. Still, even the change in scenery from Edmonton (the club that drafted him first overall in 2010) to New Jersey has not been the tonic to lift him to the top- echelon status of scorers suggested by his draft rank. Hall has yet to post a 30-goal season, and he has topped the 65 point mark just once (27-53-80 with the Oilers in 2013-2014). His 11 goals in 39 games is a pace (0.28 goals per game) that threatens to be his lowest goal scoring pace of his career (0.26 with Edmonton in 2014-2015). Hall has just three goals in his last 21 games, although seven of his 11 goals this season have been scored on home ice. He is 1-1-2, minus-1, in six career games against Washington.

Washington: Nate Schmidt

One of the issues that has sailed under (or past, or been blocked by) the radar in the Capitals’ success is how snake-bit Nate Schmidt seems to be shooting the puck. Of 183 defensemen with 25 or more shots on goal this season, Schmidt is tied for 136th in shooting percentage (2.4 percent on 1-for-42 shooting). And perhaps he is not really snake-bit because frankly, it is not an outlier result. In his last three seasons, including 41 games of this one, his shooting percentage by season were 2.5, 2.5, and 2.4 percent. That’s four goals on 162 shots. He has never been a particularly prolific goal scorer from the blue line, dating back to his days with the University of Minnesota (he had ten goals split between Minnesota and the Hershey Bears in 48 games in 2012-2013), but it would be nice to get a little more jolt out of Schmidt given how active he is from the blue line. Schmidt does not have a point in nine career games against the Devils and is a plus-3.

In the end…

This is the last game the Caps will play until January 31st. It would be nice to go out on the All-Star Game break with a win, but the other side of that coin is that this is the fourth game in six days for the Caps, and they looked to be running on fumes as the game against Ottawa wore on the other night. Add to that the stifling sort of approach New Jersey brings to the rink, and this has the potential to be a very frustrating game. And on top of that, you have one goaltender with a lifetime GAA under 2.00 against the Devils (Braden Holtby: 1.91) and another goaltender who is going to be looking to bounce back after allowing three goals on 12 shots in 20 minutes before being pulled in his last outing (Cory Schneider against Los Angeles), and it might be “first to ‘1’ wins”... or maybe two.

Capitals 2 – New Jersey 1

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

A NO-Point Night -- Game 48: Ottawa Senators 3 - Washington Capitals 0

The Washington Capitals saw a long streak come to an end on Tuesday night in a frustrating 3-0 loss to the Ottawa Senators.  With the loss, the Caps became the last team in the NHL to suffer their tenth loss in regulation time.

Ottawa opened the scoring early in the first period when Chris Kelly and Tom Pyatt broke out of the defensive end on a 2-on-1 rush with the Caps on a power play.  Kelly fed Pyatt, who carried the puck on the left side into the Caps’ zone.  Kelly darted to the net with Marcus Johansson trying to close the gap.  Johansson was not able to close the distance completely, and Pyatt fed him for a backhander that beat goalie Philipp Grubauer at the 1:46 mark.

The Senators doubled their lead less than three minutes later.  With a Senators power play just expiring, Grubauer turned away a Bobby Ryan point-blank shot, but the puck skittered into the left wing faceoff circle where Derick Brassard chased it down.  He fed it out to Fredrik Claesson, whose one-timer was redirected by Ryan past Grubauer with just 4:10 gone in the period.

Ottawa added a goal in the second period on a power play, Zach Smith getting his 12th goal of the season.  That was all Mike Condon needed as he stopped all 31 shots he faced to earn the 3-0 shutout.

Other stuff…

-- The Caps came up one game short of tying their franchise-high 15 game points streak (2009-2010, when they went 14-0-1).  The streak ends with a record of 12-0-2.

-- This was the first time this season that the Caps were shut out on the road and the third time overall.  Oddly enough, all three shutouts came with 3-0 scores, the others at home to the New York Islanders and San Jose Sharks.

-- Alex Ovechkin had 21:01 in ice time, five hits, and took two minor penalties.  Bad combo.  The Caps are now 1-6-3 when he logs at least 20 minutes in ice time, 2-4-2 when he records five or more hits, and 2-2-1 when he is charged with two or more penalties in a game.

-- Another streak of sorts ended with this game.  Coming in, the Caps had not suffered a loss by more than one goal over a 25-game stretch (19-2-4) dating back to the 3-0 shutout at the hands of the Islanders on December 1st. 

-- The Caps had six power plays in a road game for just the second time this season.  They lost the other one, too.  Tampa Bay beat the Caps, 2-1, in a Gimmick in which the Caps went 1-for-6 on their power play. 

-- Only one Capital taking more than one faceoff finished over 50 percent – the new guy.  Chandler Stephenson won two of three draws.

-- For the first time this season, the Caps allowed an even strength goal, a power play goal, and a shorthanded goal in one game.  The last time they did that was in a 5-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks on March 12, 2016.  The Sharks added an empty netter for good measure in that one.

-- The Caps won’t be sad to see Ottawa in their rear view mirror.  They managed just three goals on 79 shots in the three games against them in the season series, which they won, 2-1-0.

-- The Caps had four shorthanded shots on goal in 7:04 of Ottawa power play time.  Daniel Winnik and T.J. Oshie each had a pair.

-- Philipp Grubauer had an okay night, but that’s three straight appearances in which he has allowed three goals, stopping 71 of 80 shots (.888 save percentage).

In the end…

All good things, just like all bad things, come to an end.  The loss takes nothing away from the remarkable run the Caps have been on, especially as this was their third game in four nights.  The trick is to try to recharge with a day off before trying to end the pre-All-Star game break with a win in New Jersey. 

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 48: Capitals at Senators, January 24th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

After a brief respite from the travel, a 6-1 win against the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday night at Verizon Center, the Caps head right back on the road for the second of back-to-back games in Ottawa against the Senators on Tuesday night.

The Senators are one of those pesky teams that can be really annoying to play against. At the very least, they have been that for the Caps so far this season. The Caps have two wins in two tries against Ottawa, but neither was easy, a 2-1 win on New Year’s Day at Verizon Center and a 1-0 shutout on January 7th in Ottawa.

Since Ottawa lost what were two ends of an extended home-and-home set against Washington (they had five days off between games as their league-mandated hiatus this season), the Senators are 5-1-1 and have climbed into second place in the Atlantic Division. Their recent success has not resulted in much by way of improvement in their playoff position relative to other teams. They are still eight points behind the Montreal Canadiens for the division lead, and despite their recent success, they remain just four points clear of Toronto, lurking as the number nine team in an eight-team playoff race with a game in hand on Ottawa.

The Senators have outscored their seven opponents since facing the Caps by a 27-21 margin. Mike Hoffman leads the goal scorers with seven in those seven games. Hoffman has had a sustained run of scoring success going back to late November. Since November 22nd, he is 13-13-26, plus-11, in 25 games. He has established himself as a reliable goal scorer with 27 and 29 goals in his first two full seasons in the NHL, and he is on a pace to finish with 32 goals this season on 17 in the 41 games in which he has played. Eleven of his 17 goals so far this season have come on home ice. In eight career games against the Caps, Hoffman is 1-3-4, plus-1.

For the time being, the debate over who is the best offensive defenseman in the NHL is settled. Since the 2009-2010 season, his rookie season in the NHL, Erik Karlsson is the only defenseman to have topped the 400 point park (424). He is one of just three defensemen to reach the 100-goal mark over that span (107), joining Shea Weber (129), Dustin Byfuglien (121), and Brent Burns (103). This season, Karlsson is second in overall scoring (39 points) to Burns (47) and leads the league’s defensemen in assists (32). He comes into this game on a six-game points streak (0-7-7), but he has not scored a goal in 18 games, dating back to December 7th, when he had one as part of a three-point night as the Senators beat the San Jose Sharks, 4-2. Karlsson is 2-16-18, minus-6, in 23 career games against Washington.

One might have been forgiven for overlooking the trade that send goalie Mike Condon from the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Senators back in November, but with Craig Anderson on extended absence from the team, it looks like one of the most valuable deals made in recent memory by the club. He has been a respectable 13-7-4, 2.52, .914, with three shutouts, but the workload might be getting to him. He appeared in all seven games for Ottawa since they faced Washington, and while he is 5-1-1 over that span, his goals against average in those games (2.97) and save percentage (.905) are trending in the wrong direction. It resembles the problems he had last season filling in for the injured Carey Price in Montreal when his numbers started dragging down as the season wore on. Condon is 1-4-0, 2.45, .912 in five career appearances against the Capitals.

1.  When Ottawa lost to the Columbus Blue Jackets in their last game, 7-6 in overtime, it was the first time the Senators scored at least six goals in a game and lost since they lost to the Caps, 8-6, on December 29, 2007.

2.  After facing Dallas on Saturday, the Caps are going to run into another team that does not work or play well with others. Ottawa is eighth in the league in penalty minutes taken per game (10:34), and there are tied for eighth in fighting majors (18). They are also tied for the league lead in bench minors (10, with St. Louis).

3.  If there is a blowout, chances are the Senators will not be on the good side of it from their perspective. Ottawa is 4-8 in games decided by three of more goals this season, their .333 winning percentage ranking 25th in such games.

4.  You might guess that Ottawa is not a very good possession team, given two stats that indicate they don’t have the puck as often as they would like. The Senators are sixth in the league in hits and fourth in blocked shots.

5.  And you would be right about possession. Ottawa ranks 24th in overall Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (47.80 percent; numbers from Corsica.hockey), 25th in Corsi-for adjusted for score, zone and venue (47.20 percent).

1.  The Caps are plus-50 in goals scored and goals allowed at 5-on-5.  Their lead on the second place team (Minnesota at plus-34) looks like Secretariat in the Belmont.

2.  The Caps and the Boston Bruins are the only two teams in the league ranking in the top five in both Corsi-for per 60 minutes and Corsi-against per 60 minutes, adjusted for score, zone, and venue (numbers from Corsica.hockey).

3.  Much is made of Sidney Crosby, the game’s best playmaker, scoring goals at a career-best pace.  Less is made of Alex Ovechkin, the best goal scorer of this era, becoming something of a playmaker.  He is tied for eighth among left wings in assists, and he has ten helpers in his last ten games.

4.  The Caps go into this game with power play goals in each of their last five games, tying their longest streak of the season.  The have power play goals on five of their last seven power play opportunities going back to the third period of their 8-7 overtime loss to Pittsburgh.

5.  Pity the power play doesn’t get more opportunities.  The Caps have two or fewer opportunities in nine of their last 12 games, and their minus-28 penalty differential at 5-on-5 is second worst in the league (Colorado: minus-29).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Ottawa: Jean-Gabriel Pageau

Ottawa has eight players with 20 or more points this season. Jean-Gabriel Pageau has been making a push to make it nine with five points in the seven games since Ottawa last saw the Caps (1-4-0). Pageau was taken as a fourth-round pick of the Senators in the 2011 entry draft, after which he completed his Canadian junior career in the QMJHL and spent parts of three seasons with Binghamton in the AHL. He has played in parts of five seasons with Ottawa, but only last year might be called his first full season in the NHL, going 19-24-43 in 82 games. His numbers are off somewhat this season, currently on a pace to finish 9-24-33, his goal scoring down as a reflection of a regression in his shooting percentage (14.3 percent last season, 6.0 percent so far this season). Pageau comes into this game with just one goal in his last 18 games. He does not have a point in 11 games against the Caps and is a minus-3.

Washington: Brett Connolly

Over his first 25 games, Caps fans might have wondered if acquiring Brett Connolly was such a good idea. He was 4-1-5, plus-2, and the Caps seemed to win as he was largely anonymous on the ice.   Ove his last seven games, though, Connolly has found his scoring touch, going 4-0-4, plus-8, with a game-winning goal against the St. Louis Blues last week. He, Lars Eller, and Andre Burakovsky have found a chemistry on the third line that has often made it the most energetic, if not most effective forward line on some nights. His scoring has been a contributing factor to the Caps’ success. They are 7-0-1 when he scores a goal, the only blemish being that 8-7 wild riot of an overtime loss to Pittsburgh last week. Connolly is 1-2-3, minus-5, in ten career games against Ottawa, and in two games this year against the Senators he does not have a point, nor does he have a shot on goal in 20:39 of total ice time.

In the end…

This is the middle game of a three-games-in-four-nights stretch that the Caps have heading into the All-Star break, completing a run of four games in six nights. And what makes the last two games of this stretch hard – the game Tuesday night against Ottawa and the Thursday night game against the New Jersey Devils – is that these are hard teams to play against, teams that would just as soon play in oatmeal as on ice, even though the Senators’ scoring has ticked up a notch recently. It makes the days off coming up look a bit more appealing, and again, this will be something the team needs to have the discipline to set aside if they are to continue their run of success into the All-Star Game break.

Capitals 3 – Senators 2

A TWO-Point Night -- Game 47: Washington Capitals 6 - Carolina Hurricanes 1

The Washington Capitals made it 14 straight games earning a standings point on Monday night with a 6-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes.  It was a 60-minute exercise in just about everyone contributing in different ways consistent with their roles.

The unusual part of the game came in the fifth minute when it was Carolina that opened the scoring.  With T.J. Oshie in the penalty box, the Hurricanes scored on the ensuing power play, Jordan Staal converting a feed from Elias Lindholm to snap a shot over the glove of goalie Braden Holtby from between the hash marks.

After that is was all Caps.  Dmitry Orlov tied the game at the 11:49 mark on a power play for Washington.  The Caps worked the puck around the right side, but finding no openings for a shot, Andre Burakovsky worked the puck around the back of the net to Evgeny Kuznetsov in the opposite corner.  Kuznetsov fed the puck out to Orlov for a one-timer from the top of the left wing faceoff circle, and the puck found its way off a Carolina defender and past goalie Cam Ward to make it 1-1.

Just over five minutes later, Washington took the lead for good.  Matt Niskanen started the play by sliding the puck off to Karl Alzner circling around the left point.  Alzner dropped the puck off for Justin Williams turning behind him, and Williams sent a floater from the point that snuck through a maze of players and past Ward at the 17:05 mark.

Orlov got his second of the game eight minutes into the third period.  Burakovsky worked the puck down the right wing wall, turned, and skated back out where he found Brett Connoily with a cross-ice pass.  Connolly touch passed the  puck back to the middle for another Orlov one-timer that beat Ward cleanly to make it 3-1 with 8:06 gone in the period.

Late in the period, Williams skated down the right side and left the puck for Kuznetsov trailing.  Kuznetsov stepped up and wristed a shot that was blocked.  Kuznetsov followed up the shot and from the low slot snapped a shot past Ward to make it 4-1.  At the 18:40 mark of the period, the rout was on.

T.J. Oshie joined the scoring parade 13 minutes into the third period. Nicklas Backstrom nudged the puck into the Carolina zone where Alex Ovechkin picked it up.  Ovechkin skated it down the left side, then fed it across to Oshie barreling down the middle.  One stick move put the puck on his backhand, and he flipped it over the right pad of Ward to make it 5-1 at the 13:30 mark.

Lars Eller closed the scoring following up a rebound of a Nat Schmidt shot, beating Ward from low in the right wing circle at 17:13 to send Caps fans home happy.

Other stuff…

-- Five different skaters had goals, and 12 skaters had points for the Caps.  Everyone except the fourth line of Jay Beagle, Daniel Winnik, and Tom Wilson, plus defenseman Taylor Chorney finished in plus territory.  Those four players were even.

-- Nicklas Backstrom recorded a point in his tenth straight game, over which he is 4-13-17, plus-6.

-- With a goal and an assist, Justin Williams continued his strong offensive play.  Over his last 15 games he is 10-7-17, plus-14.

-- The same could be said for Evgeny Kuznetsov.  Recording a goal and an assist of his own, Kuznetsov is now 4-12-16, plus-11, in his last 11 games.

-- Alex Ovechkin recorded a point in his eighth straight game, over which he is 4-9-13, plus-5.  He has not gone consecutive games without a point since Games 22-24 to start December.  In 23 games since then, he is 10-15-25, plus-8.

-- The six goals made it six time in the Caps’ last 13 games that they scored six or more goals.  In those 13 games, the Caps have 64 goals (4.92 per game).

-- The Caps outscored Carolina, 5-0, at 5-on-5.  That upped their goals for/goals against at fives to 110-60, their plus-50 at 5-on-5 by far the best in the league.

-- In other players playing their roles, Jay Beagle didn’t have a point, but he did win 12 of 19 faceoffs (63.2 percent).

-- The same could be said for Lars Eller, who finally seems to be getting into a groove. Eller had a goal, won nine of 14 faceoffs (64.3 percent), skated more than three minutes of shorthanded ice time, and finished a plus-2.

-- In other role-playing news, there was Tom Wilson with four hits and Karl Alzner with four hits and five blocked shots.  Alzner added two assists, his first multi-point game of the season.

In the end…

The win was so complete as to be almost boring.  Well, not really, but this is an unreal run that the Caps are on at the moment.  And this was the sort of game where fine performances might get lost, like Andre Burakovsky recording three assists, his high for the season and first three-assist game of his career.  Braden Holtby looked sharp, stopping 25 of 26 shots and shrugging off a couple of sub-par performances.  Seven of their last ten games have been wins by three or more goals.  Wrap it all up, and over almost half a season – the last 23 of 47 games played so far – the Caps are 18-3-2.  You’re seeing the game about as well as you are going to see it played in the NHL this season.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 47: Hurricanes at Capitals, January 23rd

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals enter their final week of the “first half” – the week preceding the All-Star Game break – looking to continue their successful 2017 year to date as they host the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday night at Verizon Center.

The Caps take an 11-0-2 record over their last 13 games into the contest after coming from two goals down to beat the Dallas Stars, 4-3, on Saturday night.  The Hurricanes will be trying to snap a three-game losing streak in which they have scored just four goals while allowing 14.  That is a very bad recipe to bring to Washington against a Caps team that has scored 58 goals in its last dozen games.  It is a departure from the offense that scored 26 goals over a six-game span before the drought hit.  Still, the Hurricanes find themselves just two points out of a playoff spot going into Sunday’s games. 

Jeff Skinner is, to no one’s surprise, the leading point-getter on the club so far this season (17-18-35), on a pace to record his third 50-plus point finish in his past four seasons.  On January 13th, Skinner had two goals and an assist in a 5-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres to become the 15th player in franchise history to reach the 300-point mark with the club.  Unfortunately for the Hurricanes, he does not have a point in four games since reaching that plateau.  Skinner is 11-11-22, plus-1, in 31 career games against the Caps.

It is a mark of the turnover on the club that the next two top scorers are names that might not be household names in the long rivalry between these teams.  Victor Rask was a second-round draft pick by the Hurricanes in the 2011 entry draft.   After spending two years in Canadian juniors and parts of two seasons with the Hurricanes’ farm team in Charlotte in the AHL, he joined the parent club in 2014-2015.  His progress over his two and a half NHL seasons has been steady.  After going 11-22-33 in 80 games in his rookie season, he went 21-27-48 last season.  With a 13-19-32 scoring line so far this season, Rask is on a pace to continue his progress in scoring numbers (projected 23-34-57).  He has gone cold of late, though, going without a point in his last four games.  That might not be all that it seems, though, since the Hurricanes are just 12-9-3 in the 24 games in which he has a point this season.  In ten career games against the Caps, Rask is 1-4-5, even.

Sebastien Aho is third in scoring for the Hurricanes so far this season (12-13-25).  His 25 points ranks seventh among league rookies, and his 12 goals ranks third among the rookie cohort, trailing only Patrik Laine (21) and Auston Matthews (22).  He has picked up his goal scoring pace of late with nine goals in his last 21 games, a 35-goal pace per 82 games.  Unfortunately for the Hurricanes, his scoring has not been an accompaniment to winning.  Carolina is just 7-8-4 in games in which Aho recorded a point so far this season.  He has been quite successful against the Caps, though, going 2-3-5, plus-3, in two games against Washington.

1.  One-goal games are common for Carolina this season.  They have played to 27 such decisions so far this season (11-9-7).  Only Chicago (30) and San Jose (28) have more one-goal games.  Unfortunately, a lot of one-goal decisions have not translated into a lot of one-goal wins.  The Hurricanes have the fifth-worst winning percentage in one-goal decisions (.407).

2.  Out-shooting opponents seems not to benefit the Hurricanes.  Carolina is 10-16-3 when out-shooting opponents, 9-2-4 when they are out-shot.

3.  Scoring first doesn’t seem to matter to Carolina, either.  The Hurricanes are 9-6-4 when scoring first, their .474 winning percentage ranking 27th in the league.   When allowing the first goal they are 12-12-3, their .444 winning percentage being tied for sixth-best in the league.

4.  Carolina is the least penalized team in the league in minutes per game (5:57).  Only 14 times in 46 games have they logged more penalty minutes than their opponents, and they have been shorthanded fewer times (115) than any team in the league this season.

5.  Carolina has under-performed their possession numbers so far.  Although they are just 19th in the league’s standings point rankings, they are sixth in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (51.55 percent).  Perhaps being ranked 24th in goals-for percentage at fives is one reason they have under-performed their possession numbers (numbers from Corsica.hockey).

1.  Washington is 10-2-0 this season at home when scoring at least one power play goal, 8-3-1 at home when they don’t.  On the other hand, they are 12-3-1 when shutting out an opponent’s power play on home ice, 6-2-0 when they don’t.

2.  Only two teams have has more shorthanded situations faced on home ice this season than the Caps (83) – St. Louis (96) and Calgary (94).

3.  The Caps have allowed just 60 5-on-5 goals this season, by far the fewest in the league (Minnesota has allowed 69).

4.  If Washington scores a power play goal against Carolina, it would tie a season-high five straight games with at least one power play goal, accomplished in Games 26-30 in mid-December.

5.  The Caps have the second-best Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (adjusted for score, zone, and venue) in the league at 53.13 percent, trailing only Boston (55.34 percent).  Their goals-for percentage is right in line with that, tops in the league at 63.86 percent, well ahead of Minnesota (60.12 percent; numbers from Corsica.hockey).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Carolina: Lee Stempniak

Lee Stempniak is one of those many foot soldiers in the NHL who carve out a career by having enough versatility to make himself attractive to any number of teams.  Carolina is the tenth franchise for which he has played in a career covering 12 seasons and 836 regular season games.  For six of franchises he skated for, he logged fewer than a season’s worth of games, including the 46 games played to date for Carolina.  It is not unreasonable to think that before the end of this season he will find his way to his 11th city in his NHL career, depending on whether the Hurricanes can sustain their challenge for a playoff spot as the trading deadline approaches.  What he is not is a good luck charm.  Carolina is just 3-4-1 in the eight games in which he recorded a goal this season.  In 21 career games against the Caps, Stempniak is 4-9-13, minus-1.

Washington:  Matt Niskanen

You might not always see him or notice him on the ice, but he’s there more often than any other Capital.  Since he arrived in Washington in the 2014-2015 season, no Capital has recorded more games with at least 22 minutes of ice time than Matt Niskanen (150 games to John Carlson’s 137 games).  His ice time has only increased in recent games, especially with John Carlson on the shelf with an injury.  Niskanen has been over 22 minutes in 11 of his last 13 games and averaged almost 24 minutes a game over that span.  On top of that, Niskanen is on a pace to challenge his career high in points (46), recorded with Pittsburgh in 2013-2014.  With 19 even strength points in 45 games, he would seem good bet to top his career best in points at evens (31 in 2013-2014).  He comes into this games with multi-point games in three of his last four games (2-5-7, plus-2).  What Niskanen does not have is a goal against the Hurricanes in his career.  He is 0-10-10, plus-2, in 27 career games against Carolina.

In the end…

This will be the 104th meeting of these two teams since the Hurricanes took up residence in Carolina after their incarnation as the Hartford Whalers.  The Caps hold a 57-31-8 record (with seven ties) in that span.  Almost half of those wins were of the one-goal variety, though (28).  This season the teams split two games in Raleigh, the Caps losing a 5-1 decision on November 12th, then winning a 4-3 trick shot decision on December 16th.  The Hurricanes have hardly been an easy mark, despite their rank in the standings.  However, the Caps do have the second-best home record in the league (18-5-1), trailing only Pittsburgh (20-2-2), and they are 7-0-1 in their last eight home games.   This will be the Caps only home game in a seven-game stretch that started last Monday in Pittsburgh and ends in Brooklyn against the Islanders on January 31st.  Get home cooking while it’s available.

Capitals 4 – Hurricanes 2