Sunday, October 29, 2017

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 4

In sports, you are only as good as the last game you played.  In hockey, you are only as good as the last period you played.  By those criteria, the Washington Capitals are a fine team that had a great week.  Unfortunately, Week 4 had two games and six periods.  The Caps were not a fine team over that span, and was a banged-up team, to boot.

Record: 1-1-0

This was Western Canada Week for the Caps, and the 2017 version had a spooky resemblance to the trip the Caps made to the provinces last year. You might recall that the Caps dropped the opener of their trip last year to the Edmonton Oilers, 4-1.  Compare that to the 6-2 drubbing the Vancouver Canucks laid on Washington in the first game of this year’s trip.  In the second game of last year’s trip the Caps made use of a two-goal third period to pull away from the Canucks in a 5-2 win.  In the second game of this year’s trip, Washington scored five unanswered goals on the Edmonton Oilers after falling behind, 2-0, three of them in the third period, to take a 5-2 decision.

Splitting the two games for the week left the Caps in sixth place in the Metropolitan Division, five points behind the surprising New Jersey Devils in first place.  Of more concern is that they are outside the playoff mix at the moment, one point behind the second wild-card team, the Philadelphia Flyers (12 points).

Offense: 3.50 /game (season:3.09 /game, T-14th)

The Caps suffered from a lack of balance in goal scoring over the first three weeks of the season, and if there was a sliver of silver of the lining of the cloud that was Week 4, it was getting some more balance.  Chandler Stephenson scored his first NHL goal in the Caps’ loss in Vancouver.  Jay Beagle recorded his second goal of the season, and Devante Smith-Pelly scored his first as a Capital in the 5-2 win over Edmonton.  Lars Eller got his first of the season on a one-timer in that win over the Oilers.

Then there was the top line and an odd switch in roles.  Evgeny Kuznetsov recorded his first three goals of the season in Week 4, one against Vancouver and two against Edmonton.  It was Kuznetsov’s fifth career multi-goal game and second in Edmonton. He had a hat trick on Oilers’ ice in a 7-4 win on October 23, 2015.  Meanwhile, Alex Ovechkin had a four-assist week, three of them coming against the Oilers in the 5-2 win.  For Ovechkin it was his 12th career game with three or more assists and his first since he had three in a 6-5 loss to the Arizona Coyotes on November 2, 2014.

Defense: 4.00 /game (season:3.55 /game, 26th)

The Caps started the week as if they had a team case of jet lag, allowing 15 shots on goal and three tallies to the Vancouver Canucks in the first period of the game that opened the week.  Or perhaps it was the rust that accumulated from having no game action from Saturday (a 4-1 loss to Florida at home) to Thursday against the Canucks.  In that respect it was also similar to last season' trip to the west when the Caps dropped a decision to the New York Rangers at home, and then having no game action until the following Wednesday in Edmonton, where the Caps allowed a pair of goals on ten shots in what would be a 4-1 loss.

Shots allowed continue to be a problem.  The Canucks didn’t need many after their 15-shot first period but still finished with 30, the eighth time in ten games that the Caps allowed 30 or more shots. Edmonton recorded 40 shots on goal in the 5-2 Caps win, and it was not score effects.  The Oilers had 16 shots on goal (and both goals) in the first period, 14 more in the second period.  It was the second time this season that the Caps allowed 40 shots to an opponent, the other being when Tampa Bay recorded 40 in a 4-3 overtime win for the Lightning on October 9th.

If there was a bright spot, it was the job that the Caps did on Connor McDavid in the win over the Oilers.  McDavid went into that contest having recorded a point in each of the Oilers’ first five home games this season (4-3-7, plus-2) with 22 shots on goal (4.4 per game).  Washington did not shut him out (he did have an assist), but did hold him to two shots after the first period and rendered him irrelevant in the outcome.  For that, Caps fans might thank Nicklas Backstrom, whose shifts often overlapped significantly with those of McDavid (shift chart from; click for a larger image):

Goaltending: 4.01 / .886 (season: 3.35 / .889)

This is where that whole, “you are only as good as your last game” idea comes into play, because for the first four periods of the week, the goaltending for the Caps was gruesome – 6.00, .826.  But then there were the last 40 minutes of the week in which Braden Holtby stopped all 24 shots he faced and looked more like the confident and aggressive goalie he has been over the last few years.

The odd part of the goaltending situation is how different the two goaltenders have been.  Holtby, despite a 2.75 goals against average, has the 15th best save percentage among 42 goalies with at least 200 minutes of ice time (.919).  Not quite up to his recent standard, but not bad, all things considered.  Philipp Grubauer has just not found a comfort zone yet.  Among those same 42 goalies with at least 200 minutes he is 41st in goal against average (4.67) and dead last in save percentage (.850).  With seven saves on eight shots in 25 minutes of work in Week 4, he actually improved that save percentage.

Power Play: 0-for-3 / 0.0 percent (season: 22.9 percent / 8th)

In Week 4, it was all about the opportunities.  The Caps had three, all of them in the loss to Vancouver, two of them coming in the third period of that game, after the competitive portion of the contest was settled.  The Caps could only draw what was a coincidental delay-of-game penalty against Edmonton and did not have a power play in that contest.

The Caps did have their chances against Vancouver, recording six shots in 4:31 of power play ice time, and they got the shots from players they want to take them – two from Alex Ovechkin, two from Evgeny Kuznetsov, and one from John Carlson (Alex Chiasson had the other).  But the opportunities were spare and the timing of them was not particularly relevant to the outcome. 

Penalty Killing: 7-for-10 / 70.0 percent (season: 75.5 percent / 28th)

Week 4 was the bad and the good.  Going 3-for-6 on the penalty kill against the Canucks in the first game of the week was, if not the difference in its entirety in the decision, then the largest part of it.  It was a case of taking too many penalties (eight that resulted in six power plays) and allowing too many chances (11 shots on goal in 7:28 of ice time).

Things improved, to a degree, against the Oilers.  The Caps still allowed Edmonton four man advantage opportunities (two of them in the odd occurrence of Lars Eller being whistled twice for shooting the puck over the glass; combine that with his goal in that game and “shooting” was his theme for the night), but they allowed only six shots on goal in eight minutes of shorthanded ice time, none of them from Connor McDavid.

Faceoffs: 54-for-129 / 41.9 percent (season: 49.5 percent / 21st)

There is no sugar coating that it was a bad week for the Caps in the circle.  They were under 50 percent in both games and managed only as much as 50 percent for the week in the defensive zone (22-for-44).  On an individual level it was, for the most part, just as bad as one would expect.  Of the four skaters taking ten or more draws, three of them were under 40 percent – Nicklas Backstrom (3-for-13/23.1 percent), Lars Eller (11-for-29/37.9 percent), and Evgeny Kuznetsov (14-for-39/35.9 percent).  Only Jay Beagle was over 50 percent (17-for-28/60.7 percent).  But, in a nod to the “faceoffs don’t matter” school, the Caps are 3-2-1 in games in which they were 50 percent or better, 2-3-0 in games in which they were under 50 percent, and both of those wins came in games in which the Caps were under 41 percent (40.9 percent in a 5-2 win over New Jersey and 39.3 percent on Saturday against Edmonton).

Goals by Period:

Allowing multiple goals in the first period in both games for the week is not a recipe for success.  It brought the Caps’ string of games allowing multiple goals in the first period to three, two of those games ending in losses. They did manage to stop the bleeding against Edmonton, shutting out the Oilers over the last 40 minutes of that game, but early porousness on defense is putting the Caps in too deep a hole to be able to win consistently.  In a way it is a bit odd, though.  Even with the five goals allowed in the first period in Week 4 (seven over their last three games), they have allowed only 11 goals in the first period in 11 games.  Only seven teams have allowed more, but this might be a correctable element in the Caps’ game.  It had better be.

In the end…

The Caps were without arguably their top defenseman (Matt Niskanen) and a top-six forward (Andre Burakovsky) for both games.  Nicklas Backstrom missed the Vancouver game due to illness, while Brett Connolly left the Vancouver game early under a concussion protocol after being checked into the glass and missed the Edmonton game.  That is a lot of offense missing.  But the Caps are still allowing far too many shots on goal to anyone’s liking (more than 33 per game).  They still have to demonstrate they can achieve a measure of balance in scoring.  They need more consistent goaltending.  These are the problems of a team that might be bouncing along the margin of playoff eligibility all season unless they can make progress in finding solutions.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Evgeny Kuznetsov (3-0-3, plus-2, GWG, 11 shots on goal, 16 shot attempts)
  • Second Star: Alex Ovechkin (0-4-4, plus-3, eight shots on goal, 13 shot attempts, first three-assist game in almost three years)
  • Third Star: Chandler Stephenson (1-0-1, plus-2, first NHL goal)

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 10: Capitals at Canucks, October 26th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Washington Capitals head back on the road for what will be their longest trip – in both games and distance traveled – so far this season when they head to western Canada for three games.  The trip begins with a visit to British Columbia and the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday night.

Washington will be looking to notch their first win in regulation time in almost two weeks, since a 5-2 win at New Jersey over the Devils on October 13th.  Since that win, the Caps are 1-3-0, their lone win coming in a 4-3 overtime decision at Detroit against the Red Wings last Friday.

Vancouver opened their 2017-2018 season with a four-game home stand that was less than successful (1-2-1), and then they went on a five-game road trip that ended with a 1-0 win over the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday night, giving them a 4-1-0 record on their trip. 

Scoring has been a bit hard to come by for the Canucks, who rank 22nd in scoring offense through Tuesday’s games.  Tied at the top of the points ranking is rookie Brock Boeser (2-4-6, minus-1).  A former first round draft pick of the Canucks (23rd overall in 2015) out of the University of North Dakota, Boeser, who appeared in nine games in 2016-2017 in his first NHL tour, is tied for seventh among rookies in total points.  The odd thing about his scoring so far is having it come in losing efforts.  The Canucks are just 2-3-0 in games in which he registered a point, 2-0-0 in games in which he was shutout.  He also has an odd pattern to his ice time.  Vancouver has not won a game in which Boeser skated more than 15 minutes (0-3-0), but they are perfect when he skated less than that (4-0-0).  This will be his first chance to face the Capitals.

For a 27-year old, defenseman, Michael Del Zotto has been around.  Drafted 20th overall by the New York Rangers in 2008, Del Zotto spent parts of five seasons with the Rangers before being traded to the Nashville Predators in January 2014 for Kevin Klein.  The following summer he signed as a free agent with the Philadelphia Flyers.  After spending three seasons with the Flyers, he signed another free agent deal last summer to arrive in Vancouver, leaving only the Mountain time zone as the one in which he did not call home in his career to date.  At the moment, Del Zotto occupies an odd place in the team rankings among defensemen.  He leads the group in points (0-5-5), but his minus-3 is worst among that group.  He leads them in total shots on goal (23) but has yet to hit the back of the net.  Only 11 players in the league (six of them being defensemen) have recorded more shots on goal without having lit the red light.  Del Zotto is 2-8-10, plus-3, in 29 career games against the Caps.

If the Canucks are going to go with the hot goalie, it is hard to figure out which one to go with on the heels of their three game winning streak coming into this contest.  Jacob Markstrom stopped 40 of 43 shots (.930 save percentage) in wins over the Buffalo Sabres and Detroit Red Wings.  Then, Anders Nilsson went Markstrom one better, stopping all 29 shots he faced from the Minnesota Wild in a 1-0 shutout on Tuesday night.  Markstrom has had more chances this season, appearing in seven games to Nilsson’s three, but Nilsson has the better numbers – a 1.84 goals against average to Markstrom’s 2.48 and a .949 save percentage to Markstrom’s .908. 

It is an interesting goaltending situation for the Canucks.  Both natives of Sweden got their starts with other franchises (Markstrom drafted by Florida in 2008, Nilsson drafted by the New York Islanders in 2009, both are of the generation of tall goaltenders (both are 6’6”), neither have ever appeared in as many as half of their team’s games in any season (Markstrom appeared in 33 games with the Canucks in 2015-2016, Nilsson in 26 games with Edmonton in 2015-2016 and with Buffalo last season).  This could be a season-long battle to see who emerges as the team’s number one netminder.  Markstrom is 0-5-0, 3.51, .889 in five career appearances against the Caps, while Nilsson is 0-3-1, 3.64, .882 in six appearances against Washington.

1.  The difference between the home and road portions of the Canucks’ season had been in scoring defense.  In their four home games to open the season they allowed an average of 3.25 goals per game.  On the road, that number is 1.80 goals per game, and they have two shutouts.

2. Vancouver is 30th of 31 teams in credited hits with 137 (Carolina has 105).  The also rank 27th in the league in blocked shots (108).  If there was a “grittership index” of hits plus blocked shots per game, Vancouver would rank 30th of 31 teams with a 27.22 rating (Carolina is at 27.14).

3.  The Caps might be able to jump on the Canucks early.  Only three teams have allowed more first period goals through Tuesday’s games than Vancouver (11).  And perhaps they had better.  The Canucks have allowed only 11 total goals over the last two periods of games.

4.  Vancouver has an interesting and, perhaps for them, troubling shot attempts profile.  They rank just 26th in the league in shot attempts-for percentage when ahead in games (42.86), but they are eighth in the league in shot attempts-for percentage when behind (58.08).  They always seem to be playing to regress to a mean.  This might be true for most teams, but it seems exaggerated with Vancouver.

5.  The Canucks have at least spread their scoring around.  Of the 21 skaters to dress this season, 19 of them have at least one point on their ledger.  Only defensemen Alex Biega (in two games) and Erik Gudbranson (in eight games) have yet to record a point.

1.  The Caps are 4-1-0 when Alex Ovechkin scores at least one goal, 0-3-1 when he doesn’t.

2. John Carlson is second in the league in average ice time, averaging 26:43 per game.  Only Buffalo defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen is logging more – 27:39 per game.

3.  Only nine players in the league have logged more total shorthanded ice time than Jay Beagle (35:21 in nine games).  All of them are defensemen.  In fact, Beagle is the only forward in the top 19 in total shorthanded ice time.

4.  Brooks Orpik is back among the leaders in credited hits.  He is tied for fifth with 30 and is fourth among defensemen.

5.  Another random John Carlson fact…through Tuesday’s games, no player in the league recorded more shots on goal without scoring one than Carlson (34).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Vancouver: Daniel/Henrik Sedin

And now, they are the grand old men.  Daniel and Henrik Sedin are the oldest players on the Vancouver roster, Henrik the older by six minutes.  They are first, second, or first and second in every meaningful franchise ranking: games (Henrik: 1,257; Daniel: 1,234); goals (Daniel: 372/1st); assists (Henrik: 786; Daniel: 618); points (Henrik: 1,023; Daniel: 990); plus/minus (Henrik: plus-185; Daniel: plus-166); game-winning goals (Daniel: 82); power play goals (Daniel: 130); total minutes played (Henrik: 22,127; Daniel: 21102); and on and on.  But now, with both of them at the age of 37 and in the last year of their respective contracts, one wonders if this will be their last season with the Canucks.  There has been comment on their perhaps stalling a youth movement with the club. 

Add to this that the twins are off to something of a slow start scoring-wise (Henrik has one point in his last seven games; Daniel has a goal and an assist in his last six contests) and are near the bottom of the team’s plus-minus rankings, and the end seems not to be over the horizon any longer.  Daniel is 7-6-13, plus-3, in 18 career games against the Caps, while Henrik is 3-11-14, plus-2, in 19 career games against Washington.

Washington: Jakub Vrana

One of the things one might watch for with young players with offensive skills is streakiness.  So far this season, Jakub Vrana has been streaky in an almost metronomic way, if that makes sense.  He had points in his first two games, went without one for a pair, then had points in two more.  He continued the pattern with another pair of games without a point, but when he went without one in the 4-1 loss to the Florida Panthers last weekend, it extended his streak without a point to three games.  He also came within one second of logging his lowest ice time of the season (12:07; he has 12:06 in the Caps’ 5-2 win over New Jersey on October 13th).  The ice time has a bit of the canary in a coal mine character to it.  The Caps are 3-1-0 in games in which he skated more than 14 minutes, 1-3-1 when he skated less than 13 minutes.  Oddly enough, both of his goals so far were in games in which he skated less than 13 minutes.  And perhaps odder still, he is 2-2-4, plus-1, in road games, while he is 0-1-1, plus-2, at Capital One Arena.  He is without a point in his only career appearance against the Canucks.

In the end…

The western Canada trip is often one with which the Caps have difficulty.  However, last season the Caps went 3-1-0 on their trip, beating Vancouver, Calgary, and Winnipeg after dropping the first game of their trip.  This time around the Caps do not get Winnipeg on the trip, but what they will be getting is three surprising teams.  Vancouver (5-3-1) and Calgary (5-4-0) are perhaps doing better than expected in the early going, while the Oilers (2-5-1) are underperforming. 

What the Caps will be getting on this trip is, oddly enough, a chance to break out of their offensive doldrums.  Vancouver, Edmonton, and Calgary are among the dozen worst teams in the league in goals allowed on home ice.  In this contest, Vancouver returns home after a long road trip, but with neither Canuck goaltender having any great success against the Caps over their respective careers, Washington might just be able to ruin the home cooking.

Capitals 5 – Canucks 2

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 3

The Washington Capitals could not win a game in regulation in Week 3 and sustained a pair of losses that left them in sixth place in the Metropolitan Division and tenth in the Eastern Conference standings to end the week.  By any measure, it was an unsuccessful week and one where problems they had in Weeks 1 and 2 seemed to remain problems in Week 3.

Record: 1-2-0

Recording consecutive weeks with losing records has been a rare occurrence for the Caps in recent years.  In fact, the last time it happened was in Weeks 24 and 25 in the 2013-2014 season.  What made Week 3 difficult and concerning was that the Caps lost both contests they played at home.  They have just two standings points earned in four home games so far and have not won on home ice since the home opener against the Montreal Canadiens.  What has been the surprise is that despite a difficult road schedule so far, the Caps are 3-1-1 this season, including their 4-3 overtime win against the Detroit Red Wings on Friday.

Offense:  1.67/game (season: 3.00 /game, 17th)

One of the problems the Caps had coming into Week 3 was a lack of balance in scoring, getting contributions from the top-six forwards but little from the rest of the lineup.  And there it was again in Week 3.  The Caps were shut out by the Toronto Maple Leafs and managed only a goal against the Florida Panthers in losses. Against the Red Wings in their lone win for the week, the Caps got goals from top-six performers (T.J. Oshie and the game-winner in overtime from Alex Ovechkin) and got goals from players whose contributions have been meager to date (Jay Beagle and Andre Burakovsky).

The twist in Week 3 was not so much that the Caps got little production from the bottom-six forwards and the defense, but that the Caps couldn’t seem to put it together consistently.  The Caps did get points from 13 skaters over three games, but only Andre Burakovsky had two points for the week, both (goal and an assist) against Detroit.  Christian Djoos scored his second goal of the season for the defense – the only two goals from the defense through nine games – but for the second time his goal came in a loss.

Defense: 3.00/game (season: 3.44/game, T-21st)

Despite allowing nine goals in three games in Week 3, the Caps did tighten up on defense in one respect.  They held opponents to an average of 30.0 shots per game for the week, allowing only the Red Wings more than 30 shots (37 in the Caps’ 4-3 overtime win).  And, they held the Florida Panthers to just nine even strength shots on goal on their way to outshooting opponents at even strength by a 90-59 margin for the week.

One of the problems with being a minutes-eating defenseman is that you might be on ice for a good share of the bad things that happen.  Such was the case for John Carlson in Week 3, who averaged more than 29 minutes per game for the week but was on ice for seven of the nine goals scored against the Caps.  Not that he was alone.  The Caps did have balance on defense with 16 skaters on ice for goals against.

Goaltending: 2.38 / .920 (season: 3.20 / .902)

The best goaltending tandem of last season has been something less than that this season, and an uneven week did not do much to improve on that.  There was the good, the not so good, and the bad that didn’t seem as bad as it was or was worse than it looked.  Braden Holtby got the call for the first two games of the week.  In the first, he held the Toronto Maple Leafs to one goal on 29 shots, a superb effort against the top scoring offense in the league.  Nevertheless, he took the loss.  Hioltby was a bit less efficient in the middle game of the week, allowing three goals on 37 shots in the Caps’ 4-3 overtime win over Detroit, allowing two goals on 15 shots in the third period being the concern. 

Philipp Grubauer wrapped up the week in what was a fairly strange performance.  He allowed a goal on the first shot he faced less than 90 seconds into the game then settled down against a light shot load until he gave up a power play goal late in the first period against Florida.  Another power play goal did him in for what was his third loss of the season (0-2-1) and a disappointing .848 goals against average for the season.  This was a part of the Caps’ profile that one would not have thought would be a problem.  But whether is it a case of poor goalie play or lack of defensive support in front of them, the goaltending numbers are not what one expected.

Power Play: 2-for-12 / 16.7 percent (season: 25.0 percent / 7th)

Score power play goals…win.  Don’t score power play goals…don’t win.  The Caps were 2-for-5 on the man advantage in their only win of the week, the 4-3 overtime win over Detroit that featured a power play game-winning goal from Alex Ovechkin.  The Caps were 0-for-7 in their two losses that started and ended the week.

It was not a problem of getting shots on goal; the Caps had 21 shots in 17:26 in power play time.  It was not a problem of who got the shots.  Alex Ovechkin had seven of them, scoring on one.  John Carlson had five.  All in all, eight different Caps recorded power play shots on goal. 

What was worst about the power play was the goal differential.  The Caps allowed two shorthanded goals in Week 3, giving them three shorthanded goals against in their last four games and four shorthanded goals against in nine games.  Only the Buffalo Sabres (six) have allowed more.  It was not a bad power play in Week 3.  It was just, as a lot has been for the Caps so far, inconsistent and less than expected.  On the other hand, given the two goals for and two against, it was bad.

Penalty Killing: 10-for-13 / 76.9 percent (season: 76.9 percent / 23rd)

The Caps did themselves a favor by limiting the Toronto Maple Leaf power play chances in the first game of the week by giving the Leafs just two power plays to work with.  In that context, it worked, the Caps shutting out the Leafs on those two chances in the 2-0 loss to Toronto.  The last two games of the week were another matter, the Caps giving Detroit five power play chances (the Red Wings scoring once) and Florida six chances (two goals). 

What the Caps were was inefficient in those last two games of the week.  In 16:36 of shorthanded ice time against Detroit and Florida, the Caps allowed three goals on 24 shots.  It was quite a heavy shot load faced by Holtby against Detroit and by Grubauer against Florida facing those power plays.  That the Caps did get a shorthanded goal from Jay Beagle against the Red Wings helped, but it could not erase that this was a bad week for penalty killing.

Faceoffs: 95-for-188 / 50.5 percent (season: 51.2 percent / 14th)

The Caps had what was a virtual 50 percent week in the circle (50.5 percent), but there were differences by game and zone.  Washington dominated the faceoff circle against Toronto (54.9 percent) and against Detroit (55.0 percent), but were controlled by Florida in the last game of the week (44.2 percent).  The Caps did well in the ends of the ice, winning better than 50 percent in the offensive (52.5 percent) and defensive (57.7 percent) zones, but they had a tough time in the neutral zone (41.1 percent).

Individually, the Caps were split among the most frequent occupants of the circle.  Nicklas Backstrom (53.3 percent) and Jay Beagle (69.4 percent) were on the good side of 50 percent for the week among Caps with ten or more draws. Lars Eller (40.0 percent) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (31.7 percent) struggled. Eller’s numbers were mitigated by being better in the ends (7-for-14) than in the neutral zone (1-for-6). The best Kuznetsov could muster was his 8-for-22 (36.4 percent) in the offensive zone.

Goals by Period:

By period, you could say that with the exception of the overtime game-winning goal against Detroit, the Caps started poorly and ended games, at least in regulation, worse.  They did not score a first period goal all week and allowed five third period goals (including two by Detroit that helped send that game to overtime).  The best thing that might be said about giving up five third period goals for the week was that two of them were empty netters.  "Best," in this context, is a relative thing.

In fact, the Caps did not score first in any of the three games of the week, putting themselves behind the eight ball early.  What is means is that looking at the Caps by period through three weeks, their position deteriorates across the periods – a plus-3 goal differential in the first period (down from plus-5 after Week 2), minus-2 in the second period, and minus-5 in the third period.  Not much good to see here, either.

In the end…

We would maintain that the circumstances surrounding this team with the roster changes, new line combinations, and young defensemen working into the lineup argue for looking at the first 20 games as something of a “shakedown cruise” to see what combinations work and to give the young defensemen a chance to acclimate themselves to the pace and rigor at the NHL level.  In that context, a .500 record in standings points through three weeks is not a terrible state in which they find themselves.

However, they have persistent issues with a lack of balance in scoring, are subject to breakdowns, allow far too many shots, are inconsistent on both sides of special teams, and they don’t put teams away.  And now, the Caps embark on what could be the most difficult part of their early schedule.  They will not resume action until Thursday of Week 4, but it begins their annual western Canada trip that will conclude with back-to-back games on Saturday and Sunday in Edmonton and Calgary.  Perhaps getting on the road will focus their attention on things that need work.  And there are a few things that need work.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Alex Ovechkin (1-0-1, GWG, 29 shot attempts, 15 shots on goal, became all-time leader in overtime game-winning goals (20))
  • Second Star: Andre Burakovsky (1-1-2, 15 shot attempts, 10 shots on goal)
  • Third Star: Christian Djoos (1-0-1, second career NHL goal in his fifth game)

Saturday, October 21, 2017

A NO-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 9: Panthers 4 - Capitals 1

The Washington Capitals took the ice looking to sweep a back-to-back set of weekend games, but they fell behind early, spent too much time in the penalty box, and didn’t have enough late in a 4-1 loss to the Florida Panthers.

First Period

It took the Panthers just 84 seconds to open the scoring when Christian Djoos gave up the puck behind the Capitals’ net, Jamie McCann picking it up for the Cats and feeding Connor Brickley for a point blank shot that beat goalie Philipp Grubauer.  It was all the scoring until the last minute when the Panthers doubled their lead, the goal coming on a power play.  Vincent Trocheck carried the puck down the right wing wall into the Caps’ zone.  From the edge of the right wing circle he fed Jonathan Huberdeau in the middle, and Huberdeau fed the puck to Evgenii Dadonov steaming down the middle.  Dadonov had room to take a couple of strides, get a better shooting angle, and ripped a shot past Grubauer to make it 2-0 going to the first intermission

Second Period

Penalties killed the Caps in the first dozen minutes of the first period.  They took four penalties in the first 12:20, the middle two giving the Panthers a 5-on-3 advantage for 1:45.  Florida scored on the two-man advantage when Vincent Trocheck one-timed feed from Aleksander Barkov over Grubauer’s left shoulder, and it was 3-0, 8:58 into the period.

The Caps got one back late in the period when Chritian Djoos walked the puck across the high slot, found a space in the Panther defense, and ripped a shot over goalie James Reimer’s left shoulder just under the crossbar to make it 3-1 at the 15:23 mark.  The goal seemed to give the Caps a spark, but they could not solve Reimer for a second goal before intermission.

Third Period

The Caps had their chances late in the period, Evgeny Kunetsov and Brett Connolly both having good looks from deep to Reimer’s left, but both were turned away.  Then, with the Caps having pulled Philipp Grubauer for an extra skater, they drew a penalty on Ian McCoshen with 1:51 left in regiulation.  But with the Caps with a 6-4 man advantage, Barkov scooped up a loose puck in the high slot and backhanded it the length of the ice into the empty net for the final 4-1 margin.

Other stuff…

-- The Caps out-shot the Panthers, 16-7, in the first period (13-2 at even strength) and still trailed 2-0.  Nine of the 18 skaters had at least one shot.

-- Andre Burakovsky had a golden chance late in the second period to get the Caps within a goal when a rebound trickled off the left pad of James Reimer and slid to Burakovsky.  The puck got caught up in Burakovsky’s skates, leaving Burakovsky with only an attempt to backhand the puck back between his skates to the empty side of the net with Reimer down, but Burakovsky could not get his stick on the puck, and it was cleared out of danger.

-- Nicklas Backstrom had five shots on goal over the first 40 minutes, at that point already being his high in shots on goal for any game this season.  He finished with six shots on goal.

-- The shorthanded goal by Aleksander Barkov was the third time in four games the Caps allowed a shorthanded goal and their fourth allowed in nine games so far.

-- The Caps out-shot the Panthers, 34-9, at even strength, 42-23 overall for the game.  They had almost as many shots on goal (42) as Florida had attempts (47).

-- Every Capital skater but Brooks Orpik recorded a shot on goal.  John Carlson led the team with seven.  He also led the club with 11 shot attempts.

-- This was the fifth time in nine games that the Caps allowed an opponent five or more power play opportunities (Florida had six).  Only once this season in nine games have the Caps had more power play chances than their opponent (3-2 against Detroit on Friday night).

-- The Caps did not lose consecutive games on home ice all of last season.  This game was their third straight loss on Capital One Arena ice.  Change the name back.

-- Philipp Grubauer’s record dropped to 0-2-1, but it is not as if he’s had a lot of support.  The Caps have a total of six goals in front of him in three games, half of them coming in his 4-3 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

-- The Caps were sluggish in offensive zone draws, winning just 17 of 37 (45.9 percent).

In the end…

Again, it seems if the top six forwards aren’t scoring, the Caps aren’t winning.  And the well-worn route to the penalty box made the task just that much more difficult.  The Caps have a lot to work on and six days to do it before they visit the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday night.  They had better spend their time well.  This is a team spinning its wheels at the moment.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 9: Panthers at Capitals, October 21st

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Fresh off their 4-3 overtime win over the Detroit Red Wings on Friday night, the Washington Capitals return to the friendly confines of Capital One Arena on Saturday night to host the Florida Panthers.

The Panthers are coming off a Friday night match-up of their own, losing 4-3 at home against the Pittsburgh Penguins. It brought Florida’s record to 2-4-0. Against the Capitals they will be looking for their first road win after dropping decisions in visits to the Tampa Bay Lightning, Penguins, and the Philadelphia Flyers.

Florida has had some trouble keeping pucks out of their own net in the early going. After they allowed 20 goals in their first five games (4.00 per game) before last night, they allowed anotherfour to the Penguins.

Jonathan Huberdeau has been trying to live up to his third overall draft pick status since he was selected in that spot by the Panthers in 2011.  He won the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie in the abbreviated 2012-2013 season on a 14-17-31 scoring line in 48 games.  But he has just one 20-goal season in this five NHL campaigns coming into this one, that one in 2015-2016.  He topped 50 points twice, his career high of 59 coming in that same 2015-2016 season.  Last year he was held to 10 goals in 31 games but lost 51 games to an Achilles tendon injury.  Huberdeau leads the team with three goals, all of them coming in road games.  In 14 career games against the Caps, he is 4-6-10, minus-1.

Defenseman Aaron Ekblad is another top-three pick on the Panther roster, the first overall pick of the 2014 draft.  He has had little trouble living up to his top-pick billing so far.  In each of this first three seasons he recorded ten or more goals from the blue line, although he hit the ten goal mark last season despite missing 14 games to concussion and neck injuries.  As it is, Ekblad tops his 2014 draft class in games played (233), goals among defensemen (39), and points among defensemen (101).  He is already 2-3-5 in six games this season for the Panthers.  In eight career games against the Caps, he is 1-1-2, even.

1.  Through Thursday’s games, Florida was recording a whopping 41.8 shots on goal per game, although their plus-8.8 shot differential was just second to the Edmonton Oilers (plus-11.5). Not that all those shots matter; Florida is 1-3-0 when outshooting their opponent.

2.  One the one hand, the Panthers have scoring balance; eight players had four or more points through Thursday’s games. On the other hand, they have three players with five points (Evgenii Dadonov, Nick Bjugstad, and Jonathan Huberdeau), tied for 86th in the league. They seem to lack a go-to scorer.

3.  Only four teams had more penalty minutes per game than Florida (14:35) going into Friday’s games, but the Panthers actually had a positive differential in special teams ice time (plus-8:45, seventh-best in the league).

4.  Watch the first period carefully. Through Thursday’s games, the Panthers scored one goal in first periods in five games, lowest first period goal total in the league. Not that they give up a lot; their four goals allowed is stingier than all but four teams.

5.  Florida had not scored first in a game until they did so in their loss to Pittsburgh on Friday night, the last team to score first in a game.

1.  When the Caps out-shot the Detroit Red Wings, 41-37, in their overtime win on Friday night, it was just the second time in eight games that the Caps outshot an opponent.  They out-shot the New Jersey Devils in a 5-2 win on October 13th.

2.  The Caps should outshoot opponents more often.  They are one of eight teams that have not yet last when doing so.  The thing is, though, only the Los Angeles Kings in that group has outshot teams more than twice (the Caps have done so twice).

3.  Only the St. Louis Blues have allowed more third period goals (13) than the Caps (12).

4.  The Caps have the third-worst shot attempts-for percentage in the league when ahead in games (39.18), ahead of only Ottawa and the New York Rangers.

5.  The Caps have some work to do for their top three of Evgeny Kuznetsov, Alex Ovechkin, and Nicklas Backstrom to regain the top spots in league scoring that they held before Friday’s games.  Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov now hold the top two spots, with Kuznetsov and Backstrom tied for third.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Florida: Radim Vrbata

Drafted in the seventh round by the Colorado Avalanche in 1999, spending parts of two seasons with the Avs, then off to Carolina, back to Chicago, out to Phoenix, over to Tampa Bay, back to Phoenix, up to Vancouver, back lone more time to Phoenix (by this time “Arizona”), and now in Florida. Radim Vrbata has put on more miles over 16 seasons, it seems, than some Apollo moon missions. He has quietly assembled an interesting body of work, ranking 11th in games played among active players (1,020; more than Eric Staal or Henrik Zetterberg), tied for 21st in goals (279, with Patrick Sharp), 30th in points (ahead of Claude Giroux and Chris Kunitz), and eighth in shots on goal (3,031; ahead of Joe Thornton and Jeff Carter). Vrbata has yet to score a goal for the Panthers, but with four assists he is in that large clot of players that comprise the team’s leading overall scorers. Vrabata, who at 36 is the second-oldest skater on the team (Derek MacKenzie is two days older), is coming off one of his best years with a 20—35-55 scoring line with the Coyotes last season, and he is 7-5-12, minus-6, in 20 career games against the Caps.

Washington: Brett Connolly

Last season, his first with the Caps, Brett Connolly started slowly, scoring one goal in his first 11 games before finishing the season with a career high 15 goals in 66 games.  This season, he is starting slowly again with one goal in eight games, that goal coming on Opening Night in the Caps’ 5-4 Gimmick win over the Ottawa Senators.  When he recorded a shot on goal against the Detroit Red Wings on Friday night, he broke a three-game streak without a shot on goal.  Only once this season does Connolly have more than one shot on goal, that in the Caps’ 4-3 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on October 9th.  It follows a similar patter to last season when Connolly recorded only four shots over an eight-game stretch before breaking out with a goal and an assist with four shots in a 3-1 win over Buffalo in late November.  In 13 career games against Florida, Connolly is 0-3-3, minus-3.

In the end…

This is the second straight weekend that the Caps are playing back-to-back games.  The second half of last weekend’s set did not go well, losing to the Philadelphia Flyers, 8-2.  It was, however, the Caps’ third game in four nights.  They do not have that problem in this game, the team getting two full days off after their loss to Toronto on Tuesday before beating the Red Wings on Friday.  And, they are at home for this contest. 

Capitals 4 – Panthers 2

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 8: Capitals at Red Wings, October 20th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals take to the road again, dropping in for their first visit to Little Caesars Arena in Detroit to face the Red Wings on Friday night.  Both teams are coming off losses to the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Caps dropping a 2-0 decision at Capital One Arena on Tuesday night, while the Red Wings lost to the Leafs by a 6-3 margin at Air Canada Centre in Toronto on Wednesday night.

Washington will be looking to improve on their 2-1-1 road record on Friday.  It is precisely the same road record they took into their fifth road contest last season.  The Red Wings have split their two games to date in their new digs, an Opening Night win against the Minnesota Wild and a 3-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning last Monday.  Overall, the Wings have been reasonably tight on defense, allowing three or fewer goals in their first six games.  Then they gave up that six-pack to the Maple Leafs on Wednesday.

Henrik Zetterberg has set the bar high for performance in the early going for the Wings.  He leads the team in goals (four) and is tied for second on the club in points (eight) through seven games.  His scoring includes a four-point game (1-3-4) in a 6-3 win over the Vegas Golden Knights, one in which he assisted on the game-tying and game-winning goals.  It is one of 18 games this season in which a player scored four or more points.  It was his 15th career game with four of more points, third on the Red Wings’ all-time list (Steve Yzerman had 50 such games, and Sergei Fedorov had 19), but only the fourth time in his career he accomplished the feat on the road.  In 20 career games against Washington, Zetterberg is 7-8-15, minus-3.

Dylan Larkin also has eight points for the Wings to start the season.  The start is a welcome development for Wings fans, given what looked like a classic case of a sophomore slump last season.  After a rookie year in which he was 23-22-45, plus-11, in 80 games and finished fifth in the Calder Trophy voting for the league’s top rookie, he was 17-15-32, minus-28 (tied for the sixth-worst plus-minus in the league).  The odd part of his scoring line is that it is light in goals (one, a power play goal in the season opener), but he seems to be shooting in a bit of bad luck, too, scoring that goal on 16 shots (6.3 percent).  He has just three goals in his last 19 regular season games dating back to last season.  Larkin is 1-1-2, plus-1, in six career games against Washington.

Jimmy Howard got the start in goal against the Maple Leafs on Wednesday, but he didn’t finish.  Howard allowed three goals on four shots in 15:46 before he was relieved in favor of Petr Mrazek.  It was the second straight iffy performance for Howard.  After starting the season with a 3-0-0, 1.62, .955 record, he gave up three goals on 26 shots in a 3-2 loss to Tampa Bay before his early exit against Toronto, leaving him with a 0-1-0 (one no-decision), 4.86, .800 record in his last two appearances.  Howard did reach an important personal milestone this season.  When he got the win on Opening Night against the Minnesota Wild, he became the third goaltender in Red Wings history to reach the 200-win mark.  Terry Sawchuk (351) and Chris Osgood (317) are the others.  In nine career appearances against the Caps, Howard is 3-2-3, 2.90, .899.

1.  The Riley Sheahan watch resumes.  Sheahan, who famously played in 79 games last season without recording a goal before getting two goals, including the last goal to be scored at Joe Louis Arena, in a 4-2 win over the New Jersey Devils to end the Wings’ season, has yet to record a goal in seven games yet this season.

2.  The Red Wings have issues hitting the net with shots.  Their 87 missed shots this season is topped by only four teams.

3.  Here is an odd fact.  Detroit is one of five teams to have taken more than 450 faceoffs this season (through Wednesday’s games).  Four of those teams, including Detroit, are under 50 percent in wins. Practice, in this instance, does not make perfect.

4.  Detroit has taken a lead into the first intermission just once this season (they won).  It is not a league low.  Four teams – Boston, Montreal, Anaheim, and Florida – have failed to take a lead after 20 minutes so far. 

5.  Slow starts have plagued the Red Wings so far.  They have two first period goals in seven games, while allowing eight.  Only Florida has fewer goals scored in the first period (one), and only five teams have allowed more.

1.  We noted that there have been 18 four-or-more point games by NHL players this season.  No team has more such performances than the Caps, who have three –Alex Ovechkin (4-0-4) against Montreal on October 7th, Evgeny Kuznetsov (0-4-4) on the same date, and Nicklas Backstrom (1-3-4) against New Jersey on October 13th.

2.  Whatever the Caps are doing in the first periods of games, they need to bottle it and drink it for the second and third periods.  They have outscored teams by a 9-4 margin in the first periods of games, but they have a minus-2 goal differential in the second period and a minus-4 differential in the third.

3.  Only two teams – New Jersey and Toronto – have more wins by three or more goals (three apiece) than the Caps (two).  That’s your “it’s early” fact.

4.  The Caps are one of six teams to have outshot only one team, fewest occurrences in the league.   That was in the 5-2 win over New Jersey, when the Caps out-shot the Devils, 28-23, which also happens to be the only instance so far in which the Caps held an opponent under 30 shots on goal.

5.  Alex Ovechkin has now been outscored by every team.  He has nine goals; the Montreal Canadiens are 31st and last in the league with ten.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Detroit: Mike Green

Caps fans will remember him as a “Young Gun,” along with Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, and Nicklas Backstrom.  Now, only Niklas Kronwall among Detroit Red Wings defensemen has appeared in more NHL games  (799) than Green (728).  He is fifth among active defensemen in goals scored (135), eighth in points (440).  This season, Green leads the team in points overall (1-8-9) and power play points (0-4-4), while averaging a team-high 22:48 in iced time per game.  Green got off to a hot start with eight assists in his first four games, including one of those 18 four-point games across the league this season, that coming when he had four assists on Opening Night against Minnesota.  Even with the hots start, though, Green appears not to be the offensive difference maker from the blue line with the Wings that he was with the Caps.  Since arriving in Detroit in 2015-2016, Green ranks 18th in goals (22) and 27th in points (80).  Good numbers, but no longer the elite level he displayed in his best years in Washington.  Green has not yet recorded a point against his old team in five games and is a minus-4.

Washington:  Tom Wilson

It has been a whirlwind start to the season for Tom Wilson, although perhaps not in the best way.  Wilson has already been suspended twice, the latter resulting in his missing the first four games of the season, and in the three games in which he appeared so far, he has four shots on goal, 15 penalty minutes, 35:18 total minutes of ice time.  He is also without a point.  He will apparently get to remedy that with an opportunity on a scoring line, moved to the left side of the Nicklas Backstrom line with T.J.Oshie on the right, Andre Burakovsky taking Wilson’s old spot on the third line.  It is a chance for him to break a one goal in 24 regular season games dating back to last season.  This is an opportunity for Wilson in another respect.  The Red Wings are one of three teams in the NHL (not counting the Vegas Golden Knights, a team that he has not yet faced) against which he has not recorded a point.  He is 0-0-0, minus-1 in 12 career games against Detroit.  Oddly enough, Wilson has only six penalty minutes in those 12 games against the Wings, the fewest he has against any opponent except San Jose (four in six games) and Vancouver (four in seven games).

In the end…

These are two teams that are not what they were.  Detroit is far removed from the Stanley Cup contending clubs, last appearing in a Cup final in 2009 and last winning a playoff series in 2013.  They have dropped standings points in each of the last three seasons, from 100 to 93 to 79 last season, missing the postseason for the first time since 1990.  The Caps are coming off consecutive Presidents Trophy-winning seasons, but are thought of this season as more of a middle-of-the bracket contender than on a short list of serious Cup contenders.  Both teams are bringing two-game losing streaks into this contest at the moment (through Wednesday’s games), the longest in the Eastern Conference.  It might be early in the season, but the Red Wings are a club against which the Caps might be fighting for a playoff spot.  It makes the two points available here an important commodity.

Capitals 3 – Red Wings 2

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

A NO-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 7: Maple Leafs 2 - Capitals 0

When the Washington Capitals and Toronto Maple Leafs took the ice on Tuesday night, they averaged nine goals a game on offense between them.   That alone made the matchup one that could feature a lot of goals. Things did not turn out that way as the Leafs took a low-scoring duel by a 2-0 margin at Capital One Arena.

And even that final score did not capture how close to the vest this game was played. The teams went scoreless for the first 45 minutes before Toronto took the lead. The Caps were unable to clear the puck out of their own end, and Morgan Rielly settled the puck just inside the Caps’ blue line. His shot bounced through to goalie Braden Holtby, who made the original save. He left the rebound just out of reach, though, and Connor Brown stuffed it between the pads at the 5:53 mark of the period to make it 1-0.

That was all the Leafs needed, but they added an empty net goal by Nazem Kadri in the last minute, and Frederik Andersen stopped all 30 shot he faced for the win in the 2-0 shutout.

Other stuff…

-- The last time the Capitals were shutout on this ice sheet was also a 2-0 score, that coming in Game 7 of last spring’s Eastern Conference semifinal against the Pittsburgh Penguins to end their season. Ironic, ain’t it?

-- Brooks Orpik had almost half the blocked shots (four) that the Caps recorded for the evening (nine).

-- This was the first time in Capitals history that they were shut out by Toronto on home ice. The last time the Maple Leafs shut out the Caps was in a 3-0 Leafs win in Toronto on March 6, 2007.

-- The Caps did hold Auston Matthews to one shot on goal and just three shot attempts in 17 minutes of ice time.

-- Tyler Graovac got a sweater for this one, but it might not have to be laundered. He skated just 3:19 before he left in the second period with an upper-body injury.

-- Hey kids, buck up.  The Caps were 3-2-1 after six games last season, just as they were before this game to start this season.  Then again, the Caps didn’t lose their second home game until their sixth contest on home ice in Game 12 of the season.  They are just 1-2-0 on home ice at the moment.

-- John Carlson had seven shot attempts.  That’s the good news; he’s being active from the back end in the offensive zone.  The bad news is, only two of those seven attempts made it to the net.  Five were blocked.

-- Andre Burakovsky showed signs of life.  He had four shots on goal, a number not seen since Opening Night in Ottawa.  He had a total of two shots on goal in his last four games before this one.

-- The Caps hit the 30-shot mark for the first time this season.  And wouldn’t you know it would come while getting shut out.  The hockey gods have an odd sense of humor.

-- Braden Holtby has brushed off that iffy game against Ottawa to open the season.  Since then he has a goals against average of 1.77 and, after stopping 28 of 29 shots last night, a .945 save percentage in four appearances.  Unfortunately for Holtby and the Caps, his record in those four games is 2-2-0.

In the end…

There was good and bad to take away from this game.  The good…they stopped a very productive offensive team cold.  One goal allowed against a goaltender 45 minutes into the game against a team averaging more than five goals a game can’t be considered bad.  But the bad…failing to score on home ice against a team allowing almost four goals a game.  At some point, the bottom six and defense have to show something on offense.  Not every night, but from time to time.  They haven’t done much so far, and it was on display last night.

The early schedule for this season is not kind to the Capitals, and it gets more difficult over the next two weeks.  Four of their next five games are on the road, three of them coming in their annual trip to western Canada.  What is more, four of those games will be played in two back-to-back sets, at Detroit and against Florida, and at Edmonton and at Calgary next week.  If the Caps cannot find a way to put more pieces of their game together over more games, they could find themselves looking up at a lot of teams by the time they wrap up their first dozen games of the season in Alberta next week.

Monday, October 16, 2017

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 7: Maple Leafs at Capitals, October 17th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

After taking two days to lick their wounds after being throttled by the Philadelphia Flyers, 8-2, on Saturday night, the Washington Capitals return to the familiar ice sheet at Capital One Arena on Tuesday to host the Toronto Maple Leafs, the squad they defeated in six games in last spring’s first round playoff series.

This will be only the third home game of the young season for the Caps, the club having split their first two decisions, a 6-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens and a 3-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.  The Maple Leafs are coming off a 4-3 overtime win over the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night.  Their visit to Washington will be their first visit to the American side of the border this season.

Toronto brings a still young roster to Washington, and the three youngest players on that roster might be their three most promising skaters.  Autson Matthews (20), Mitch Marner (20), and William Nylander (21) might be the future of the franchise, but they are a large part of the present.  Matthews, the first overall pick in the 2016 entry draft, brings a five-game points streak to open the season in to this contest.  That streak extends to nine games, counting the last four games of the Leafs’ opening round series with the Caps last spring.  Whereas last season he started with a band – a four-goal game in his NHL debut – he has been consistent in his goal scoring so far, recording a total of five goals in five games and held without a goal just once.  Matthews, who last season became just the 16th player in NHL history to record at least 40 goals in his rookie season (he finished atop the rookie class with 69 points), and first since Alex Ovechkin did it (54 goals) in his 2005-2006 rookie year, shows little sign of slowing down, although his 29.4 percent shooting percentage is unlikely to be sustainable.  He is 1-2-3, even, in three career games against the Caps.

Marner and Nylander might have been caught up in Matthews’ wake as rookies last season, but they each had 61 points, finishing tied for third in rookie scoring last season (Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine was second with 64 points) and finishing fifth and sixth, respectively, in the voting for the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie (won by Matthews).  They have had productive starts, Nylander with five points (1-4-5) and Marner with four (1-3-4), and each have a pair of power play points.  There the similarities so far this season end, though.  Nylander is a team-best plus-8 (tied with Nikita Zaitsev), while Marner is a team-worst minus-6.  Nylander has points in four of five games so far, and Marner has points in his last two outings, making this a formidable trio the Caps will face.  Nylander is 0-1-1, minus-3, in three career games against the Caps, while Marner is 2-3-5, minus-2, in three career contests against Washington.

Being a run-and-gun sort of team, the Maple Leafs leading the league in scoring offense (5.20 goals per game) is not surprising.  Neither is the flip side of that, their 3.80 goals allowed per game being third-worst in the league.  It has made for a difficult start of the season for Frederik Andersen, who has played every minute in goal for Toronto so far.  Only six of 58 goalies to dress so far this season have faced more shots than Andersen (158), and his goals against average (3.76) ranks 46th in that group, while his save percentage (.880) ranks 47th.  Like Capital goaltenders so far, the barrage has been more or less constant, his having faced more than 30 shots in four of the five games in which he appeared so far.  In two career appearances against the Caps, he is 1-0-1, 4.00, .875.

1.  Toronto already has 13 different skaters with goals, more than half the total they had all of last season (24).  Of the 20 skaters to dress for the club so far, only former Capital Eric Fehr is without a point.

2.  The Maple Leafs spread their power play scoring around.  Ten different players have at least one power play point so far.  Six different players share the eight power play goals on what is the league’s most efficient power play (30.8 percent), none of them with more than two (Nazem Kadri, James van Riemsdyk).

3.  Protecting the puck has been something of a casualty of the Leafs’ high-octane style.  Only four teams have been charged with more giveaways than Toronto (65), and their ratio of takeaways-to-giveaways (0.58) is poor.

4.  Toronto opens and closes fast.  Their 12 goals scored in the first period is most in the league, while their nine goals scored in the third is ranked third in the league.

5.  The Maple Leafs lean heavily on one defensive pair in killing penalties. Ron Hainsey (6:32) and Nikita Zaitsev (5:35) are one-two in the league in shorthanded ice time per game among defensemen.

1.  The eight goals the Caps gave up to the Flyers on Saturday night was the sixth time since the 2004-2005 lockout that they allowed eight goals (they have not allowed more in any game over that span).  Every instance was on the road, and four of them were against teams from Pennsylvania, both Philadelphia and Pittsburgh applying the suffering twice.

2.  Playing within the rules has been a struggle for Washington.  They are sixthin penalty minutes per game (14:39), fourth in penalties taken (33), tied for fifth in minor penalties taken (27, with the Nashville Predators), tied for second in misconduct penalties (2, with Nashville), and tied for second in bench penalties (2, with eight other teams).

3.  The Capitals will provide an interesting foil for the Maple Leafs in one respect.  While Toronto is first in first-period goals scored (12), the Caps are ranked third with nine of their own first period markers.

4.  Washington has the top three point-getters in the league through Sunday’s games: Nicklas Backstrom (3-8-11), Evgeny Kuznetsov (0-11-11), and Alex Ovechkin (9-1-10).

5.  Kuznetsov is the second player over the last 30 years to record 11 assists or more in his first six games and do it without the benefit of scoring a goal.  Peter Forsberg was 0-12-12 in his first six games of the 2005-2006 season with Philadelphia.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Toronto: Patrick Marleau

Patrick Marleau has been a “left coaster” of sorts all his life.  Born in Aneroid, Saskatchewan; he played amateur hockey for the Swift Current (Saskatchewan) Legionnaires and the Seattle Thunderbirds; and then he spent 19 seasons with the San Jose Sharks.  Now, he is spending the latter part of his NHL career as the troop leader, in a manner of speaking, to a young and precocious Maple Leaf squad.  Marleau has a fine body of work, having passed the 500-goal mark in his career last season with the Sharks and finishing last season with 1,082 career points, one of 86 players in league history to top the 1,000 point mark.  But one amazing aspect of his game is his incredible durability.  In 19 seasons before this, Marleau missed a total of 31 games and never more than eight in any one season, that one being his rookie year in 1997-1998 with the Sharks.  He has dressed for every regular season game in each of the last eight seasons, a streak he is adding to with the Maple Leafs this season.  Marleau is 9-13-22, plus-5, in 27 career games against the Capitals.

Washington: Lars Eller

When folks talk about sustainability, they usually speak in terms of a player’s ability to keep a run of goal scoring going or maintaining a shooting percentage above a certain level or keeping a streak of points going.  Lars Eller presents a bit of a different look in terms of sustainability.  In eight seasons before this one, Eller never posted a faceoff winning percentage over 53.2 percent and had a career winning percentage of 49.2.  However, this year he has been beastly in the circle, winning 61.7 percent of his 81 draws, seventh in the league among 86 players taking 50 or more draws.  But what has not changed from last season is a dry hole in goal scoring.  Eller had one goal in his first ten games last season and two in his first 29 contests; he has none in six games so far this season.  His third line center duties would, conventionally speaking, tilt more toward defensive responsibilities and being an effective possession player.  He has been that for the Caps.  But the team also needs some more bottom-six production than it is getting, and Eller needs to be a part of that.  In 32 career games against Toronto, he is 7-10-17, plus-3, the 17 points being the most he has against any team in the league. Whether he plays or not is an open question as he was reported to be ill this morning and not certain of being able to go on Tuesday.

In the end…

The Maple Leafs look a lot like the 2009-2010 Caps – young, fun to watch, not terribly concerned with the dull stuff like “responsibility in their own end.”  There might be teams that can skate with them, but few if any can outskate them.  And the depth of their offense might be unmatched.  This is precisely the sort of team that would give the Caps fits if Washington iced a healthy group.  But with Matt Niskanen – arguably their best defensemen – out for the foreseeable future, the Caps are going to have their hands full trying to contain this group.  If ever there was a need for “system” to trump “skill,” this will be it.  These teams seem likely to trade chances all night in what might be the highest total scoring game of the season the Caps will play.

Caps 6 – Toronto 5