Saturday, October 21, 2017

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

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