The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The Washington Capitals follow up one of their longest off-ice stretches of the season – five days (matching a stretch they had in late October) – with their longest home stand of the season, starting with a contest against the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday night at Capital One Arena.
The lull in the schedule came at what might seem an inopportune time for the Caps, who take a three-game winning streak into this game, all of them against difficult opponents (Ottawa, Tampa Bay, and Toronto). The last time the Caps had a five day break in the schedule, they went on their western Canada tour and lost two of three games. Perhaps of relevance to this game, in the first game coming out of that five-game break, the Caps fell behind the Vancouver Canucks, 3-0, before the first intermission, eventually trailing by a 5-0 margin before going quietly in a 6-2 loss.
Washington will be looking to avoid a similar fate, and this might be the opponent against which they can do so. When the Kings defeated the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday night, 4-1, at Little Caesars Arena, it was their first win on the road in regulation time since they defeated the Montreal Canadiens, 4-0, back on October 26th. Since then, the Kings are 3-2-1 on the road, two of the wins coming in overtime.
Over those six road contests, Anze Kopitar leads the team in goals (six) and points (eight). Kopitar is following up what was, for him, a disappointing 2016-2017 season (12-40-52, minus-10) by piling up points with a vengeance. He has already tied his goal output of last year (12), and his 28 points is tied for ninth in the league through Tuesday’s games. His 1.12 points per game pace so far would be, if carried through to the end of the season, his best in the NHL, surpassing the 81 points in 82 games (0.99) he had in the 2009-2010 season. Kopitar has points in eight of 11 road contests this season and has three three-point games among them, recording two goals and an assist against the San Jose Sharks, the Columbus Blue Jackets, and just this past Tuesday against Detroit. In 14 career games against the Caps, Kopitar is 9-5-14, plus-3.
Since he came into the league in the 2008-2009 season, defenseman Drew Doughty is one of five blueliners to appear in 700 or more games (713), joining Keith Yandle (717), Brent Seabrook (715), Ryan Suter (708), and Shea Weber (700). Over that same period, Doughty ranks eighth among defensemen in points (380), seventh in goals (96), sixth in assists (284), and second in total minutes played (18,692). He shows little sign of slowing down at the moment, posting points in six of his last seven games overall (1-6-7). His durability is impressive. The last time he skated less than 20 minutes in a game was April 3, 2014 in a game against the San Jose Sharks in which he skated just 5:21 in the first period before sustaining a bruised left shoulder that would keep him out of four games to end the regular season. Those happen to be the only games he has missed since he missed five games of the 2011-2012 season. Doughty is 1-4-5, plus-3, in 13 career games against the Caps.
Adrian Kempe leads the Kings in scoring among rookies. The term rookie barely applies here. As the astute NHL fan knows (and now we quote from the NHL guidelines), “to be considered a rookie, a player must not have played in more than 25 NHL games in any preceding seasons, nor in six or more NHL games in each of any two preceding seasons. Any player at least 26 years of age (by September 15th of that season) is not considered a rookie.” Last season, his first in the NHL, Kempe appeared in 25 games, going 2-4-6, minus-3. After struggling at the end of his first year stint last season (no points in his last 11 games), he came out strong this season to rank 12th among all rookies in points so far this season. Kempe had a blazing stretch over a five-game period in late October when he went 6-3-9, including a hat-trick and four-point game against the Montreal Canadiens on October 18th. He is one of three rookies with hat tricks this season (Alex DeBrincat and Brock Boeser being the others), and he is one of four rookies with a four-point game (DeBrincat, Boeser, and Mathew Barzal rounding out the quartet). He had a goal in his only career appearance against the Caps to date, in a 4-2 Kings win on last March 11th.
1. It might be a trivial thing (or a really, really random fact), but the Kings avoid penalties of a certain sort. Outside of minor and major penalties this season (that is, including only misconducts, game misconducts, match, and bench penalties), the Kings have recorded only two infractions this season. Only the Vegas Golden Knights have recorded fewer (a bench minor).
2. The Kings won Stanley Cups playing a rugged, physical style. It has not abated. The Kings rank third in the league in credited hits (623), trailing only Arizona (646) and Edmonton (718).
3. On the other hand, they have difficulty pilfering the puck, or at least getting credit for it. Los Angeles ranks dead last in the league in takeaways (125). That they have the seventh-most giveaways raises the issue of whether this is a team that turns over the puck too much without getting many in return.
4. Los Angeles does a good job winning games when they score first (tied for eighth in winning percentage when they do), but they just do not do it often enough. They have scored first in just nine of their 25 games. Only Edmonton has scored first in fewer games (eight).
5. The Kings do not have especially impressive possession numbers overall (14th in shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5: 50.59 percent), but they are good in tight games, ranking fifth in both tied situations (53.83 percent) and close situations (52.85 percent; numbers from NHL.com).
1. After going 1-3-0 in their first four home games, the Caps are 7-1-0 in their last eight home contests, outscoring opponents, 24-15, and holding four of their last six opponents to a single goal.
2. In that 7-1-0 home stretch, the Caps’ special teams have hardly been impressive. The power play (19.4 percent) and penalty kill (76.9 percent) have combined for a rather weak 96.3 special teams index.
3. Only three teams in the league have more penalty minutes per game taken than the Caps (11:14), more penalties in total (117), and more minor penalties (103).
4. Washington is fourth in the league in winning percentage when scoring first (.800), but they are another team that could do so more often, scoring first in just ten of 25 games so far this season.
5. No team has fewer players with five or more goals scored than Washington, with four (Alex Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Jakub Vrana). Six other teams also have four (Boston, Calgary, Dallas, Edmonton, Ottawa, and San Jose).
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Los Angeles: Jonathan Quick
Jonathan Quick looks like Jonathan Quick again. After a 2017-2017 season limited to 17 games due to a groin injury, Quick has re-established himself as one of the best netminders in the league. Among 36 goalies with at least 500 minutes (through Tuesday’s games), Quick ranked sixth in the league in goals against average (2.28) and save percentage (.929). His two shutouts were topped only by Devan Dubnyk, Sergei Bobrovsky, and Frederik Andersen with three apiece. That save percentage number is, for the moment, Quick’s best since he posted a .929 save percentage (his career best) in 2011-2012, a year in which he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the postseason during the Kings’ Stanley Cup run that season. But his current .929 save percentage comes with some caveats. His save percentage of .926 when the Kings are shorthanded ranks fifth among 36 goalies appearing in at least ten games. However, his even strength save percentage of .926 ranks just 14th in that same group. What he has been this season is consistent, whether at home (5-5-1, 2.27, .930, one shutout) or on the road (6-3-0, 2.29, .927, one shutout). In nine career games against the Caps, Quick is 7-2-0, 2.39, .915.
Washington: Braden Holtby
“Home Warrior” would be a good nickname for Braden Holtby this season. His .942 save percentage is third best in the league among 35 goalies with at least 250 minutes logged on home ice, just rounding error behind Ben Bishop and six percentage points behind Sergei Bobrovsky. His 1.89 goals against average ranks fourth among that group on home ice. It is what made the performance against the Calgary Flames, one in which he allowed four goals on 39 shots, so odd. In 168 games on home ice since he came into the league, it was just the 21st time he allowed four or more goals. It seemed to be little more than a speed bump, though, as he returned to his customary home ice form in stopping 29 of 31 shots in a 5-2 win over the Ottawa Senators before stopping 27 of 29 shots in a 4-2 win in Toronto over the Maple Leafs last Saturday. Over the last four seasons, including this one, no goalie in the league has allowed two or fewer goals in more games than Holtby, and it’s not close. He has done so 139 times in 220 games played. Pekka Rinne has done it 122 times in 210 games. Holtby is 1-1-1, 2.33, .920, with one shutout in three career appearances against Los Angeles.
In the end…
The Kings started hot, going 11-2-2 in their first 15 games, but they have been skating in mud lately, going 3-6-1 in their last ten contests. Only twice in those ten contests did the Kings score more than two goals, both times recording wins (the other win was in a 2-1 Gimmick decision over Anaheim). Only twice in that same stretch did the Kings allow four or more goals, which suggests this might be a low scoring affair, especially with the fine play of Quick and Holby in goal of late. This might not be the best of signs for the Caps, though, who are 1-9-0 in games in which they scored two or fewer goals, and the win came in a trick shot competition against the Edmonton Oilers. Think of this game as evening things out a bit.
Capitals 2 – Kings 1