Sunday, December 31, 2017

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 13

With Week 13 for the Washington Capitals in the books, the Caps brought down the curtain on the 2017 portion of their 2017-2018 season.  It was an odd week, an historic week, and ultimately a successful week that left the Caps at the top of the Metropolitan Division as the year comes to a close.

Record: 2-0-1

Say what you will about the Caps’ shortcomings – they have bad possession numbers, they aren’t as deep as last season, etc. – but they grind out points.  Week 13 was their tenth consecutive week at .500 or better in standings points earned of standings points available, and they are 20-9-2 over that span.  It was just the third week in 13 in which they did not lose a game in regulation, but it was the eighth time that they recorded at least two wins in a week. 

The odd part of the week for the Caps was in their first game, a 1-0 Gimmick loss to the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.  The teams played 65 minutes without a goal being scored, leaving things to the Gimmick.  The Rangers won in the freestyle phase, the second time in the Gimmick era that the Caps played to a 0-0 tie after 65 minutes.  They lost their other instance, that to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the season finale of the 2013-2014 season.

The Caps would go to extra time in their following contest, a 4-3 trick shot win over the Boston Bruins that was their fifth extra time game in six contests, an odd occurrence in itself, given that the Caps had played extra time in five of their first 33 games.

Washington would not need extra time to defeat the New Jersey Devils, 5-2, to end the week and tie the Tampa Bay Lightning for the most home wins this season (16).  It also left the Caps with a 6-3-1 record against the Metropolitan Division to end the year. On an individual level, it was Barry Trotz' 737th win as an NHL head coach, breaking a tie with Lindy Ruff for fifth-place on the all-time coaches' win rankings.

Offense: 2.67 /game (season: 3.00 /game, rank: T-11th)

It was not a big week for the Caps on the offensive side of things, but they did spread it around.  Eight goals scored, eight different players scoring them.  And even there it was good balance among centers (Nicklas Backstrom, Lars Eller), wingers (Alex Ovechkin, Tom Wilson, Brett Connolly), and defensemen (John Carlson, Matt Niskanen, Christian Djoos).  Eleven different players finished the week with points, Ovechkin (1-3-4) and Carlson (1-3-4) leading the group with four points apiece.

Djoos’ two-point week lifted him in the scoring rankings among rookie defensemen.  His third goal of the season placed him in a tie for third place in goal scoring among that group, and adding an assist for the week put him in a tie for fifth in points among rookie defenseman (eight).  He shares that ranking with teammate Madison Bowey, making the Caps the only team in the league with two rookie defensemen among the top five in points.  Djoos is also fifth in that group in plus-minus (plus-8).

Tom Wilson’s two-point week (1-1-2) gave him six goals for the season, one within his career high, and left him sixth on the team in points (6-12-18), a reflection of his continued improvement and assumption of more responsibility.  His plus-11 is second-best on the team (Matt Niskanen: plus-15).

Multi-point games were the noteworthy item in the week’s last game, the 5-2 win over the Devils.  Alex Ovechkin (0-3-3), John Carlson (1-2-3), and Nicklas Backstrom (1-2-3) finished with three-points against New Jersey.  It was the second time this season that the Caps had three players with three-point games (Backstrom, Ovechkin, and Tom Wilson in a 6-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks on December 6th).  Christian Djoos’ goal and an assist gave the Caps four players with multi-point games against New Jersey, tying their season high in players with two or more points. One of those times was against the Devils, in a 5-2 win on October 13th.

Defense: 1.67 / game (season: 2.80 /game, rank: 13th)

At the end of October, the Caps had allowed the sixth-most number of shot attempts at 5-on-5.  That number has not improved with time, and Week 13 was an example.  The Caps allowed 139 shot attempts at 5-on-5 for the week, third-most in the league, leaving them having allowed the fourth-highest number of 5-on-5 shot attempts this season.  The silver lining here is that the Caps did not deteriorate through the week, allowing 49 5-on-5 shot attempts to the Rangers, 40 to the Boston Bruins, and 50 to the New Jersey Devils, and their SAT percentages improved through the week – 46.74 against New York, 48.72 against Boston, and 52.83 against New Jersey. 

If there was a bright spot it was in finishing the week on a strong note.  In their first seven regulation periods of hockey for the week, the Caps allowed opponents 79 shots, an average of 33.86 shots per 60 minutes.  However, in the last two periods of the week against the Devils, the Caps allowed a total of just 15 shots, closing out a game in a fashion that the Caps need more of as the season enters its second half.

Goaltending: 1.58 / .949 / 1 shutout (season: 2.65 / .915 / 1 shutout)

Last season, Philipp Grubauer was perhaps the best backup goalie in the league.  This season, he might be the league’s most hard luck netminder.  No game reflected his season to date more clearly than the opening game of the week when he stopped all 37 shots he faced in the hockey portion of the contest, many of them of the highlight reel sort, before succumbing in the Gimmick against the Rangers, 1-0.  It was the first shutout by a Capitals goaltender this season.  After a slow start, Grubauer has stopped 220 of the last 235 shots he has faced (.936 save percentage), but he has just a 2-3-2 record (two no-decisions, appearances in which he stopped all 23 shots he faced) to show for it.

Braden Holtby took the ice for the last two games of the week and was solid, stopping 56 of 61 shots (.918 save percentage) and finishing the week second in the league in wins (22; Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy has 24).  That Holtby would allow three goals in one game and two in the other he played is part of an odd pattern he has had for the past five weeks.  In his last 14 appearances dating back to November 22nd he has allowed no fewer than two and no more than three goals in any (that includes three goals on 12 shots in 21 minutes in a loss to the New York Islanders).

Power Play: 2-for-8 / 25.0 percent (season: 19.5 percent, rank: T-13th)

The Caps finished the week with power play goals in consecutive games for the first time since putting together a three-game streak in Games 27-29 in early December.  They ended the week with a power play goal on two opportunities against the Devils.  It marked the fifth straight game in which the Caps had two or fewer power play opportunities that they squeaked out standings points (3-0-2).

The usual subjects had the goals (Alex Ovechkin, John Carlson) and the points (those two plus Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom), and overall the power play was efficient at getting shots to the net.  In 14:40 of power play ice time, the Caps managed 16 shots on goal.  It was a welcome rebound from a weak Week 12 in which the Caps were 0-for-9, their worst week of the season to date.

Penalty Killing: 10-for-10 / 100.0 percent (season: 80.4 percent, rank: T-19th)

The Caps skated off all ten shorthanded situations they faced in Week 13, the most situations disposed of without allowing a goal since they went 11-for-11 in Week 6.  It was a return to form after a pair of weeks in which the PK struggled (16-for-21/76.2 percent).  The Caps were reasonably efficient in killing those penalties overall, allowing just 16 shots on goal in 18:25 of shorthanded ice time, but they did have to withstand 12 power play shots by the Bruins in the middle game of the week in 10 minutes of shorthanded ice time. 

The five power play chances the Bruins had posed a danger.  In 10 previous games in which the Caps allowed five or more power play chances to an opponent, they had a record of 3-6-1, and only one of those wins was in regulation (oddly enough, against the Bruins in a 5-3 win on December 14th).  That the Caps would need the Gimmick to settle things last Thursday against Boston should have been no surprise in this context.

Faceoffs: 80-for-174 / 46.0 percent (season: 51.4 percent, rank: 8th)

It was not a very good week in the circle for the Caps.  They were owned by the Rangers in the first game of the week (19-for-51/37.3 percent) and were not much better against Boston in the middle game of the week (30-for-67/44.8 percent).  It took at 31-for-56 effort against New Jersey (55.4 percent) to get them to something resembling respectability for Week 13.  The Caps did do a credible job in the defensive zone for the week, winning 33 of 62 draws (53.2 percent), but that was offset by a woeful 23-for-60 performance in the offensive zone (38.3 percent).

On an individual level, the frustration was a shared affair.  Three of the four Caps taking at least ten draws were underwater for the week: Nicklas Backstrom (21-for-53/39.6 percent), Lars Eller (15-for-37/40.5 percent), and Evgeny Kuznetsov (14-for-29/48.3 percent).  Jay Beagle was dependable as usual, going 24-for-43 (55.8 percent).

Goals by Period:

Balance was the key for the Caps this week.  Although the volume wasn’t high, and they did get shutout against the Rangers to open the week, scoring two, three, and three goals in the regulation periods over the last two games showed at least a consistency of effort.

The odd part of the week was avoiding being taken advantage in the middle, long-change period.  The Caps did not allow a second period goal over the course of a week for the first time this season.  It allowed the team to climb to “even” in goal differential in the second periods of games this season, giving them even or positive goal differentials in all three regulation periods so far.

In the end…

Sometimes, what one sees on the ice, the numbers, and the results do not seem to be aligned.  Week 13 was one of those weeks.  That the Caps finished the week with a 2-0-1 record was a welcome result, but in the eye-test, they looked out of sync against the Rangers (no doubt a function, at least in part, of playing on what might have been the worst ice surface of the season), couldn’t seem to quite put away the Bruins, but then skated and passed with flair against the Devils to close the week. 

The results and the numbers, at least the possession numbers, hinted that there are things still amiss, but here we invoke the “all other things equal” clause.  All other things equal, shot attempts are a reasonably reliable indicator of success over a series of games.  But all other things are rarely equal, and perhaps superior skill will offset those weak possession numbers, even over a series of games.  That seems to have been the case for the Caps in the 2017 portion of the season, where possession numbers are weak, but they still have Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie, and Evgeny Kuznetsov, among others, who are among the most skilled players in the game.  Whether the Caps can improve their possession numbers in 2018 or keep the dogs at bay with their skill set if they can’t improve those numbers will be one of the story lines to watch in the year about to unfold.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: John Carlson (1-3-4, plus-1, 1 PPG, 1 GWG, 8 shots on goal, 26:37 average ice time)
  • Second Star: Christian Djoos (1-1-2, plus-3, 6 shots on goal, 12:57 average ice time)
  • Third Star: Philipp Grubauer (0-0-1, 0.00, 1.000 save percentage, one shutout, one hard-luck loss)

Saturday, December 30, 2017

A TWO-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 40: Capitals 5 - Devils 2

The Washington Capitals lowered the curtain on the 2017 portion of their 2017-2018 regular season at home against the New Jersey Devils on Saturday night.  When it was over, the Caps had a 5-2 win and the top spot in the Metropolitan Division to end 2017.

First Period

The best thing that could happen playing a team coming in for the second of a back-to-back set of games would be to get an early goal.  The Caps did just that less than three minutes into the contest when Christian Djoos carried the puck behind the Devils’ net, came out the other side, and found Tom Wilson parked at the top of the crease for a one-timer that beat goalie Cory Schneider to the blocker side.  The Caps had a 1-0 lead 2:26 into the game.

Nine minutes later the Caps doubled their margin, and Djoos doubled his points.  He started the scoring play, carrying the puck down the left wing, leaving it for Alex Ovechkin at the top of the left wing circle. Ovechkin sent the puck across to Nicklas Backstrom at the bottom of the right wing circle, and Backstrom closed the loop, finding Djoos in left wing circle for a lay-up into the open side of the net that Schneider vacated trying to defend Backstrom.  Caps had a 2-0 lead at the 11:09 mark.

The Devils got on the board late when John Moore converted a cross-ice pass from Travis Zajac for a one-timer that beat Braden Holtby at 17:35 of the period.

Although the Caps had a shots and shot attempts advantage for much of the period, the Devils finished the frame even with the Caps in shots with 12 apiece, while the Caps had a 22-21 advantage in shot attempts.

Second Period

The Caps got their first power play of the game in the period’s sixth minute, and they made it count.  The Caps wore down the Devils in the second minute of the man advantage by maintaining offensive zone control.  Finally, Nicklas Backstrom peeked out from behind the New Jersey net and lifted a pass over the stick of defenseman Sami Vatanen and right into John Carlson’s wheelhouse.  Carlson smashed a screaming one-timer over Schneider’s blocker, and it was 3-1 at the 7:01 mark.

It would be the only scoring in the period as the Caps denied the Devils a goal on a New Jersey power play late in the frame.  Washington out-shot the Devils, 10-7, and had a 22-20 edge in shot attempts for game totals of 22-19, Caps, in shots and 44-41, Caps, in shot attempts.

Third Period

The Caps had been playing one of their best games from a passing standpoint through two periods, and they carried into the third period to score a goal that looked a lot like the Djoos goal in the first period.  Matt Niskanen was the defenseman starting the play in the offensive end, again carrying the puck, as Djoos did earlier, down the left side.  Niskanen left the puck for Alex Ovechkin, who sent it across to Devante Smith-Pelly.  With Schneider once more getting over to defend the player in the right wing circle, Smith-Pelly sent it back across to Niskanen, who had a lay-up into another all but empty net to make it 4-1 4:25 into the period.

New Jersey got that goal back less than five minutes later when Travis Zajac converted a feed from Marcus Johansson to beat Holtby from the doorstep at the nine-minute mark.

Nicklas Backstrom added an empty net score with 41 seconds left to close out the scoring and give the Caps a 5-2 win.

Other stuff…

-- Alex Ovechkin (0-3-3), John Carlson (1-2-3), and Nicklas Backstrom (1-2-3) finished with three-points.  It was the second time this season that the Caps had three players with three-point games (Backstrom, Ovechkin, and Tom Wilson in a 6-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks on December 6th).

-- Christian Djoos’ goal and an assist gave the Caps four players with multi-point games, tying their season high in players with two or more points. One of those times was against this same Devils team, in a 5-2 win on October 13th.

-- Tom Wilson was a force in front of the net again, planting himself at the top of the crease to convert a Christian Djoos feed.  His sixth goal closed to within one of his career best, reached in each of the last two seasons. And, it was his fifth straight game without a penalty minute, a season high.

-- Jakub Vrana did not have a shot attempt in 10:38 of ice time.  On a night where the Caps were flinging the rubber around, this stood out as odd.

-- Jay Beagle and Taylor Chorney also did not register a shot attempt.  Beagle was 13-for-16 on faceoffs, though (81.3 percent).

-- Alex Ovechkin’s three-assist night was his third of the season (the win over Chicago in December and against Edmonton in late-October).  It was the 14th game of his career with three or more assists.

-- The Caps lifted their record to 8-5-2 when awarded two or fewer power plays, 6-5-1 when holding an opponent to two or fewer power plays, 3-3-1 when both they and their opponent were held to two or fewer power plays.

-- The Caps are now 17-0-0 when scoring four or more goals in a game this season.

-- Braden Holtby won his seventh straight game on home ice.  He has a GAA in those games of 2.26 and a save percentage of .926.

-- Marcus Johansson recorded assists on both New Jersey goals for a successful (on an individual level) return to Washington.

In the end…

The Caps finished 2017 as they started it, with a win.  More important, they finished the calendar year at the top of the Metropolitan Division.  Compare that to January 1st, when they were in fourth place in the Metro.  This game showed off the Caps’ ability to pass, although for the glass-half-empty crowd it might be viewed as a case of getting off easy with too many instances of one too many passes.  Still, though, things clicked in a way that they have not in many instances this season.  Every pass it seemed was on someone’s tape.  For the glass-half-full crowd, it might be seen as the team finally getting a sense of itself and what it is.  What they are, at least in one area, is what they have been for a decade – hard to beat at home.  Their 16th win on home ice this season tied them with Tampa Bay for the league lead in home wins.  And, it was a milestone win for head coach Barry Trotz, whose 737th career win passed Lindy Ruff for fifth place on the all-time list.  All in all, a nice way to end the year and something off which to build in the new year.

Friday, December 29, 2017

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 40: Devils at Capitals, December 30th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals wrap up the 2017 portion of their 2017-2018 season on Saturday night when they host the New Jersey Devils at Capital One Arena in a…wait for it…METRO MATCHUP!!!

This “Metro Matchup” has meaning, to the extent the 40th game of an 82-game season has meaning.  The Caps and the Devils, each being a surprise team of sorts at this stage of the season, went into Thursday’s games tied in standings points at the top of the division (New Jersey hosts the Buffalo Sabres on Friday night).

While the Caps are a surprise in that most observers thought they might take a step or two backward this season after last year’s second consecutive Presidents Trophy season, the Devils are a surprise in being this successful this soon after four straight seasons out of the playoff mix and finishing with just 28 wins last season and at the bottom of the Metro.

The Devils went into Friday’s game against Buffalo with a five-game winning streak and points in seven straight contests (6-0-1).  Since starting that seven-game points streak on December 12th, only the Boston Bruins have more standings points earned (14) than the Devils (13, tied with Vegas), but they did it in nine games played (6-1-2).

The Devils might not have the top end skill that some teams have, but they make it up by spreading things around.  And that has been the case in their seven-game points run.  Fifteen different players have goals in the seven games, while 18 different skaters have points.  One of those players is leading overall scorer Taylor Hall, who is 3-4-7 in the seven-game run despite missing a pair of games with a bruised knee suffered in a 5-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings to start the streak, a game in which Hall scored a pair of goals, including the game-winner.  Hall has had an assortment of injuries over his eight-year career, a problem that has allowed him to dress for all of a season’s games only once, when he appeared in 82 games for the Edmonton Oilers in 2015-2016.  It might explain in part his inability to reach the lofty levels of performance one might have expected of a first overall draft pick (in 2010 by Edmonton).  Hall has never had a 30-goal season, although he has averaged almost 28 goals per 82 games over the course of his career.  Keeping him in the lineup and productive matters to the Devils, who are 17-3-1 in the 21 games he has registered a point this season.  In nine career games against the Caps, Hall is 2-1-3, minus-3.

Will Butcher leads the defense in points in the seven-game points streak (0-4-4) and in overall scoring this season (2-21-23).  Through Thursday’s games those 23 points were tied for the lead among rookie defensemen in the league with Tampa Bay’s Mikhail Sergachev.  Butcher might be seen as something of an overachiever, having been a fifth-round draft pick (123rd overall) of the Colorado Avalanche in the 2013 entry draft.  After being drafted by the Avs, he matriculated to the University of Denver, where the achievements started being realized.  He would win honors as a National Collegiate Hockey Conference all-star, player of the year, and offensive defenseman of the year (all in 2016-2017).  He also won the Hobey Baker Award as the nation’s top collegiate player in men’s hockey and won a national championship with the Pioneers.  He started hot with nine points (all assists) in his first six games, and while he slowed a bit, he does have five points in eight games (again, all assists) through Thursday. As for the goals, both of them on his ledger were scored on the road.  He had an assist in his only previous appearance against Washington, a 5-2 Caps win back on October 13th.

The goaltending for New Jersey is a study in stark differences.  In the number one role, Cory Schneider has been very Schneider-like, his .923 save percentage in 28 games (12th in the league among 56 goalies with at least 500 minutes played) tracking with his career .922 mark.  While his goals against average (2.49/17th in the league) is a bit above his career norm (2.30), it is a function of his facing 32.4 shots per 60 minutes.  Schneider has all the appearances in the Devils’ seven-game points streak with a 6-0-1, 1.83, .937 record.  He is 3-7-2, 2.38, .914, with one shutout in 13 career appearances against the Caps.

In the backup role and perhaps taking the back half of the back-to-back, Keith Kinkaid has struggled.  After a decent 2016-2017 season in which he posted a 2.64 goals against average and a .916 save percentage, his numbers have deteriorated quite a bit this season.  In ten appearances, he is 5-3-1, but his goals against is more than three-quarters of a goal higher than last season (3.48), while his save percentage has dropped to .893.  He has not seen action since December 9th when he allowed five goals on 39 shots in a 5-2 loss to the New York Rangers.  In four career appearances against Washington, Kinkaid is 1-3-0, 4.23, .867.

1.  Only Carolina and Columbus have settled games in extra time more often (12 times apiece) than the Devils (11 times).  New Jersey is 6-5 in such games.

2.  New Jersey does well in close games.  Only Pittsburgh and Vegas have more one-goal wins (12 apiece) than the Devils (11).  Only Winnipeg has lost fewer one-goal games in regulation (none) than has New Jersey (once).

3.  The Devils do not wither late.  They have allowed only 28 third period goals this season, third-fewest in the league (San Jose: 21; Los Angeles: 23).

4.  New Jersey does not often out-shoot opponents, but when they do, they scoop up points.  They outshot their opponents only ten times through 36 games (through Thursday night).  Only Anaheim has outshot opponents less frequently (eight times), but the Devils are 6-1-3 in their ten games.

5.  The Devils are the exception to the rule that success follows possession.  New Jersey ranks 27th in the league in shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 (47.09).  They are 28th in tied situations (45.84) and 27th in close situations (47.34; numbers from

1.  The Caps are still struggling with possession numbers.  They rank in the bottom ten in shot attempts-for percentage overall (48.32/22nd), tied situations (45.80/29th), and close situations (47.87).  The frustrating thing here that points to a lack of focus or energy is that they rank tenth in the league when behind in games (54.96).

2.  The Gimmick win over Boston on Thursday was the Caps’ third this season.  Only Columbus has more (four).

3.  One of the ways to look at how unique Alex Ovechkin’s career has been is to look at who might be on the horizon to even come close to his goal-scoring totals.  Is there anyone on the horizon, say under the age of 30, who might make a dent in the gap between themselves and Ovechkin?  Of players under 30 in the league, only two – Steven Stamkos and Patrick Kane – have cleared the 300 goal mark (Stamkos has 336 as he approaches his 28th birthday; Kane has 300 having just turned 29 in November).  By the time Ovechkin reached his 30th birthday, just before the start of the 2015-2016 season, he had 475 goals.  It will be a while before we speak of anyone else with a shot at 600 career goals.

4.  When Braden Holtby took the ice against Boston on Thursday night, it was his 336th appearance in the NHL, tying him with Mike Karakas for 137th place on the all-time list of appearances for goalies.  And here is where we veer off a bit.  Karakas played for the Chicago Blackhawks and the Montreal Canadiens in the 1930’s and 1940’s.  The odd thing about his career was that he was once suspended for refusing an assignment to the AHL.  That suspension was lifted by NHL President Frank Calder, upon which he was loaned to Montreal after their goalie was injured. He went 0-4-1 in five games.  Maybe his heart wasn’t in it, although to be fair, the Canadiens were awful (10-33-5, seventh in a seven-team league).  Then again, he once played in a Stanley Cup final wearing a steel-toed boot to protect a broken toe.  He, with a 1.71 goals against average for the playoffs, and the Blackhawks won the Cup (1938).  Next up for Holtby on the games played list is former Capital Clint Malarchuk (338).

5.  Like that comeback on Thursday?  It was the Caps’ fourth win this season when trailing after the first period.  Only three teams have more such wins (San Jose: 6; Los Angeles: 5; Vegas: 5). That’s the good news.  The bad is that they have trailed at the first intermission 12 times this season.  That they are tied for sixth in winning percentage in such games (.333) speaks to just how tough it is to come back in this league when falling behind.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New Jersey: Brian Boyle

There are some things that just transcend team loyalty.  Rooting for a player who toils on even after being diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia (a condition treatable with medication) is high on that list.  Boyle’s would be an interesting story without the medical angle, though.  A first round pick of the Los Angeles Kings in 2003, he seemed to be a pick for a different era.  A player of considerable size (6’6”/245) and physical presence, he seemed to have at least the body type for the pre-2004-2005 lockout style of clutch and grab, one that put a premium on being physical.  He did not seem to be especially well-suited for the post-lockout style, especially in recent seasons, of speed and elusiveness.  However, Boyle has carved out a respectable career with five teams and 650 games filling a bottom six forward role and chipping in the timely goal (21 of his 103 career goals are game-winners).  He has been especially effective for the Devils, potting ten goals on 44 shots (22.7 shooting percentage) in 26 games of work (he missed the Devils’ first ten games this season).  He is also the leading scorer in the seven-game points streak for New Jersey (5-4-9, plus-6).  Boyle is 8-6-14, plus-5, in 29 career games against the Caps.

Washington: T.J. Oshie

Social media was abuzz on Thursday asking, to boil it down, “what’s up with Oshie?”  His game against the Bruins was not of the sort one puts in their personal scrapbook, and with five games played since he returned from a concussion (his fourth documented instance), games in which he is 1-0-1, minus-3, the question has some merit.  Every player goes through slumps and dry stretches, but coming off an injury such as his, there is concern, at least among a segment of the fan base, that perhaps he came back a game or two early or is otherwise not quite right just yet.  His dry spell with respect to goal scoring has extended to a dozen games over which he has a single goal, although he was more of his rambunctious self in the Gimmick win over Boston in which he had six shots on goal, almost the total he had in the first four games since his return (eight).  The goal scoring matters; the team is 5-1-2 in the eight games in which Oshie had goals this season.  The odd thing about his game log this season is the team’s lack of success in games in which he logs high minutes (perhaps a function of having to play top-six forwards more in losing situations).  The Caps are 8-9-2 in games in which Oshie logged more than 19 minutes.  He is 4-3-7, even, in 11 career games against the Devils.

In the end…

While this game has meaning in the standings, the value might be more symbolic value than actual.  Yes, it could propel the Caps into the lead in the Metropolitan Division (depending on the Devils’ standing after Friday night’s game against Buffalo), and it would be something of a statement game against an upstart rival.  It also would have some historical meaning.  A win would give the Caps 24 wins at calendar year end, tied for third-most in team history (25 in 1991-1992 and 28 wins in 2015-2016); a standings point would give the Caps their fifth season in franchise history with at least 50 points by calendar year end of a season.  But it represents the end of the beginning, the last of the 2017 portion of the season.  The Caps started 2017 with a win, a 2-1 victory over the Ottawa Senators on New Year’s Day.  A win would be a nice way to end the year.

Capitals 4 – Devils 2

Thursday, December 28, 2017

A TWO-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 39: Capitals 4 - Bruins 3 (OT/Gimmick)

The Washington Capitals extended their dominance over the Boston Bruins for one more game, coming back from an early 2-0 deficit to escape with a 4-3 Gimmick win over the Bruins to make it 12 straight wins over the B's.

First Period

The Caps and the…GOAL!  Wait, what?  The Bruins scored a goal just…GOAL!!  Another one??  Barely two minutes into the game, the Bruins had a 2-0 lead.  Guess they are a bit motivated, having last beaten the Caps when Millard Fillmore was President.  For the record, it was David Backes at 1:23 and Noel Acciari at 2:12 to open the scoring.  Boston had the first nine shot attempts before Nicklas Backstrom recorded a missed shot 3:01 into the period.

Brooks Orpik had a busy start to the period.  He was a minus-2 and took a fighting major in his first 1:50 of ice time covering two shifts.  Tom Wilson might have saved the Caps from falling three goals behind late in the period when, after goalie Braden Holtby tried to clear the puck from below his own goal line up the middle, hit Bruin Jake DeBrusk, who corralled the puck with a chance in front of him.  However, Wilson dove to get his stick on DeBrusk’s shot just enough to muffle it and allow Holtby to make the save.

That would be how the period ended, the Bruins with a 14-1o edge in shots on goal and a 27-15 advantage in shot attempts.  The Caps spent another period having their faces taken off on faceoffs, losing 14 of 22 draws.  Only Lars Eller was over 50 percent (2-for-3).

Second Period

Boston piled up shot attempts to open the period, taking a 41-21 advantage eight minutes into the period.  But the Caps slowly reeled the Bruins in, and eventually they broke their scoreless streak at 177:32 of ice time with a Lars Eller goal 12:31 into the period.  It was the product of persistence on Eller’s part, following the puck through the offensive zone, around the Boston net, and eventually hunting it down as he was circling through the right wing circle.  From the high slot he ripped one across his body and past goalie Anton Khudobin, who will look at the film and want that chance back.  But the Caps were on the board…finally.

Then, with Torey Krug in the penalty box for a slashing penalty, John Carlson spoon-fed Alex Ovechkin the puck in the left wing circle for a one-timer that beat Khudobin over his right shoulder on the near side to tie the game at 14:07 of the period.  The Caps had another power play before the end of the period, and while they did not convert, it appeared as if the momentum clearly shifted to their side of the rink as the teams went to their locker rooms in a 2-2 game.

Third Period

The momentum the Caps had was squandered early when T.J. Oshie took a penalty five minutes into the period.  The Caps killed the Bruin power play, but then Oshie doubled up on his mistake by exiting the box and turning the puck over, David Backes converting the gift that goalie Braden Holtby appeared to think he should have gloved down, seeing as how he was inspecting his equipment for holes after the goal was scored at the 7:19 mark.

The Caps killed another penalty, and then they re-tied the game, Brett Connolly credited for a goal originally given to Tom Wilson, slipping a loose puck past Khudobin from the top of the crease off a scrum in front that ended with Khudobin knocked to the ice.  The Bruins challenged the call for the Caps being offside, but replay clearly showed that Lars Eller carried the puck into the offensive zone onside, and then pulled the puck back to, but not past the blue line, thus remaining onside, the game tied once more 11:22 into the period.

Neither team could crack the other’s netminder in the last eight plus minutes, and the Caps went to overtime for the fifth time in six games.


Five minutes of spirited action did nothing to take this contest to a conclusion, so the teams went to…

The Gimmick

Oshie…no.  Marchand…no.  Kuznetsov…no.  Pastrnak…no.  Ovechkin…GOAL!!! 


Caps win.  Over Boston.  Again.

Other stuff…

-- That makes 12 straight wins over Boston.  As noted, Millard Fillmore was President when the Bruins last defeated the Caps.  OK, it just seems that way.

-- After the Bruins took that whopping 41-21 edge in shot attempts eight minutes into the second period, the Caps steamrolled the Bruins in that number, 43-27 over the last 37 minutes of regulation and overtime.

-- Alex Ovechkin’s power play goal ended a five-game streak without a power play goal for the Caps and an 0-for-12 streak overall.

-- Lars Eller snapped a 16-game streak without a goal when he scored in the second period. He did have his second multi-point game (1-1-2) in his last five contests.

-- The Caps played their fifth extra time game in their last six contests; they are 3-2 in those extra-timers.

-- Ovechkin was a five-by-five (by five) player in this one…five shots on goal, five missed shots, and five credited hits.

-- Tom Wilson did the power forward thing nicely in this game.  In 15:41 he had an assist on the Eller goal, he created a disturbance in front of goalie Anton Khudobin that led to the Brett Connolly goal, he was a plus-2, he drew a penalty, and he had seven credited hits to lead the team.  He didn’t get a star, but he played his role very well.  It was "Knublish."

-- Braden Holtby, who allowed goals on the Bruins’ second and fourth shots of the game, stopped 29 of the last 30 shots he faced.  He didn’t get a star, either, but he righted the ship and stopped the bleeding long enough for the Caps to crawl back into the contest.

-- Odd game?  Well, yeah… Evgeny Kuznetsov was the only Capital to finish over 50 percent on faceoffs (8-for-14/57.1%).

-- Hits are an odd thing in hockey.  They are in the eye of the beholder (that is, the official scorer), and tonight’s beholder had the Caps hitting the Bruins more often than a kid on a sugar high whacking a piƱata.  The Caps were credited with 37 hits (to only 14 for Boston), only four skaters not credited with at least one.  Four Caps were credited with five or more: Wilson (7), Ovechkin (5), Devante Smith-Pelly (5), and Brooks Orpik (5).

In the end…

The Caps started badly, but found their battle mode over the last half of the game.  Maybe it was, as Lars Eller hinted at in a post-game TV interview, Barry Trotz reading them the riot act at the first intermission.  Whatever, the Caps dominated the last 35 minutes of regulation and overtime.  From the other side, it was a case of a team grabbing early momentum, and then squandering it.  Once lost, it is hard to regain, and the Caps took advantage of that. 

So take away what you will from this game.  The glass-half-empty crowd will lament another poor start, much like the game in Vegas last week.  The glass-half-full crowd will point to the comeback and the contributions from up and down the roster in the last 35 minutes.  Both sides will probably agree, though, that “half” measures might work from time to time, but not in the long run.  The Caps escaped with an extra point in this one, a point they might need down the road.  Enjoy it.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

A ONE-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 38: Rangers 1 - Capitals 0 (OT/Gimmick)

The Washington Capitals wrapped up their four-game road trip on Wednesday night with a 1-0 Gimmick loss to the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.  It was hardly an advertisement for the NHL, but worse, it dropped the Caps two points behind the New Jersey Devils for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division.

First Period


There was no scoring and, frankly, even less action.  The Rangers had a 10-8 edge in shots on goal, but the Caps had a 17-13 edge in shot attempts.  There were no power plays.  Matt Niskanen led the good guys with two shots on goal.  If there was an odd statistic, it was that the Caps had as many shots blocked (eight) as shots on goal.  Lars Eller won four of five draws, which was the difference between a bad period (6-for-16) and a ghastly one (2-for-11 without Eller) in the circle.  More odd stuff…Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Chiasson led the Caps in credited hits (two apiece).  It was the sort of period one might expect as the first one after a holiday break, the hockey equivalent of getting up from the dinner table, waddling over to the recliner, sitting back, and unbuttoning one’s pants before dozing off.  Someone has to win this game, because that’s what the rules require, but it isn’t too early in this one to think neither team deserves it.

Second Period

It was a lot more of the same over the first half of the period, but then the Caps were awarded a power play, so there was the promise of some excitement.  Shots from Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson yielded nothing, and then it was the Rangers’ turn to enjoy a power play.  Even less to be had there, as the Caps held the Blueshirts without a shot on goal for the two minutes.  And then the Caps got another power play late in the period.  Alex Ovechkin had a shot on goal…not “in” goal.  And so, the teams went to the second intermission without a red light having been lit.  The Caps did have a 21-18 edge in shots on goal and a 36-28 advantage in shot attempts.  Jakub Vrana led the team with three shots on goal, while Nicklas Backstrom had four shot attempts to top the roster.  Vrana was the only Capital with a better than 50 percent mark in the faceoff circle through 40 minutes…he won his only draw.

Third Period

The Rangers started the period with an all-out assault on the Caps’ net, outshooting the Caps 8-1 before the period was four minutes old.  Philipp Grubauer was up to that challenge, though.  And another…and another…and, well, you get the picture.  By the time the period was over, Grubauer made a case to be the Vezina Trophy winner on the basis of one game…one period, in fact…stopping all 18 shots he faced in the period, many of them of the “best saves of the night” variety.


The Caps had their chance.  John Carlson had a glorious opportunity on a wrap around, but a Jedi force field apparently kept the puck from going in as it crawled the entire length of the goal line before deflecting off the far post and out.  And then, Alex Ovechkin took a tripping penalty with less than 30 seconds left.  The Rangers could not convert, though, and the game went to the freestyle competition.

The Gimmick

Rangers had two guys with the initials “MZ” (Mats Zuccarello, Mika Zibanejad) score; the Caps had two guys whose last names end in “O” (T.J. Oshie, Alex Ovechkin) stopped…Rangers win.

Other stuff…
  • That was Ondrej Pavelec’ first shutout since he beat the Vancouver Canucks, 2-0, on March 22, 2016, as a member of the Winnipeg Jets.
  • Philipp Grubauer stopped all 37 shots he faced, the most shots faced by a Caps goalie on the road without allowing a goal since Michal Neuvirth stopped 39 shots in a 1-0 win in Pittsburgh over the Penguins on February 21, 2011.
  • It figures that the first time this season a Capitals goalie allows no goals in a game, the team loses.
  • The Caps have now gone 145:01 without a goal.
  • After suffering a four game streak in allowing at least one power play goal, the Caps had their second consecutive game denying the opponent a power play strike.
  • The Caps went 1-1-2 on their four-game road trip around the holiday, but on the other hand, this is their third loss in a row, their longest losing streak of the season.
  • Jakub Vrana and Alex Ovechkin led the team with four shots on goal apiece; Dmitry Orlov and Madison Bowey were the only skaters without a shot on goal.
  • Back to Grubauer… In his last nine appearances he has a .936 save percentage, yet his record is just 2-3-2 (two no-decisions).
  • Based on our quick research, this was the first 0-0 game to be settled in the Gimmick since the Edmonton Oilers beat the Montreal Canadiens in Montreal, 1-0, on February 5, 2017.
  • The Rangers had a 64-54 edge in shot attempts.  Rick Nash led the Rangers with eight attempts (six on goal); Ovechkin led the Caps with eight as well (four on goal).

In the end…

You could say it was the ice, which seemed to have the quality of a snow cone, or you could say it was the first game after a holiday, or you could say it was just one of those games in an 82-game season.  Whatever, the Caps looked equal parts sluggish and clueless over long stretches of this game.  That they escaped with a standings point it first, last, and entirely a product of the superb play of Philipp Grubauer in goal in what would qualify as one of the best games by a goalie anywhere in the NHL this season.

A 1-1-2 road trip is not the worst of outcomes, but how one gets there matters.  The Caps started with an encouraging win in a difficult city, winning in overtime in Dallas.  But losing to the woeful Arizona Coyotes in overtime, having their lunch eaten in front of them in the first 15 minutes in a 3-0 loss to Vegas, and then this sleep-inducting spectacle made for what ended up being a disappointing trip.  The Caps will wrap up the 2017 portion of their season at home against Boston and New Jersey.  One hopes the familiar surroundings will give them a boost of energy that seemed lacking on this trip.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 39: Bruins at Capitals, December 28th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

After a four-game absence wrapped (get it?) around the Christmas holiday, the Washington Capitals return home on Thursday night to host the Boston Bruins at Capital One Arena. These teams met last on December 14th, the Caps taking a 5-3 decision in Boston, the five goals tying their season high in a road game, also achieved in New Jersey against the Devils in a 5-2 win on October 13th and again in Edmonton against the Oilers in a 5-2 win on October 28th).

Since dropping that 5-3 decision to the Caps, the Bruins have rolled to a five-game points streak (4-0-1) and a four-game winning streak.  Boston has done it over the last five games with some offense, including a 7-2 pasting of the Columbus Blue Jackets, averaging 3.2 goals per game.  They have also done it with defense, highlighted by a 3-0 shutout of the Buffalo Sabres, averaging just 1.4 goals per game allowed.

The veterans have carried the mail in the five-game streak, led in goals by Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron with three apiece.  Marchand has displayed a noteworthy level of consistency this season, recording just the first instance of consecutive games without a point on his ledger in the shutout of Buffalo and a 2-1 Gimmick win over the Winnipeg Jets.  Marchand has points in 20 of the 26 games in which he played this season (not including Wednesday night’s game against the Ottawa Senators).  The odd part of Marchand’s season to date, though, might be the absences.  He has missed eight games in two separate blocks, over which the Bruins went 5-3-0.  Boston is 14-7-5 when Marchand is in the lineup.  That, plus the 9-1-4 record when Marchand recorded a goal in games so far, makes the ornery cuss a player to be mindful of when he is on the ice, and not just for his frequent chippy hijinks.  Marchand is 7-9-16, minus-7, in 25 career games against the Caps.

Patrice Bergeron is the antithesis of Brad Marchand on the ice.  In 13 previous seasons, all with Boston, Bergeron has carved out a reputation for being a defensive wizard (eight straight seasons receiving Selke Trophy votes as the league’s top defensive forward, winning four times, including last season) and a gentlemanly player (11 seasons receiving Lady Byng Trophy votes).  Not that he has been unproductive.  Bergeron ranks eighth in franchise history in goals scored (269) and seventh in points (695).  Only four players in team history have appeared in more games for the Bruins than Bergeron (928).  Lately, he has been a “deuces wild” sort of player.  In four of the last five games in which he recorded points, he did so by posting two, including a pair of goals against the Caps in the Bruins’ 5-3 loss in Boston earlier this month.  In 43 career games against the Caps, Bergeron is 12-26-38, minus-8.

Danton Heinen is tied with David Backes for second in total scoring over the Bruins’ five-game points streak (2-3-5).  He has been something of a find for the Bruins, taken as a fourth-round pick (116th overall) in the 2014 draft by the B’s.  After two seasons with the University of Denver Pioneers in the NCAA and a stop with the Providence Bruins in the AHL, he got his first taste of the NHL last season, dressing for eight games in which he did not record a point.  The points have come this season, though, in enough volume for Heinen to rank tenth among rookies in total scoring (8-14-22).  His 14 assists is tied for sixth among this season’s rookies.  When he recorded a pair of assists against the Caps in the 5-3 loss in Boston two weeks ago, it set him off on a four-game points streak (2-5-7), but he is without a point in his last two contests.  Those two assists are his only career points in two games against Washington.

1.  Holding teams under thirty shots seems to be quite a chore this season in the NHL.  Boston has done it 18 times, third-most in the league (Carolina and St. Louis have done it 22 times apiece).  They also rank third in fewest shots per game (29.8, behind only Carolina (29.5) and Dallas (29.4)).

2.  Going into the holiday break, only the New York Rangers have had fewer power play opportunities on the road (38) than the Bruins (42).  On the other hand, no team was shorthanded fewer times than Boston (45), and no team allowed fewer power play goals on the road (six).

3.  Boston is one of four teams that, through the holiday break, lost just one game in regulation when scoring first (14-1-3), the others being the New York Islanders (12-1-0), Vegas Golden Knights (15-1-0) and Winnipeg Jets (16-1-4).

4.  Boston has more wins when out-shot by opponents (10) than when they out-shoot them (9).

5.  The Bruins are 6-3 in decisions of three or more goals.  Only Los Angeles (.818) and Tampa Bay (.857) have a better winning percentage in such decisions than Boston (.667).

1.  The Caps have the fourth-best winning percentage in one-goal decisions (.692/9-2-2).

2.  Washington has 13 players with double digits in points through Christmas (37 games) this season.  Last season they had 11 players with double digits at Christmas (32 games).

3.  Three teams have more bench minor penalties than the Caps (7) this season: Nashville (8), Toronto (8), and Ottawa (9).

4.  Three teams have a shorthanded faceoff winning percentage over 50 percent.  The Caps are one of them (50.2).  Dallas (50.7) and Pittsburgh (51.8) are the others.

5.  The Caps lead the league in wins when leading after one period (14).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Boston: Tuukka Rask

If there is a potential subplot to this game, it is the impenetrable object meeting the leaky sieve.  And both would be Tuukka Rask, the former representing his 8-0-1, 1.45, .946 record, with one shutout, over his last ten appearances (one no-decision), a string of games that includes none allowing more than two goals in regulation (his lone loss was in a 3-2 overtime loss to the New York Rangers on December 16th).  On the other hand, there is the 1-10-5, 3.07, .889 career record against the Caps (with one shutout).  Sure, Rask has more losses against the Montreal Canadiens (15), but that number has accumulated over 26 career games).  And he does have a worse save percentage against the Anaheim Ducks (.865), but that is over less than half the ice time (464 minutes) than he has against the Caps (937 minutes).  He has as many wins against the first-year Vegas Golden Knights (one in two games) as he has against the Caps (in 17 games).  Is there a law of averages or a balancing of the hockey fates to be had here, or are the Caps just “that team” against which he will have a career’s long frustration?  Let’s hope for the latter if he gets the call in the second half of the Bruins’ back-to-back.

Washington: Jay Beagle

If there is a better indicator of Capitals success in team history than Jay Beagle, it would be hard to find.  Beagle has points in 94 of the 429 games he has dressed in his Caps career, and the team is 77-10-7 in those games.  The Caps are 38-1-5 in games in the 44 games in which he scored a goal.  This season, the Caps are 8-2-0 when Beagle recorded a point, 4-0-0 when he posted a goal.  After going 2-4-6 over a nine-game stretch from November 24th through December 12th (over which the Caps were 7-2-0), he is without a point in his last five games. And more Beagle is a good thing.  Perhaps this is a product of being able to roll four lines in games in which the Caps have leads, but through Christmas the team is 12-2-0 in games in which Beagle logged at least 13 minutes in ice time.  And an active Beagle is a good thing, too, at least in terms of shots.  The Caps are 16-6-1 when Beagle recorded at least one shot on goal, 6-7-1 when he did not.  He is 1-2-3, minus-3, in 17 career games against Boston.

In the end…

We are now entering the great void of the NHL season, those games between Christmas and the trading deadline that can be a bit of a grind, but a part of the season that can make or break a team.  Last season, the Caps went 22-5-3 in the 30 games between Christmas and March 1.  It is the time that tests the discipline of a team and their attention to detail and execution.  Those elements have been spotty to date with this year’s edition of the Caps, but now we get to see just what sort of team this is as the schedule turns to the most grueling stretch of the season.

Capitals 3 – Bruins 2

Saturday, December 23, 2017

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 37: Capitals at Golden Knights, December 23rd

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals, fresh off their stunning 3-2 overtime loss to the Arizona Coytoes on Friday night, get right back to it with their first visit to Las Vegas, wrapping up their back-to-back set of games before Christmas against the Golden Knights.

The Caps, who had a four-game winning streak snapped in the loss to the Coyotes, are still no strangers to success, having won more than 100 games over the previous two seasons and Presidents Trophies in each as the top team in the standings in the regular season.  For the Golden Knights, though, everything is new.  Even their unprecedented run of success to open their inaugural season. 

Special Section...Odd Facts About the Vegas Golden Knights Inaugural Season to Impress Your Friends:

  • Vegas is on a pace to finish the season as the only one of 26 expansion teams in NHL history averaging more than one standings point per game, currently 1.39 points per game.  The 1993-1994 Florida Panthers have the highest mark to date (.988 on a record of 33-34-17).
  • The Washington Capitals set the record for inaugural season futility when they went 8-67-7 80 games of the 1974-1975 season.  Vegas won its eighth game in its ninth game in franchise history.
  • Through 33 games, the Golden Knights already have the 18th highest number of wins among 26 expansion teams since 1967.  Beating the Caps would tie them with the 1992-1993 Tampa Bay Lightning for 17th place.
  • Expansion teams are often populated by a large number of players from other places, but the Golden Knights have two rookies to dress among their skaters, and both are in the top-30 in points among rookies – Alex Tuch (15 points/T-16th) and Brendan Leipsic (10 points/T-26th).
  • The Vegas Golden Knights are the fastest team to 20 wins in its inaugural season, and it is not close.  They did it in their 31st game.  Among teams in the expansion era, the 1967-1968 Philadelphia Flyers won their 20th game in Game 41 of their season.  It was an especially sweet 20th win for the Golden Knights, who accomplished the feat at home against the Pittsburgh Penguins with former Penguin goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury getting the win.

In the here and now, Vegas comes into this game not having played since beating the Tampa Bay Lightning at home, 4-3, on Tuesday.  The win extended the Golden Knights’ streak of games earning points to eight (7-0-1).  In that eight-game run they outscored opponents by a 27-19 margin, not including Gimmick goals.  And they have spread those 27 goals around, 14 different skaters sharing in the good fortune.

Erik Haula and James Neal lead the club in goals scored in that eight-game points streak with five apiece.  Neal is a player with whom a lot of hockey fans are familiar.  Well-traveled goal scorer, among the dirtiest players in the NHL

Neal, who has five goals in the eight-game points streak, leads the team overall with 17 goals.  No surprise there.  With three more goals he would hit the 20-goal mark for the tenth time in a ten-year career, the 31st player in league history to reach 20 goals in each of his first ten seasons.  If you don’t think that is a big deal, consider that there are 44 players in NHL history (including Neal, for the moment), who managed nine 20-goal seasons in their first ten NHL seasons.  He also has a knack for scoring game-winning goals, his 41 game-winners over his ten year career tied for 14th in that span, with Sidney Crosby and Eric Staal.  He currently holds the Golden Knight record for consecutive games with a goal to start a season (four), and he has those five goals in his last seven games.  As are many goal scorers, he can be streaky, and he is on a streak.  At least he hasn’t been suspended by the league since 2013 (what was his third suspension by the league), but he was fined $5,000 (the maximum at the time as supplementary discipline without requiring a phone hearing) in March 2014 for a cross-check to the head of Detroit’s Luke Glendening.  Neal is 10-5-15, plus-6, in 18 career games against the Capitals.

The casual fan might not have much familiarity with the work of Erik Haula, but this season could cause some to take notice.  Taken in the seventh-round (182nd overall) by the Minnesota Wild in the 2009 draft, the native of Pori, Finland, he is already pushing up against his career high in goals scored.  He has 13 in just 29 games this year, within shouting distance of the career-best 15 goals he had with the Wild last season.  Four of those 13 goals have been game-winners, tying the career high he set last year, and his four power play goals so far are twice as many as he had in his four seasons preceding this one.  Perhaps the goal scoring is a product of more responsibility, or vice versa, but he is averaging more than 17 minutes a game, three and a half minutes more than he averaged last season.  The odd part of his goal scoring is venue.  He has eight of his 13 goals in 16 road games and five of them in 13 games at T-Mobile Arena.  He comes into this game with a seven-game points streak (5-5-10, plus-3).  Haula has yet to record a point in six career games against the Caps and is minus-2.

For a club with as much success as the Golden Knights have had so far, they have certainly gone through goaltenders.  Five in all so far.  It was not supposed to be this way.  It was supposed to be Marc-Andre Fleury, three-time Stanley Cup winner with the Pittsburgh Penguins, who would be the early face of the franchise and provide an anchor in goal.  It started that way when Fleury won his first three decisions of the season, stopping 103 of 107 shots (a .963 save percentage).  Sure, two of those wins came against the woeful Arizona Coyotes, but still, it was a fine start for a new franchise.  Then the Golden Knights hosted the Detroit Red Wings on October 13th. 

Mid-way through the second period in a 1-1 game, Detroit’s Anthony Mantha got position on defenseman Luca Sbisa and cut to the net.  As Mantha tried to get a shot off, Fleury dove to poke the puck off Mantha’s stick.  At the same time, Sbisa nudged Mantha just enough to alter his path across the top of the crease, and Mantha’s knee caught Fleury in the side of the head.  Fleury shook it off and continued, but obviously something was off.  Fleury allowed five goals on the last 17 shots he saw in a 6-3 loss.  It was the last game he played until December 12th, the victim of a concussion.  He has been sharp in his return, going 2-0-1, 1.95, .940.  In fact, take out those five goals on 17 shots after getting whacked in the head against Detroit, and his save percentage this season is .955.  Small sample to be sure, but he’s been what the Golden Knights have wanted when he has been available.  In 36 career games against the Caps, Fleury is 20-12-2, 2.60, .913, with three shutouts.

1.  Few teams spend more time sitting out penalty minutes than the Golden Knights.  Two in fact.  The 7:25 per game in penalty minutes charged to Vegas is bettered only by the Arizona Coyotes (7:13) and the Carolina Hurricanes (6:22, through Thursday’s games).  No team has fewer major penalties than the three taken by Vegas so far (tied with Carolina and the Chicago Blackhawks).

2.  Vegas has some odd “leading/trailing” numbers.  They have led at the first intermission just 12 times in 33 games and at the second intermission just 14 times.  And their records aren’t especially impressive, ranking tied for 18th in winning percentage when leading after 20 minutes (.750/9-3-0) and tied for 17th when leading after 40 minutes (.857/12-2-0).  But they are tied for the league lead in winning percentage when trailing after 20 minutes (.444/4-3-2) and lead the league in winning percentage when trailing games after 40 minutes (.400/4-5-1).

3.  The Golden Knights have also been impressive in one-goal games with the third-best winning percentage in such games (.733/11-2-2).

4.  Vegas can be solved late in games.  Only four teams have allowed more third period goals than the Golden Knights (41) through Thursday’s games: Edmonton (43), Minnesota (44), St. Louis (45), and Arizona (49).  Seems to be a Western Conference thing.

5.  If Vegas scores first, good luck.  They are 14-1-0 in games when scoring first, the best winning percentage in the league (.933).

1.  The overtime loss to the Coyotes was the Caps’ first extra-time loss since dropping a 4-3 overtime decision to the Tampa Bay Lightning on October 9th.  It was just their second extra-time loss of the season, leaving them with a record of 6-2 in such games.

2.  No team has had less 5-on-3 power play ice time than the Caps this season – 20 seconds.

3.  T.J. Oshie broke a two-game streak without a point with his goal against the Coyotes on Friday.  He had not had consecutive games without a point since November 2-4.  Since then, he is 5-9-13 in 15 games.

4. Evgeny Kuznetsov, who also scored a goal on Friday, is even hotter.  Since the last time he had consecutive games without a point (October 29 – November 2), he is 9-14-23 in 23 games.

5.  The 17 shots the Caps recorded against the Coyotes on Friday was their season low.  They had 19 shots on goal in two games, in a 4-3 win over the New York Islanders on November 2nd and in a 2-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers on November 12th.  It was the first time that the Caps were held under 20 shots on goal in a road game.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Vegas: Nate Schmidt

It appears that Nate Schmidt, perhaps to the dismay of his fans in Washington, has found a home in the desert.  Taken in the expansion draft last summer, he is one of two defensemen to appear in every game so far this season (Colin Miller is the other), is second in points among defensemen with 15 (Miller has 19), and leads Vegas blueliners in ice time per game (22:36).  He is already within a goal of his career best (he had three last season with the Caps) and two points of his career high (17 points last year).  He has three power play assists with Vegas after not recording a power play point in 200 games with Washington over four seasons.  But there is a catch.  More Nate ain’t great.  Vegas is 4-5-1 in those games in which he skated more than 23:30, 8-1-1 in games in which he logged less than 21:30 in ice time.  And there is his shooting.  He scored a goal in his second game with the Golden Knights, and then went 29 games (and 37 shots) without scoring one until he found the back of the net in a 5-2 win over the Florida Panthers last Sunday (his first goal on home ice with Vegas).  This will be Schmidt’s first career appearance against his old club.

Washington: Andre Burakovsky

It has been a difficult first half of the season for Andre Burakovsky.  He got off to a slow start, going 1-3-4, minus-2, in nine games before sustaining an injury that would keep him out for 20 games.  Since his return he is 2-2-4, plus-1, in seven games, but he has yet to find a scoring rhythm.  He has two mulit-point games among the 16 he has played to date, but the flip side of that is that he has points in just five games overall.  It matters in that the Caps are 4-0-1 in those games.  He has been a bit more productive in road games than he has been at home, going 3-3-6, plus-2, in nine games away from Capital One Arena.  An odd feature of his record so far this year is that in seven games in which he skate at least 14:15 in ice time, the Caps are just 2-4-1.  This will be his first appearance against the Golden Knights, as it will be for all of the Caps.

In the end…

As the saying goes, “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”  If you are a visiting NHL team, what you are striving for is to have what happens in Vegas be something to build on and carry over the next stretch of a long NHL season, or at least into the holiday break.  And so that’s the theme for this game.

Capitals 4 – Golden Knights 3