Thursday, December 07, 2017

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 30: Rangers at Capitals, December 8th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals wrap up their five-game home stand on Friday night when the New York Rangers visit Capital One Arena.  It will be a contest of two teams on fire.  Washington will take a 7-2-0 record in their last nine games into the contest, while the Rangers will be sporting a record of 6-1-0 in their last seven contests and 12-3-0 in their last 15 games.

The Rangers were stuck in a deep hole on October 28th when they dropped a 5-4 decision to the Montreal Canadiens.  At 3-7-2 they were tied with the Buffalo Sabres with the fourth-worst record in the league.  They were leaking goals, having allowed, with the Canadiens, the fourth-highest number of goals in the league (42).  Their penalty killing was poor (77.7 percent/25th), and they were an iffy possession team (48.61 percent shot attempts-for at 5-on-5/22nd).

In 15 games since, the Rangers are no better a possession team (47.20 percent/26th), but they have allowed just 38 goals, tied with Tampa Bay for second-fewest in that span.  Is it goaltending?  Perhaps.  Henrik Lundqvist started the season looking as if at age 35, the back side of his career might be in sight.  In that early rut in which the Rangers found themselves, he was 2-4-2, 3.12, .900, with one shutout.  Since then, however, Lundqvist is 11-2-0, 2.36, .927, with one shutout, more “Lundqvistian” numbers.  He is doing this despite a heavier workload in shots faced, seeing 31.16 shots per 60 minutes in his sluggish opening and 32.34 shots per 60 minutes on his hot run of late.  In 36 career games against the Caps, Lundqvist is 21-11-4, 2.61, .909, with four shutouts.

After making 14 straight appearances, Lundqvist was unable to go against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday due to the flu, leaving thing to Ondrej Pavelec, who presumably would get the call if Lundqvist is still under the weather.  Now with his third team in an 11-year career (two franchises, since he was with the Atlanta Thrashers when they moved to Winnipeg to become the Jets), Pavelec’s career arc has been descending into that of a backup for more than a few seasons now.  He appeared in a career high 68 games in 2011-2012 with the Jets and led the league with 44 appearances in the next, abbreviated 2012-2013 campaign.  His appearances diminished thereafter, from 57 in 82 games in 2013-2014 to 50 the following season, then 33 in 2015-2016 (he missed 33 games to a knee injury) to eight last season (another 24 games missed to injuries). 

Pavelec has never been an especially efficient goaltender at this level, posting a save percentage over .915 just once in 11 seasons (.920 with the Jets in 2014-2015).  He has just one season with a goals against average under 2.70, that in the same 2014-2015 season when he finished with a 2.28 GAA.  He is not having a particularly noteworthy season as Lundqvist’s backup, going 2-4-0, 3.45, .899 in seven appearances.  He is 10-15-2, 2.89, .907, with three shutouts in 29 career appearances against the Caps.

The Rangers have really spread things around, scoring-wise, on their 12-3-0 run, nine different players with points in double digits.  Mats Zuccarello leads the club with 14 points in that stretch (3-11-14).  He is looking to have a bounceback year after seeing his goal total drop from 26 in 81 games in 2015-2016 to 15 in 80 games last season, even if his points fell just two, from 61 to 59.  Zuccarello’s problem last year was efficiency.  He recorded more shots on goal last season than in the one before (189 to 166) but saw his shooting percentage cut almost in half, from 15.7 percent to 7.9 percent.  He has been streaky on the road this season, recording a four-point game in the Rangers’ road opener this season, in Toronto (an 8-5 loss to the Maple Leafs) and a two-point game against the Penguins on Tuesday, but he is also without a point in five of nine road games overall.  Zuccarello is 1-8-9, even, in 18 career games against Washington.

1.  The Rangers have outscored opponents by a 56-38 margin in their 12-3-0 run.  Seven of their 12 wins were by multi-goal margins, and they are 4-0-0 in extra-time games in that streak.

2.  No team has played fewer games on the road this season than the Rangers, going 4-5-0 in nine games away from Madison Square Garden.  Four teams have 12 road games on their record.

3.  The road has not been kind to the Rangers in terms of possession numbers.  They rank 301th of 31 teams in shot attempts-for at 5-on-5 (45.75 percent), ahead of only the Anaheim Ducks (43.49 percent; numbers from

4.  The Rangers have four players with five or more goals in their 12-3-0 run.  By way of comparison, the Caps have only five players with five or more goals overall for the season (although they do have five players with four).

5.  Remember when the Rangers were a bunch of shot-blocking freaks?  Well now, not so much.  They rank 21st in blocked shots this season (393).  In the other grittership category, they rank 19th in credited hits.  The low rankings might be good if they were masters of possession, but as we have seen, they are not (47.78 percent overall in shot attempts-for at fives, home and road).

1.  Alex Ovechkin has not gone consecutive home games without a point over his last 11 contests at Capital One Arena (6-6-12, plus-1), and he has points in his last three home games (3-4-7, plus-1).

2.  When Nicklas Backstrom scored a goal the other night, it broke a 21-game streak without a goal.  With four goals, he is still tied for sixth on the club (with Lars Eller, Devante Smith-Pelly, Tom Wilson, and Alex Chiasson). 

3.  When Tom Wilson recorded a four-point game against Chicago on Wednesday night, it was his first multi-point result since Game 10 (2-0-2 in a 3-2 win over the Boston Bruins on November 4th), and it was as many points as he recorded in his previous nine games.  He has four goals this season on 34 shots, a career best (to date) 11.8 shooting percentage.

4.  That 6-2 win over Chicago on Wednesday evened the Caps’ record at 7-7 in games decided by three or more goals.  Their 14 decisions in such games is second-most in the league, trailing only the 17 such decisions the Winnipeg Jets have (11-6).

5.  Only two teams have more blocked shots on home ice than the Caps (245).  The Rangers have 260, and the Montreal Canadiens have 293.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New York: Michael Grabner

In the Rangers’ 12-3-0 run since late October, Michael Grabner has ten goals to lead the club.  It largely negates a sluggish start in which he recorded just one goal in his first ten games of the season and puts him on a pace that could mean a career high before the season is done.  That career high was set back in 2010-2011 with the New York Islanders, his first full season in the NHL after playing 20 games with the Vancouver Canucks the previous year.  That 34-goal total was a hard thing for Grabner to live up to, as his goal totals sank like a stone in the five years thereafter, settling at nine goals in his only season with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2015-2016.  He rebounded last season in his first year with the Rangers, finishing with 27 goals in 76 games.  He is currently on a pace to finish with 39 goals.  What he has not yet done this season though, is make much of a dent on the road.  Only one of his 13 goals have been scored away from Madison Square Garden.  Grabner is 2-3-5, minus-1, in 23 career games against the Caps.

Washington: Alex Chiasson

It will no doubt seem odd to Capitals fans, but Alex Chiasson is averaging more power play ice time per game this season (1:03) than is Jakub Vrana (1:01).  After all, this is a player who does not have a power play goal in his last 173 games, not since he potted one as a member of the Ottawa Senators in a 3-2 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes back on November 7, 2015.  He does not have a power play point this season for the Caps, despite getting, if not top minutes, than substantial time on the man advantage.  He does, however, provide two attributes that at least suggest he get some time on the power play.  He is a big body that can screen goaltenders (6’4”/208), and he is a right-handed shot, a plus playing in the middle on a 1-3-1 power play that the Caps feature.  What he does get is more ice time killing penalties, ranking second among Caps forwards with 2:16 per game in shorthanded ice time, trailing only Jay Beagle (2:50).  It is some note than more than a quarter of his ice time per game (3:19 of 12:41) is spent on special teams.  He is the only forward on the club who can make that claim.  In eight career games against the Rangers, Chiasson is 1-4-5, plus-3.

In the end…

The Caps are firing on all cylinders at the moment, their 14 goals over their last three games representing the first time this season that the Caps scored four or more goals in three consecutive games.  And they have spread things around, too, with eight different players sharing in the goal scoring, 16 different players recording points.  It will be a challenge against the recently hot Rangers, though.  Let’s just see if the Rangers are all that on the road, where they have just two wins in regulation this season.  Okay, so they happen to be in their last two road games.  Still…

Capitals 4 – Rangers 2

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