Sunday, January 08, 2017

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 40: Capitals at Canadiens, January 9th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals reach Game 40 of their regular season on Monday night when they visit Montreal to face the Canadiens at Bell Centre.  The Caps will be looking to extend their current winning streak to a season-tying high of six games, while the Habs will be trying to win their fourth straight game extend their points streak to seven straight games.

Both teams have been experiencing one-goal decisions with frequency in recent games.  The Caps have had eight such decisions in their last 11 games (going 4-2-2, one of the losses a 2-1 decision at the hands of Montreal on December 17th), while the Canadiens had five straight extra-time decisions and six straight one-goal games before taking down the Toronto Maple Leafs, 5-3, on Saturday night.

Montreal comes into this game a team crippled by injuries.  Six players are currently on injured reserve who account for 27 of the team’s 123 goals scored so far this season (22.0 percent).   And, the absences have been spread around the roster - defensemen Greg Pateryn and Andrei Markov; forwards Alex Galchenyuk, David Desharnais, Andrew Shaw, and Brendan Gallagher are, for the moment, on the shelf. 

That has placed a premium on defense and goaltending, and that means the focus, even more than usual, is on goaltender Carey Price.  He certainly seems up to the challenge.  His 2.06 goals against average matches that which he had last year, although he was limited by injury to just 12 games last season.  His save percentage is at .930, to date his third straight season with a save percentage of .930 or better.  Of 58 goalies with at least 2,500 minutes over the past three seasons, Price leads all of them in goals against average (2.00) and save percentage (.933).  He ranks fourth in shutouts (13), but his shutouts per games played (0.12) is well clear of every other goalie in the group.  He has been un-“Price”-like lately, though.  In his last five games, he is 2-1-2, 2.94, .904.  Price is 6-9-4, 2.97, .900, with one shutout in 19 career appearances against the Caps.

One Canadien doing his best to cope with the injury plague is Max Pacioretty.  Montreal’s leading scorer at the moment (19-15-34) is one of three players to record a five-point game this season, recording four goals and an assist in a 10-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche on December 10th.  His four goal effort in that game is one of just two such games this season (Toronto’s Auston Matthews has the other in what was his first NHL game back on October 12th).  Pacioretty has been quite productive of late.  Since December 4th, he is 14-5-19, plus-2, in 16 games and has points in eight of his last ten contests.  In 24 career games against the Caps, he is 2-9-11, minus-2.

So, how’s that trade looking?  That would be the trade of defensemen the Canadiens and Nashville Predators pulled off to send P.K. Subban to Nashville and bring Shea Weber to Montreal.  At the moment, Weber has the superior numbers, ranking second among league defensemen in goals (10), fifth in total points (26), and tied for seventh in plus-minus (plus-17), while Subban is 7-10-17, minus-11.  Weber has the distinction of being the only Canadien defenseman to appear in all 40 games this season, another indicator of how the impact of injuries is running through the team.  He comes into this game on a four-game points streak (1-5-6) and points in six of his last eight contests.  Weber is 3-7-10, plus-2, in 13 career games against the Capitals.

1.  The injuries seem to be a recent phenomenon for the Canadiens.  According to, Montreal has lost 118 man-games through Saturday’s contests, 13th most in the league.

2.  The three-game winning streak the Canadiens bring into this game is their longest such streak in almost two months, when they had a four-game streak from November 5th through November 12th.   That they are still 25-9-6 is largely a product of their 13-1-1 start to the season.  They are 12-8-5 since.

3.  First intermissions matter to the Canadiens, at least when they trail.  The have just one win this season when trailing after 20 minutes and have the fourth-worst winning percentage (.111/1-6-2).

4.  This game is not likely to be a blowout, but if it is, it might not end well for the Caps.  Montreal is tied with Minnesota for the league’s best winning percentage in decisions of three or more goals (.900/9-1).

5.  Montreal is one of the league’s best possession teams.  They are third in Corsi-for at 5-on-5 overall (52.58 percent), fourth in Corsi-for adjusted for score, zone and venue (53.09 percent), and third in Corsi-for at fives at home (53.13 percent; numbers form

1.  The Caps have allowed two or fewer goals in five of their last six and six of their last eight games.  They have three shutouts in that eight-game span, all of them authored by Braden Holtby.

2.  At the other end, the Caps have 20 goals in their last five games, their most prolific five-game stretch of the season.

3.  If you are looking for a comparison to Montreal in man-games lost this season, indicates that the Caps have lost just ten man games lost this season.  That will increase for as long as T.J. Oshie is out with his “upper body” injury.

4.  The Caps have the second-best record in the league in one-goal decisions (20-3-3/.769), trailing only the Columbus Blue Jackets (21-3-3).

5.  The Caps take a pretty good possession record on the road. They are sixth overall in Corsi-for at fives in road games (51.86 percent) and are second in Corsi-for adjusted for score, zone, and venue (54.74; numbers from

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Montreal: Alexander Radulov

It took a while, but perhaps at the age of 30, Alexander Radulov has finally found his place in the scheme of things in the NHL.  Once upon a time, he was a 15th overall draft pick of the Nashville Predators (2004), and when he posted 26 goals and 58 points in his sophomore season in 2007-2008, big things were expected of him.  However, in the summer of 2008 he signed a three-year contract with Salavat Yulaev Ufa in the KHL, despite his having time remaining on his contract with the Predators.  It made for a contentious summer between player and NHL club, eventually resulting in Radulov’s suspension without pay by the Predators.  Radulov went on to play four years in the KHL before returning to Nashville for the end of the 2011-2012 seaosn.  It didn’t go well before it got worse.  Radulov went 3-4-7, plus-3, in nine regular season games, but it was what he did off the ice that threw sand in the gears of his career.  He and a teammate were seen at a bar in Arizona in the early morning hours before a playoff game against the Coyotes.  For the Predators, it was enough.  He (and the teammate) were suspended, and the club declined to extend Radulov a contract offer.

Radulov returned to the KHL to play for CSKA Moscow on a four-year deal.  One might have thought that his NHL days were at an end.  But last summer, he signed a one-year contract with the Canadiens.   Montreal would seem to have few regrets.  Radulov is second on the club in total scoring (31 points) and is one of four players with ten or more goals.  He is second on the club in power play points (10), and he has appeared in 38 games, no mean feat on a club that seems to be losing players on almost a daily basis.  He does not have a point and is minus-2 in two career games against the Caps.

Washington:  Jay Beagle

If the Washington Capitals have taken over the mantle from the New York Islanders of having “The Best Fourth Line in Hockey,” it is due in no small part to Jay Beagle. Through 39 games this season, Beagle, who has a scoring line of 6-9-15, plus-11, is well on his way to having a career year.  He is on a pace to finish with 13 goals (his career high is ten, in 2014-2015), 19 assists (his career high is ten, also set in 2014-2015), 31 points (he had 20 in 2014-2015), and a plus-23 (he was plus-6 in 2014-2015).  He has always been something of a good luck charm, and that trend continues this season.  The Caps are 5-0-0 in games in which Beagle has a goal and are 11-1-1 in games in which he has a point.  That ups the overall record to 28-1-5 in games in which Beagle recorded a goal in his career and 57-6-7 in games in which he recorded a point.  And, he is the go-to player when it comes to taking draws.  He is fourth among all players in winning percentage among those with at least 400 faceoffs taken (59.2 percent), and he has been under 50 percent on draws in only six of 39 games this season.  Beagle is 4-1-5, plus-2, in 17 career games against Montreal.

In the end…

The quirky bit of trivia surrounding this game is that if the Caps win, they will leapfrog Montreal in the standings, and the top four spots in the Eastern Conference standings will be held by Metropolitan Division teams.  Given that the Metro went 3-1 in Sunday night’s games (the only loss by Philadelphia to division rival Columbus), winning means keeping up.  This promises to be a close, low-scoring game.  That has been the recent history of this series.  Of the last seven contests played between the clubs, six were one-goal decisions, three of those settled in extra time, two in the Gimmick.  The Caps are 3-2-2 against the Habs in those seven games.  Twice, the winner scored just one goal in regulation (Montreal won a 2-1 game in a shootout and a 1-0 game in overtime).  Yes, this should be close and low scoring.

Capitals 2 – Canadiens 1

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

Record-wise, the 4-0-0 record in Week 13 for the Washington Capitals was as good as it gets.  Add to that the fact that in doing so they beat the league’s hottest team and had a player make some history, and it was an even better week.  But that number 13 – the unlucky number – had its influence as well as a lingering problem continues to do so, and a key element suffered a re-injury of one he had a couple of months ago. 

Record: 4-0-0

The Caps posted their second four-win week of the season, their first since Week 4, adding to a winning streak that reached five games by week’s end.  That streak is now the longest active winning streak in the league.  For all the offensive sluggishness that settled on the Caps in the first part of the season – Alex Ovechkin’s lackluster (for him) production, the curious ineffectiveness of the power play – they are only six standings points 55 points/25-9-5) off the torrid pace they set last season through 39 games (61 points/29-7-3).  And only last year’s team got to 25 wins faster (in 33 games on a 25-6-2 record) than this team in 39 games (three other Caps teams reached 25 wins in 39 games: 1985-1986, 1991-1992, and 2008-2009).

Offense:  3.50/game (season: 2.82 /game; rank: 9th)

Scoring 14 goals in four games is not a bad thing, but it might have been better had the Caps not played the Ottawa Senators to begin and end the week.  The Caps scored a total of three goals in those two games, a 2-1 win to start the week and a 1-0 win to finish it.  In between, the Caps lit up the Toronto Maple Leafs for six goals in a come-from-behind 6-5 win in overtime, then they torched the Columbus Blue Jackets for five in a 5-0 win to break the Blue Jackets’ winning streak at 16 games, second longest in-season streak in NHL history.  It was only the third time this season that Columbus allowed five or more goals in a game.

There was balance in the Caps’ offense for the week.  Eleven different players scored goals, and 18 different skaters recorded points.  What was particularly noteworthy about the scoring was that defensemen accounted for six goals and seven assists.  Three Caps finished the week with a pair of goals – Justin Williams, John Carlson, and T.J. Oshie.  Evgeny Kuznetsov led in points overall (1-5-6).

On the downside, the Caps suffered what could be an important blow to their lineup.  In the last game of the week, T.J. Oshie took a big hit on his shoulder from Ottawa defenseman Dion Phaneuf, then took some more abuse from Phaneuf later in the second period that put him on the shelf for the rest of the contest.  It looked to be the same shoulder he injured against Detroit earlier this season.  That, and the flu that appears to be going through the Caps’ locker room, pose just more challenges to fight through. 

The highlight of the week was in the first period of the last game of the week.  Just 98 seconds into the game, Nicklas Backstrom wrote himself into the Capitals’ and the NHL’s history books with his 500th career assist:

As we pointed out in the recap of the game, “Backstrom reached that mark in his 691st game with the club.  As Craig Laughlin noted in the Caps telecast, only Peter Forsberg among players born in Sweden reached the 500-assist mark in fewer games than Nicklas Backstrom.  Forsberg did it is 551 games.  And, as Laughlin pointed out, only two active players – Jaromir Jagr and Sidney Crosby – got to 500 sooner than Backstrom.  Jagr did it in 642 games, while Crosby did it in 554 games.  It's a lot of apples.”

Defense: 1.50/game (season: 2.03 /game; rank: 1st)

When the Capitals shutout the Ottawa Senators, 1-0, to end Week 13, it was the tenth time in the post-2004-2005 lockout era that the team won a 1-0 game, the second time they did it against the Senators (they did it on April 1, 2006).  It ended a week in which the Caps played three games in which they limited opponents to one or fewer goals.  That brings the total this season to 12 such games, wins in all of them.  The effort reduced the Caps’ scoring defense to 2.03 goals per game, best in the league and, at the moment, the third lowest for a season since that same 2004-2005 lockout season (St. Louis had a 1.89 goals/game against in 2011-2012, and Chicago had a 2.02 mark in 2012-2013).

The blemish on the record, though, was that the Caps barely won the week in possession, and that was entirely a product of the overwhelming shot attempt advantage they had over Toronto in the second game of the week.  The Caps finished the week with a 50.7 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5, but they had a 46-31 in shot attempts at fives against the Maple Leafs (59.7%).  The Caps were underwater in the other three games (numbers from

The presence for goals against was spread around rather liberally.  Fifteen different skaters were on ice for goals against, the fourth line of Daniel Winnik, Tom Wilson, and Jay Beagle on ice for three apiece, and the defensive pair of Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik doing the same.

Goaltending:  1.50 / .944 / 2 shutouts (season: 1.93 / .930 / 6 SO)

By the end of Week 13, the Capitals have the best goaltending overall in the NHL.  With apologies to Minnesota’s Devan Dubnyk, who leads the NHL in goals against average (1.82) and save percentage (.939) among 50 goalies with at least 500 minutes of ice time, Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer have established themselves as the premier tandem in the league.   Even with what might be characterized as a bad game against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the second game of the week, one in which Holtby was relieved after 20 minutes and the two goalies combined for just 20 saves on 25 shots faced, a 1.50 goals against average and .944 save percentage is exceptional.

Most of that is due to Holtby, who in the three complete games he played stopped 82 of 83 shots.   The three games in which Holtby allowed one or fewer goals brought his total for the season to 11 (complete games only).  Only four goalies in the league have more.  The best part of all, overall, might have been how the Caps's save percentage improved on a period-to-period basis for the week.  They finished with a .919 save percentage in the first periods of games, .949 in the second periods, and .969 in the third periods (Grubauer faced no shots in overtime in the win over Toronto).

Power Play: 1-for-10 / 10.0 percent (season: 16.4 percent; rank: 21st)

How bad is the Caps’ power play?  Last season they did not finish a single one of 26 weeks with a season power play below 20.0 percent.  Through 13 weeks this season, the Caps power play has yet to finish a week at or above 20 percent for the season, and their season number has dropped in each of the last three weeks (overall going 1-for-25/4.0 percent).

Week 13 was little better.  Washington did break a five-game streak without a power play goal when they opened the scoring against Toronto with a Justin Williams power play strike.  But that was a brief respite from the gloomy results, finishing the week with a pair of games without a power play goal.

Going 1-for-10 for the week left the Caps just 1-for-25 over their last nine games, and in Week 13 they were woefully inefficient.  On ten power plays they managed only eight shots in 16:28 of power play ice time.  What is remarkable about the shots is not the distribution – six different Caps recorded power play shots on goal – but that Alex Ovechkin had just two power play shots in 11:48 of ice time.

Penalty Killing: 16-for-18 / 88.9 percent (season: 87.1 percent; rank: 3rd)

As bad as the power play has been, the penalty kill has been good.  Even the hiccup shined a light on how good the penalty killers have been.  The two power play goals allowed to the Maple Leafs was the first time the Caps allowed more than one power play goal in a game since November 20th, when the Columbus Blue Jackets touched the Caps for a pair in a 3-2 win over the Caps (a span of 18 straight games allowing just one or fewer power play goals, over which time they went 65-for-71 (91.5 percent)).

And it has all been about denying shots.  In the four games, the Caps allowed opponents just 21 shots in 30:38 of shorthanded ice time.  And that shorthanded ice time included having to kill a full two-minute 3-on-5 shorthanded situation against Ottawa in the third period of the first game of the week, then a 3-on-5 situation against the Columbus Blue Jackets lasting 1:03.  In both instances, the Caps killed off the disadvantage. From a team perspective, this is arguably the best and most consistent part of the Caps’ game at the moment.

Faceoffs: 111-for-233 / 47.6 percent (season: 50.1% / rank: 13th)

It was not an especially good week for the Caps in the faceoff circle, although it was not quite as bad as it looked.  The Caps did well in the second and fourth games of the week, posting 50-plus percent marks against Toronto (56.3 percent) and Ottawa (52.6 percent), but falling under that bar in the first and third games of the week against the Senators (38.9 percent) and Columbus (41.4 percent. 

The problem was winning draws in the offensive zone, where the Caps finished the week 29-for-74 (39.2 percent).  Only in the second game against Ottawa of the week did the Caps reach 50 percent in the offensive zone (10-for-20).  They finished above 50 percent in the defensive zone for the week (51.1 percent) and in the neutral zone (52.1 percent). 

The “big four” in terms of draws taken – Nicklas Backstrom, Lars Eller, Jay Beagle, and Evgeny Kuznetsov – split their ways in who was over or under 50 percent, but not in the usual distribution.  Backstrom (46.3 percent) and Eller (38.1 percent) were short of 50 percent for the week, while Jay Beagle (56.5 percent) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (58.5 percent) won more than half their draws.  Kuznetsov’s week was especially surprising, in a pleasant way, since even at the end of the week he ranked 106th of 110 players taking at least 250 draws in winning percentage (42.9 percent).

Goals by Period:

First periods continue to be good for the Caps.  Even with allowing three goals to the Maple Leafs in the first period of the 6-5 overtime win, part of a 5-3 advantage in first period goals scored for the week, the Caps finished the week with the fewest first period goals allowed in the league (17) and the second-best first period goal differential (plus-19’; Columbus is plus-20). 

However, don’t underestimate the late-game effectiveness of the Caps.  In the third period and overtime, the Caps won the week, 6-1.  The one goal allowed in the third period and overtime over the four games left the Caps with 32 goals allowed in the third period and overtime of games this season.  Only the Pittsburgh Penguins have allowed fewer (28).

In the end…

It was by no means an easy week.  Games every other day is a nice rhythm to have, but four-game weeks can be a burden.  Add to that the fact that the week presented such variety in the nature of opponents.  Twice the Caps had to face a team (Ottawa) that plays a very deliberate, grinding style. On the other hand, they also faced one of those young, frisky teams with skill, speed, and a desire to make a reputation (Toronto) that can be a real pain in the neck for a veteran team. So much skating and shooting and celebrating.  Then there were the Columbus Blue Jackets, looking to make some history in tying the longest in-season winning streak in NHL history (17 games, set by the 1991-1992 Pittsburgh Penguins).  For the Caps, it was a statement game against a team at the top of its game and that already beat the Caps twice this season. 

It won’t get any easier, though.  The Caps have a three-game week ahead of them in which they face the Montreal Canadiens, the Pittsburgh Penguins, and the Chicago Blackhawks, each of which has 25 wins and carry a combined record of 75-29-16.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Braden Holtby (3-0-0, 1.20, .956, two shutouts)
  • Second Star: Evgeny Kuznetsov (1-5-6, plus-5, 10 shots on goal, 14 shot attempts, 24-for-41 on faceoffs/58.5 percent)
  • Third Star: Justin Williams (2-3-5, plus-6, eight shots on goal, 16 shot attempts)