Wednesday, March 01, 2017

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 63: New Jersey Devils at Washington Capitals, March 2nd

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

It will be back to the ice on Thursday night for the Washington Capitals in what will be new defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk’s first game on home ice as the Caps host the New Jersey Devils at Verizon Center.  The Caps, winners of three of their last four games, will take on a Devils team that has lost four in a row, the last two in overtime.

It has not been offense carrying the Caps of late, but defense and goaltending.  In each of the three wins in those last four games the Caps allowed opponents a single goal.  On the other hand, the Devils have been hemorrhaging goals, allowing four or more in three of the four losses in their four-game losing streak.

It is not as if the Devils were blown out in their four straight losses.  In addition to the two overtime losses they lost another one-goal decision in regulation, and they lost a two-goal decision to the New York Islanders that they trailed by one goal at the second intermission.  It has made for a bit of a waste of offense for the usually offense-challenged Devils; they have 11 goals in their last four games and were held to less than three only in a 2-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators on February 21st.

Kyle Palmieri has had a hand in more than half of the Devils’ goals in this four-game stretch, leading the team with four goals and seven points.  The recent surge of scoring has lifted Palmieri into the team lead in goals (19) and within a point (40) of Taylor Hall for the team lead in points (41).  It is part of what has been a rather productive 2017 portion of the season for Palmieri, who is 12-8-20, plus-1, in 25 games in the new year.  The odd part of his recent goal scoring is that the Devils are just 1-1-3 in the last five games in which he has a goal.  He is 2-2-4, plus-1, in 10 career games against the Caps.

Travis Zajac has also been productive over those last four games for the Devils, going 2-4-6.  He comes into this game with points in five straight games (3-5-8) and in six of his last seven contests.  That rush has Zajac poised to match his offensive production from last season.  At 13-26-39 through 61 games, he is within striking distance of the 14-28-42 scoring line he had in 74 games last season.  What he is also in striking distance of matching is his highest average ice time for a season.  Zajac averages 20:05 so far this season, the third time he averaged more than 20 minutes in an 11-year career and the first time since the 2013-2014 season when he averaged a career high 20:19 in average ice time.  He is 5-19-24, plus-3, in 39 career games against Washington.

The Devils have dressed 10 defensemen this season, nine of them having recorded at least one goal.  None have more goals than John Moore.  The six goals he has this season is a season high in a career covering seven seasons and 346 games with four teams.  However, the goal he scored in the 4-3 loss to Montreal in his last game was his first in 13 games and just his second in more than two months dating back to a 5-4 overtime loss to the Detroit Red Wings back on November 25th.  Moore is 2-1-3, minus-1, in 11 career games against the Caps.

1.  New Jersey has more extra time losses (12) than any team in the league except the Toronto Maple Leafs (13).

2.  No team has more losses this season when scoring first than the Devils (18 – 10 in regulation and eight in extra time).  Only Arizona (.483) has a worse winning percentage overall when scoring first than the Devils (.486).

3.  New Jersey has had more losses by three or more goals (14) than any team in the Eastern Conference (by now, you’re thinking this has not been a very good year for the Devils).

4.  OK, on the good side, the Devils have the best penalty kill on the road in the league (88.0 percent).  They are tied with Toronto and the New York Rangers for the fewest road power play goals allowed this season (12).  On the bad side (and you knew there would be one), they have allowed power play goals in three of their last five road games.

5.  Adjusted for score, zone, and venue, the Devils have the fourth-worst Corsi-for at 5-on-5 in the league (47.38 percent; numbers from 

1.  Washington comes into this game with 25 wins in 31 home games (25-5-1), tied with Pittsburgh for the most home wins in the league (going into Wednesday’s games).  With ten home games remaining, six wins would set a record for home wins in a season (31).

2.  The Caps could dial back the power plays they face at home.  Only five teams have been shorthanded more frequently than the Caps (101).

3.  The Caps have been an extraordinarily stingy team on home ice, allowing only 52 goals in 31 games (1.68/game).  The second-place team, the Anaheim Ducks, have allowed 60 goals on home ice in two fewer games (2.07 per game).

4.  The Caps have just one trick shot win this season.  If they get another one, they can avoid tying the franchise low for Gimmick wins in a season (one, in 2006-2007, when they went 1-11).

5.  The Caps have the worst penalty differential in the league at 5-on-5 (minus-34), but that record is better on home ice, where they are minus-8, tied for seventh-worst in the league (with Ottawa; numbers from

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New Jersey: Cory Schneider

It might seem odd, but the New Jersey Devils’ number one goaltender does not have a decision in three games the Devils have played against the Caps this season.  He stopped all 18 shots he faced in 28:35 in relief of starter Keith Kinkaid in a 5-2 loss to the Caps on January 26th in his only appearance against Washington this season.  He comes into this game as a loser in four of his last five appearances (1-2-2), but he probably does not deserve a record quite that bad with a 2.78 goals against average and a .919 save percentage.  It is not as if his skaters pick up for him when he has an off night this season.  Only one of his 19 wins have come when he allowed more than three goals, and when allowing three goals he has a record of 3-7-1.  Schneider is 3-5-2, 2.25, .920, with one shutout in 11 career appearances against the Caps.

Washington: Tom Wilson

In his first three seasons, Tom Wilson compiled 486 penalty minutes in 231 games (2.10 minutes per game).  He had 33 fighting majors.  This season Wilson has six fighting majors, almost as many as he had last season (seven), but his 74 penalty minutes in 62 games is almost a minute per game (1.19) shaved off his average over his first three seasons.  On the other hand, his next goal will tie a career high (seven in 82 games last season), and he has 20 games in which to do it.  He is also a plus-10, a career best, and he is averaging a career high 2:13 in penalty-killing time per game, a career high, tied with Lars Eller for third-most among Caps forwards this season.  Wilson’s offense matters, too.  The Caps are 6-0-0 in the games in which Wilson has a goal this season, and the loss to the Nashville Predators last Saturday was the first time in 13 games this season in which Wilson recorded a point that the Caps lost.  What Wilson does not have in his career is a goal against the Devils.  He is 0-3-3, plus-5, in 14 career games against New Jersey.

In the end…

Sure, this could be seen as a trap game, a contest against a lesser opponent to start a three-game home stand after a big win on the road against a team the Caps might face in the playoffs.  But here is perhaps the most interesting fact of all concerning the Caps and home games (this one will really impress your friends).  In seven multi-game home stands this season, the Caps won the first game of them each time.   Why would you think this would go otherwise in their eighth rodeo?

Capitals 4 – Devils 2

A TWO-Point Night -- Game 62: Washington Capitals 4 - New York Rangers 1

The spotlight was on the new guy for the Washington Capitals, but when the final horn blew in their 4-1 win over the New York Rangers, the stars were the quiet veteran and the old coach.  It was Kevin Shattenkirk’s debut with the club after his trade to the Caps from the St. Louis Blues on Monday evening, but Marcus Johansson had a two goals and an assist in the win, and Barry Trotz joined the “700 Club,” becoming the third active head coach (with Joel Quenneville and Lindy Ruff, although one might also include fired-this-season Ken Hitchcock in this group) and sixth in the history of the NHL to reach the 700-win mark.

The Rangers scored the game’s first goal early in the first period when they caught the Caps being a bit too passive in their own end.  Brady Skjei took a pass from Adam Glendenning in the neutral zone and skated the puck to the Capitals’ blue line.  Gaining the zone, he fed the puck to J.T. Miller on his left and headed to the net.  Miller slid the puck back to Glendenning trailing the play, and Glendenning found Skjei at the top of the crease for a tap-in past goalie Braden Holtby at the 5:08 mark.

The Rangers carried the 1-0 lead into the second period but could not hold it.  Johansson tied the game by finishing a give-and-go with Dmitry Orlov.  Johansson fed the puck to Johansson for a shot in the left wing circle that was kicked out by goalie Henrik Lundqvist.  Johansson pounced on the rebound and snapped it into the net before Lundqvist recovered, making it a 1-1 game 7:28 into the period.

The Caps took the lead nine minutes later.  From the left wing wall, Lars Eller fed Matt Niskanen entering the offensive zone.  Niskanen relayed the puck to Brett Connolly crossing through the low slot, and Connolly swept the puck around Lundqvist’s left pad to make it 2-1 at the 16:26 mark.

Washington took a two-goal lead early in the third on another give-and-go play.  Johansson skated the puck down the middle into the Ranger end, then fed Evgeny Kuznetsov at the right wing wall.  Kuznetsov eased the puck into the right wing circle, then backhanded a pass to the front, where Johansson redirected it past Lundqvist at the 1:15 mark to make it 3-1, Caps.

The Caps clinched the win late on a power play.  Nicklas Backstrom controlled the puck at the right wing wall, skated up to the point, then circled back to the top of the right wing circle.  With no Ranger coming out to force his hand, he wristed a shot that deflected off the stick of Skjei, bounced off the ice, and knuckle-balled past the blocker of Lundqvist to make it 4-1 with just 2:03 left to give the Caps the 4-1 win.

Other stuff…

-- The three-point game for Marcus Johansson was his second this season (both on the road, the last one in Vancouver on October 29th) and the sixth of his career.  Both occurrences this season involved two goals and an assist.

-- Shattenkirk had four shots on goal, six shot attempts, and a hit in 17:57 of ice time in his debut. 

-- After missing six days, Matt Niskanen recorded his tenth multi-point game of the season with two assists.  He also finished plus-3, the third time this season he finished plus-3 or better.

-- Evgeny Kuznetsov recorded a pair of assists for his 14th multi-point game this season and his tenth since the calendar rolled over to 2017.

-- Alex Ovechkin was kept off the score sheet, breaking a seven-game goals/points streak at Madison Square Garden.  He was 9-0-9 in those seven games.  He did have four shots on goal, eight shot attempts, and six hits.

-- Was there a “Shattenkirk Effect” on the power play?  He, Ovechkin, Johansson, and Nicklas Backstrom each played 2:07 on the power play.  They accounted for five of the six shots on goal and the lone power play strike in that 2:07 of power play ice time.

-- In other third pair defenseman news, Brooks Orpik was out, and Nate Schmidt got the sweater.  It was a very quiet night for Schmidt, who in 17:07 of ice time recorded one shot attempt (blocked) and was on the ice for the Ranger goal, the only Cap to finish with a “minus” for the night (minus-1).

-- We are not exactly sure what inspired Adam Clendening to mix it up with Daniel Winnik.  It started with a hit Clendening put on Winnik in the Ranger end to which Winnik took some offense.  Later, as they headed up ice, Clendening was chirping at Winnik then cross-checked him, and shortly thereafter the two were entangled behind the Caps’ net, Glendenning getting in another whack.  That was enough for Winnik, who made short work of Clendening, who recorded his first NHL fight in 75 career NHL games and first as a pro since he had one in the AHL in the 2012-2013 season.  Not that Winnik is a heavyweight, although it was his third fight this season.  He has had 13 fights in 697 NHL games (numbers from

-- Braden Holtby keeps rolling.  With this 29-save performance, he is now 17-0-2, 1.79, .933, with four shutouts in his last 21 appearances.

-- The Caps Corsi’ed the crap out of the Rangers.  At 5-on-5 they had a 58-42 advantage in shot attempts (58.0 percent) and outscored the Rangers, 3-1.  They had a PDO of 105.51 to the Rangers’ 94.49 (numbers from

In the end…

One game is not an era, but it has to start somewhere, and the “Shattenkirk Era,” however long it lasts, got off to a fine start last night.  Yes, the Rangers did lose their previous two games on home ice (one in a Gimmick), but before that won five in a row at MSG. They were looking to become the seventh team this season and fifth in the East to win 20 games on home ice this season.  But despite giving up a first-period/first-goal to the home team, the Caps stuck to what works, which is a formidable combination of skill, depth, and discipline.  Add to that an asset as skilled as Kevin Shattenkirk, and well…one can dream.  Caps fans got a glimpse of what that dream could look like last night.