Sunday, March 05, 2017

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 65: Dallas Stars at Washington Capitals, March 6th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals wrap up their three-game home stand on Monday night when they host the Dallas Stars.  The Caps carry a three-game winning streak into this contest and wins in their last 15 games on home ice.  Dallas has been struggling of late, going 5-9-0 in their last 14 games.

When February dawned, the Stars were fighting for a playoff spot one point ahead of Nashville for fourth place in the Central Division and one point behind the Los Angeles Kings for the second wild card spot in the postseason.  Since then, however, the Stars have been unable to keep opponents’ pucks out of their net, allowing an average of 3.50 goals per game in the 14 games they have played since February 1st.

Offense has not been much of a problem for the Stars in that span, averaging 2.92 goals per game since the start of February.  Jamie Benn has almost a quarter (10) of the goals scored by the team in that span (41).  The recent rush pushed Benn past the 20-goal mark for the season (24), the seventh time in seven full NHL seasons (not counting the abbreviated 2012-2013 season) he reached the 20-goal mark.  He is, however, off his pace of last season when he set a career high in goals (41).  Part of the slump is that his shooting frequency is off, averaging 2.72 shots per game this season compared to his 2.86 shots per game coming into this season and his 3.01 shots per game last season.  Benn has been an extremely reliable scorer for the last two months.  He has not gone consecutive games without a point since games 29 and 30 in mid-December.  In 31 games since then he is 16-22-38, even.  Benn is 4-6-10, plus-8, in ten career games against the Capitals.

Dallas lost a critical element in their 5-4 loss to the New York Islanders last Thursday when Antoine Roussel sustained a hand injury that will put him out for the remainder of the season.  It would be easy to think of Roussel as merely an agitator, a player inclined to test the boundaries of the rule book (he is second in the NHL in penalty minutes with 115).  However, he was second on the club in goals scored since February 1st (five), and he was second among Stars’ forwards in average ice time on the penalty kill this season.  He was also third on the club in total goals scored this season (12) when he left the lineup.  The Stars have been struggling on the penalty kill all season, but his absence seems likely to make it even worse.

Roussel’s absence will either put added pressure on a player like Cody Eakin or provide such a player with an opportunity, depending on your point of view.  The former Capital, who has missed 22 games this season to a knee injury and a four-game suspension, recorded 35 or more points in each of the last three seasons entering this one.  The time missed has taken its toll, though, with Eakin sporting a meager 3-7-10, minus-8 scoring line in 43 games this season.  He had a brief scoring spurt recently, going 2-4-6 over a nine-game span in February, but he is without a point in his last four games.  Eakin is 1-2-3, even, in seven career games against the Caps.

1.  Dallas is a poor finisher.  No team has allowed more third period goals this season than the Stars (76) and only Detroit (11) and New Jersey (10) have allowed more overtime goals than Dallas (nine).

2.  Only Colorado has allowed more five-on-five goals (201) than Dallas (208). No team has allowed more goals at 4-on-5 (46).  They have allowed the most 3-on-5 goals this season (six).  Only St. Louis (13) has allowed more goals at 6-on-5 than the Stars (11).  The Stars are more or less a charitable foundation.

3.  Score on Dallas first, chance are you win.  Only Toronto (.185) and Colorado (.140) have worse winning percentages when allowing the first goal than Dallas (.222 on a 8-21-7 record).

4.  Dallas is one of those odd teams that has done better when being outshot by opponents (15-11-4) than they have when outshooting them (10-18-6).

5.  Dallas is one of four teams that allow more than 60 shot attempts per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time (60.18).  Arizona (63.43), the New York Islanders (61.61), and Toronto (60.27) are the others (numbers from

1.  The Caps have eight players at plus-20 or better so far this season, two of them better than plus-30 (Brooks Orpik at plus-32, Dmitry Orlov at plus-31).  Last season, they had two players over plus-20 (Evgeny Kuznetsov was plus-27; Alex Ovechkin was plus-21).

2.  When Nicklas Backstrom scored in overtime to beat the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday, it was his fourth game-winning goal of the season.  The Caps have 16 different players with game-winning goals.  They still have a little way to go to match last season’s 18 players with game-winners.

3.  Tom Wilson might lead the Caps in penalty minutes overall (78), but he is just fourth in minor penalties taken (19).  Last season he took 44 minor penalties.

4.  Who had Dmitry Orlov as the Capital on ice for the most 5-on-5 shot attempts so far this season (1,077)?  In terms of shot attempts per 60 minutes at 5-on-5, among Caps appearing in at least 50 games, that would be Andre Burakovsky (64.30; numbers from

5.  Only two teams have spent more time killing penalties this season than the Caps (377:57) – Anaheim (387:16) and Calgary (392:19).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Dallas: Tyler Seguin

For Tyler Seguin, the 2016-2017 season resembles to a degree the season Alex Ovechkin had in 2013-2014.  You remember that one, the one in which Ovechkin had 51 goals and was a minus-35?  This season, Tyler Seguin is the only player in the league with at least 60 points (22-43-65) and a plus-minus of minus-15 or worse (minus-15).  That is due in no small part to the fact that Seguin is second in the league in power play points (26; Phil Kessel has 27), where Seguin could not earn a “plus.”  If he finishes the season with at least 80 points and a minus-20 or worse, he would be just the second player since the 2004-2005 lockout to pull off that double (Martin St. Louis had 83 points and was minus-25 in 2007-2008 for Tampa Bay).  Seguin is 2-12-14 in his last nine games, six of which were multi-point games.  He is 8-4-12, plus-3, in 18 career games against Washington.

Washington: Matt Niskanen

Matt Niskanen is the only defenseman in the Eastern Conference to average more than 22 minutes a game (22:23), record at least 30 points (4-31-35), and post a plus-minus of plus-20 or better (plus-23).  He has already posted his high point total for a season as a Capital, surpassing the 32 points he recorded last season.  At his current scoring pace he could challenge his career best of 46 points recorded in 2013-2014 with Pittsburgh.  His production has been more impressive of late.  In his last 20 games he is 2-15-17, plus-11, and the Caps are 15-3-2 in those contests.  The former first-round draft pick of the Stars (28th overall in 2005, taken right after the Caps took Joe Finley with the 27th pick) is 0-5-5, even, in nine career games against his former club.

In the end…

The Caps will be facing a team that has had its problems on the road lately.  Dallas’ 2-1 win in Florida against the Panthers last Saturday broke a six-game losing streak on the road, and the Stars are just 5-14-2 in their last 21 road contests.  What has sunk the Stars in those 21 road games is a poor penalty kill, one that was just 56-for-78 over that span (71.8 percent).  Not that the Stars have had much success killing penalties anywhere all season, theirs being the worst penalty kill in the league overall.  That’s a bad place to be for a club facing the league’s best power play since January 1st (29.5 percent).

Capitals 4 – Stars 2

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 21

The title of the story for Week 21 for the Washington Capitals might read, “A Return to Normalcy.”    If by normalcy one means winning a week’s worth of games.  But it was also a big week off the ice as the Caps won the big trading deadline prize – St. Louis Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk – to fill what might be the last remaining hole in the lineup.  Given the week’s results, early returns look good indeed.

Record: 3-0-0

After a pair of .500 weeks, the Caps won all three games on their schedule this week to go 31 games over .500 for the season.  Only two other teams in club history have finished a regular season 30 or more games over .500, the 2009-2001 club (54-15-13) and the 2015-2016 squad (56-18-8).  It was the sixth time in 21 weeks that the Caps cobbled together a win-only week, the first since Week 18.

Washington has now spent 45 consecutive days at the top of the league standings in pursuit of becoming the seventh team to win consecutive Presidents’ Trophies as the team with the most standings points earned in the regular season.  And with 18 games remaining at the end of Week 21, six more wins would make the Caps the first team post consecutive 50-win seasons twice since the 2004-2005 lockout.   They did it in 2008-2009 and 2009-2010, and they did it last season.

Offense: 2.33/game (season: 3.27/game; rank: 3rd)

It was a light week in the offensive end of the ice, especially for a week featuring three wins in three games.  Five players recorded the seven goals for the week, Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson the only Caps with as many as two.  Johansson (2-1-3) shared the points lead for the week with Matt Niskanen and Evgeny KLuznetsov, each with three assists.  Backstrom and Kuznetsov continue their assault on the league scoring rankings since January 1st.  Backstrom is tied for the league lead in points in 2017 (36, with Boston’ Brad Marchand) and leads overall in assists (24), while Kuznetsov is tied for fifth in points (32, with San Jose’s Brent Burns). 

The odd part about the Caps’ offense since New Year’s is that despite an overwhelming lead in goals scored (113 to 95 for the Winnipeg Jets), they have just one player in the top ten in goals scored (T.J. Oshie, tied for eighth with 13 goals).  What they do have is five players in double digits in goals: Oshie (13), Kuznetsov (12), Backstrom (11), Alex Ovechkin (10), and Justin Williams (10).  Only Backstrom among that group scored goals in Week 21.

Defense: 0.67/game (season: 2.03/game; rank: 1st)

What a week for the defense.  Except, well…perhaps not.   The Caps allowed 55.92 shot attempts per 60 minutes at 5-on-5, a respectable number, higher than the 53.75 mark over the full season.  Even in the middle games of the week, one in which they held the New Jersey Devils to 15 shots, the Devils out-attempted the Caps at 5-on-5 (38-35).  The 38 attempts allowed was the best for the week, but not a lot better than the 42 5-on-5 attempts the Caps allowed the New York Rangers (in more than five more 5-on-5 minutes) or the 41 attempts the Caps allowed the Philadelphia Flyers (numbers from  As it was, the Caps did allow the Rangers and Flyers 30 or more shots on goal overall, making it five times in the last seven games that opponents hit that threshold.

Goaltending: 0.67 / .974 / 1 shutout (season: 1.94 / .930 / 11 shutouts)

Braden Holtby had an amazing week.  One could argue that the collection of opponents in Week 21 were either in an offensive slump or were just poor offensive teams, but the fact is that he was next to impenetrable, stopping 74 of 76 shots in three games.  He recorded his eighth shutout of the season (most in the league), his fifth in his last 20 appearances. 

Holtby is continuing one of the most amazing runs of a goaltender in the post-2004-2005 lockout era.  Since January 1st, he is 19-0-1 (tops in wins, four more than Minnesota’s Devan Dubnyk), has a 1.71 goals against average (best in the league, five points better than Anaheim’s John Gibson), has a .935 save percentage (second to Gibson’s .941), and has five shutouts (one more than Gibson), all of that despite ranking just eighth in minutes (1,261).  It gets better.  In his last 100 appearances dating back to November 2015, Holtby is 71-13-12 (tops in wins, 15 more than San Jose’s Martin Jones), 2.07 (best, eight points better than Dubnyk), .926 (3rd, one point behind Dubnyk and Matt Murray), and has 11 shutouts (tops, two more than Gibson).  This arguably qualifies as the best sustained effort in goaltending in the history of the franchise.

Power Play: 3-for-11 / 27.3 percent (season: 22.1 percent; rank: 5th)

Three games, a power play goal in each.  That qualifies as a good week.  The 11 power play chances was the highest number of opportunities since they went 3-for-12 in Week 16.  As with much of what has taken place for the Caps since January 1st, it kept them on top of the league power play rankings in the 2017 portion of the season (29.5 percent; Minnesota is second at 27.8 percent). 

If there was an odd quality about the power play success in Week 21, it was that all three power play goals came after two periods, one of them a game-winner in overtime.  If you subscribe to the notion that teams don’t get many chances in the third period or overtime of games, the Caps made the most of what opportunities they had. 

On an individual level, Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin represented ends of the spectrum of fortune.  Backstrom scored on both of the power play shots he took for the week, each coming on almost identical plays, curling into the right wing circle and ripping a shot off as the defense backed off looking for a pass.  He did it in the third period against the Rangers and in overtime against the Flyers.

On the other hand, Ovechkin drew a blank on four power play shots for the week (tied with John Carlson for most on the club).  Each of Ovechkin’s last three goals recorded have come on the power play, but he has just those three goals in his last 14 games.

As a team, the Caps were reasonably efficient, recording 17 shots on goal in 18:40 in total power play time.

Penalty Killing: 14-for-14 / 100.0 percent (season: 84.9 percent; rank: 5th)

Again, there is good and bad in the penalty killing.  The bad, of course, has to be facing 14 shorthanded situations in three games.  It was the most shorthanded situations faced since the Caps killed 16 of 18 such situations in a four-game Week 13.

The good was in the efficiency and the effectiveness in the penalty killing itself.  In killing off all 14 shorthanded situations, the Caps limited their three opponents to just 13 shots on goal in 28 shorthanded minutes. 

Over their last seven games, the Caps are 20-for-22 killing penalties (90.9 percent).

Faceoffs: 94-for-180 / 52.2 percent (season: 49.9 percent; rank: 16th)

Not a bad week, but not a great one, either, in the circle.  The Caps won two of three games (they were under 50 percent against New Jersey) and won two of the three zones for the week (under 50 percent in the offensive zone).

It was a good week for the “big four,” though.  Nicklas Backstrom, Lars Eller, Jay Beagle, and Evgeny Kuznetsov went a combined 92-for-169 (54.4 percent), although that was primarily a product of good weeks from Backstrom (62.5 percent) and Beagle (56.3 percent). And those tow starred in the zones in which they do their best work, Backstrom going 17-for-24 in offensive zone draws (70.8 percent), while Beagle was 15-for-24 in the defensive end (62.5 percent).

Goals by Period:

Slow starts, big finishes.  That was Week 21 for the Caps, by period.  They did allow a first period goal to the Rangers to start the week, but then shut teams out over the last 54:52 of first period time for the week.  They kept teams off the scoreboard for the first 41:19 of third period ice time before allowing a goal to the Flyers in the last game of the week.  Defensively, it was quite a week by period.

On offense, the Caps couldn’t seem to get started in games, drawing a blank in the first period of each game.  They did managed to improve in each succeeding period and had the week’s only overtime goal, pushing their overtime record to 7-2 this season (compare that to 1-5 in the Gimmick).

In the end…

A few weeks ago, the Caps were steamrolling opponents with unrelenting offense, scoring more than five goals per game at a furious pace.  Lately, and especially in Week 21, they are still winning, but they have done it with decent defense and sparkling goaltending.  This was a week in which the Caps shook off a couple of lackluster weeks, perhaps in the early excitement of adding a new piece to the mix that might finally be just that piece the team needs for a long playoff run.  For the time being though, this is a team that just keeps brushing opponents to the side as they continue building to the league’s best record.

Three Stars of the Week:
  • First Star: Braden Holtby (3-0-0, 0.67, .974, one shutout)
  • Second Star: Nicklas Backstrom (2-0-2, minus-1, 2 PPG, 1 GWG, 62.5 percent faceoff winning percentage)
  • Third Star: Matt Niskanen (0-3-3, plus-4, eight shots on goal, four hits, two blocked shots)

A TWO-Point Night -- Game 64: Washington Capitals 2 - Philadelphia Flyers 1 (OT)

The Washington Capitals won their 15th consecutive game on home ice on Saturday night, defeating the Philadelphia Flyers, 2-1, in overtime.  It was the tenth time in the 15-game winning streak at home that the Caps held an opponent to one or no goals.

The teams spent the first 40 minutes of the game looking for that elusive first goal, and it was the Flyers getting it early in the third period.  Off a rush, a Matt Read too a feed from Nick Cousins in the left win circle.  He snapped a shot at the net that was redirected by Sean Couturier past goalie Braden Holtby just 79 seconds into the third period.

Before the period was three minutes old, the game was tied.  Dmitry Orlov collected a loose puck at the red line, skated down the middle into the Flyers’ end and ripped a shot past the left pad of goalie Steve Mason at the 2:40 mark.

And that would be all for the scoring in the regulation portion of the contest.  In overtime, Michael Del Zotto took a holding penalty for the Flyers that would be their undoing.  A minute into the ensuing power play, the Caps worked the puck around the top of the offensive zone, finding Nicklas Backstrom at the top of the right wing circle.  Backstrom curled in as the Flyer defense backed off an snapped a shot through a T.J.Oshie screen that beat Mason on the short side to give the Caps the win.

Other stuff…

-- Dmitry Orlov’s goal was his first since he recorded a pair in a 6-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes on January 23rd.  It broke a 16-game streak without a goal for Orlov.

-- Nicklas Backstrom’s goal was his 20th of the season, matching his total from last season and making it four seasons in his career with 20 or more goals.

-- Tom Wilson was credited with nine hits, a season high for him and tying a career high set in March 2014 in a 5-4 Gimmick loss to the Los Angeles Kings.

-- The Caps surrendered six power play opportunities to the Flyers, tying the season high on home ice (January 3rd in a 6-5 overtime win against the Toronto Maple Leafs).  Only in a 6-2 win in New Jersey on New Year’s Eve against the Devils did the Caps face more shorthanded situations (nine).

-- Alex Ovechkin recorded an assist on the Backstrom game-winning goal, his 28th assist of the season.  It ties his best season over the last six years.  The last time he had more assists in a season was in 2010-2011, when he had 53 helpers.

-- The Caps managed just two shots in 7:04 of power play time over four power plays.  The second shot was the game-winner.

-- Kevin Shattenkirk recorded his first point as a Capital, earning the primary assist on Backstrom’s game-winning goal.

-- Backstrom had a team-high five blocked shots and won 11 of 15 faceoffs.

-- Braden Holtby just keeps rolling.  After stopping 30 of 31 shots in this game, he is 19-0-1 (two no-decisions), 1.71, .935, with four shutouts in the 2017 portion of the season.

-- The shot attempts were relatively even at 5-on-5.  The Caps owned a slight edge in shot attempts at fives (42-41), while the Flyers had an edge in shots on goal (22-19; numbers from

In the end…

Twelve minor penalties, ten power plays, a lot of get-up-in-your-face hockey.  A typical Caps-Flyers night.  The win was two-fold for the Caps, adding another win to go 31 games over .500 and striking another blow against the Flyers’ fading playoff hopes (they are three points out of the second wild-card spot and four teams to climb over).  It was hardly a dominating win, but it did provide evidence of an ability to grind out ugly wins.  And, the Caps have been remarkably stingy allowing goals at home, having allowed just 15 goals in their last 13 games on home ice.  Now, if they can just rid themselves of that pesky tendency to take too many penalties.