The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The Washington Capitals close their three-game home stand looking for a sweep when the Arizona Coyotes come to town on Saturday night. The Caps come into this game having won four of five overall and have point in all five contests (4-0-1). Arizona, which had been making progress with a three-game winning streak earlier this month (tying their longest of the season), have fallen back again with a 1-3-1 record in their last five games.
Offense has been hit or miss for the Coyotes for a while now. In their last 11 games they scored four or more four times, and they were held to one or no goals five times, while posting a record of 5-4-2. The lack of scoring shows up in the individual point totals, too. Tobias Rieder leads the club with seven points in those 11 games (2-5-7). That is not especially surprising, given he is the third-leading scorer for the season (16-18-34). But the thing is, he hasn’t done much scoring, either in the last 11 games or the season for that matter, on the road. He has a goal and an assist in five road games in this 11-game stretch (although his overall scoring in March has been his best month to date) and is just 6-8-14 in 36 road games (sixth on the club in road points). Rieder is 1-2-3, plus-3, in four career games against the Caps.
Brendan Perlini and Radim Vrbata lead the Coyotes in goals in this 11-game span (three apiece). Vrbata appeared in his 1,000th NHL game on March 9th, a 3-2 overtime loss to the Ottawa Senators. He has moved around in doing it, playing for six franchises in his career, including two tours with the Coyotes, for whom he has played in 502 of his 1,008 career games. In this, his first year in his second tour with the Coyotes after two years in Vancouver, he has had a personal comeback of sorts. His goal scoring is up (from 13 last season to 18 this year), as are his assists (from 14 to 34) and his points (from 27 to 52). With a late-season push he could challenge his career high in points (63 in 2014-2014 with the Canucks). Vrbata is 7-5-12, minus-7, in 18 career games against Washington.
Perlini is at the other end of the experience scale, a 12th overall draft pick in 2014 by Arizona and in his rookie season with the Coyotes. His 13 goals (in just 49 games) is tied for 11th among rookies. He has had a bit of a rough time lately as far as goal scoring goes. After potting single goals in three straight games, he is now six games and counting without one; without a point, in fact. This will be his first game against the Caps.
Then there are the goalies. Arizona has employed four of them so far this season – Mike Smith, Louis Domingue, Justin Peters, and Marek Langhamer. Of the quartet, Mike Smith has had the most work (50 appearances) and has the best numbers. He is the only one of the four with a goals against average under 3.00 (2.94) and the only one with a save percentage over .905 (.914). He also happens to be the only one to pitch at least one shutout this season (three). He was in the net eight times over the Coyotes’ but has little to show for it or perhaps deserves a bit better fate than he has had. He is 2-4-2, 2.99, .920 in those games, that save percentage perhaps deserving more success than he had. One manifestation of the lack of offensive support he has had this season is that he has a record of 6-21-4 in 31 games in which he allowed three or more goals this season. Smith is 2-7-1, 3.72, .879 with one shutout in 11 career appearances against the Caps. That save percentage against Washington is the worst he has against any opponent he has faced.
1. Arizona has ten players at minus-10 or worse, Oliver Ekman Larsson being at the bottom of the heap with a minus-24. Only two of 287 defensemen in the league to have dressed this season – Damon Severson of New Jersey (minus-27) and Tyson Barrie of Colorado (minus-29) – are worse.
2. The Coyotes are the only team in the NHL with two players in the top ten in credited hits. Luke Schenn is second (252), and Connor Murphy is ninth (170).
3. Who scores first hardly seems to matter concerning Arizona. They have the second-worst winning percentage when scoring first (.486/18-14-5) and the third-worst winning percentage when scored upon first (9-24-4/.243). If not for Colorado threatening to finish the season with the fewest wins in a season since the 2004-2005 lockout, Arizona would have the worst record in the league.
4. Arizona doesn’t blow anybody out. Their four wins by three or more games is tied for fewest in the league (with, who else, Colorado). They’ve lost 20 such games, second-most in the league (the Avalanche have 25).
5. No surprise here…Arizona is the worst possession team in the league. Adjusted for score, zone, and venue, they have a Corsi-for at 5-on-5 of 45.77, well south of 29th-place Vancouver (47.10; numbers from Corsica.hockey).
1. In their five-game points streak, the Caps are 3-for-14 on the power play (21.4 percent) and 10-for-12 killing penalties 83.3 percent).
2. The Caps have 40 or more shots on goal in three of their last five games, all of them on home ice. All but one of their instances of 40 or more shots have come at home this season (they had 41 in a 3-2 Gimmick loss to Pittsburgh on Opening Night).
3. All six defensemen who appeared in more than 20 games this season for the Caps are better than plus-10. Only one Capital defenseman who has appeared in at least ten games is a “minus” player – Kevin Shattenkirk (minus-1).
4. Milestone watch…If Daniel Winnik gets a goal, he will be the 11th player this season to reach double digits in goals for the Caps. If Justin Williams gets a power play point, he gets to ten, giving the Caps six players with at least ten power play points this season. Lars Eller and Andre Burakovsky could reach the 100-shot mark for the season; Burakovsky needs three, while Eller needs two. If Jay Beagle gets the game-winning goal, he would be the fourth Capital to register at least five game-winners this season.
5. The Caps are making progress on the penalty front in one respect. They are up to having the fifth worst penalty differential at 5-on-5 (minus-28). At one point this season they were worst (numbers from Corsica.hockey).
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Arizona: Shane Doan
Only 14 players in NHL history – and only two active players – have appeared in more games in the NHL than Shane Doan. His 1,536 games played trails only Jarome Iginla (1,545) and Jaromir Jagr (1,702) among active players. He is fourth in the history of the league in games played with one team, trailing only Alex Delvecchio (1,549), Nicklas Lidstrom (1,564), and Gordie Howe (1,687), all of whom did it for the Detroit Red Wings. Doan, who actually got his start with the original Winnipeg Jets incarnation of the franchise (their last year in Canada) is now in his 21st and perhaps last season (his contract expires after this season). He is hardly the player he was ten years ago, but who would expect him to be? Still, he is on a pace to finish with fewer goals (seven) than he had in any full season since he finished the 1998-1999 season with six goals. He is on a 28-point pace, which would be his fewest since he had 22 points in that same 1998-1999 season. At the moment, he has one goal and nine points in his last 19 games and two goals and 15 points in his last 36 games. Doan, who is currently day-to-day with a lower body injury (but could return against the Caps) is 8-8-16, plus-3, in 26 career games against the Caps.
Washington: Andre Burakovsky
Andre Burakovsky has become, if not a primary scorer for the Capitals, than something more than a secondary scorer. That was never more evident than when he missed 15 games with an injured hand, over which the Caps went just 7-6-2 and averaged just 2.47 goals per game. Compare that to the Caps with Burakovsky in the lineup, where they are 39-10-6 and average 3.40 goals per game in the 55 games in which he has played (he also missed three games in December). It isn’t that the Caps are particularly successful when he scores on his own (6-1-3 in ten games in which he scored a goal), but in the 23 games in which he recorded a point, Washington is 18-2-3. Over his last 17 games, straddling that injury absence, he has only one set of consecutive games without a point and is 6-10-16, plus-15 (and does not have a “minus” game in the group). The odd thing about his scoring is the relative lack of it at Verizon Center this season. He is 2-12-14 in 30 home games, while going 9-8-17 in 25 games on the road. In four career games against Arizona, Burakovsky is 0-1-1, minus-3.
In the end…
Yes, this could be another of those “trap” games for the Capitals. It is their getaway game before embarking on a five-game road trip through three time zones over nine days. And taking a team like the Coyotes lightly, even if it is their fourth game in their own five-game road trip, is a recipe for disappointment and would make the road trip that is coming one with more pressure than it should have. Put them on the mat, stand on their throats, get the two points, and head off on your journey.
Capitals 5 – Coyotes 1