Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 77: Washington Capitals at Arizona Coyotes, March 31st

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

If Wednesday is “Hump Day” of the work week, then Friday night in Glendale, Arizona, the Washington Capitals will play “Hump Game” of their five-game road trip.  The Caps will face the Arizona Coyotes, a team they faced and defeated just six days ago, so we’re not going to spend much time rehashing the prognosto we wrote for that game But let’s just meander around the barn and see what interesting nuggets we can dig up about this contest…

-- Washington comes into this game having recorded three straight games on the road scoring five or more goals, beating the Lightning in Tampa Bay on March 18th (5-3), the Wild in Minnesota (5-4 in overtime), on March 28th, and the Avalanche in Colorado on Wednesday (5-3).  It might be the first time the Caps beat three teams with singular versions of their mascot names on the road in team history.  But more to our point here, it was the first time the Caps scored five or more goals in three straight road games in more than seven years, not since February 2010.  Oddly enough, they did so and still managed to lose two of the games.  The opened the trio of road contests with a 6-5 win over Rangers in New York, then lost in Montreal, 6-5 in overtime, and lost 6-5 in Ottawa.  The last time they scored five goals in each of four consecutive road games?  December 1992, when they did it against the Islanders (5-3), the Senators (6-5), the Devils (6-2), and the Flyers (5-2).  And just to top that off, two months later they scored 10 goals in consecutive road games, in St. Louis (10-6) and in Los Angeles (10-3).

-- Having lost both ends of a home-and-home since facing the Caps, Arizona is now 1-6-1 in their last eight games.  In six of those games they scored one or no goals.

-- Nicklas Backstrom is the leading point-getter for the Caps in March (3-15-18) and is tied for fourth in the league in scoring for the month.  T.J. Oshie has eight goals in March to lead the club; he’s tied for ninth in the league.

-- Twenty four times this season the Coyotes have been held to one or no goals, ten times in 38 games on home ice.

-- The Caps are second in the league in March on the power play (27.4 percent).  How many guesses would you have needed to come up with “Buffalo” as the league leader for the month (41.7 percent, and no, that is not a typo).

-- Washington has multiple power play goal games in consecutive contests for the first time this season (three against Minnesota on Tuesday, two against Colorado on Wednesday).  It is the first time they did it since scoring two power play goals in Games 45 and 46 in January of last season, against the Rangers and the Blue Jackets.  It is the first time they did it in consecutive road games since they did it three times in a row to end February and open March in 2014, doing it in Florida, in Boston, and in Philadelphia.

-- Alex Ovechkin has goals in three of his last five games, a total of five goals in that span.  If he gets two against Arizona, he will tie Guy Lafleur for 25th place in league history (560 goals).  With a hat trick he would tie Mike Modano for 24th place (561).  If he gets a power play goal, he breaks a tie with Keith Tkachuk for 13th place all-time (currently with 212).  He is second among active players in power play goals, four behind Jaromir Jagr, who played his first game in the NHL during the reign of Augustus Caesar.  If he gets the game-winning goal, he will tie Mats Sundin for ninth place all-time (96).

-- No Coyote has ten points this month (Tobias Rieder has nine).  Ho Coyote has five goals (Alex Goligoski has four).  No Coyote playing in at least ten of the team’s 15 games so far this month is a “plus” player (Anthony Duclair and Christian Dvorak are “even”).

-- Nicklas Backstrom is currently second among active players in assists per game (0.738), wedged between the centers in Pittsburgh, Sidney Crosby (0.824) and Evgeni Malkin (0.714).

-- Washington has five players with at least ten points in March: Nicklas Backstrom (18), Alex Ovechkin (12), Marcus Johansson (11), Kevin Shattenkirk (11), and T. J. Oshie (11).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Arizona:  Max Domi

After a fine rookie season that left him tied for sixth in goals (18), second in assists (34), and third in points (52) among rookies, Max Domi has not had so much a “sophomore slump” as he has had a “second season slide.”  His numbers have not fallen precipitously form his rookie campaign (9-24-33 in 54 games), but neither do they constitute an improvement.  He has struggled with goal scoring all season compared to last, but thinks took a turn since he came back at the beginning of February after missing 23 games with an upper-body injury.  In 28 games since his return, Domi has just four goals, none in his last eight contests.  Head coach Dave Tippett appears inclined to let Domi work through things, though.  For example, in March to date, Domi skated fewer than 16 minutes in a game just twice in 15 contests.  He is 0-2-2, plus-2, in three career games against the Caps.

Washington: Evgeny Kuznetsov

Evgeny Kuznetsov might be a player who is happy to get out on the road.  He had a goal and an assist in Colorado against the Avalanche on Wednesday to lift his scoring line on the road to 11-19-30 in 37 road games this season, third on the team in road scoring, behind Nicklas Backstrom (33 points) and Marcus Johansson (31).  He had been in a bit of a road slump after recording points in four straight road games in February, posting one assist over five games before his two point game against the Avs.  His road performance this season is a bit of a departure from his career totals, which are a bit behind on the road (29-54-83 in 126 games) versus his home record (23-73-96 in 129 home games).  What he does not have is much of a record against Arizona, against whom he is 1-2-3, minus-1, in five career games against the Coyotes.

In the end…

As road trips go, this one sure has the California trip from three weeks ago beat all to hell.  Two wins in two tries, admittedly against teams not at the top of their respective games, but two points are two points, and they all count in the end.  That said, the Caps might not be at the top of their game, either, especially at even strength.  Half of their ten goals are on power plays, leaving them outscored, 7-4 (not including an empty netter) at 5-on-5 in the two games.  They have been outshot overall, 65-55 in the two games, and they are just 45.5 percent on faceoffs.  They have gotten away with sloppy third periods, the one against Colorado perhaps a case of a second game in two days and having to play it at altitude.  Still, there is room for improvement in the Caps’ game, and if they are to extend their winning ways on the road and rack up a seventh straight win, they will have to do just that.

Capitals 5 – Coyotes 2

A TWO-Point Night -- Game 76: Washington Capitals 5 - Colorado Avalanche 3

The Washington Capitals made it two-for-two on their five-game road trip on Wednesday night with a 5-3 win in Denver over the Colorado Avalanche.  It was the power play that propelled the Caps to a win once more, the man advantage situations accounting for two of the team’s goals in the win.

John Carlson got the first of those power play markers early in the first period to start the scoring.  The trailer in what was a 4-on-2 rush into the Avalanche end, Carlson took a feed from Evgeny Kuznetsov and from the high slot snapped a shot past the glove of goalie Calvin Pickard at the four-minute mark to make it 1-0.

Colorado tied the game mid-way through the period when he took a drop-pass from Nathan MacKinnon in the middle of the ice and ripped a shot past the left pad of goalie Philipp Grubauer.  With 11:11 gone in the period, the game was tied.

Not for long.  Barely half a minute later the Caps had the lead back.  Jay Beagle led a fourth line rush into the Colorado end and fed the puck to Tom Wilson on his right as he was crossing the blue line.  Wilson tried to center the puck, but the puck clicked off the stick of defenseman Francois Beauchemin back to Kevin Shattenkirk.  His drive was redirected past Pickard by Beagle at 11:48 to make it a 2-1 game.

Early in the second period, the Caps added to their lead on another power play.  Working the puck low, Marcus Johansson fed Nicklas Backstrom in the corner to the left of Pickard.  Backstrom turned and fed the puck out to Shattenkirk, who walked back along the inside of the blue line.  He fired through a maze of players, and Johansson redirected the puck past Pickard, giving the Caps a 3-1 lead 4:57 into the period.

Six minutes later, the Caps added a goal when Johansson picked up a loose puck at the players benches, carried it down the right side, and fed Kuznetsov, who converted the feed off the near pipe and behind Pickard to make it 4-1, 11:03 into the period.

Then it was Colorado’s turn to strike back quickly, Matt Nieto finishing off a 2-on-1 break to make it a 4-2 game heading to the second intermission.

The Avs closed to within a goal early in the third period on a superb effort by MacKinnon.  Leading a 3-on-2 rush, MacKinnon skated the puck down the middle, weaved the puck past Dmitry Orlov inside the Caps’ blue line, broke in alone on Grubauer, and slipped the puck under his pads 4:29 into the period to make it 4-3.

The Caps got their insurance late in the period when Lars Eller intercepted a pass just inside his own line that Gabriel Landeskog could not handle and fired the puck down the ice into the empty Colorado net at the 18:38 mark to close the scoring in the Caps’ 5-3 win.

Other stuff…

-- The win was the Caps’ sixth in a row, the fourth time this season that they put together a winning streak of six or more games.

-- The five goals made it two in a row recording that many, the first time they posted five or more goals in consecutive games since they posted six goals in consecutive games against Detroit and Anaheim in Games 55 and 56 in early February.  It was the first time they recorded five or more goals in consecutive games on the road since they scored seven goals in each of Games 44 and 45 against Pittsburgh and St. Louis in mid-January.

-- Lars Eller broke a personal 21-game streak without a goal with his empty netter.  It was his first goal on the road since he potted one in a 5-2 win over the New Jersey Devils on January 26th.

-- Marcus Johansson followed up his four-assist game on Tuesday against Minnesota with a two point game last night (goal, assist).  He now has a four-game points streak over which he is 1-7-8.

-- Kevin Shattenkirk had a pair of assists, his third two-assist game in his last five contests.  He is now 0-11-11, plus-4, in 13 games with the Caps.

-- The win gave the Caps 110 standings points for the season, breaking their tie for third place in team history with the 2008-2009 club that reached the 108-point mark.  This club also broke a tie with that club for the third-highest win total in team history, this team recording its 51st win of the season.

-- On the heels of a 3-for-4 effort on the power play on Tuesday against Minnesota, the Caps were 2-for-3 last night.  They have power play goals in eight of their last ten games, over which they are 12-for-33 (36.4 percent) and are now tied with the Toronto Maple Leafs in power play efficiency for the season (23.3 percent).

-- Don’t let the power play success blind you to the penalty killers.  They blanked an opponent on the power play for the fifth straight game (15 shorthanded situations killed off).

-- Evgeny Kuznetsov has a goal and an assist, his first multi-point game in March.  Oddly enough, it was the assist that broke the longer streak of zeroes.  He had a streak of seven straight games without an assist ended, while his goal snapped a three game streak without one.

-- Shots and shot attempts were fairly balanced.  Colorado enjoyed a 63-57 edge in total shot attempts and a 50-49 edge at 5-on-5.  The teams were even in total shots on goal at 35 apiece, but the Caps had a 29-26 edge at fives.  In what might one of the odder numbers coming out of that, T.J. Oshie was the only Capital not to record a shot on goal in the game.

In the end…

On Tuesday it was the first line doing most of the damage.  Last night, the second line of Marcus Johansson (1-1-2), Evgeny Kuznetsov (1-1-2), and Justin Williams (0-1-1) combined with the third line of Andre Burakovsky (0-1-1), Lars Eller (1-0-1), and Brett Connolly to drive play and scoring.  Add in a touch of Shattenkirk (two assists) and Carlson (a goal) from the blue line, and it made for one of the more balanced score sheets the Caps have had this season.  

It is part of a longer trend.  The Caps’ offense is starting to pick up again overall.  They now have four or more goals in six of their last eight games and four or more in their last three contests.  Giving up seven goals in two games to a pair of struggling teams is not exactly part of the game plan, but last night might be explained in part by playing the second game of a back-to-back on the road and at high altitude.  That made for a third period that was a bit of an adventure.  With a day off, the Caps can get right back on track defensively when they visit the Arizona Coyotes on Friday, facing a team that will have mischief on their minds following the 4-1 loss the Caps hung on them last Saturday.