Sunday, October 08, 2017

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 3: Capitals at Lightning, October 9th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals go back on the road on Monday for their only visit to Tampa this season to face the Lightning.  Washington will be looking to extend their winning streak to three games, while the Lightning, who split their home-and-home set against the Florida Panthers to start the season, will be looking for their second straight win on home ice.

Alex Ovechkin will be looking to do the next to impossible, posting a third straight hat trick contest. He had only two all of last season, those coming almost four months apart.  He had a late November hattie against the St. Louis Blues and then a late March hat trick against the Minnesota Wild.

Tampa Bay will be looking to foil Ovechkin and the Caps despite having allowed eight goals in two games so far (sixth-worst goals against per game in the league).  The Lightning are part of a strange “Southeast Division” thing going on in the first week of the season.  They, the Panthers, and the Carolina Hurricanes – all former Southeast Division teams – are the only ones in the league averaging four or more goals allowed per game and four or more goals scored.  

It is only two games, but the Lightning have spread their goal scoring around.  Four players– Ondrej Palat, Vladislav Namestnikov, Nikita Kucherov, and Brayden Point – have two goals apiece in the early going.  Point, a third-round draft pick of the Lightning (2014), leads the team with five points.

At the other end, Andrei Vasilevskiy got the nod in goal for both Lightning games to open the season, and he started slowly.  He has allowed eight goals on 84 shots (.905 save percentage) with a 4.08 goals against average. It is quite a bit different from his start last season in which he went 2-0-0, 1.51, .952 in his first two contests.

As for the Caps, they will be trying to extend a lengthy points streak against the Bolts.  Washington has not lost a game in regulation against Tampa Bay since dropping a 4-3 decision in Tampa on November 1, 2014.  Since then, the Caps are 7-0-1, the only blemish being a 2-1 Gimmick loss in Tampa last December 3rd.

1.  Last season was the first season in Lightning history in which they recorded more than 40 wins (42) and failed to reach the playoffs.

2.  Little things… Tampa Bay had the fourth-worst faceoff percentage in the league last season (47.7 percent).

3.  The Lightning finished second in the league in home power play opportunities last season (149; Winnipeg had 152).  They did a good job of converting those opportunities, finishing fourth in home power play efficiency (24.21 percent).

4.  Tampa Bay finished third last season in penalty minutes per game (10:40).  They managed that feat despite being one of just six teams not to be charged with a game misconduct.

5.  It’s early, but the Lightning have awful possession numbers.  Their 36.14 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5 is 30th of 31 teams through two games (Vancouver is 33.8 percent; numbers from

1.  It’s early here, too.  The Caps are dead last in the league in shots on goal per game (25.5).

2.  Through Saturday’s games, only one team having played two games has been charged with feweer giveaways than the Caps (10).  St. Louis has six.

3.  The Caps are second in the league in faceoff winning percentage (57.6 percent).  Only Toronto (57.9 percent) outranks them.

4.  Odd fact…the Caps are the only team in the league with both a one-goal win and a win by three or more goals.  But hey, it’s early.

5.  The Caps have the worst special teams time differential in the league.  They have spent 9:11 more time on penalty killing than they have on power plays.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Tampa Bay: Steven Stamkos

When Steven Stamkos is healthy, he scores goals.  Over the last eight seasons of his career, he played in 70 or more games five times and scored 35 or more goals five times.  He topped 40 four times.  Even in the abbreviated 2012-2013 season he recorded 29 goals in 48 games, a 50-goal pace.  The trouble is, he appeared in fewer than 40 games in two of the last four seasons.  He missed 45 games in the 2013-2014 season to a broken leg and 65 games last season to a knee injury.  Even so, in those two seasons combined he recorded 34 goals over 54 games, a 52-goal pace.  He is the most effective goal scorer (0.55 goals per game since he entered the league in 2008-2009) not named “Ovechkin” (0.59 goals per game over that span) in the NHL.  That Tampa Bay is on the short list of Stanley Cup contenders this season is due in large part to the expected contribution – and durability – of Stamkos this season.  In 35 career games against the Caps, he is 15-14-29, minus-14.

Washington: T.J. Oshie

If you were asked, which Capital has more career goals per game against the Tampa Bay Lightning than any other Capital, you would reflexively respond “Alex Ovechkin.”  Good answer.  He has 41 goals in in 63 games against the Lightning (0.65 per game).  You would also be wrong.  T.J. Oshie has 10 goals in 14 career games against the Lightning (0.71 goals per game), one of four teams against which he has posted at least ten goals and the only one who was exclusively a member of the Eastern Conference (Columbus, Dallas, and Nashville are the others).  Oshie had his only hat trick of the 2016-2017 against Tampa Bay at Amalie Arena in a 5-3 win.  He also had three goals in three games against the Bolts in the 2015-2016 season with the Caps.  Oshie has been something of a road warrior with the Caps, too.  In 76 road games with the Caps over the past two-plus seasons he has 28 goals, second on the club to Alex Ovechkin (40).

In the end…

If there is a to-do list early, these teams have them.  The Caps will be looking to get more balanced goal scoring.  Not that seven goals in two games from Alex Ovechkin is a bad thing, but three from the rest of the lineup could use improvement.  The other side of that coin for the Caps is getting other players getting shots to the net.  The 8.1 shooting percentage from players not named “Ovechkin” is not bad, but they have to improve on the 37 shots on goal they have in the two games so far.  Lars Eller, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Jay Beagle each have only one shot on goal; Nicklas Backstrom has only two.  For the Lightning, the task at hand is preventing goals. Eight goals allowed in two games is not a cause for panic, but neither is it sustainable for a contender.  All things considered, though, one would rather have the Caps’ “problems,” to the extent they have them.

Capitals 4 – Lightning 2

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 1

The Washington Capitals opened their 2017-2018 season this week, and it was something of an historic opening.  From a pair of wins, to a goal explosion, to a debut from down under, it was a Week 1 to remember.

Record: 2-0-0

The Caps opened their season with a pair of wins, the first time they accomplished that feat since the 2011-2012 season.  That’s the good news.  The bad news…the Caps won their first seven games that season and yet had a new coach by the end of November, when Bruce Boudreau was relieved in favor of Dale Hunter.  Worse, the same thing happened in the 2007-2008 season, when the Caps won their first two games and, again, had a new coach by the end of November, when Boudreau relieved Glen Hanlon behind the Caps’ bench.  Moral of the story… don’t get too high with the highs or too low with the lows.

Offense:  5.00/game (season: 5.00/game, 3rd)

Alex Ovechkin is not going to score 287 goals this season.  You can write that one down in pen.  But with seven goals in two games, he became the first player in 100 years to record hat tricks in consecutive games to open an NHL season, the first since Cy Denneny, Reg Noble, and Joe Malone all did so to open the 1917-1918 season.  However, as a technical matter, Ovechkin might be the first ever to record “hat tricks” in consecutive games to open a season, if you believe that the custom of tossing hats on the ice for a three-goal game originated in Guelph, Ontario

Almost forgotten in the Ovechkin avalanche of goals is the fact that Evgeny Kuznetsov recorded seven assists (Kuznetsov and Ovechkin ended the week tied for the league lead in total scoring with seven points apiece and tied for second in plus-minus with several other players plus-6 apiece), while rookie Jakub Vrana added three more, giving the top line quite a week.  To that add that Nathan Walker, appearing in his first game, recorded his first NHL goal, and he hit history’s Daily Double – the first player from Australia to appear in an NHL game and becoming the first Australian to record a goal in an NHL game.  Brett Connolly and T.J. Oshie added the other goals of the week, and 14 different skaters recorded a point for the team.

Defense: 2.50/game (season: 2.50/game, T-9th)

The Caps held, if that is the right word, Ottawa and Montreal to 90 shot attempts for the week, which puts them in the middle of the pack, tied for 12-th most in the league with Winnipeg and the New York Islanders (numbers from  Worse, that volume of shot attempts left he Caps with the tenth-worst shot attempt plus minus in the league (minus-11).  If there was a bright spot, it was that the Caps were plus-9 when the score was tied, and the minus-21 when ahead is largely a score effect of having jumped out to such a big lead against the Montreal Canadiens early (4-0 after one period on Saturday night).

It was hard to be Brett Connolly this week in the defensive end.  Connolly was on ice for four of the five goals scored against the Caps.  Brooks Orpik and John Carlson were on ice together for three goals against of their own.

Goaltending: 2.40 / .930 (season: 2.40 / .930)

Braden Holtby got both starts for the Caps in Week 1, and his week was somewhat typical of a Holtby season start.  He has never been particularly effective in his first game of the season (see our prognosto on the Montreal game for more on that).  And against the Ottawa Senators, he was consistent with that profile, allowing four goals on 32 shots.  He did not have as much help in front of him as he might be accustomed to, but it was not a classic Holtby performance, either.  He did finish that game strong, and that effort spilled over into the performance against the Canadiens to end the week.  He stopped 38 of 39 shots and resisted the temptation to lose focus as the Caps went out to a big lead early.

Power Play: 1-for-5 / 20.0 percent (season: 20.0 percent / T-11th)

There is not much to glean from the power play in Week 1.  Yes, it did record a goal.  Yes, it was an Alex Ovechkin goal.  Some things are slow to change.  The power play was also victimized by a shorthanded goal when the Caps forgot how to defend on a power play against the Canadiens, giving up the puck and letting Brendan Gallagher score from the top of the paint while a man down. Ovechkin had half of the shots on the man advantage for the week (four of eight), and the Caps recorded eight power play shots in 8:16 of power play ice time.  All in all, it was for the most part a rather typical week, the shortie notwithstanding.

Penalty Killing: 9-for-9 / 100.0 percent (season: 100.0 percent / T-1st)

There was good and bad on the penalty kill this week for the Caps.  Well, mostly good.  The bad part was the volume.  The nine shorthanded situations faced is in the middle of the pack in the league rankings (tied for 11th-most), but it was almost twice as many special teams opportunities for Ottawa and Montreal as the Caps had for the week (five).  That led to those two opponents enjoying a better than 2-to-1 edge in power play ice time(17:27 to 8:16).  The Caps might have been on the short side of opportunities and minutes on special teams, but they did not allow an inordinate number of shots relative to minutes (16 in 17:27).  It is, and it was to be expected, to be a work in progress at the start of the season with new penalty killers in the rotation, but it was a good week, all things considered.

Faceoffs: 72-for-125 / 57.6 percent (season: 57.6 percent / 2nd)

If you are going to keep teams from scoring, it is best to have the puck.  And what better way to do that than to take possession of it from the puck drop, especially in the defensive end?  The Caps had a fine week overall in the circle, but they shined in the defensive end, winning 33 of 47 defensive zone draws (70.2 percent).  Jay Beagle gave a master class in the subject, winning 15 of 17 defensive zone faceoffs (88.2 percent) as part of a 73.1 percent week overall.  Evgeny Kuznetsov, who won just 44.0 percent of his draws last season, was a surprise, winning 14 of 24 draws overall (58.3 percent).  Nicklas Backstrom was the only Capital to take ten or more draws and finish under 50 percent for the week (16-for-34/47.1 percent).

Goals by Period:

That four-spot in the first period against Montreal in the second game of the week tilted the goal scoring toward the beginning of games, but don’t forget that three-goal third period against Ottawa in the opener.  It reminded Caps fans that the team can still be explosive, scoring seven goals in a span of 33:55 across two games.  Of course, Alex Ovechkin had six of them in what was a remarkable week for him, even in the context of his career body of work (T.J. Oshie had the other one).  At the other end, the Caps spread the gloom of opponents’ goals across the periods and did not allow either Ottawa or Montreal to score consecutive goals in any single period for the week, a way to stall momentum.

In the end…

Two games, two wins in the bank.  If you are of the picky sort, you would say the Caps escaped with a win on Thursday and leaned too heavily on Alex Ovechkin on Saturday.  If you are of a forgiving sort, you might respond, “so what?”  Sometimes the captain takes over a game, and sometimes you rally from behind.  In the context of a long season, neither game of the sort the Caps played this week is particularly informative.  But you can’t take two wins off the ledger, and that is the takeaway from this week.

Three Stars:

  • First Star: Alex Ovechkin (7-0-7, plus-6, 14 SOG, 21 shot attempts, two history-making hat tricks)
  • Second Star: Evgeny Kuznetsov (0-7-7, plus-6, 58.3 percent FO (7-for-8 in the defensive zone))
  • Third Star: Nathan Walker (1-0-1, plus-1, first Australian to play in an NHL game, first Australian to score an NHL goal, first to do it in his debut game)

A TWO-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 2: Capitals 6 - Canadiens 1

Alex Ovechkin can now add his name to the list that includes Cy Denneny, Reg Noble, and Joe Malone.  Ovechkin became the fourth player in NHL history to record hat tricks in back-to-back games to start a season and the first in 100 years (from Elias Sports Bureau) as the Caps steamrolled the Montreal Canadiens, 6-1, at Capital One Arena on Saturday night in the team’s season opener.  And in a double first, Nathan Walker became the first Australian player to appear in an NHL game, and he became the first Australian player to record a goal in the NHL.

First Period

Wayne Gretzky once said, “you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.”  It might explain Alex Ovechkin going after a loose puck above the left wing circle, spinning, and slapping the bouncing puck over the glove of what appeared to be an utterly shocked goalie Carey Price 20 seconds into the contest to set the stage.

Less than half a minute later, the Caps had a 2-0 lead when T.J. Oshie recorded his first goal of the season off a Montreal turnover.  Jordie Benn circled out of the corner in the defensive end and tried to move the puck up ice, but Andre Burakovsky intercepted the feed.  Burakovsky fed Oshie moving through the left wing circle, and Oshie left it for Nicklas Backstrom.  The shot from Backstrom was stopped by Price, but not covered, and Oshie swooped in to swat the puck behind Price from the goal line to Price’s right just 46 seconds into the period.

Before the game was three minutes old, the Caps had a 3-0 lead when, on a power play, Ovechkin declared his office open for business.  Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom played catch on the right side of the power play formation until Kuznetsov found a lane through the middle of the ice to Ovechkin in the left wing circle.  Ovechkin one-timed the puck past a twirling Price to make it 3-0 at the 2:51 mark.

Neither the Caps nor Ovechkin were done with the first period yet, though.  With under two minutes in the period, the Caps worked the puck around the perimeter, Evgeny Kuznetsov to Aaron Ness, and back to Kuznetsov circling to the top of the left wing circle.  Kuznetsov’s blast from the top of the circle was redirected by Ovechkin past Price at the  18:10 mark to take a 4-0 lead to the first intermission.

Second Period

Montreal came out with a new goalie – Al Montoya in relief of Price – and a new attitude, pressuring the Caps from the start.  It made for a period dominated by Braden Holtby in the Caps’ goal.  It paid off when Brendan Gallagher got loose at the top of the paint and converted a feed from below the goal line by Paul Byron to get the Canadiens on the board 4:50 into the period.

Ovechkin would restore the four-goal margin late in the period.  Circling through the right wing circle, Ovechkin fed Kuznetsov, who moved to the middle to create space.  It was enough to feed Ovechkin heading to the net from Price’s left.  As he reached the top of the paint, Ovechkin pulled the puck to his backhand and slid it toward Montoya.  It hit two Canadiens’ skates before it slithered across the line just before Oshie could tap it in.  Then, late in the period, Nathan Walker made history again.  He made it 79 seconds into the game when he stepped onto the ice as the first Australian to play in an NHL game.  And at the 18:05 mark of the second period, he made some more.  Jay Beagle won a draw in the offensive zone to the left of goalie Al Montoya.  Devante Smith-Pelly settled the puck at the top of the right wing circle and fired.  The puck hit Walker on the way through and eluded Montoya to give Walker his first NHL goal and the first “Australian” goal in NHL history.

Third Period

No scoring in this period, but by this time, who cared?

Other stuff…

- For some players, hat tricks are thought of in terms of games.  Alex Ovechkin recorded hat tricks in consecutive periods, following up his three-goal third period against Ottawa on Thursday with a three-goal first period on Saturday. 

-- Ovechkin might have made it a career-high five-goal night in the last minute, but on an odd-man rush, he passed up a shot to feed Evgeny Kuznetsov, who fed Jakub Vrana, who whiffed on the opportunity.  As it was, it was Ovechkin’s fourth career four-goal game.

-- Ovechkin has seven goals in two games.  In the last thirty years, it is the most goals in the first two games of an NHL season.  Three players opened the season with five goals: Mike Gartner in 1988, Wendel Clark in 1992, and Brendan Shanahan in 1994.

-- Evgeny Kuznetsov had four assists, the second four-assist game of his career.  He had four helpers in a 6-3 win over the Blue Jackets in Columbus on January 19, 2016.  It was the fourth four-point game of his career.

-- Eleven skaters had points for the Caps, 14 skaters finished as “plus” players.  Only Brett Connolly was on the minus side of the ledger (minus-1).

-- The Caps enjoyed a whopping 41-26 edge in faceoffs.  Jay Beagle (11-for-14) and Lars Eller (12-for-19) were especially dominant.

-- Nathan Walker, all 5’9”, 186 pound of him, led the Caps in hits with four.

-- Ovechkin had more than a third of the Caps’ total shots on goal (eight of 23).

-- With 38 saves on 39 shots, Braden Holtby improved his record against Montreal to 11-1-2, 1.57, .944, with two shutouts.

-- Score effects in one graph (from

In the end…

It would be hard to script a home opener better than that.  Maybe raising a Stanley Cup banner, but a four-goal game from the Captain, a sterling effort from the star goalie, and an unprecedented debut isn’t bad.  Two games in, and Alex Ovechkin has more than a third (six) of all the even strength goals he scored last season (16), and in doing it he has not forgotten the address of his office.  His hat trick goal was perhaps the most telling.  And he took advantage of an old teammate in doing it.  With the Caps working the puck around the perimeter, Ovechkin is working his way across the high slot, fighting for position with a Canadien defenseman – former Cap Karl Alzner.  He worked his way into position to free his stick to get enough of the Evgeny Kuznetsov shot to elude Carey Price.  If this is now in Ovechkin’s repertoire, it could be a big season for the captain and the Caps.