Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 23: Senators at Capitals, November 22nd

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals hit the ice for the third of their four-game home stand when they host the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday night at Capital One Arena. The Caps will be looking to prevent suffering consecutive losses on home ice since they endured a three-game home ice losing streak in mid-October.

The Senators will come to Washington looking for a measure of revenge after the Caps defeated them in Ottawa on Opening Night, 5-4, in the trick shot competition. This will be just the third road game for Ottawa this month and seventh of the season. The road has been a welcoming place for the Senators, who enter this game with a record of 4-1-1 outside of Canada’s capital.

Mark Stone has found the road an especially hospitable place, leading the Senators in goals (four, tied with Mike Hoffman) and points (eight), with a team-leading plus-6 (tied with Derick Brassard). Now in his sixth year with the Senators and fourth full-time season, Stone has become a very consistent goal scorer for the Sens. In his three full seasons preceding this one, Stone recorded 26, 23, and 22 goals. He also displayed an ability to contribute at both ends of the ice, having earned votes for the Selke Trophy as the league’s best defensive forward in each of the last three seasons, finishing sixth in the voting last year. He is threatening to demolish his career-best in goal scoring, having posted 13 goals in 19 game so far overall, tied with Washington’s Alex Ovechkin for third in the league. Only six of 443 skaters to record at least 20 shots on goal this season have a better shooting percentage than Stone (25.0). He is 3-1-4, plus-4, in ten career games against the Caps.

Erik Karlsson is the gold standard among NHL defensemen in this era. Over the previous six seasons he won the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defensemen twice, was a finalist on two other occasions and was in the top-ten in voting five times. Even when he appeared in just 17 games of the abbreviated 2012-2013 season he finished 18th in Norris voting. This season started slowly for Karlsson, missing the first five games due to an injury that he sustained at the end of the 2016-2017 season, two torn tendons in his foot. It took him a while to get into the lineup, but he hit the ice at full speed. His 17 points (1-16-17) is tied for third in the league in scoring among defensemen, despite his having played at least six fewer games than the six defensemen ahead of him or with whom he is tied. If there is an odd quality about his statistical profile this season it is in his ice time. Eight times this season he logged more than 25 minutes, but Ottawa has a record of just 1-3-4 in those games. Karlsson is 2-16-18, minus-6, in 24 career games against Washington.

1..Ottawa opened the season with three straight trips to the freestyle competition and lead the league with five shootout appearances. They are 1-4 in those games.

2.  The Senators deploy rookies in odd ways. Eight rookies have dressed for Ottawa so far this season but have appeared in a combined 21 games (none more than four). By way of comparison, Jakub Vrana has appeared in that many games for the Caps as a rookie by himself.

3.  Ottawa does not beat themselves in one respect. Their 62 minor penalties taken is third-fewest in the league, more than only Columbus (54) and Carolina (48). It means they have been shorthanded just 55 times this season, more than only the Blue Jackets (54) and the Hurricanes (47).

4.  If you can hang close, the Senators can be caught, or at least scored upon late. Montreal is the only team in the Eastern Conference to have allowed more third period goals (26) than Ottawa (25). Oddly enough, the Senators have not lost a game in regulation in which they led at the second intermission, although they do have three extra time losses in those games, tied with Buffalo for most in the league.

5.  One might think the Senators spend a lot of the post-game icing down and in the whirlpool. They are tied for second in the league in blocked shots (319, with Arizona).

1.  How is it that the Caps’ two top scorers for the month of November are “minus” players? John Carlson (2-8-10) is a minus-4, while Evgeny Kuznetsov (2-6-8) is a minus-2. They also happened to be tied for the team lead in power play points for the month (six apiece).

2.  Tom Wilson, who averaged 155 minutes in penalties per season over his first four years, is on a pace to finish this season with a career high 238 minutes.  He is also on a pace to finish with nine goals, which would be a career high.

3.  All eight defensemen to dress for the Caps this season have points, and five of them have at least one goal. All 14 forwards to have dressed for at least five games have at least one goal.

4.  This could be a high-scoring game late. The Caps are tied with Ottawa in allowing the sixth-highest total of third period goals in the league this season (25).

5.  Only Buffalo has lost more games when outshot by opponents (ten times, once in extra time) than the Capitals (nine times, once in extra time).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Ottawa: Craig Anderson

There have been 33 goalies to dress for the Ottawa Senators over their franchise’s history. None have done so more times than Craig Anderson (308 games). He is the all-time franchise leader in wins (158), losses (104), and losses in extra time (37). His .919 career save percentage is second among the 13 goalies in franchise history appearing in at least 50 games (Andrew Hammond: .923 in 55 games). Only Patrick Lalime has more shutouts for the Senators (30) than Anderson (25). Now in his 15th NHL season, Anderson has had a roller coaster of a year so far. It breaks down loosely into three parts. In the first, covering his first four appearances, Anderson was 2-0-2, 1.65, .937, with a shutout. He followed that up with a seven-game stretch in which he was 3-3-1, 4.07, .874. He since recovered, going 2-2-0, 2.01, .914 in his last four contests. What does seem to matter is shots faced. In nine games in which he played the entire contest and faced 30 or fewer shots, Anderson is 4-3-2, 1.97, .923, with one shutout. However, in four games playing the entire contest and facing more than 30 shots, he is 2-1-1, 4.28, .887. OK, small population size. In 20 career games against the Caps, Anderson is 11-7-2, 2.39, .922, with two shutouts.

Washington: Devante Smith-Pelly

Devante Smith-Pelly has had the sort of season – his first in Washington – that fans might have expected. He gets modest ice time as generally a bottom-six forward (13:10 per game), he plays with some edge (32 credited hits, sixth on the club), kills penalties (1:28 in shorthanded ice time per game), and makes the physical sacrifices the team needs from that position (22 blocked shots, most among forwards). But he also has had some time on the top line, a reflection of the very unsettled and inconsistent nature of the Caps lineup these days, where continuity has given way to trying to find chemistry among the lines to allow the Caps to sustain some level of success. He has been shooting in a bit of bad luck, compared to his career numbers. His two goals on 36 shots on goal is, so far, his worst career shooting percentage for a season (5.6 percent). While being a 20-goal scorer is not a requirement of his position, it would be nice for him and for the Caps to see that number tick up a bit. That might be a problem in this game, however. The Senators are one of three teams in the league against which Smith-Pelly does not have a career point (0-0-0, minus-3, in seven career games).

In the end…

We keep pounding on this point, but the Caps really need to stockpile wins and points in this home-weighted portion of the schedule. They currently occupy the second wild-card spot in the standings (pending Tuesday’s results), but there are three teams within a point of them, and all of them have games in hand: Carolina (three games), the New York Rangers (one game), and their opponent in this game, the Ottawa Senators (three games). No team in the East has completed more of their season schedule than the Caps, and at some point, the wasted opportunities to put distance between themselves and the also-rans could come back to haunt them and turn them into one of those very also-rans. The Senators are one of six teams in the league to have scored and allowed more than three goals per game, so for the Caps there is the opportunity of getting untracked offensively, but by the same token, the Senators have the ability to make the Caps pay for mistakes and too many trips to the penalty box, as Calgary did on Monday.

Capitals 4 – Senators 3

A NO-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 22: Flames 4 - Capitals 1

The Washington Capitals started fast, and maybe a bit too easily against the Calgary Flames last night at Capital One Arena.  But after scoring the game’s first goal just 62 seconds into the contest, the Flames slowly, deliberately, and relentlessly took over the game and dealt the Caps a 4-1 defeat.

First Period

It took the Caps precisely 62 seconds to grab a lead. Jakub Vrana showed that slick hand capable of sniping the puck aren’t his only gift. He used speed to beat Travis Hamonic to a puck sliding deep in the Flames’ end, circled around the net, and threw a pass into the slot where Lars Eller was filling in. Eller buried the puck over the blocker of goalie Mike Smith, and the Caps were off and running.

Calgary evened things up less than four minutes later when Johnny Gaudreau took a pass from Sean Monahan just outside the Caps’ blue line, worked his way to the right wing circle, and snapped a shot to the long side past the blocker of goalie Braden Holtby.

That would do it for the scoring, the Flames going 0-for-2 on the power play in the period, and the Caps drawing a blank on their lone chance. Washington had a 12-11 edge in shots, while Calgary had 24 shot attempts to the Caps’ 19.

Second Period

The third time was the charm for the Flames’ power play. With Lars Eller in the box for a hooking penalty, the Caps almost killed off the shorthanded situation. But late in the power play, Gaudreau had the puck at the side of the net to Holtby’s right. His shot was muffled by Holtby, but the goalie could not find it in his pads. The puck slid to Monahan, who roofed it to give Calgary a 2-1 lead 5:22 into the period.

That would do it for the scoring, and the Caps got off easy. Calgary outshot the Caps, 13-6, and they out-attempted them, 27-13.

Third Period

Calgary ended the competitive portion of the contest in short order, in a two-minute span early in the third period.  Mikael Backlund gave the Flames a two-goal lead on another power play goal 4:38 into the period, finishing up a flurry in which Calgary got several uncontested shots at Holtby from below and inside the faceoff dots. 

Mark Giordano finished things off for the visitors 2:01 later, whipping a shot at the Caps net through a maze of bodies, off the post to Holtby’s left and into the net leaving the clock to run out silently on a 4-1 loss that snapped the Caps’ five-game home winning streak.

Other stuff…

-- The score was no mirage in terms of the Flames’ dominance.  Calgary out-shot the Caps, 39-30, and they out-attempted them, 69-54.

-- Washington went 0-for-3 on the power play against the league’s worst penalty killing team, coming up empty on six shots in six minutes of power play time.  Calgary ended a five-game streak of their own in which they allowed at least one power play goal.

-- Alex Ovechkin continues to be snake-bit on the man advantage.  He was 0-for-3 shooting and extended his streak of games without a power play goal to seven, and he has just one power play goal in his last 14 games.

-- It’s one thing for Alex Ovechkin to lead the team in shots (he did, with five), but Alex Chiasson being second (four) was a surprise.

-- Nicklas Backstrom also had four shots on goal, none of which found the back of the net.  He is now without a goal in 15 games, over which he is 0-for-32 shooting.

-- T.J. Oshie didn’t have a point, but four hits, two blocked shots, and winning four of seven faceoffs was evidence of effort in other areas.

-- Tom Wilson skated a season high 18:05, including a team high 3:44 in shorthanded ice time among forwards, and contributed an assist.

-- The four goals allowed by the Caps tied a season high in goals allowed on home ice (a 4-1 loss to the Florida Panthers on October 21st) and was more goals allowed than in their last three home games combined (three).

-- The four goals allowed was a season worst for Braden Holtby on home ice.  Before last night, Holtby was 6-2-0, 1.61, .949 at Capital One Arena.

-- Jakub Vrana had a great first shift, using speed to get position and finding Lars Eller for the Caps’ lone goal.  After that, 15 shifts and 10:40 in ice time.  It seemed odd.

In the end…

Well, here we are in Thanksgiving Week, and the Caps might just be who we thought they were.  Certainly, they are not the team of the past two seasons, nor are they jaw-droppingly awful.  As this game, juxtaposed with the fine win over Minnesota in their previous game, illustrates, it is an inconsistent team that lacks depth and skill, at least compared to those last two editions that won Presidents Trophies.  At this point, it seems as if this is a club that will bounce on the edge of playoff eligibility all season.  They do not seem to have the sort of depth and consistency to get the sorts of contributions from up and down the roster that would fuel long winning streaks, but they have enough skill and goaltending to avoid long losing streaks.  As this game drove home the point, it is going to be a bumpy last 60 games for the Caps. Strap in, Caps fans.  Turbulence ahead.