Sunday, December 03, 2017

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 28: Sharks at Capitals, December 4th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

After a brief departure in the recent schedule that allowed the Washington Capitals to take on a Metropolitan Division rival over the weekend – a 4-3 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Caps go back to facing non-divisional opponents on Monday night when the San Jose Sharks come to town.  The Caps will be looking to get past the .500 mark on their current five-game home stand as well as notch their tenth win on home ice this season.

San Jose comes to town to wrap up a four-game road trip on which they are 2-1-0 with wins over Philadelphia and Florida before dropping a 5-2 decision to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night.  The Sharks are among the better road teams in the league, their 7-3-1 record being better than their home record this season (7-6-1).  They have not lost consecutive road games yet this season, although they are in jeopardy of doing that for the first time when they face the Caps on Monday.

Logan Couture leads the Sharks in goals (13) and points (21) overall, and he leads the club in road goals (6) and points (10).  While that road scoring line does not look especially impressive at first glance (he ranks tied for 60th in points in the league in road scoring), those ten points have come in just 11 road games, the Sharks having played the fewest road contests in the Western Conference (Ottawa (10) and the New York Rangers (8) have played fewer in the East through Saturday).  With 13 goals in 25 games overall, Couture seems well on his way to posting his seventh 20-goal season in as many full seasons (he played 25 games and had five goals in his first NHL season, and in 2015-2016 he had 15 goals in 52 games in a season cut short with a fractured leg and a lower body injury).  If there is an odd Couture fact this season it is that he does not have a point in the four games in which he logged more than 20 minutes of ice time.  Couture is 4-6-10, plus-2, in 11 career games against Washington.

Brent Burns is a perennial among Shark scoring leaders from the blue line, but Justin Braun might be a bit of a surprise as the second-leading scorer among San Jose defensemen (1-9-10).  His plus-7 is tied with Marc-Edouard Vlasic for the team lead in that group.  He would seem to be on a pace to top his career bests in assists (22 in 2014-2015) and points (23 in that season and the 2015-2016 season), and he could top his career-best of plus-19 in the 2013-2014 season.  That career started in unremarkable fashion as a seventh-round (201st overall) draft pick by the Sharks in 2007.  It would be three more seasons before he had his first taste of NHL action, getting 28 games in the 2010-2011 season.  Since then, only once in eight seasons, including this one, did he fail to reach double digits in points, going 0-7-7, minus-5, in 41 games of the abbreviated 2012-2013 season.  Braun is 0-1-1, plus-3, in nine career games against the Caps.

Martin Jones gets little in the way of Vezina finalist love, but he has been just fine backstopping the Sharks.  The numbers are more solid than elite for Jones in three years with the Sharks, his 2.32 goals against average ranking 11th among 54 goalies with at least 2,500 minutes played over that span and his .916 save percentage ranking 18th.  He is one of 11 goalies in that group with at least ten shutouts over the last three seasons, which would be more than Henrik Lundqvist (8) or Pekka Rinne (7).  This season he ranks fourth in GAA among 37 goalies with at least 500 minutes logged, and his .926 save percentage ranks seventh through Saturday’s games.  His road numbers are even better, a 2.07 goals against average and a .937 save percentage.  Of particular relevance to this game, Jones has shut out the Caps in each of his last two appearances against the team in Washington, the only goalie over the past three seasons with two shutouts against the Caps in Washington.  He is 4-0-0, 1.00, .963, with those two shutouts in four career appearances against the Capitals.

1.  San Jose is quite adept at clamping down on opposing offenses.  The 29.7 shots on goal allowed per game is second-best in the league, while their 52.79 percent shot attempts-for at 5-on-5 ranks fourth in the league through Saturday’s games.

2.  The Sharks are also disciplined within the rules.  They have been whistled for 90 penalties this season, fourth-fewest in the league, and their two major penalties are tied for fewest in the league.  They have only one fighting major (Joe Pavelski, of all people), fewest in the league.

3.  San Jose blankets teams early.  They have allowed just 18 first period goals this season, tied with the St. Louis Blues for third-fewest in the league.  They are not bad late, either, allowing just 16 third period goals, second-fewest in the league (Los Angeles: 12).

4.  The defense helps the Sharks dominate opponents on the scoreboard, their six wins by three or more goals tied for fourth-most in the league.  They have a 6-3 record in such games.

5.  If there is an odd feature to the Sharks’ behavior early in games, it is their comparatively ordinary record when scoring first.  Their 9-5-1 record in such games ranks 22nd in winning percentage (.600).

1.  Braden Holtby is fourth in the league in save percentage on home ice (.935) among 37 goalies appearing in at least five home contests.

2.  The Caps have three players in double-digits in home scoring so far: Evgeny Kuznetsov (5-10-15), Alex Ovechkin (9-2-11), and John Carlson (2-9-11).  Lars Eller has nine points, and both Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie have eight to be next in line.

3.  Plus-minus might not be the most informative statistic on its own, but it can be an odd one.  Jakub Vrana and Brooks Orpik lead the team in home plus-minus at plus-7 apiece.  Andre Burakovsky, who hasn’t played a home game since October 21st, is a team-worst minus-3 on home ice.

4.  The Caps have not done a very good job coming back in games late.  Their 1-9-0 record in games in which they trail after two periods is the sixth-worst in the league.  Not that last season was much better, despite the much better overall record.  The Caps were 3-14-5 in such games last season, 19th in winning percentage (.136).

5.  A win on Monday would be the Caps’ tenth on home ice this season, making them (pending results of other games) the fourth team in the East to hit double digits in home wins.  The Rangers lead the East with 11 home wins.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

San Jose: Brent Burns

Last season, Brent Burns recorded 29 goals, the most goals by a defenseman since Mike Green recorded 31 goals for the Caps in the 2008-2009 season.  Over the previous four seasons, Burns recorded more than 20 goals four times and averaged 23.8 goals per season.  No defenseman came close to the 95 goals he recorded over the previous four seasons (Shea Weber had 75).  So far this season, the defending Norris Trophy winner has one goal in 25 games, that one coming on November 24th in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Vegas Golden Knights.  It is not as if his shooting frequency is off.  Burns is averaging 3.92 shots per game this season compared to 3.90 shots per game last season when he led the league in shots on goal with 320 (he is seventh this season with 98).  And on a team that does well in possession numbers overall, Burns is part of the pack among Shark defensemen, ranking fourth among the six defensemen having appeared in at least 15 games (55.49 percent) in shot attempts-for at 5-on-5.  He is 6-9-15, plus-3, in 14 career games against Washington.

Washington:  Dmitry Orlov

A lot of Capitals have had their frustrations against the San Jose Sharks, and Dmitry Orlov is no exception.  That frustration has spread, to an extent, to his overall production so far this season.  After posting a career year last season (6-27-33, plus-30) in 82 games, he is just 2-5-7, plus-1, in 27 games so far this season, despite playing a career high 23:30 a game in ice time (he averaged 19:36 in 2013-2014). Those two goals do happen to be tied for the team lead among defensemen (John Carlson and Christian Djoos being the others).  And, both of his goals and three of his five assists are on home ice, with a plus-2 in 14 games on Capital One Arena ice, so there is that going for him.  What he has not had, like a lot of his teammates, is much in the way of success against the Sharks.  Orlov is 1-0-1, minus-6, in eight career games against San Jose.

In the end…

If the games against the Kings and Blue Jackets last week were, even if head coach Barry Trotz hates the term, “measuring sticks” for the Caps, the game against the San Jose Sharks on Monday is one of a different sort.  This is a club that the Caps can’t beat when they stink (0-2-1 when the Caps were coming out of the 2004-20015 lockout and still rebuilding), when they are competitive (3-5-2 between October 2009 and February 2013), or when they are dominant (0-4-0 over the last two seasons, ones in which the Caps won the Presidents Trophy for the best regular season record in the league).  That they are 3-7-3 in 17 games against the Sharks since the 2004-2005 lockout (two of the wins in extra time) – 1-4-3 on home ice – speaks to more than a little frustration.  Win this game, and perhaps this Caps team has a little more resemblance to teams of the past few years than fans might have thought.

Capitals 3 – Sharks 2

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 9

The Washington Capitals had a light workload in Week 9 with just two games on the docket.  It was a test, nonetheless, as the two teams the Caps faced – the Los Angeles Kings and the Columbus Blue Jackets – were teams that finished the week among the top five teams in the league in standings points.  Both teams arrived in Washington on a bit of a roll, the Kings being winners of two straight when they faced the Caps (a streak that would reach four by the end of the week) and the Blue Jackets winners of eight of nine contests when they took the ice against Washington.  That the Caps split the games was not the best possible result, but neither was it the worst.

Record: 1-1-0

The Caps had a three-game winning streak on home ice against the Kings when Los Angeles arrived for the first game of the week, all of them multi-goal wins.  They had scored four or more goals against the Kings on home ice in five of seven games since the 2004-2005 lockout.  When Evgeny Kuznetsov scored barely four minutes into the game, it looked as if it might be more of the same.  It would not be however, as the Caps dropped a 5-2 decision to leave them with a 4-3-1 record against the Kings on home ice since that 2004-2005 lockout.

The Caps and the Columbus Blue Jackets had an interesting recent history going into Saturday’s contest.  Four of the previous five meetings between the clubs ended in one-goal decisions, the Caps holding a 2-1-1 record in those games.  That the teams ended in a one-goal decision, 4-3, the Caps winning by one marker after twice holding two-goal leads, should not be seen as a surprising outcome.

Offense:3.00 /game (season:2.89 /game, rank: T-18th)

When there are so few games in any given week, there are limited chances to add to the offensive statistics, but in recording six goals for the week, 12 different Capitals recorded points, 11 of them in the 4-3 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets.  Evgeny Kuznetsov led the team in goals (three) and points (three) for the week.  The three goals increased Kuznetsov’ goal output by 50 percent over that with which he started the week (form six to nine) and boosted his team leading point total to 29.  Alex Ovechkin had a goal to keep pace with Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov at the top of the league’s goal-scoring rankings (19).  Alex Chiasson got his fourth goal of the season in Week 9, three of them on home ice, and Brett Connolly got his first goal on home ice this season and third overall.  John Carlson was the only Capital besides Kuznetsov with more than one point for the week, getting a pair of assists in the 4-3 win over Columbus.

Defense: 4.00 game (season: 3.07 /game, rank: 20th)

The Caps had a disappointing week on the defensive side of things.  Allowing eight goals in two games on home ice to teams that finished the week 14th and 20th in the league in scoring offense, one of those teams playing the back half of a back-to-back set of games (Columbus) has to qualify as a disappointment.  It was not quite as bad as that, though, as the Caps surrendered a pair of empty-net goals to the Los Angeles Kings in the 5-2 loss to open the week.

It was a mixed bag in terms of shot suppression for the week, the Caps holding the Kings to 27 shots and 53 shot attempts in the 5-2 loss, but allowing Columbus 35 shots on goal and 68 total attempts in the 4-2 win.  That Columbus game was especially confounding, given that upon taking a 4-2 lead early in the third period the Caps were out-shot, 17-2, and out-attempted, 33-8, over the last 18:52 of the contest.

The result was that the Caps slipped a bit in the shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5, from 48.32 percent to start the week to 48.04 (26th in the league) by week’s end.  That the Caps rank 29th in the league in this statistic when tied (44.66 percent; numbers form speaks to a need to develop a defensive identity before more of the season slips away.

Goaltending: 3.04 / .900 (season: 2.88 / .910)

Goaltending results continue to be uneven on a week-to-week basis.  Braden Holtby got the call in both games in Week 9, and the best that might be said was that he was consistent, allowing three goals in each game.  It was by no means a bad week, often bailing out an iffy defense in front of him, especially against the Blue Jackets when the Caps seemed unable to clear their own zone to save their lives.  In fact, the Columbus game was something of an object lesson in a goaltender being the guy on whom the results are hung, even when the goals are not necessarily an accurate reflection of his play in net. 

For example… there was the Artemi Panarin goal scored when the Columbus forward was left all alone on the left side of the ice for an uncontested one-timer. It was not a case of the sort of numbers advantage when Alex Ovechkin scores from there on a power play; it was with the teams at even strength, but the Jackets taking advantage of Matt Niskanen cheating up the slot to try to take a pass from a teammate that never came, leaving no defenseman on Panarin’s side of the ice.  There was Zach Werenski gifted with a loose puck that Holtby could not find in a maze of bodies, caught looking in another direction when Werenski scored.  And there was the spectacular glove save on Cam Atkinson with under four minutes to play that might have been, if not a game-changer, a game-saver.  It was not Holtby’s best week, but don’t make it seem like it was his worst, either.

The “save” of the week might have come from a non-goaltender.  With under two minutes to play and the Caps holding a 4-3 lead over Columbus, Pierre-Luc Dubois fired a shot that got under Holtby’s right arm, but hit him in the side.  The puck dropped behind him, off his skate, and lay in the crease.  Jay Beagle was johnny-on-the-spot to keep Panarin from getting a clean whack at the loose puck, spun, and shot the puck out of the blue paint and out of danger to preserve the lead and the win.

Power Play: 1-for-4 / 25.0 percent (season: 20.9 percent, rank: T-12th)

It was a light week on special teams in general for the Caps.  The four chances the Caps had in two games was their lowest total and average per game since they had three chances (no goals) in two games in Week 4.  The goal the Caps did score in Week 9 on the power play followed an old formula.  From the goal line, Evgeny Kuznetsov fed the puck to Nicklas Backstrom at the right wing wall, and then Backstrom moved it to John Carlson at the top of the offensive zone.  Carlson passed the puck across to Alex Ovechkin in “the office,” and Ovechkin’s wrist shot beat Sergei Bobrovsky on the short side past his blocker just ten seconds into the Caps’s man advantage.

In a light week, the Caps had just 6:10 in power play ice time and recorded just seven shots on goal.  T. J. Oshie was the only Cap to record as many as two power play shots on goal, both of those in the Caps’ loss to Los Angeles to open the week. Despite the light week in terms of opportunities, the Caps recorded a power play goal for the fourth consecutive week after consecutive weeks without one in Weeks 4 and 5.

Penalty Killing: 2-for-2 / 100.0 percent (season: 77.8 percent, rank: T-22nd)

The best thing about the Caps’ penalty kill in Week 9 that they did not have to kill penalties.  The two shorthanded situations faced was by far their lowest weekly total for the year, their Week 1 total of nine being the previous standard.  When they avoided any shorthanded situations against Columbus to end the week, it was the second time this season that the Caps did not face an opponent’s power play (they held the Edmonton Oilers without one in a 2-1 win on November 12th).

In the game in which they did face an opponent’s power play, they shut out the Kings on two chances over four minutes and allowed just two shots.  It would be hard to have a better week than this in terms of penalty killing management.

Faceoffs: 63-for-112 / 56.3 percent (season: 52.0 percent, rank: 6th)

It was another good week in the circle for the Caps overall, although it was a bit uneven.  The Caps dominated the neutral zone, winning 65.0 percent of their draws, and were good in the offensive zone with a 57.5 winning percentage.  They suffered in the defensive end, going 43.8 percent for the week, but that was a product of a weak effort against the Kings in the first game of the week.  It was an odd outcome, the Caps going just 2-for-11 in that game (18.2 percent), the 11 defensive zone draws being just half of those that the Caps took in the offensive end (14-for-22/63.3 percent).  That second period against Los Angeles was the only zone in the only game of the week that the Caps had a lower than 50 percent winning mark.

Among individuals, Jay Beagle led the club in winning percentage for the week (14-for-22/63.6 percent).  The week lifted Beagle into third place in the league rankings (60.3 percent) among 86 players having taken at least 250 draws.  Nicklas Backstrom also had a fine week (25-for-42/59.5 percent) to climb over 50 percent for the season (52.5 percent).  Evgeny Kuznetsov was the third Capital at 50 percent or better among those taking at least ten draws (9-for-18/50.0 percent), while Lars Eller finished under 50 percent in that group (9-for-20/45.0 percent).

Goals by Period:

The middle period did in the Caps this week.  Or more accurately, nine seconds of the second period of one game did them in.  But for that, it might have been a two-win week.  Half of the goals that the Caps allowed in the middle period of Week 9 came in the 5-2 loss to the Kings, turning a one-goal lead into a one-goal deficit that the Caps would not make up.

The two goals that the Caps allowed to Columbus in the second period of their game might have been just as disastrous but for the fact that the Blue Jackets scored them almost 13 minutes apart to make up what was a two-goal deficit to the Caps.

It was part of a disturbing pattern for the Caps that left them in the worst ten in goals allowed in both the second periods of games this season (29/9th-most) and the third periods of games (31/T-7th-worst).  That third period ranking, even if two goals against this week were of the empty net variety is especially disturbing since the Caps rank in the bottom ten in goals scored in the third period (23/tied for 9th-fewest).

In the end…

After Saturday’s game against Columbus, Caps forward Brett Connolly remarked, “That was a good team over there that we just beat.  It just proves that we can beat anyone.”  Head Coach Barry Trotz expanded on that, saying that “We’re playing some quality opponents right now. . . . Four of the five teams we’re up against in the next little while are four of the top five teams in the National Hockey League defensively. It’s hard to score on those teams. They either have an exceptional goaltender or a good system, or a real good defense. They have all those elements that make them really good. We have to work for our goals. Tonight, we jumped on them early and were able to use that to our advantage.”

Both have it right as an apt description for Week 9.  The Caps did face quality opposition, despite the light schedule, and they acquitted themselves pretty well.  Not that it makes their task going forward any easier.  The split in the two games left the Caps pretty much where they were to start the week – scrapping with five other teams for position in the Metropolitan Division (six teams are separated by five points) and fighting for every point to maintain at least a wild card spot in the standings (the Caps ended the week as the second wild card team, one point ahead of the New York Rangers).

The win to end the week for the Caps can serve as a springboard into Week 10, when they will wrap up their season-long five-game home stand against San Jose, Chicago, and the Rangers.  That would be a team against which the Caps often struggle (0-4-2 in their last six meetings on home ice and shut out in their last two meetings in that span), a team fighting for playoff positioning in the West (Chicago is currently one point behind Vancouver for the second wild-card spot), and a divisional rival against whom the Caps are fighting for their own playoff position (the Rangers).

The Caps are going to need that end of week boost heading into next week.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Evgeny Kuznetsov (3-0-3, even, 1 GWG, 5 shots on goal, 7 shot attempts, 50.0 percent on faceoffs, 63.6 percent shot attempts-for/individual at 5-on-5)
  • Second Star: John Carlson (0-2-2, minus-1, 5 shots on goal, 13 shot attempts, 3 blocked shots, 25:39 in average ice time)
  • Third Star: Jakub Vrana (0-0-0, plus-3, 4 shots on goal, 9 shot attempts, 62.0 percent shot attempts-for/individual at 5-on-5)