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