Thursday, December 07, 2017

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 30: Rangers at Capitals, December 8th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals wrap up their five-game home stand on Friday night when the New York Rangers visit Capital One Arena.  It will be a contest of two teams on fire.  Washington will take a 7-2-0 record in their last nine games into the contest, while the Rangers will be sporting a record of 6-1-0 in their last seven contests and 12-3-0 in their last 15 games.

The Rangers were stuck in a deep hole on October 28th when they dropped a 5-4 decision to the Montreal Canadiens.  At 3-7-2 they were tied with the Buffalo Sabres with the fourth-worst record in the league.  They were leaking goals, having allowed, with the Canadiens, the fourth-highest number of goals in the league (42).  Their penalty killing was poor (77.7 percent/25th), and they were an iffy possession team (48.61 percent shot attempts-for at 5-on-5/22nd).

In 15 games since, the Rangers are no better a possession team (47.20 percent/26th), but they have allowed just 38 goals, tied with Tampa Bay for second-fewest in that span.  Is it goaltending?  Perhaps.  Henrik Lundqvist started the season looking as if at age 35, the back side of his career might be in sight.  In that early rut in which the Rangers found themselves, he was 2-4-2, 3.12, .900, with one shutout.  Since then, however, Lundqvist is 11-2-0, 2.36, .927, with one shutout, more “Lundqvistian” numbers.  He is doing this despite a heavier workload in shots faced, seeing 31.16 shots per 60 minutes in his sluggish opening and 32.34 shots per 60 minutes on his hot run of late.  In 36 career games against the Caps, Lundqvist is 21-11-4, 2.61, .909, with four shutouts.

After making 14 straight appearances, Lundqvist was unable to go against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday due to the flu, leaving thing to Ondrej Pavelec, who presumably would get the call if Lundqvist is still under the weather.  Now with his third team in an 11-year career (two franchises, since he was with the Atlanta Thrashers when they moved to Winnipeg to become the Jets), Pavelec’s career arc has been descending into that of a backup for more than a few seasons now.  He appeared in a career high 68 games in 2011-2012 with the Jets and led the league with 44 appearances in the next, abbreviated 2012-2013 campaign.  His appearances diminished thereafter, from 57 in 82 games in 2013-2014 to 50 the following season, then 33 in 2015-2016 (he missed 33 games to a knee injury) to eight last season (another 24 games missed to injuries). 

Pavelec has never been an especially efficient goaltender at this level, posting a save percentage over .915 just once in 11 seasons (.920 with the Jets in 2014-2015).  He has just one season with a goals against average under 2.70, that in the same 2014-2015 season when he finished with a 2.28 GAA.  He is not having a particularly noteworthy season as Lundqvist’s backup, going 2-4-0, 3.45, .899 in seven appearances.  He is 10-15-2, 2.89, .907, with three shutouts in 29 career appearances against the Caps.

The Rangers have really spread things around, scoring-wise, on their 12-3-0 run, nine different players with points in double digits.  Mats Zuccarello leads the club with 14 points in that stretch (3-11-14).  He is looking to have a bounceback year after seeing his goal total drop from 26 in 81 games in 2015-2016 to 15 in 80 games last season, even if his points fell just two, from 61 to 59.  Zuccarello’s problem last year was efficiency.  He recorded more shots on goal last season than in the one before (189 to 166) but saw his shooting percentage cut almost in half, from 15.7 percent to 7.9 percent.  He has been streaky on the road this season, recording a four-point game in the Rangers’ road opener this season, in Toronto (an 8-5 loss to the Maple Leafs) and a two-point game against the Penguins on Tuesday, but he is also without a point in five of nine road games overall.  Zuccarello is 1-8-9, even, in 18 career games against Washington.

1.  The Rangers have outscored opponents by a 56-38 margin in their 12-3-0 run.  Seven of their 12 wins were by multi-goal margins, and they are 4-0-0 in extra-time games in that streak.

2.  No team has played fewer games on the road this season than the Rangers, going 4-5-0 in nine games away from Madison Square Garden.  Four teams have 12 road games on their record.

3.  The road has not been kind to the Rangers in terms of possession numbers.  They rank 301th of 31 teams in shot attempts-for at 5-on-5 (45.75 percent), ahead of only the Anaheim Ducks (43.49 percent; numbers from

4.  The Rangers have four players with five or more goals in their 12-3-0 run.  By way of comparison, the Caps have only five players with five or more goals overall for the season (although they do have five players with four).

5.  Remember when the Rangers were a bunch of shot-blocking freaks?  Well now, not so much.  They rank 21st in blocked shots this season (393).  In the other grittership category, they rank 19th in credited hits.  The low rankings might be good if they were masters of possession, but as we have seen, they are not (47.78 percent overall in shot attempts-for at fives, home and road).

1.  Alex Ovechkin has not gone consecutive home games without a point over his last 11 contests at Capital One Arena (6-6-12, plus-1), and he has points in his last three home games (3-4-7, plus-1).

2.  When Nicklas Backstrom scored a goal the other night, it broke a 21-game streak without a goal.  With four goals, he is still tied for sixth on the club (with Lars Eller, Devante Smith-Pelly, Tom Wilson, and Alex Chiasson). 

3.  When Tom Wilson recorded a four-point game against Chicago on Wednesday night, it was his first multi-point result since Game 10 (2-0-2 in a 3-2 win over the Boston Bruins on November 4th), and it was as many points as he recorded in his previous nine games.  He has four goals this season on 34 shots, a career best (to date) 11.8 shooting percentage.

4.  That 6-2 win over Chicago on Wednesday evened the Caps’ record at 7-7 in games decided by three or more goals.  Their 14 decisions in such games is second-most in the league, trailing only the 17 such decisions the Winnipeg Jets have (11-6).

5.  Only two teams have more blocked shots on home ice than the Caps (245).  The Rangers have 260, and the Montreal Canadiens have 293.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New York: Michael Grabner

In the Rangers’ 12-3-0 run since late October, Michael Grabner has ten goals to lead the club.  It largely negates a sluggish start in which he recorded just one goal in his first ten games of the season and puts him on a pace that could mean a career high before the season is done.  That career high was set back in 2010-2011 with the New York Islanders, his first full season in the NHL after playing 20 games with the Vancouver Canucks the previous year.  That 34-goal total was a hard thing for Grabner to live up to, as his goal totals sank like a stone in the five years thereafter, settling at nine goals in his only season with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2015-2016.  He rebounded last season in his first year with the Rangers, finishing with 27 goals in 76 games.  He is currently on a pace to finish with 39 goals.  What he has not yet done this season though, is make much of a dent on the road.  Only one of his 13 goals have been scored away from Madison Square Garden.  Grabner is 2-3-5, minus-1, in 23 career games against the Caps.

Washington: Alex Chiasson

It will no doubt seem odd to Capitals fans, but Alex Chiasson is averaging more power play ice time per game this season (1:03) than is Jakub Vrana (1:01).  After all, this is a player who does not have a power play goal in his last 173 games, not since he potted one as a member of the Ottawa Senators in a 3-2 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes back on November 7, 2015.  He does not have a power play point this season for the Caps, despite getting, if not top minutes, than substantial time on the man advantage.  He does, however, provide two attributes that at least suggest he get some time on the power play.  He is a big body that can screen goaltenders (6’4”/208), and he is a right-handed shot, a plus playing in the middle on a 1-3-1 power play that the Caps feature.  What he does get is more ice time killing penalties, ranking second among Caps forwards with 2:16 per game in shorthanded ice time, trailing only Jay Beagle (2:50).  It is some note than more than a quarter of his ice time per game (3:19 of 12:41) is spent on special teams.  He is the only forward on the club who can make that claim.  In eight career games against the Rangers, Chiasson is 1-4-5, plus-3.

In the end…

The Caps are firing on all cylinders at the moment, their 14 goals over their last three games representing the first time this season that the Caps scored four or more goals in three consecutive games.  And they have spread things around, too, with eight different players sharing in the goal scoring, 16 different players recording points.  It will be a challenge against the recently hot Rangers, though.  Let’s just see if the Rangers are all that on the road, where they have just two wins in regulation this season.  Okay, so they happen to be in their last two road games.  Still…

Capitals 4 – Rangers 2

A TWO-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 29: Capitals 6 - Blackhawks 2

The Washington Capitals made it seven wins in a row on home ice against the Chicago Blackhawks when they took down their Windy City visitors by a 6-2 margin on Wednesday night in a nationally televised game.

The teams felt each other out over the first half of the opening period, but then the Caps broke through.  Nicklas Backstrom broke a 21-game streak without a goal at the 11:54 mark.  Tom Wilson picked off a pass in the Chicago zone and fed Alex Ovechkin at the goal line to the left of goalie Anton Forsberg.  Ovechkin bump-passed the puck to Backstrom in the slot, and Backstrom snapped a shot past Forsberg’s blocker to give the Caps the lead.

Three minutes later, the Caps had a two-goal lead. Tom Wilson got one of his own when he took a pass from Christian Djoos on the far edge of the left wing circle, turned, and wristed a shot that eluded Forsberg, certainly a chance the goalie would want back.

The Caps poured it on less than a minute later when Wilson got behind the Chicago defense.  With three defenders in pursuit, Wilson broke in and tried to split Forsberg’s pads, but the puck was kicked back out by the netminder.  The puck slid between the skates of Artem Anisimov onto the stick of the trailing Alex Ovechkin, who didn’t miss.  His shot beat Forsberg on the glove side, and it was 3-0, 15:22 into the period.

Chicago got one back before on a Lance Bouma goal, and things settled down after that through most of the second period.  However, late in the middle frame Brett Connolly restored the Caps’ three-goal lead on a power play.  Failing on two attempts to clear the puck, Chicago was left to defend an Ovechkin shot from the top of the left wing circle.  J-F Berube, in relief of Forsberg, kicked out the shot to his right, but Connolly was in perfect position to collect the puck and wire it past Berube on the short side to make it 4-1 with just 1:28 left in the period.

Mid-way through the third period, Evgeny Kuznetsov got on the board, converting some back and forth between Ovechkin and himself.  From the left wing corner, Ovechkin paddled the puck back to Kuznetsov coming down the wall.  Kuznetsov sent it back down the wall to Ovechkin behind the Blackhawk net.  As Ovechkin was receiving the puck, Kuznetsov darted to the net, putting himself in position for a return pass from Ovechkin that he snapped past Berube to make it 5-1 at the 10:23 mark.

Jonathan Toews made things a little more respectable for the visitors with under four minutes left with an unassisted goal off a breakaway.  It got Chicago close enough to pull their goaltender late on a power play, and Wilson made them pay for it, flicking the puck from the left wing circle in his own end the length of the ice and in at the 17:40 mark for the final 6-2 margin.

Other stuff…

-- Tom Wilson recorded the first four-point game of his career (2-2-4) and the 45th in Capitals history.  He joined Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Evgeny Kuznetsov among Capitals with four-point games this season.

-- Alex Ovechkin’s goal was the game-winner, his 97th career game-winning goal, breaking a tie with Guy Lafleur for eighth place, all-time.  Next up, Jarome Iginla with 101.

-- Nicklas Backstrom had his third game this season with three or more points (1-2-3).  Only Ovechkin (79) and those two centers from Pittsburgh (Sidney Crosby: 96, and Evgeni Malkin: 72) have more such games since Backstrom came into the league in 2007-2008 (67), Backstrom breaking a tie with Patrick Kane in the process.

-- Ovechkin had his 23rd career game of four or more points (1-3-4), second most since he came into the league in 2005-2006 (Crosby: 30).

-- Perhaps odd for a team that scored six goals, but only 12 of 18 skaters recorded shots on goal for the Caps.  Three of them were defensemen – Dmitry Orlov, Christian Djoos, and Brooks Orpik.  The other three were nominal centers – Chandler Stephenson, Lars Eller, and Travis Boyd.

-- Matt Niskanen became the second player this season to record a plus-4 in a game for the Caps.  Ovechkin did it in a 5-2 win over the Edmonton Oilers on October 28th. 

-- The six shots on goal recorded by Ovechkin led the team and was the ninth time this season that he finished with more than five shots in a game, breaking a tie with Vladimir Tarasenko for most in the league.

-- Chicago enjoyed a big advantage in shot attempts at fives (59.65 percent Corsi-for, from, but…score effects?

-- Devante Smith-Pelly did not record a point, but otherwise gets the buffet coupon for the game… two shots on goal, two missed shots, two credited hits, a giveaway, a takeaway, three blocked shots and a faceoff taken (lost).  All in just 11:03 of ice time.

-- John Carlson skated 25:47, the 23rd time this season his ice time exceeded 25 minutes.  That ties Minnesota’s Ryan Suter and Los Angeles’ Drew Doughty for most in the league.

-- Braden Holtby stopped 37 of 39 shots, leaving him with a .937 save percentage on home ice this season, third best in the league among goalies with at least 200 minutes played on home ice (Sergei Bobrovsky: .942; Aaron Dell: .941).

In the end…

It is hard to find a lot to complain about in this one (well, you Corsi-freaks might have some things to chew on).  The Backstrom-Ovechkin-Wilson top line had four goals and 11 points.  The power play scored a goal (1-for-3); the penalty killers were perfect (4-for-4).  They got out to a lead, built it, and stifled the Blackhawks when they might have gained some momentum with their late first period goal.  They took advantage of a team with issues in goal, with Corey Crawford out for the Blackhawks, chasing one goalie and taking advantage of his relief, even if the chances were not as plentiful.

The Caps are now 3-1-0 on this five-game home stand and have climbed to within a point of the Metropolitan Division lead.  Their 15 wins in regulation or overtime are tied with Pittsburgh for most in the division (four teams have 14).  They will get to do some direct damage on the division in their next contest, one against the New York Rangers to close out what would be a very successful home stand with a win.