Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 31: Capitals at Islanders, December 11th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

It has been almost two months since the Washington Capitals played consecutive games against Metropolitan Division rivals.  That streak will end on Monday night when, following up on their 4-2 win over the New York Rangers on Friday night, the Caps will visit Brooklyn to take on the New York Islanders.

The last – the only – time that the Caps faced division rivals in consecutive games, they beat the New Jersey Devils, 5-2, in Newark on October 13th before dropping an 8-2 decision to the Philadelphia Flyers in South Philly the following night.

The Islanders come into this game losers of three straight (0-2-1) and coming home after what must seem a disappointing four-game road trip (their only win coming in a Gimmick in Florida against the Panthers to open the trip).

Home is a different story, altogether.  No team has played fewer games so far this season on home ice than the Isles (11), but they have made it count when they did, posting a home record of 8-1-2.  They did not suffer a loss in regulation time until dropping a 6-5 decision to the Ottawa Senators in their last contest on home ice, back on December 1st. 

That they have been successful in their limited home ice opportunities is a reflection of their offense, which has 51 goals in those 11 games (4.64 per game), and that starts with John Tavares, who is 9-9-18 in the 11 home games, the team leader in both goals and points at Barclays Center.  Tavares, who is one of the real bargains in the league with a $5.5 million cap hit, is in the last year of a six-year deal.  Overall this season, he overcame a sluggish start, one in which he was 2-1-3 in his first seven games (all of those points recorded in a 6-3 win in the Islanders’ home opener) to go 15-13-28, plus-4, in his last 22 games.  Over that span he is tied for the league lead in goals (with Las Vegas’ William Karlsson) and tied for fourth in points.  In 31 career games against the Caps, Tavares is 13-15-28, plus-6.

Over that same span over which Tavares has been among the hottest scorers in the league, Anders Lee has 14 goals of his own, third in the league over that span.  Lee had something of a breakout season in 2016-2017, posting 34 goals, tied for tenth in the league.  He might also be shaking off the last of the inconsistency in his game, his goals having swung from 25 in 76 games in 2014-2015 to 15 in 80 games of the 2015-2016 season to that 34-goal total last year.  This season he has 17 goals in 29 games, tied for third in the league overall.  Six of those goals have come on home ice, second on the club, while his 14 points at Barclays Center ranks third with the Islanders this season.  Lee is 7-2-9, plus-1, in 15 career games against the Caps.

Through Saturday’s games, 43 goaltenders logged at least 500 minutes in ice time this season.  Jaroslav Halak ranked 27 in that group in goals against average (2.93) and 30th in save percentage (.905).  And he was the better of the two Islander goalies in that group, Thomas Greiss ranking 42nd in goals against average (3.78) and 39th in save percentage (.890).  Halak’s success, such as it has been this season, has been entirely a product of support on the offensive side of the ledger.  He opened the season with a 5-2-0 record in his first eight appearances this season, with a goals against average of 2.66 and a save percentage of .916.  Decent, if somewhat middle of the road numbers on his own behalf.  But in his last nine appearances he is 3-5-1, 3.17, .896.  He is 8-8-0, 2.75, .902, with one shutout, in 16 career appearances against the Capitals.

1.  If you are going to beat the Islanders, chances are it won’t be a blowout.  Only two teams have had fewer losses by three or more goals than the Islanders (3) this season – Tampa Bay with two and Los Angeles with one.

2.  Score first, and win.  The Islanders are the only team in the league with a perfect record when scoring first in games (10-0-0).

3.  The Islanders are among the least penalized teams in the league, one of only seven teams averaging less than eight minutes in penalties per game (7:57).

4.  The Islanders are the second most efficient team shooting the puck this season, scoring goals on 11.43 percent of their shots so far.  Only Tampa Bay has been better (11.68 percent).

5.  Home cooking has done little for the Islanders penalty killers.  They have the fourth-worst penalty kill on home ice this season (73.7 percent).

1.  Odd as it is, the Capitals have played only seven games against Metropolitan Division teams so far this season.  Only nine teams have had fewer meetings against teams in the Metro through Saturday’s games.  Stranger still, perhaps, three of those teams are Metropolitan Division teams themselves, the Pittsburgh Penguins (6), the New Jersey Devils (5), and the Philadelphia Flyers (4).

2.  Washington is going to have to ramp up its effort on the penalty kill against Metropolitan Division teams.  In seven games they are just 16-for-23 killing penalties against teams in the Metro (69.6 percent).  If there is a silver lining in this game, the Islanders are worse (13-for-20/65.0 percent).

3.  The Caps have the second-best road power play in the league at 27.8 percent.  Only Pittsburgh is better (31.4 percent).

4.  Washington is also an efficient team shooting the puck on the road, fourth in the league with a 10.6 percent shooting percentage in road games.

5.  The Capitals could use improvement in their road possession numbers.  They have the fifth-lowest shot attempts-for percentage in the league in close situations in road games (46.29 percent).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New York: Nick Leddy

Nick Leddy has quietly assembled a rather impressive body of work as an NHL defenseman.  Ove eight seasons, four with the Chicago Blackhawks and now in his fourth season with the Islanders, he has steadily improved his offensive numbers from the blue line.  His point totals have increased in each of the last four seasons, and he is on a pace to do so again for a fifth consecutive season.  Through Saturday’s games, Leddy’s 24 points (6-18-24) ranks second among league defensemen, topped only by Dallas’ John Klingberg (25).  He has been hot lately, going 3-11-14 in his last 13 games with points in ten of those contests.  Leddy is 1-5-6, minus-2, in 18 career games against the Capitals.

Washington: Brooks Orpik

Brooks Orpik has one of the most bizarre statistics in the league since the 2005-2006 season.  In that time, only four players have had more games in which they registered a point without recording a shot on goal.  Orpik has done that 65 times in that span, a number exceeded only by Henrik Sedin (120), Joe Thornton (111), Mike Ribeiro (91), and Bryan Campbell (78).  He has done it 15 times as a member of the Caps, more than any Capital in his four years with the club except for Nicklas Backstrom (22 times), Tom Wilson (20), and Karl Alzner (16).  He leads the club in such instances this season, having recorded a point in five games in which he did not have a shot on goal.  His ice time has made a difference this season as well, the Caps having a 10-2-1 record in games in which he recorded more than 22 minutes of ice time, although he is just 0-2-2, plus-2 in those games.  In 37 career games against the Islanders, Orpik is 0-7-7, minus-9.

In the end…

The Caps have had reasonable success as guest of the Islanders in recent years, although not without effort.  Since 2005-2006, Washington is 13-8-3 in 24 games on the road against the Isles, but seven of those 13 wins have come in extra time.  The Caps have done well to avoid having to resort to extra time to settle outcomes this season, going to extra time just five times, although they do have four wins in those five instances.  So, will the Caps, who have gone to extra time ten times in their last 19 visits to Long Island, need extra time to subdue the Isles?  Given New York’s iffy goaltending and the Caps’ recent success on offense – four straight games with four or more goals – we’re thinking it will not be necessary.

Capitals 4 – Islanders 2

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 10

For the Washington Capitals, Week 10 was the best week of the year, a perfect 3-0-0 week that represented their first unbeaten week since going 2-0-0 in Week 1.  They scored early, scored late, beat teams from three different time zones, and  did it all in multi-goal wins.  If you were to draw it up at the beginning of the week, it would have looked a lot like this.

Record: 3-0-0

When Week 10 started, the Caps sat in fifth place in the Metropolitan Division, four points behind the first place Columbus Blue Jackets and one point ahead of the sixth place New York Rangers.  At week’s end, despite a perfect week, they made up two points on first place, finishing the week in second place, two points behind the Blue Jackets.  The win over the Rangers to end the week left the Caps with a 5-2-0 record against teams in the Metropolitan Division through Week 10.

The 3-0-0 week was the first in which they posted as many wins without a loss, either in regulation or extra time, since they posted four wins without a loss in Week 26 (the last full week of the regular season), last year.  The three wins extended the Caps’ winning streak to four games, all of the wins by multi-goal margins.  It is the last time that the Caps recorded four straight wins by more than one goal since they recorded that achievement in Games 53-56 last season, all of them at home, as they did in this instance.

Offense: 4.67 /game (season: 3.06 /game, rank: T-10th)

The Caps had 14 goals spread among nine players in Week 10, led by Tom Wilson with three in the three games.  Wilson had a career week with points in all three games, one of them a four-point effort against the Chicago Blackhawks (2-2-4), his first such game in the NHL.  Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Brett Connolly each had two-goal weeks that were noteworthy for each. 

For Ovechkin, the two goals gave him 21 for the season and left him as the 11th player in NHL history to record 20 or more goals in each of his first 13 NHL seasons.  He also finished the week at the top of the goal scoring rankings with 21. 

When Backstrom scored the game’s first goal in the Caps’ 6-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks in the middle game of the week, it snapped a 21-game streak without a goal for the center.  He added a goal in the Caps’ 4-2 win over the Rangers to end the week, the first time he scored goals in consecutive games since early October, the last goals he scored before his 21-game drought.

Both of Connolly’s goals came on power plays and extended his goals streak to three games before it was ended in the Caps’ 4-1 win over the New York Rangers to end the week.  It was the first time that Connolly had goals in three consecutive games since last February, when he put together a three-game goal streak against Los Angeles, Carolina, and Detroit.

Meanwhile, Jay Beagle built on a fine record when he hits the score sheet.  When he posted an assist in the win over San Jose to open the week and a goal in the Caps’ 4-2 win over the Rangers to end it, it made the Caps 76-9-7 in games in which Beagle recorded a point over his career and 38-1-5 in games in which he recorded a goal.  As for points, 13 different Caps posted points in the three games, led by Wilson and Ovechkin with seven apiece.

Defense: 1.67 / game (season: 2.93 /game, rank: 14th)

It was not a bad week on defense, given the nature of the opponents.  Chicago and San Jose were, by week’s end, among the top ten teams in the league in shots per game, the Blackhawks fifth (34.8 shots per game) and the Sharks tenth (33.0).  But where the Caps did particularly well was in shutting things down late.  They did not allow any of their three opponents as many as ten shots in the third period for the week and held those three teams to a total of 23 third period shots on goal.

Oddly, perhaps, but the week was not especially good from a shots attempts point of view.  The Caps were under 50 percent for the week in shot attempts-for at 5-on-5 (46.97 percent; numbers from, and it might have been worse but for a good effort against the Rangers to end the week (54.17 percent).

Goaltending: 1.67 / .946 (season: 2.76 / .913)

It was a fine week all around for Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer in combining for the three wins.  Grubauer opened the week by following up a strong 25 saves on 26 shots performance against Tampa Bay in his previous start with a 24 save effort in the Caps’ 4-1 win over San Jose.  Two straight wins for Grubauer after going 0-5-1 in his first eight appearances (two no-decisions) was a welcome sight for Caps fans.

Braden Holtby got the call in the other two games in Week 10, and he built on a strong run of late.  With 64 saves on 68 shots (.941 save percentage) over the two games, it brought his record to 5-1-0, 2.34, .926 over his last six games.

Grubauer and Holtby combined for strong first periods in games in Week 10, stopping 32 of the 33 first period shots they faced (.970 save percentage).  That save percentage dropped off somewhat from period to period (.946 in the second periods of games, .913 in the third periods of games), but it was still a solid week overall for the Caps in net. 

Power Play: 3-for-13 / 23.1 percent (season: 21.2 percent, rank: 7th)

The Caps were effective and efficient on the power play in Week 10, posting their fifth straight week at 20.0 percent or better on the man advantage.  They achieved that by pummeling opponents for 22 shots with the man advantage in 18:47 of power play ice time.  Washington has now gone 16 games without having recorded consecutive games without a power play goal.  Over those 16 games they are 13-for-56 (23.2 percent).  Not a spectacular power play (ninth-best over that span) but solid.

One of the encouraging things about the power play this week was in the unexpected sources of goal scoring.  Brett Connolly had a pair of man advantage goals, and Jakub Vrana had the other.  In a reversal of roles, Alex Ovechkin had a pair of power play assists, bringing him to within two of 200 career power play assists (he is the only non-center among the top dozen in power play assists since 2005-2006).  Seven different players recorded points on the power play.  One of them was Nicklas Backstrom, who with an assist on the man advantage finished the week with 256 career power play assists, by far the most in the league since he entered the NHL in 2007-2008 (Joe Thornton has 217).

Penalty Killing: 8-for-8 / 100.0 percent (season: 79.4 percent, rank: 20th)

The Caps were perfect on the penalty kill for the second straight week, the first time this season they went consecutive weeks without giving up a power play goal.  They went the entire five-game home stand without allowing a power play goal and extended the consecutive games streak without having allowed one to six.

The penalty kill was impressive in its efficiency as well, holding three opponents to just eight shots on goal over eight power plays in 14:23 of shorthanded ice time.  As a bonus, they recorded a shorthanded goal when Tom Wilson flicked a shot the length of the ice to seal the Caps’ 6-2 win over Chicago in the middle game of the week.

Faceoffs: 98-for-179 / 54.7 percent (season: 52.2 percent, rank: 6th)

As with most other aspects of their week, it was a good one in the circle for the Caps overall, even if they slipped under 50 percent in their 6-2 win over the Blackhawks in the middle game of the week (44.8 percent).  They were 54.7 percent overall, and they were 50 percent or better in all three zones – 55.8 percent in the offensive zone (24-for-43), 50.0 percent in the defensive zone (33-for-66), and 48.6 percent in the neutral zone (41-for-70).

Individually, the top faceoff guys were top faceoff guys.  Each of the four players taking at least ten draws for the week finished over 50 percent – Nicklas Backstrom (29-for-52/55.8 percent), Lars Eller (21-for-38/55.3 percent), Jay Beagle (19-for-36/52.8 percent), and Evgeny Kuznetsov (21-for-40/52.5 percent).

Goals by Period:

The dominant week extended to domination by period, the Caps outscoring opponents by at least two goals overall in each of the three periods of the week.  What is more, the Caps scored the first goal in eight of the nine periods played in Week 10, allowing the period’s first goal only in the last period of the week, when the Rangers tied the game, 2-2, 9:37 into the third period of the Caps’ 4-2 win.

Of note is the continued good fortune that the Caps are enjoying early in games, outscoring opponents by an 8-2 margin over the last two weeks to open up a plus-9 goal differential in the first periods of games overall this season.  With five first period goals in three games this week, the Caps now have 32 first period goals this season, tied with Tampa Bay for third most in the league.  In holding their three opponents to just one first period goal, the Caps jumped into the top ten in fewest first period goals allowed (23/tied for eighth fewest).

In the end…

Three wins for the Caps in Week 10 left them with a 4-1-0 home stand, and 12 home wins this season.  Only the Tampa Bay Lightning have more home wins (13) in the league, and only the Los Angeles Kings have a better record over their last ten games (8-1-1) than the Caps do in theirs (8-2-0).  Since November 1st, the Caps have the second best record/points total in the league (13-5-0/26 points), topped only by the Nashville Predators (13-3-2/28 points).

However, the injury T.J. Oshie suffered in the 4-1 win over San Jose to open the week looms large for the Caps, who did get Andre Burakovsky back off the injured list to wrap up the week.  Oshie’s absence is important in a broad sense, given his contributions at even strength and on the power play, and in his energetic style overall.  It was encouraging to see Brett Connolly step up to contribute on the man advantage and for Tom Wilson to make a difference on the right side of the top line.  Spreading out the contributions can make up for a player’s absence, at least in the short term, and will undoubtedly make the Caps a better overall group when Oshie returns. 

In the meantime, the Caps inched up the standings, finishing the week in second place in the Metropolitan Division, two points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets.  However, just five points separate the top six teams in the division, meaning that even a short slump can leave a team looking up at several teams in a very crowded division.

The Caps now face the challenge of taking the momentum they built with their four-game winning streak on the road, spending six of the next eight games away from Capital One Arena.

Three Stars:

  • First Star: Tom Wilson (3-4-7, plus-6, 11 PIMs, 1 SHG, first career four-point game)
  • Second Star: Alex Ovechkin (2-5-7, plus-6, 2 PPA, 2 GWG, 15 shots on goal, 25 shot attempts)
  • Third Star: Nicklas Backstrom (2-3-5, plus-5, snapped 21-game goalless streak, 55.8 percent faceoff wins)