Friday, December 15, 2017

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 34: Ducks at Capitals, December 16th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals wrap up a bit of an odd stretch of their schedule on Saturday night when their alternating home-road-home-road-home itinerary comes to an end as they host the Anaheim Ducks.  The Ducks will come to Washington with their own slant on an alternating schedule, having alternated wins and losses in their last four games (2-0-2).

This game pits two teams on opposite ends of a strange continuum.  The Caps are tied for the fewest losses in the league in extra time games (one), while the Ducks are tied for the most losses in such games (seven).

The Ducks have not been an especially successful team on the road, either.  They have six wins in 14 road games.  Only five teams have fewer road wins in games played through Thursday night.  Their difficulties have not been on the defensive side, where they have allowed fewer goals than all but six teams.  Their problems have been in scoring goals on the road, their 37 goals scored being more than just five other clubs, and four of those teams have played fewer road games.

What makes the Ducks’ road show even less appealing is the fact that Corey Perry – their leading goal scorer (four, tied with two teammates) and point producer (ten) on the road – is out “week to week” with an apparent knee injury suffered against the Carolina Hurricanes on December 11th

Perry’s absence might mean guys like Rickard Rakell and Kevin Roy, who are tied with Perry for the team lead in road goals, need to raise their production.  Rakell has demonstrated an ability to score goals, his total jumping from nine in 71 games in 2014-2015 to 20 goals two seasons ago to 33 goals last year.  He is bit off that pace this year, though, with just eight goals in 26 games overall.  Rakell started the seasons smartly with five goals in his first ten games, but he has since cooled off, recording just three goals in his last 16 games.  He does have four goals in eight road games, so there is that.  Rakell is 1-0-1, even, in five career games against Washington.

Kevin Roy is at the other end of the experience spectrum.  He is in his rookie season with the Ducks, a former fourth-round draft pick (2012) who did not start the year with the parent club.  He was called up for the first time on November 9th, whereupon he started slowly with one goal in his first nine games.  However, he heated up some after that, posting five goals in his last seven games, including a pair in Anaheim’s 3-1 win over St. Louis on Thursday.  He did have a history as a consistent goal scorer when he was at Northeastern University, posting seasons of 17, 19, 17, and 10 (in fewer games played) as a member of the Huskies.  This will be Roy’s first appearance against the Caps.

Brandon Montour leads the Duck defensemen in scoring on the road so far this season (3-5-8), and he leads all Duck skaters in road plus-minus (plus-9, tied for sixth-best in the league).  He does show signs of cooling down on the road, though.  He was 3-1-4 in his first four road contests this season, but he is 0-4-4 in his last eight games on the road.  It is, perhaps, part of the ups and downs that goes with being a second-year player in the NHL.  He already has eclipsed his games played total of last season (30 compared to 27 last year) and has career highs in goals-assists-points (6-10-16).  He was something of a scorer in the AHL, so his production at this level comes as less of a surprise.  He was 26-73-00 in 118 games over three seasons in the AHL with Norfolk and San Diego.  He does not have a point, but he is plus-1 in two career games against the Caps.

1.  Anaheim does have an efficient power play on the road.  Their 24.2 percent on the man advantage in road games ranks sixth in the league.  Their penalty kill is also a top-ten team on the road (83.3 percent/10th)

2.  The Ducks have a strange record in one-goal games, winning seven and losing eight.  The thing with those eight losses is that seven of them are in extra time, only one in regulation.  Only Winnipeg has none such losses in regulation so far.  The Ducks would much rather a blowout.  Their 5-3 record in such games is tied for the seventh-best winning percentage in the league (.625).

3.  Only four teams have fewer wins this season when leading after the first period than Anaheim (5).  Florida (4), Arizona (4), Calgary (3),and Buffalo (1) are the unfortunates. 

4.  The Ducks are one of just four teams without a goal scored in overtime.  Detroit, Vancouver, and Winnipeg are the others.

5.  When the Ducks were a Stanley Cup contender a decade ago, they had the reputation of being a rambunctious team comfortable playing outside the rules.  That does not seem to have changed much.  Anaheim ranks second in penalty minutes per game (11:52), trailing only Nashville (13:56).

1.  If urgency can be reflected in possession numbers, such is the case with the Caps on home ice.  Their shot attempts-for percentage overall in home games ranks 24th in the league (48.0 percent).  The ranking is a bit better when they are ahead in home games (45.60 percent/18th).  However, when behind on home ice their 58.6 percent ranks fifth.

2.  Nevertheless, the Caps have done a better job lately of holding down shots on goal on home ice.  They held five of their last seven opponents at Capital One Arena under 30 shots, two of them (San  Jose and Colorado) to 25 or fewer.

3.  The Caps in recent years have had a very good power play at home.  This year’s edition could use improvement.  They rank 20th on the man advantage on home ice (17.2 percent).  After going 4-for-13 over a three-game stretch to open the December portion of their home schedule, they are 0-for-5 in their last two home games.

4.  On the other side, the penalty killers have been almost impenetrable recently on home ice.  They are 14-for-14 over their last six games at Capital One Arena.

5.  The Caps rank third in the league in wins by three or more goals with eight.  Three of their last five wins were by three or more goals, two others by two goals.  In fact, nine of their last ten wins have been by multi-goal margins.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Anaheim: John Gibson

John Gibson has developed into a solid, if as yet unspectacular goaltender for the Anaheim Ducks in his fifth NHL system.  He has been consistent, too.  Two seasons ago he posted a .920 save percentage in 40 games.  Last year he was .924 in 52 games.  This season he is squarely in that range at .922 through 25 appearances.  The difference for Gibson so far this season compared to the previous two is that while he had goals against averages of 2.07 two years ago and 2.22 last year, he has a goals against average of 2.83 this season, 28th of 48 goalies logging at least 500 minutes this season.  He is facing a lot more rubber.  Where he faced 28.9 shots per 60 minutes over the previous two seasons, he is facing 36.4 shots per 60 minutes so far this season.   He has already faced more than 40 shots six times this season, second-most in the league to Calgary’s Mike Smith (seven times).  In three career appearances against the Caps, Gibson is 0-2-1, 3.64, .888.

Washington: Braden Holtby

Braden Holtby has become perhaps the Capitals best weapon at home.  His 11 wins this season ranks second among 40 goalies with at least 250 minutes on home ice (tied with three other goalies), his goals against average ranks fifth (2.06), and his save percentage ranks second (.935).  In an odd reflection of his consistency, he is one of two goalies in the top ten in home save percentage without a shutout this season (Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray is the other).  But he has held five opponents to one goal on home ice, tied with Carey Price in the top spot.  He will be looking to tie his season high five-game winning streak on home ice.  Holtby is 2-1-0, 3.25, .878 in three career appearances against the Ducks.

In the end…

This is one of those rivalries that isn’t.  The Caps have faced the Ducks only 33 times in 24 years and hold a 16-15-1 advantage with one tie.  If anything, the Caps have been better in recent years, going 9-3-1 in their last 13 games against Anaheim dating back to November 2008.  They are teams going in somewhat different directions at the moment, the Caps one of, it not the hottest team in the league with an 8-2-0 record in their last ten games.  On the other side, Anaheim is just 4-2-4 in their last ten contests, although they have won two in a row.  They will not make it three.

Capitals 4 – Ducks 1

A TWO-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 33: Capitals 5 - Bruins 3

The Washington Capitals extended their domination of the Boston Bruins to an eleventh straight game on Thursday night when they defeated the Bruins, 5-3, at TD Garden in Boston.  The 11 straight wins against the Bruins is one short of the club's longest winning streak against any single team (12 straight wins against the Tampa Bay Lightning from December 15, 2007 through December 7, 2009).  The longest unbeaten streak the Caps have against any single team in franchise history is 22 games against the New York Islanders (19 wins and three ties) from April 12, 1997 through March 30, 2002.

The teams went scoreless for the first 17 minutes, but the Caps broke through late in the first period when Jakub Vrana split the defense, skated in on goalie Anton Khudobin, and potted his 10th goal of the season at the 17:34 mark.

The teams exchanged power play goals to open the second period, the Bruins tying the score on a man advantage goal by Patrice Bergeron in the fifth minute of the period and the Caps taking the lead back on a power play eight minutes later when Nicklas Backstrom redirected an Evgeny Kuznetsov centering feed from the top of the crease.

Then it became the Alex Chiasson Show in what would be a wild third period. Chiasson opened the scoring in the frame at the 7:52 mark when he dug out a rebound from under Khudobin’s pads and stuffed it under him to give the Caps a 3-1 lead. Four minutes later, while killing a penalty, Chiasson picked up a loose puck at his own blue line and took off on a breakaway. He outraced Torey Krug the length of the ice and flipped a backhand over Khudobin’s right pad to make it 4-1, 11:31 into the period.

David Krejci cut the lead to two goals at the 16:20 mark, but Alex Ovechkin put it away two minutes later on an odd empty netter. From the right wing wall in his own end he tried to lead Tom Wilson with a cross ice pass. The puck was far out in front of Wilson though, caroming off the left wing side boards. The carom was perfect, though, as the puck slid the rest of the way and settled into the back of the net at the 18:31 mark.

Bergeron scored a window dressing goal for the Bruins with 27 seconds left, but it was far from enough as the Caps skated off with the 5-3 win.

Other stuff…

-- The Caps are now a perfect 20-0-0 against Boston in games that Nicklas Backstrom recorded a point.

-- Alex Chiasson had his first two-goal game since he recorded a pair against the Calgary Flames as a member of the Dallas Stars in a 5-1 win on October 24, 2013.

-- Alex Ovechkin’s 22nd goal of the season tied Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov for the league lead.

-- Matt NIskanen finished plus-3. He is plus-13 in his last ten games and is now tied for ninth in the league in that statistic (plus-14). With two assists, he had his first multi-point game of the season.

-- Four Caps did not record a shot attempt – Brett Connolly, Chandler Stephenson, Madison Bowey, and Devante Smith-Pelly.

-- Dmitry Orlov led the team in credited hits with five.

-- The Caps were schooled on faceoffs, Lars Eller the only player taking more than one draw finishing over 50 percent (7-for-13/53.8 percent).

-- Washington allowed the Bruins five power plays. It is the first time this season in ten games that they allowed an opponent five or more power plays and won in regulation (they have two extra time wins).

-- Boston dominated the shot attempts, finishing the game with a 74-55 edge.

-- Braden Holtby improved his career record against Boston to 13-2-0, 1.89, .942, with three shutouts.

In the end…

The Caps are 10-3-0 in their last 13 games with this win, and for the ninth time in that run posted a multi-goal win.  It has brought the Caps close enough to the Columbus Blue Jackets at the top of the Metropolitan Division to know what flavor chewing gum they are (that’s a “Hoosiers” reference…look it up).  The win over the Bruins sets up the Caps for a final home game before heading out on a four-game holiday road trip to the southwest and to Manhattan.  By the time the Caps return from that trip to host these same Boston Bruins, the standings in the Metro might look even better.