Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 11: Capitals at Canadiens, November 1

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals wrap up their “four straight games out of town” tour (they stopped off at home after the win in Calgary last Saturday) with a visit to Bell Centre to face the Montreal Canadiens.  The Caps are looking to build on the success of the western Canada leg of the journey, having won two of three games.  On the other side, Montreal will be hoping to wash the taste of a 4-1 loss to the Dallas Stars at Bell Centre on Tuesday out of their mouths.

The Canadiens started the season fast, opening with a 4-1-1 record in their first half-dozen games.   Since then, however, Montreal is 2-2-1 to slip to 6-3-2 overall and into fourth place in the Atlantic Division.  Montreal has had a consistent offense in the 2-2-1 slide, scoring three goals in four consecutive games (five in a row, including the win against the St. Louis Blues before this slide started) before being held to one by Dallas.  The inconsistency has been on the defensive side of the ledger where the Habs have alternated four goals allowed in games with better defensive efforts, a 3-2 win over the Calgary Flames and a 3-0 whitewashing of the Boston Bruins.

The defensive inconsistency lately has not spread to goaltender Carey Price, at least not in its entirety.  He was the goalie of record in four of the five decisions (2-1-1), but he posted a goals against average of 2.23 in those games and a save percentage of .919.  Price is coming off a season in which he appeared in only 49 games, a season interrupted by injury absences due to a lower body injury and a concussion.  It matters because heavier workload has agreed with him over the years.  Six times before this season Price appeared in more than 60 games, and in four of them he posted save percentages over .920, and in only one of them did he post a goals against average over 2.50 (2.83 in 52 appearances in 2008-2009).  He has been especially tough to beat at home over his career – 164-92-47, 2.30, .922, with 28 of his 41 career shutouts.  However, he has struggled against the Caps, going 6-13-4, 3.30, .891, with one shutout in 23 career appearances.

Max Domi leads the Canadiens in points (5-6-11), and he is one of 20 players in the league to have posted at least ten points and logged at least ten penalty minutes (he has 10, although six of those came in Tuesday’s loss to Dallas).  Domi is in his first season with Montreal, having arrived in a trade with Arizona for Alex Galchenyuk in one of those trades in the category “players who need new scenery.”  Domi had a six-game points streak stopped against Dallas (5-3-8), and he will come into this game having scored only one of his five goals on home ice this season.  His dispatch to Montreal would seem to be a product of his being unable to capitalize and improve on a fine rookie season in which he went 18-34-52, plus-3, with Arizona.  He managed only 18 goals and 73 points over the next two seasons combined.  His 11 points in 11 games so far would suggest the change in scenery has been beneficial.  Domi is 0-4-4,. Plus-4, in six career games against Washington.

For the first seven seasons of Jeff Petry’s career, he was a defenseman of modest offensive production, more of a “glue that binds” sort of player.  He never topped eight goals in any of those seasons (four-plus seasons with Edmonton and two-plus seasons with the Canadiens) and never reached the 30-point mark.  Last year was a different story.  In the first season of his career in which he appeared in every contest in an 82-game season, he went 12-30-42, the goals, assists, and points being career bests.  He did it largely by being the go-to force from the blue line on the power play.  Petry’s six power play goals doubled his career total, and his 17 power play assists were more than he recorded in his previous five seasons combined (13).  He also skated 23:30, also a career high.  His goal scoring so far this season is not matching last year’s pace (one), but he does have nine points in 11 games so far.  Petry is 2-3-5, minus-4, in 13 career games against the Caps.

1.  Montreal does a good job suppressing shots.  The 28.4 shots per game allowed is fifth-best in the league.

2.  The Canadiens have been gifted a lot of power play chances on home ice (28/third-most in the league), but they have done little with those opportunities (17.8 percent/18th).

3.  Montreal closes games poorly.  They have only six third period goals all season, last in the league.

4.  The second period is known as the “long change” period for team, their bench being across the red line from the goal they must defend.  For the Canadiens, it is the “power play period.”  No team has spent more time on the man advantage in the middle period than Montreal so far (35:11), almost 12 more minutes than they have spent shorthanded (11:47).

5.  The Canadiens are capable of playing from behind with a certain urgency in one respect.  Their shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 (61.50) is fourth-best in the league.

1.   Alex Ovechkin scored eight goals in October. It will surprise precisely no one that since he came into the league in the 2005-2006 season, Ovechkin has scored goals in more games in the month of October than any other player, 64 games in all (72 goals).  It would surprise only a few that Ovechkin happens to have more goal-games in every month of the NHL regular season calendar (October through April) since he came into the league.

2.  John Carlson finished October with five goals in ten games. He did not record a goal in October either last season or the preceding season.  Last season he went 14 games without a goal before potting one, and in the preceding season he started the season with a 25-game goalless streak.

3.  It would be good if the Caps led after two periods. In each of their five wins to date, the Caps led after 40 minutes.  They have yet to win a game when trailing or tied at the second intermission.

4.  OK, so which forward you got with the most shorthanded time on ice per game… Lars Eller? Chandler Stephenson?  Nicklas Backstrom?  No, no, and no.  It’s Devante Smith-Pelly with 2:11 per game.

5.  The key to stopping the Caps’ power play might be to keep them from getting any shots to the net. Sounds almost cliché, but the Caps have 13 goals on 44 shots, a 29.5 percent shooting percentage.  Evgeny Kuznetsov has five power play goals on only 11 shots 45.4 percent).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Montreal: Brendan Gallagher

Did you ever have something in your shoe that doesn’t quite hurt, but annoys the heck out of you?  You take off your shoe, shake it vigorously, put it back on, only to find your annoyance is still there?  Well, that’s Brendan Gallagher.  He’s not so much a “little ball of hate” in the mold of Pat Verbeek from years gone by or Brad Marchand of more recent vintage.  He’s more like, “what’s that damned buzz in my ear that won’t go away?”  But while he might annoy, poke, prod, get under the skin of opponents, he has developed into a talented offensive player.  Last season he posted a career high of 31 goals, more than he had in 117 games over the previous two seasons combined (29). He came out of the box hot this season, posting seven goals in 11 games played to date, three of them game-winners.  Only once in six games on home ice so far has he failed to record a goal (October 11th in a 3-0 loss to Los Angeles).  Gallagher is 3-1-4, minus-7, in 14 career games against the Caps.

Washington: Michal Kempny

After being concussed in a pre-season game in St. Louis on September 25th, Michael Kempny was absent from the lineup until taking the ice for the third regular season game for the Caps.  His ice time has not be rationed in any extraordinary way since his return, ranging from 16:06 against Edmonton last Thursday to 20:38 against Calgary last Saturday, averaging 17:44, about a minute more than he averaged with the Caps in 22 games to close the regular season last spring.  What he does not have in those minutes is point.  Kempny has one assist, that coming in a 6-5 Gimmick loss to Florida on October 19th.  Not that he was a big point producer last spring, posting two goals and an assist in those 22 games with Washington.  However, with Dmitry Orlov (0-1-1) and Christian Djoos (0-2-2) with sluggish offensive starts from the blue line, any contribution Kempny makes would certainly be welcome.  He does not have a point in four career games against Montreal.

In the end…

Washington has had an unworldly level of success at Bell Centre.  The Caps have not lost a game in regulation in Montreal since January 10, 2009 (a 5-4 loss on a Sergei Kostitsyn goal with less than 30 seconds left).  Since then, the Caps are 13-0-2, only three times in that span did the Caps allow more than two goals, and only four times did they allow more than 30 shots on goal.  They have outscored Montreal by a 53-28 margin in that span.  The default position might be “Montreal is due.”  We don’t do default.

Washington 4 – Montreal 2

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 4

The annual rite of October for the Washington Capitals, the trip to western Canada, is in the books.  Week 4 was a successful one on balance, but not without its fits and starts.  A lot like the Caps’ season so far.

Record: 2-1-0

Washington came into Week 4 not having won consecutive games this season.  They ended it in the same condition, beginning and ending the week with wins in Vancouver and Calgary against the Canucks and the Flames with a loss to the Edmonton Oilers in the middle.  It was an improvement over last season’s trip west, where the Caps went 1-2-0.  Over the past six seasons that featured the October trip to western Canada, the Caps are now 10-8-0 against these three teams.  Throw in a couple of visits to Winnipeg as part of the trip (2013 and 2016), both of which resulted in Caps wins, and Washington is 12-8-0 in western Canada over the last six seasons.

Offense: 3.00/game (season: 3.80/game, rank: 2nd)

The offense came down a notch in Week 4, but averaging more than four goals a game isn’t a sustainable scoring rate in today’s NHL.  Still, the nine goals the Caps did score were spread around liberally.  Seven different skaters hit the back of the net, Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie each scoring a pair.  There were 12 skaters recording points for the week, Ovechkin leading the club with five.

The point spread for the week left the Caps with five players in double digits for the season in points (Evgeny Kuznetsov (15), Ovechkin (14), John Carlson (14), Nicklas Backstrom (13), and Oshie (10).  Only the Toronto Maple Leafs have that many through four weeks.  Carlson finished the week tied with Toronto’s Morgan Rielly in points by defensemen (14) and tied with Dallas’ John Klingberg in goals by defensemen (five).

Defense: 3.00/game (season: 3.60/game, rank: T-23rd)

The Caps did a decent job of suppressing shots in Week 4, holding the trio of opponents to 86 shots on goal, only 71 of those at even strength.  It is part of a broader encouraging sign in this area.  With the Caps holding the three opponents of Week 4 to 32 or fewer shots (Edmonton recorded that number), the Caps have allowed more than 35 shots only twice this season through ten games.  Only five teams have had fewer games with more than 35 shots allowed than the Caps.

The Caps dressed 19 skaters in Week 4, and 14 of them were even or better in shot attempts-for on ice for the week.  Only Devante Smith-Pelly finished lower than minus-6 (minus-13).  Smith-Pelly and Nic Dowd were the only two Caps to finish in minus territory in tied situations (minus-1 and minus-2, respectively.  Overall, the Caps’ 55.56 shot attempts-for percentage was seventh-best in the league for the week.

Goaltending: 2.62 / .906 (season: 3.45 / .886 / 1 SO)

The goaltending struggled over the first three weeks of the season, but there were signs in Week 4 that things are improving.  Braden Holtby got the call in the first two games of the week and allowed five goals on 55 shots (.909 save percentage).  Not a great week by any means, especially by his standards, but coming into this week he had a .881 save percentage and was pulled after 20 minutes in his last appearance before this week in a 6-5 Gimmick loss to the Florida Panthers.  Holtby’s even strength save percentage (.956) was superb, eighth best among goalies who appeared in two or more games in Week 4.  He still has work to do, his season even strength save percentage of .913 ranking in the lower half of the league, but Week 4 got him pointed in the right direction.

Pheonix Copley got the other start in Week 4 and recorded his first NHL win in the Caps’ 4-3 trick shot win in Calgary over the Flames.  It was Copley’s second straight trip to the freestyle competition, and he turned things around smartly.  After allowing three goals on four tries against the Panthers in the 6-5 Gimmick loss, Copley turned away three of four attempts by Calgary in garnering his first NHL win.  Going the maximum isn’t a bad way to get one’s first win.

Power Play:  3-for-9 / 33.3 percent (season: 37.1 percent, rank: 1st)

It says something about the Caps’ power play that it could score once in every three tries for a week and drop in efficiency.  That was the week for the Caps, going 3-for-9 but retaining their hold on the top spot in the league’s power play rankings.  The number one unit of Ovechkin, Backstrom, Kuznetsov, Carlson, and Oshie all put points on the board, Ovechkin being the lone player with a hand in all three power play goals (one goal, two assists).

Washington recorded power play goals in two of the three games for the week.  That brings the total to power play goals in seven of ten games through four weeks.  And so far, it matters.  The Caps are 5-1-1 in games in which they recorded at least one power play goal, 0-2-1 in the three games in which they were shut out on the man advantage, one of those defeats being the loss to Edmonton in the middle game of the week.

Penalty Killing: 8-for-11 / 72.7 percent (season: 72.5 percent, rank: 26th)

The Caps failed in three tries coming into this week to reach 80.0 percent for the week in penalty killing.  They ended Week 4 looking for that first 80 percent week.  The alarming thing about it is that after shutting out the Boston Bruins and the Vegas Golden Knights in the first three games of the season, the Caps have allowed at least one power play goal in seven straight games.  That they are 3-3-1 in those seven games is not likely to be mere coincidence.

The Caps ran into a pair of teams – Edmonton and Calgary – with efficient power plays on home ice (they ranked eighth and ninth, respectively, in home ice power play at the end of Week 4), but Vancouver didn’t have a power play goal on home ice until they scored against the Caps.

Faceoffs: 86-for-173 / 49.7% percent (season: 47.0 percent, rank: 28th)

It was an up and down week in the circle for the Caps.  Oddly enough (or a demonstration of the limited effect faceoffs have), the Caps won the two games in which they were under 50 percent and lost the game in which they topped 50 percent.

The Caps were as erratic in the ends for the week, but with a different distribution, finishing over 50 percent against Edmonton and Calgary in the offensive end, but under 50 percent against Vancouver to start the week.  In the defensive end it was over 50 percent against Vancouver and Edmonton, and under 50 percent against Calgary.

On an individual level, it was the third and fourth line centers leading the way.  Lars Eller (51.4 percent) and Nic Dowd (57.7 percent) had good weeks, while Nicklas Backstrom (46.8 percent) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (44.2 percent) had off weeks.  Kuznetsov’s number was a product of a weak week in the neutral zone (20.0 percent).  He was at or over 50 percent in the ends – 50 percent in the offensive zone and 64.3 percent in the defensive zone.

Goals by Period:

It was more or less an even week for the Caps on a period by period basis.  They held opponents to a draw in the first period, three goals apiece, while flipping a four goal/two goal result in the second and third periods with their opponents’  two goal/four goal results for the second and third periods.  What they did not do was score in the first period against Edmonton, while the Oilers did post one.  Getting off on the wrong foot was something from which the Caps could not recover in what was a lackluster effort overall. 

As it is, the Caps finished the week tied for fourth in first period goals scored (12) and tied for second in second period goals scored (16).  That they close poorly – tied for 21st in third period goals scored (nine) – is a matter to address.  On the other side of the ledger, the Caps have work to do in the first period, tied for fifth-most goals allowed (12).  There is a certain consistency there, but not of a good sort, the Caps allowing another 11 goals in the second periods of games and 12 goals in the third periods of games.

Year over Year:

The Caps are ahead of last season’s wins and points pace, and they are scoring at a more frequent pace.  What is telling in the early going is a 39-shot swing in shot differential, from minus-37 through ten games last season to plus-2 so far this season.  The offensive improvement is largely a product of a scorching power play that is more than 50 percent more efficient this year so far than last.  Unfortunately, that improvement in efficiency has not extended to the penalty kill, which is roughly as inefficient this season as it was at the same point last year.  The possession numbers are roughly unchanged on a year-to-year basis.  The “grittership” numbers are generally better, this year over last, but that giveaway number reflects the inconsistent start the Caps have had.

In the end…

A 2-1-0 record out of the western provinces trip has to be considered a successful result.  However, how they got there is no cause for complacency.  There was an iffy effort in Edmonton followed up by a game in which the Caps gave up a third-period lead late in regulation before pulling out the win in the Gimmick.  The Caps will have some time to address those things that need addressing, since they do not take the ice again until Thursday in Montreal in what will be a light week of game workload.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Alex Ovechkin (2-3-5, minus-1, 1 GWG, 24 shot attempts, 12 SOG, 1-2-3 on power play)
  • Second Star: John Carlson (1-3-4, minus-2, 2 power play assists, 24:51 average ice time)
  • Third Star: Pheonix Copley (33 saves on 36 shots, first NHL win)

Friday, October 26, 2018

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 10: Capitals at Flames, October 27th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals, fresh (with a hint of gaminess) off a lackluster 4-1 loss to the Edmonton Oilers, conclude their three-game western Canada trip with a visit to Scotiabank Saddledome to face the Calgary Flames on Saturday afternoon in a 4:00 (Eastern) start.

Rest stop… there are seven Canadian teams, and six of them play in a “Rogers” (Vancouver, Edmonton) or a “Scotiabank” (Calgary, Toronto) or a “Bell” (Montreal, Winnipeg) facility.  And the odd one, “Canadian Tire Centre,” where the Ottawa Senators play, used to be a “Scotiabank” facility.  What's up with that?

OK, back to the prognosto…

The Capitals have yet to produce consecutive wins this season on their way to a 4-3-2 record (they were 4-4-1 after nine games last season).  Having lost in Edmonton on Thursday night, a “winning streak” will have to wait.  The immediate challenge, though is heading into a city whose hockey team just lost a game to the Pittsburgh Penguins in difficult, if very different, circumstances.  First, the Caps went to Edmonton right after the Oilers dropped a 6-5 overtime decision to the Penguins after leading in the third period.  Now, the Caps will visit Calgary a couple of nights after the Flames were pressure-hosed by the Pens, 9-1.  They are not expected to be a happy group.

Giving up the nine goals to the Pens was bad, but the one goal the Flames scored was unusual.  It was their lowest offensive output of the season after averaging 3.56 goals per game through their first nine contests.

The Flames are a team of considerable scoring balance.  Thirteen different players have recorded goals through ten games, and 18 of the 22 skaters to have dressed so far have points.  Elias Lindholm leads the team in goals with six.  The sixth-year center spent his first five seasons with Carolina Hurricanes, who took him with the fifth-overall pick of the 2013 entry draft.  He made steady progress in Carolina, eventually posting a career-high 16 goals in 2017-2018.  However, he was part of a significant trade last June, the Hurricanes sending Lindholm and defenseman Noah Hanafin to Calgary for Dougie Hamilton, Micheal Ferland, and Adam Fox.  After opening his first season in Calgary without a point on Opening Night, he has managed to record goals in five of the last nine games and points in six of them.  He has two of the Flames’ six power play goals thus far and two of the team’s five game-winning goals.  Lindholm is 3-5-8, minus-1, in 18 career games against the Capitals.

Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk lead the team in points with 12 apiece.  Two more different players would be hard to find.  Gaudreau is a wisp of a player; only five of 672 skaters to dress through Thursday are lighter than the 165-pound Gaudreau.  However, being slight of frame has not affected his durability much.  In four full seasons with Calgary coming into this season he missed only 17 games.  Over those four years he ranked 13th in the league in total points (287).  He is already in the top-30 in goals scored in Calgary franchise history (102/T-29th), assists (198/T-19th), and points (300/20th).  He started this season fast, going 1-6-7, even, in his first three games.  He has taken a more personal approach to scoring lately, though, posting four goals and an assist in his last six games.  Gaudreau is 1-6-7, even, in eight career games against Washington.

Tkachuk, taken with the sixth-overall pick in the 2016 entry draft, is like his father (Keith) before him, a power forward who plays with an edge.  The 166 penalty minutes he racked up in his first two seasons ranks in the top-30 among players in their first two seasons since 2005-2006 (30th).  But he has his father’s goal scoring touch, too (Keith had 538 goals in 1,201 career games).  He followed his rookie season of 13 goals in 76 games with 24 goals in 68 games last season.  He has been off and on so far this season, scoring a goal on Opening Night against Vancouver, and then following that up with a four-assist game against Vancouver in the second half of a home-and-home set to open the season.  Since then, though, he has two goals in eight games, but he also has five assists in that span for a total of nine helpers to lead the team.  Tkachuk has three assists in three career games against the Caps.

1.  Calgary sure likes its home cooking on the power play.  They are at 26.7 percent at home (eighth in the league) but only 7.7 percent on the road 27th).  And no team in the league has spent more time on the man advantage overall than the Flames (70:15).

2.  It is the opposite on their penalty kill, although not quite as stark a difference.  The Flames are 66.7 percent at home (T-27th) and 76.2 percent on the road (19th).

3.  Calgary has trailed seven times at the second intermission of 10 games so far.  Only Anaheim has as many wins in that situation, though (two).  Then again, only Detroit (six) and Los Angeles (seven) have more losses than the Flames (five).

4.  Shots matter, except when they don’t.  Calgary is 3-3-0 when outshooting their opponent, 2-2-0 when outshot.

5.  The Flames have only played two one-goal games through ten contests.  They are 1-1-0 in those games.

1.  The Caps have yet to lose a one-goal decision in regulation.  The unusual part about that is that they are one of 19 teams that have not done so through Thursday (the Dallas Stars haven’t even played a one-goal game yet).

2.  Shots matter, except when they don’t, Part Deux… Washington is 3-0-1 when outshooting their opponent, 1-3-1 when they don’t.

3.  When John Carlson scored the game’s first goal in the 5-2 win over Vancouver on Monday, it was the Caps’ first 4-on-4 goal of the season.  It might not sound like much, but the Caps had only two such goals all of last year and none the year before.

4.  The Caps put themselves in a special teams bind early in games.  Their minus-7:32 time differential between power play time and penalty kill time is fifth-lowest in the league.  That might be explained away as the power play scoring early on man advantage situations, but given the Caps unremarkable penalty kill (72.2 percent/T-25th), that one doesn’t smell quite right.

5.  The Caps are out of the bottom-third in shot attempts-for percentage.  They rank 20th at 48.77 percent.  But…”quality.”

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Calgary: Rasmus Andersson

Nineteen skaters have appeared in at least three games for Calgary this season.  Defenseman Rasmus Andersson is the only one yet to record a point.  Andersson, taken in the second round of the 2015 entry draft (53rd overall) by the Flames, was a respectable scorer in Canadian juniors (21-103-124 in 131 games with the Barrie Colts in the OHL) and in the AHL (12-49-61 in 110 games with the Stockton Heat).  He had limited exposure with the Flames over the past two seasons, dressing for one game in 2016-2017 and 10 games last season.  His ice time is all over the place this season, ranging from 11:52 against Nashville on October 9th to 21:11 against Montreal on October 23rd.  It hardly seems to matter, though; the Flames are 2-2-0 when he skated more than 17 minutes and 2-2-0 when he skated less than 17 minutes.  Andersson has never skated against the Caps.

Washington:  Nicklas Backstrom

How many Caps fans would know that if Nicklas Backstrom scores a goal against the Flames, he would tie Alan Haworth and Mike Gartner for most goals scored by a Capital in Calgary?  If Backstrom lights the lamp, it would be his fifth goal in Calgary against the Flames, tying those two former Caps (and if Alex Ovechkin gets a hat trick, he’d have six, but that’s another story).  Backstrom, in typical quiet fashion, is building himself a nice and tidy early season scoring line.  He has points in seven of the Caps’ first nine games, including four multi-point games, tied for eighth-most in the league, on his way to a 2-11-13, plus-4 start.  Those 11 assists are noteworthy.  It is the third time in his career that Backstrom topped the ten-assist mark in the first ten games of the season (he did it in eight this time).  He is the only Capital to have hit the ten assist mark in ten or fewer games to start the season more than once. Bengt Gustafsson, Randy Burridge, Dale Hunter, Marcus Johansson, and Evgency Kuznetsov are the others to do it (with a pair of assists in this game, Kuznetsov could do it for the second time).  Backstrom is 7-13-20, plus-6, in 15 career games against Calgary.

In the end…

The Caps looked a step slow on offense against Edmonton on Thursday.  They might catch a break here, though.  Calgary goalie Mike Smith has allowed four or more goals in five of seven appearances so far, and since shutting out the Nashville Predators, 3-0, on October 9th, he is 1-3-0, 5.43, .832 in four appearances, including a six goals in 21 shots disaster in the 9-1 loss to Pittsburgh on Thursday.  The Flames have experimented with David Rittich in goal, and he has been effective in limited duty (2-1-0, 2.37, .933), although he was touched for three goals on 15 shots against the Penguins.  Those numbers against the Penguins suggest that Calgary will be an ornery bunch come Saturday night, leaving Caps fans to hope that the “Calgary Stampede” refers only to the annual rodeo festival and not the Flames running roughshod over the Caps.

Capitals 4 – Flames 2

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 9: Capitals at Oilers, October 25th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals try to make it two-for-two in their western Canada road swing when they visit Rogers Place in Edmonton (not to be confused with Rogers Arena in Vancouver, where the Canucks play, or Rogers Centre, where the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team plays, or Roy Rogers, which serves up a fine Double R Bar Burger) to face the Oilers.

Washington will be looking to channel their inner Lou Brown, legendary (if fictitious) manager of the Cleveland Indians, who once remarked to his club, “OK, we won a game yesterday. If we win today, it's called ‘two in a row.’ And if we win again tomorrow, it's called a ‘winning streak’... It has happened before!”  This contest against the Oilers would be the “two in a row” part of the scheme as the Caps work their way east on this trip.

For the Oilers, well, getting to competitive is a challenge.  So is consistency.  After dropping a pair of games on the road to start the season, the Oilers went on a three-game winning streak (see, it HAS happened before) before getting shut out by the Nashville Predators on home ice, 3-0, last Saturday and dropping a 6-5 overtime loss at Rogers Place on Tuesday against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

You would think that a team that had seven straight years of top-ten draft picks from 2010 through 2016, four of them first overall picks, would have more than a 24th-ranked scoring offense.  Well, you’d think that.  But in the “these guys could screw up a one car motorcade” file, let’s look at those seven top-ten picks:
  • 2010: Taylor Hall (taken first overall), traded to New Jersey in June 2016, where he won a Hart Trophy.  The return – defenseman Adam Larson (himself a fourth overall pick in 2011) – has eight goals and 34 points in 149 games with the Oilers.
  • 2011: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (1st overall), 121-201-322 in 464 games, but has been injury prone the last few years (missed 47 games the previous three seasons) and hasn’t been north of 50 points since 2014-2015 (56, tying a career high).
  • 2012: Nail Yakupov (1st overall), played 252 larely disappointing, frustrating, confounding games over four seasons, was traded to St. Louis for someone named Zach Porchiro, signed in July 2017 as a free agent by Colorado, is now playing in Russia.  A number of Caps fans once upon a time thought this was a player the team should get.  This is why fans aren’t general managers.
  • 2013: Darnell Nurse (7th overall), played in a full slate of games for the first time in his four year career last season, scored the game-winning goal in Winnipeg against the Jets on October 16th, no dubt inspiring many folks to drag out the “good night, Nurse” phrase.
  • 2014: Leon Draisaitl (3rd overall), has more assists (136) than any player in his draft class and is second only to Boston’s David Pastrnak in goals (79 to 104) and points (215 to 218).  An actual achiever in this group not named “Connor,” which brings us to…
  • 2015: Connor McDavid (1st overall).  He’s good.  Let’s leave it at that before we get everyone riled up over the great McDavid/Crosby debate.
  • 2016: Jesse Puljujarvi (4th overall).  On the one hand, it’s too early to tell, since he just played in his 100th NHL game on Tuesday night.  On the other, he has one point in seven games this season and is minus-4, which even for the Oilers is pretty bad this early.

1.  Edmonton has 18 goals scored in seven games so far.  McDavid has a hand in 13 of them (five goals, eight assists).

2.  The Oilers have one goal from a defenseman this season so far (Nurse).  That is one goal on 72 shots from eight defensemen.  None of the eight are a “plus” player (Nurse and Evan Bouchard are “even”).

3.  If there is one thing the Oilers can do well, it is kill penalties on home ice.  They have skated off nine of ten shorthanded situations on home ice so far this season.

4.  The Oilers have not led a game at either intermission this season through seven games, the only club left in the league who could say that (if not very loudly).  They have scored the game’s first goal only once in seven tries…and lost.  They dropped a 4-1 decision in Boston to the Bruins on October 11th.

5.  One problem Edmonton has is that in some respect, they are “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight.”  Their 5.4 shooting percentage at 5-on-5 is fourth-worst in the league.

1.  Washington’s save percentage at 5-on-5 of .899 is 27th in the league.  Could be worse, though.  Columbus, who has their own Vezina Trophy winner (Sergei Bobrovsky) is dead last at .885.

2.  Speaking of “27th,” the Caps are 27th in the league in road penalty killing (69.2 percent).

3.  Shots matter.  The Caps are 3-0-1 when outshooting opponents, 1-2-1 when outshot.

4.  John Carlson has more points (13) than the rest of the Capitals defensemen combined (10).

5.  The Caps continue to struggle with shot attempts, their shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 (47.68) ranking 24th in the league (although they are going for “quality,” not “quantity”), but on the other hand, their offensive zone start percentage (54.87) ranks sixth highest in the league.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Edmonton: Cam Talbot

You would think that backstopping a team like the Oilers, with their bevy of offensively skilled (on paper) players, would have you cringing under a hail of rubber as teams take advantage of a certain defense-challenged attitude among those skilled players.  Well, not really, at least not in the case of Cam Talbot.  In 418 minutes of ice time this season, Talbot has faced 28.8 shots per 60 minutes of play.  Despite having the sixth highest total of minutes played, 12 goalies to have logged at least 350 minutes have faced more shots.  He has struggled in even strength situations, though, his .905 save percentage at evens ranking 44th among 62 goalies to dress so far this season (through Tuesday).  It is early, but it is quite a drop off considering that in his three-plus seasons in Edmonton, his even strength save percentage is .920.  In seven career games against the Caps, Talbot is 2-4-0, 2.51, .917.

Washington: Christian Djoos

Christian Djoos had a fine rookie season in 2018-2019.  The offensive numbers might strike some as modest (3-11-14), but he was tied in his rookie defenseman class in goals, was 12th in assists, and was tied for ninth in points.  His plus-13 rating was tied for fourth in that group.  Not bad for a seventh-round draft pick (195th overall in 2012).  It left the impression that he could be an offensive defenseman to complement the contributions of John Carlson or Dmitry Orlov.  That has not yet happened this season.  Djoos’ two points (both assists) are not a matter of significant concern yet, but he has only three shots on goal in 109 minutes of ice time.  This despite getting favorable zone starts (55.88 percent at 5-on-5; source:  His ice time has been whittled a bit, going from an average of just over 17 minutes in his first two games to an average of 12:35 in his last six games and only 12:04 in Monday’s win over Vancouver, the second lowest of the season so far.  Djoos is without a point in two career games against the Oilers.

In the end…

Let’s be frank here.  The Caps should light this team up like Bourbon Street on Mardi Gras.  Washington can, and has, corralled McDavid to a point (one goal in five career games, but six points), and the Oilers have yet to show any significant level of secondary goal scoring, especially to the extent it doesn’t involve McDavid setting it up.  At the other end, the Caps can, and should, make the Oilers pay.  Their scoring offense (4.25 goals per game, first in the league) has the power to overwhelm a defense that ranks in the lower third (3.57 goals allowed per game/24th), and the power play (38.7 percent/1st) can make things difficult for the home team (good at home on the penalty kill, but 76.2 percent overall/19th).  The trick for the Caps will be not to let the Oilers get off early and get all frisky and confident.  Veteran teams know how to do that.  This decision rests on which Capitals team shows up.

Capitals 5 – Oilers 2

Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 8: Capitals at Canucks, October 22nd

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

If it is late October, it is time for the Washington Capitals to head west on their annual western Canada tour.  On Monday night the Caps open their annual journey out west when they take on the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena.  This will be the Caps’ 48 visit to Vancouver, and they will be looking to improve on their record of 18-23-1, with five ties in British Columbia.

Vancouver will enter this contest having won four of their last five contests, three of them against quality opponents – the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Pittsburgh Penguins, and the Boston Bruins.  Going into Sunday’s games the Canucks were second in the Pacific Division, one point behind the Anaheim Ducks. 

The Canucks are not an especially productive offensive team, ranking 18th in scoring offense.  Bo Horvat is tied for the team lead in goals scored through eight games (five).  Horvat has been a steadily more productive goal scorer in his four seasons preceding this one.  Starting with his rookie season in 2014-2015 in which he had 13 goals, he has improved to 16, 20, and then to 22 goals last season.  He opened this season with two goals in his first three games (both of them power play goals), but in doing so he was a minus-7.  He has three goals in his last four games, in each of them going plus-1 to drag himself up to minus-3 overall.  Two of his five goals this season are game-winners.  Horvat is 2-3-5, minus-3, in six career games against Washington.

Before this season is through, Alexander Edler is likely to become the all-time franchise leader in games played by a Canucks defensemen.  He had dressed for 766 games over his 13-year career in Vancouver, needing just 16 more games played to pass Harold Snepsts for the top spot in Canucks’ history.  His 84 goals with the Canucks are second among defensemen in franchise history, trailing only Mattias Ohlund (93), while his 339 points are more than any defenseman in Canucks history.  He has yet to record a goal this season, but he does have five assists to lead the club in that category.  Edler is 4-4-8, even, in 12 career games against the Caps.

Goaltending duties have been split down the middle between Anders Nilsson and Jacob Markstrom so far, just over two minutes of ice time separating their respective workloads thus far.  Nilsson has had the better numbers, a goals against average of 2.25 and a save percentage of .925, compared to 3.23 and .903 for Markstrom.  Nilsson is in his second season in Vancouver, his fifth team in his sixth NHL season.  The 31 games he has played for the Canucks is his high-water mark in games played for any of those five franchises (St. Louis, Edmonton, Buffalo, and the New York Islanders being the others).  He opened this season with wins in his first three appearances, stopping 83 of 88 shots along the way (.943 save percentage), but allowed four goals on 32 shots in a 4-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets last Thursday.  He is 1-3-1, 3.30, .890 in six career appearances against the Caps.

Jacob Markstrom is in his sixth season in Vancouver and is one of eight goalies in team history to reach the 50 win mark (50-56-14).  He has been hot and cold in four appearances so far this season, starting the year with an impressive 33-save performance in a 5-2 win over the Calgary Flames on Opening Night, following that up with a pair of five-goal outings against the Flames and Carolina Hurricanes before rebounding with a 30-save performance against the Boston Bruins in a 2-1 win on Saturday.  Both of his wins have come on home ice, his two losses coming on the road.  He has yet to beat the Capitals in his career, going 0-6-0, 3.44, .895 in six appearances.

1.  Only the Anaheim Ducks have averaged fewer shots per game so far (23.3) than the Canucks (25.1).

2.  Vancouver has had only two home games so far, but even with that, their two power play chances on home ice – the lowest total in the league – is a really low number.  They are one of three teams without a power play goal on home ice, Arizona and Florida being the others.

3.  The Canucks are one of six team that have yet to allow a power play goal on home ice, killing ten straight shorthanded situations to start the season.

4.  Vancouver blocks shots.  Their 145 blocked shots as of Sunday are second in the league to Anaheim’s 146.  And, they are adept at takeaways, their 75 recorded so far being second only to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ 76.

5.  The Canucks are poor in the shot attempt category, their 42.26 percent shot attempts-for at 5-on-5 ranking 30th in the league, ahead of only the Anaheim Ducks (40.44 percent).

1.  The Capitals are running more than a full goal ahead of last year’s scoring offense, 4.14 goals per game so far compared to 3.12 goals per game last season.

2.  The Caps have improved their faceoff winning percentage to 45.9 percent, but they remain 29th in the league, ahead of only Colorado (43.2 percent) and Montreal (42.6 percent).

3.  Washington ranks fourth overall in credited hits (188), trailing Montreal (192), Carolina (192), and Vegas (211).

4.  Only Philadelphia and Toronto have scored more second period goals (14 apiece) than the Caps (12) so far.

5.  Overtime has not been kind to Capitals special teams.  No team has a larger negative ice time differential between power plays and penalty kills than the Caps in the extra session (minus-2:38).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Vancouver: Loui Eriksson

Loui Eriksson is the grand old man for the Canucks, the oldest player on the roster at age 33.  He is now in his 13th NHL season, his third in Vancouver.  With age has come a certain vulnerability to injury, Eriksson having missed 49 games in the two seasons preceding this one after an eight-year stretch in which he missed a total of 25 games and appeared in every game five times.  His production has dropped off considerably since joining the Canucks, going 21-29-50 in 123 games after posting a 30-goal season in his last year in Boston in 2015-2016.  His ice time this season has been tightly managed, averaging just 12:08 per game, lowest among any Canuck forward appearing in more than three games.  He is one of eight forwards to appear in all eight games for Vancouver so far, but the only one of that group without a goal, and he is without a point in his last six games.  Eriksson is 3-4-7, minus-5, in 17 career games against Washington.

Washington: Evgeny Kuznetsov

Not many Capitals pad their stats against the Vancouver Canucks, but Evgeny Kuznetsov comes as close as any.  Since 2005-2006, Kuznetsov is second on the team in points against the Canucks with 11 in nine games (4-7-11).  His plus-10 is best among the Caps since 2005-2006. Kuznetsov goes into this game having recorded at least one point in six of the seven games he played in so far, and his 1.71 points per game ranks sixth in the league.  Only Auston Matthews and Patrice Bergeron have more multi-point games so far (seven and five, respectively) than Kuznetsov (four), and over the past two seasons he has as many multi-point games (27) as Sidney Crosby.  He has been on fire dating back to last season.  In his last 49 games, regular season and playoffs, he is 27-45-72, a 45-goal, 120-point scoring pace.

In the end…

Road trips are for bonding, for sorting things out, for simplifying, for finding consistency, for exhausting every sports cliché one can think of.  The Caps are looking for their first road win after an overtime loss in Pittsburgh and a whomping in New Jersey, so bonding or not, a win would be nice.  A winning streak would be better.  To do that, they will have to have better 60-minute efforts than they have displayed in most game so far in the young season, and they start this road trip in a particularly inhospitable place.  The Caps are just 2-6-1 in their last nine visits to Vancouver.  So hey, they’re due.

Capitals 4 – Canucks 3

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 3

The Washington Capitals caught a break in the schedule in Week 3 in which they faced a pair of struggling teams.  It ended up being harder than it had to be to earn three of a possible four standings points, the team looking to establish consistency and a more focused effort as they wrapped up a home stand.

Record: 1-0-1

It was a light week on the schedule with two games, and the Caps had the good fortune of playing teams with a combined 2-6-2 record as they took the ice in DC.  The New York Rangers came to Washington on Wednesday, the third straight week-opening game on home ice on a Wednesday this season for the Caps.  The Rangers had two wins going into the contest, neither of them in regulation.  They would not get a regulation win in this one, either, but neither would the Caps.  Washington gave up a third period lead on a power play goal before salvaging the decision with a Matt Niskanen overtime goal to give the Caps a 4-3 win. 

In the second game of the week the Caps took on the winless Florida Panthers and promptly soiled the bed, allowing four goals in the first period.  They came back to tie the contest in the second period before falling behind once more just before the second intermission.  The Caps scored late in regulation on a power play goal by Nicklas Backstrom, but after a scoreless overtime, they failed to punch through in the trick shot competition, and the Panthers had their first win of the season on the 6-5 decision.

Offense: 4.50/game (season: 4.14/game, rank: 1st)

The Caps did not lack for offensive firepower in Week 3; they finished the week at the top of the scoring offense rankings.  Seven different skaters recorded goals for the week, bringing the total to 13 skaters with goals so far this season through seven games.  Last year, the Caps did not have their 13th skater record a goal until Game 11.  Matt Niskanen, Devante Smith-Pelly, and Brett Connolly all recorded their first goal of the season in Week 3. John Carlson and Alex Ovechkin each had two-goal weeks. 

Carlson had a particularly productive week, going 2-2-4.  He tied for the league lead in goals scored by defensemen for the week (with Minnesota’s Matt Dumba), while his four points trailed only Winnipeg’s Josh Morrissey and Florida’s Keith Yandle with five apiece.  Carlson, with ten points overall, trails only Toronto’s Morgan Rielly (14 points) in scoring among defensemen.

Evgeny Kuznetsov continues to impress.  He had three assists for the week and has recorded at least one point in six of seven games, shutout with the rest of his teammates only in the 6-0 loss to New Jersey on October 11th. His 12 points is tied for seventh in the league scoring tables, and the seven games in which he recorded those points is fewer than every player with whom he is tied or trails save for Evgeni Malkin, who has 12 points in six games thus far.

Defense: 4.00/game (season: 3.86/game, rank: 29th)

The Capitals did not have a bad week on defense in some respects, but here is where we learn the difference between “efficiency” and “effectiveness.”  The Caps allowed 62 shots on goal, which was right in line with their season average (31.9 shots against per game at week’s end).  It would have been an even better week in this regard but for those 18 shots on goal that the Caps allowed to the New York Rangers in the second period of the game to open the week, but those things do happen from time to time.  The 5-on-5 shots attempts tilted in the Caps’ favor, too.  The Caps allowed only 76 5-on-5 shot attempts for the week.  The result was a week in which the Caps had a shot attempts-for percentage of 53.94, a number supported with a 56.06 percent mark when tied and a 52.68 percent in close situations (source:

But limiting shots doesn’t help when you are letting opponents pounce on rebounds and work their will from in close.  The Rangers and Panthers combined for four 5-on-5 goals against the Caps for the week.  They were scored from a combined distance of 46 feet, three of them from almost the same spot on the ice, from just off the left pad of the Capitals goaltender.  The fourth was scored from the top of the crease.  Hard to miss the net from those distances.  Part of it might have been rebound control, part of it might have been being too loose too close to their own net, but either way, efficient numbers did not lead to effective results.

Goaltending: 3.79 / .871 (season: 3.80 / .879 / 1 SO)

Goaltending was neither efficient nor effective in Week 3.  Braden Holtby started both games for the week but finished only one.  He was relieved after 20 minutes of work against Florida after allowing four goals on 11 shots in the first period of the Caps 6-5 Gimmick loss to the Panthers.  It made for a bad week for Holtby, who has struggled in the early going.  He has had two appearances in each of the three weeks to date and has yet to post a weekly save percentage over .900.  Week 3 was his worst week to date, posting a .837 save percentage.  It has been a rough early going for Holtby, who ranks 35th among 46 goalies in even strength save percentage (.899; minimum: 50 even strength shots faced).

Pheonix Copley relieved Holtby in that loss to Florida, and he stopped 18 of 19 shots to give the Caps a chance to come back, which they did to force extra time.  He was tagged with the loss, though, when he managed only one save on four shots in the freestyle competition.

Power Play:  3-for-7/42.9 percent (season:  38.5 percent, rank: 1st)

The power play has been the most consistently successful part of the Caps’ play through three weeks.  Week 3 was the third straight week in which the Caps finished over 35 percent.  It was their best week so far, efficiency-wise, with their 42.9 percent power play.

What was the surprising thing about the power play this week was how ineffectual the Rangers were in denying shots by Alex Ovechkin.  With as many games as these two teams have played against each other and as much film that exists (there are people in Ittoqqortoormiit, Greenland who, when asked what “The Office” is, reply, where Alex Ovechkin scores his power play goals”).  Ovechkin scored two power play goals on four shots, half the total of shots on the man advantage the Caps unleashed on Ranger goalie Henrik Lundqvist. 

The effort against Florida was more pedestrian, by Caps standards, scoring one goal on three shots on three power plays in all.  Overall, the Caps scored three goals on 11 shots in 11:16 of power play time, seven different skaters recording at least one power play poing.  Not a bad week.

Penalty Killing: 7-for-11 / 63.6 percent (season: 72.4 percent, rank: 24th)

The other side of the special teams divide is not going well for the Caps.  Week 3 was the third straight week to open the season that the Caps could not exceed 80 percent on the penalty kill, and it was their worst week to date.  Worse, they performed poorly against teams that do not inspire much fear with their power plays, the Rangers finishing the week ranked 19th in power play efficiency (18.2 percent) and the Panthers finishing tied for 25th (11.1 percent).

The two power play goals scored by the Rangers were variations on a problem that plagued the week – scoring from in close, Jimmy Vesey pouncing on a loose puck just off Braden Holtby’s right pad and Chris Krieder redirecting a shot from Neal Pionk from the top of the crease.  Same against Florida, Evgenii Dadonov burying a centering feed from the low slot, Jonathan Huberdeau putting back a rebound from the top of the crease.  Opponents had too much room down low and time to maneuver themselves in a position to get on loose pucks.

Making it worse was the Caps putting themselves too often in the position of having to defend man advantages, going shorthanded 11 times in Week 3, seven times against Florida.  That they allowed only 12 shots on goal in 14:52 of shorthanded ice time was the only positive as one could find, but it was too many chances and too much freedom in front of the net to be successful.

Faceoffs: 67-for-131 / 51.1% percent (season: 45.9 percent, rank: 29th)

That the highest level of examination it was a pretty good week with a 51.1 percent winning result.  Look closer, and it was quite uneven in the circle.  The good part at the next level was the Caps being plus-17 in the differential between offensive zone faceoffs taken (53) and defensive zone draws (36).  A goo thing, too, since the Caps were 52.8 percent in the offensive zone (28-for-53) but only 44.4 percent (16-for-36) in the defensive zone.

Drilling down to the individual level, four Caps took at least ten draws for the week, and the unevenness showed itself there, too.  Nicklas Backstrom had a fine week overall at 64.3 percent, but while he was 12-for-15 in the offensive zone (80.0 percent), he was just 4-for-12 in the defensive end (33.3 percent).  Lars Eller was more consistent in that regard, finishing 53.8 percent in the offensive zone and 71.4 percent in the defensive end.   The best that could be said for the weeks of Evgeny Kuznetsov (37.1 percent overall) and NIc Dowd (29.4 percent) is that the week is over.

Goals by Period:

That four-goal period the Panthers planted on the Caps in the second game of the week did wonders for that first period goals against number, and not in a good way.  While the Caps did dig their way back to the rim of that hole, they could not quite see their way clear of it. By the end of the week, only Philadelphia and Los Angeles allowed more first period goals (11 and 10, respectively) than the Caps (nine, but in one fewer game than the other two teams).  On the goals allowed by period side, at least the Caps have shown consistency (nine, nine, and eight goals by period).  They just need to be consistently better.

On the goals scored side, that three-goal second period in the comeback against Florida helped propel the Caps to the third highest middle period goal total for the season (12), trailing only Philadelphia and Toronto (14 apiece).

Year over Year:

It is one thing to look at this club through Stanley Cup lenses and conclude that they are lacking in results so far, but the Caps did end the week with a 3-2-2 record overall, one point better than their 3-3-1 record after seven games to start the 2017-2018 season.  In most other respects they are slightly ahead of last season’ performance through the same number of games. In fact, it was almost spooky the degree to which the Caps were tracking last season’s performance through their first six games. 

Last year… 3-2-1
This year… 3-2-1

Last year… SO win over OTT, 3-goal win over NJD, blowout win over MTL
This year… OT win over NYR, 3-goal win over VGK, blowout win over BOS

Last year… OT loss to TBL, 1-goal loss to PIT, blowout loss to PHI
This year… OT loss to PIT, 2-goal loss to TOR, blowout loss to NJD

Last year… 22 GF/22 GA
This year… 24 GF/22 GA

Last year… 30.0% PP/76.9% PK (STI: 106.9)
This year… 39.1% PP/72.7% PK (STI: 111.8)

Last year… SAT%/5-on-5: 46.20
This year… SAT%/5-on-5: 45.68

That they earned a point in Game 7 was an improvement over last season when they were shut out by the Toronto Maple Leafs, 2-0, in their seventh game.

In the end…

That the Caps have played with such unremarkable results through three weeks and find themselves only one point out of first place in the Metropolitan Division speaks to either the parity in the division or its weak play in the early going, or perhaps a bit of both.  Still, consider that last season the Caps were three points off the pace in the division (with one more game played than this season through three weeks).  The Caps did not look good in Week 3, especially given the quality of competition, despite underlying numbers that did look pretty good.  If a shot by Dmitry Orlov in overtime of the Panthers game hits the post and goes in instead of ricocheting out, this conversation looks a bit different.  It reflects the thin margins there are in the league between winning and losing, between good weeks and not so good weeks.  Week 3 tends to tilt more to the latter. All things considered.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: John Carlson (2-2-4, even, 2 power play points, 27:45 average ice time (first in the league for the week), two goals tied for league lead among defensemen)
  • Second Star: Nicklas Backstrom (1-2-3, plus-1, 23:05 average ice time, 64.3 percent on faceoffs)
  • Third Star: Lars Eller (0-3-3, plus-1, 56.5 percent on faceoffs, four credited takeaways with no giveaways)