Thursday, November 29, 2018

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 25: Devils at Capitals, November 30th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals return to the ice on Friday night in one of the more unusual games on the schedule.  The Caps will be hosting a familiar foe, the divisional rival New Jersey Devils, at Capital One Arena.  The odd part of the matchup is that both teams will be taking the ice after three full days off, the Caps last skating on Monday night in a 4-1 win over the New York Islanders, and the Devils skating that same evening in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Florida Panthers.

The Devils are a club that has fallen into a deep rut.  They opened the season winners of their first four games, but since then have managed to win consecutive games only once and are 5-10-4 in their last 19 games to fall into the cellar of the Metropolitan Division.  As one might expect in such a drought, the Devils have been ineffective on both sides of the puck, being outscored by a 72-51 margin in those 19 games.

Taylor Hall has not been a problem in providing offense.  He has a hand in 20 of those 51 points over those 19 games (7-13-20).  It just has not been enough.  Over that 19-game span, the Devils are just 3-2-1 when Hall recorded a goal and 4-5-3 when he recorded a point.  Hall does, however, have a strange number on this year’s ledger he and the Devils want to address – zero.  After recording 13 power play goals last season, tying a career high set in 2011-2012 with the Edmonton Oilers, Hall has yet to score a power play goal this season.  He has never gone a full season without scoring at least three power play goals.  He has been rather adept at setting up power play goals, though.  Earlier this season, Hall had a six-game streak with at least one power play assist as part of a longer run of power play assists in nine of 11 games.  However, he does not have a power play point in his last 11 games.  Perhaps not coincidentally, the Devils are 3-5-3 in those games.  In 12 career games against the Caps, Hall is 3-3-6, minus-2.

Kyle Palmieri started this season in gangbusters fashion.  He had two goals in each of his first three games and seven goals in his first four games overall.  While it has not been exactly crickets since then, he has only five goals in 19 games since then.  It is not as if Palmieri’s goal scoring overall (12 goals in 23 games) is a fluke, but it does seem to be on a pace to arrest a disturbing (for Devils fans) downward trend.  After three rather pedestrian years in goal scoring from 2012-2013 through 2014-2015 in which he had a pair of 14-goal seasons and one of ten goals, he hit the 30-goal mark in 2015-2016.  That was, and remains a career best.  In the following two seasons he dropped to 26 goals and then 24 (in only 62 games) last season.  His overall improvement this year comes with a caveat, though.  Through 23 games he is on a 43-goal pace per 82 games.  However, that goal scoring pace over his last 19 games is one of 22 goals per 82 games.  Which Palmieri takes over heading toward midseason will go a long way in determining if this club has any chance of climbing back into the playoff race.  Palmieri is 5-3-8, plus-1, in 15 career games against Washington.

Once upon a time, Cory Schneider was a prospect of whom great things were expected.  And over a six-year period ending with the 2015-2016 season he posted a .926 save percentage in 260 games played.  No goalie over that six-year period appearing in 50 or more games had a better cumulative save percentage.  But over the next two seasons, injury and illness, coupled with inconsistency, limited him to 100 total appearances and a save percentage of just .908.  That was mere prelude to what has been a disastrous start to this season.  He did not make his first appearance until October 30th, the result of recuperating from a hip injury.  Since returning to action, he is 0-5-0, 4.28, .863, and the conversation has turned to whether he needs to find his game somewhere other than on the parent roster

Schneider’s troubles opened the way for Keith Kinkaid to take over at the position.  He might not be a long-term answer for the Devils, but he is at least treading water.  His 9-5-4 record is adequate, while his goals against average (2.72) and save percentage .912) are middle of the road in goalie rankings (22nd in GAA and 21st in save percentage among 41 goalies with at least 500 minutes played).  Those goals against and save percentage numbers are precisely what his career numbers are in those categories, giving the impression that in his sixth NHL season and with 129 career appearances, what one sees in him is what one gets.  He is a competent goalie, but not one around which a contender might be built, not unless the skaters are an uncommonly talented bunch (think of the recent vintages of the Pittsburgh Penguins).  Kinkaid is 3-3-0, 3.24, .882, with one shutout in six career appearances against the Caps, the shutout coming in the Devils’ 6-0 rout of the Caps earlier this season.

1.  More on Kinkaid.  If you are a fan of free hockey, he’s been your guy lately.  In three of his last four performances, the Devils went to overtime.  Caps fans might have particular reason to like this.  Kinkaid lost all three games.

2.  The Devils are one of three teams this season without a goal in overtime.  Montreal and St. Louis are the others (Montreal does have two Gimmick wins).  

3.  New Jersey has the second-worst winning percentage in one-goal games (.250/2-2-4).  Only St. Louis (.000/0-4-3) is worse.

4.  The Devils lose big, too.  Only Philadelphia has more losses by three or more goals (nine) in the Eastern Conference than New Jersey (seven).

5.  No club has fewer wins when scored upon first than New Jersey (one).  Only Los Angeles and San Jose hav a worse winning percentage when allowing the first goal (.071 and .111, respectively) than the Devils (.125).

1.  Only Minnesota has more wins when allowing the first goal of games (nine) than Washington (seven).

2.  The Caps do not get blown out often.  Only three times this season have the Caps lost a game by three or more goals.  Only three teams have fewer such losses – Calgary, Detroit, and Nashville (two apiece).

3.  Washington likes to apply more power on home ice.  The Caps lead the league in power play goals scored at home (15) and have the league’s third-best home power play (34.1 percent).

4.  Only eight times have the Caps out-shot opponents this season (5-2-1 record).  Not that it seems to matter much.  When outshot, the Caps have a similar record in 15 games (9-4-2).

5.  Washington has the fourth-best shooting percentage-plus-save percentage (PDO) at 5-on-5 in the league (1025).  Only the Colorado Avalanche (1027), New York Islanders (1033), and Toronto Maple Leafs (1035) are higher.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New Jersey: Marcus Johansson

In seven seasons as a Washington Capital, Marcus Johansson missed a total of 39 games.   Last year, in his first season with the New Jersey Devils, Johansson missed 53 games to an ankle injury and two separate concussions, the latter of which kept him out of the team’s last 35 regular season and first two playoff games.  He missed one game to illness and the game this past Monday, but he has otherwise appeared in 21 games (it is anticipated he could dress for Friday’s game in Washington).  He is looking to get some traction in terms of production with his new club.  In an abbreviated season and change, Johansson is only 8-14-22, minus-19, in 50 games.  What he has done with more frequency this season than in any previous season is shoot the puck.  He is averaging 1.86 shots on goal per game, a career high.  It has not done him much good, though, his shooting at a 7.7 percent rate challenging his career worst (7.5 percent in 2013-2014 with the Caps).  One thing to watch for from Johansson in this game is his ice presence.  While he has four points at home this season and four on the road, he is a plus-2 in Newark, but only a minus-10 in 11 road games played.  In four career games against his former club, Johansson is 1-3-4, even.

Washington: Chandler Stephenson

For some forwards, the development of the offensive part of their game is the last piece of their game to come together.  Some players are more physical at the start of their careers before their offensive games starts to emerge.  Think “Tom Wilson” as an example.  For others, they are diligent in the little things – checking, playing solid defense, using speed and skating to neutralize opponents – before their offensive games blossom.  Chandler Stephenson might be in this second group.  He gets a decent helping of ice time (averaging 13:11 per game) for a bottom-six forward and gets a regular turn killing penalties (1:58 per game, fourth among all Caps forwards).  However, his offense has not been as noticeable, and if anything, he is behind where he was last season.  

Recall that last season Stephenson was 6-12-18, plus-13 in 67 games in his rookie campaign.  He was an infrequent shooter (36 shots on goal in 67 games) but an efficient one (16.7 shooting percentage).  So far this season, he remains an infrequent shooter (15 shots on goal in 24 games, only three games with as many as two shots on goal, 12 with no shots on goal), but his efficiency has not kept up.  He has one goal on 15 shots (6.7 percent), and he has only two points in 19 games since recording his only goal of the season back on October 13th against Toronto.  Stephenson doesn’t have to be a prolific scorer; he doesn’t need to score in double digits for the Caps to be successful.  Watching to see if that offensive part of his game emerges is something worth watching.  Stephenson is 0-1-1, even, in five career games against the Devils.

In the end…

This Devils team might be quite similar to the one that steamrolled the Caps in the second week of the season, but it is not performing at nearly that level over the last several weeks.  Since they opened the season with a four-game winning streak, their 5-10-4 record is worst in the league.  Needless to say, this is a situation of which the Caps should take advantage.   The Caps will be fighting the headwinds of injuries to a number of skaters – Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie, Brooks Orpik, Michal Kempny, Devante Smith-Pelly – but the Devils are in such a rut that the Caps have enough weapons on hand to deal them another blow.

Capitals 4 – Devils 1

Sunday, November 25, 2018

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 24: Capitals at Islanders, November 26th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals complete their New York Dads Trip on Monday night when they head to Brooklyn and a contest with the New York Islanders at Barclays Center.  It is a game that has more than the usual importance that a divisional matchup of teams separated by only three points in the standings might have.  It will be the first time that the Caps and Islanders head coach Barry Trotz shared the same ice sheet since the Capitals, under Trotz’ direction, won the Stanley Cup in Las Vegas last June 7th.  It will be the first time the Caps faced Trotz as an opposing coach since Trotz’ Nashville Predators beat the Caps in a Gimmick, 4-3, back on March 30, 2014.

The Islanders have shown themselves to be an inhospitable host, going 6-2-2 in ten home games so far this season.  They have done is largely by being stingy in allowing goals at home.  The 26 goals allowed in ten home games is the sixth-fewest in the league and third-fewest in the Eastern Conference.  What makes the goals allowed total a bit odd is the manner in which goalies have been deployed by Trotz.  The goalie assignments have largely split into the “home” goalie (Thomas Greiss) and the “road” goalie (Robin Lehner), despite the fact that Lehner has better home numbers than Greiss in fewer appearances. 

Greiss has eight starts in ten home games, but his 2.64 goals against average and .915 save percentage pale a bit next to his 5-2-1 win-loss record and rank in the middle of the pack among goalies in home performance (22nd in goals against average and 23rd in save percentage among goalies with at least 200 home minutes played).  His performances more recently have been more successful, though.  Seven of his last eight appearances have come at Barclays Center, and in those seven games Greiss has a record of 5-1-1, 2.45, .924, and one shutout.  On the other hand, Lehner has only three appearances on home ice this season and has not started a game at Barclays Center since October 24th, but he does have a 1-0-1, 2.36, .933 record on home ice.  Greiss is 2-1-1, 2.49, .926 in four career appearances against the Caps, while Lehner is 1-3-1, 2.60, .913 in five career games against the Caps.

If you had Anthony Beauvillier as the leading goal-getter on home ice for the Islanders through ten home games this season, go buy a lottery ticket.  There he sits, though, with five goals in ten games.  The 28th overall pick of the 2015 entry draft is in his third season with the Islanders, and last year he posted his first career 20-goal season with 21 scores in 71 games.  Most of his home production so far this season came in a single game, a hat trick and four points in 7-5 win over the New York Rangers on November 15th.  However, that game started a three game home goal streak that he will bring into this contest (5-1-6), the only home games in which he has points this season.  In seven career games against the Caps, Beauvillier is 0-1-1, even.

Another lesser known performer on home ice is Scott Mayfield, who leads all Islander defensemen in goals scored (three) and points (four) on home ice.  Since he was drafted in the second round by the Islanders in the 2011 entry draft, his progress has been slow but steady.  He spent parts of four seasons with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in the NHL and parts of three getting a glimpse of the NHL before appearing in 47 games with the Isles last year.  It was a season in which he tied a career high in goals (two), and set career highs in assists (ten) and points (12).  This season, he has already set a new career high in goals, the three he has (all at home) being almost as many as the rest of the defense combined (four).  He also has seven assists, closing in on the career best he set last season.  Mayfield does not have a point in three career games against Washington

1.  The Islanders have the second lowest shots on goal per game (27.9) in the league.  Only the Anaheim Ducks have a lower average (27.0).

2.  Shorthanded goals do not figure to be a feature of this game.  The Islanders have only one shorthanded goal this season (as do the Caps), while only Vegas and Dallas have fewer (none).

3.  Only three teams have averaged more penalty minutes per game than the Islanders (10:40) – Vancouver (11:34), Boston (11:36), and Winnipeg (12:40).

4.  No team in the league has taken fewer faceoffs than New York so far this season (1,266).

5.  The Islanders have the fourth-worst shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 (45.88) in the league.

1.  Dmitry Orlov has one of the more bizarre home-road splits.  In 12 home games, Orlov is 0-1-1, even, while in 11 road games he is 2-6-8, yet a minus-6.

2.  Matt Niskanen is also a minus-6 on the road. The Orlov-Niskanen defensive pair is the only one with minus numbers on the road this season.

3.  The Caps and the Winnipeg Jets are the only teams in the league with four players with ten or more power play points.

4.  It does not seem to matter much whether the Caps out-shoot or are out-shot by opponents.  Good thing, too.  Washington has a 8-4-2 record when out-shot by opponents, 5-2-1 when out-shooting them (they have one loss when the shots are even).

5.  The Caps are ranked seventh in both winning percentage when scoring first (.778/7-2-0) and when scored upon first (.429/6-5-3).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New York: Mathew Barzal

In his first 22 games in his rookie season last year, Mathew Barzal was averaging a point a game (6-16-22) on his way to the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie.  He almost on that pace through 22 games this season (20 points), but his three-goal total is half of what it was at this point last season.  His contributions do matter to the Islanders, who are 9-5-1 in the 15 games in which he registered a point, 3-3-1 in the seven games in which he was blanked on the score sheet.  The odd part of that split is that Barzal is 4-2-1 in seven home games in which he has at least one point, 2-0-1 in the three games he did not record a point. And, only twice in 10 home games has he been a “plus” player.  It gets even stranger when looking at his shots on goal.  In 12 games in which Barzal recorded at least two shots on goal, the Isles are 5-6-1.  They are 7-2-1 in those games in which he had one or no shots on goal.  His is an odd profile, indeed.  Barzal is 1-3-4, minus-2, in five career games against the Caps.

Washington: Braden Holtby

Braden Holtby has had an interesting and unusual start to the season in goal for the Caps.  Of his 16 appearances so far, 11 of them have been on home ice, where he thrives, going 6-3-1, 2.51, .922 with his only shutout of the season.  On the road, he has struggled to find his footing in a comparatively low number of appearances.  In just five appearances on the road so far, Holtby is 2-2-1, 3.62, .894.  It is not unlike his career home-road split (2.21/.925 at home, 2.68/.913 on the road), but it is more pronounced.  Perhaps the strangest part of Holtby’s road record to start the season is that the only instance in which he had a save percentage over .920 came in a relief role, when he stopped all 22 shots he faced in relief of Pheonix Copley in a 5-4 overtime win over the Montreal Canadiens in his most recent road appearance.  And while he has had a history of success with high shot volumes, that has not been the case on the road.  Three times he faced more than 30 shots on the road so far, and he is looking for his first win in that situation (0-2-1, 5.01, .870).  Holtby is 14-4-3, 2.46, .919 in 21 career appearances against the Islanders.

In the end…

It is hard to tell from game to game which Islander defense will show up on home ice.  It is a team that has held opponents under two goals three times in ten games with two shutouts.  On the other hand, they allowed opponents four or more goals three times, including two of their last three games at Barclays Center.  On the other side, the Caps have five goals scored in three of their last five road games and five or more in five of their 11 road games this season.  Even with the absences of Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie, the Caps are a formidable offensive team that is enjoying perhaps its best stretch of the season.

Capitals 5 – Islanders 2

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 8

Week 8 – eight points.  There was a nice symmetry for the Washington Capitals in the four games played against Original Six teams.  However, the number that mattered at week’s end was “one.”  When the clock chimed midnight on Saturday, the Capitals rode their four-win week to the top spot in the Metropolitan Division.

Record: 4-0-0

When Week 8 started, the Capitals had not had so much as a single winning streak of three games this season.  When the week ended, the Caps had a five-game winning streak.  It is their longest winning streak since putting together a five-game streak late last season, in Games 73-77.  They have not had a longer streak since late in the 2016-2017 season when they had a six-game winning streak in Games 71-76.

The four wins had significance in their location as well.  The two wins on home ice, against the Chicago Blackhawks and the Detroit Red Wings, snapped the Caps’ first and only two-game losing streak in regulation time on home ice this season.  The two road wins, in Montreal against the Canadiens and in New York against the Rangers to start and finish the week, were the first consecutive road wins for the Caps this season on the road.

The four wins tied for the league lead for the week, and the Caps finished alone on top of the Metropolitan Division for the first time since October 4th.

Offense: 4.25/game (season: 3.43/game, rank: 5th)

Productive and prolific. The Caps recorded 17 goals in four games, ten players lighting the lamp at least once in Week 8.  Four different players had multi-goal weeks, ranging from the entirely normal to the completely unexpected.  Alex Ovechkin led the club with four goals and finished the week with goals in four of his last five games.  He finished the week tied for third in the league in goals (17), two behind Patrik Laine and one behind Jeff Skinner.  Tom Wilson continues his hot start after his lengthy suspension to open the season.  Wilson had three goals in Week 8, recording one in each of the three games to end the week.  It is his longest goal game streak in his career to date.  Brett Connolly had a pair of goals, one each in Montreal and in New York to begin and end the week put to rest a seven-game streak without a goal coming into the week.

What might have been completely unexpected was the two-goal week by defenseman Michal Kempny.  Both came on home ice, one against his old club, the Chicago Blackhawks, and the other against the Detroit Red Wings.  They were the first goals he scored this season, breaking a 17-game streak without a goal to open the season and his last goal scored since his last regular season game last season against the New Jersey Devils.

The Caps had 16 of 19 skaters dressing in Week 8 record at least one point.  Ovechkin, Wilson, and John Carlson tied for the team lead with six apiece, all of Carlson’s coming on assists.  If there was one odd statistic on offense for the week it was in shots on goal.  It was strange enough that Alex Ovechkin did not lead the team in shots (his 12 shots on goal were second-highest), but what made it that much stranger was Nicklas Backstrom leading the team with 13 shots on goal.

Defense: 2.50/game (season: 3.13/game, rank: T-19th)

It could have ended worse for the Caps in Week 8, based on the numbers on the defensive side of the ledger.  Washington held none of their four opponents under 30 shots on goal and averaged allowing more than 36 shots per game for the week (36.3).  The Caps allowed the Canadiens 44 shots in the 5-4 overtime win to open the week, the second time in two trips to Montreal this season that the Caps gave up 44 shots to the Habs. 

It was a bit, but not a lot better in 5-on-5 shot attempts.  The Caps were underwater in the first three games of the week before climbing over 50 percent against the Rangers (55.68 percent) to end the week.  The Caps were only 37.76 percent against the Blackhawks, but that result is tempered somewhat by the fact that the Caps never trailed in that game.  They scored two goals in the first seven minutes to put the Blackhawks in a hole, a more desperate team that increased their shot attempt volumes in an effort to get back into the game.

Goaltending: 2.46 / .931 (season: 2.93 / .908 / 1 SO)

Week 8 was one of those weeks in which one sees why one goalie is the number one netminder, and the other is the backup.  As to the latter, Pheonix Copley got a start in Montreal as the club wanted to give Braden Holtby one more game’s worth of relief after he missed a few games to an upper body injury.  That was the plan, anyway.  Copley lasted 21 minutes and change against the Canadiens, giving up four goals on 22 shots before Holtby took over with the Caps down, 4-2.  Holtby did what a relief goalie is asked to do in that situation, hold the fort and give his team a chance to come back.  He stopped all 22 shots he faced in 42 minutes, allowing the Caps to tie the game in regulation and win it in overtime.

Holtby was superb against Chicago and Detroit in the week’s home games, stopping 68 of 71 shots over the two games.  He gave way to Copley against the Rangers in the back half of a back-to-back set of games, and Copley was good enough, stopping 27 of 30 shots in the Caps’ 5-3 win to close the week.  Holtby’s .962 even strength save percentage was fourth-best in the league among all goalies facing at least 25 even strength shots on goal.

The most noteworthy goaltending numbers for the week were the first period shots on goal.  In four games, Holtby and Copley faced a total of 58 shots, stopping a combined 55 of them (a .948 save percentage).  It was in no small part due to their first period work that the Caps had a four-win week, the club suffering sluggish starts in each game.

Power Play: 2-for-10/20.0 percent (season: 27.8 percent, rank: 4th)

Week 8 started well, but it did not end well on the power play.  The Caps scored goals on two of their first three man advantages for the week but then drew a blank on their last seven power play chances.  At the team level, the Caps did not have a bad week in terms of power play productivity.  They did managed 17 shots on goal in 17:53 of power play time.  However, of that number, Alex Ovechkin had only two shots on goal, scoring on one of them.  Chicago and New York were able to hold him without a power play shot on goal.

The power play finished at 20 percent or better for the seventh time in eight weeks, but the voltage has dropped a bit.  After six weeks the power play was smoking along at 32.7 percent, but over the last two weeks it is 3-for-20, the 15.0 percent level of efficiency ranking only 23rd in the league over that span.

If there was a silver lining in the power play numbers for the week, it could be found in the other goal.  Andre Burakovsky had that one, his power play goal against Chicago being his first power play goal and first power play point of the season.  It was his first power play goal and first power play point since he recorded a man advantage goal in a 3-2 loss to the Florida Panthers last February 22nd.

Penalty Killing: 11-for-12 / 91.7 percent (season: 75.9 percent, rank: 24th)

It was a fine week for the Caps on the penalty kill.  They allowed a power play goal to Montreal on the second half of a double-minor roughing penalty on Matt Niskanen to open the penalty killing for the week, and then they pitched a shutout the rest of the way.

The Caps did manage to do a fair job in suppressing shots, especially in the last three games of the week when they allowed only 11 power play shots on goal in 14:12 of shorthanded ice time.  As it turned out, Braden Holtby was the only netminder for the week to face more than ten power play shots on goal to turn away all the shots he faced.

Faceoffs: 114-for-230 / 49.6 percent (season: 48.8 percent, rank: 21st)

It was a better week in the circle than the overall numbers might suggest.  Four of the five Caps taking at least ten draws for the week finished over 50 percent, Nicklas Backstrom being the only one of that group finishing under 50 percent.  It was mostly the “second man” group, those who generally take draws when one of the principals is tossed out, that came up short, winning only six of 20 draws for the week. 

On the other hand, the numbers were puffed up some by winning 38 of 65 neutral zone faceoffs (58.5 percent).  In the ends, things were not as positive.  The Caps won only 30 of 64 draws in the offensive zone (46.9 percent) and only 46 of 101 defensive zone faceoffs (45.5 percent).  That offensive-defensive zone differential of 37 more draws in the defensive end suggested that for much of the week the ice was tilted toward the Caps’ end of the ice. 

Goals by Period:

Week 8 was one in which the Caps finished games strong.  They posted third period goals in all four games, six goals in all.  On the other side, they allowed only two third period strikes, one to Chicago and one to the Rangers. 

The starts of games were a mixed bag, though.  Washington allowed only three first period goals in Week 8, but all of them were first goals in those games.  Allowing the first goal in three of four games, as the Caps did in Week 8, is not a long term recipe for success.

As has been the case for much of the season, the Caps dominated the middle periods of games, but not as much as they have been over the first seven weeks.  They did manage a plus-1 goal differential (six scored, five allowed) to improve their season differential in the second period to plus-11.  It matters, since the Caps have a net minus differential in the other two regulation periods – minus-1 in the first periods of games and minus-4 in the third periods of games.

Year over Year:

The four-win week allowed this year’s edition of the Caps to pull away from last year’s at a comparable point of the season.  At the highest level of performance, this year’s club has been able to grind out points in more games (16 of 23 versus 13 of 23 last season).  Drilling down through the numbers, the scoring defense is unchanged, but the scoring offense is up 21.5 percent from this point last year (plus-14 in goals).

Special teams have improved, going from a minus-5 goal differential last season (exclusive of shorthanded goals) to even this season, but that latter differential suggests work needs to be done on the penalty kill, which is once more under 80 percent.

In other respects the Caps are continuing trends established over the first seven weeks.  They are still under 50 percent on 5-on-5 shot attempts, but they continue to be ahead of last year’s pace on hits and blocked shots.  And, they are still almost one penalty taken per game and almost three penalty minutes per game behind last year’s penalty pace.

In the end…

Week 8 was the Caps first four-win week of the season, doubling the highest weekly win total over the first seven weeks (two wins, accomplished three times).  Since going winless in Week 5, the Caps are 8-3-0 over the last three weeks, suggesting that they are perhaps settling into a higher level of play than they exhibited in the first five weeks. 

In a perverse sense, going into a week of light work in Week 9 – two games – might not be the best of situations, but those two games against the New York Islanders and the New Jersey Devils do provide the challenge and the opportunity to send a message to divisional rivals.  Still, Week 8 will be hard to top.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Braden Holtby (3-0-0, 1.11, .968)
  • Second Star: Alex Ovechkin (4-2-6, plus-5, 1 PPG, 12 shots on goal, 26 shot attempts, tied Mario Lemieux for seventh place all-time in power play goals)
  • Third Star: Michal Kempny (2-2-4, plus-6, 2 game-winning goals, 20:53 average ice time)

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 21: Blackhawks at Capitals, November 21st

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

On Wednesday night, the Washington Capitals will take to the ice in a Thanksgiving Eve matchup against the Chicago Blackhawks that pits two teams looking to find momentum.  On Monday night, the Caps came back from two goals down to force overtime and grab a 5-4 win over the Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre to atone for their 6-4 loss in Montreal to start the month and win consecutive games for only the second time this season.

Meanwhile, the Blackhawks come into this game looking for a spark, any spark.  After winning consecutive games in regulation for the first time this season in late October to give them a 6-2-2 record, they lost eight in a row (0-6-2) before winning two of their last three games coming into this contest, leaving them 2-6-3 in their last 11 games.

The problem for the Blackhawks in their recent stumbles has not been the defense, although that side of the puck has not been good (35 goals allowed/3.18 per game).  The offense has been almost non-existent, the Blackhawks putting up only 19 goals in those 11 games (1.73 per game).

Patrick Kane has a hand in 11 of those 19 goals (3-8-11).  And this run is not a case of merely being on a hot streak, unless you think he has been on one all season.  He has points in 16 of the 20 games played to date, seven of them multi-point efforts.  His 25 points in 20 games is, for the moment, the second highest points-per-game (1.25) of his career (he had 1.29 points per game in 2015-2016, tops in the league that season).  Kane continues to impress, but he already deserves a place among the best players in the history of the franchise.  Before this season is over, he will likely be among the top ten players in Blackhawk history in games played (he needs 40 to pass Denis Savard for 10th place).  He is already fifth in team history in goals scored (324), fifth in assists (25 short of Doug Wilson for third place), fifth in points (853), and fourth in game-winning goals (55).  This season, he already has four multi-point games in nine contests on the road.  Kane is 4-5-9, minus-10, in 14 career games against Washington.

Henri Jokiharju was taken with the 29th overall pick in the 2017 entry draft.  The defenseman from Oulu, Finland, by way of the Portland Winter Hawks in Canadian junior, is the youngest player on the Blackhawks’ roster.  Of the 79 defensemen taken in that 2017 draft, he is one of only five to have dressed for at least one NHL game.  His ten points (all assists) leads his draft class in scoring and, perhaps surprisingly, is tied for the team lead among defensemen this season (with Brent Seabrook).  Jokiharju is at or near the top of his rookie class of defensemen in a variety of categories.  He is tied for the lead in that group in games played (21 through Monday night), tied for the lead in points (10), leads in assists (10), leads in shots on goal (47), is tied for sixth in credited hits (24), is tied for ninth in blocked shots (19), and is second in average ice time (21:21 per game).  He has cooled down some from a hot start, though.  After posting five points in his first three games this season, he is 0-5-5, minus-4, in his last 18 contests.  This will be Jokiharju’s first appearance against Washington.

Corey Crawford is in his 12th season as netminder for the Blackhawks.  He, like Kane, figures prominently among the leaders in franchise history in a number of categories.  He is third in games played by a goaltender in franchise history with 421 appearances, trailing only Glenn Hall (618) and Tony Esposito (873).  He is third in wins (235), trailing only Hall (276) and Esposito (418).  Crawford is the all-time leader among goalies with more than 75 appearances in goals against average (2.37), while his save percentage (.919) is tops among that group since that statistic has been recorded.  Crawford missed the first five games of this season as the result of a concussion he suffered in the 2017-2018 regular season that kept him out of the lineup for the entire 2018 portion of the Blackhawks’ schedule.  Since returning to the lineup on October 18th against Arizona, he has been a bit of a bad luck netminder.  Despite a 2.44 goals against average and a .922 save percentage, he has only a 5-6-1 record.  Part of the problem is his inconsistency to date.  In his 12 appearances he allowed three or more goals six times and allowed one or none (he has one shutout) six times.  Unsurprisingly, he is 5-0-1 when allowing one or no goals, 0-6-0 when allowing three or more, the Blackhawks not being the sort of team at the moment that can outscore his off nights.  Crawford is 3-4-2, 3.54, .884 in nine career appearances against the Caps.

1.  November has not been kind to Chicago.  For the month, they are last in goals scored (13 in eight games), tied for 22nd in power play efficiency (14.3 percent), tied for 28th in power play chances (21), tied for last in power play goals (three), 28th in penalty killing (68.4 percent), and 30th in shot attempts-for percentage when ahead at 5-on-5 (38.89 percent).

2.  About the only thing that has saved Chicago this month is that no team has been shorthanded fewer times (19, tied with San Jose) or taken fewer penalties (21).

3.  Chicago has played in a strange place between good and bad news.  On the bad side, they have six losses this season by one goal.  The good side, five of those losses were in extra time (no team has more such losses), so they did earn a standings point in each of them.  Odd related fact: the Blackhawks went to extra time in each of their first five games this season (3-0-2).

4.  If this game is a blowout, chances are it will not be the Blackhawks on the high side of the goal scoring.  Chicago has the third-worst winning percentage in games decided by three or more goals this season (.286).  Only Carolina and the New York Rangers are worse (.250).

5.  If the Caps score first, it will be a good sign.  Chicago is one of five teams in the league with a single win when the opponent scores first, worst in the league, and only Los Angeles has a worse winning percentage (.083) than Chicago (.111).

1.  The Caps played their seventh extra time game of the season on Monday night and earned their fourth win (4-3).  After 20 games last season the Caps were 4-1 in extra time after 20 games.

2.  The Caps allowed Montreal 44 shots on goal on Monday night at Bell Centre in the 5-4 overtime win.  They also allowed 44 shots on goal in the 6-4 loss on the same ice sheet on November 1st.  Those are the most shots allowed by the Caps in a game this season and half of the four instances of allowing more than 40 shots on goal.

3.  When Jakub Vrana recorded an assist against Montreal on Monday night, he became the eighth player to hit the ten-point mark this season through 20 games.  At this point last season, the Caps had six players with ten or more points.

4.  Through Monday’s games, only the Ottawa Senators had allowed at least one power play goal in more games (17) than Washington (15, tied with Philadelphia).

5.  Alex Ovechkin scored his 236th career power play goal on Monday night, tying Mario Lemieux for seventh place on the all-time list.  If those were the only goals he had in his career, he would rank 33rd among all active players, tied with Tyler Seguin.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Chicago: Chris Kunitz

It doesn’t matter what color jersey he wears, and he’s worn five of them, Chris Kunitz is among the most hated players in Capitals Nation in this era.  And it is not as if he hasn’t had a lot of years to cultivate that reputation.  Now in his 15th NHL season after being signed as an undrafted free agent by the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in April 2003, Kunitz is the fifth-oldest skater to have dressed in the NHL this season at the age of 39.  He is in his first season in Chicago after spending last season with the Tampa Bay Lightning, and based on his performance to date, perhaps the end of his career is in sight.  He has two assists in 19 games this season while averaging a career low 10:52 in ice time per game.  Kunitz has never accumulated penalty minutes proportionate to his reputation as an agitator (he hasn’t averaged a penalty minute per game in more than a decade, not since 2007-2008 with Anaheim), but this season he has only one penalty for two minutes in his 19 games of work.  And, he has been a bit of an on-ice liability, even if indirectly.  He is in plus territory only once this season (plus-1 in a wild 7-6 overtime loss to Toronto on October 7th) and is a minus-7 overall.  Kunitz is 12-8-20, plus-5, in 36 career games against the Capitals.

Washington: Tom Wilson

Tom Wilson has waited a long time to make his season debut on home ice.  He served 16 games of a 20-game suspension to start the season (reduced to 14 games, so he did recoup some of the lost wages), and then he returned to the ice in time to accompany his teammates on a four-game road trip.  That it was a successful trip (3-1-0) seems not to be a coincidence with Wilson’s return.  While he spent his first five NHL seasons developing a reputation for a hard-nosed (or “dirty,” depending on who you root for) player, he has developed as an offensive complement on the top line to Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov (or Lars Eller, who has filled in for Kuznetsov in his absence due to injury). 

His early career development has displayed consistent improvements in goals, assists, points, and shooting efficiency.  But more than that, and in a manner that contemporary empirical measures might not be sufficiently sophisticated to capture, he has been what we here at “Peerless Central” refer to as the “emulsifier” between the oil of a Kuznetsov and the vinegar of an Ovechkin.  He is not, and seems unlikely to become considered among the elite power forwards of this generation, but he seems to be that player who skills marry well to those of his linemates that make the whole even more than the sum of the parts.  Certainly the early returns on his season to date suggest that.  In ten career games against the Blackhawks, Wilson is 4-4-8, plus-6.

In the end…

Coming home from a road trip, the night before a holiday.  It would seem that there are sufficient distractions surrounding this game to put the outcome in doubt.  However, Chicago has plenty of problems of their own.  They recently dismissed a legendary coach in Joel Quennville (who was 6-6-3) for a rookie coach in Jeremy Colliton (2-2-2), who is younger than a few of his players.  It is a team that cannot score, especially on the road (ten goals in their last six road games and shut out twice).  Their goaltender is trying to get back into a rhythm after spending the better part of a year recovering from a concussion.  And, they haven’t won on the road in a month (0-5-1), not since a 4-1 win over the Blue Jackets in Columbus on October 20th.  Even with the distractions, this is a game that the Capitals should win to achieve their first three-game winning streak of the season.

Capitals 5 – Blackhawks 2

Sunday, November 18, 2018

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 20: Capitals at Canadiens, November 19th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals kick off Thanksgiving Week with a visit to Bell Centre to take on the Montreal Canadiens to wrap up their four-game road trip.  The Caps are looking to make it a successful trip, having taken two of three of the games so far.  They will also be looking to win consecutive games for only the second time this season and the first time doing so on the road.

Since the Canadiens defeated the Caps, 6-4, on this same ice sheet on the first of the month, they are 4-3-1.  It is something of an odd record.  All four wins were of the one-goal variety, one (against the New York Islanders on November 5th) coming in the Gimmick.  On the other hand, all three losses in regulation were multi-goal decisions, two of them by three or more goals.  As a result, despite the over-.500 record in standings points over those games, the Habs were outscored, 32-25 over the eight games.

Max Domi leads Montreal in overall scoring over eight games since facing the Caps (4-8-12), and he has two of the Canadiens three power play goals in that span.  It is merely an extension of what has been a fine start for the four-year veteran (10-14-24, plus three power play goals in 20 games).  His 10 goals, 14 assists, and 24 points lead the team in all categories (tied with Jeff Petry in assists).  Through Saturday’s games, he is one of 18 players in the league who has appeared in at least ten games and is averaging 1.20 points per game or more, and he is one of 20 players in the league with six or more multi-point games.  With the season not quite at the one-quarter point for the Canadiens, Domi is already more than half-way to his career high in goals (18 as a rookie with the Arizona Coyotes in 2015-2016) and almost half way to his career high in points (52 in that same rookie season).  He has already tied his career best in power play goals (three as a rookie).  Domi is 1-4-5, plus-5, in seven career games against the Caps.

What the Canadiens have not had in this eight-game stretch since facing the Caps is goal scoring contributions from defensemen.  Noah Juulsen is the only Canadien blueliner with a goal over that span of games, that being the game-tying goal in the third period of the Canadiens’ 4-3 trick shot win over the Islanders on November 5th.  Juulsen is representative of the Montreal blue line in that he’s been nicked up.  He missed two games in late October to injury and was held out of two others in early November.  As it is, Montreal has had only two defensemen dress for all 20 games so far this season.  For his own record, Juulsen seems a lock to dress for more games than he did last year in his first season with Montreal (23 games).  He already has as many goals as last season (one) and set career bests in assists and points (four and five, respectively).  Juulsen is without a point in two career games against Washington and is a minus-2.

Montreal’s goaltenders have struggled over this 4-3-1 stretch.  Carey Price and Antti Niemi have more or less split the time, Price getting five starts and Niemi three, neither having much positive effect.  Price is 2-2-1, 3.80, .896 in his five appearances.  On the plus side, he has been better more recently.  After dropping the first three of his decisions over this span (0-2-1) and stopping only 84 of 99 shots (.848 save percentage), he was the winner in his most recent two appearances (on the road against Calgary and Vancouver), stopping 79 of 83 shots (.952 save percentage).  He was over .900 in save percentage in both games, breaking a streak of five appearances in which he was under that bar. 
On the other hand, Niemi has been the beneficiary of solid offensive support.  He won two of his three decisions, but he was under .900 in save percentage in all three games, stopping a total of 79 of 92 shots faced (.876 save percentage).  In six appearances so far this season, Niemi has been over .900 in save percentage just once, stopping 38 of 42 shots (.905), in a 4-3 loss to the Buffalo Sabres on October 25th.  Price is 7-13-4, 3.33, .890, with one shutout in 24 career appearances against the Caps, while Niemi is 6-0-3, 2.46, .913, with one shutout in nine career appearances against Washington.

1.  Montreal has had two different seasons on home ice.  In their first five games they allowed a total of 13 goals and went 4-1-0.  In their last five home games they allowed 22 goals and went 2-2-1.

2.  The Canadiens have the third-worst power play on home ice this season (12.2 percent).  They are 0-for-17 over their last five home games.

3.  In ten home games to date, Montreal had a negative shot attempt differential at 5-on-5 in only one of them, going minus-14 against Detroit in a 7-3 win on October 15th.

4.  Only two teams in the league have a worse faceoff winning percentage than Montreal (46.0 percent) – New Jersey (45.4 percent) and San Jose (44.1 percent).  Their overall SAT percentage at 5-on-5 on home ice (55.29) is fourth-best in the league.

5.  Shots for do not seem to matter to Montreal at home.  They are 6-4-2 when recording at least 30 shots, 5-2-1 when posting fewer than 30 shots.  Shots allowed are another matter.  The Canadiens are 5-4-2 when allowing at least 30 shots, 6-2-1 when allowing fewer than 30.

1.  The Caps have not yet won a road game when allowing more than 30 shots on goal, going 0-3-1.  They are 4-1-0 when allowing 30 or fewer shots on the road.

2.  The Caps have allowed at least one power play goal in seven of nine road games to date and have a record of 3-3-1 in those games.  In the two games in which they did not allow a power play goal, they are 1-1-0.

3.  On the other hand, Washington is 3-0-0 in the three games in which they have at least one power play goal on the road.  They are 1-4-1 in the six games in which they were shut out on the power play.

4.  Watch the hit totals.  In nine road games, the Caps are 0-3-1 when recording at least 25 credited hits, 4-1-0 when credited with fewer than 25 hits.

5.  There are 12 players in the league with 10 or more power play points.  The Caps have four of them: Nicklas Backstrom (12), Evgeny Kuznetsov (11), John Carlson (11), and Alex Ovechkin (10).  Boston is the only other team with more than one (David Pastrnak (12) and Patrice Bergeron (11)).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Montreal: Tomas Tatar

When Montreal traded Max Pacioretty to the Vegas Golden Knights for Tomas Tatar and Nick Suzuki last September 9th, few would have thought that the early winner of that trade would have been the Canadiens, at least as far as the raw numbers are concerned.  Pacioretty has struggled with two goals and four points with a minus-6 in 16 games .  Meanwhile, Tatar is tied for second in Montreal goal scoring (nine, with Brendan Gallagher) and tied for second in points (17) with Jonathan Drouin.  Six of those goals have come in the last six games.  Tatar is well on pace to finish the year with his fifth straight season of 20 or more goals after coming up one short in 2013-2014.  His engagement in the offensive end has been important for the Canadiens.  In six games in which he recorded at least four shots on goal, Montreal is 5-1-0.  They are 6-5-3 in the 14 games in which he had three or fewer shots on goal.  In 15 career games against the Capitals, Tatar is 6-5-11, plus-6.

Washington: Jakub Vrana

The Capitals expect to get offensive production out of the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, or Evgeny Kuznetsov, regardless of venue.  However, Jakub Vrana is tied for fifth-best in road points this season (3-3-6 in nine games), and those three goals are the third-most in road games for the Caps this season.  The odd part of his road production is that while secondary scoring support is generally a good thing, his has not had much of an effect.  The Caps are 1-1-1 in the three road games in which he scored a goal, 3-2-1 in road games in which he recorded a point.  His production on the road is part of a broader oddity in his record, the fact that he has had more offensive production on the road in his brief career to date (11-13-24 in 55 road games) than at home (10-8-18 in 58 home games), even though he has a far higher shot volume at home (119 to 85 shots on goal).  Vrana is 0-2-2, minus-3, in five career games against Montreal.

In the end…

The Caps are wrapping up their second four-game road trip of the season much as they did their first four-game trip.  In that one, they beat Vancouver, lost to Edmonton, and then they defeated Calgary in extra time (in a shootout) before the visited Montreal to wrap up that trip.  This time around, they beat Minnesota, lost to Winnipeg, and then they beat Colorado in overtime with only the game in Montreal on Monday to complete the trip.  The first time the Caps played this scenario, they lost in a wild 6-4 contest at Bell Centre.  They will be looking to flip the script and make this trip a successful one.

Capitals 4 – Canadiens 2

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 7

Week 7 for the Washington Capitals was hardly “seventh heaven.”  It was a four-game week, three of them over a four-day period to close the week, all three on the road.  Injuries to two top-six forwards caused them to miss the end of the contest against the Winnipeg Jets and the full contest against the Colorado Avalanche to close the week.  They suffered an injury to their number one goaltender that kept him out of the last two games of the week.  That the Caps broke even for the week was not the best result, but it was hardly the worst under the circumstances.

Record: 2-2-0

No one is pulling away in the Metropolitan Division, and for the Caps that is a good thing.  A break-even week left the Caps in fourth place in the division, one point behind the New York Islanders and New York Rangers, tied for second in standings points.  In the glass half full/glass half empty category, the Caps are hanging around in the division despite not having so much as a single winning streak over two games so far this season (the alternated wins and losses in Week 7) and have won consecutive games only once so far.  On the other hand, they have yet to endure a three-game losing streak.  Then again, last year the Caps had only one three-game winning streak to a similar point of the season, so it is not as if a sluggish start is new territory for the club.

Offense: 2.50/game (season: 3.26/game, rank: 9th)

It was an uneven week for the Caps, who managed five goals in their 5-2 win over the Minnesota Wild in the second game of the week but could not muster more than two in regulation time in any of the other three games, twice held to one goal.  It would not be inaccurate to state that the light production was, in part, a product of the Caps missing center Evgeny Kuznetsov and right winger T.J. Oshie for the last game of the week, both injured with possible concussions in the 3-1 loss to Winnipeg.

On the other hand, the Caps are a team that has struggled a bit in the offensive end of the ice lately.  In five of their last six games they scored two or fewer goals in regulation time and a total of only 13 in that span.  What made things a bit frustrating in Week 7, even with the absences of Kuznetsov and Oshie, was that they got a taste of contributions from Devante Smith-Pelly and Andre Burakovsky, both of whom have struggled with getting goals, each scoring a goal during the week.  Jakub Vrana had a goal and an assist, and Tom Wilson, finally hitting the ice after missing the first 16 games of the season to a suspension, had a three-point week (1-2-3).

On the other hand, John Carlson hit a dry spell (one assist in four games), as did Brent Connolly (an assist), and Matt Niskanen (an assist).  Christian Djoos went the week without a point, extending his streak without a point to 11 games.  Michal Kempny was 0-for-Week 7 and is without a point in six games.  Dmitrij Jaskin dressed for just one game, was blanked on the score sheet for the week, and is still looking for his first goal as a Capital after 13 games.

Defense: 2.75/game (season: 3.26/game, rank: 25th)

The Caps had their best defensive week, or at least their most consistent one, in a while in one respect.  They held all four opponents in Week 7 to fewer than 30 shots and a total of 100 in all.  It was the first time this season that the Caps managed to hold opponents under 30 shots in a game in consecutive games, let along four in a row.

The shot attempts against at 5-on-5 were not quite as impressive, but they were solid, especially on the road.  The Caps held all three road opponents to approximately their average 5-on-5 shot attempts on home ice for the season: Winnipeg (avg.: 48/46 vs. Caps), Minnesota (40/42), and Colorado (42/45).

Goaltending: 2.26 / .910 (season: 3.08 / .901 / 1 SO)

Braden Holtby had a forgettable game against the Arizona Coyotes to start the week, allowing three goals on 17 shots over the first two periods, leaving the Caps in too big a hole out of which they could crawl in what would be a 4-1 loss, although in his defense, he did stop 11 of 12 even strength shots through those first two periods.  His week would end early, though, when he suffered an upper body injury in the morning skate before the game against the Winnipeg Jets.

That meant that Pheonix Copley, in addition to a regularly scheduled start against Minnesota in the second game of the week, would also get the last two games of the week, making for an unusual (especially for a backup goaltender) three road games in four nights.  He was superb, stopping 71 of 77 shots on goal against the first (Colorado), 10th (Minnesota), and 16th-ranked (Winnipeg) scoring offenses in the league at week’s end.  Copley has bounced back strong after a slow start.  He allowed six goals on 36 shots in a 6-0 loss to New Jersey in his first appearance for the Caps, but since then he is 4-1-1, 2.07, .925, in six appearances.

Power Play:  1-for-10/10.0 percent (season: 29.0 percent, rank: 4th)

Week 7 was the worst week of the season for the Caps’ power play.  First, there were the chances.  The Caps enjoyed only ten power play opportunities for the week, their second lowest average for the season (2.50), only Week 5 being lower (four chances in two games).

Then there were the shots.  And what a strange week it was there.  The Caps had a respectable 22 shots in 19:30 of power play time for the week.  How they got there was a bit odd, but a bit normal, too.  Alex Ovechkin, as one might expect, led the team with ten shots on goal in four games.  The odd part there was that he had six of the team’s seven shots on the power play against Winnipeg.

But what it came down to was that the Caps were 0-for-9 and misfired on 21 straight power play shots to open the week until Nicklas Backstrom broke through in overtime against the Colorado Avalanche on a 4-on-3 power play to end the week on a high note.

Penalty Killing: 13-for-17 / 76.5 percent (season: 73.2 percent, rank: 28th)

It was just the opposite in terms of chances on the other side of special teams.  The Caps faced 17 shorthanded situations in Week 7, the highest total of any week this season and the second highest average (4.3 per game), topped only with 11 such situations faced in two games in Week 3 (5.5 per game).  In those 17 shorthanded situations, the Caps allowed 26 shots on goal in 29:36 of shorthanded ice time.  That is not bad on a shots-per-minute basis, but there were just too many minutes.  The Caps did rebound late, though.  After allowing four goals on 15 shorthanded situations over the first three games of the week, the Caps shut out the Colorado Avalanche on two opportunities to end the week, breaking a six-game streak in which the Caps allowed at least one power play goal.

Faceoffs: 117-for-234 / 50.0 percent (season: 48.7 percent, rank: 21st)

The Capitals split the faceoffs right down the middle for the week.  On the plus side, they were better in the ends – 53.0 percent on offensive zone draws and 51.8 percent in the defensive end – than they were in the neutral zone (42.8 percent).  And, the Caps were 50 percent or better in three of the four games for the week, although they were very close to the margin, finishing two of the four games at 50.0 percent, one game one faceoff win over 50 percent (32-for-62 against Arizona), and one game two faceoff wins under 50 percent (31-for-65 against Colorado).

This being a heavy week, schedule-wise, the Caps had five players take ten or more draws.  Nic Dowd led the group in efficiency at 62.5 percent (10-for-16) and did it without taking an offensive zone draw over the four games.  Lars Eller was superb in the offensive end, winning 15 of 21 draws (71.4 percent) on his way to a 56.7 percent week. 

Goals by Period:

It was a rather evenly played week, by period, the result in third period goal differential (minus-3) being the product of empty net goals scored by Arizona in the Coyotes’ 4-1 win to start the week and by Winnipeg in the Jets’ 3-1 win in the third game of the week.  Nevertheless, the Caps finished the week with a minus-8 goal differential in the third period.  Only Vancouver has a worse differential (minus- ).  It is quite a difference from the second period.  The Caps were held even in the middle periods of the week (4-4), leaving them with a plus-10 differential for the season.  Only Toronto (plus-11) and Tampa Bay (plus-12) are better.

Year over Year:

Nineteen games into the season, and the Capitals find themselves just where they were at the same point last season – 21 standings points.  How they got there is a bit different, the current version of the club splitting 124 goals down the middle, for and against, a bit better than last year’s club, which was at a minus-5 goal differential through 19 games.  One of the odd numbers here is the 47.9 percent shot attempts-for at 5-on-5 both last year and this year through 19 games. 

Special teams are marginally more effective this season, the plus-6 in power play goals scored more than offsetting the minus-3 in opponents’ power play goals.  The special teams index for this season (102.2) is well clear of last year’s mark at this point (98.1).

Grittership numbers from year to year are something of a mixed bag.  Credited hits are up over last season, as are blocked shots.  However, the penalties are down quite a bit in number (down 11) and in minutes (down 60).  This is no doubt largely the product of Tom Wilson missing the first 16 games of the season.

In the end…

Over the course of a long hockey season, there are some weeks a team is just going to have to grind through.  Injuries, tough opponents, taking the show on the road, inconsistent officiating, bad luck, quirky bounces.  It’s all part of the adventure.  Week 7 was just such a week for the Caps, and getting out of it with a 2-2-0 record is something to put away and move on.  They are left with trying to get three of the most important cogs in this machine back into the lineup.  With another four-game week on tap, and the Thanksgiving holiday distraction, the challenges are not diminishing soon.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Pheonix Copley (2-1-0, 2.01, .922)
  • Second Star: Nicklas Backstrom (2-2-4, plus-1, 1 OT/GWG, 50.0% on faceoffs
  • Third Star: Tom Wilson (1-2-3, plus-1, 19:14 average ice time, 7 PIM)