The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The Washington Capitals wrap up the road portion of the 2017-2018 regular season with a visit to the “Gateway to the West” and a meeting with the St. Louis Blues. The Caps won their 20th road game on Sunday night in Pittsburgh for the 13th season in franchise history with 20 road wins, clinching the Metropolitan Division title, while the Blues will be looking for a win in their effort to fend off the Colorado Avalanche for a playoff spot (the Blues have a tiebreaker edge over the Avs before play on Sunday).
The Blues might be righting themselves just in time for the postseason. After a February that saw them struggle with a 4-8-1 record, the Blues rebounded in March to go 8-3-2. They did it, not by overwhelming offense or stingy defense as much as they did with better possession numbers. Their 52.88 shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 was sixth best in the month of March.
Regarding that offense, the Blues scored 37 goals in 13 games (2.85 per game), more than a quarter of the total coming off the sticks of Vladimir Tarasenko and Patrik Berglund, who had five apiece. They got there taking different paths.
Tarasenko got there in a manner familiar to Caps fans who have watched Alex Ovechkin over the years – shot volume. With 39 shots on goal in 11 games, he led the team in shots on goal per game (3.55), which made up for a good, if unremarkable, 12.8 percent shooting. Tarasenko is only in his sixth NHL season, but already he is in the top-ten in franchise history in goals scored, sitting in ninth place with 176. A hat trick against the Caps would propel him past Alex Steen into eighth place on the Blues’ all time goals list. However, Tarasenko was once thought of as, if not the player who would supplant Alex Ovechkin as the league’s most dominant goal scorer, than perhaps at least the most prolific Russian entry. Such was the thinking when, over his first four seasons he had steadily increasing goal numbers, from eight in 38 games as a rookie in 2012-2013 to 40 in 80 games in 2015-2016. It seemed inevitable that he would challenge the 50-goal mark. That has not happened. He slid a bit last season, finishing with 39 goals in 82 games, and this season he has 31 goals in 76 games (he missed two game to an upper body injury in March). He has four goals in his last five games, although he is without one in his last two contests. Tarasenko is 6-1-7, plus-5, in eight career games against Washington.
Where Tarasenko got his five goals in March by pounding shots at the net, Berglund did it through efficiency. His five goals came on just 24 shots, a 20.8 percent shooting percentage. Call it a hot streak for Berglund, who except for a league-best 23.0 shooting percentage in the abbreviated 2012-2013 season, has been a reasonably average shooter efficiency-wise (12.3 percent for his career). It seems a bit odd that Berglund has not been a more productive goal scorer than he has been over his ten-year career in St. Louis. A former first-round draft pick (25th overall in 2006), he counts only three 20-goal seasons in his career and never as many as 25 in a season (he had 23 goals in 2016-2017). Unless he has an explosion of goals in the last week of the season, he will not get there this year, either (he has 13 in 53 games). Berglund is 3-3-6, minus-2, in 12 career games against the Caps.
Alex Pietrangelo was the leading point-getter for the Blues (4-9-13), a bit of an odd occurrence that a defenseman would do so. However, this is a career year for the ten-year veteran. His 15 goals tops the 14 he had last year for a career high, and his 52 points are one better than the 51 he posted in 2011-2012 and 2013-2014. He led the team in March in an odd pairing of stats. He was the power play points leader (1-3-4), and he led the team overall in shots on goal (41), uncommon for a defenseman. And then there was his ice time. Only Erik Karlsson averaged more ice time per game (28:05) than Pietrangelo (26:55) among league defensemen. And the ice time would seem to be an indicator of success for the Blues. In the 47 games in which he skated at least 25 minutes this season (sixth-most in the league), the Blues are 28-13-6. They are just 15-16-0 when Pietrangleo skated less than 25 minutes. He is 1-3-4, minus-2, in 11 career games against Washington.
1. Only five teams have recorded fewer penalty minutes this season than the Blues (611).
2. Keeping with the fives, only five teams have more wins this season when leading after one period than St. Louis (23), and their winning percentage of .920 in such games (23-0-2) is second only to Washington (.963 going into Sunday night’s game against Pittsburgh).
3. The Blues are almost as good when leading after two periods of games. Their 31-0-2 record is the third-best winning percentage in the league (.939).
4. Only Vegas (32) and Boston (33) have more wins when out-shooting opponents than the Blues (31).
5. Getting off early is not in the Blues playbook. Their 46 first period goals is second-fewest in the league (Buffalo has 43).
1. Going into Sunday’s games the Caps had the sixth-fewest number of power play chances on the road (106).
2. On the other side of that statistic, only four teams were shorthanded more often on the road than the Caps (139).
3. Going into Sunday, only Toronto had more wins (29) when leading after one period than the Caps (26). And in an underrated stat, the Caps were a top-ten team in winning percentage when trailing after one period (6-14-0/.300/T-8th).
4. The Caps out-shot teams only 27 times in 78 games before Sunday night’s game, but they were successful when they did (19-7-1).
5. Washington had the fourth-best record in the league in one-goal games before Sunday night’s game (20-5-7.,625).
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
St. Louis: Jake Allen
Is Jake Allen the goaltender to take the Blues deep in the postseason? That would appear to be a question without a ready answer. He has shown glimpses of being a very good goaltender over his five NHL seasons, but he had yet to post elite numbers. He has one season with a save percentage as high as .920 (.920 in 47 games in 2015-2016). His best goals against average was 2.28 in 2014-2015 but in only 37 games. What is intriguing is his postseason record from last year in which he posted a 1.96 goals against average and a .935 save percentage in 11 games. What is not certain at the moment is whether he is likely to repeat that result this spring. In his last 11 appearances, Allen is a very good 8-2-1, but it comes with a not quite as good 2.39 goals against average and a very average .909 save percentage. In two career appearances against the Caps, Allen is 1-1-0, 2.82, .905, with one shutout.
Washington: Evgeny Kuznetsov
Going into Sunday night’s game against Pittsburgh, Evgeny Kuznetsov had already tied his career high in points (77), set in the 2015-2016 season (he recorded an assist on a goal by Dmitry Orlov against the Pens to set a new high in points). His 25 goals were a career best, as were his 18 even strength goals. Until he was shut out on the score sheet against Carolina on Friday, he had six straight multi-point games (5-8-13 overall). Four of his last eight goals have been game-winners, giving him a team-leading eight in that category. He has become a more aggressive offensive player of late. There was a period from mid-January until mid-February in which he recorded 23 shots in 14 games (1.64 per game). But since then, he has 51 shots on goal in 17 games (3.00 per game) before Sunday’s game in Pittsburgh. And, with the Caps having a 19-9-1 record when he recorded three or more shots in a game, the team might be hoping it is not a passing thing. Kuznetsov is 2-3-5, plus-3, in eight career games against St. Louis.
In the end…
This is a good measuring stick game. St. Louis is a solid team that does many things well, capable of posing multiple challenges for the Caps. But the Caps have not been intimidated by their surroundings in St. Louis, taking a 4-1-0 record in their last five games in St. Louis into this contest. It is all part of the last week’s aim of getting ready and tuned for the playoffs.
Capitals 3 – Blues 2