Sunday, November 04, 2018

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 13: Oilers at Capitals, November 5th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

November got off to a rough start for the Washington Capitals with an overtime loss to the Dallas Stars to start a four-game home stand after coming back from down a goal in the third period.  The Caps get to turn things around on Monday night, though, when they host the Edmonton Oilers in a rematch of teams who last faced one another on October 25th, a 4-1 Oiler win in Edmonton.

The Caps are 1-1-1 since that meeting, a record entirely in line with their meandering journey among wins and losses to start the season.  On the other hand, the Oilers go into this contest 4-1-0 since that meeting, three of those wins coming on the road in three tries.

As you might expect, Connor McDavid has figured prominently in the Oiler scoring since these teams last met.  He has points in all five games since Edmonton defeated Washington (3-4-7, plus-5), and he has points in 12 of the 13 games in which he played so far this season.  Only Nashville held him off the score sheet in a 3-0 win over the Oilers on October 20th.  McDavid plays for a club renowned over its history for its offensive firepower, but already he is closing in on, if not in the top-20 in franchise history in a number of offensive categories, despite this being only his fourth season in the NHL:
  • Goals: 96/22nd
  • Assists: 181/18th
  • Points: 277/21st
  • Even-strength goals: 79/21st
  • Power play assists: 54/T-20th
  • Power play points: 69/22nd
  • Game-winning goals: 20/14th
  • Overtime goals: 5/T-2nd
  • Points per game: 1.25/4th
Keep in mind, McDavid is not yet 22 years old, and his 222 games played ranks 68th in club history. 

Drake Caggiula was undrafted, played junior hockey with the Stouffville Spirit of the Ontario Junior Hockey League, and then spent four years with the University of North Dakota in the NCAA.  After his four-year tour with UND in which he scored 62 goals in 162 games, Caggiula signed a two-year entry level contract with the Oilers in May 2016.  After two seasons in which he posted 20 goals and 38 points in 127 games, he was signed to a two-year extension by the Oilers last June.  He responded with five goals in nine games so far this season, all of them coming in his last five contests, including a pair of two-goal efforts, one in a 5-3 win over Nashville on October 27th, the other in a 4-0 win over the Chicago Blackhawks last Thursday.  Caggiula has not yet recorded a point against the Caps in three career games played against them.

Once upon a time, Milan Lucic was going to be the next big thing among NHL power forwards.  Over a five-season span with the Boston Bruins from 2010-2011 through 2014-2015, Lucic potted 105 goals in 367 games, an average of more than 23 goals per 82 games.  Paired with his physical edge (1006 credited hits, 503 penalty minutes), he was earning a reputation for being a player to be feared when on the ice.  Then, he headed west to the Los Angeles Kings in a trade for Martin Jones, Colin Miller, and the Kings’ first round pick of the 2015 entry draft.  He had a productive season in Los Angeles (20-35-55) before heading to Edmonton as a free agent.  His first season there, in 2016-2017, he topped his previous season in goal scoring (23) and posted his fifth career 50-point season (50).  Last year, however, his goal total plummeted (to 10), and he finished with only 34 points, his lowest total of any season in which he appeared in more than 50 games since he had 27 points in 77 games in his rookie season in Boston.  He has not given any signs of coming out of that slump so far.  Lucic is 1-3-4, minus-6 (team worst), in 13 games.  In 34 career games against the Caps, Lucic is 7-14-21, minus-6.

1.  Since the league instituted the Gimmick, only four teams have more trick shot wins than the Oilers (70) – New York Islanders (75), Pittsburgh Penguins (75), New York Rangers (74) and New Jersey Devils (71).  Wonder what it is with the New York area teams.

2.  Nine teams went into Week 6 with eight or more wins in regulation and overtime.  The Oilers are one of them (eight).  Trouble for them is that six of the eight teams in that group play in the Western Conference.

3.  The Oilers’ penalty kill is something of which the Caps might take advantage.  At 70.8 percent, their road penalty kill is fifth-worst in the league.

4.  Edmonton does a very good job of playing within the rules.  Their 48 penalties taken so far is tied for the fourth-fewest in the league.  Only Vegas (45), Toronto (43) and Pittsburgh (38) have taken fewer.

5.  The Oilers can be sloppy with the puck.  They have been charged with 163 giveaways so far, fourth-most in the league.

1.  No team has scored more power play goals on home ice than the Caps (11), and their 47.8 percent conversion rate on home ice tops the league, almost eight points ahead of their closest pursuer (Winnipeg at 40.9 percent).

2.  Only five teams have fewer penalty minutes taken than the Caps (106).

3.  The 158 blocked shots recorded by the Caps are 30th in the league, only ten more than the bottom-ranked Florida Panthers, whose 148 blocked shots were recorded in one fewer game than Washington.

4.  If the volume of faceoffs is an indicator of game flow, things have flowed rather well in Caps games.  Their total of 734 draws taken is fourth-fewest in the league.

5.  Trailing after one period continues to matter for the Caps.  They are winless in four such instances this season (0-2-2).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Edmonton: Alex Chiasson

As a member of the Washington Capitals last season, Alex Chiasson played a support role, posting nine goals and 18 points in 61 regular season games, one goal and two points in 16 postseason games as the Caps marched to a championship.  It was a decent season, quite in line with his previous four full seasons in the league in which he scored 44 goals and posted 99 points in 313 games (nine goals and 19 points per 61 games).  Then he signed a one-year/$650,000 contract with the Oilers on October 2nd.  That contract has to be one of the most cost-effective in the early going this season.  Chiasson has six goals, third-most on the club, while having appeared in only eight of the Oilers’ 13 games played.  His 46.2 shooting percentage (six goals on 13 shots) is tops in the league among the 514 skaters with ten or more shots on goal this season.  His plus-7 in eight games is tied for third-best on the club, and he has yet to take a penalty.  He is one of eight players in the league having appeared in at least eight games with at least six goals, playing at least 12 minutes per game with no penalty minutes recorded.  It might be sustainable, but it feels good while it lasts.  Chiasson is 2-4-6, plus-5, in nine career games against the Caps.

Washington: Alex Ovechkin

Since he came into the league, Alex Ovechkin has 617 goals, 200 more than the second-place skater on that list (Sidney Crosby has 417).  Of that total, 313 goals were scored on home ice, a total that would tie him with Ilya Kovalchuk for 18th place on the total goals scored list.  With two more goals, Ovechkin will have tied Jarome Iginla for the most total goals scored on home ice over the last 20 seasons, and if he does it against Edmonton, he will have done it in 229 fewer home games (510) than did Iginla (739).  When Ovechkin went without a goal in the Caps’ 4-3 overtime loss to Dallas, it was the first time this season that Ovechkin went consecutive home games without a goal.  One thing that has been consistent in Ovechkin’s game is success with high shot volumes.  His 47 shots on goal ranks an uncharacteristically low 17th (tied with Claude Giroux and Johnny Gaudreau), but the Caps have not yet lost when he had five or more shots in a game this season (4-0-0).  On the other hand, the Caps are 1-4-3 when he had fewer than five shots on goal.  Ovechkin is 10-10-20, plus-2, in 17 games against Edmonton.

In the end…

The Caps are closing in on having played 20 percent of their schedule, and they have yet to establish much consistency or rhythm to their game.  Their defensive efforts have been spotty, their goaltending uneven, and their special teams tilted far to the power play side of success.  As they head into the second of a five-game home stand, the Caps still have an opportunity to take advantage of home ice to jump a couple of rungs on the standings ladder, but they will have to sustain a higher level of effort in all three zones and at every position to make that objective come through.

Capitals 4 – Oilers 2

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 5

It was a long time coming, but it was bound to happen sooner of later.  The Washington Capitals were winless for Week 5 and find themselves stuck in fifth place in the Metropolitan Division and tenth in the Eastern Conference.  It has not been a disastrous start, but it is not the start Capitals Nation hoped for, either.

Record: 0-1-1

It was a light week of work for the Caps, who have had to deal with a quirky schedule in which they didn’t start their week’s work before Wednesday for the fourth time in five weeks.  And, it was their third week in five in which they took the ice only twice.  The takeaway in terms of record is that the winless week for the Caps was their first since Week 16 of last season in which they went 0-1-1, dropping a 4-3 overtime decision to the Nashville Predators and a 3-2 decision to the Montreal Canadiens.

That the Caps lost to Montreal in Week 5 at Bell Centre was perhaps as clear an indicator that things are not quite right with the team so far.  The Caps took a 13-0-2 record in their previous 15 games at Bell Centre into this week’s game and spit the bit in the third period, turning a 4-3 advantage into a 6-4 loss, including allowing goals two seconds apart in the last minute (the latter an empty netter), a record for shortest time between two goals in NHL history.

The Caps are now 12 games into the season, and they have yet to post wins in consecutive games.  No team can win a Stanley Cup in November, but they can lose one.  Falling behind too much, too early, means there are just so many teams to climb over as the season moves along.  That the Caps are only two points clear of the division’s last place team (New York Rangers) should be cause for concern.

Offense: 3.50/game (season: 3.75/game, rank: T-1st)

In any other week, scoring three and a half goals per game would look good.  Unfortunately, the Caps could not score often enough to overcome deficiencies in other areas (more on that below).  The Caps had decent balance among the scorers, five players splitting the seven goals scored (Lars Eller and Alex Ovechkin each had a pair).  Fourteen skaters recorded points, Eller leading them with three points.

If there was an odd part of the offense on an individual level, it was that the Caps had three defensemen record points in Week 5, none of them being John Carlson.  He averaged more than 25 minutes in the two games, but he had only three shots on goal and finished a minus-5 for the week.  Getting Michal Kempny and Dmitry Orlov in the scoring (each with an assist to double their season points total) was a welcome turn.

Defense: 5.00/game (season: 3.83/game, rank: 28th)

Only five teams allowed fewer shots for the week than the Caps, but hold off on that “stingy defense” notion.  The Caps allowed 81 shots on goal in two games; they allowed 100 shot attempts at 5-on-5 for the two games.  These are not good numbers.  The 63 5-on-5 shot attempts the Caps allowed the Canadiens in the first game of the week were the most allowed to any opponent so far.  They improved in this regard against Dallas, allowing only 37 shot attempts at fives in the second game of the week (third-fewest through 12 games), but that was indicative of the inconsistency that has plagued the team through the first dozen games.

Goaltending: 4.38 / .888 (season: 3.61 / .887 / 1 SO)

It was Braden Holtby’s week, and it was not one for the scrapbooks.  The defense in front of him did not help much, but it was a return to a week without reaching the .900 save percentage mark.  Holtby has been a goaltender that thrived on heavy shot volumes over his career, but 80 shots over two-plus games was an extraordinarily high volume.  It started with the Canadiens raining 19 shots on his net in the first period of the first game of the week, and it ended with Dallas recording seven shots in just over three minutes of overtime before pinning the overtime loss on Holtby.  In between it was a case of an odd pattern of shots faced.  Holtby faced 30 first period shots and 26 third period shots for the week, but he took on only 17 shots in the second periods of the two games in Week 5.  Still, the results were disappointing.  At week’s end, Holtby ranked 35th of 41 goaltenders in goals against average (3.62; minimum: 250 minutes played) and 34th in save percentage (.888).  Curiously, it is a familiar neighborhood in the goalie rankings.  Compare his numbers to those of former netmate Philipp Grubauer (3.56, .893) and Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray (3.68, .890), and there are enough goalie troubles to go around among familiar faces.

Power Play:  1-for-4/25.0 percent (season: 35.9 percent, rank: 1st)

For the fifth consecutive week the Caps finished the week with a power play efficiency rate of 25 percent or better.  That is the good news.  The bad news is the small volume of chances, only four for the two games of the week.  The Caps finished the week having enjoyed the fifth-fewest number of power play chances in the league.  That they have the second-most power play goals (14, one behind St. Louis) is testament to the effectiveness of their power play.

What they did not get in Week 5 was so much as a single power play shot on goal against Montreal in the first game of the week.  And, they had only one chance with the man advantage.  It was the second time this season that the Caps were held to a single power play opportunity and their second loss in such instances.  Washington had one power play chance, without converting, in a 4-1 loss to Edmonton on October 25th.

That the Caps recorded a power play goal and earned at least a standings point against Dallas is not unusual.  It brought the Caps’ record to 5-1-2 in games in which they scored a power play goal.  Still, four shots on goal in 7:18 of power play time is a quiet week on this front.

Penalty Killing: 4-for-4 / 100.0 percent (season:  75.0 percent, rank: 23rd)

Here is perhaps the most bizarre week-to-week fact coming out of Week 5.  The Caps have had two weeks in five in which their penalty killing was 80 percent are better, and those are the two losing weeks that the Caps have had so far.  Washington killed eight of ten shorthanded situations in Week 2 and went 1-2-0.  In Week 5 they killed all four of their shorthanded situations and went 0-1-1.  They did a fine job in suppressing shots while down a man, allowing the Canadiens only two shots on goal on two power plays and Dallas only one shot on goal on two power plays.

Faceoffs: 67-for-117 / 57.3% percent (season: 48.6 percent, rank: 24th)

If the Caps did one thing well in Week 5, it was take faceoffs.  And here might be evidence of how inconsequential such results are, but with a caveat.  Washington did a fine job in the offensive zone, winning 23 of 33 draws for the week (69.7 percent).  But two things about defensive zone draws were noteworthy.  First, they took 43 defensive zone draws for the week, ten more than they took in the offensive zone.  Second, they won only 21 of them (48.8 percent).

Three of the four skaters taking at least ten draws for the week finished over 50 percent – Nicklas Backstrom (63.9 percent), Lars Eller (61.5 percent) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (51.7 percent).  Only Nic Dowd among that group was under 50 percent(43.8).  All four were worse in the defensive end than they were in the offensive end, the Caps enjoying first possession on a regular basis in the offensive end, but having to go seeking the puck too often in the defensive end.

Goals by Period:

Well, the Caps were consistent, just not in a way they would like to carry forward.  Three goals allowed in each of the first, second, and third periods of games for the week was a recipe for poor results.  It is part of a consistency that has plagued the Caps all season.  Through five weeks the Caps have allowed 15 first period goals, 14 second period goals, and 15 third period goals.

On the other side, the Caps had a fine week in the period with the long change, posting five goals in the second periods of two games.  However, one goal in each of the first and third periods of games was indicative of slow starts and weak finishes, although that lone third period goal (a power play goal by Evgeny Kuznetsov) did allow the Caps to record a standings point against Dallas.

Year over Year:

Yes, the Caps do have a better record, year-over-year, through 12 games.  Yes, they score more (almost 30 percent more goals scored).  They are closer to 50 percent in shot attempts-for percentage than they were through 12 games last season.  More takeaways, fewer penalties.  The power play is much better than it was at a similar juncture last season, and while the penalty kill hasn’t improved, it is having to endure those situations at a lower frequency. 

By most measure, the Caps are in a better place after 12 games this season than they were after 12 games last season, but it feels strangely inadequate.  That is one price to pay for winning a championship.

In the end…

The Caps are 12 games in, and they haven’t won consecutive games.  That is the bottom line of what has been an inconsistent level of production among a number of statistical categories, even if on balance those numbers are better than last season through as many games.  The defense and goaltending have been especially troublesome, largely negating a good offense overall and a powerful power play.  The good news here is that defense is largely a product of effort applied to scheme, and that is something that can be corrected.  That, however, will require a level of sustained focus that has eluded the team so far.  Perhaps with a more regular diet of games in November, without the long stretches of time between games they worked through in October, that focus will be easier to sustain.  It had better be.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Lars Eller (2-1-3, 61.5 faceoff wins, 52.63% shot attempts-for on ice at 5-on-5)
  • Second Star: Alex Ovechkin (2-0-2, 8 shots on goal, 20 shot attempts)
  • Third Star: Nicklas Backstrom (1-1-2, even, 63.9 percent faceoff wins, six shots on goal)