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)