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)