Thursday, December 05, 2019

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 31: Capitals at Ducks, December 6th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals will wrap up their annual California trip on Friday night when they visit the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center.  The Caps go into the contest winners of five in a row, sharing the second longest winning streak in the league at the moment with Philadelphia to Boston’s eight-gamer.  Since winning consecutive games to end October and begin November, the Ducks have struggled, going 3-6-4.

Then and Now…

The Caps and Ducks will meet for the 39th time in the regular season on Friday night.  Washington has an 18-18-1 (one tie) record in the all-time series, 8-9-0 (one tie) on the road.  Since 2005-2006, the Caps are 12-7-1 overall against the Ducks, 6-3-0 in Anaheim.

Active Leaders vs. Opponent…

Noteworthy Opponents…

The list of all-time goal scoring leaders for the Ducks is sprinkled with familiar names.  Teemu Selanne (457 goals as a Ducks, tops all-time), Corey Perry, Paul Kariya, Ryan Getzlaf.  Even casual fans would recognize these names.  Fewer would recognize that of Rickard Rakell.  Now in his eighth year with the Ducks, the former first-round draft pick (30th overall by Anaheim in 2011) ranks seventh on the all-time Ducks goal scoring list (122).  He might have ranked higher but for a setback last season.  After three seasons in which his goal scoring progressed from 20 goals to 33 and then to 34, Rakell posted 18 goals in 69 games, losing 13 games to an ankle injury last year.

This season, Rakell gave indications that he was back to his productive ways with three goals in his first seven games, but then he went nine games with four assists and no goals on 19 shots.  He had points in three of those nine games, all Anaheim wins, in a stretch in which they were just 4-4-1.  He broke out of that slump with a goal in a 4-2 loss to Minnesota on November 5th, and that set off one of those perverse kinds of stretches that befuddle observers.  Starting with that goal against Minnesota, Rakell has five goal in his last 12 games.  All of those goals came in losses (0-4-1).  The Ducks are 3-2-2 in the seven games in that stretch in which he did not score a goal.  In ten career games against the Caps, Rakell is 3-3-6, minus-3.

Through Wednesday’s games, 18 rookies had reached the ten-point mark.  One of them had the almost comic-book hero sounding name of forward Sam Steel, who is 2-8-10 in 24 games to date.  Steel was the last pick of the first round in the 2016 Entry Draft, a product of the Regina Pats program in Canadian junior hockey.  He spent two more years with the Pats, posting 83 goals in 120 games before graduating to the San Diego Gulls of the AHL last season, where he went 17-17-34 in 47 games.  Steel also dressed for 22 games with the Ducks last season, not far under the maximum number of NHL games played to qualify as a rookie this season (25), and went 6-5-11. 

Steel started this season with a 17-game streak without a goal, but he did manage to record eight assists over that stretch.  He scored his first goal of the season on November 18th in the Ducks’ first meeting against the Caps this season, his first career power play goal 5-2 loss in Washington.  His other goal in his last seven games was also recorded in a loss, a 4-3 Gimmick loss to Arizona on November 27th.   That November contest against the Caps is his only career appearance to date against Washington.

The 2012 Entry Draft was loaded with defensemen.  Eight of the first ten picks were blueliners.  Among them was Hampus Lindholm, a defenseman out of Rögle BK in the Swedish Hockey League, taken by the Ducks with the sixth overall pick and the fourth defenseman taken in that draft behind Ryan Murray (Columbus), Griffin Reinhart (New York Islanders), and Morgan Rielly (Toronto).  After spending a year with the Norfolk Admirals in the AHL, he moved up to the Ducks for the 2013-2014 season and has been a fixture on the blue line ever since.  In six-plus seasons with the Ducks, Lindholm already ranks fourth all-time in games played by an Anaheim defensemen (467), fourth in goals (48), fourth in points (183), first in plus-minus (plus-88), ninth in power play goals (10), tied with Chris Pronger for sixth in game-winning goals (eight), and he is one of four defensemen since the league began recording time on ice statistics in 1997-1998 to record more than 10,000 minutes of ice time.

This season, Lindholm’s performance breaks into two parts.  In neither part does he have a goal, but the assist patterns are different.  He posted single assists in six of his first nine games this season, five of them in Duck wins.  In his last 11 games he also has six assists, but those came in a pair of three-assist games, one in a 5-2 win over Colorado on October 26th, and the other in a 4-2 win over Los Angeles last Monday.  Lindholm is 4-8-12, plus-7, in 12 career games against the Capitals.

1.  As much as Anaheim has struggle this season, their home record is not bad.  At 8-5-2 on home ice, their 18 standings points earned at home are tied for tenth through Wednesday’s games.

2.  What the Ducks do not seem to be doing at home, though, is “playing” well, at least in terms of shots for and against.  They have allowed 54 more shots on goal on home ice (482) than they have recorded (428), and their minus-70 in shot attempts at 5-on-5 is fourth-worst in the league, owing to a second-highest total of 737 shot attempts allowed at fives.

3.  The Ducks are also a team that enjoys few chances to make good on power plays.  They have had 38 power play opportunities in 15 games, the third-lowest total of power play chances on home ice tin the league.  Small wonder that their four power play goals scored on home ice are tied with Ottawa for fewest in the league, and the Senators have played three fewer home games.

4.  How weak is four power play goals on home ice?  The Ducks have almost as many empty net goals on home ice (three); only Chicago has more (four).

5.  Anaheim spends a lot of time killing penalties at home, 81:46, in fact.  That’s the fifth highest shorthanded ice time total on home ice in the league.  Of course, one could reason that away that the Ducks kill a lot of penalties, but their home penalty kill ranks just 15th (83.3 percent).

1.  Through Wednesday’s games, no team had as many players with at least 20 points as the Caps: John Carlson (42), Alex Ovechkin (31), Evgeny Kuznetsov (28), Jakub Vrana (25), T.J. Oshie (22), and Tom Wilson (20).

2.  Tom Wilson’s empty net goal against Los Angeles on Wednesday was the Caps’ sixth empty netter on the road this season, most in the league in road games.  Their nine empty netters overall also lead the league.

3.  Only Vancouver has been shorthanded more times on the road (66) than the Caps (59, tied with Calgary).

4.  Turnovers are a feature of Caps road games.  Their 168 charged giveaways in road games are most in the league, while their 118 takeaways are tied for second with Calgary, behind Edmonton (125).

5.  The Caps remain skilled marksmen on the road, their 11.9 shooting percentage tops in the league.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Anaheim: Ryan Miller

John Gibson is ill. It has kept him off the ice for several days, and Ryan Miller is expected to get the start against the Caps on Friday night if Gibson is not sufficiently recovered.  It is not as if Miller is an unknown to the Caps.  If he does get the call, it would be his 35th career appearance against the Caps, third-most among active goalies, behind Henrik Lundqvist (42) and Marc-Andre Fleury (41).  And although no one wants to entertain the possibility, a win would make him the third goalie with 20 or more career wins against the Caps (Fleury has 23, Lundqvist has 22).  Then again, if he loses in regulation (cue the cheering Caps fans), he would stand alone among active goalies in career losses in regulation to the Caps (he would have 15).

Miller is past his time as a number one goalie, but he has settled into his role as mentor and backup for Gibson.  In two-plus seasons in Anaheim, he is 24-14-10 with a 2.60 goals against average in 56 appearances.  His .919 save percentage with the Ducks is the best he has among the four franchises for which he has played (Buffalo, Vancouver, and St. Louis in addition to Anaheim).  His record this season was disturbing to start. He stopped 26 of 27 shots in his first appearance of the season, a 2-1 win over Columbus on October 11th.  But after that, the goals allowed totals just grew.  He allowed two in three consecutive games (one a 20 minute stint in relief of Gibson against Nashville in a 6-1 loss on October 22nd), then it was three, then four, and finally six in a 6-2 loss to Tampa Bay on November 23rd.  He did, however, stop 34 of 36 shots in his last outing, a 4-2 win over Los Angeles on Monday.  Miller is 19-14-0, 2.53, .916 with three shutouts in 34 career appearances against the Caps.

Washington: Travis Boyd

When you are drafted in the sixth round, and you are assigned the sweater number 72, the writing is on the wall that your prospects as an NHL player are, at best, uncertain.  That was how Travis Boyd started his climb to the NHL, taken out of the USNTDP program with the 177th overall pick of the 2011 Entry Draft and getting that comparatively high sweater number than often identifies the player who is not expected to contend soon, if at all, for a roster spot (yes, there are exceptions like John Carlson’s “74” or Braden Holtby’s “70”).  And it was not as if the climb to the NHL was easy or brief for Boyd.  He spent the next four years in the University of Minnesota program, then on to the Hershey Bears in the AHL.  He did not reach the NHL until the 2017-2018 season, when he appeared in eight regular season games for the Caps.  But he also got a game in the 2018 playoffs, skating 12 minutes in the Caps’ 2-1 overtime win over Pittsburgh to clinch the Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Penguins.  Boyd followed that up with a 53-game season with the Caps last year, displaying a scoring touch (five goals, 20 points) that might not have been expected.

His growth and development presented the Caps with what would become a difficult decision that the team would finally make this past week.  Who would the team take moving ahead as the 13th forward, a situation that came to a head when Carl Hagelin was about to be returned to action from injured reserve?  Would it be Boyd or Chandler Stephenson?   In no small part, it was a matter of managing the salary cap, and Boyd’s $800,000 cap hit was more manageable than Stephenson’s $1.05 million cap hit.  Stephenson was traded to Vegas for a fifth-round draft pick; Boyd remained a Capital.  Boyd is a bit behind last year’s goal-scoring pace, with just one goal in 15 games.  His point production is a bit ahead of last year, though, with seven points in 15 games.  He is in a bit of a slump, though, with one point in his last seven games after going 1-5-6 in his first eight games of the season.  Boyd has one assist in his only appearance against the Ducks, in the 5-2 win over Anaheim on November 18th this season.

In the end…

Anaheim resembles the Caps just defeated, the Los Angeles Kings, but are slightly better.  A little more offense (2.68 goals per game to 2.52), a little more defense (2.96 goals per game to 3.31), equally anemic power play (11.3 percent to 11.2 percent), and iffy penalty killing (77.2 percent to 75.3 percent).  The difference, though, is that the Caps were sandblasted by the Ducks in their last three visits to Anaheim, losing by scores of 5-2, 4-0, and last year a 5-2 margin.  It would do well for the Caps to take the Ducks seriously, even if they are struggling, and the team might be looking forward to getting home after a four-game road swing.  Let’s flip the script.

Capitals 5 – Ducks 2

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 30: Capitals at Kings, December 4th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals get no rest in the next leg of their west coast trip, following up Tuesday night’s game against the San Jose Sharks with a visit to Los Angeles on Wednesday night to visit the Kings.  The Caps are coming off a 5-2 in San Jose, while the Kings are stumbling with a 3-4-1 record in their last eight contests.

Then and Now…

This will be the 113th meeting of the clubs in the all-time regular season series.  That Caps are 39-57-3 (13 ties) in the games played to date and 16-33-2 (six ties) on the road.  Since 2005-2006, the Caps are 7-9-3 overall against the Kings, 2-6-2 in Los Angeles.

Active Leaders vs. Opponent...


Facts to Impress Your Friends…

With the quick turnaround, we’re giving you some fun facts to chew on:

-- The Kings are not shy about shooting the puck.  Their 34.8 shots on goal per game rank second in the league (Montreal: 35.1).

-- Los Angeles’ power play might not have enough wattage to light an appliance bulb on home ice.  At 10.7 percent, the home power play ranks 29th.

-- The odd thing about the Kings power play is how often they get to practice it.  No team in the league has had more power play opportunities overall (56).

-- No team in the Western Conference has fewer takeaways than the Kings (148).

-- Los Angeles is one of five teams remaining with a perfect record when leading after two periods (7-0-0).

-- The Caps need to button up things when leading after two periods.  They have four losses when leading after two periods this season (one in regulation, three in extra time).  Only New Jersey has more with five (three in regulation, two in extra time).

-- The Caps and the Winnipeg Jets are the only teams in the league with at least ten wins by three or more goals.  The Caps earned their 11th to tie Winnipeg with the 5-2 win over San Jose on Tuesday.

-- Only Arizona (once) and Boston (none) have fewer losses by three or more goals than the Caps (three).

-- The blacksmith apron for the Caps’ fine work on iron goes to Dmitry Orlov.  Going into last night’s game, he led the team in hitting the goal frame with five pings, two off the crossbar and three off posts.

-- This will wrap up the Caps’ fifth back-to-back set of games this season.  The split their first three BtB’s, going 3-1-2 overall, before sweeping their most recent one with wins over Tampa Bay and Detroit.

In the end…

The Caps average about a whole goal per game more in scoring offense than the Kings and are about half a goal per game better in scoring defense.  The Caps have five players with double digit goal totals, the Kings with only one (Anze Kopitar).  Braden Holtby and Ilya Samsonov have been consistent more than spectacular; Jonathan Quick has lost three of his last four decisions (0-2-1) and allowed four goals in two of his last three games.  But the Kings have their home cooking going for them, 9-5-1 on home ice.  What it means is that if the Caps tend to business and keep from letting the Kings establish themselves early, it should be a successful night.  Should be.

Capital 4 – Kings 2

A TWO-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 25: Capitals 5 - Sharks 2

The Washington Capitals kicked off their west coast tour on Tuesday night when they visited the San Jose Sharks.  The Sharks scored first and last, but the Caps had five goals in between to skate off with a 5-2 win.

First Period

San Jose wasted no time taking the early lead when Melker Karlsson snuck behind Michal Kempny in the neutral zone, took a pass from Brenden Dillon off the side boards, skated in on Braden Holtby, and snapped a shot into the far side of the net to give the Sharks a 1-0 lead 2:33 into the game.

Washington tied the game in the seventh minute when Nic Dowd dug out a loose puck from the left wing boards and sent it to John Carlson at the left point.  Carlson’s drive from that spot was redirected down and past goalie Martin Jones by Garnet Hathaway circling out in front of the net, and the Caps tied the game at the 13:31 mark.

The Caps struck again quickly thereafter.  Keeping the Sharks pinned in their own end, largely due to the ability of T.J. Oshie to dig out loose pucks and keep them alive, Oshie nudged the puck to Carlson at the right point.  He sent the puck to the net for a redirect try by Jakub Vrana posted at the top of the crease.  His first chance was stopped by Jones, but the puck was left in the paint, and Vrana chipped it in to make it 2-1, 14:24 into the period, just 53 seconds after the Hathaway score.

Washington took a 3-1 lead barely two minutes later.  Michal Kempny fed the puck from the left wing boards to John Carlson stepping up at the top of the right wing circle.  With time and space, Carlson stepped into one, rifling a shot over the glove of Jones to make it 3-1, 16:32 into the period.  That would be how the teams went to the locker room for the first intermission.

-- The Caps had a 13-10 edge in shots in the first period and a 23-18 advantage in shot attempts.

-- Jakub Vrana led the club with three shots on goal and five shot attempts.

-- Nick Jensen led the team in ice time with 7:58 in the period.

Second Period

It was the Caps’ turn to post an early period goal to start the second period.  Keeping the Sharks from breaking cleanly out of their own zone, Nic Dowd collected the puck and fed it low to the middle where Garnet Hathaway was closing.  Hathaway’s first shot was stopped by Martin Jones, but not cleanly.  As he was tumbling to the ice to the left of Jones, Hathaway managed to poke the puck the last foot and across the goal line to give the Caps a 4-1 lead just 2:31 into the period.

The Caps added to their lead late in the period when Lars Eller walked the puck behind the San Jose net, spun away from a defender, and sent the puck to Vrana between the hash marks for a one timer on which Jones had no chance.  The Caps had a 5-1 lead at the 16:15 mark.  That tally closed the middle period scoring.

-- The Caps led in shots on goal through two periods, 22-17, and they had a 38-32 edge in shot attempts.

-- Nic Dowd was 5-for-6 on faceoffs through two periods.

-- Nick Jensen, Radko Gudas, and T.J. Oshie had no shot attempts through 40 minutes.

Third Period

San Jose got one back late in the third period on an Evander Kane goal in the 14th minute.  And then Kane got all “suspend me” with an elbow to the head of Radko Gudas that earned him a major and a misconduct, and would seem likely to get him a conversation with the league about his antics.  The Caps failed to score on the extended power play, but they ran out the clock to take the 5-2 win.

Other stuff…

-- Jakub Vrana’s two goals give him seven career multi-goal games, three of them this season.  Only Alex Ovechkin has more (five).

-- John Carlson had a goal and two assists for three points.  That ties Scott Stevens for fifth place in games with three or more points (18) team history among defensemen.

-- Carlson’s three-point game was his sixth this season, tying him with David Pastrnak for fourth most in the league among all skaters.  No other defenseman has more than three (Quinn Hughes).

-- Garnet Hathaway had two goals, his second career two-goal game.  He had two with Calgary last season in a 4-1 win over the Rangers on October 21st.

-- Nic Dowd had a pair of assists to become the 13th Capital to record at least one multi-assist game this season.

-- Carlson led the team in ice time with 22:34.

-- The Caps finished with a 28-25 edge in shots and a 55-47 advantage in shot attempts.

-- This was the fourth time this season the Caps allowed an opponent 25 or fewer shots on the road.  They are 4-0-0 in those games.

-- It was not a big hitting game for the Caps, or at least it was not scored that way, but they spread it around.  Alex Ovechkin, Garnet Hathaway, and Radko Gudas all were credited with three hits, accounting for half the Caps’ total.

-- T.J. Oshie led the team with three blocked shots.

In the end…

Good game.  Excellent game.  One of the best games the Caps have played this season, especially given the House of Horrors this arena had been in the past.  The wheel just keep on turning.

Monday, December 02, 2019

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 29: Capitals at Sharks, December 3rd

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

After starting a four-game stretch away from Capital One Arena with a 5-2 win in Detroit over the Red Wings on Saturday night, the Washington Capitals head to San Jose to meet the Sharks on Tuesday night in the first game of the Caps’ annual visit to the west coast.  Washington takes a three-game winning streak into the game as well as the best road record in the league (11-2-1).  San Jose is a team on a roll as well, winners of their last two games and 11-2-0 in their last 13 contests.

Then and Now…

The Caps and Sharks will meet for the 44th time on Tuesday.  Washington is 14-24-4 (one tie) in the series to date, 7-13-0 (one tie) on the road.  Since 2005-2006, the Caps are 6-11-4 against the Sharks, 4-7-0 in San Jose.  The Caps go into this game on a four-game points streak in the series (3-0-1).

Active Leaders vs. Opponent…

Noteworthy Opponents…

Patrick Marleau has played in more games (1,517), scored more goals (514), and has more points (1,093) than any other player in San Jose Sharks history.  Joe Thornton has more individual awards (2006 Ross Trophy and 2006 Hart Trophy; four first or second team NHL All Star selections), as does Brent Burns (2017 Norris Trophy, three times a Norris finalist, three times a first or second team NHL All Star selection).  But with Marleau and Thornton having turned 40, and Burns to turn 35 in March, it might be Logan Couture’s team now.  The 30-year old Couture has been a consistent goal and point producer for the Sharks since his first full NHL season in 2010-2011.  Since then, he has failed to record 20 or more goals only once, in 2015-2016 when he was limited to 52 games by a fractured right leg and scored 15 goals.  That also happened to be his only full season among his last eight (not including the abbreviated 2012-2013 season) in which he recorded fewer than 50 points (36).  As it is, Couture stands third on the all-time list of Sharks goal scorers (248), fifth in assists (287), fourth in points (535), and fifth in power play goals (71).  With this being the first year of an eight-year/$64 million contract signed in July 2018, he would seem to have many productive years yet to improve his ranking in franchise history.

This season, Couture had a bit of a slow start goal scoring, posting only one in 13 games in October while adding nine assists.  However, he tied for the team lead in goals for November (seven, with Timo Meier and Tomas Hertl), and he led the team in assists (11) and points (18).  He was tied with Evander Kane in game-winning goals (two) and tied with Brent Burns for the team lead in power play points for the month (three).  And, all of his scoring damage came in his last 12 games after starting November without a point in three games.  In those 12 games, Couture has five multi-point games, including a four point game (1-3-4) in a 6-5 win over Minnesota on November 7th that kicked off his November scoring surge.  In 15 career games against Washington, Couture is 5-8-13, plus-2.

Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson get more attention on the San Jose blue line, and they are tied for the team lead in points among defensemen (21), but Marc-Edouard Vlasic deserves some attention for an approaching milestone.  Tuesday will mark Vlasic’s 994th NHL game, all with the Sharks and the most games played by a defenseman in Sharks history.  He will soon hit the 1,000 game mark for his career, becoming only the third player in team history to hit that mark (Marleau: 1,517; Thornton: 1,062).  Vlasic is second only to Burns in team history in goals among defensemen (71 to Burns’ 126), assists (248 to 313), and points (319 to 439). His career plus-134 rating is second in team history among all skaters to Thornton’s plus-175 and is fifth-best among active defensemen.  This season, his four goals trail only Burns (five) among Shark defensemen.  Vlasic goes into this game with points in consecutive games, the second time he has cobbled together consecutive games point streaks (he had points in Games 14 and 15 against Winnipeg and Vancouver to open November).  Odd Vlasic fact… The Metropolitan Division is the only one against which Vlasic does not have a point this season.  He is 2-0-2 in seven games against the Atlantic, 0-2-2 in seven games against the Central, and 2-2-4 in 12 games against the Pacific Division.  On the other hand, this will be only his third game against a Metro opponent this season.  Vlasic is 3-3-6, plus-6, in 18 career games against the Capitals.

The Sharks are widely viewed as a veteran team, but they have dressed seven rookie skaters this season.  None have played more games than center Dylan Gambrell (23 games).  Gambrell owns a bit of an odd place in Sharks draft history.  He was taken with the 60th overall pick in the 2016 Entry Draft, the second lowest “first” pick in any draft in San Jose history except for 2008, when Justin Daniels was taken by the Sharks with the 62nd overall pick as their first pick in that draft (Daniels never played in the NHL).  Although this is technically Gambrell’s “rookie” season, he did get glimpses of the NHL in each of the last two seasons, dressing for three games in 2017-2018 and another eight last season without recording a point in any of those 11 games.  He got off to a decent start this season with four points in eight games, including his first NHL goal in a 4-3 overtime win over Buffalo on October 22nd, but since scoring that goal, Gambrell is 1-1-2, minus-4, in 15 games.  Odd Gambrell fact… He does not have a point in 11 home games this season; all of his six points were recorded on the road.  This will be his first career appearance against the Caps.

1.  San Jose’s power play struggled in November.  Only the Buffalo Sabres finished the month with fewer power play goals (one) than did the Sharks (four, tied with Anaheim).  Only Buffalo was worse, conversion-wise (2.7 percent) than the Sharks (9.5 percent).

2.  On the other side, the Sharks allowed fewer power play goals (four) than any other club in November, and their 91.7 percent penalty kill was best in the league for the month.

3.  The Sharks were credited with the most takeaways in the league in November (142).

4.  San Jose was the only club in the league to face ten or more shots in the Gimmick and stop all of them (10-for-10).

5.  The Sharks had the best differential in shot attempts at 5-on-5 in close situations in November (plus-97).

1.  When Tom Wilson scored against Detroit on Saturday, he became the Caps’ fifth player to hit double digits in goals in 28 games this season.  The Caps did not have their fifth player with ten goals last season until Game 34.  Oddly enough, it was Wilson who became the fifth to reach that mark when he scored the game-winning goal in the Caps’ 2-1 win over Buffalo on December 21st.  His goal against Detroit to get to ten goals last Saturday was also the game-winner in the Caps’ 5-2 win.

2.  The Caps finished November with the highest standings points per game played among Eastern Conference teams (1.57/22 points in 14 games).  Only the Dallas Stars did better overall (1.62/21 points in 13 games).

3.  Only teams finished November with fewer power play chances than the Caps (36).  Dallas had 35, and Boston had 34.

4.  Who led the Caps in game-winning goals in November?  Alex Ovechkin?...nope.  Jakub Vrana?...nope  Evgeny Kuznetsov?...nope.  Tom Wilson and Chandler Stephenson had two apiece to lead the team.

5.  Washington finished November as one of four teams to neither score a shorthanded goal, nor allow one.  Boston, Florida, and Winnipeg were the others.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

San Jose: Martin Jones

Goaltenders are an odd lot.  Hey can be hot, until they are not, and vice versa.  Take Martin Jones.  In his first two NHL seasons, spent primarily in a backup role with the Los Angeles Kings, he had a good 16-11-2, 1.99, .923 record in 34 appearances and seven shutouts.  In his first year in San Jose after being traded by the Kings In June 2015 with Colin Miller and a 2015 first round pick to Boston for Milan Lucic and then again to San Jose four days later by the Bruins for Sean Kuraly and a first round pick in the 2016 Entry Draft, Jones took on the heavy load and finished 37-23-4, 2.27, .918, with six shutouts and finished seventh in Vezina Trophy voting as the league’s top goaltender.  But then, the wheels got loose.  In his next three seasons, he won a lot, posting a 101-64-17 record with a 2.62 goals against average and a .908 save percentage.  You could not say he was washed up at age 29, but three seasons of deteriorating goals against averages and save percentage were not good signs. 

This season it looked like more of the same – bleak.  Jones started the season 2-7-1, 3.52, .887 (one no decisions) in 11 appearances.  Then, it was as if a switch was flipped on.  In his last 11 appearances, Jones is 10-1-0, 2.59, .905.  Those ten wins were three more than any goalie recorded in November.  His underlying numbers in this recent run were not elite, ranking near the middle of the pack of goalies with at least 250 minutes played in the month, but at least they are back to trending in the right direction, and he was named last week’s third star by the NHL.  In eight career appearances against the Caps, Jones is 5-3-0, 2.40, .917, with two shutouts.  It might worth noting that his record against the Caps with the Sharks cleaves cleanly into two halves of four games apiece.  In his first four appearances against the Caps he was 4-0-0, 1.00, .963, with two shutouts.  In his last four appearances against Washington, Jones is 1-3-0, 3.82, .876.

Washington: Braden Holtby

This game might end up being the matchup of the hot goaltenders.  Braden Holtby has certainly done his part to hold up his end of the bargain.  Since October 18th and his first appearance after allowing three goals on as many shots in less than eight minutes in a 6-3 loss to the Colorado Avalanche, Holtby is 12-1-2, 2.48, .924.  No goalie has as many wins in that span, and Holtby is highly ranked in both goals against average (tenth) and save percentage (11th) among 40 goalies with at least 500 minutes played over that period.

If there is a concern in that recent run of success for Holtby, it is in his home/road split.  At home over that period, he is 6-0-1, 1.96, .938.  But on the road, his record, while still sporting a fine 6-1-1 win-loss mark, is a much more ordinary 2.92 goals against average and .911 save percentage.  What is more, Holtby’s record on the road against Pacific Division teams has not been very impressive.  In 26 games played on the road against Pacific Division teams in his career, he is 12-13-1, 3.09, .891.  In nine career appearances against the Sharks, Holtby is 3-4-1, 3.79, .877.

In the end…

This game is among the toughest gets on the regular season schedule, the recent success of the Caps against the Sharks notwithstanding.  The challenge is compounded by the Shark’s reversal of fortunes of late that have made them almost unbeatable anywhere over the last month, although there are hints that might be coming to an end, at least at home, where the Sharks have split their last four decisions (2-2-0).  The Caps have found a lot of ways to win on the road – win big (four multi-goal wins) or win small (seven wins by one goal), win with offense (seven wins with four or more goals scored) or with defense (six wins with two or fewer goals allowed), win by playing overtime (six wins in extra time).  It makes for a resilient and opportunistic club when playing on the road.  They will need to be both against the Sharks.

Capitals 4 – Sharks 3

Sunday, December 01, 2019

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 9

Thanksgiving Week was a feast for Capitals Nation.  Food, family, and friends about the holiday table, and three solid wins on the ice for the hockey team.  For Week 9 of the hockey season, the Caps took care of business in a variety of ways, dispatching a team that is particularly annoying whenever they meet, defeating a club with whom an interesting and complex rivalry has been forged, and giving a rebuilding club that was looking to measure itself against an elite team an indication of just how far they had to go to return to competitiveness.

Record: 3-0-0

One of the features of Capitals hockey in recent years has been their ability to find ways to win close games.  Since 2007-2008, only the Anaheim Ducks had won more one-goal games (266) than had the Caps going into Week 9 (256).  No team won more games in extra time over that period than the Caps (135).  The Caps added to those totals with a pair of one-goal wins to open the week, one of them in overtime. 

Washington opened the week with a 4-3 win over the pesky Florida Panthers, giving the Caps consecutive wins over the Panthers for the first time since 2016 and only the second time since 2015, since which time they are now just 5-6-2 in 13 games with the win.  The win over Florida also broke a four-game losing streak to the Panthers on home ice and extended a history of successful Thanksgiving Eve games for the club.

The Caps followed that up two nights later in fine fashion, spotting the Tampa Bay Lightning a two-goal lead less than 25 minutes into the game, trailing by a pair after 40 minutes, and then coming back with goals eight minutes apart by Jakub Vrana and Alex Ovechkin to force overtime.  Dmitry Orlov won it three minutes into the extra session with his first goal since Opening Night, snapping a 25-game streak without a goal.

The Caps closed out the week with a surprisingly difficult and misleading 5-2 win in Detroit over the Red Wings.  It was the back half of a back-to-back set of games with travel involved, and it was the third game in four nights wrapped around holiday.  Still, it was a matter of the Caps taking care of business, their depth and deeper skill level allowing them to pull away late with a pair of empty net goals from Alex Ovechkin to seal the third perfect record in nine weeks this season and the first since Week 6.  The Caps finished November with ten wins, the fourth time in team history that the team recorded ten wins in November and the second season in a row in which they did it.

Offense: 4.33/game (season: 3.61/4th)

Three games, three times scoring four or more goals.  A high-powered offense is good, a consistent one is better.  Those three games gave the Caps eight games in 14 games on the November schedule, tied with Boston for most in the league (not including Gimmick results).  And, the Caps are the only club to have eight wins in those games (Boston was 6-1-1). Overall, the Caps have 16 games of four or more goals this season, most in the league, and have a 15-1-0 record to go with it.

Eight different Capitals had goals for the week, but it is here that there is a glass-half-full/glass-half-empty matter to consider.  Alex Ovechkin led the team with five goals, a total that led the league for the week.  It was highlighted by his posting three goals against Detroit to end the week.  It was his 137th career multi-goal game, fourth most all-time and by far the most among active players (Sidney Crosby: 84).  It was his 24th career hat trick, passing Jari Kurri for fifth place all-time, and again far more than any active player (Eric Staal: 14).  It brought Ovechkin’s career total to 678 goals, 12th all-time and 121 more than the second-ranked active player, Patrick Marleau (557).

The glass-half-empty part is that no other Capital had more than one goal in the three games.  Jakub Vrana, Richard Panik, Lars Eller, Brendan Leipsic, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Tom Wilson, Dmitry Orlov, and T.J. Oshie…one goal apiece.  Spreading goals around nine players is good, but more than a third of them in one player is not likely a sustainable scenario to achieve a high-volume scoring week.

The Caps did manage to spread the points around well, though.  Ovechkin and Kuznetsov tied for the team lead with six points apiece, with Oshie adding five and Vrana four.  The Caps had 13 skaters contribute at least one point for the week among the 19 skaters to dress.  If there was a pleasant surprise on offense, it might have been the game-winning goals.  There was Orlov snapping his long goal-scoring drought with an overtime winner against Tampa Bay, and to that was added a game-winner from grinder Brendan Leipsic against Florida and Tom Wilson’s game winner against Detroit. For Leipsic it was his first game-winner as a Capital, and for Wilson it was a team-leading fourth game-winner.

Defense: 2.67/game (season: 2.89/11th)

We can get this out of the way quickly.  Detroit has the worst scoring offense in the league (2.14 goals per game after nine weeks) and are as bad on home ice (2.07 goals per game through nine weeks).  Not surprising, since they are an inefficient shooting lot – 7.3 percent overall (last in the league) and 7.0 percent on home ice (30th).  That the Caps held them to two goals might have been surprising only in that the Wings managed that many. 

But those other two games against Florida and Tampa Bay.  Those two teams finished Week 9 as the fifth and third ranked scoring offenses, respectively, in the league.  Tampa Bay has the best scoring offense in the league in road games (4.09 goals per game), and Florida closed the week not far behind at 3.75 goals per game on the road.  The Caps did struggle in shot attempts allowed against Florida, the 50 shot attempts allowed at 5-on-5 being the fourth time in 14 home games than the Caps allowed 50 or more, but that was also a game in which the Caps never trailed, Florida perhaps feeling the pressure to increase the intensity in the offensive end.  Against Tampa Bay, the Caps allowed 46 shot attempts at fives, but they still finished that game with a plus-15 edge.  The Caps did not strangle those offenses, but they did manage to be solid enough in the defensive end to give the offense a chance to do what it does.

Goaltending: 2.63 / .918 (season: 2.77 / .910)

The Caps continued to inch higher in goaltending statistics with a solid week from the two-member tandem.  Braden Holtby was the starter for the first two games of the week, going 2-0-0, 2.93, .914 against those two high-powered offenses from Florida.  The two wins continued an exceptional run of success for Holtby, who is now 12-1-2, 2.48, .924 in his last 15 appearances.  Since he started this run on October 18th, the 12 wins lead the league, his goals against average is fifth, and his save percentage is fifth.  His 13 wins for the season at the end of the week were tied for the league lead.

What characterized Holtby’s week was his being a fine starter and a fine finisher.  In his two games he stopped a total of 18 of 19 first period shots (.947), while in the third periods of the two games he stopped 23 of 24 shots (.958).

Ilya Samsonov got the start against Detroit to end the week, and he continued to shine in his rookie season.  The two goals his allowed in the contest was the fourth time in eight starts that he allowed two or fewer goals and fifth time overall in nine appearances.  Samsonov now has a 6-2-1 record in his nine appearances, and the win over the Red Wings that gave him six in this rookie season are now already fourth-most by a Caps goalie in his first NHL season (Jim Carey: 18; Jim Bedard: 11; Braden Holtby: 10) with the Caps only having just passed the one-third mark of their regular season schedule.  Only New Jersey’s Mackenzie Blackwood has more wins among rookie goalies (eight) than Samsonov, while Samsonov leads all rookie goalies having played more than one game in goals against average (2.58) and save percentage (.914, tied with Colorado’s Adam Werner).

Power Play: 3-for-7/42.9 percent (season: 25.3 percent/5th)

Once more, it is good news/bad news for the Caps’ power play.  The good news is that the Caps had their most efficient week of the season on the man advantage.  Yes, Tampa Bay is a bottom-half penalty killing team (21st after nine weeks), and Detroit is dead last in the league.  But the Caps took advantage of those clubs for three power play goals in five chances.  It is what good teams do.  That they were blanked by Florida, the seventh-best penalty killing team at week’s end, was a bit disappointing, but then again, the Caps had only two power play chances.

That brings us to the not so good news – volume.  The Caps had only seven power play chances in three games in Week 9.  The two chances against both Florida and Tampa Bay brought their total of games with two or fewer power play chances to 12 in 28 games.  It has not had a noticeably adverse effect on results to date, the Caps holding a 9-2-1 record in those 12 games and a 10-2-4 record in games when they had more than two power play chances.

For the week, the Caps were nonetheless efficient at applying pressure on goal on the power play.  In their seven chances they recorded 12 shots in 9:33 of man advantage ice time.  And, they did it by changing things up a bit.  Alex Ovechkin led the team in power play shots on goal (four), but it was Jakub Vrana recording three in more than five minutes of power play ice time, fourth-highest among forwards for the week.  Even Travis Boyd managed to record while getting 2:39 in power play ice time for the week as the team tries to plug the hole left with the injury to Nicklas Backstrom.

Penalty Killing: 9-for-11/81.8 percent (season: 83.0 percent/12th)

It was a good, if unremarkable week on the penalty kill, the result being consistent with the team’s performance to date this season.  There were blemishes, though.  First, there were the 11 shorthanded situations faced.  This was the sixth straight week that the Caps faced ten or more shorthanded situations and seventh in nine weeks overall.  At the end of Week 9, no team had been shorthanded more frequently than the Caps (100, tied with San Jose).

On the good side, though, the Caps held Tampa Bay and Florida, the third and seventh ranked teams in the league on the power play, respectively, to one goal in seven chances and held the pair to 11 shots in 12:56 in power play ice time.  They slipped a bit against the Red Wings, allowing the 17th ranked power play squad a goal on four chances, although two shots on goal in 5:48 of ice time is an efficient result.  Again, the frequency of special teams occurrences has not made much of a difference to date for the Caps, who are 12-2-3 in 17 games in which they faced four or more shorthanded situations, 7-2-2 in 11 games in which they faced fewer than four. Whether this is a formula for success, though, is an open question.

Faceoffs: 81-for-182/44.5 percent (season: 49.9 percent/18th)

If there was a blemish on the week for the Caps, it was in the faceoff circle, where one can point and say, “See? Faceoffs don’t matter much.”  For this week, one would have a point.  The Caps were under 50 percent in all three games, they were under 50 percent in all three zones.  That they were just 20-for-50 in the offensive end (40.0 percent) might make one wonder how it was that they scored 13 goals in three games with so many starts in the offensive zone that opponents won.  And it was not as if the opposition was elite in this regard.  Tampa Bay did finish the week seventh in the league in faceoff winning percentage, but Florida was 11th, and Detroit was 20th. 

The week’s struggle was reflected in individual numbers, where Evgeny Kuznetsov’s 20.0 percent in the offensive end (3-for-15) stands out, but is hardly alone as an indicator of frustration.  Three of the four Caps to take at least ten draws were under 50 percent (Kuznetsov finished at 31.3 percent), with only NIc Dowd topping 50 percent (18-for-31/58.1 percent).

Goals by Period:

It is hard to play a 60-minute game every night for 82 games.  Good teams will do it a lot, but when they don’t, it might be best to finish strong and run through the tape than to start fast and fade.  That might have been the Caps, at least somewhat, in Week 9.  Florida is an annoying team, at least when playing the Caps, and even when a club is grinding through the minutes it might not look as if they are.  Still, the Caps took a lead, took a second lead, then finished strong with a two-goal third period to earn a win.  Against Tampa Bay, they fell behind by a pair, were trailing by two after 40 minute, and came from behind to win in overtime.  Finally, the Caps looked a bit sluggish in Detroit in their third game in four nights wrapped around a holiday, yet still solved the Red Wings for three third period goals (two of them empty netters) to complete the perfect week.

What the Caps ended up with a minus goal differential in first periods (minus-1), even in second periods, but dominating the third period (plus-5) and overtime (plus-1).  That the Caps have dominated second period this season has been an ongoing feature, but the plus-5 in the third period left the Caps plus-9 in the last 20 minutes for the season, fifth-best differential in the league.


A trend that has been running through this year’s club compared to last is coming into sharper focus as the schedule passes the one-third mark.  This club look stronger in terms of balance on either side of the puck.  Year over year, goals…no change.  Shots for…up significantly (6.1 percent).  5-on-5 shot attempts…up significantly (2.9 percent).  On the other side, goals allowed…down eight.  Shots on goal allowed…down 14.  Shot attempts allowed at 5-on-5…down significantly (6.7 percent).  Blocks…down seven (a function of possession).  Giveaway/Takeaway change…net down two.  That the improvements, year-over-year, are so broad suggest a sustainability that seeing in one or two categories might not.

In the end…

A very good week against three teams in a division the Caps have dominated in recent years, the only non-Atlantic Division team in the NHL with at least 100 wins against Atlantic Division teams since 2007-2008 (103).  Better still, the Caps have almost erased the games-in-hand problem they had with the New York Islanders in the standings, the Caps now holding a seven-point lead with the Isles having four games in hand with eight possible points to be had.  That the Caps have been able to bank points with consistency is a comfort as the team heads west for its annual California trip that is always a challenge.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Alex Ovechkin (5-1-6, plus-3, 16 shots on goal, 24 shot attempts, 1 power play goal, recorded 24th career hat trick (10th on all-time list), 10 hits, 20:46 average ice time)
  • Second Star: Evgeny Kuznetsov (1-5-6, plus-2, two power play points)
  • Third Star: Jakub Vrana (1-3-4, minus-1, two power play points, 16 shots on goal, 21 shot attempts, posted 100th career NHL point)

Captain rates the week…

Four puppers

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 26: Panthers vs. Capitals, November 27th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

It is Thanksgiving week in the Nation’s Capital, and that means hockey.  The Capitals start their week with the first of a two-game holiday set wrapped around the Thanksgiving holiday when the Florida Panthers come to town.  The Capitals are in the unfamiliar position of trying to shake off a two-game losing streak, their first consecutive losses since losing three in a row in Games 3-5 in early October.  The Panthers also are on a two-game losing streak, the losses to Carolina and Buffalo being the only consecutive losses in regulation to date this season for the Panthers.

Then and Now…

Wednesday will mark the 128th meeting of these teams in their all-time regular season series.  Washington has a 65-42-11 (nine ties) record overall and 34-17-7 (five ties) on home ice.  Those 65 Capital wins are the most accrued by any Florida opponent since they came into the league.  Since 2005-2006, the Caps are 37-24-10 against Florida overall and 19-10-6 on home ice.

Active Leaders vs. Opponent…

Noteworthy Opponents…

The Panthers have had two number one overall draft picks in their history, both of them defensemen, taken 20 years apart.  The first, Ed Jovanovski (first overall in 1994), played three and a half seasons in Florida as a physical, leave-it-all-on-the-ice sort of defenseman, but did not seem to quite reach his potential.  He was traded to the Vancouver Canucks as the key Panther piece in a blockbuster deal that involved six players and two draft picks, Pavel Bure being the key piece in the return to Florida.  Jovanovski went on to play more than 1,100 games in the NHL and post 500 points, ending his career with the team that drafted him in 2013-2014.

There are no similar plans afoot to move Aaron Ekblad (first overall in 2004) any time soon.  He is the only defenseman in team history to win the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie (forward Jonathan Huberdeau won in 2012-2013), and the 414 games he has played for the Panthers already ranks fifth in team history among defensemen.  His 71 goals top all blueliners to have played for Florida, and he appears all but certain to become the third defenseman in team history to record 200 points with the team, needing only 14 points to reach that mark.  He has been a consistent, if not spectacular point producer in his five-plus seasons in the NHL, finishing with at least ten goals in each of his previous five seasons and finishing with more than 30 points in four of them.

This season, the 23-year old is on a pace to post career highs in scoring, his 5-10-15 through 23 games putting him on a pace to finish 17-36-53, which would eclipse his best seasons in goals (16 in 2017-2018), assists (27 in his 2014-2015 rookie season), and points (39 in his rookie season).  He has also become a reliable minutes-eater for the defense.  His average ice time inched up season by season from 21 minutes and change in his rookie season to 23:39 last year.  This year, though, he is averaging 24:07 per game, almost three minutes more than the defenseman with the second-highest average (Anton Stralman (21:14).  And, currently in the third year of an eight-year/$60 million contract that would have him skating with the club through the 2024-2025 season, he has become the cornerstone of the defense.  Ekblad, who comes into this season on a three-game points streak (3-2-5), is 1-3-4, plus-1, in 15 career games against the Caps.

Florida has not done much in the way of working rookies into the lineup, Riley Stillman dressing for three games as the only rookie for Florida this season (if the name is familiar, his father Cory skated 1,025 games in the NHL for six teams, including 165 games over three seasons for the Panthers).  The only skater younger than the 23-year old Ekblad to get significant time this season is 22-year old center Denis Malgin, who has dressed for 22 games to date.  Malgin was a fourth-round pick (102nd overall) of the Panthers in the 2015 Entry Draft and to date is the leader among 2015 fourth rounders in total NHL games played (170).  In fact, no forward drafted later than Malgin has played in more NHL games to date.

After playing in 148 games over his first three seasons with the club, Malgin appears to have cemented a more permanent place in the Panther lineup.  He has dressed for 22 of the Panthers’ 24 games to date and needs one point to become the 11th skater to hit double digits for the club this season.  If he maintains a spot in the lineup, he is on a pace to finish 11-22-33, which would top his best scoring season to date, in 2017-2018 when he went 11-11-22 in 51 games.  He has hit a rough patch, though.  He recorded all nine of his points this season in his first 12 games.  In his last ten games Malgin is 0-0-0, minus-6.  He does not have a goal in over a month, going 15 games without one since he recorded one in a 4-2 win over Pittsburgh on October 22nd.  In eight career games against the Caps, Malgin is 3-3-6, plus-2.

Being an “underrated player” seems to be a thing in the NHL.  Some players get that tag attached to them persistently, a badge of…something…that signifies talent and accomplishment that doesn’t get recognized.  But after a while, that label becomes a bit faded and wrinkled.  It was true for Nicklas Backstrom, who was widely characterized as “underrated,” no doubt in part due to his playing in the long shadow of Alex Ovechkin.  Now, though, it is the badge that Aleksander Barkov wears.  In November 2018, he won a poll of players to name the league’s most underrated player (small wonder, Backstrom came in second).  This past September, Barkov got more love as the underrated player that players love. 

It is hard to talk about an underrated player who is tied for fifth in team history in goals scored (142, with Nathan Horton), third in assists (232), fourth in points (374), and second only to Hall of Famer Pavel Bure in points per game (0.86 to Bure’s 1.13).  But in his seven seasons he has more points (374) than Matt Duchene (371), Logan Couture (365), and Gabriel Landeskog (354) in fewer games than all of them.  His 26 game-winning goals are as many as Claude Giroux and more than Blake Wheeler (24) in fewer games.  The five shorthanded goals he had in 2017-2018 was eclipsed for a season only by Jean-Gabriel Pageau (seven in 2015-2016) and Michael Grabner (six last season).  This season he has been productive in bunches, his 11 multi-point tied for fourth in the league (with, among others, John Carlson).  And, his scoring matters.  The Panthers are just 2-4-2 in the eight games in which he does not have a point.  Barkov is 4-11-15, plus-2, in 16 career games against the Caps.

1.  If Florida scores a power play goal, it will be the team’s 100th in the all-time series against the Caps.

2.  Florida has played to more Gimmicks against the Capitals than any other opponent.  The teams have gone to the trick shot portion of the contest 11 times, the Panthers holding a 7-4 record.  Only New Jersey has as many wins in the freestyle competition against Washington as the Panthers.

3.  The Panthers play within the rules, at least in terms of being held accountable.  They have been put shorthanded 59 times in 24 games this season.  Only Winnipeg has faced fewer shorthanded situations (54 in 24 games).

4.  Florida has been a bit sloppy on the road in one respect.  Their 137 charged giveaways in 13 road games is second most in the league in road games this season (Vancouver: 148 in 15 road games).

5. The Panthers are one of ten teams in the league with a positive shot-attempts differential at 5-on-5 on the road this season (plus-6).

1.  If the Caps score three goals in this game, it will make 200 goals scored against the Panthers all-time on home ice.

2.  Sometime in this game, the Panthers are likely to record their 24th shot on goal.  This will mark a milestone in Caps history, the 50,000th shot on goal allowed on home ice in team history.

3.  The Caps have played 12 home games, four of them ending in extra time losses.  They are tied with four other teams – New Jersey, Toronto, Philadelphia, and Boston – for most extra time losses on home ice this season.

4.  Garnet Hathaway’s match penalty against Anaheim on November 18th remains the only match penalty charged to a team on home ice so far this season.

5.  The Caps are one of four teams this season to be charged with 25 or more penalty minutes in a game twice.  They did it against Colorado on October 14th and again against Anaheim on November 18th.  The other teams are San Jose, New York Rangers, and Calgary.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Florida: Brett Connolly

When the Florida Panthers signed Brett Connolly to a four-year/$14 million contract last July after he posted his first career 20-goal season with the Caps in 2018-2019 (22 goals), they might have been hoping for a similar effort as a secondary scorer to support the trio of 30-goal scorers returning from last season – Mike Hoffman (36), Aleksander Barkov (35), and Jonathan Huberdeau (30).  Of that trio, only Huberdeau is on a pace to approach last season’s total, and that is where Connolly comes in.  His 11 goals to date lead the team, and he and Huberdeau are the only players on the squad with 10 even strength goals.

Connolly, who established himself as an efficient shooter with the Caps ((18.1 percent over his three years in Washington, fourth-best over that period among 401 players with at least 250 shots on goal), has been winning all the prizes at the shooting arcade this season, his 28.2 percent mark leading the league among 428 players posting at least 25 shots on goal.  And, only once in the nine games in which he recorded a goal have the Panthers lost in regulation (6-1-2).  They are 6-6-3 in the games in which he did not post a goal.  Ice time might be something to watch with Connolly.  Florida is 4-5-2 in 11 games in which he skated more than 15 minutes, 8-2-3 in the 13 games in which he logged less than 15 minutes in ice time.  Connolly is 1-3-4, minus-2, in 14 career games against the Capitals.

Washington: Jakub Vrana

There have been 79 players in Capitals history to record at least 100 points with the club.  Jakub Vrana’s next point will make him the 80th player on that list.  Absent being spirited away by aliens, he is certain to become only the 21st player in team history to reach 100 points before his 24th birthday.  Vrana’s progress has been steady and consistent.  His goal scoring has risen from three in his rookie season to 13 to 24 last year.  Assists, from three to 14 to 23.  Points, from 6 to 27 to 47.  With 11 goals and eight assists this season, he is on a pace to finish 36-26-62, all of which would be career highs.  His ice time is also getting a boost, his 14:22 in average ice time this season about half a shift more than last year (14:02) and more than three minutes more than his first season (11:07).  His shooting has grown more efficient as well, his 15.9 percent on 69 shots being his best in four seasons so far.

What Vrana has done so far this season, and something that some “snipers” do, is score goals in bunches.  He recorded goals in each of the first two games of the season, had five in a two-game span to start November, and he has goals in two of his last three games.  On the other hand, despite 11 goals, he was without one in 17 of the 25 games in which he played to date.  That the Caps do not have a loss in regulation in which he recorded a goal (6-0-2) makes Caps fans hope his goal scoring and goal-game frequency improves even more.  In seven career games against Florida, Vrana is 2-1-3, plus-2.

In the end…

Thanksgiving week has been pretty good to the Caps over the years, at home especially.  On the other hand, Florida remains this annoying team that has a special gift for making things unpleasant for the Caps in recent years.  The last two games played between the teams in Washington ended in extra time, the Caps losing both (part of a four-game losing streak to the Panthers in DC), and the teams have played four extra time games out of the last nine played in Washington, three of them settled in the Gimmick.  It suggests a close matchup, but the tradition prevails.

Capitals 4 – Panthers 3